Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,…
The fame of the miracles and ministry of Jesus passed from Galilee to Jerusalem, whence came certain Pharisees and scribes, who were probably sent to watch him, and find matter of accusation against him (cf. Matthew 22:15, 16). "Jerusalem - the high school of hypocrisy. Rabbi Nathan says, 'If the hypocrites were divided into ten parts, nine would be found in Jerusalem, and one in the world beside'" (Stier). These zealots set up the traditions of the elders against the character and claims of Jesus. Their accusation is contained in the question, "Why do thy disciples," etc. 7 (ver. 2). The reply takes the form of a retort, an admonition, and an exposition; the former being hurled at the accusers, and the latter given for the edification of disciples and the people.
I. THE RETORT. "Why do ye transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?"
1. The appeal was followed up by an example.
(1) The instance cited is their violation of the fifth commandment. This enjoined, under the terra "honour," a dutiful respect to parents in taking care of and supporting them (cf. Proverbs 3:9; Numbers 23:17; 1 Timothy 5:3, 17). The neglect of parents is included under the expression cursing them, and was, according to the Law, a crime so heinous as to be punishable with death (cf. ver. 4; Exodus 21:17). Let our youth remember this.
(2) Under pretext of zeal for God the casuists managed to release themselves from this obligation. The device was to make a vow to devote to the temple treasury that which their parents might otherwise claim from them (see Mark 7:11). In this wickedness they sheltered themselves under the authority of their traditions, and thus made void the Law of God.
2. This was a triumphant defence of the disciples.
(1) It showed that the traditions in question were vicious, and therefore that no blame could justly be laid to the account of the disciples for disregarding them. It showed that they were, on the contrary, to be commended for protesting against them. If this was the worst thing alleged against them, they must have conducted themselves inoffensively.
(2) It was all the more incumbent upon the disciples to protest, since the Jewish doctors affirmed that the matter of their traditions had been originally delivered by God himself to Moses, and from him orally transmitted; that they are more excellent than, and consequently of superior obligation to, the Law itself.
(3) Note: The Council of Trent claims for the Romish traditions that "they are to be held with the same pious affection and reverence" as the Holy Scriptures (sess. 4, decr. 1). Brooks compares this addition of tradition to Scripture to putting paint upon a diamond. Luther likens the interpretation of Scripture by tradition to the straining of milk through a coal sack.
3. It was a heavy impeachment of the accusers.
(1) It put them to the worse. Whether or not the disciples had transgressed, their accusers are accused of being the chief transgressors. Those who have the beam in their own eye are not the persons to take the mote out of their brother's eye. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Pharisees of every religious community take more pleasure in blaming others than in amending themselves.
(2) It branded them as hypocrites. What else are they who, under pretence of zeal for God, transgress his holy Law? They honoured him with the lip while their heart was far from him. Their heartless worship was "vain" - such as God could not approve. What vanity there is in the major portion of the religion of every age and clime (see James 1:26)!
II. THE ADMONITION. This was addressed to the disciples. "Then came the disciples," etc. (vers. 12-14).
1. The doom of the hypocrite is declared.
(1) They were offended at the truth. This was obvious to the disciples. Their pride was mortified. They were silenced. They had no reply. They nursed their wrath. Plain speaking never fails to offend the sinner who is unwilling to repent.
(2) They were blinded by the light. Their blindness was not involuntary ignorance, but voluntary error. They shut their eyes against the Light of the world, and were in consequence judicially blinded. So it fell out according to the prediction in Isaiah (see context in the prophet, Isaiah 29:14).
(3) They were doomed to be rooted out of the Church of God. He would not own them as his planting (cf. Isaiah 41:19; John 15:2). The sect of the Pharisees did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem. Every spurious plant will be rooted out of the Church in the judgment of the great day (see Matthew 13:30).
(4) Their membership will be transferred to the Church of the devil. The blind guides will fall into a pit (see John 9:40; Romans 2:19, 20). The well in the figure represents Gehenna. The pit of falsehood is the prelude to the pit of perdition.
2. Their dupes will share their doom.
(1) So it proved. The blinded nation were led on to crucify their King, and to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, and were, together with their guides, rooted out by the Romans (cf. Jeremiah 14:15, 16; Jeremiah 20:6). "How many men have ruined their estates by suretyship for others! But of all suretyship none is so dangerous as spiritual suretyship. He that pins his faith upon another man's sleeve knows not whither he will carry it" (Flavel).
(2) The crime and consequences of illegal impositions will be charged upon those who maintain as well as upon those who invent them (see Micah 6:16). God suffers one man to lead many to ruin.
(a) A rich profligate.
(b) An infidel.
(c) A man of learning.
(d) A politician.
(e) A teacher of heresy or of levity. If both fall together into the ditch, the blind leaders will fall undermost, and have the worst of it (Henry). But that will be slender comfort to the sufferers in the crush that will follow.
(3) The moral, then, is, "Let them alone." Avoid false teachers. Have no communion with them. A literal attention to these words of Christ produced the Reformation (see Hosea 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 15). Be not satisfied with attending a place of worship. See that the teaching is of God (cf. 1 John 4:1). None but the blind will submit to be led by the blind.
III. THE EXPOSITION. This was given alike to the disciples and the people (vers. 10, 11, 15-20).
1. It distinguishes between Moses and the elders.
(1) The traditions were human. "The precepts of men," not to be confounded with the "doctrines" of God. Moses made a distinction in meats - the clean and unclean - but prescribed nothing respecting the eating with unwashen hands. This was a refinement of the elders. The ground of it was the possibility of the hands having touched something that might communicate legal uncleanness, and the contention that, since the Jews, like other Orientals, made great use of their fingers in eating, the uncleanness would be communicated to the food; then the food, taken into the system and assimilated, would defile the whole body. Hence such precepts as this of the Rabbi Akiba: "He that takes meat with unwashen hands is worthy of death."
(2) With these refinements the disciples had no sympathy. They rejected the casuistry that would make void the law of the fifth commandment. They did not scruple to eat with unwashen hands.
(3) But the multitude still needed enlightenment on this point. And how many nowadays scruple to communicate with unwashed hands, but scruple not to communicate with unwashed consciences! (Quesnel).
2. It distinguishes between the letter and the spirit of the Law.
(1) In the letter those who ate of unclean meat were unclean; but then the uncleanness was that of the meat; not moral, but ceremonial. Moreover, the Mosaic distinction of meats was not instituted for its own sake, but to point out the distinction between morn/ good and evil. Hence, when the ceremonial law ceased to serve this purpose, it became useless.
(2) These principles were now enunciated by Christ, and so commenced that spiritual teaching respecting the war between the flesh and Spirit unfolded in the writings of Paul (cf. Romans 7:18, 19; Romans 8:1, 2; Galatians 5:16-21).
(3) This was what Peter could not understand when he "answered and said, Declare unto us this parable" (ver. 15). He could scarcely believe his ears that a distinction in meats, in the abstract, availed nothing. His prejudices darkened his understanding; nor were they dispersed until nine years later, when he received the vision of the sheet (see Acts 10:15, 28).
(4) The spirit of the Law, then, is the all-important matter. Not that which goeth into the mouth, but that which cometh out of the heart. In religion the heart is everything. Religion is the union of the heart with God. The teaching of Christ here
(a) recognizes original sin. "Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what is in him before" (Dr. Owen).
(b) Before evil becomes sin it must have the sanction of the understanding (see 1 John 3:4). - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,