Matthew 15: 1-20
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘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.’”
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
This passage should cause us to pause. It is easy to say, “Those Pharisees were such hypocrites.” Yet we fail to see we are like them. We, like the Pharisees, add to God’s law. We too teach the doctrines of men as doctrines of God. We have an insatiable desire to define new methods of worship. It is how we show our superior spirituality or wisdom. We develop our own methods of worship.
The Scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus from Jerusalem. Matthew does not tell us why they came. It is probable they heard of Jesus’ fame. They came to receive instruction. But what they saw did not conform to their beliefs. Rather than allow Jesus to teach them, they tried to teach Jesus.
How many times have we done the same thing? We make God’s word conform to our ideas. We make it conform to our sense of justice. We believe we know what is right and then we look for verses to support our view. That approach causes a lot of bad hermeneutics. It is the reverse of what we should do. We should search the scripture then allow it to form our thoughts and ideas of right and wrong.
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why do you allow your disciples to violate the tradition of the elders.” The Mishnah codified the oral tradition. One of the rules covers details of hand washing. Included were things like, how much water to use. It included how many rinsings, and so on. The Pharisees regarded the traditions as having equal authority as God’s law. That should sound familiar to anyone familiar with the Roman church. But Rome is not alone. Protestants commit the same error. Rome claims the traditions of the church have the same authority as scripture. Many protestant churches make sinful things that are not in scripture. The scripture is silent on these. Some scripture even states are gifts from God. Examples are drinking wine, smoking, dancing. Christ condemned this error. He condemned it in the Pharisees. And He condemns it today.
You may ask, “What was the big deal? Have the disciples wash their hands. It does not hurt anyone. Even though this was a ceremonial washing you could argue it was healthy. It would have kept the peace. If they washed their hands everyone could get along. Isn’t this be a weaker brother issue Paul mentions in Corinthians? (1 Corinthians 18: 11-13) It is not a big deal?”
This is a big deal. It is not a weaker brother issue. The big deal is this. God’s Law is good. It is pure. Adding to it or subtracting from it pollutes it. When we add to God’s Law we pollute it. It is no longer pure. It is like taking good wine and adding a little sewage to it. It is no longer wine. It isn’t even wine with a little sewage. It’s sewage.
You may object to this analogy. The Pharisees were not adding anything wicked. At best it was sanitary. At worst it was benign. Their wickedness was polluting the purity of God’s law. Rome does so by adding its tradition. Protestants do so by adding burdens to people. The reason it was not a weaker brother issue is the Pharisees were teachers. They were teaching things God did not command. The church today sins by teaching what is not in God’s word. There is a direct correlation between the Pharisees and many churches today. Some are wicked. They oppose scripture. Others add trifles to the worship of God. These corrupt the purity of worship. Others claim it is necessary to worship God. These are a departure from sincere obedience to God alone. They are a snare to the conscience of believers.
There was nothing wrong with the ceremony of washing hands. If so, Jesus would not have allowed them and the wedding in Cana. (John 2:6). The problem was this. The Pharisees and Scribes made it a rule to worship God.
The rule appeared reasonable. God commanded anyone who had contracted any unclean things must wash themselves. (Leviticus 11:25). This included cups, pots, clothing, and other household articles (Leviticus 11:32). But the Pharisees created new rules. This was in case something unclean had come in contact by accident. Paul tells us the inventions of men have an appearance of wisdom but are worthless. (Colossians 2:23)
Christ both condemned the Pharisees and acquitted the disciples.
When we give men authority equal to God they always assume authority over God. This was true here with the Pharisees. It is true with the Pope. When tradition and scripture conflict, who wins? Tradition always trumps scripture. That is the reason sola scriptura is so important.
The Pharisees did not claim to put aside God’s law. In fact, they thought of themselves as pious. They set aside things only for worship. This sounded very pious. But it allowed them to ignore the commandment to honor their parents, (Exodus 20:12.) Again what they did was create their own law. And in following that law they ignored God’s law. They made not making free-will offering a more heinous sin than caring for a parent. They taught what God declared voluntary overrode what God commanded.
The Pharisees said they were honoring God. But they were honoring themselves. They wanted to feel pious. They wanted to let others see their piety. The status of their heart did not match their words. Their worship was vain. And they taught their own ideas as if they came from God.
Here again, we should pause and humble ourselves. Most of the music wars in churches center around these ideas. “I think…, I enjoy…, Most people want… We need to a worship service that attracts people.” All these statements show a lack of tribute to God. They place man-made forms of worship over God’s commands. This is what Christ referred to. This is what Isaiah was talking about. Worship is the worship of God. How does He want to be worshiped? Your and my preferences are unimportant. “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.’” (V 8-9)
Jesus called the people together and explained what you eat does not defile you. It is what comes out of you that defiles you. Your actions are a reflection of who you are.
Jesus disciples came to them and thought they were being helpful. “Do you know you offended the Pharisees?” They thought Jesus was unaware his statements were offensive. Jesus’ response was like, “Was I unclear? Let me try again. They are like blind guides. They are a bunch of ignorant dufuses. Yes I know I was insulting. I intended to be insulting. Otherwise they would not pay attention.” Sometimes we need to a jarring into understanding.