8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:23

v] Jesus and the tradition of the elders


A delegation of scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem approach Jesus with regard to his disciples failure to observe the ritual cleanliness regulations set out in the tradition of the elders. Jesus responds by pointing out to them that this tradition, which is so important to them, is sometimes used to flout the Law of God. Jesus gives them the example of Corban, of the gifting of an obligation to God, and how this is sometimes used to escape the responsibilities a person has to care for their parents. Jesus then uses Isaiah 29:13 to describe them as people who honor God with their lips, but not their hearts - they are people who submit themselves to human rules. Jesus then addresses the gathered crowd pointing out that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of it.

Later, discussing the issue with his disciples, Jesus specifically tells them to dissociate themselves from the teaching of the Pharisees, and this because they are blind guides. The disciples then ask Jesus to explain the statement that it is not what goes in the mouth that defiles, but what comes out. Jesus goes on to explain that the inward corruption of a person is what inevitably prompts evil deeds, and it is that which defiles them.


The gospel of the kingdom transcends the theorizing of mere humanity, religious or otherwise, a theorizing best ignored.


i] Context: See 13:53-58.


ii] Background: The Law of Moses, as revealed in the Pentateuch, formed the basis of the ethical requirements of Judaism. Over the years Israel's teachers provided legal interpretation which developed and extended Biblical law into what was known as the Tradition of the Elders. This traditional teaching on divine law was accepted by the Scribes and the Pharisees, although not by the Sadducees and the common people. The issue raised in this passage is that of ceremonial purity. According to the Law, a Jew could only participate in Temple worship if they were ceremonially pure. Contact with a Gentile would make a person ceremonially impure. The tradition of the elders took this requirement to the extreme, demanding ceremonial washing to remove even the slightest contact with any form of impurity.


iii] Structure: Jesus and the tradition of the elders:

An exposition on the tradition of the elders, v1-9;

True purity, v10-20:

Jesus and the crowd, v10-11;

Saying, v11:

"it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person ....."

Pronouncement saying, v12-14;

"every plant that my Father has not planted ...."

"let them alone ... if the blind lead the blind ..."

Exposition of v11, v15-20.


This unit presents in three scenes: Jesus interacts with the scribes and Pharisees, v1-9; Jesus interacts with the crowds, v10-11; Jesus interacts with his disciples, v12-20. Thematically is falls into two parts, v1-9, 10-19. The units present as a whole, beginning with the critique of the scribes and the Pharisees regarding the failure of Jesus' disciples to observe washing rites for ritual purity, and ending with Jesus statement that "to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a person", v20b.


iv] Interpretation:

Jesus addresses the legalistic obsession of the Scribes and the Pharisees by pointing out that they busy themselves with the minutia of ethics while setting aside the weightier matters of the Law. Jesus goes on to assert his divine authority by reinterpreting the purity laws. Defilement is not a matter of outward contact, but inward selfishness, for it is a corrupt heart which produces sinful acts, and it is these acts which defile a person.


This passage can stand in its own right serving to reveal a number of important truths:

• When it comes to God's Law, some laws are more important than others, and the spirit of the Law is more important than the letter. One can imagine how important this word from Jesus was in the debate over the degree to which the Torah applied to Gentile believers, or even believers in general. The apostle Paul has clearly absorbed the essence of Jesus' words, and uses it with effect in his debates with the Judaizers / members of the circumcision party;

• When it comes to purity before God, "what matters above all is the defilement effected by the human heart", D&A.

Note that Matthew doesn't go as far as Mark who comments "in saying this Jesus declared all foods clean", Mk.7:19.


