Mohler Interviews Plummer on ‘40 Questions’

Albert Mohler’s interview with Rob Plummer aired yesterday on “The Albert Mohler Program.” The discussion was all about Plummer’s new book 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago, and you can read it here. You can listen to the interview below.



  • Donald Johnson

    I listened to Plummer’s discussion and have read his book.

    I agree with authorial intent and context being essential to understand. Given this I am surprised at the promulgation of a misunderstanding about Mark 7.

    Mar 7:5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

    Mar 7:18 And he [Jesus] said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,
    Mar 7:19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

    Both Plummer and Mohler claim in the discussion that this allows followers of Jesus to eat anything and effectively negates the Lev. food laws.

    But this cannot be the case, when the verse is read with authorial intent in cultural context, which they claim they are doing.

    The situation is that all the participants in the discussion are Torah observant Jews, and therefore “food” in this verse means kosher foodk, at least to Jews. What Pharisees claimed is if one did not do their manmade tradition of hand washing in a certain way, then the food was made unclean; but the Bible never says that. Jesus rejects the manmade tradition, and his disciples can eat food without doing the hand washing tradition beforehand. So food remains food and does not become unclean.

    But these verses certainly do not mean that any follower of Jesus can eat anything, that claim is simply taking the verses out of cultural context.

  • Denny Burk


    I think you have missed the point of this text. Mark is the author, and Mark is the one who has provided the comment about declaring all foods clean. That is in fact what Mark means to communicate. No reconstruction of how Jesus words would have been heard in the first Sitz im Leben can change Mark’s clear meaning that Jesus thus declared all foods clean. Your hermeneutic pits Jesus against Mark, the apostolic author.

    Thanks for the comment.


  • Donald Johnson

    Of course Mark is the author of the editorial comment in Mark 7:19 and all of Jesus’s sayings are mediated thru Mark in Mark’s gospel.

    The point is that Plummer and Mohler are using THEIR definition of food in Mark 7:19 and not Mark’s. Once something is food, it does not become non-food because of a lack of doing the Pharisee’s handwashing ceremony. But something is only food for a Jew if it is/was kosher. Pork from a pig is simply not considered food to a Jew.

    I agree that gentiles like Plummer and Mohler, you and me do not need to conform to Lev. food rules, but that is not the point of these verses. The point is that JEWISH disciples of Jesus did not need to follow the human traditions of hand washing taught by the Pharisees.

    In other words, do not extract “all food is clean” out of it’s immediate context, as the pericope gives important info on how to understand it.

  • jeff miller

    What you are saying seems to require the disciples, and Jesus, along with other Jews, to be culturally isolated. The circumstance of Israel at this time in their history would require a greater working awareness about “food”. That they were conscious of their “kosher food” as “special food” and not merely “food,” maybe closer to the mark. Wasn’t it the cultural intermingling with those who ate other “food” that heightened the concern for washing. A general consciousness of kosher food as “special food” as opposed to the rest of the world’s food makes better sense of the picture we are given in the New Testament.

  • Donald Johnson

    Hi Jeff,

    I am not sure exactly what you are saying. 2nd temple Jews were not culturally isolated, but this does not mean they thought of pork or shellfish as food.

    2nd temple Jews ate what we would call kosher food, if it was not kosher it was not considered food. Gentiles could and did eat most anything they wished.

    The Pharisees taught that unless one did their invented hand washing ritual, one’s hands were not “clean” and so eating with them “contaminated” the food, but this is not taught in the Tanakh. Note that this is not teaching hand washing in the modern sense of soap and water, it was/is a religious ritual.

    It could be considered as a fence around the Torah (which might even be wisdom in some cases for an individual), but in this case, by making it a rule, they in effect taught that (kosher) food was somehow made into something inedible, which then contradicts the Tanakh, as Jesus pointed out. No Jew following the Tanakh is required to do the hand washing ritual of the Pharisees before eating.

    So “all food is clean” should be understood by pointing out that food means different things to Jews and gentiles and once something is considered “food” to a Jew it does not become “non-food” if one does not do the Pharisee’s hand washing.

  • Denny Burk


    You are assuming a Jewish-Palestinian context as the original audience for this book, but that is incorrect. The second Gospel was most likely written by Mark in Rome. For the original readers, “all foods” would have been understood as “all foods,” not just kosher foods. I don’t think your interpretation is very compelling.


