Mark 7:1-5… And the Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots). 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”
In Mark 6:53-56, following the feeding of the 5,000 and the stilling of the storm on the sea, Jesus and his disciples arrived in the land of Gennesaret – a highly populated district known for its beauty and lush plains. And as always a large crowd awaited Jesus when he got there. There were sick people waiting to be healed and others who, after hearing about the woman who simply touched Jesus and was healed (5:25-34), were waiting to touch Jesus for healing.
Two other groups that awaited Jesus this time, having come all the way from Jerusalem, were the Pharisees and some scribes (lawyers). These two groups of men were the religious conservatives of the day among the Jews. They were pious, adhered to the Mosaic Law, and had many traditions that they modeled to the Jews. Their traditions, however, were man-made rules that they taught everyone to obey in order to be godly. They were legalists enslaved by tradition.
These men got word of Jesus’ miracle concerning the feeding of the 5,000, but they were wholly unimpressed because they were too concerned with the fact that Jesus’ disciples had not washed their hands before eating! John 6:22-59 records a sharp and bitter argument between Jesus and these men over this issue. Verses 3-4 are parenthetical and explain this man-made tradition, for these legalists simply never ate unless they had carefully washed their hands, cleansed themselves, and washed (literally “baptized”) the pots they ate from. Now though these practices may be indicative of good hygiene, the Pharisees viewed them as essential for holiness. Anyone who didn’t do so was scorned. Now the purpose of these “traditions of the elders” was not to keep the hands clean but to ceremonially wash away ritual defilement on the hands before eating. Defilement came from touching a dead body to simply touching a Gentile. There was even the widespread belief that a demon named Shibtah attached itself to people’s hands while they slept, and the only way to detach it was to ceremonially wash. If not, the demon was believed to enter the body through the unwashed hands. One Jewish rabbi of that day is quoted as saying, “Whoever lives in the land of Israel and eats common food with rinsed hands assures himself of eternal life.” Another rabbi of the day promised that he would walk four miles to rinse with water if need be than to eat with un-rinsed hands. Clearly, this tradition was important to the Jews, but amazingly it had no Scriptural backing. It was a simple tradition gone haywire.
Food for Thought
Traditions taught by mere mortals for the purpose of being godly, unless they have a biblical leg to stand on, are legalistic and often satanic. From teaching people to abstain from alcohol to avoiding eating meat on Fridays, these are man-made. If traditions like these, given that they are not taught in the Bible, are promoted in order to attain an exalted form of godliness, then those that teach such are accursed! (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). These are not a part of our salvation. So beware of the traditions of humans. We can’t add to or subtract from the simple gospel message given as a free gift to those who call upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
Mark 7:6-13… And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 7 In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
After confronting Jesus as to why he would allow his disciples to shun the tradition of the elders and eat bread with unwashed hands, Jesus simply deferred to Scripture. While they were concerned with why Jesus would break their man-made traditions, Jesus was concerned as to why they would break the clear teaching of God in order keep the traditions of humans.
Jesus looked at the Pharisees in disgust and quoted Isaiah 29:13 (in vv. 6-7) as being fulfilled in these legalistic pagans who thought themselves to be godly. Isaiah dealt with the same problem as Jesus in 700 BC, so this is why Jesus quoted him. He called them “hypocrites” – literally actors/pretenders. In other words, their traditions (like hand-washings) were hollow and hypocritical forms of holiness. Their outward piety looked good, but inwardly they were charlatans. Jesus condemned them as people who honored God with religiosity but who had hearts that were “far away from Me.” Their motives for being pious had nothing to do with honoring God, and in v. 7 Jesus also condemned them as men who worshipped God “in vain” – with emptiness and without result. Their crime? They were teaching man-made doctrines as precepts for godliness. No wonder they hated Jesus. He was the real deal; they were frauds.
Jesus, in v. 10, quotes from the OT Scriptures (held in high regard by the Pharisees) concerning the fifth commandment, namely to honor one’s father and mother. He did this because the Pharisees had actually “nullified” the fifth commandment by their tradition. Though dishonoring one’s parents by not taking care of them was punishable by death, the Pharisees worked their way around this by forming a tradition out of their own selfish motives. And Jesus threw it in their face by exposing their hypocrisy. The term “Corban” in v. 11 is a Hebrew term that refers to an item (such as land) put aside as gift for God. Those who dedicated anything to God were expected to keep their vow (cf. Num. 30:2). So, if a man’s parents asked for financial aid in their latter years their son could tell them, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by is a gift devoted to the Lord.” Then the man was excused from his responsibility to support his parents and uphold the commandment. Now except for what may have been vowed to the Temple or synagogue, however, the Corban items remained in the person’s hands usable to him at his discretion. He could actually re-dedicate them back to himself if he needed! So the tradition wasn’t designed to serve God but to serve self by avoiding the fifth commandment.
