Have you ever sat and read Scripture with your sails set against the wind, your destination point already plotted on your map, the purpose is already settled in your heart and pen, and then…You stumble across something else completely and it blows your mind? This happened to me recently. As our church studies through Mark, I study ahead of the pastor a chapter or two in case he asks me to step in and teach. In this case, I was reading Mark 7.

This chapter is one that I have turned to many, many times in my stand against Fundamental Legalism. It simply fits the bill. In many Bibles the chapter is giving the title, ‘Traditions and Commandments‘ and it begins with a common theme in the early narratives of the Synoptic Gospels – the Pharisees are trying to condemn Jesus, and His disciples for not following all of their rules. The Commandments of Men.

In this narrative, Jesus’ disciples are eating without washing their hands and in that time, as the Scripture clarifies, the tradition of the elders was that no food was to be eaten without first purifying the hands to ensure nothing would enter into the body and defile the person. In Matthew 15:11 Jesus cleared up the waters on this, saying that it is what comes from the mouth that defiles the person, not what enters into the mouth.  Yet, this small passage has some hugely significant clues as to where this is going.

Mark 7, verse 3-4: “(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.”

Right away we are treated to the truth that this was a tradition set by the Pharisee and Jewish elders – the handwashing. This was not a commandment of God, it wasn’t in the law of Moses. It was simply a tradition. For those in the Oneness Pentecostal system that I exited from (and I pray sincerely that God will lead all from), this is called ‘standards’. Things not written in Scripture but are deemed as wholesome and good lifestyle choices. And to be fair, ALL of the Fundamental systems/cults have these, just to be an equal opportunist with my criticisms. The problem is they always and eventually lead to ‘Commandments’.

And to be fair again – some of these things aren’t all that bad! Living in the days preceding the invention of antibacterials, cleanliness was important and could be life-altering. Yet, standards are not what we see here. Good choices and recommendations aren’t where this is coming from. These traditions had become ‘heaven or hell’ issues to put it into modern vernacular, understandable by the church-goer today.

And the latter half of verse 4 talks about ‘other traditions that are kept’ like the washing of pots and pans, etc. In verse 5, the condemnation really kicks in:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Now, one must understand that in this culture and time, ‘defilement’ was a huge issue. This wasn’t the Pharisees handing Jesus’ disciples a bottle of hand sanitizer saying, ‘Hey guys, you might want to wash up – this restaurant isn’t known for being clean…’ Rather, this was the Pharisees and the Jewish scribes declaring Jesus and his disciples defiled. To have a Rabbi declared ‘defiled’ along with his disciples was a slap in the face – a public declaration of humiliation and shame. They were to be avoided and kept at a distance until ritually purified. But Jesus had other words for these hypocrites – I word I use here very purposefully.

Mark 7:7 is a verse I have referenced often when combatting legalism, but verse six and where it led me is what blew my mind. But first, verse 6b and 7:

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. Mark 7:6b-7, ESV

While I don’t want to re-hash this today, the message from Christ is clear – every system that places their ‘traditions’ as being equal with the Commandments of God, standards that without being kept ‘defile‘ the person, systems that create ‘doctrines’ out of Unbiblical principles, they worship God in vain. In other words, their worship is meaningless, it has no value in the sight of God and produces no results. And, what results it may seem to produce, are not being produced by God Himself. That’s what ‘vain’ is. Something that was done for no good reason and with no good result.

In fact, Paul declares that the entire Gospel is worthless (in vain) if Jesus wasn’t resurrected. Without the resurrection, the Gospel has no meaning and everyone may as well find something better to do Sunday mornings. (1 Corinthians 15) That’s how powerful some of the words that are being used are. Vain and Defilement were not commonplace words that had small impacts on the audience. Like the use of the word hypocrite earlier – that sets people on edge and creates stress. The Word of God was doing the same thing here.

Connecting Jesus and Isaiah

To put this together, Mark 7:6 is where I’m going to bring you because from that leaping stone Jesus points us to something that the Pharisees and Jewish audience would have immediately recognized. And I can only imagine the gasps and sharp intakes of breath that would hiss from the rebuked mouths of those hypocrites – then and now.