  • Donald Johnson

    Hi Denny,

    No, I am not assuming a Jewish-Palestinian context for the original audience. I accept that Mark was likely originally written to Romans (and perhaps Alexandrians) based on Peter’s teachings about Jesus.

    All I assume is that someone in the audience of original hearers would know that Jews were more restrictive about what constitutes food than gentiles, any practising Jew would know this and many gentiles that interacted with Jews (for example in the marketplace) would also. It was not a secret that Jews did not eat pork.

    That is, almost anyone hearing Mark read in the 1st century could figure out that Jews and gentiles had different ideas about what constitutes food and any Jew hearing it most certainly would know this.

    However, the reading that Mohler and Plummer use posits that Mark was ONLY written to gentiles who did not know about Jews not eating pork, which simply sounds too far fetched to me.

  • jeff miller

    What do you think was the REAL strength of the wall between Jew and Gentile in the 1st century?

    Whatever it was, Jesus broke it down.

    What was realized in the 1st century was that Jesus came with the eschatological torah to Israel for the New Covenant. AS the dynamic Word of God, we find Jesus: 1)affirming the authority of the LAW, 2)fulfilling the LAW, 3) and replacing the ethic of the LAW with the ethic of the Gospel. Because of His unique authority, Jesus…with a word, “made all foods clean”.

  • Donald Johnson

    I see the wall between Jew and gentile referring to the actual wall in the 2nd temple court that limited where God-fearing gentiles could go and tiles on the wall said no further. Archaeologists have found 2 of the actual tiles that say this. This limitation is found nowhere in Scripture. The wall was physically torn down when the temple was destroyed in 70. And it was spiritually torn down in the so-called gentile Pentecost in Acts 10, but hinted at earlier in the life of Jesus as told in the gospels.

    Jesus was a Torah-observant Jew, so of course he would affirm the authority of Torah, “fulfill” is rabbi-speak for “correctly interpret” and he certainly correctly interprets Torah. The way of salvation is/was always by faith in God’s promises (the main one being Messiah), both in the OT and NT, see Hebrews 11, the so-called hall of faith.

    However, while Jesus did have unique authority, he could not have abrogated Torah in any way, if he did then this would have given ammo to the Pharisees to dismiss his claims as being from God and this is what the Pharisees were constantly trying to do. The reason is he would have been a false prophet according to Torah and therefore could not have been the Messiah according to that same Torah. So if one thinks Jesus is against Torah, it means one is misunderstanding something and one needs to dig deeper.

    Note: Jesus was against the so-calld Oral Torah of the Pharisees when it contradicted the Written Torah, what we call the OT. When the word nomos/law is used in the NT, one needs to discern what is being referred to: civil law, Torah of Moses (Pentateuch), Written Torah or Tanakh (OT), or so-called Oral Torah of the Pharisees.

  • Donald Johnson

    For a gentile reader, “all foods” would mean just about anything in regards to themselves.

    However, for a Torah observant Jewish reader, “all foods” would mean what we call kosher foods.

    I simply do not believe that Mark was not written to anyone and everyone. It seems like Denny is saying he would think it was not written to Torah observant Jews, since they would understand it differently than he does.

    For the longest time, I read it as Denny and Plummer do, until the insight was pointed out to me.

    I mentioned this insight in my (Baptist) Sunday school class and the whole class got the concept and did so fairly easily. It is an AHA! moment when you get it.

  • Charlton Connett


    I think your interpretation of this text runs exactly opposite of what you stated your underlying assumption is. If Mark was written “to anyone and everyone” then your application of a very narrow definition of the term “all foods” would rule out most gentiles from correctly understanding the text.

    I do not disagree with you that many gentiles of the era would have had contact with Jews, at least in the sense of knowing that there existed this religious minority that worshiped a different God than the majority of the people in the Roman Empire. However, I’m not sure if most gentiles would have read the text you are talking about and immediately said, “Oh, of course what they mean as ‘food’ isn’t what I would mean by it!” The fact that most Jews did not eat pork was probably well known, but the idea that Jews did not consider pork food was probably not something most gentiles had little to no conception of. Today it would be like most Americans thinking about what a Hindu wise man meant if he said the same thing as Jesus. Most of us would not for a second think, “Oh well, all he means is that all foods that they already eat are clean.” We would think he meant all foods, because we would not think that they do not consider beef food.

