Harmony of the Gospels

 Harmony of the Gospels

-AD 29
(40) Traditions Attacked
(Exodus 21:17) Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23


1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,
2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?
4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’
5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—
6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.
9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

The scribes and Pharisees quibbled with Jesus over the issue of His disciples eating with unwashed hands.  They were great men in the Jewish church, but they were enemies of the Gospel of Christ.  They were very enthusiastic about the Law of Moses, and they used that to hide their oppression of the Jewish people.  They were, for the most part, well educated business men.  These particular scribes and Pharisees were from Jerusalem, and therefore were more important and intimidating to the people and local religious leaders.

These great men charge the disciples with transgressing the traditions of the elders.  They point out that they don’t wash their hands before they ate bread.  This was only a misdemeanor, but it was the worst thing that they could charge them with.  It shows how innocently the disciples conducted themselves.

So, what was the tradition of the elders?  It was that people should wash their hands often, and always before they eat.  They believed that any food that was touched with unwashed hands caused them to be dishonored.  The Pharisees made this washing a part of their religion, and they practiced it; they forced it on others, making it a sin to not do so.  The offense of the disciples was that they didn’t wash their hands before eating bread.  They knew the Pharisees were watching them, but they chose not to wash, because they had already learned the lesson that Paul taught later, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12).  The Pharisees believed that Christ led them to break the law by His own example, so they asked why He allowed them to do it. 

Jesus answered their question, and defended His disciples in the process.  His answer was an accusation against them for doing what they accused the disciples of doing.  He told them that they had disobeyed the traditions of the elders, and the commandments of God.  They had transgressed the fifth commandment, which has as its principle to honor thy father and mother.   Children are to respect their parents, and take care of them.  In the Old Testament God said, “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)  Children could be put to death for cursing their parents.  This was such a great irritation to God that He would punish those that did it, if men did not. 

But now these men got around the commandment of God by their tradition.  Tradition taught that it was good to give to the priests.  When their parents came to the point in their lives that they needed help from their children, these men claimed that they had given all they could spare to the priests.  Therefore, the law released them from any obligation to their parents.  The problem with that way of thinking was that it went against the commandments of God, which should always have priority over the laws of man.  This was their sin, which Christ reminded them of, and which led Him to call them hypocrites.  Jesus said that their type of religious worship was hypocritical in two ways:

1. When they perform their worship, they draw nigh to God with their mouths, and honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.  The Pharisees go to the temple to pray, and when they do so they make a show of it to get the attention of others.  They appear pious, but it is for outward appearance only and not because they love God.    These men say one thing, but they mean another.  However, they can’t hide their true thoughts and intentions from God, because the thing that He looks at is the heart.  If the heart is far from him, they cannot perform an acceptable service, and theirs is a sacrifice of fools.
2. Their hypocrisy was that they taught the doctrines and commandments of men.  They paid as much respect to tradition as to the word of God.  God will only accept those things which come by way of His rules.  All that comes to Him must come from Him.  Hypocrites are doomed, because they worship in vain.  Their worship will never please God.  If worship is not in Spirit, then it is not in truth, and it amounts to nothing at all. 

Christ defended His disciples for their disobedience to the tradition of the elders, and He gave the scribes and Pharisees harsh criticism for their arrogant manner.  They did not deny His accusations and by their silence showed that they couldn’t resist the power of His words.

10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them,
“Hear and understand:
11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.
14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
15 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”
16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding?
17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

Jesus has proved that the disciples should not be blamed for transgressing the traditions of the elders by eating with unwashed hands, and now He shows that they have not done anything wrong.

Notice, that at this point, Jesus called the multitude.  They had probably been sent away by the scribes and Pharisees, who wanted to talk to Christ in private.  He was willing to speak with them privately, but He had a great regard for the multitude, so as soon as He had finished with the Pharisees, He invited the multitude to hear Him.  He wanted to evangelize the poor; for it was the foolish things and the despised things that Christ chose.  He turned from the proud and willful Pharisees, who were unteachable to the multitude, who, though humble, were willing to be taught.  He said to them Hear and understand.  The lessons He was about to teach them were contrary to what they had learned from their youth.  And there is a great need today to free men and women from principles and practices that they have been taught by false teachers.

