Mark 7:1-13 – God’s Commandments or the Traditions of Men

Christian MölkMark Leave a Comment

Mark 7:1

  1. The “Pharisees” were a “revival movement” among the Jewish people who studied the Pentateuch carefully and tried to live their lives accordingly. The word “Pharisee” roughly means “the consecrated”.
  2. The Pharisees were very careful not to break any of the commandments of the Pentateuch. They were so careful that they even put a “fence” of extra rules around the rules of the Pentateuch to minimize the risk of accidentally breaking the rules of the Pentateuch.
  3. Since some Jewish leaders had already decided to kill Jesus, one can imagine that the Pharisees are examining Jesus to find a reason to execute him (John 5:18).

Mark 7:5

  1. When God gave the Torah (the five books of Moses) to the people of Israel, it can be said that these instructions were sometimes very easy to understand and sometimes very difficult. For example, it is written that Israel must not work on the Sabbath, a commandment that is relatively easy to understand (Exodus 31:14). But on the other hand, the Pentateuch does not define exactly what “work” is, which opens the door to a lot of follow-up questions. God also says that “you shall distinguish between holy and unholy, between unclean and clean.” (Leviticus 10:10). Even this commandment is relatively simple, but on the other hand it does not define exactly what is unclean or clean.
    1. Because the books of Moses do not always define exactly what certain commandments mean, the people used to come to Moses and ask and he had the right to judge what was right and what was wrong. When Moses’ workload became too great, this task was delegated to the leaders of the people. When the leaders answered the people’s questions about how to follow the Torah and what the rules were, they were said to be “sitting on Moses’ chair” (Exodus 18:13-27).
      1. These rules for interpreting and understanding the Pentateuch were then passed on orally and were called the “Oral Torah”, the “Statutes of the Elders”, the “Mishnah”, and eventually the “Talmud”.
    1. Jesus often criticizes the Pharisees for nullifying God’s commandments when they teach the people to follow some of these rules in the “statutes of the elders” (Mark 7:8).
    1. Jesus says on another occasion, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ chair. Therefore, whatever they teach you, do and keep, but do not act on their deeds. For they speak but do not act.” (Matt 23:2-3).
    1. After Peter has confessed Jesus as the Messiah, Peter is given the right by Jesus to bind and loose, which means that he is given this function that Moses had. Jesus had determined the broad guidelines but Peter is given the right to decide on the details that arise (Matthew 16:19). 
  2. Jesus’ disciples do not break any commandment in the Pentateuch, but they do break the statutes of the elders”, the extra rules that the Pharisees had put up as a fence around the Pentateuch to minimize the risk of “accidentally” breaking the rules of the Torah.
    1. The Pentateuch teaches that priests should ceremonially cleanse themselves before performing sacrificial service in the Temple (Exodus 30:17-21). The “extra rules” of the Pharisees, the statutes of the elders, teach that a man’s home is his temple and that therefore, like the priests before their sacrificial service, he should ceremonially cleanse himself before he eats.
  3. In this matter, one could say that Jesus and his disciples followed Scripture, but not Tradition. Jesus is not automatically against either the Jewish or the Pharisaic tradition, but he criticizes the tradition that stands in the way of Scripture. Scripture is the word of God and authoritative for a believer. The statutes of the elders are not biblical statutes and are therefore not authoritative.

Mark 7:6-8

  1. Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 and calls the Pharisees hupokrites (hypocrites in English) which is a Greek word meaning “actors”. 
    1. The Pharisees are actors in the sense that they played religious but in reality they were far from God.
    1. Similarly, we are religious actors today if, for example, we sing praises to God on Sundays in church but live ungodly lives the rest of the week.
  2. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that God gives a command to ceremonially wash one’s hands before eating.
    1. Jesus says that when the Pharisees teach that the statutes of the elders” are God’s commandments and try to get ordinary people to follow these human statutes, it prevents ordinary people from following God’s true commandments.

Mark 7:10-13

  1. After his harsh words against the Pharisees, Jesus now backs up his accusation with a concrete and clear example of how the Pharisees nullify God’s commandments when they follow the statutes of the elders”.
    1. One of God’s ten commandments says, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may live long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Genesis 20:12).
    1. There was no pension system in Jesus’ time, so people honoured their parents by taking care of them financially when they got old.
    1. The Pharisees, according to their human statutes, could take the money intended to support their parents and give it as an offering to God. In this way, they gave away money that was not even their own in order to appear “pious” and “religious”.
    1. It was not wrong to give an offering to God, but it was wrong to do so if it meant that God’s commandment to honor one’s father and mother was nullified by the offering.
      1. God says in Hosea, “I delight in love, and not in sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God more than in burnt offerings.” (Hos 6:6).
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