For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. — Mark 7:8
“Tradition” is a word that has diverse meanings to different people. Some traditions, such as specific ways of celebrating holidays, or recipes that are handed down from one generation to the next, are a special aspect of being part of a family.
Some traditions are humorous, such as the story of the young bride who cut off the end of a ham before she cooked it. When her husband asked why, she said, “Because my mother always did.” At the next opportunity, the young man asked his mother-in-law the same question, and she replied, “Because my mother always did.” When the young man asked his wife’s grandmother why she cut the end off a ham, she replied, “Because we didn’t have a pan big enough to cook it in.”
Some religious traditions, such as those of the holiness movement, were formed to encourage positive values, separation from the world, and a holy walk before God. For example, holiness churches of the 1800s began holding open-air camp meetings. Attending a camp meeting service has no spiritual value in itself; however, thousands of souls have repented and found salvation at camp meetings over the years. Others have consecrated and received sanctification, the baptism of the Holy Ghost, comfort, and direction from God. The holiness movement tradition of camp meetings has proved extremely valuable spiritually, even though the practice has been largely abandoned.
By contrast, the Pharisees had accumulated hundreds of traditions and rules that they gave preeminence over the Law, yet they felt that keeping these justified their status. They tried to impose these many traditions on Jewish people and Gentile converts alike, and consequently they were putting a stumbling block in the people’s way of understanding God’s commands. This is why in today’s text Jesus rebuked their traditionalism so strongly.
In our time, church traditions and customary formats can be beneficial as long as they point people toward the Bible and help preserve a godly way of life. The key is in understanding and remembering that justification does not come from keeping traditions or fulfilling rituals. Our spiritual standing is dependent upon our relationship with God, and our traditions of worship and service must be a result of what God has done within our hearts.
It will benefit all of us if we ask God to help us test our traditions under the searchlight of His Word. We want everything we do in our homes, in our churches, and everywhere else that we go, to truly glorify the Lord.
Today’s text contains a discussion initiated by the Pharisees and scribes about ceremonial defilement (verses 1-8), Jesus’ responding indictment (verses 9-13), and Jesus’ explanation of what defiles a person (verses 14-23). The Lord addressed His critics, then the people around Him, and finally the disciples.
The Jewish religious leaders had hostile feelings toward Jesus and what He was teaching. They criticized His disciples for neglecting the Pharisees’ tradition of ceremonial washing, which had nothing to do with the Law. They taught that hand washing needed to follow a certain procedure, including using water from stone jars, holding the hands with the fingertips upward while the water went over them, and rubbing the fist in the palm of the other hand. Strict Pharisees washed their whole bodies after being in a marketplace “contaminated” by Gentiles. They applied additional rules like these to the cleansing of cooking utensils and household items. The point of their regulations was not hygiene, but rather ceremony. The Pharisees were teaching their traditions, esteeming them superior to God’s laws.
Jesus responded by quoting the Prophet Isaiah and calling these religious people hypocrites. The word “play-actors” could be substituted for the term “hypocrites.” These leaders were pretending to defend God’s words, but the defense was actually for their manmade traditions. Jesus indicted them for their violation of the Law, not a tradition.
Verses 10-13 present an example of how their traditions nullified the Law. These verses referred to the fifth commandment, which gave instruction regarding the treatment of parents. When the Pharisees’ parents needed financial assistance, they used the excuse of corban for not helping them. Corban was a gift or offering set aside and dedicated to God so it could be used for religious purposes only. The Pharisees were declaring their resources “corban” and thus they could not be used for their parents. They themselves continued to benefit from that wealth, although technically it had been given to God. Consequently, they were not truly honoring their parents or God.
Jesus wanted the people who were present to understand, so He directed them, “Hearken unto me every one of you.” He felt it was vital for them to realize that people are not defiled by external things, but by what is in their hearts.
Later, when His disciples asked for further clarification, Jesus seemed saddened by their lack of understanding. He told them that a person’s food does not go into his heart, but rather into his digestive tract. Then Jesus listed a number of vices that come from within. Evil thoughts were mentioned first, for that is where sin begins. Jesus Himself would provide the cure for this inner defilement.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The authentication of the Son of God
J. His power over tradition (7:1-23)
1. The Pharisees’ attack (7:1-5)
2. Christ’s reply (7:6-23)
We do not become pure through observing traditions or performing certain outward acts. Inward faith and true holiness come from a right relationship with God. Are you serving God from your heart today?