Today’s passage deals with laws regarding clean versus unclean. What was the point then, and what are we to make of it now?
- Then – Some have suggested that these laws served as hygienic rules, and this may have been part of their purpose. The passage however focuses on other ideas. First, God is holy, and so they too had to be holy; that is, set apart unto God (11:45). God had separated them from the surrounding nations, and so they were to live differently (20:22-26). Second, they needed to learn to make a distinction between clean and unclean (11:47). These laws were outward teachers of an inward necessity. Today’s passage climaxes with tomorrow’s passage in which the Day of Atonement makes it possible for them to be cleansed from their sins, and so be clean within (16:30). Third, God was dwelling in their midst. They had to be careful lest they defile his holy tabernacle (15:31). God is holy, and his people must be holy if they are to approach him. Again, these outward laws pointed to an inward reality – we must be clean (or holy) if we would approach a holy God.
- Now – So are we to keep these laws today? No, Jesus has declared all foods clean, teaching that we become unclean through our sins (Mark 7:14-23). These laws were part of the Mosaic Covenant only, and we are part of the New Covenant. Yet the principles remain. We should live differently than unbelievers, not by merely external rules, but inwardly and through good works (I Peter 2:11-12). We do need to be clean within, and Jesus takes the place of the Day of Atonement to make this possible (Hebrews 9:23-28). God dwells within us by his Spirit, and so we must be careful to not defile his tabernacle, but rather glorify God with our bodies (I Corinthians 6:19-20).