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Matthew 15:11 That which goes into the mouth

Addressing the crowd after being challenged by Pharisees on violating traditon.

Spoken to:
Greek Verse:

Matthew 15:11 οὐ τὸ εἰσερχόμενον εἰς τὸ στόμα κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ἀλλὰ τὸ ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦτο κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

KJV Verse:

Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

NIV Verse:

Matthew 15:11  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Literal Alternative:

What is entering into the mouth does not impart information [about] the person, but what one is making exit from the mouth, this is what imparts information [about] the person.

Hidden Meaning:

What if the word translated as "defiled" in this verse doesn't mean "defile" at all, but something else entirely? However, there is a kind of logic that got the KJV translators to the concept of "defile," though their idea wasn't what Christ's listeners heard.  The word means "communicate," and "to share in comeon." In Jewish custom, items dedicated to God were kept separate from everyday items. The Hebrew word translated as "holy" means "separate." Its opposite was the word for "common." It did not mean "defiled" and "impure" as it is often translated, as much it means as a regular, everyday thing that everyone used rather than a special, separate thing that was dedicated to God. So Jesus is making a play on the Jewish idea of "common" as not suitable for God with the Greek word for common meaning "communicate" and sharing ideas.

Jesus doesn't say this about "a man" but a specific man, "the man" or "this man." He may well be talking about his mouth.


The words for "in" and "out of" are repeated as a prefix of the verb and in the following preposition, creating an alliteration in Greek and creating a stronger sense of "in" and "out" that we can create in English. 

There is a play on the Greek word for "communicate" and "share" here. In one sense, it highlights the two uses of a mouth, to eat and to speak. On another level, it plays on the Jewish idea of what is shared among people is not special to God. This also says something about the idea of sacred ideas and ideas that are held in common. 

If the form of the word translated as "man" was changed from an object to a subject, this verse would say "The man doesn't communicate by what goes into the mouth but by what comes out of the mouth." 

My Takeaway:

That which goes into the mind is not shared with others, but what comes out of the mind is what is shared with others.

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About this Site

I started this site fifteen years ago.  My original award-winning work as a "techno-linguist" was in ancient Chinese. I wanted to bring the same computer search and analysis techniques to explore something more important: the original Greek of Jesus's words. To understand why this was important to me, you may want to read this article on how Jesus's meaning is lost.

This site does not promote any religious point of view. On the contrary, it seeks to avoid the competing and evolving religious dogmas that have shaped Biblical translation for centuries.  I purposely use "nonreligious" sources for Greek word meaning, rejoining the study of Biblical Greek with the broader study of ancient Greek. My goal is simply to identify how listeners of Jesus's time would have heard him.

Jesus' words are unique for three reasons.

  1. His words were spoken, not written. Spoken language is inherently different than written language.
  2. His words changed the meaning of words, determining even how later NT authors' used the Greek.
  3. His words were the basis of a unique historical revolution in the way people think.

Most of the on-line material on "Biblical Greek" is largely tautological. It explains the Greek only in terms of how it has been translated into English in the Bible. It flows from the ways that the  Gospel was taught from the Latin Vulgate. I respect this work and use it daily. However,  most of my work takes place outside of this tradition, researching the use of the Greek closer to the time of Jesus, especially the Greek OT, the Septuagint.

The Bible has been such a powerful force in history that it has changed the meaning of many words in English, Latin, and Greek. However, the Greek of Jesus's words has been faithfully preserved for centuries despite the changing religious fashions. These fashions, unfortunately, affect each successive English translation of the Bible, moving it further and further from the Greek.  I stopped analyzing the NLT version because so much of it fails to connect to anything in Jesus's Greek. It is not a translation but how a group of people today feel about the ideas in other English translations. The Message Bible version is even worse.

This site is offered for those who care about fidelity to Scripture as passed down for two thousand years.

Most Recent Question

What I would like to know is what did Jesus say about thoughts or the mind? When these bad thoughts come, I pray that I will be delivered from them. But yet, these thoughts still bother me, I feel guilty about them because I feel that as a Christian, I should not think such things.

Your question touches on a recent verse that I analyzed, Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts. Jesus says that worthless thoughts arise from the human heart. 

I can therefore refer you to two articles, one on the meaning of heart and the...