Mark 7:1-8 – The Tradition of Hand Washing

In Mark 7:1-5 the Pharisees question Jesus over his lack of attention to the tradition of “hand washing” before meals.  This is “markan sandwich,” since hand washing will return in 7:14-23, with the material on Corban in the center (7:6-13)

While the crowds are growing larger and the miracles are increasing in number and intensity, the Pharisees are growing increasingly angry with Jesus because he does not observe their traditions concerning ritual purity.  “Unclean hands” refers to the state of ritual impurity, therefore the Pharisees are accusing Jesus of behaving in a way that would make him unclean with respect to their traditions.

Mark provides a short explanation of the sorts of washings that the Pharisees use to ensure that they are always ritually pure, making the section accessible to the non-Jewish reader.  Jesus uses this attack as an opportunity to preach against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, including the very difficult verse in which Mark interprets something that Jesus says as declaring all foods to be clean  (7:19).

As Neusner has pointed out, the Pharisees tried to create the conditions of purity required in the Temple.  It is critical, however, to realize that the Pharisees were in fact a popular group in the first century among the common people (JW 2.162-163, 166, cf. Antiq. 13:172 and Antiq. 18.12-15).  They were the interpreters of the Torah for many of the common people, although they were criticized for their traditions by the Sadducees and Qumran community.  They did not seek to impose their tradition of hand washing on all the people, only their own group.

What is Jesus doing here?  Is he intentionally ignoring the tradition of the Pharisee because it is not biblical?  Was this a “mission strategy” intended to draw the sinner into a relationship with Jesus?   Is he trying to challenge these traditions, or is he simply eating a meal with sinners?  When Jesus ate at the house of a Pharisee, did he wash his hands as we expected?  Maybe we can consider this a case of “all things to all men.”

A more interesting question (to me) is why the Pharisees think that Jesus ought to submit to their tradition of hand-washing.  I think that Jesus was teaching things which resonated most with the Pharisees and there is at least a possibility that they thought he was “one of them.”  Jesus is described as discussing the Law with Pharisees and weighing in on issues like a Rabbi (divorce, for example).  But he was not a Pharisee in that he did not attempt to maintain Temple purity at all times.  Theologically he was “conservative” but socially (from the Pharisee’s perspective) he was permissive.

Is it possible to use either of these perspectives as a model for modern ministry?  What sorts of “traditions” are commonly defended which are not particularly based on Scripture?  How do we challenge a tradition without destroying what the tradition (originally) meant?

22 thoughts on “Mark 7:1-8 – The Tradition of Hand Washing

  1. I appreciate the way you explained Jesus’ standing when you wrote “Theologically he was “conservative” but socially (from the Pharisee’s perspective) he was permissive.”” Because he was speaking with authority and about the law with the Pharisees they wanted him to be a Pharisee, held to the standards of the law, simply because of his claims to be on the same level as God, surely he would observe such traditions. Pharisees weren’t legalistic in their time. They were doing what God had commanded of them and were seeking him with all they had in the way that God gave them in the law. But, like Strauss and Jesus explains, men weren’t made for law and Sabbath, but the law and Sabbath were made for men. And Strauss goes on to say, “If human beings have authority of the Sabbath, how much more does the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath” (Strauss 472). I choose to relate the law and Sabbath because Strauss pairs them in Four Portraits as one of Jesus’ claims, to have authority over the both of them. In this way Jesus shows that traditions such as Sabbath and hand washing aren’t meant to be lived for, but used as a sign of faith in cases, and a tool to grow closer to God and live how he wants them to. Jesus introduces faith as a matter of the heart and not of action, gender, nation, or anything like that. But in passages such as this, he isn’t “intentionally ignoring” the tradition because it isn’t Biblical, but because in his own coming he does away with the binds of such laws and changes knowledge and reverence of the Lord from a deed-based identification of salvation to a faith based identification of salvation. “One of the most astonishing claims made by Jesus was that the destiny of human beings depended on their response to him.” (473). Matthew 10:32-33, 40 makes this clear, and Jesus claims to have that authority of judgment of salvation based on ones belief in himself and his mission of redemption that God has sent him for. I believe that is what Jesus was doing there, not condemning of the law, but introducing his fulfillment of it through his life as a sacrifice to pay prices such as these.
    In terms of using either of the perspectives in modern ministry regarding traditions, as ones in the church, they are made for us, not us for them. We have to keep in mind that as some of us try to cling to church traditions meanwhile others try to completely change and do away with certain traditions that they are tools (in some cases examples from Christ) of how we should pray and worship God. The good news is that today the whole church doesn’t have to run their church service the same way, or pray at the same time in the same manner, or wash their hands (be ceremonially clean) in order to be fit for God. Jesus himself presents us blameless and without blemish to God, not through our traditions or works. Ephesians 5:26-27. That was what Jesus was doing when he chose not to observe hand washing.

