Mark 7:5 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Mark 7:5, NIV: So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, 'Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?'

Mark 7:5, ESV: 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?”

Mark 7:5, KJV: Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

Mark 7:5, NASB: And the Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, 'Why do Your disciples not walk in accordance with the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with unholy hands?'

Mark 7:5, NLT: So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, 'Why don't your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.'

Mark 7:5, CSB: So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands? "

What does Mark 7:5 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Having already hassled Jesus about eating with sinners (Mark 2:15–17), fasting (Mark 2:18–22), and "working" on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23–28; Mark 3:1–6), the Pharisees now challenge Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands before they eat. The Pharisees are experts at the Mosaic Law—the law that God gave Moses for the Israelites to follow. Their criticisms of Jesus, however, center around His disregard for the manmade traditions the elders added to the Law.

The exile of the Kingdom of Judah to Babylon marked a significant change in the way Jews interacted with the Mosaic Law. God exiled them for their idolatry (Jeremiah 9:13–14) and refusal to observe the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:27). In the years after their return to Jerusalem, the Jews make it a priority to follow the Law. To help that endeavor, scribes codified the oral law, which they claimed Moses—and others—received from God along with the written law.

The oral law is a long list of regulations that spell out exactly how the written law is to be followed. It is from these regulations that the Pharisees claim the disciples broke the Sabbath by picking off heads of grain (Mark 2:23–24). Here, the charge is that the disciples do not wash their hands before they eat.

Jesus attacks their argument on two levels, neither of which address hand-washing. The Pharisees honor these rules as the "tradition of the elders." Jesus points out that the "elders" were men (Mark 7:8) and their traditions are nothing compared to God's Word. In fact, sometimes their traditions go so far they countermand God's commandments (Mark 7:6–13).

Jesus' second argument relates to the Pharisees' and scribes' fear of "defiled hands." "Defiled" is taken from the Greek root word koinos. Here, it means unholy or unclean according to the Levitical law. The Jewish leaders fear that if their hands have accidentally touched something unclean, they will contaminate their otherwise kosher food. If they then eat that food, they will become unclean. Jesus argues that uncleanness comes from the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, not the state of our food. Truly "defiled hands" are those that steal and abuse, not those with a little dirt or bacon grease on them.