We now move into the late Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry. In this lesson, we read of another confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees and the Lord’s subsequent teachings to the multitudes and the disciples on the issue at hand—cleanliness.
Did You Know...?
Traditions of the elders/hand washing (15:2): The “tradition of the elders,” the “tradition of men” (Mark 7:8; Col 2:8), “your tradition” (Matt 15:3, 6; Mark 7:9, 13), and the “traditions of the fathers” (Gal 1:14) refer to the great corpus of oral teaching that commented on the law and interpreted it in detailed rules of conduct, often recording the diverse opinions of competing rabbis. This tradition in Jesus’ time was largely oral and orally transmitted; but the Pharisees, though not the Sadducees, viewed it as having authority very nearly equal to the canon. It was later codified under Rabbi Judah the Prince (c. A.D. 135-200) to form the Mishnah…One entire tractate, Yadaim, deals with “hands”, (i.e., yādạyim), specifying such details as how much water must be used for effective ceremonial purification: e.g. “if a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean; but if over both hands with a single rinsing, R. Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a quarter-log or more” (M Yadaim 2:1). [ref]
- Confrontation with the Scribes and Pharisees (15:1-9)
- Teachings to the Multitudes on Defilement (15:10-11)
- The Pharisee’s Reaction and Jesus’ Comment about Them (15:12-14)
- Further Explanation on the Teachings to the Multitude (15:15-20)
Where were the scribes and Pharisees from? What does this tell you about what lay ahead of Jesus?Hide Answer
The confrontation with these religious leaders from Jerusalem anticipates the opposition from the religious establishment that will culminate in Jerusalem.
How did the scribes and Pharisees transgress and nullify God’s commandments? How did the example in 5–6 reflect their hypocrisy?Hide Answer
They substituted God’s commandments with rules made by men. By using gifts to God as an excuse for not honoring parents, they seemed to be devout but had actually done away with God’s command.
Think of a modern example of transgressing or nullifying God’s commandments for the sake of religious tradition.Hide Answer
Condoning or endorsing homosexuality in the name of Christian love.
If the traditions of the elders were meant to help people keep the commandments, then why did they become reasons to break God’s commandments?Hide Answer
Despite the good intentions behind them, these traditions placed more emphasis on the outward observance than the meaning of God’s commandments. These rules of men often misinterpreted and contradicted God’s word (e.g. forbidding to heal on the Sabbath). As a result, many people used them as excuses to get away with not keeping God’s word.
Are all traditions bad? Under what circumstances do traditions become “commandments of men” and a hindrance in our relationship with God?Hide Answer
The passage does not condemn traditions in general. But the keeping of traditions becomes dangerous when the traditions become unbreakable rules to abide by or when they take the place of God’s commandments. Observing religious traditions, including rules related to our conduct or worship, always poses a potential danger of hypocrisy and may fool us into thinking that we are close to God when in fact our hearts are far from Him. What is worst is when the traditions themselves are wrong (e.g. 5-6); if we observe them, we become breakers of God law.
What kind of heart does Isaiah’s prophecy in 8-9 reveal? Why would people teach the commandments of men?Hide Answer
These worshippers did not have the desire to obey God and thought that God would be pleased with just superficial observance. Teaching and obeying the commands of men could also be an opportunity to receive men’s praise (6:1,2,5,16). All of these intentions show disrespect for God.
In what ways could such hypocrisy creep into our worship of God today?Hide Answer
We may sometimes fool ourselves thinking that attending church service regularly guarantees a close relationship with God when we do not live to please God in our daily lives. Sometimes worldly values such as materialism, self-centeredness, or pleasure, may become the standards by which we think, behave or judge others by. They may surface among us even though we seem to be worshipping God (e.g. Jas 2:1-4; 1Cor 11:17-21).
What is the contrast in verse 8? What is the worship that God desires?Hide Answer
Mouth and lips vs. heart. What God looks for in us is sincerity of heart and a genuine desire to obey God in our lives (Jn 4:24; Ps 51:16,17; Mic 6:6-8).
Why were the scribes and Pharisees offended? What does this show?Hide Answer
Jesus did not hesitate to point out their wrong. They were offended because they took pride in their position as teachers and in their traditions. Their offense all the more betrays their guilt because their reaction shows that Jesus had touched their sore spot (hypocrisy).
Explain the analogy of verse 13.Hide Answer
Whatever is not from the will of the heavenly Father cannot stand (Acts 5:38). The enemies of Christ, who were not of God but of the devil, were doomed for destruction, even though their opposition was strong.
How were the scribes and Pharisees “blind leaders”?Hide Answer
They were spiritually blind in the sense that they could not see their spiritual poverty and distance from God. Even so, they still played the role as religious teachers, guiding people into the wrong path (23:15).
How was Jesus’ teaching in 11 a response to the challenge of the scribes and Pharisees?Hide Answer
The Pharisees placed emphasis on what goes into the mouth (ceremonial washing before meals), which cannot defile men at all. In other words, ceremonial washing has no effect on spiritual cleanliness.
What kind of defilement was Jesus speaking about?Hide Answer
Defilement of the heart, which leads to sinful acts(19).
What does this defilement have to do with traditions?Hide Answer
In keeping the traditions of the elders, the scribes and Pharisees had overlooked the necessity of inner cleanliness. In fact, their practice of religious traditions had become a facade that covered up their pride, jealousy, and anger. They cannot see such defilement in themselves because they have been blinded by the traditions.
In view of these teachings, what must we do to be clean?Hide Answer
We must always keep a “pure heart, good conscience and a sincere faith” (1Tim 1:5; Mt 5:8). Instead of deceiving ourselves with some outward observance, we should constantly be aware of our spiritual conditions and see if we are obeying God’s commandments from the heart.