In our previous study, we jumped head first into a situation where some scribes and Pharisees gathered around Jesus and confronted Him regarding the behavior of His disciples. They noticed that they did not wash (ceremonially) their hands before eating, so they were defiled according to their traditions. Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by citing Isaiah’s prophecy from Isaiah 29:13 (vv. 6-8).
- They honor Him with their lips while their hearts are far away from Him (v.6)
- Their worship of Him is in vain because they elevate man’s words above His (vv. 7,13).
- They “wisely” or shrewdly set aside what He says to keep their traditions (v. 9).
- By doing such things, they no longer allow people to obey the Law He gave and therefore invalidate (nullify, render it of no effect) the word of God by their traditions of men (vv. 12,13).
The central issue of this section, verses one through twenty-three, is their hypocrisy (7:6-8). The topic of washing hands, cups, and other things only reveals the underlying problem they face- false morality, pseudo worship, and the elevating of men above God!
Moving forward, we will read Christ’s view on what defiles a person and quickly understand that His view is opposed to theirs. It must be so because their traditions come from sin-fallen men, in contrast to Christ’s teaching, which comes from God! His authority is the most significant because He is God!
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 [c]completely cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received as traditions to firmly hold, such as the [d]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 [e]unholy hands?” 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 in order 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[f]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, [g]given to God),’ 12 you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 therebyinvalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
FOCUS ONE: The parable
This confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees (v.1) broke up the multitude in some way or another that Jesus had to call the multitude unto Himself again (v. 14). He then spoke a parable to them (v. 17). Is this a parable? That through me for a moment because it is not like other parables that Jesus used to teach the multitudes (Matthew 13, for example).
He implores them to listen and understand (listen with purpose, intentionality, to gain wisdom-vv. 14,16). Jesus thought this teaching was critical for the multitude to understand. They had been placed under a heavy system that added many burdens to their application of the Law. This came from men that added to what Moses had divinely given them over the years, making it impossible for them to be obedient to God (vv.11-12).
The parable pictures food and drinks that they/we would consume daily as being “outside” the man. Such things, and take notice these things are not explicitly qualified, cannot defile a person because they do not go into His heart. So, Jesus is stating that defilement can only come from the heart, something within a person, not outside of a person! What does defile the man is what proceeds out of Him—that which comes out of his heart.
17 And when He later entered a house, away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him about the parable. 18 And He *said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding as well? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the person from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and [a]is eliminated?” (Thereby He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which comes out of the person, that is what defiles the person. 21 For from within, out of the [b]hearts of people, come the evil thoughts, acts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, acts of adultery, 22 deeds of greed, wickedness, deceit, indecent behavior, [c]envy, slander, [d]pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile the person.”
FOCUS TWO: The Parable explained
Here, again, we witness the disciple’s “slowness” or “dullness, in comprehending what Jesus was saying. “Are you so lacking in understanding,” he says to them. Even though they had been with Him awhile and were His “inner circle.” Even though they had witnessed many amazing miracles and heard His teachings, they were slow to grasp what it all meant! It is as if Jesus said: “Really? After all the time we spent together, you still don’t get this?”
That statement by Jesus convicted me. When I think of how long I have been walking with Him, reading His word, praying, and still, I am slow to understand things at times. I am “dull of hearing,” just like them. Maybe you can relate to this as well.
Jesus proceeds to explain His teaching to them. External things do not go into the heart and therefore cannot affect the morality of the heart. They pass through the stomach and then are eliminated by normal biological functions! (A person is not defiled morally if his hands are unclean or not ceremonially washed before eating).
The issue here is not what’s on the outside of the man BUT what’s on the inside! Defilement proceeds from within man’s heart (the seat of emotions and will).
All kinds of evil, perversions, coveting, pride, etc., come forth from the heart of man. They are ALREADY in us and defiling us. Even though a person observes ceremonial rituals with diligence, he can still be MORALLY unclean by the issue of sin in his heart (lusted with her already in your heart- Matthew 5:27-28).
Verse 19 was probably written to help non-Jewish readers who may have been confused over Jewish food laws (Roman’s 14:14; Galatians 2:11-17).
“Evil thoughts unite with one’s will to produce evil words and actions.” It is these things that proceed from the man and defile him.
“I sicken as I think how man has plaqued his fellow-men by his sins. But I will not go through the list, nor need I: the devil has preached upon this text this week, and few have been able to escape the horrible exposition” (Spurgeon).
“This is a powerful reminder that what God first wants from us is our heart. We can only really be changed before God from the inside out. If the life and the power and the work of God isn’t real in our heart, then it isn’t real at all” (source unknown).