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Edward F. Markquart

Series B
Traditions: Gospel Analysis

Mark 7:1-8 14-15, 21-23

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 139.

Introductory Comments about the Pharisees

The following description is a brief overview of the three religious groups who opposed Jesus.

  • The Pharisees: Most of the Pharisees (laymen) whom Jesus encountered were super strict interpreters of Old Testament law but believed in the resurrection, angels, demons and the coming judgment. It is important to remember that the Pharisees believed in demons. We will see Jesus entering into conversation with the Pharisees about demons.  …. Jesus and Josephus had two different experiences with the Pharisees. It is important to remember that the Pharisees whom Jesus’ encountered were hostile, hard, hypocritical, legalistic, greedy, and judgmental whereas the Pharisees of Josephus’ experiences were positive examples of a simplified lifestyle. Josephus’ Pharisees valued their religious traditions and laws, had respect for their elders, believed in the final judgment/afterlife, and exhibited virtuous conduct.
  •  The Scribes: The scribes (laymen) were the copyists of the Old Testament, so they were also experts in their knowledge of the Old Testament laws of Moses. (The Torah = first five books of the Bible = the Law of Moses). The scribes were experts because they studied the details of the law in order to copy the precise wording of the law onto the vellum scrolls. The scribes teamed up with the Pharisees because of their similarity of beliefs e.g. both groups believed in demons, angels, and a resurrection.
  • The Sadducees: The Sadducees (priests) were more political. They dominated the Sanhedrin which was the Jewish supreme court of the day, but they did not believe in the resurrection, angels, demons or the coming judgment. The Sadducees were the political ruling class; they part of the High Priestly class. They were in charge of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Scribe's Tools

This first-century A.D. Roman pen and ink pot were excavated from the Tiber River.


Antiquities 18.1.2-3 11-13 (see also War 2.8.14 162-166 and Ant. 13.171-173)

“The Jews since antiquity have had three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves, that of the Essenes, of the Sadducees, and the third the philosophy of those called the Pharisees; of which sects, although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I touch a little upon them now.

Now the Pharisees simplify their way of life and give in to no sort of softness; and they follow the guidance of what their doctrine has handed down and prescribes as good; and they earnestly strive to observe the commandments it dictates to them. They also show respect to the elders, nor are they so bold as to contradict them in any thing they have introduced.  Although they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since it has pleased God to make a combination of his council-chamber and of the people who wish to approach with their virtue and their vice. They also believe that souls have an immortal power in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments according to whether they showed virtue or vice in this life; the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but the former are allowed an easy passage through and live again. Because of these doctrines they hold great influence among the populace, and all divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices are performed according to their direction. In doing so the cities bear witness to all their virtuous conduct, both in their way of life and in their words.

Josephus as a Pharisee: “So when I had accomplished my desires, I returned to the city, being now nineteen years old, and began to conduct myself according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees, which resembles the sect of the Stoics, as the Greeks call them.”

The Sadducees, from Josephus:

Antiquities 18.2.4 16-17  (see also War2.8.14 162-166)

“But the doctrine of the Sadducees is that souls die with the bodies. Nor do they perform any observance other than what the Law enjoins them. They think it virtuous to dispute with the teachers of the wisdom they pursue.  This doctrine is accepted but by a few, but those are of the highest standing. But they are able to accomplish almost nothing, for when they hold office they are unwillingly and by force obliged to submit to the teachings of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise tolerate them.”

#194. Discources Against The Pharisees And The Lawyers

Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-9, Luke 11:37-54

This particular incident described in the gospel lesson for today provoked Jesus’ teachings about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. That is, the disciples and/or Jesus did not ceremonially wash their hands in preparation for a meal, and the Pharisees were upset about this. We find a record of this incident in all three gospels.

One goal of this course is to try to get “into the heads” of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Since Jesus never wrote a single word, the closest that we can get to Jesus are the words about him from the four witnesses of the four gospels. Each of the four authors has biases, perspectives, and idiosyncrasies, and we are trying to discover the uniqueness of each author.

We recall that Jesus had a persistent and growing conflict with the Pharisees. We will discover that the Pharisees were interested in the outward show of religious obedience to the Jewish Law, but were not so concerned about the inner heart and genuinely righteous behavior.