Food for Thought
Traditions fill the church today. They’re obeyed instinctively and with little to no thought or conviction. And since they’re concocted by men obeying them is easy. Most traditions require no faith, no trust, and no dependence on God. They tend to appeal to our flesh by feeding our pride and breeding self-righteousness. So be careful of traditions that have no biblical backing.
Mark 7:14-16… And after He called the multitude to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 [“If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.”]
After lambasting the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees for their traditions which had taken precedence over the Scriptures in their own lives, Jesus passionately called the large crowd together so as to teach and redirect them, for they had been led astray by their hypocritical teachers. The verbal structure in the Greek text (aorist imperative – “after he called”) is dubbed “attendant circumstance” in Greek. It always signifies an urgent request. It is used throughout Scripture, but specifically in Matthew 28:19 where Jesus commanded the disciples to “go!” into all nations and preach the Truth. It is called the Great Commission by Christians today, but it’s the aorist imperative that’s used to show how urgent the command was (and is). Without the aorist imperative, however, the command would have resembled more of a request than a command – the Great Suggestion rather than the Great Commission.
So Jesus actually summoned the crowd to him after the bitter exchange between he and the Pharisees in order to give them an urgent message. The aorist participle “after he called” is one word in Greek signifying a summons of people, and the aorist imperative follows with two verbs from the lips of Jesus: listen AND understand. Signified by the verb tense Jesus’ message was not only urgent, it was vital to correcting the false teaching the people had been subjected to under the scribes/Pharisees. The message? “Listen and understand”… there is absolutely nothing a person can eat or drink – nothing that goes into a person – that defiles him. In other words, a person can eat with unwashed hands, drink alcohol (so long as they don’t get drunk!), eat pork (or any meat whatsoever), etc. and yet not be in an immoral state or unacceptable to the Lord. NOTHING in and of itself that a person eats or drinks can disqualify them from being faithful children of God. In the Greek text the term “nothing” is emphasized (sitting as the first word in v. 15), so we can picture Jesus emphasizing that word by raising his voice so that there would be no misunderstanding by those gathered. And those gathered would have included the scribes and Pharisees who had come down from Jerusalem to harp on this one point. They too were there, and Jesus meticulously condemned them and their hypocrisy for teaching such nonsense.
Verse 16 is in brackets because the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts (2nd-4th centuries) do not have it. However, later Greek versions (from which the KJV is based) do contain the verse. It was most likely inserted by a well-meaning scribe so as to reiterate the words of Jesus because in doing so Jesus actually proclaimed all foods as being neutral. This verse, however, should not be considered as part of the original Greek text of Mark. This in no way proves that the Bible has errors, but it does show that over time, in order to give more clarity and emphasis to the inspired text, some scribes inserted thoughts and ideas that, though uninspired, were helpful to the meaning of the text. Comparing the oldest versions of the Greek text to the more recent ones possessed by scholars shows when and where these additions are.
Food for Thought
Oftentimes a more in-depth look at the Scriptures will cause us to see the urgency of what is written and add the emphasis we sometimes miss by just reading words on a page. The gist of 7:14-16 is this: all foods/drinks are acceptable and don’t make us “unclean.” What does make us immoral isn’t food, it’s the filth, gossip, and hypocrisy that comes out of our mouths and lives.
Mark 7:17-23… And when leaving the multitude, he had entered the house, his disciples questioned him about the parable. 18 And he said, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus he declared all foods clean). 20 And he said, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Whatever “house” Jesus entered into following his sharp exchange with the scribes and Pharisees is unknown. It was likely the home of one of Jesus’ followers who had offered them housing for the night. While there the disciples asked him about the parable he spoke which claimed that no food going into a person could make him unclean. After all, the dietary laws found in the OT were extremely strict about what a follower of God could and couldn’t eat. The disciples, as devout Jews, were obviously stunned by Jesus’ words, so they asked him to explain.
As Lane has said, “Jesus had no intention of denying that the purity laws occupy a significant place in the Mosaic code (Lev. 11:1-47; Deut. 14:1-20) or of detracting from the dignity of men who suffered death rather than violate the Law of God governing unclean foods (1 Maccabees 1:62). Rather he presses home the recognition that the ultimate seat of purity of defilement before God is the heart.” Just prior to this he had quoted Isaiah 29:13 which says, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Clearly it was the heart Jesus was evaluating and not the mere outward behavior patterns associated with man-made traditions. So Jesus looked at the disciples and condescendingly asked them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also?” Even though they had the benefit of following Jesus and seeing his miracles first-hand they were essentially no different than the crowd of unbelievers that had been following Jesus. Their hearts were hard, but they at least appeared willing to understand Jesus.