Within Matthew's context of the gospel at work, the passage effects a contrast between the kingdom message proclaimed by Jesus and the theoretical message proclaimed by the religious authorities of the day. Matthew emphasizes the false doctrine of the Pharisees with his expansion of Mark's account, cf., v12-14. Israel's religious leaders are blind guides whose belief system is being uprooted, so "ignore them." We have here "a sharp parting of the ways between the Pharisaic vision of extending the boundaries of obedience to God through a focus on ritual purity and Jesus' own focus on an abundant righteousness whose wellsprings come from within", Nolland. Jesus proclaims a new age of freedom; the Pharisees proclaim an old age of servitude. The newness of the new kingdom age not only dispels the teachings and rules of human belief systems, but even the binding rules of the Torah fade in the presence of a more substantial truth - a righteousness by grace through faith. So, when it comes to the theories postulated by the intelligentsia of this "wicked and adulterous generation" afete autouV, "abandon them / ignore them", v14.


v] Synoptics:

Matthew and Mark align both contextually and in content. The differences seem to imply that Mark has used Matthew, given Mark's lighter touch with the law, particularly his editorial statement "in saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean." Of course, Matthew's conservative inclinations would have prompted him to leave it out. Again, we should not discount the use of a common oral tradition, or even a proto-Mark + Q.

Text - 15:1

A discussion on the Jewish law of purification, v1-20: i] Jesus and the Pharisees - the tradition of the elders, v1-9. "Tradition does not have the same authority as Scripture, so it must be judged by Scripture, and where necessary condemned", D&A.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb used as a transitional particle to indicate a step in the narrative / narrative continuity.

tw/ Ihsou (oV) dat. "[came to] Jesus" - [pharisees and scribes came to] jesus. Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to come to."

apo + gen. "from" - from [jerusalem]. Expressing source / origin.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "and asked" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to come to"; "came .... and asked."


dia ti "Why" - because why. Introducing a question asking for a reason.

parabainousin (parabainw) pres. "bread" - [the disciples of you] go beyond = transgress, break, infringe, violate. The present tense, being durative, is probably expressing ongoing infringement.

twn presbuterwn (oV) gen. "[the tradition] of the elders" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, idiomatic, "the traditional teaching which was handed down from the elders", or verbal, subjective, "the tradition dictated by the elders", or ablative, source / origin, "the tradition from the elders." The "elders" are great ones of the past whose interpretations of scripture were viewed as authoritative. The "tradition" was viewed as a fence around the Law, protecting people from breaking the Law.

gar "-" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why the disciples break the tradition; "for they eat their bread ....." Often taken to express reason rather than cause, and so left untranslated, as NIV.

o{tan + subj."before [they eat]" - [they do not wash the hands of them] when [they eat bread]. This construction introduces an indefinite temporal clause; "whenever". As noted above, the issue is not hygiene, but the maintenance of ceremonial purity - the washing away of defilement. It is interesting that the complaint is directed to the disciples rather than Jesus himself. Of course, a master is responsible for his disciples' actions and so the criticism inevitably falls on Jesus' head. Still, it seems likely that Jesus performs the appropriate washing rites himself, but does not demand it of the disciples whose attention to religious practice would align with the common people. Jesus' response is "you blokes may look better with your clean hands, but what matters is a clean heart."


The sense of this question is somewhat obscure. The implication seems to be that the tradition of the elders, which is supposed to protect a person from breaking the law, actually leads a person into breaking the law. The tradition has "become responsible for (dia, expressing cause) the grievous transgression of God's command", Hagner. As the apostle Paul would argue, the law makes sin more sinful.

oJ de "Jesus" - and/but he. Transitional, resuming the discourse, "and he", or contrastive, "but he."

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "replied" - [and he] answering [said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said"; redundant / Semitic idiom.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - to them. Dative of indirect object.

kia "and" - Possibly adjunctive; "why do you also ....?"

dia ti "why" - because why [do you transgress]. As in v2.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the command] of God" - The genitive may be taken as ablative, source / origin, "the command from God, or adjectival, verbal, subjective, "the command given by God."

dia + acc. "for the sake of" - because of [the tradition of you]. Causal; "because of, on account of." "Why is it that you yourselves violate the commandment of God with your traditions", Knox.