+Luke’s version of the story:

In this lesson, we will discover that Luke places the “woes against the Pharisees” here in an anti-Pharisee section (Luke 11) rather than at the close of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. We will discover that Luke’s “woes against the Pharisees” fit into Luke’s scheme of things.

-While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him. Circle the word, “Pharisee.” This section of Luke is an anti-Pharisee section. That is, in the gospel of Luke, the “woes against the Pharisees” are located here in the earlier part of Jesus’ ministry; whereas in the gospel of Matthew, the “woes against the Pharisees” are located at the end of Jesus’ ministry, during his final week in Jerusalem, as the conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees came to a feverish peak. We also recall the story about the prostitute crying, anointing his feet with expensive oil, and wetting Jesus’ feet with tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee is placed much earlier in Luke’s gospel (chapter 7). Luke does not have any equivalent story during Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem as do Mark, Matthew and John. 

So…in Luke’s gospel, the two stories against the Pharisees (the woman with the ointment and the woes against the Pharisees) are located here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry rather than at the end in Jerusalem as in the other three gospels.

Notice in Luke’s account of this story, the word, “Pharisee” is singular; whereas Matthew and Mark’s account record the plural e.g. the scribes and Pharisees. In Matthew and Mark, there are two groups of people present, and there are several members of each group.

-To dine with him. The Greek word for “dine” has a connotation of a banquet or formal meal. Some scholars envision this meal would be a Saturday night dinner, after the weekly Sabbath day worship, and at that meal would have been a large gathering of the family.

-So he (Jesus) went in and sat at table.  Circle the word, “sat,” and write, “reclined at table.” When we modern Western people read the phrase, “sat at table,” we think of a thirty-inch high table with chairs around that table. But in the first century and in that part of the world, Jesus would have “reclined at table.” That is, Jesus would have been sitting on a pillow, with feet stretched out behind him, and the table before him would have been about twelve inches high.

-The Pharisee was astonished to see that he (Jesus) did not first wash before dinner. A fundamental principle of Biblical interpretation is to let “Scripture to interpret Scripture.” That is, we first look at the parallels of a given verse to see if that parallel Scripture gives a clearer explanation/description of the event. We notice immediately that Mark gives a clearer and more elaborate description than Luke, and so we will go to Mark to study the meaning of this particular passage. We will also notice that in Luke, it is Jesus who does not properly and ceremoniously wash his hands before eating. In Matthew and Mark, it is the disciples who do not properly and ceremoniously wash their hands before eating. Once again, it is not the minutia of the details but the message that is important, and we soon will discover the message.

Luke’s account does not include the poignant Isaiah 29:13 quotation which helps unlock the meaning of the story. 

This story is not from Q. Notice that there are three accounts of this story about the lack of washing of the hands. Q occurs only when we have parallel accounts in two gospels, Matthew and Luke. In the accounts of this incident, there are three parallel versions. This particular story is not from Q.

+Mark’s version of the story:

-Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem. Notice that the Pharisees and scribes are together again, as they are so often in the gospels. Notice that they had come from Jerusalem, the capital city, where they were concentrated.

Of the three synoptic gospels, we recall that only the Gospel of Mark is a record from an eyewitness, Peter, who recorded his reminiscences to John Mark in Rome in about the year 65 CE. Matthew and Luke were not eyewitnesses.

-They saw that some of his disciple ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. Luke says that Jesus ate with unwashed hands; Matthew and Mark say it is the disciples who did not wash their hands. We don’t get hung up on the minutia of the details; we are looking for the message to us from God.

We recall that Matthew’s gospel slavishly follows the ordering and wording of the Gospel of Mark and contains 90% of Mark’s words.

-For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders. Underline the phrase, “tradition of the elders,” and write “Mishnah.” The Mishnah is the oral traditions and oral laws of the Jewish elderly leaders e.g. Hillel and Shammai. The oral traditions were not the laws of the Torah, not the laws of the Law of God, not the Ten Commandments. Rather, these were the traditions that had evolved over time.

A tradition in the ancient Jewish faith was that the Jews were to wash their hands before meals, with a cup of water the size of an “egg and a half.” The Jews were to hold their hand down, with fingers pointed downward, and drip that cup of water down their wrists and the water was to run off their fingertips. This was a tradition that had become holy and sacred and was to be done by all “good and faithful” Jews before mealtime. We can easily visualize the Pharisees ceremoniously pointing their fingers downward and letting the water drip off their fingers…as if such behavior was holy.