  2. I believe that when Jesus did not wash his hands before a meal, and when he did things that went against the Pharisees belief, he was doing this not only to make a statement against the Pharisees but to not put blockades in front of his ministry. Jesus did not completely dismiss all of the Pharisees teachings as invaluable, when the Pharisees confronted Jesus and tried to confuse him, he answered with tact. When they asked him if divorce was permissible, he answered with a more conservative answer. Many times over Jesus taught that inner purity is more important that following a list of rules and regulations on what you can and cannot do. Jesus is shifting away from the legalistic and moving towards purity of the heart, which he came to cleanse. At the same time Jesus related with sinners and did not bother himself with laws that would constrict his ministry. “If you had a sheep that fell into the well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would.” (Matthew 12:11) Jesus is the great shepherd who was willing to put his sheep’s wellbeing before rules and the objection of others.

  3. Jesus came to exemplify love and acceptance to all people. The Pharisees were strictly about the law (and the traditions) while Jesus was about mercy. Jesus did not run with the status quo which would give him a “rebel” label. Jesus got to the heart, the Pharisees to the head. In Mark 7:14-23 Jesus nails it as to what really defiles a person; evil thoughts, sexual immorality, murder, adultery, coveting etc… Jesus minces no words in quoting Isaiah “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me. teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. A model for modern ministry should be an example of Christ in his ways of mercy, acceptance, and love but, we should never compromise what the word of God says regarding sin. People tend use “traditions” as a way of getting others to conform to their image trying to use scripture in doing so. “You must look this way, you must dress that way” in regards to church going. Yes, Paul told women to dress modestly and not to wear “flashy” things but, People need to accept others for who they are not what they look like that does not measure up their expectations. Traditions need to be challenged scripturally and in a spirit of love. Again, Jesus got down to the heart, let us do the same.

    • The story of Jesus and His disciples eating with ‘unclean’ hands is loaded with questions as P. Long points out. After reading the passage, I think that Jesus is there eating with the Pharisees and teachers of the law in order to show talk to them about their hypocrisy. They point out to Jesus that His disciples are eating with ‘unclean’ hands and that He should have rebuked them for that. However, Jesus turns it right back on them and points them to their hypocrisy. Verse 8 says, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” As Christ points out, Jesus wants to look at the heart of the issue. Jesus is not saying that the tradition here is wrong, but that they should be more worried about the ‘inside’ of man because that is what makes them unclean. Strauss says, “The Pharisees expect Jesus, a rabbi, to act in this same exclusive manner” (Strauss 477). I think that Jesus wanted to point out their hypocrisy, but also wanted to show them that salvation is not limited to their exclusive group. I wonder if there are any traditions we have now that excludes people? I am sure that there are churches that have traditions that make it hard for visitors to become involved and engaged with the people there. Sometimes I wonder if water baptism becomes an exclusive act that distinguishes people. I am not saying water baptism is wrong, but I think if it is taken in the wrong way, it can be something that divides people, which is not what Jesus preached. I think that perspective of ‘being all things to all men’ is important in spreading the gospel and being open to unbelievers.

