Matthew 5:17 Ministries

Followers of Tradition – Mark 7:1-13

Written Vs. Oral

In this passage, the Pharisees had interpreted the Written Torah, and their sages and rabbis had decreed additional rules. As Stern states, “Together these came to be called at first the Tradition of the Elders and later the Oral Torah (see Mt 5:17N, 12:2–11&NN, 18:18–20&N, 23:2&N); it was committed to writing, notably in the Mishna, in the second and third centuries, expanded in the Gemara in the fourth and fifth (Mishna + Gemara = Talmud), and later in other works.” 1 Mark’s explanation of n’tilat-yadayim, or ritual handwashing, in these verses corresponds to the details outlined in the Mishna.

This tradition states that one may touch ceremonially impure things, and the impurity is removed by rinsing up to the wrist. Many Orthodox and even other traditional Jews today observe n’tilat-yadayim before meals. The rationale behind this has nothing to do with hygiene but is based on the idea that “a man’s home is his Temple,” the dining table his altar, the food his sacrifice, and himself the cohen (priest). Since the Tanakh requires cohanim to be ceremonially pure before offering sacrifices on the Temple altar, the Oral Torah requires the same before eating a meal.

Traditions Cannot Violate G-ds Word.

Many Christians and even Orthodox Jews think Yeshua’s answer to the question in verse 5 condemns all of Pharisaic tradition. This couldn’t be further from the truth. He is only objecting to those practices of the Pharisees that place human tradition above G-d’s command (v. 8). He is not opposed to tradition as such, but to your tradition (9, 13), or as Stern points out, “the operative word here is “your,” as shown by his example in verses. 10-12, where a “tradition” is allowed to nullify the fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” by letting people devote to Temple worship money which they should use to support their own parents.”2 Yeshua could not oppose tradition as such because the New Covenant itself speaks favorably of its traditions.

Traditions are necessary for life. For example, a constitution cannot run a state without necessary legislation. Likewise, the Jewish nation could not be run by the Written Torah alone without the orderly application of it found in tradition. But just as legislation cannot contradict or supplant its constitution, tradition cannot violate, conflict with, supersede, or alter G-d’s word. The “Oral Torah” comes very close to implying that it can, but according to the present passage, this position is inconsistent with Messianic Judaism and actual biblical teaching.

Inward Attitudes Vs. Outward Actions

Yeshua then quotes straight from the Prophet Isaiah in verses 8-9. His quotation can be found in Isaiah 29:3, which essentially states that their honor of G-d is a commandment learned from the written word but produces only mechanical outward obedience unaccompanied by inward faith, which is an equally severe condemnation. Yeshua’s objection is about wrong priorities and wrong attitudes. Vows, oaths, and traditions are not to be used selfishly to give a pretext for avoiding doing what G-d, love, and righteousness require.


  1. David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary : A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament, electronic ed. (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996).
  2. Ibid