Jesus began to teach about the vulgar errors which were being taught at this time.  He made two surprising points:
1. Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man.  It is not the type or quality of our food, or the cleanliness of our hands, that causes us to do immoral acts.  The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, Rom. 14:17.    The things that defile are those things which make us unfit for communion with God, and things that offend God.  Now, we do not offend God by what we eat; for to the pure all things are pure. (Tit. 1:15)  The Pharisees made the law something it was not by adding to it and making it a burden for the people.  Jesus saw this and spoke against it.  Jesus is now paving the way to repeal the ceremonial law that pertained to food, and He is beginning to teach His followers to call nothing unclean or common.
2. But what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.  We are not polluted by what we eat or by eating with unwashed hands, but by the words which we speak from an unconsecrated heart.  It was not the disciples that defiled themselves with what they ate, but it was the Pharisees that defiled themselves by what they said.

The disciples pointed out to Jesus that the Pharisees were offended by what He said.  I find it comical that they believed that they needed to explain anything to Him.  It was not hard to believe that the Pharisees would be offended, because they were proud upholders of the Law; actually they were enslaved to it.  The disciples didn’t want Jesus to say anything to anger the scribes and Pharisees.  But Jesus said what He wanted to say and He knew before He said anything that they would be offended.  The disciples hoped that Jesus would retract His statement or maybe correct it, or explain it some more or modify it in some way.  But Jesus never side stepped any issue, and He never modified the truth to avoid upsetting anyone.  And if we try to please men by concealing the truth, we are not servants of Christ.

Jesus despised the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, and He didn’t care if He had offended them or not.  He spoke about two things that were going to happen to them.  First, He said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted."  He was not only referring to the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees; He was also saying that their way of life, and their sect were not of God’s planting.  God disowned their pride and formality, because they sprung from man.  He didn’t plant them and therefore He will not protect them, so they will eventually be rooted up.  Second, He said, “Let them alone.”  They were so tied to their traditions and the Law that Christ told the disciples to avoid them, and to quit trying to please them.  It is a sad case when Jesus says that about any person; “Leave them alone.”  Those whom He leaves to themselves are doomed.  Then He said, “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”  Those false teachers, who teach lies, will fall into a ditch; they will face judgment.  However, those who believe the lies and follow them will wind up in the same ditch.  Both the leaders and followers will be judged and found guilty, and will be condemned for their sin.

The disciples could not understand the parable, so Peter, who was so often their spokesman stepped forward and said, “Explain this parable to us.”

Christ scolded them for their weakness and ignorance.  He said, “Are you also still without understanding?”  Those who Christ loves, He both teaches and reprimands.  They had been listening to Jesus’ teaching for some time now, so the fact that they could not understand Him was a great criticism of them.  Christ expects us to have knowledge, grace and wisdom in proportion to the time we have been believers.

Jesus would never turn away from them, even when they failed to understand Him, so He explained the parable.  He said, “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?"  Even if you eat with dirty hands, you are not defiled.  You should wash your hands for health reasons, and we have been taught to do that, but dirty hands will not defile anyone, and washing hands should not be made into a religious act.  We are in danger from what comes out of our mouth, not from what goes in, because there is nothing that God provides for us that is corrupt.  The corrupt fountain, that which spews from the mouth, originates in the heart…..The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  There is not a single sin in a spoken word or in an action undertaken, that was not first in the heart.  Not all of the corruptness that flows from people comes out of the mouth, but they all come out of the person’s heart.  Some of the corrupt streams are listed:
• Evil thoughts-Thoughts begin in the heart and may never leave there, or they may give birth to evil actions.  A couple of these are sexual fantasies and wicked plans.  This type of evil can cause a person to sin against any one of the commandments.
• Murders-These are sins against the sixth commandment; they are contempt or hatred for another.
• Adulteries and fornications-These are sins against the seventh commandment.  Lust is first conceived in the heart, and then the act follows.
• Thefts-Sins against the eighth commandment.  These are the result of coveting what others have; doing such things as cheating and stealing.
• False witness-This is a sin against the ninth commandment; and it comes from a combination of lying and covetness or lying and hatred. 
• Blasphemies or speaking evil of God or disrespecting Him-This sin is against the third commandment.
Jesus said that these are the things that pollute a man.  It is sin that stains the soul and makes it unlovely to our Holy God, and makes us unfit for communion with Him.  In Revelation, it says that it makes us unfit to enter the New Jerusalem, for nothing shall enter that city “that corrupts or works iniquity.”

