Steve Ngai (危 志 荣) KuaLa Lumpur, Malaysia

Mark 7: 1-23 (That Which Defiles)

That Which Defiles
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you.”

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? 19 For it doesn’t go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: “What comes out of you is what defiles you. 21 For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile you.”

Note:
Q: How did tradition of God come about? In Exodus 30: 17-21, it says:

17 Then the LORD said to Moses, 18 “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. 20 Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, 21 they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

Indeed, God commanded those who enter the tent of meeting that they shall wash with water so that they will not die. I believe in that context, God will teaching them about having proper respect as we approach God. Just like our hands and feet are easily contaminated with dirt, we the spiritual being easily contaminated with spiritual dirt.

But, after times goes by, the Jews modified this original God’s commandment to man’s (tradition of men) by relating this command to physical cleanliness (Mark 7: 1-5). That’s why it is important for us to always go back to God’s word. Without doing so, we can then slowly or little by little modify God’s commandment to our own. And God is very hard-line on this (Revelation 22:18-19).

i. The concept of evaluating Jesus’ ministry was fine. In outward appearance, these men were protecting Israel from a potential false prophet or false messiah. But they way they actually evaluated Jesus was all wrong. First, they already made up their mind about Jesus. Second, they did not evaluate Jesus against the measure of God’s Word. The evaluated Him against the measure of their religious traditions. [Source: enduringword.com]

v1-5 – Actually is it okay if we want to wash our hands as tradition. We are free to do it. But if we impose others to do the same, then it is not right because this is called self-righteous (setting our own standard as standard of righteousness).

To what extend the Jewish uphold their own traditions? How serious the Jew take this tradition?
– The Jewish Rabbi Jose saith, He sinneth as much as who eateth with unwashen hands, as he that lieth with an harlot.” (Trapp)
– The Mishna, a collection of Jewish traditions in the Talmud, records, ‘It is a greater offense to teach anything contrary to the voice of the Rabbis than to contradict Scripture itself.’
– For these ceremonial washings, special stone vessels of water were kept, because ordinary water might be unclean. To wash your hands in a special way, you started by taking at least enough of this water to fill one and one-half egg shells. Then, you poured the water over your hands, starting at the fingers and running down towards your wrist. Then you cleansed each palm by rubbing the fist of the other hand into it. Then you poured water over your hands again, this time from the wrist towards the fingers.
– A really strict Jew would do this not only before the meal, but also between each course.
– The rabbis were deadly serious about this. They said that bread eaten with unwashed hands was no better than excrement. One rabbi who once failed to perform the ritual washing was excommunicated. Another rabbi was imprisoned by the Romans, and he used his ration of water for ceremonial cleansing instead of drinking, nearly dying of thirst. He was regarded as a great hero for this sacrifice.

v6-7
i. This is the whole idea behind the word hypocrite. The word in the ancient Greek language referred to “an actor” or “someone who wears a mask.” The image they promote is more important to them than what they actually are.

ii. Would God say something similar to us?

· “They attend church, but their heart is far from Me”
· “They read their Bible, but their heart is far from Me”
· “They pray eloquently, but their heart is far from Me”
· “They contribute money, but their heart is far from Me”
· “They do ministry, but their heart is far from Me”
· “They love to sing, but their heart is far from Me”
· “They talk to others about Jesus, but their heart is far from Me”

v7 “their teachings are merely human rules” – This is one of the pillars of legalism. Taking a commandment or opinion of men, and teaching or promoting it as a doctrine from God is what supports legalism. It gives man’s word the same weight as God’s word.

i. If I say, “In my opinion, you should no longer eat hamburgers from MacDonald’s” then you are free to say “That’s a nice opinion, now leave me alone.” But when someone says, “God says you should no longer eat hamburgers from MacDonald’s” then they make it seem like you are opposing God if you don’t do as they say.

ii. Not everything in the Christian life is a matter of right and wrong. Some things – many things – are simply matters of personal conscience before God. The Scriptures do not command ritual washing before meals. If you want to do it, then fine. Do it unto the Lord, and without a sense of spiritual superiority before your brothers and sisters. If don’t want to do it, fine also. Don’t do it unto the Lord, and don’t look down upon those whose conscience compels them to do the ritual washing.

v18 – “Don’t you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? 19 For it doesn’t go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body.”

This is not to say that there are not defiling things that we can take into ourselves (such as pornography). But in this specific context, Jesus spoke about ceremonial cleanliness in regard to food (v19).