Jesus now quotes the commandment to honor parents, and includes, as an example of what it means to honor a parent, the command not to curse / revile them, Deut.5:16. The seriousness of this command is evidenced in the punishment due those who dishonor a parent, Lev. 20:9. Most Jews would have happily applied this law in their family, and done so without the protective fence of tradition.

gar "for" - Probably more reason than cause, explaining how tradition promotes the breaking of God's Law. "God commanded you to honor your father and your mother, and ........ but your tradition encourages people to avoid parental responsibilities by means of the technical application of Corban."

oJ kakalogwn (kakalogew) pres. part. "anyone who curses" - [god said honor the father and the mother, and] the one speaking evil of, insulting, abusing [father or mother]. The participle serves as a substantive.

qanatw/ (oV) dat. "[is to be put] to death" - [let him die] with death. The dative may simply be instrumental, expressing means, although Olmstead argues it is a cognate dative, standing in for a Hebrew infinitive absolute, a construction which stresses certainty; "he must surely die", Zerwick.


de "but" - but/and [you say]. Transitional, introducing a contrast, as NIV; God says .... BUT you say ....."

oJV an + subj. "if anyone [declares]" - whoever [says]. This indefinite relative construction virtually serves as a conditional clause 3rd. class where the proposed condition has the possibility of coming true; "whoever / if anyone, as the case may be, says to the father or the mother of him, whatever from me you may have benefited from is a gift to God, then by no means need he honor the father of him", ie., the apodosis is is v6a, "then that person need not honor the father", NRSV.

oJ ean + subj. "what" - [to the / his father or the mother] whatever. Introducing an indefinite relative construction which serves as a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the man says to his father, namely, "what you would have gained from me is given to God", ESV.

ex (ek) + gen. "-" - from [me]. Probably serving as a partitive genitive; "of mine" = "whatever part of mine / portion of my wealth."

wfelhqhV (wqelew) aor. subj. "might have been used to help" - you may have benefited. Although subjunctive with ean, the verb probably serves as an accusative of respect; "whatever part of mine with respect of which you may have benefited is a gift to God." The gain for the giver would be revenge; a vindictive act against one's parents.

tw/ patri (hr roV) "to help their father" - to the/his father. Dative of indirect object after the verb "to say"; "if anyone tells his father or his mother", ESV.

dwron (didwmi) "is devoted to God" - is a gift to god. Emphatic by position. Dedicated to God / Corban. The word "gift" is being used of a gift to God, so "offering to God"


ou mh + fut. "[they are] not [to honor]" - [he will] not not [honor the father of him]. Emphatic double negation; "he will definitely not honor his father / parents" = "he is rid of his duty to his father or mother", NJB. We would have expected a subjunctive verb for an emphatic negation, but Burton argues that a double negation with a verb in the future tense takes on an imperative sense; "he must not ever honor his parents."

kai "thus" - and [you nullify, revoke, invalidate]. Consecutive, "and so as a result", as NIV; "and so it it that, on behalf of that tradition of yours, you have, in point of fact, made the word of God null and void", Cassirer.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - The genitive may be treated as adjectival, verbal, subjective, "the word prescribed by God", or even ablative, source / origin, "the word from God."

dia + acc. "for the sake of [your tradition]" - on account of [the tradition of you]. Causal, "because of / on account of"; "and so your tradition ("by the scrupulous observance of your tradition", Morris) empties the commandment of God of all its meaning ", Phillips.


uJpokritai (hV ou) voc. "you hypocrites" - hypocrites. The word is used of "actors", so "shysters", Morris. "The pretence of obeying the will of God while in fact transgressing it", Hagner.

kalwV adv. "[Isaiah] was right" - well [isaiah prophesied]. Modal adverb; "well" = "aptly", Zerwick.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "when he prophesied" - [about you] saying. The participle is adverbial, temporal; "aptly Isaiah prophesied about you when he said."

peri + gen. "about [you]" - Reference / respect; "about, concerning, with reference to."


