Truth Verses Tradition (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; John 7:1). The religious leaders were
constantly looking for some charge to bring against Christ. A committee, from the Council at Jerusalem,
accused His disciples of violating the traditions of the Jewish elders. They were not going through the
ceremonial washings when they ate. Pharisees held tradition above the Word of God. Rabbi Eleaszer
said, “He who expounds the Scriptures in opposition to tradition has no share in the world to come.”
There are no fewer than twelve treatises on the washing of cups and pitchers in the Mishnah. Christ also
condemns their washings in Matthew 23:25-26.
The Ceremonial Washing of Hands. The hands were held finger tips pointing upwards; water was
poured over them and had to run at least down the wrist; the minimum amount of water was one quarter
of a log, which is equal to one and half egg-shells full of water. While the hands were still wet each hand
had to be cleansed with the fist of the other. The fist of one hand was rubbed into the palm and against
the surface of the other. This meant that at this stage the hands were wet with water; but that water was
now unclean because it had touched unclean hands. Next, the hands had to be held with finger tips
pointing downwards and water had to be poured over them in such a way that it began at the wrists and
ran off at the finger tips. After all that had been done the hands were clean.
To fail to do this washing was in Jewish eyes, not to be guilty of bad manners, not to be dirty in the health
sense, but to be unclean in the sight of God. Whenever the Jews practiced these washings, they declared
that they were “special” and that all other people were unclean. Hence, mere contact with Gentiles, who
did not practice these traditions, made a Jew unclean. Such were the man-made traditions Jesus was up
against. Calling the Pharisees hypocrites, He counters their accusation with a condemnation from Isaiah
29:13. Their worship was merely an outward show, not from the heart. “Hypocrite” means play actor.
Even if they were sincere, God would reject their worship since Truth is absolutely essential to acceptable
worship (John 4:24).
Jesus indictment of the Jews is “you have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the
traditions of men” (Mark 7:8). The Mishnah records, “It is a greater offense to teach anything contrary to
the voice of the Rabbis than to contradict Scripture itself.” Clearly, Jesus rejects the traditions of the
elders with Scripture. Jesus taught that worshiping God in our own way and manner is vain. Rites that
are wrong will drive us further away from Truth. All true worshipers must worship God in Spirit and
Circumventing the Law. Christ proceeds to show how they circumvented the stringent requirements of
the Law, which required a son to support an indigent parent. They side step the Law by ceremonially
dedicating all that they had to God by pronouncing the word Corban over it. The tradition absolved the
son from responsibility to his father and eased the conscience of the son from the guilt that failure to
fulfill the Law would bring.
The Parable and Condemnation. To drive home His point, Jesus tells a parable: “Nothing outside a
man can make him `unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him
`unclean’.” Amazingly, the disciples need it explained. Jesus makes clear the condemnation of those who
follow tradition for His heavenly Father will uproot them because they are blind guides along with
anyone who follows them.