What does Matthew 15:2 mean?
ESV: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
NIV: Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!'
NASB: Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.'
CSB: "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don't wash their hands when they eat."
NLT: Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.'
KJV: Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
Verse Commentary:
To modern ears, it sounds like the Pharisees have come to Galilee from Jerusalem to accuse Jesus' disciples of poor hygiene. It's true that the complaint in question involves them not "washing" prior to eating. Although mothers worldwide likely agree that's a good idea, the Pharisees aren't worried about health. Their intent is to disqualify Jesus as a legitimate rabbi, because His disciples are not following what the Pharisees claim are the "correct" rules of Judaism.

After Moses brought the Law from God, Israel's religious leaders debated how to apply those commands to everyday life. Many of those applications became rules in and of themselves. Each generation committed themselves to following the teachings of the previous generation as a way of honoring the wisdom and experience of the elders. Over time, this meant hundreds of specific rules, with thousands of specific details, had been added alongside the actual Law of Moses. In the worst cases, some of those traditions became convoluted ways to follow the letter of God's law, while avoiding the intent of the commands (Matthew 15:3–9).

Ritual washing before meals, which likely included utensils as well as hands, was a prominent example of these traditions. There was nothing wrong with doing it; however, those details were never part of God's commands to His people. They were man-made traditions about the law, which were treated as if they carried the weight of law.

Jesus and His disciples, however, did not practice this ritualized tradition. God had not commanded His people to do it, and the Son of God did not require His disciples to follow it, either. That's not to say they "never" washed before they ate. But, at the very least, they didn't follow the process according to the standards of the legalistic Pharisees.

The Pharisees and scribes were outraged by this. Highly respected rabbis down through the generations required their disciples to practice this form of handwashing. How could Jesus or His disciples be considered respectable followers of God if they did not practice it?

Jesus' response shows He does not even respect the accusation, since it's coming from a place of deep hypocrisy (Matthew 15:3).
Verse Context:
Matthew 15:1–9 describes Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem challenging Jesus. Their complaint: Christ's disciples have apparently ignored the Pharisees' practice of ritualized washing before eating. In response, Jesus asks them why they allow people to break the actual command of God about honoring one's parents. He says they have made God's Word void for the sake of their tradition. In truth, they criticize those who ignore their commands, but ignore those of God. He applies to them words from the Lord to Isaiah about the Israelites of his day, saying that these Pharisees honor the Lord with their words while their hearts are far away. They worship God in vain, teaching man-made commands as doctrines.
Chapter Summary:
Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to challenge Jesus. They are offended that His disciples break the religious leaders' tradition about ritual handwashing before meals. Jesus turns that attack upside down, pointing out that His critics honor tradition above God's actual commands! He insists that nobody is defiled by what goes in the mouth—by the literal matter itself—but by the overflow of the spirit, such as the words that come out of the mouth. He and the disciples travel out of the country. Jesus casts a demon out of the daughter of a persistent Canaanite woman. They travel to the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus feeds thousands of people from a few loaves and fishes. These last two events set up the eventual spread of the gospel beyond the people of Israel.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 15 begins with a confrontation between some Pharisees and Jesus. They ask why His disciples break the traditional practice of ritual handwashing. Pointedly, Jesus asks why they allow the obvious intent of God's commandments to be broken through their traditions. Jesus and the disciples travel out of Israel, encountering a Canaanite woman. He praises her faith and casts a demon from her daughter. They travel to the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus heals more people and feeds thousands more from another few loaves and fishes. This sets up another confrontation with religious leaders, warnings about their teachings, and predictions of Jesus' death in the next chapter.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
Accessed 4/16/2024 12:44:59 PM
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