The Pharisees and the Scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” Mark 7:5.
Here we come to the term “the tradition of the elders” which is the core of their problem. The tradition of the elders is what they believed to be the oral law, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the written law. Just a century or so before Yeshua came, they made a new religion from this oral law which is found in the Talmud. But the Torah itself never speaks of an oral law. In fact, Moses even specifies, and many times over, that all the Law was written down. (Exodus 24:4)
That does not mean that all that is written in the Talmud is wrong. There are many very good things in there. It is an important historical document, but it is not inspired by God. They were so convinced about it and so protective of it, that it brought some of them to say in the Talmud: The punishment of him who transgresses the decision of the scribes is more rigorous than for that which is plainly written in the Scriptures B. San.10:5
This then is the gap between Yeshua and the Pharisees. Between the Torah and rabbinical Judaism. This explains why the Pharisees could not accept Jesus. They operated in two different spheres.
Acting Like God
Yeshua’s answer is thorough because it is an important issue. Though He does not answer their question right away, He will first go to the heart of the problem. Notice the first thing He says in vv.6, 7.:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
These are strong sayings for they are what separated and still separates Israel from God. Yeshua calls them hypocrites. This is how the Greek language designates an actor, but these people went way beyond the stage. It is good for an actor to get into the skin of the person he is portraying, but it becomes a tragedy when a person believes that they were inspired of God in their doctrines and act as if they were.
In His argument, Yeshua refers to the Scriptures, which is the best defense and offense. It is the first time in Mark where Yeshua cites the Scriptures, for this is where our foundation lies. He begins by quoting a passage that was written around 700 years before His time showing that the problem had not changed. Even today, 2,700 years after Isaiah, we can quote the same passage. What didn’t change? The heart of man.
The original quote is from Isaiah 29 which is an apocalyptic text, speaking of wars and an invasion. This pointed to both the Babylonian invasion and what they will experience in the end times. This was also applicable to what Israel was about to experience close to 40 years after the Gospel of Mark was written. In the time of Isaiah and in the time of Jesus this war and invasion were preceded by an apostasy when people just leave the pure Word of God to attach themselves to false doctrines and prophecies. So as it was then, it is true today as we are approaching the end times. The situations are very similar.
The Word of God Comes First
In His answer, Yeshua gives the prominence and weight to the Bible. Notice the repetitions that they are going against the Word of God.
v.7 They were teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. See the word “as”. Whatever they said, they insisted it was from God and taught it as doctrines from God when it was really their own invention.
- 8 they were neglecting the commandant of God. The Greek word for neglecting, Aphemi means to stop, to divorce, to give up. v.9 they were setting aside the commandment of God. The Greek word atheteite for setting aside means to nullify, to declare invalid.
- 13, Yeshua points out the dangerous consequence of moving away from His Word. He’s implying that they were robbing God’s Word of its power. Using God’s Word to support a belief we created is equivalent to robbing God.
When Yeshua begins by saying it is written, the verb is in the perfect tense, as if to say, “it is and stays written”. Now we understand why Yeshua is so angry. They touched His Word. Here we recognize the Spirit of God who, so many times in the Hebrew Scriptures told Israel not to forsake the Word. We see the result here.
What Foods are Clean?
Mark 7:19 Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated. [Thus He declared all foods clean.]
The way v.19 is translated, it seems that at this point, Yeshua declared all foods kosher and able to be consumed even by Jews. That is what many commentators have concluded. Others have said that it is a scribal error, which is why it is in brackets. For one thing, Yeshua could not have deemed all food kosher at that time, for He Himself was under the Mosaic Law. He said in Matthew 5:17-18
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. He did not come to abolish the Mosaic Law while He was on earth. It says, until all is accomplished. When would that be? The Scriptures tell us in Galatians 3:19
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. That is, until Yeshua fulfills it all, which is what He did at the tav (cross), at the resurrection. Thus at the time of Mark 7, the law was still valid and the laws concerning foods were still valid.
So what does it mean that He declared all foods clean? It’s not complicated. Let me tell you the way the Greek renders it. It is one full sentence. This is what it literally says: because it enters not of him into the heart, but into the belly, and into the draught, goes out, purifying all the food.
The point is that the body itself purifies all food that it takes in. It does so by taking the nutrients and eliminating the rest. Therefore the body can, in that sense, purify the food making the body a clean and well-functioning vessel. However, when the heart takes in things from the outside like thoughts, ideas, and temptations, the heart very often does not know how to eliminate the bad or the waste, and keeps it stored up in the heart. So while the body can make all food clean, the heart cannot create a spiritually pure vessel because it doesn’t know how to eliminate and discard all that is bad. That is why we need God.
It is then a question of the heart, for our religion is one which demands a very close relationship to a God who knows and sees all things. There is nowhere we can hide from Him. He is the one who is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Not in the remotest part of the earth, not even in Sheol can someone hide from Him. The Lord sees all things and so it all begins with the heart.
This then is the controversy between tradition versus truth. It is sad to see how those religious leaders were so far away from the people. Yeshua’s answer encourages us to ask questions, to think outside of the box, to investigate, and to always keep the Word of God as our first source of truth.