Matthew 15:1-20 Tradition of the Elders

The immediate question was why did Jesus’ disciples eat bread without washing their hands – the larger question was why did Jesus’ disciples transgress the tradition of the elders. The reasons are simple. The disciples transgressed the tradition of the elders because the tradition of the elders:

1. Nullifies the commandments of God – v. 3
a. Jesus gives two commandments for examples: Ex 20:12 honor thy father and thy mother v. 4; Ex 21:17 whoso curses his father or mother shall die [capital punishment]
b. Then he shows how tradition nullifies these commandments v. 5-6 The elders would let the child off if he would make an offering as in Lev 1:2 [that’s like paying off the judge]; there was no offering in the Old Testament to satisfy this [like Num 35:30-31]
c. Consequently tradition made the word of God of none effect. Anyone who didn’t want to honor Mom and Dad could just pay his way out of the command [and you know that the priest got at least a part of the offering]
d. Therefore the elders with their tradition: Laid aside the commandments of God Mk 7:8; Rejected the command of God Mk 7:9; Made the word of God of none effect Mk 7:13.

2. Makes hypocrites out of men v. 7-9. Their vain worship [Is 29:13] comprised:
a. Lip service
b. Hearts far from God
c. Doctrines taught by the commandments of men

3. Fails to deal with the real problems of the heart v. 10-14
a. They had to be clean inside and tradition couldn’t clean them – Matt 23:25-28; Jer 17:9-10 [what they ate didn’t defile them anyway]
b. Tradition couldn’t make them one of God’s own – Matt 23:13, 15, 33; Matt 3:10
c. Instead tradition blinded them – 2 Cor 4:4

The application of this passage is as follows:

What you eat can’t defile you because it passes through the body [this is not a dietary comment]. What defiles you is what comes from the heart and out of your mouth [Matt 12:34]. For in the heart are the sins listed in the text and in the companion passage in Mark [Matt 15:19; Mk 7:21-23] and tradition doesn’t deal with these.

Notice how the Pharisees stack up against this list of sins of the heart. Their tradition did nothing for these:

Evil thoughts – Matt 9:4
Murders – Matt 23:34 and the cross
Adulteries – Matt 12:38-39
Thefts – Matt 21:13
False witness – Matt 26:59
Blasphemies – Mk 3:29-30
Covetousness – Lk 16:14
Wickedness – Matt 16:4
Foolishness – Matt 23:17-19