-They do not eat unless they purify themselves. There are many other traditions which they observe: the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze. Underline the phrase, “many other traditions.”

Today, in our Christian faith, we also learn to love the “old traditions” that are part of our faith. We love the “old favorite traditions” of Christmas, Christmas hymns, Easter, Easter hymns. Most congregations (and individuals) have numerous traditions that are not part of their constitution, by-laws, or any legal documents; nor are these numerous traditions part of the Scriptures or even our denominational heritage. Rather, within the congregation, there are traditions that become holy, sanctified, and “don’t you mess with our way we of doing things around here.” In other words, don’t mess with our traditions. In fact, people will hold fast to their human traditions more than the commandments of God to love God and love one another.

Discussion Question:
What are some of the "many traditions" here in this congregation that people are not willing to mess with or change?

-The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do you disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders but eat with hands defiled?”  Once again, we discover that the Pharisees were more concerned about religious traditions than the commandments of God to love God and neighbor. The preoccupation of the Pharisees was not with the Kingdom of God or being ruled by God and loving God and neighbor with all one’s heart, mind and soul. These values were not the focus of the Pharisees. Their focus was on externals, on incidents, on outward forms of piety.

-Well did the Isaiah’s prophecy of you hypocrites. Write “In Isaiah 29:13.” Circle the word, “you.” This is a very personal and direct confrontation and condemnation. Circle the word, “hypocrites,” and write the word, “actor.” The Greek word for hypocrite means “actor.” Sometimes, when seeing a play, an actor or actress is incredibly believable in their role. The actor or actress seems so authentic, so genuine, so real that it is hard to comprehend that it is all “make believe.” So it is with many people of faith: on the outside and the showy parts of their lives, they give a good performance of being a Christian, but it is all “a front.” Inside, their hearts are far from the love of God/Jesus and neighbor.

This lesson is entitled “the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.” There are three lessons about the Pharisees in this course, THE LIFE OF CHRIST. In Lesson 17, we studied the story about Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman (of the street) who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil. Simon judged her in his heart and magnified her flaws and imperfections and minimized his own. In Lesson 18, we studied the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, that their hearts were hard as stone and this is what it means to sin against the Holy Spirit. In today’s lesson, Lesson 19, we are studying the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and how they acted their religious roles out but their hearts were far from God.

-This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me.The Pharisees of yesterday and the Pharisees of today talk the god talk and talk the religion talk and talk the faith talk. But their hearts are far away from God.

-In vain do they worship me.  Such people do not really worship God. Even being at Sabbath worship or Sunday worship, their hearts are not truly worshipping God. Such people are more conscious of other things going on in church than worshipping God. They are most conscious of making a good impression.

-They teach as doctrines the percepts of men. Rather than teaching “to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself,” they teach their own religious interpretations which have become doctrines for them. Their doctrines and interpretations are nothing more than their traditions that have become overly important to them.

-You leave the commandment of God. Underline. This sentence is enormously important. The commandment of God is the great commandment of Jesus to love God and to love neighbor. The Pharisees had let go of this great commandment.

-And hold fast the tradition of men. These Pharisees loved their traditions. The traditions of men also refers to the traditional interpretations of the Bible. For example, in the story of Tevye in the FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (which is part of the sermon on this text) Tevye had three daughters and the “matchmaker” made matches for the first two marriages. But Tevye’s third daughter defied tradition and she fell in love with a Bolshevik. This was too much for Tevye. He could only bend so far and then he would break. For his daughter to marry a Bolshevik without his blessing, was a violation of his tradition, of the way he thought and acted and lived. Therefore, his daughter was ostracized and declared to be “dead” to the whole family. Near the end of the play, we discover that Tevye is moving to the new promised land and will never see his family again. At this painful moment of separation, the ostracized daughter suddenly appears with her husband and wants to receive a blessing and loving caress from her father. Painfully, Tevye turns his back on his daughter and leaves. Tragically, Tevye loved his tradition, his traditional way of thinking, his traditional way of living, his traditional understanding of right and wrong more than his daughter, more than the commandment to love God and neighbor. The theme song of Tevye is “Tradition. Da. Da. Da. Da.Da. Da. Tradition.” Yes, people of all centuries and all religions have clung to their “man made” traditions more than the commandment of God to love.