Therefore, these are the things that we must avoid, and it is not necessary to stress washing hands.  Later Christ will say, “To eat with unwashed hands, this defileth not a man.”



Unless we are very careful, religious rituals can create serious problems.  They may be given as much authority as God’s Word, and even replace God’s Word.  They may give a false confidence that what you do on the outside will somehow change the inside.  But the heart must be changed, and external rituals cannot do that. The heart can be purified only by faith.

1 When some Pharisees and some teachers of the law came from Jerusalem, they gathered around Jesus.
2 They saw that some of Jesus’ followers ate food with hands that were not clean, that is, they hadn’t washed them.
3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews never eat before washing their hands in a special way according to their unwritten laws.
4 And when they buy something in the market, they never eat it until they wash themselves in a special way. They also follow many other unwritten laws, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and pots.)
5 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law said to Jesus, “Why don’t your followers obey the unwritten laws which have been handed down to us? Why do your followers eat their food with hands that are not clean?”
6 Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right when he spoke about you hypocrites. He wrote, ‘These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me.
7 Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.’ Isaiah 29:13
8 You have stopped following the commands of God, and you follow only human teachings.”
9 Then Jesus said to them, “You cleverly ignore the commands of God so you can follow your own teachings.
10 Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who says cruel things to his father or mother must be put to death.’
11 But you say a person can tell his father or mother, ‘I have something I could use to help you, but it is Corban—a gift to God.’
12 You no longer let that person use that money for his father or his mother.
13 By your own rules, which you teach people, you are rejecting what God said. And you do many things like that.”
14 After Jesus called the crowd to him again, he said, “Every person should listen to me and understand what I am saying.
15 There is nothing people put into their bodies that makes them unclean. People are made unclean by the things that come out of them.”
17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story.
18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean.
19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean.
21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery,
22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living.
23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”

The Pharisees and scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, had undoubtedly been sent by the religious leaders to observe and to record any unlawful activity or teaching.

Mark 6:31 states that Jesus and His disciples were so busy that they often skipped meals.  When they had time to eat, these religious authorities observed them commit a breach of the Law; they saw them eat with unwashed hands.

The apostles were characterized by their deep involvement in serving the people, and the Pharisees were noted for their strict adherence to Jewish law and custom.  The customs, which they held on to so tightly, were statutes set up by men, and they placed these traditions along side the commands of God and accepted them and taught them with equal authority.  Traditions can be dangerous, because they are human inventions.  When they clash with Scripture, the initial reaction sometimes is to preserve what people have created rather than to preserve God’s Word.

Although it may appear that Jesus ignores their question, “Why do your followers eat their food with hands that are not clean?”, He actually strikes at the heart of the issue, with such directness that they are offended.  He said to them, “You force others to keep the traditions, however even though you practice it, you are only roll playing.”  He said that they were hypocrites, which originally meant someone who acted in the theatre.  They were merely imitating true holiness.  Their conception of religion was false, because it was based upon outward conformity to a set of rules.

Jesus pointed out a common problem; when men add traditions to the Law of God, they usually forget what is from God and what is from man.  They may even give more attention to what was added than to the Law of God.

Jesus gave them an example of how their tradition nullified the Law of God.  The Law was, Honor your father and mother, which included honoring them with financial support; and it is one of the Ten Commandments.  It became customary for Jews, who were supposedly pious, to claim that their funds were already designated as a gift to God.  That would be their excuse when a parent confronted them with a need.  Sometimes the Pharisees would do even more than that; they would tell the children that they didn’t have to keep the commandment, because their money was Corban; a gift for God.  Corban was a practice in which an individual dedicated possessions to God but retained the use of those possessions.

Jesus then turned away from the Pharisees and told the crowd that physical things, such as food, contain no moral significance.  The non-physical things; those things that originate in a rebellious mind or an evil heart, when they come out, in the form of words and actions, they are certainly contrary to God and righteousness.  Specific food regulations were given in the Old Testament, but the religious leaders had developed many other regulations as part of their oral tradition.  This process had progressed to the point that some religious leaders believed righteousness and unrighteousness could be determined by the food that was eaten.  Jesus condemned this belief because it obscured the real issue—that the heart, not food, is the source of uncleanness.


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