“Are you so without understanding that you don’t see that whatever comes from outside and enters into the body cannot defile them? Because it doesn’t enter into his heart, but into the belly where it is digested – thus cleansing the food.” Then he added, “That which comes out from a person – this is what defiles them. Because from within – from the heart of a person – comes wicked thoughts such as sexual immorality, theft, murder – greed, envy, malice, deceitfulness, selfishness, blasphemy, arrogance and foolishness. All of these wicked things come from within – and defile a person." (Mark 7:18-23)

Jesus states this following one of his disciples asking about the meaning of Jesus' previous statement:
"Listen to me each one of you – and understand – there is nothing outside of a person that enters in that will defile them – but the things that come out of a person – these are the things that will defile that person." After he left the crowd and went in the house, his disciples asked him about the analogy. (Mark 7:14-17)
One of the misunderstandings here relates to the Greek word ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos) - being translated to "person" here but in many sectarian translations to "man." "Man" is inappropriate because the Greek word relates to the living person - "a human being, whether male or female." But also, "with reference to the two-fold nature of man - soul and body."

The inclusion of the soul here is important because Jesus is using an analogy to relate to one's internal consciousness. Consciousness is a primary element of the soul - the personality within.

The physical human body is a temporary covering over the soul. This is the person - each of us - that lies within the physical body. When the body dies, the person leaves the physical body behind to decompose.

This misunderstanding with regard to the soul or person within - who is made of spirit and thus more appropriately called a spirit-person - is also the reason for the question by Jesus' students and why he chastised them for not understanding - because he had repeatedly been telling them they were spirit - not matter, and thus happiness cannot be found within the world of matter.

Jesus taught this point within various statements:
"And don’t fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)
"I tell you my friends, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and after that, can do nothing more." (Luke 12:4)
“For this reason I tell you, don’t worry about yourself – or about your body: What you will eat or what you will wear." (Luke 12:22)
"That which arises from the flesh is flesh, and that which arises from the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6)
"It is spirit that gives life; the physical body provides no benefit. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (John 6:63)
These statements and others indicate clearly that Jesus taught that we are not these physical bodies: that our true identity is spirit, not flesh - not this physical body.

Thus the only practical interpretation of Jesus' statements in Mark 7:18-23 is that he is referring to the spirit-person within when he states that what is fed to the physical body cannot defile a person.

The food analogy


Over the centuries - even throughout human history - humans have sometimes eaten foods that were spoiled or otherwise contaminated with bacteria and many have died from food poisoning or foodborne outbreaks. So certainly, what someone eats can sicken the body.

Jesus is contrasting this with one's consciousness, which can serve to poison the consciousness of others. This is done by speaking and other activities that may influence others by expressing "wicked thoughts." These can affect the consciousness of others. This, according to Jesus, defiles the person.

Consider an analogy: Let's say that we get into our car and drive it to a gas station and fill the car up with gas. And let's say that the gas put into the car was the wrong type of gas - say it was leaded instead of unleaded or otherwise contaminated. So the car doesn't start - and stops running correctly.

But did the person who drove the car get sick from the gas that was put in the car's gas tank? Certainly not. Because the gas was put into the car, and the person driving the car is not the car. The person driving the car is separate from the car. The person driving the car can get out of the car and find another form of transportation.

But should another car crash into our car - well, that can certainly affect the driver. The driver can get hurt. Even though the driver is separate from the car, our connection with the car - as the driver - can cause us to be hurt if another car crashes into our car.

It is the same with respect to the spirit-person within the physical body. We are temporarily driving this physical body but are not this physical body. When the body dies, we leave the physical body.

And the reason why people don't see the person leaving the physical body at the time of death is because our physical eyes are made of matter - and the spirit-person is made of spirit.

Yet while within this body, the spirit-person can be affected by others due to our driving this body. Just as a car crash can affect the driver, the influence of other people can affect our consciousness. And we can affect the consciousness of others by what we may say or do.

Jesus brings back a spirit into the body


Evidence for the fact that Jesus taught that we aren't the physical body is also portrayed as Jesus revived a young girl's body by bringing the spirit-person back into the body:
They all began weeping and lamenting for her. But he told them, “Stop weeping, because she has not died – she is only asleep.” They laughed at him, knowing she had died. However, he clasped her hand and said loudly, “Child, get up!” Then her spirit returned and she got up immediately. He instructed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were awestruck. But he told them not to tell anyone what had taken place. (Luke 8:52-56)
This states clearly that the reason she awoke was because her spirit returned to her body.

We also know this when Jesus' spirit-person left his physical body at the time of death:
After Jesus called out again with a loud voice, his spirit departed. (Matt. 27:50)
Then Jesus cried out loudly and said, “LORD, into Your Hands I commit my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
Then when Jesus had received the vinegar he said, “It has been accomplished!” And he bowed his head and released his spirit. (John 16:15)
So Jesus and his disciples identified him as being spirit - not the physical body. And the phrase, "gave up his spirit" clearly indicates that the spirit-person of Jesus left his physical body at the time of death.

Jesus also taught that the Supreme Being is made of spirit too:
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in the spirit, and with sincerity.” (John 4:24)
The bottom line is that this is why Jesus is stating that what a person feeds his physical body does not defile him. Rather it is what is in one's "heart" - a metaphor for the soul or spirit-person - that defiles him - and what comes from that spirit-person in the form of actions will defiles the person because these affect others.

What does defile mean?


So what does "defile" mean anyway? The word "defile" here is translated from the Greek word κοινόω (koinoō) - which means "to make common" or "to make unclean."

It could also be taken as becoming polluted or poisoned. This is how Jesus is using the term.

It means, in other words, to abandon our spiritual identity. It essentially means to abandon our spiritual relationship with the Supreme Being. To defile oneself means to depart from our intimate relationship with God.

This means we consider ourselves the most important person in the universe.

It means we surround ourselves with ourselves and our self-centered motives.

It means to gear our activities towards pleasing ourselves.

We instinctively understand this is "common" or even "unclean" as we consider a person who is unapologetically self-centered. We might call such a person an egotist or a narcissist - both words used in a disdainful manner.

The pureness within


Why should we see someone who is unapologetically self-centered in such a disdainful manner? Because within ourselves, we know that pureness lies within a state of love - a consciousness where the Supreme Being and the Supreme Being's children are seen as greater than myself. Because we know innately - within our heart of hearts - that caring about God and others more than we care about ourselves is our natural state.

We can easily understand this as we hear of someone who put their life at risk in order to save the life of another. Such an act attracts us because we can relate with someone who valued someone else more than they valued themselves. This is our essential nature: To value others more than we value ourselves. And to value God above all.

Such a consciousness is instinctively seen as pure because this is our natural state. Our makeup is spirit and we are by nature loving servants of the Supreme Being - we have simply forgotten this fact as our consciousness became polluted by materialism and our mistaken identity as this temporary physical body.

Jesus illustrates this situation as he discusses his primary source of happiness:
“My food is to do what pleases Him who sent me and to complete His work." (John 4:34)
Just as in Jesus' analogy in Mark 7:18-23, "food" is being used metaphorically by Jesus because food is considered fulfilling. But Jesus isn't speaking of material food here. He is speaking of loving service to the Supreme Being because this is what fulfills him spiritually. Doing what pleases the Supreme Being is fulfilling to one who loves and cares for the Supreme Being. Jesus stated this clearly elsewhere:
"By myself I can do nothing; As I hear, I make choices, and my choices are just because I do not seek to please myself but to please Him who sent me." (John 5:30)

(The New Testament verses in this article are quoted from the Gospels of Jesus)