    To assume that gentile readers would limit what they think of as “all foods” based on what a sect of Jews considered “food” seems rather tenuous to me.

    This question of what gentiles and Jews would consider food is not even the question we should be asking though. The question we should be asking is quite simply, “What did Mark mean when he used the term ‘food’?”

    Well, when we look at Mark what we see, particularly in chapter 7, is that in each instance where there could be a misunderstanding of the text, Mark has inserted an explanation for us. Thus in verse 2 we see that “impure” is explained as “unwashed,” in verses 3-4 we get a further explanation so that gentiles could understand what was going on. Finally, in verse 11 we get an explanation of the term “Corban.”

    Mark makes sure that his readers would have a clear understanding of the text by explaining what he means any time he uses a term they may not be familiar with, or deals with a particular Jewish custom they might not have familiarity with. But, Mark does not make any effort to explain what is meant by “all foods” in the text.

    My reading of the text thus leads me to assume that when Mark said “all foods” what he meant was what “all foods” would be understood to mean to a gentile reader of the first century.

    In addition to this, your argument that the Pharisees would have seized upon Jesus’ teaching as a means to discredit him also misreads the text. Jesus did not publicly explain the parable, but did so privately. Thus, it was not known to the Pharisees what he said to his disciples.

    I would argue, in addition to this, that the New Testament use of the term “food” seems to be rather more inclusive than what you allow. For instance, in Acts, Paul calls on the gentiles to recognize that God has provided a myriad of blessings to all men, including food and gladness. Paul does not seem to explain that food only means what a Jew would consider to be food.

    Luke likewise calls the meal the Philippian jailer gave to Paul and Silas “food,” even though it was cooked by a gentile and served in a gentile house, which certainly would not have been considered “kosher” by the Jews of the day. And so likewise we see all throughout the New Testament. Food, contextually, can mean either a kosher meal, or anything that can be eaten by an individual.

    In the Gospels when Jesus talk to his disciples and they say they would have to go and buy “food” for the people, they almost certainly intended something kosher in their minds. However, the writers simply call it “food.” To argue what the disciples meant, contextually, would be completely missing the point of the passage. Likewise, arguing that Jesus here did not mean “all food” but only “all food already declared kosher” seems to be missing the greater context of what Mark is doing in this chapter.

    Look at the very next event Mark relates. He tells of the gentile woman who’s daughter Jesus healed. Then he tells of Jesus spitting on his own hand and touching another mans tongue with it. That certainly would have been considered offensive, if not unclean, according to the Jews, yet Christ did it, and healed the man. Mark’s whole point seems to be that Christ is making holy what was not holy. Christ is completing the Torah, but he is doing it in a way that the religious would have called “unclean”.

    I’m sorry for the lengthy post, but I wanted to try and address your comment in some detail. The upshot of all I am saying is this: Mark does not put any explanation on the term “all food” the way he does every other concept that might be hard for his readers to understand. To assume that gentiles would automatically, or even reasonably, assumed that “all food” meant anything other than “all food” assumes something not indicated in the text, and a greater level of religious education in the general populace than probably existed. And the idea that Christ meant “all food” was clean seems to be further corroborated by the rest of the chapter, and book of Mark, not to mention the rest of the New Testament.

  • Amaranth

    Just a thought.

    Was Mark a Jew? (Used to know, can’t remember now.)

    The way I see it, a Jew and a gentile are going to read that passage differently, and maybe it makes no overall difference.

    A gentile is probably going to read “all foods are clean”, and say, “Well, no food was ever unclean for me, ’cause I’m not a Jew. So all things that I consider food are clean.” He would read “food” as “what food is to me” (which we would call everything).

    A Jew is probably going to read “all foods are clean” as “Since the conversation was between Jews, talking about Jewish law and (presumably) Jewish food, then it must mean that all things that I consider food are clean.” He would also read “food” as “what food is to me (which we would call kosher).”

    I’m not sure a gentile reader would assume that meant Jews could now eat whatever they wanted, nor would a Jewish reader assume that meant he could now eat everything the gentiles ate. Why would the crossover occur to either party? The Jew would read into “food” what food is to him, and the gentile would likewise read into “food” what food is to him.

    If the uncleanliness issue was about the handwashing ritual, then does it matter? Food, whatever food is to you (different for Jew and gentile), is clean. Yay.

    I agree with Donald, in that the point seems to be more about the nit-picky rituals the Pharisees had added to render people unclean, rather than about whether gentile food is now clean.