Isaiah 29:13, LXX.

toiV ceilesin (oV) dat. "with their lips" - [this people] with the lips [honor me]. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV. "This people draw near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips", Berkeley.

de "but" - but, and. Adversative, as NIV.

ap (apo) gen. "[are far] from [me]" - [the heart of them is at some distance far away] from [me]. Expressing separation. Used with the adverb of measure, porrw, "far away", which modifies the verb apecw, which in this context means "to be at some distance." "These people make a big show of doing the right thing, but their heart isn't in it", Peterson.


MT / Heb. "their worship of me is a commandment of man, taught" = "their fear of me is just a human commandment which has been memorized." The LXX reworks the quote with the addition of "in vain", assumed in the MT.

mathn adv. "[they worship me] in vain" - [and] vainly, futilely, purposelessly [do they worship, reverence me]. Adverb of manner. Their worship "is superficial, empty, meaningless, because it derives from human invention rather than from God's instruction", France.

didaskonteV (didaskw) pres. part. "their teachings" - teaching. The participle is adverbial, best treated as causal, "because they teach", but possibly instrumental, expressing means, "by teaching", or even modal, expressing the manner in which the vain worship is performed.

didaskaliaV (a) acc. "-" - as teachings. The compressed wording of the last line of the quote from the LXX is somewhat difficult to express, but taking the accusative as adverbial / accusative of manner (qualifying the verbal aspect of the participle) we end up with "[teaching] as teachings [the commandments of men (human beings)]" - "as teachings" = as though they were my laws", TEV; "For they teach as divine commandments man-made rules and regulations", Barclay.

anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "are merely human rules" - [commandments] of men. The genitive may be treated as adjectival, verbal, subjective, "the commandments created by men", or attributive, as NIV, "man-made regulations", or even ablative, expressing source / origin; "from man."


ii] True purity, v10-20. a) Jesus and the crowd, v10-11. Jesus, at this point, provides a revolutionary understanding of the law. The Pharisees have built a defensive wall of purity by extending the requirements of the Law as outlined in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Jesus, on the other hand, retreats from the specific requirements of the Law, engaging its spirit rather than its letter (cf., divorce, 19:8ff) - "what counts above all is the heart", D&A. So, defilement is not generated from without, it is generated from within. Note that Matthew's version of Jesus' saying in v11 is somewhat more ordered than Mark's; on one level specifically addressing the issue raised by the Pharisees, but on another level, it may rightly be described as a "parable". Its parallelism and grammar is more Semitic and so possibly closer to the original saying than Mark's version.

proskalesamenoV (proskalew) aor. mid. part. "Jesus called" - [and] calling, summoning [the crowd]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he said"; "he called .... and said." With the sense "to call to oneself"; "he called the crowd to himself and said to them."

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - [said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

akouete kai suniete pres. imp. "listen and understand" - hear and understand. The phrase is used to introduce an important statement, here a revolutionary understanding of the law.


to eisercomenon (eisercomai) pres. mid. part. "what goes into" - [not] the thing going into [into the mouth which defiles the man]. As with "the thing going out", the articular participle serves as a substantive. The preposition eiV is redundant given the prefix of the verb "to go into / enter", but is usual form. Note the similar construction with the substantive participle to ekporeuomenon ek, "the thing going out from from."

koinoi (koinow) pres. "defile" - The word means "to make common", but used here with the special sense "to defile."

alla "but" - but [the thing going out from from the mouth, this defiles the man]. Strong adversative serving within a counterpoint construction, ou ...... alla, "not ...... but ......"