-He said, “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God (love God, love neighbor) in order to keep your tradition. Yes, there are many people who love their traditions and traditional way of life and their traditional way of thinking more than the commandments of God to love one another.

+Matthew’s version of the story is closely parallel to Mark’s version with a few additions:

-Then the Pharisees and the scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem.

- “Why do you sin against the commandment of God (underline) for the sake of your tradition? Highlight.

-Vs. 6, “For the sake of your tradition, you have made void the Word of God.” Highlight.

-Vs. 7, “You hypocrites.” Underline.

+Background for the sermon for Pentecost 13B: The seven woes against the Pharisees: From Q.

The woes against the Pharisees, scribes and lawyers provides excellent background about Jesus’ attitudes towards the Pharisees as recorded in Q, Quella is the earliest written record in the New Testament and may have been written as early as 40 CE. In other words, Q and “the woes against the Pharisees” were composed earlier than the Gospel of Mark and the gospel story for today.  These woes provide background material for the sermon.

The sequence of the “woes” is different in Matthew and Luke but the ideas are parallel.

Matthew and Luke handle the exact wording of the “woes” differently.

The sequence of seven woes provides a background and perspective about the Pharisees from the earliest written document in the New Testament, Q.

Woe 1: Woe to you Pharisees for you clean the outside of the cup but inside the cup is full of extortion and wickedness.

As we work through this section, number the woes from 1-7.


-Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. Underline these words. Circle the word, “hypocrite.” This whole section of verses in both Matthew and Luke is a commentary on Isaiah 29:13, “This people honors me with their lips (talk a good talk), but their hearts are far from me.” The big issue in Jesus’ day was hypocrisy.  An important issue of our day is still hypocrisy.

-For you clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside you are full of extortion and rapacity (and wickedness.) At our house, the washing of dishes is a situation for potential conflict between my wife and myself. I like to wash the dishes but hate to dry them. As an experienced dishwasher, I am keenly aware of how easy it is to wash the outside of cup and plates. But it is another matter to wash the inside of kettles that have been used for cooking. The insides of those kettles and cooking dishes are occasionally blackened or crusty hard from the heat on the stove. Far too often, I will say to my wife, “Let’s let the kettles soak for a while and then they will be easier to wash.” My wife pulls out the scrubber and indicates for me to go to work and do the hard work of cleaning the insides of the pots and pans. The Pharisees were similar: that is, they wanted to do the easy work of looking good on the outside and looking good in their public behavior. They did not want to repent and clean out the burnt crud from the insides of their lives. In other words, they did not want to repent and “be washed clean on the inside.” (similar to John the Baptist). They were not willing to address the extortion, greed, rapacity and wickedness that were inside their inner hearts. 

-You blind Pharisee. Underline the word, “blind.” The Pharisees were blind to their own blindness and hardness of heart. The Pharisees could not see the truth about themselves, nor the truth about the love of God.

-First clean the inside of the cup and then the outside. The first thing that the Pharisees needed to do was to address the inside of their hearts. And then the outside. This is what the Pharisees were unwilling to do.


-Now you Pharisees. Highlight. Circle the words, “you,” and “Pharisees.” Notice that the Pharisee from verse 37 has become plural and Jesus is now addressing a group of Pharisees.

-You fools. Jesus is harsh in his direct confrontation and condemnation of the attitudes and behaviors of the Pharisees. By speaking this way, we Christians are to be aware that it is foolish on our part if we do not address the evil within our own heart, repent and have that evil washed away.

-Give for alms those things which are from within. The Greek word for “alms” and the Greek word for “mercy” are the same word in the Greek language. Underline, “give for alms” and write, “give mercifully.” The phrase means: “Give mercifully from within and then other things that you do will be good/clean.”

Woe 2: Woe to you Pharisees for you tithe on trivialities such as mint, dill and cummin but neglect the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy, faith (and the love of God). You need to do them both. 

Highlight and circle all the important words in both Matthew and Luke e.g. “woe, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, faith, love of God.”

The Pharisees tithed on trivialities but neglected the weightier aspects of true faith in God.  When the Pharisees were concerned about their religious traditions, there concerns were trivial. There was a connection between the trivialities of their traditions and the trivialities of tithing on their herbs. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Jews to tithe on their crops and livestock, but these Pharisees applied that law so the result was that they emphasized tithing on their herbs. The Pharisees trivialized the law of the tithe in the Old Testament law. Meanwhile, they neglected the weightier parts of the law such as justice, mercy, faith and the love of God.