  4. I think that both of those interpretations sound like good sermons in the making. Jesus could have been doing this so that he would stand out and Be a light to the world; “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” (Mat. 5:14). We could point out that Jesus was doing this so that he would shine among the sinners and pharisees so that He could further His Kingdom. 1 Corinthians 9 defiantly came into my mind as I was reading through this post. Jesus could have been setting the example of what it looks like to be all things for all men. However, I think that something that especially stands out is how Jesus continuously shocked the Pharisees when he did not follow many of their traditions, like the Sabbath (John 5). This continuous attitude towards some of the traditions showed Jesus’ authority over those rules and regulations. “Unlike other rabbis or prophets, Jesus places himself in authority over these two foundations of Judaism,” (Strauss, 472). Jesus did not need to under those laws and traditions because he was bringing a new Kingdom that did not rely on those traditions. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and He has authority over it. Traditions that we often cling to as Christians are traditions that we often hold in out home churches. I see it often when people get used to a way of doing something in the church is almost becomes a law to them to do things that way. For example singing hymns could be something that a church could not want to get ride of because they believe that it is more worshipful then the contemporary music now days. Although it is not wrong for them to think they worship better with that selection of music, it is important to point out that others might. I think a good way to go about confronting anything thing that is not biblical but has turned into a personal “law” in our church is by reasoning through it. Asking for biblical support for their reasoning and then challenging them to see the other persons perspective.

  5. P.Long makes a great point stating, “It is critical, however, to realize that the Pharisees were in fact a popular group in the first century among the common people”. Just like we have been doing, we need to think in the context of first century Judaism and even the Greco-Roman world. The Pharisees grew popular among the Jewish people. They interpreted the Torah and they set the standard and an example for observance of the Law. Jesus’ disagreement and accusations of the Pharisees hypocrisy definitely could have been a turn-off to the possibility of his Messianic potential. There are many different accounts of this happening throughout the Gospels, the ritual of hand washing being one of them. Jesus was a rabbi and I find it both interesting and funny the expectations that came along with that title. “The Pharisees expect Jesus, a rabbi, to act in this same exclusive manner” (Strauss 477). In this context Strauss is talking about the Pharisee’s standard in regards to eating food that were not ceremonially clean and even dining with sinners. This is another example of Jesus ‘becoming all things to all men’ and doing the opposite a Pharisee would do. His behavior often offended his religious opponents, and this offending usually led to opportunity for Jesus announcing his coming as an establishment of the kingdom of God. Jesus and his disciples were also accused by the Pharisees for not obeying the Sabbath. Jesus replies, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath”. And I think we can replace the word Sabbath with the word Law. God gave the Law and his commands for a purpose and a reason. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses writes that God gave the Law so that life could be enjoyed. The Pharisees let the Law that God gave become a tradition. Jesus came not only to properly interpret the law but to fulfill it.

  6. As some of the other postings have already pointed out, Jesus was far more concerned with the heart of the Law than he was with following it to the letter. True moral purity is what God desires and Jesus may have went out of his way, in some cases, to show that observing tradition falls short of purity within one’s own heart. Up until this point in time, the Jewish religious leaders had been elevating tradition to the point where it had become nearly impossible to follow. The focus of the Jewish people, in turn, became so consumed with following not only the Law, but also cultural additions to it, they were neglected the condition of their own hearts. This defilement of the heart was far more unacceptable in the eyes of God than the breaking of simple hand-washing ceremonies. By ignoring ceremonial practices in dining with Gentiles, Jesus was making a statement that his mission was to draw outsiders to himself. As Strauss points out in the chapter, “the new age of salvation means free forgiveness of sins to all who respond in faith” (pg. 477). A strict observance of the Law would undermine the message he wanted to send to the Pharisees as well as the message he wanted to send to the Gentiles.