  • Donald Johnson

    Amaranth gets the point I was making.

    Here is another way to see it. Lev. sorts ANIMALS into 2 groups, clean and unclean, for those in the Mosaic covenant(s). An unclean animal is NEVER considered food to an Israelite/Jew.

    Now suppose one wanted to undo this sorting. The natural and expected way to do it would be to declare “All ANIMALS are clean.” But this is exactly what is NOT written.

    I think that for those NOT in any Mosaic covenant (gentiles), there is no (Biblically required) distinction between animals.

    On the way a gentile would read the text, he would know he was not under any tradition of the Pharisees that applied to hand washing before eating as he was not Jewish. But he would NOT think that somehow all gentile food became OK for Jews to eat because of what Mark wrote, doing that would be extracting the text out of its immediate context.

  • Charlton Connett

    You are still left having to explain away what Jesus said in verse 15: Nothing outside a man can him unclean by going into him.

    Jesus’ words there are not just limited to “kosher” food. Jesus explicitly says, “nothing” which would include, by necessity, all food, and all “non-food” edible things. If you go on to read verses 20-23 you can see that Jesus clearly meant more than just “ceremonially unclean” when he used the term “unclean”.

    In context, Jesus first tells the people “nothing outside of you makes you unclean” then when his disciples ask him about this, because they don’t get it, he explains that “nothing that enters a man goes into his heart, but his stomach.” Thus Jesus does not limit his explanation to just “nothing that you consider food,” but “nothing”.

    From this context Mark then says that Jesus thus declared all food clean. All food then is tied back as an inversion of the “nothing” so that all food would mean, “anything whatsoever you eat.” To limit “all food” to “kosher food” you would then have to say that what Jesus really said to the disciples was, “whatever you are allowed to eat by the Torah does not make you unclean,” which is a far cry from “nothing that goes into a man from the outside makes you unclean.”

    Christ’s own words in this area make his meaning clear: “Nothing outside the man can defile him” and “whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him.” (Following the NASB due to its more literal Greek rendering.)

  • Donald Johnson


    You asked a good question. I was not seeking to delve into this area of Biblical purity further, but since you asked, I want to respond.

    Matthew 15:1-20 is the pericope corresponding to Mark 7:1-23.

    One needs to see the Bible and specifically the Torah of Moses defines multiple things as having a clean/unclean assessment. There are moral things and there are ritual things that deal with being able to approach the temple as Israelites.

    Lev 11:41 “Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten.
    Lev 11:42 Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable.
    Lev 11:43 You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them.

    Dan 1:8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

    Here are 2 cases where the OT says that eating something defiles oneself.

    Mat 15:10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand:
    Mat 15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

    Mat 15:16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?
    Mat 15:17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?
    Mat 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
    Mat 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
    Mat 15:20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

    Matthew helpfully clarifies what the point Jesus is making, that eating with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

    But we also end up with what SEEMS to be a contradiction, Lev. and Dan. say that eating some specific things defiles the eater, but Jesus says “nothing outside a person that by going into him defiles him” (Mark) or “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out” (Matthew).

    So, is Jesus really denying what is taught in Lev. and Dan. or does one need to dig deeper to figure out what is going on?

  • Charlton Connett

    I would argue that Jesus is bringing more light to the Torah. That is, it is not the eating of the food that makes on unclean, it is the heart of man in taking that food. In Leviticus and Daniel was it the food itself which made a man unclean, or was it the disobedience to God in his telling the people not to eat the food that made them unclean? If we read it as the food which made man unclean then we misunderstand the law. Yet, at the same time, to eat the food would have made a Jew unclean because it would have been disobedience to the law of God. Note the progression in the command: the thing is detestable to God (why is his business) therefore, you should not eat of it. If you eat of it you will be detestable to God. Why? Because to eat of it would be disobedience to God, and therefore you would be acting faithlessly (obedience being tied to faith) and thus you would offend God. (Taking our cue from Hebrews: Without faith it is impossible to please God.)

    Assuming that the writers of the New Testament understood and were explicating the Old Testament what we see become clear in the New Testament is that it was always the faithful obedience of the people that God desired. The law was not given, according to Paul, because it could make anyone perfect, but because it revealed what sin is. The Old Testament also agrees with this, hence the declaration of the prophets that performing sacrifices was pointless because the heart of the people remained wicked. External actions never made one clean or unclean, rather external actions come from what is already inside a man, and will thence conform to what is clean, or unclean. To assume that any food ever made anyone unclean misses the point of the text.

