The most overlooked verse that has affected our culture more than almost any other

There is a verse, part of a verse really, that is frequently and glibly skipped over. It is often spoken like a trifling point of fact and generally overlooked when exegeting the wider passage. And, to be fair, it is not the central point of the pericope. In fact, it is a parenthetical statement attached onto the end of a verse making an entirely different point. At best, it is a single, small outworking of the much wider principle being laid down.

Nonetheless, these 6 words affect just about the most major part of most people’s lives in Western Europe, South & North America and significant chunks of Africa. And I must say, it is a marvellous portion of one little verse. The verse (or part thereof) that I am thinking of is Mark 7:19b. Six wonderful words to set you up for the day:

“thus he declared all foods clean”.

With one parenthetical interpretive statement, Mark – whilst recording the words of Jesus taking a swipe at the traditionalism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees – opened the door for bacon, sausages, ham and gammon. Have any other verses of scripture had such a lasting and profound impact upon the culture and practice of most the known world whilst simultaneously being treated as little more than a mildly interesting titbit? Would France and Italy be the culinary powerhouses they are without this verse? Given that so much of Western culture derives from our culinary practices, much of what we do can be traced to Mark’s little comment, which even he puts in brackets! (1)

As an interesting parenthesis of my own, I am intrigued as to how those who insist upon abstinence from alcohol handle this verse. It is clear enough that everything from outside entering the man is not able to defile him (Mk 7:18). If such is true, and Mark is clear in 7:19b that by this statement Jesus declares all foods clean, “everything” must also extend to alcoholic beverages too. The only control on this claim – as pertaining to alcohol – seems to be Paul’s later comments on drunkenness (eg Rom 13:13; Eph 5:18; Gal 5:19-21). But it does seem hard to maintain that letting alcohol pass your lips is some sort of problem. Nevertheless, I digress.

Our church recently got involved in a local Christmas leafleting campaign. I don’t know whether it was to encourage folk to help deliver, to do something to distinguish us from other prevailing religious worldviews, or a mixture of the two but one of our elder’s wives offered to make the delivery team bacon barms (2). It was wonderful to be able to say to a room full of Iranian ex-Muslims that – after grace, justification, peace with God and the central privileges of union with Christ – one of the best things about being a Christian is bacon! (And we had a few of them turn out on that basis. I mean, I have no doubt they wanted to help but I’m pretty sure the bacon was no small motivation.)

So, this little overlooked part of a verse has affected our culture over the centuries and has opened up a world of culinary delights. Of course, the flip side of that is the frogs legs, snails and rancid shellfish. And the central premise of I’m a celebrity would be nowhere without Mark’s little comment. But, for all the terrible things that the cleanliness laws were none the worse for avoiding, we aren’t forced to eat them. We have liberty not to eat the more grim fare. And, along with such freedom, we can go nuts on pork chops. Overall, I take that as a pretty solid win.

Notes

  1. Yes, I know it is the English version that uses brackets to make clear this is a parenthetical statement. I am aware Mark technically did not use brackets. Nevertheless, it was a definite parenthesis. Please don’t write in!
  2. That’s bacon rolls/cobs/baps/buns for those from elsewhere

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