Jesus’ explanation isn’t rocket science, but it does require explanation due to the fact that his teaching seemed to contradict the Jewish dietary laws which did in fact state that some foods can cause a man to be unclean. The explanation in v. 19, however, is in keeping with the tradition of washing one’s hands before eating. Jesus said that it simply didn’t matter because nothing a person ate would make them unclean. All foods go into the stomach, are digested, and are later eliminated. In saying this Mark adds that Jesus declared all foods as eatable and clean. In other words, the Jewish dietary laws were eliminated right then and there. Israel had their God-given Law (through Moses) complete with dietary regulations in order to separate them from the pagan nations around them. Now Jesus goes a step further, eliminates the dietary laws, and tells everyone that followers of God must be more concerned with what comes out of their hearts and minds as opposed to what goes into their mouths. For immorality has nothing to do with eating food – absolutely nothing! Uncleanness, that is immorality, comes from man’s heart. Those sins include “evil thoughts, sexual perversions, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”
Food for Thought
The heart of a man represents his inner person – his attitude, desires, thoughts, motives. When a man’s heart is dishonest, immoral, and selfish so will be his actions – even his good deeds. But consider, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
Tradition and the Bible:
1. Scribes/Pharisees put tradition above Scripture (common today)
2. The Talmud (repository of Jewish tradition) teaches that God gave the oral law to Moses and then told Moses to pass it on to great men of Israel. These men were then to do three things with the law they had received. First, they were to deliberate on it and properly apply it. Second, they were to train disciples in order that the next generation would have teachers of the law. Third, they were to build a wall around the law in order to protect it.
3. Because the heart of the Pharisees was not right w/God they undermined God’s Word w/their own traditions.
4. To provide the means for superficially keeping God's commandments, regulation after regulation and ceremony after ceremony were added, until God's own Word was utterly hidden behind the wall of tradition.
5. The first scribes gathered God’s words to make comments on various passages that seemed unclear. Gradually a larger and larger accumulation of interpretations was developed until there was more interpretation than Scripture. The distinction between the two was obscured, but tradition came to be superior to the Law – so much so that it was said, “the words of scribes are more lovely than the words of the law.”
God’s Word tells us not the take the name of the Lord thy God in vain (Ex. 20:7)
- God’s name is taken in vain more in the church than outside of it.
- Used mechanically in repetitious prayers and liturgies
- Singing praise w/no thought of Him while singing about Him
- Thoughtless prayer w/o genuine devotion
- Isa. 1:13-15 says that God will hide his face from those who multiply their prayers while at the same time living sinfully.
- Isa. 1:16-17 is God’s command to wash oneself and make clean on the inside
- Those who aren’t clean inwardly cannot worship properly
- Isa. 66:2-3 says, “To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, who trembles at my Word.”
- Some folks think that outward piety is worship, and their selfish devotion is only practiced for self-serving reasons. They want what they can get from God.
I) The Compassionate Healer (6:53-56)
II) The Condemning Judge (7:1-13)
A) The Confrontation (1-5)
B) The Condemnation (6-13)
III) The Correcting Teacher (14-23)
A) The principle stated (14-16)
B) The principle violated by hypocrites (Matthew 15:12-14)
1) Offended by Truth
2) Destined for judgment (God allows them to grow up with the wheat)
3) They lead others astray
C) The principle elucidated (17-23)
Traditions of our day with NO biblical support
1. Altar calls
3. Choir, hymns (or no choir and traditional music)
4. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night (and eat!), and visitation night
5. Doughnuts & coffee
6. 11:00 worship hour
7. Wearing “Sunday best”
8. Traditional church (stained glass windows w/bench seats and a steeple)
9. Infant baptism
10. Fall festival, Christmas party, etc.
I) True Compassion = Truthful teaching.
II) Jesus condemned that which was at odds with Scripture (you have to know Scripture to know that which contradicts it, adds to it, or subtracts from it).
A) We must confront (engage) error
B) We must lovingly condemn error
III) Correcting Errors Begins with Us
A) Evil thoughts,
F) Deeds of coveting and wickedness,
· When a person is defiled on the inside what he does on the outside is defiled. When a person is pure in heart – undefiled on the inside – he will “see God” (Matthew 5:8).