b) Ignore blind guides, v12-14. The saying / parable of the uprooted plant is unique to Matthew (although similar images exist, esp. Jn.15:1-8). The saying / parable on blind guides is not found in Mark's account, but it is found in Luke's abbreviated account on defilement, cf., Lk.6:39

tote adv. "then" - This temporal adverb, introducing a temporal clause, serves to indicate a step in the narrative.

proselqonteV (prosercomai) aor. part. "[the disciples] came" - [the disciples] having come. Attendant circumstance participle; "came .... and said."

autw/ dat. pro. "-" - [said] to him. Dative of direct object; "came and said to him."

oJti "that" - [do you know] that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Jesus should know.

eskandalisqhsan (skandalizw) aor. pas. "were offended" - [the pharisees] have taken offense. Often extended from the base sense "to trip up", so "to cause someone to sin." Beare suggests that this is the sense here in that Jesus' words have prompted the Pharisees to reject him, and thus to sin. If the Pharisees have understood that Jesus is dispensing with the purity regulations of the Old Testament then they will certainly be reacting negatively. Of course, Jesus hasn't actually set aside OT purity regulations, he has just gone to the core of the issue - substance over form.

akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "when they heard [this]" - having heard [the word = what you said]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV, or possibly causal.


Israel is often referred to as a divine plant, either nurtured and abundant, or facing the sickle of judgment with only a remnant to be preserved. The uprooting of unrighteous individuals from a righteous crop is an oft repeated image of the final judgment, but surely, given the context, we have the uprooting of man-made regulations which claim the status of divine commandments. Only the gospel abides.

de "-" - but/and. Slightly adversative, although primarily indicating a separate saying / step in the narrative .

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[he] replied" - [but he] answering [said, every plant which the father of me, the heavenly one, did not plant, will be uprooted]. Attendant circumstance participle, virtually redundant.


afete (afihmi) aor. imp. "leave [them]" - abandon, leave alone, forsake, let go [them]. The "them" is presumably the teachings of the Pharisees, although many commentators argue that the reference is to the Pharisees themselves, eg., "the disciples are not to have anything more to do with the Pharisees", Luz.

tuflwn gen. adj. "-" - [they are blind guides] of the blind. Variant. The genitive is usually classified as adjectival, verbal, objective, but it may also be classified as attributive, idiomatic, "they are blind guides who lead the blind / blind people." "Blind guides of blind men (people) is what they are", Cassirer.

oJdhgoi (oV) "guides" - Predicate nominative. Guides for the blind = leaders.

ean + subj. "if" - [and] if [blind lead blind both will fall into a pit]. Introducing a 3rd. class conditional clause where the proposed condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, the blind lead the blind, then both will fall into a pit" "When a blind person leads a blind person they both end up in a ditch."


c) Jesus explains the saying / parable about defilement, v15-20. "In place of the Pharisaic vision of a track of ritual uncleanness that runs form hands (to food) to mouth to person, Jesus offers a track of moral uncleanness to worry about that runs from heart to mouth to person", Nolland.

oJ PetroV (oV) "Peter" - [and having answered] peter [said to him]. Mark has "the disciples questioned him." "Jesus has discredited the teaching passed on by the guardians of the old tradition (and) he goes on to transmit teaching to Peter, the guardian of the new tradition", D&A.

apokriqeiV de ... eipen autoiV "said" - See v3.

hJmin dat. pro. "to us" - [explain the parable] to us. Dative of indirect object. "Explain the meaning of this (tauthn, variant) difficult parable / saying."


de "-" - but/and [he said]. As in v3, 5, 13, 15, transitional, indicating a step in the narrative / dialogue step. Best left untranslated. Here again oJ de, "but he [said]" = "he asked"; "Are you still unable to understand?" Jesus asked.

kai "-" - [are you still] and = also [without understanding]. Adjunctive, "also"; "Are you also still without understanding?" ESV.

akmhn adv. "still" - Temporal adverb; "at this point in time = still, even now, as yet." "Are you being wilfully stupid?" Peterson.

asunetoi adj. "so dull" - without understanding, senseless. This predicate adjective is emphatic by position.