  7. “…why the Pharisees think that Jesus ought to submit to their tradition of hand-washing.” I think because Jesus was seen as a leader or a Rabbi, they would want him to follow their rules so when he was looked at by the other people and those who do not have high standing “spiritually” then they would see how the leaders were needed to be clean. If I had been a Pharisee at the time then I would have wanted Jesus to do very similar things as me, just to make sure that people understood how important it is to be ritually clean. Because Jesus had very similar beliefs and views on things then in their minds he should be on the same page as this simple thing of being clean.
    I think this is still something churches argue about today as being important or not. I do not think this issue necessarily is as important as others that people can take. I can think of many examples that I think are important to still follow today, but not necessarily taken from scripture but important to follow.
    Baptism for example… Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, but he never goes on to say that we should baptize or be baptized. But churches today take that and decide that baptism is important to an outward showing of faith, and also important for salvation. But it was never said directly by Jesus that we should baptize. Something along these lines as well as the hand-washing with the Pharisees, I place them on the same importance level and in the same category when it comes to this topic.

  8. So often when I hear stories about the Pharisees I get caught up in my elementary understanding of them— that they are terrible people who possess a “holier than thou” mentality. While these ideas may be true to some degree, I have to remind myself that the Pharisees were respected people in their community who did their best to follow the rules. They taught the people the Word of God and did their best to abide by and obey the rules of the law. However, the important lesson that I believe Jesus sought to teach through his ministry was that following him and preparing for his kingdom on earth involved the heart rather than just practices of rules and regulations. While God gave the people the law in Old Testament times in order for them to have guidelines for living a life devoted to him, the gospels served as a transition period in which Jesus was sent to the earth as a vessel for God’s kingdom. This very kingdom was beginning to manifest itself in the form of Jesus’ ministry as he was preparing to save his people and provide salvation through grace rather than abiding by the regulations of the Old Testament law. His kingdom was already manifesting itself in the world of the people, yet those who claimed to be his followers did not even recognize it. They were so focused on the rituals and regulations that they did not recognize their own Messiah and Deliverer. While the Pharisees so strictly abided by the law, Jesus introduced to them an element of his kingdom in which believers associate with the sinners, clean with unclean, bridging the gap in order to bring transformation to the people. Throughout the gospels, Jesus continually rebukes the Pharisees and religious leaders who are so set in the ways of the law that they fail to acknowledge the purpose of it in the first place. While they believed it to be unlawful for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath and associate with sinners, Jesus rebuked them and showed them a new way of thinking. In Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of wrongdoing when he allowed his disciples to pick grain for food on the Sabbath and yet again when he healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath. In both instances, he corrected their faulty views and attempted to direct them in the right way. However, they were so blinded by their ways that they failed to acknowledge their Savior and Messiah who was among them. While the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for his lack of hand washing prior to his meal with the disciples in Mark 7, I believe this was yet another instance in which Jesus attempted to correct the Pharisees’ way of thinking and show them that the laws of clean and unclean were no longer applicable and were extremely important to break down in order to have effective ministry. Taking the example of Jesus’ healing ministry, he brought transformation to the sinners and the unclean rather than being defiled by them. As Strauss visits this idea by providing the examples of Jesus touching a dead body, the leprous and a bleeding woman, he says, “In each case, Jesus was not rendered unclean; rather he ‘cleansed’ or healed the person. The kingdom of God is not defiled by the world but brings transformation to it” (Strauss 463). In this way, I believe Jesus was calling his people to bring transformation to the lost rather than being so caught up in rules and regulations. He attempted to show them that his kingdom was at work and had the power to transform and save even the lowliest of sinners.

