The true source of religious authority

Mark 7:1-13

BRIEF RECAP: Jesus, along with the twelve, had just left the region of Gennesaret, where they were met by a multitude of people that had heard about Him and the miraculous things He was doing (6:53). It appears some people may not have been healed that day because “as many as touched it (the fringe of His cloak) were being cured” (6:56). It wasn’t the “fringe” that had healing power; that’s what animism teaches. Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence and have healing power. Jesus is not an animist!

Instead, their healings took place when faith was exercised in Jesus (5:34 as an example). I venture to guess that some did not have faith in Him to heal or anything else.

7 The Pharisees and some of the scribes *gathered to Him after they came from Jerusalem, 2 and saw that some of His disciples were eating their bread with [a]unholy hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the other Jews do not eat unless they [b]carefully wash their hands, thereby holding firmly to the tradition of the elders; 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they [a]completely cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received as traditions to firmly hold, such as the [b]washing of cups, pitchers, and copper pots.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk in accordance with the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with [c]unholy hands?

FOCUS ONE: Pharisees and their traditions

As this chapter opens, we immediately notice the initial audience that gathers around Jesus. It seems that this is taking place in Capernaum where His home base was (7:17; Matthew 4:13). The Pharisees and some scribes had made the trip from Jerusalem to watch and confront Him (v.1).

This section begins with them “seeing” some of Christ’s disciples eating bread with unclean hands (That is, ceremonially unwashed hands according to the “traditions of the elders). This upset them because they would not eat unless they observed the washing first (v.4)!

We have not heard from these people in a while. As I look back in the gospel, it appears the last time we heard anything from them was way back in chapter three (3:22), when they rejected Him and accused Him of doing works by the power of Satan!

Now, here they are again, unchanged in their thinking, and they are offended when they see some of the disciples eating with “impure hands” that are unwashed.

“1The scribes were learned men who’s business it was to study the Law, transcribe it, and write commentaries on it. Ezra from the Old Testament was a scribe (Ezra 7:6). The scribes took their job of preserving scripture very seriously. The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Jesus and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety, their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the Law, and their teaching that ALL Jews should observe all 600 plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification.”

“The traditions that they held in such esteem were written down centuries before and were still oral in Jesus’ day.” These traditions were “traditions of men,” NOT laws from God! This means that over the years, they had elevated them to the status of scripture, and so by not observing them, a person could be found guilty of violating them. So, in their view, a person was obliged to follow them. But, as we will see shortly, that was not the view that Jesus held!

  1. What is the washing of the hands?

The Law of Moses required external cleanliness as a part of their religion. Moses prescribed them in moderation as was suitable for various occasions (Leviticus 5:2-4; 11:29-45; 12). The Pharisees added many ordinances on top of what Moses gave, and ultimately they began to be viewed as Law.

“For the Pharisees, the ‘impure hands’ refers to a state of ritual impurity. So they are accusing His disciples and ultimately Him as well, of behaving in a way that makes them unclean in respect to their traditions. Mark, understanding that non-Jewish readers may not understand about these ceremonial washings explains briefly what ‘washings’ means” (7:3).

And there are other things mentioned that they do according to the tradition of the elders. Washing cups and pitchers and copper pots!

So, they approach Jesus and ask Him about the disciples not following the tradition of the elders.

6 But He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
7 And in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘The one who speaks evil of father or mother, is [a]certainly to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a person says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is, [b]given to God),’ 12 you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thereby invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that

FOCUS TWO: The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees

After reading those verses, some issues come to light:

  1. They neglect the commandment of God to observe the traditions of men (v.8)
  2. They “nicely set it aside” to keep their tradition (v.9)
  3. Example given in verses 10-12 (What Moses commanded vs. their rule)
  4. The results: Not allowing people to obey the commands; Invalidating the word of God, and that’s just for starters (v. 13)!

The whole context is about the “traditions of the elders” and the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees proclaiming to follow God while setting aside His word for their traditions (v. 9,13).

What was Jesus’ response?

  1. He uses OT scripture from Isaiah 29:13 to reveal their hypocrisy and call out their neglect of the commandments God has given them to observe.
  2. He exposes how “nicely” they set His word aside to do this (v. 9). “The tone of sarcasm in Jesus’ use of the word (kalos) emphasizes the charge of hypocrisy, because it commends them for the cleverness with which they disobey God and yet still portray themselves as righteous.”
  3. He Uses another OT scripture to prove the point (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).

I can’t help but notice the arrogance in their thinking: Moses said, but you say. What better example than this to show how they invalidate the word of God by those traditions!

A good reminder for us in these passages is to learn that the religious things we do and the various holy days we observe can never make us clean before God. External things, even traditions, are all in vain when the heart is not right with God.

8 “See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, [a]rather than in accordance with Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

16 “Therefore, no one is to [a]act as your judge in regard to food and drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath [b]day— 17 things which are only a shadow of what is to come; but the [c]substance [d]belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

Later we will see that things that defile us are not from the outside but come from within our hearts.

1 got questions.org
2 Exegetical guide to the Greek NT

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