Jesus argues that nothing evil remains of defiled food after it passes through the digestive system, but rather, what defiles a person is evil prompted by deep seated corruption. The source of defilement is inward, not outward. As already noted, on the basis of this proposition it can be argued that Jesus dispenses with Levitical purity regulations, but even Mark's editorial comment "Jesus declares all foods clean" doesn't mean that Jesus has set aside these regulations. Form has its place, but form is not substance. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice", doesn't mean God bans sacrifice, it just means that substance is what matters - motive rather than deed. This truth is played out in the New Testament church when Gentiles are not required to adopt Jewish purity regulations, but at the same time Gentiles are asked to consider the sensibilities of Jewish believers (pork spare ribs are off the menu at the church barbecue when a converted Jew is present. The sacrifices we have to make!!!).

ou "[Do']nt [you see]" - [do you] not [understand, know]. This negation is used in a question expecting the answer "yes" - here, "yes" they should understand.

oJti "that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they should understand.

to eisporeuomenon (eisporeuomai) pres. part. "whatever enters" - [all] the things entering [into the mouth, passes into the stomach and is moved on into latrine]. Taking the adjective pan, "all, every", as a substantive, "everything", the articular participle would be classified as adjectival, attributive, limiting pan; "everything which enters the mouth passes into the intestines" = "everything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines", Peterson.


de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the discourse.

ta .. ekporeuomena (ekporeuomai) pres. mid. part. "the things that come out" - the things coming out. The participle serves as a substantive.

ek + gen. "of" - from [the mouth come out of the heart, these things defile the man]. Expressing source / origin.


Matthew's defiling acts tend to follow the ten commandments whereas Mark has a much more comprehensive list.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a person's corrupted inner being defiles, "because" it prompt evil thoughts which prompt evil deeds.

ek + gen. "out of [the heart]" - from [the heart come forth]. Expressing source / origin.

dialogismoi ponhroi "evil thoughts" - evil thoughts [murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies]. As for all the evils in the list, nominative subject of the verb "to come out." It is interesting how Matthew heads six concrete evils with what amounts to "wicked impulses." "Perhaps implicit is the truth that behind every public evil there lurk the sinful wicked thoughts which are its roots", D&A. Note how the TNIV has included a dash after "evil thoughts" as a lead into this approach to the list.

blasfhmiai (a) "slander" - blasphemies. Usually taken in a general sense, "slander", of speaking against someone, reviling them, insulting them, but a few translators have opted for "blasphemy", eg., Knox, Phillips, NAB, ...., so commentators, D&A, Morris, Carson ("includes blasphemies"), contra Nolland ("acts of slander", noting pl.), France. It is interesting how, in Western societies, blasphemy has been decriminalized, but then replaced with laws against racist, homophobic or sexist slurs.


tauta pro. "these" - these things [are]. This demonstrative pronoun, serving as a substantive, stands as the nominative subject of the verb to-be.

ta koinounta (koinow) pres. part. "what defile" - the things defiling [the man]. The articular participle serves as a substantive.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional / contrastive; as NIV.

to ..... fagein (esqiw) aor. inf. "eating" - to eat. The articular infinitive introduces a substantival construction, subject of the negated verb "to defile; "to eat with unwashed hands does not defile" = "eating with unwashed hands does not make anyone unclean", NJB.

cersin (eir eiroV) dat. adj. "with [unwashed] hands" - The dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

ton anqrwpon (oV) "[does not make] him [unclean] / [does not defile] them" - [does not defile] the man. Accusative direct object of the verb "to defile." "Does not defile a person." These closing words specify the issue at hand. This is not a discussion over whether Old Testament purity laws should, or should not be dispensed with, but rather whether the tradition of the elders has binding force on morals.


Matthew Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]