In the New Testament, the word and concept of “tithe” is not used except for here. The Apostle Paul speaks about financial giving of offerings and he emphasizes giving out of the abundance of one’s heart and not because of any Old Testament law commanding Christians to tithe. (II Corinthians 8 and 9).

Woe 3: Woe to you Pharisees for you love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and salutations in the market places.

This is what really motivated the Pharisees: They loved to be treated deferentially, with respect, honor and propriety. They loved the best places of in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the town markets.

Woe 4:  Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are filled with dead man’s bones and all uncleanness.

Highlight and circle all the important words in both Matthew and Luke e.g. “woe, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, outwardly beautiful, inwardly full of dead man’s bones.”

Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Matthew’s version of the same teaching is clearer than Luke’s.

We can all imagine sparkling, glistening grave stones and imagine bones rotting beneath those grave stones, politely out of sight. Jesus’ image is graphic and clear. So it was with the Pharisees: outwardly they were righteous but inwardly, they were full of hypocrisy and sin.

-Full of phoniness and sin. Matthew. Circle the word, “full.” The Pharisees did not have a little bit of hypocrisy but were full of that deadly sin.

Woe 5: Woe to you lawyers also for you load men’s shoulders with heavy burdens that are hard to carry but you yourselves do not lift such burdens with one of your fingers.

-One of the lawyers answered him: Teacher, in saying this, you reproach us also. Luke. Lawyers were the experts at interpreting the Torah, the Law, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. In Luke, the next series of woes are against the lawyers who are similar to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew.

In their interpretation of the Torah, the lawyers developed more than 600 laws that needed to be obeyed. The lawyers and Pharisees had developed laws for every situation. These social regulations appeared to be religious; but from our perspective today, these social regulations (in the name of religious law) were profoundly ridiculous. For example, we recall the Pharisaic laws that regulated the observance of the Sabbath (p. 44-45). The Pharisees taught laws that the Jews could not pick grain on the holy Sabbath nor heal a sick person on the holy Sabbath. The lawyers among the Pharisees developed laws that interpreted what it meant to do work on the Sabbath. All of these social regulations added up to immense burdens on the Jews for their day-to-day lives.

Woe 6: Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you adorn the tombs of the prophets and say that if we had lived in those days, we would not have shed their blood. Your fathers killed the prophets and you have built their tombs.

Highlight and circle all the important words in both Matthew and Luke e.g. “woe, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, adorn the tombs of the prophets, killed the prophets.”

The Pharisees were blind about themselves, thinking that they would have been righteous like the prophets of old and thinking that they would have supported God’s prophets in the centuries past. The Pharisees thought to themselves, “If we had lived in the good old days of the prophets, we would not have killed them.” In other words, the Pharisees were blind about who they were and what they would have done. In fact, the Pharisees rejoiced when John the Baptist was killed and wanted the prophetic voice of Jesus to be killed. Both of the Baptist and Jesus were contemporary prophets of God, and the Pharisees wanted both of them dead.

-This generation will kill some of the prophets and apostles. It is not only the prophets in previous centuries who were killed by the Jews; it is this current generation of Pharisaical Jews who will also kill prophets and apostles. Jesus’ words proved to be true: that is, within a few years, there were numerous martyrs of the church, those people who were killed and crucified because of their faith in Christ. The prophets were the leaders of the church of the Old Testament; the apostles were the leaders of the church of the New Testament.

Woe 7: Woe to you scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge and have closed the kingdom of God to others. You did not enter that kingdom for yourselves and you hindered those who were trying to enter it.

The key to all knowledge is to enter and belong to the kingdom of God, the reign of God, to have God rule your life, your love, your family, your work, your values, your way of living and loving. The most important teaching of Jesus in the first three gospels is the kingdom of God, to be ruled by God’s love. This teaching is the master key of life. This is true knowledge: to know God and for God’s love to rule your life. The Pharisees did not enter this kingdom and even hindered other people from entering it as well. The Pharisees enticed religious people into performing religious traditions, as if these religious “man made” traditions were important.

As Jesus went away from there, the scribes and Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, in order to try to catch him at something he might say. Concluding comment by Luke:

The plot and plans begin to develop rapidly: the Pharisees want to trap Jesus and to have him killed.

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."


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