  9. I would have to agree with the fact that Jesus was more focused and interested on his ministry and not on what the law had to say about being “clean.” I agree with Scott in saying that Jesus was doing this to show the Pharisees that it is not about the things one has to do before any kind of ministry has to be made, but in fact, it is all about the heart of a man before they go into ministry. I think Jesus is making a point when showing that one does not need to particularly do certain traditions when it comes to doing ministry. God is more focused on the heart of the person and really looking to see who is going to love the “unclean.” I think that there are certain things that should be done before or during ministry just to show respect to the people and to honor God. Things like taking your hat off when one prays, it is not a rule one has to follow in order to be fully focused on the prayer, but it is taken as a respectable thing to do in the church. Just like hand washing, it is an act of respect, not so much a need when it comes to ministry.

  10. I think this goes along well with the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount just from the other side. During the sermon on the mount Jesus tells the people that if anyone looks on someone lustfully they have committed adultery in their hearts. In the same way here Jesus is getting at the heart behind the action, he was conservative in his think but not in his actions because the Jews had gotten away from the intent or reason the tradition came from. The idea is that washing your hands or ceremonially cleaning yourself doesn’t actually clean your heart. (Luke 11:38-41)

  11. There may have been many points that Jesus was trying to get across when not washing his hands before eating. I agree with Erika when she says, “Jesus was more focused and interested on his ministry and not on what the law had to say about being “clean.” This is a great and very true statement I believe. Why would it matter to Jesus if his hands were clean before he ate, why should he have to listen to the pharisees? He did not disagree with everything they said or did though. Jesus was just focusing more on his ministry then what the pharisees may have thought was clean or unclean.

  12. It sounds repetitive, but it is true that all of the things Jesus did pointed to the heart of the person rather than the action. Yes, sometimes the actions or the things people do are really good and may even profit others, but if their heart is not good, then the deed was done in vain. Again, with the hand washing, we see how counter-cultural Jesus really was. He followed many of the rules that the Pharisees followed, but sometimes He strayed away from that to make a point. Just as you mentioned, P. Long, the Pharisees probably assumed Jesus was one of them, in the beginning. But eventually, as He began to teach more, they did not like Him because He began doing things that were against their rules. And as Naomi pointed out, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law; it was something that was no longer looked at and something that was no longer necessary. In this new Kingdom that Jesus was teaching about, it was now going to be about relationships, heart and people; not the Law or the guidelines that needed to be kept. Those things become a result of living as Christ and having a heart that longs for Him. By Jesus not performing the act of hand washing, He was giving them the example that it was not necessary to be so rigid in following the rules. It is okay to “slip” (maybe that’s not the best word, but I don’t know how else to say it) a couple times if it means ministering to someone and giving them your heart. I think by following Jesus’ method here, we can knock out a few traditions that are found in churches today. There are things that people do merely because that’s the way it’s been done for so long, but they aren’t necessarily biblical. Like the way communion or offering is done, or even the format of the entire church service for that matter. There are not technical outlines of how these things are to be done, but some churches can get into such a rut that they think anything other than the way they do it, is wrong. In this reading, we see that Jesus commented on this very thing when He spoke to the Pharisees, quoting from Isaiah, “you have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:8).

  13. I think it is important as well to state that throughout Jesus ministry he was talking about God’s Kingdom. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, that anyone who is in Christ all things are made new. This then leads to Jesus questioning the hearts of the Pharisees. Just like Scott Spooner mentioned above that there were several times when the Pharisees try to “trick” Jesus and twist there words. However, Jesus ended up answering them with a question or asking for their thoughts. Strauss mentions, “The law was instituted not to restrict people but to guide and enrich their lives” (472). I think that there is a way to challenge a tradition with out losing the original meaning of that tradition. I think that it is possible to take the meaning of a tradition and go about teaching that tradition differently. It is important to be constantly evaluating our hearts in every single situation. I do not think Jesus ignored the laws to annoy the Pharisees but to make a point. Jesus spent most of his time with sinners and unwanted people. Everything that Jesus does has meaning!!