    But, notice that Daniel’s words also work against your original point. Daniel calls the food from the kings table, food. He says it would be improper for him to eat it, because it is not acceptable food, but he does not deny it was food.

    As to Matthew, I would argue that Matthew simply agrees with Mark as to what Jesus was saying. I really don’t see that Matthew affects our reading of Mark at all. Matthew brings more focus to the hand washing at the end of Jesus statement, but he agrees with Mark that Jesus says that “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?” Then Jesus further adds, “These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” Jesus does not say that what a man eats defiles him, but what proceeds from his heart defiles a man. Thus in each situation Jesus makes clear that which defiles a man comes from within, not from without.

    But, as a further note, Mark does not claim that all foods were clean before Jesus made his declaration, instead Jesus declared all foods clean. Matthew does not make this as clear, as he tends to make fewer authorial comments, but the application is just as present in Matthew as it is in Mark. (In fact Matthew mentions that the Pharisees were offended by what Jesus said, thus they probably got the gist of what he was doing, but could offer no argument against him.) I think Mark and Matthew both tie this into with the “new creation” motif present in their respective books.

    Consider the last miracle Jesus performs in Mark 7 and the people’s response to it. Jesus makes a deaf-mute able to hear and speak. (Well, the man wasn’t totally mute, but sufficiently so.) The response of the people: “He does all things well.” (This right after healing the daughter of a gentile woman, whose words are worth reading as well as they deal with the conception of completeness and fulfillment.)

    This points back (I think) to what God said to Moses, that he makes a man deaf or hearing, he makes a man mute or speaking. Yet Christ demonstrates he has authority over a man’s tongue and over a man’s hearing in performing this miracle, revealing a divine authority that belongs to God alone. Combine this with Mark’s quotation of the people, “He has done all things well” we are pulled back to Genesis 1, that at the end of each day God declared what he made “good”. (Note the Greek connection between “well” and “good” in Mark and in Genesis.) The creation account also brings out the fact that when God spoke, a thing was. Thus Jesus has declared all foods clean, so they are. What we are left with is a recognition that Christ has divine authority over all of creation, the food we eat, the angelic and demonic powers around us, and our very beings as well. Christ is bringing in a New Creation, one that demonstrates that “he does all things well.” And in that New Creation all foods are clean, and salvation is available to anyone who would call upon the name of the Lord.

    Christ declared all food clean because he was instituting the New Creation, in which there is (more accurately, will be, as the New Creation is not fully in the world as of yet) nothing unclean. Hence this ties in with Acts as well, where Peter is told, “Do not call unclean what I have called clean.” Christ has the authority to declare things clean, to make them clean, because a new creation has come in (and is indeed coming in even now) with the fulfillment of the law.

    To answer your final question more succinctly, Jesus is not denying what is taught in Leviticus or Daniel, he is revealing what Daniel understood and what Leviticus taught. But he is also going further, he is declaring, based on his authority as the creator of all things, that what was once unclean, is now being made clean. God has not changed his mind, he is completing his purpose.

  • Donald Johnson

    You are misquoting Acts 10.

    Act 10:14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

    Act 10:15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

    It is clear that Peter, the leader, continues to maintain the clean/unclean distinction among animals from Lev. And this is some time AFTER the teaching of Jesus that you believe abrogates Lev.

    It is important to get the words in Acts 10 correct, as understanding them is crucial to understanding what is going on.

    In Mark and Matthew, Jesus is discussing things among Torah observant Jews, the whole context of the discussion ASSUMES Torah observance (and what it consists of), and does not need to state everything that is true about Torah observance.

  • Donald Johnson

    Rev 18:2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.

    The above will take place after the events in the rest of the NT, which shows that the concept of unclean still exists. I agree Rev. is highly symbolic, but the idea of unclean birds and beasts (at least as symbols) still exists at that time.

  • Donald Johnson

    In Lev. only ANIMALS are declared unclean, no veggies or fruits are. So one must discern why Daniel is concerned about drinking the king’s wine. I think it is because the king is pagan and so his food and wine would have been offered to pagan “gods” and Daniel does not want to partake in idolatry if he can avoid it. That is, wine being from fruit is inherently clean, unless something has been done to make it unclean.

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