6a And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. Mark 7:6a, 8 ESV

Recently someone left a comment on this blog from my article about Holy Magic Underwear, a look at the ‘traditions’ of the Mormon church and their sacred undergarments that they claim protect them from Satan, temptation and sin. That person said that I should be ashamed of myself for ridiculing them following the commandments of God. The only problem is, it isn’t a commandment of God, it’s a tradition of men.

In verse 9 Jesus says something that is 100% applicable to those within these cultic organizations and especially the Oneness/Pentecostal church I left; “You disregard and neglect the commandment of God, and cling [faithfully] to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:9, AMP)

They cling faithfully to these traditions – even after having them proven fallacious and unbiblical they are too afraid to let go of them. What if…becomes the motto. There seems to be no evidence but what if…And while that should not matter, it is exactly where this post is going and where Jesus took the crowd by reciting the prophecy of Isaiah.

Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people have admitted to me that in the ‘coming out’ phase of leaving legalism, their psyche was wracked with fear. They had been indoctrinated for so long that being cursed by God, rejected, or even cast into hell was the result of leaving these traditions. And of course, that’s exactly what we say the Pharisee’s condemning Jesus’ disciples with – defilement- unholiness.

Isaiah’s Prophecy of Fear

Isaiah 29 is what Jesus is quoting in Mark 7:7 that begins with the Siege of Jerusalem, called Ariel in this passage. Isaiah prophesies that Jerusalem will in great distress. They will make sacrifices to no avail. Their voices will be quenched and their count of their enemies will be like the particles of fine dust – uncountable.

Great distress and judgment will come upon Jerusalem, the people will be muffled and silenced. Their wise men will lose wisdom and most dangerous of all, those gifted with discernment shall have no discernment. Isaiah 29:10 says that the eyes of the prophet shall be closed, and the head (wisdom) of the seer will be covered. And finally, in verse 11/12 it says that all of the words of this will be hidden from them, like one being handed a book to read and saying, ‘but I cannot read!’.

This prophecy is frightful indeed – but verse 13 is what Jesus quotes in Mark 7:7 and where we are focusing;

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

Just in the midst of this terrible and frightful judgment upon Israel, we get a small glimpse into why they are judged and Isaiah 29 is nearly verbatim to the condition of Israel in Jesus’ day. The people were hypocrites, doing lip-service to God but in truth, they were creating a system of fear-based on their own traditions, as if they were the commandment of men.

As Jesus said in Matthew 23, people that teach these legalistic systems of false commandments shut the door of heaven off to those who would enter! They create a system of fear that is not based on the true commandments of God. Notice in that verse, Isaiah 29:13 that it says, ‘their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,’. The people didn’t fear God for His righteousness, nor did they fear God for his Holiness – they feared God because of the commandments of Man.

This is the rebuttal Christ gave the Pharisees when they called Jesus’ disciples unholy and defiled for breaking a tradition of man. And I would tell any modern-day Pharisee the same thing – when they create fear in a Child of God over something so stupid and trivial as whether they cut their hair, or wear makeup, or have facial hair or any one of the other hundreds of false commandments that have been made out to be the Commandment of God – they shut the door of heaven and create a false-fear of God that endangers their worship as vanity – something worthless and rejected by God.

Conclusion

The good news? Jesus promised to set us free from that nonsense! Even in Isaiah 29 came the promise that because false shepherds taught people false commandments and doctrines, and because these false shepherds led His people astray, he would come and do wonderful works among them to redeem them! This was promised twice, both in Isaiah 29 and in Ezekiel 34 which was a prophecy specifically aimed at bad shepherds.

As negative and bad as all of this sounds – it’s a joyful discovery that God KNOWS there are wolves in sheep’s clothing and HE is going to intervene on the behalf of His children!

Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: ~ Isaiah 29:14 KJV

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue[b] my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. ~ Ezekiel 34:20-24, ESV

Posted by dividinghisword

I am the father of two, husband of one, and lover of Christ! I simply seek to spread the Word of God unadulterated, not filtered by denominational interpretation. I have a degree in Theology from Texas Bible College but more so I have His Word!

9 Comments

  1. Robert Raymond March 1, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you. I and my family are stepping out of the legalist world of Pentecostalism and your teaching is helping us.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    1. Blessings to you and your family on your journey to Grace without legalism! I know it can be very difficult and so I pray for you to be able to do it in peace and strength in Jesus Christ!

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  2. This article gave me a deeper understanding. Prior to this article,I didn’t completely understand the eating with out washed hands mentioned in Mark 7. But it’s explained in verse 19.

    Mark 7:19 KJVS
    Because it (food and bacteria) entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

    Food and bacteria are not spiritual teaching, so they can’t defile a person spiritually. So, hand washing shouldn’t be made into a complex religious ceremony. People should wash their hands so thy don’t get sick from food poisoning, it’s really that simple.

    Thanks for posting.

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    1. Thank you for commenting and bringing out verse 19! Blessings,

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  3. One thing that I wonder about with this “traditions of men” thing concerns the traditions Paul praised the church for remembering in 1 Cor 11, and 2 Thes 2, 3.

    The same word is used (παράδοσις) for traditions. If Jesus was bashing the Pharisees for their traditions why are the apostles espousing traditions?

    And then “customs” the church holds to at the end of the 1 Cor 11 hair issue thing… Idk what to do with these.

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    1. Charles –

      Paul did praise them for keeping the ‘traditions’ he taught them, and while it isn’t specific, it can be believed confidently that it was the practices of the early church. Quotes such as Galatians 2:9-10 come to mind as seen below.

      Also important to remember that some customs were kept out of respect for local culture, not by way of teaching universal commandments for the church, which would be the proper understanding of the 1 Cor 11 Hair issue, and when Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:1-3) – not because they needed to for their salvation, but to be respectful to the local cultures. Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor 9:19-23 that while he is free in Christ from some things, he also ‘becomes’ all things to all people. He is honoring their traditions for their sake, not his own.

      These traditions were distinctly different because they were not a) salvific nor b) required to be members of the body as was the case with the Judaizers and Pharisees as we see all throughout the book of Matthew and especially Matthew 23.

      “And recognizing the grace that I had been given, James, Cephas, and John—those reputed to be pillars—gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They only asked us to be mindful of the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” ~ Galatians 2:9-10

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  4. Another great post Brother Ralph! The LORD continue to bless you!

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  5. Your entire post completely misses the point of Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees. I explained in detail why in another post, and your continued posting on the subject is meaningless without addressing the counterarguments.

    Your big mistake is with respect to Mark 7. As is typical with people who think like you do, you strip a verse out of context to conclude that the Pharisees’ standards were illegitimate. That is not at all what Christ was saying. If you had bothered to continue quoting that passage, His point would have been crystal clear:

    Mark 7
    8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

    The reason they were worshiping God in vain was their displacing God’s commandments to cling to their traditions. They were zealous to keep their standards while concomitantly throwing out direct biblical teaching:

    9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)[d]— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

    Their professed faithfulness was an empty show. They had no real reverence for either God or His word. They could not have worshiped Him from their hearts because they trashed His word in order to further their agendas.

    14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”[e] 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”[f] (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

    Christ could read their hearts which is why their hypocrisy was so plain to Him. They assiduously sought to avoid public defilement to cover the wickedness of their hearts:

    Mark 12
    40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

    Their prayers were but a cover for their covetousness. Ditto for their commitment to external purity. Their system of worship was vain because they had replaced God’s commandments with their own. If they were truly faithful to God and did not supplant his words, they had every authority to establish standards of conduct for God’s people:

    Matthew 23
    1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.

    Christ very clearly commanded the people to obey the Pharisees—do whatever they tell you—because they sat in Moses’ seat. Jesus condemned hypocrisy, not standards. You do greatly err, brother.

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  6. Spot on with this write-up, I seriously feel this web site needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the information!

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