  14. I believe that the reason that Jesus didn’t abide by the rules already set was because it was his way of saying that there would be a revolution of sorts. All throughout his ministry, Jesus goes against many different beliefs and/or rituals that the Pharisees held so dear. Specifically so, hand-washing as a part of being “ceremonially clean” was one of them. The reason why the Pharisees took such a big offense to that, in my opinion, was because they were afraid of any change. They figured, why fix something that isn’t broken? Which is what we usually do in today’s society. We’re so afraid of change that we keep asking questions rather than listening and doing. At least, and I speak for myself, I’ve been doing that. Change brings the unknown, and to the Pharisees, that might not have been the best and safest route to take.

  15. “Theologically he was “conservative” but socially (from the Pharisee’s perspective) he was permissive.”

    I think this statement says it all. I don’t think Jesus was trying to break the law, he himself states that he came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. I think Jesus was sick of people using the law and knowledge of the law to place themselves on higher ground then others. I also think he was sick of his people seeing the law as being a barrier between them and those who did not follow it. Socially Jesus accepted those who didn’t know or follow the law and spent time with them. The truth of the matter is that is Jesus was going to divide himself from those who didn’t follow the law, then Jesus would have broke bread at his last supper with himself, because he was the only human who never sinned. Jesus’ concern, was a concern of where the heart was. The sinners he broke bread with accepted him, the Pharisee’s condemned him. Jesus was of course concerned with the actions of others, and concerned with the issue of sin. But he went to those who sinned, because their hearts were open to him. They knew they were sinners. Jesus didn’t care to bother with already closed off hearts.

    As Christians we often can be “’conservative’ but socially permissive” as well. When we meet someone for the first time, and they curse, or start talking about something we know is wrong for them to do (depending on the degree) we let it go. Relationships won’t usually last very long when right off the bat we come out swinging at the flaws that people have.

    I remember hearing Edward Dobson talking about how his church board got together and decided to try and help the “Outcasts” in their community as much as they could. The decided to go to the local AIDs clinic, and volunteer. The Clinic was almost entirely run by the gay community. They went in with an attitude of “you know what we believe, and we know what you believe. Can we put that aside right now, and can you tell us what we can do here to help you.” I think this action by Dobson and his fellow Church board members was very Christ-like in being “’conservative’ but socially permissive.”

  16. I think that the idea of Jesus being thought of as a Pharisee is incredibly accurate. Especially when we consider the influence that he had on them and vice versa. Consider the fact that the Pharisees we consistently trying to confront Jesus whenever he did something that went against conventional practice and tradition. Why would they do this if Jesus was not a threat to their way of life? Or, the fact that Jesus ate with Pharisees; a privilege that would have been granted to the elite within the religious or political world. We also see Jesus gathering disciples as a Rabbi and teaching the law (even if his ideas were a little different than usual). And it seems likely that even if he did not consider himself to be a Pharisee that many others would have. The Pharisees were the holy men. If anyone were set apart and worthy of being God’s holy people, it was the Pharisees who followed the law to extremes. And it seems like people would have thought of Jesus as someone who was trying to stick to those ideals, since in their perspective he rarely sinned. He would have seemed and acted like a righteous man. And maybe this is a reason that Jesus challenged the Pharisees so much. Because, if any man was to be considered righteous, it would be Jesus. And perhaps he was fed up with the self-righteous attitudes of holiness and pride that came from the people who followed God’s law with their lips and not with their hearts. Perhaps Jesus did think of himself as a Pharisee, and found it frustrated to be challenged on the trivial issues and traditions that cared more about legalism than about the heart of the Torah.

