Matthew 15:11

ESV it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
NIV What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.'
NASB It is not what enters the mouth that defiles the person, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles the person.'
CSB It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth--this defiles a person."
NLT It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.'
KJV Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

What does Matthew 15:11 mean?

After a heated exchange and condemnation of the Pharisees, Jesus turns to the crowd to address what the Pharisees have said. They asked Jesus why His disciples break the tradition of the elders by not ritually washing their hands when they eat (Matthew 15:1–9).

The Pharisees believed they were demonstrating religious faithfulness by following the traditions of leaders who had come before them. One tradition which had become a requirement was ritual hand-washing—probably including utensils—before eating. This was not a command of Scripture, however. God did not demand those specific steps, and Jesus did not require His disciples to wash their hands in that exact way.

It's important not to miss the point of the disagreement. Jesus is not condemning all washing of hands before eating. Nor is He implying that there is no reason, at all, to do so. What Christ denounces is condemning the false idea that a ritualized tradition could make someone spiritually clean. That's why He says in this verse that what goes into a person's mouth isn't what defiles them. It's what comes out of a person's mouth that causes that person to be spiritually unclean.

This would have sounded radical to most Israelites. Not only was Jesus teaching that following the hand-washing tradition did not make a person clean, Jewish people absolutely believed they could be made unclean by eating specific foods, like pork. It's no surprise the disciples ask Him to explain (Matthew 15:15).

Jesus will explain exactly what He means in the following verses. The main idea is that nobody can be made spiritually clean or unclean by the mere presence of some material object. For that reason, spiritual uncleanliness doesn't come simply by unknowingly contacting a speck of some unclean food. What matters when it comes to spiritual uncleanness is intent, such as what's revealed by our words (Matthew 15:17–20).
What is the Gospel?
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