    • Interesting insight, Jared. Where the Pharisees were the extreme example of keeping the law to the finest detail with their hearts in the wrong place, Jesus was perhaps the extreme example of having his heart in the truly right place while having no care for useless traditions that were only kept in order to be outwardly right. This view seems to be accurate. The Pharisees start this dispute by bringing up hand washing, which is a minor outward tradition, but Jesus quickly brings up the fact that they don’t keep the commandment to honor parents (Mark 7:13), which is a difficult commandment to tell definitely when someone is keeping or not keeping it.

      During Jesus ministry, he tended to redefine or tweak the way people looked at things. He would say things like, “You have heard that it was said … but I tell you” (Matt. 5:21-22) showing us new things and, as Strauss shows, demonstrating his authority (471). If “Jesus did think of himself as a Pharisee,” as you’ve suggested, maybe his intention was to redefine what it means to be an extreme keeper of the law as well. For Jesus, to be a true Pharisee means to obey the law not outwardly, but inwardly, where nobody can see it but God himself. (Matt. 6:5-6)

  17. There is a time and a purpose for everything that Jesus did. He always had a plan and purpose to be where he was and what he did. Jesus healed people to make an example and a point. He had heart and that was a major part of his ministry. I believe that Jesus eating with ‘unclean’ hands comes from his ministry or loving all people, no matter how clean or dirty they were. He got his hands dirty and was/is the truest example of ministry.

  18. I think that we can use Jesus’ example to do modern ministry. Jesus pretty much showed them that we don’t have to have fake standards to try to be Godly, but to follow God and obey only God. God did not give the pharisees the tradition, but it was something that they made themselves to set for themselves. The standards were something to make them look more Godly then what they really were. I believe Jesus was intentionally ignoring the tradition of the pharisee because it was not biblical and was not commanded by God to do. It was a mission strategy because it brought about political and spiritual questions from the pharisees to Jesus and Jesus was able to tell them what God commmanded them to do. With Him telling the pharisees what God commanded, it opened the door from them to see that the son of God did not have to follow their rules and regulations, but that He was following God’s.

  19. Why did you say, “[The Pharisees] did not seek to impose their tradition of hand washing on all the people, only their own group”? In Mark 7:5, it says, “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders,” which seems to be saying that they did impose the tradition on everyone.

    It seems to me that to boil down this whole conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees into a dispute about hand washing would be to miss an even larger point. Hand washing (or lack thereof) is how the dispute arose (Mark 7:5), but the author quickly starts to expand this to traditions of washing other things, “There are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:4). Jesus further expands the topic of tradition by bringing up a command to honor your parents (Mark 7:10) and the regulations of food laws (Mark 7:14). This topic of tradition is even further drawn out by Jesus’ outright condemnation against the Pharisees that they “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8), which is then repeated with slight variation in v. 7:9. This, to me, seems to be the crux of the story, that the Pharisees honor God “with their lips” but “their heart” is far from God. They keep traditions to be outwardly pure, but their hearts are not in it.

    Perhaps it’s simply that the tradition hand washing before eating is almost like a Jewish equivalent of something we Americans do, but this discussion immediately brought to my mind the tradition of praying before meals. And it didn’t just bring that up, but two things specifically about it. The first is that we should not do it simply as a habit or tradition. I remember, when I was very young and my parents were trying to teach me how to pray before a meal, they told me an exact prayer to pray before every meal, word-for-word. If I told you that I didn’t just fly through that prayer without a thought, I would be lying. It was a tradition, it had no meaning. But, if you treat it properly, it really can be a good thing, a reminder to be thankful. Even so, there are other ways to be thankful, a prayer before a meal is not a Scriptural mandate by any means. The second is that, perhaps, when we’re in a group of unbelievers, we should not engage in a before-meal prayer, just as how Jesus did not wash his hands when eating with sinners, as Long remarks about the situation of his not washing, “Maybe we can consider this a case of ‘all things to all men.’” People constantly say that it is being a good witness by praying before eating while you’re spending time with unbelievers, but I feel it might be more respectful, down-to-earth and human to meet them where they are. It’s something to consider, anyway.

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