The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
THE CAVILS OF THE PHARISEES CONCERNING
PURIFICATION, AND THE TEACHING OF THE LORD CONCERNING PURITY
THE TRADITIONS CONCERNING 'HAND-WASHING' AND 'VOWS'
(St. Matthew 15:1-20; St. Mark 7:1-23.)
As we follow the narrative, confirmatory evidence of what had
preceded springs up at almost every step. It is quite in accordance with the
abrupt departure of Jesus from Capernaum, and its motives, that when, so far
from finding rest and privacy at Bethsaida (east of the Jordan), a greater
multitude than ever had there gathered around Him, which would fain have
proclaimed Him King, He resolved on immediate return to the western shore, with
the view of seeking a quieter retreat, even though it were in 'the coasts of
Tyre and Sidon.'1 According
to St. Mark,2
the Master had directed the disciples to make for the other Bethsaida, or
'Fisherton,' on the western shore of the Lake.3
Remembering how common the corresponding name is in our own country,4
and that fishing was the main industry along the shores of the Lake, we need
not wonder at the existence of more than one Beth-Saida, or 'Fisherton.'5
Nor yet does it seem strange, that the site should be lost of what, probably,
except for the fishing, was quite an unimportant place. By the testimony both
of Josephus and the Rabbis, the shores of Gennesaret were thickly studded with
little towns, villages, and hamlets, which have all perished without leaving a
trace, while even of the largest the ruins are few and inconsiderable. We
would, however, hazard a geographical conjecture. From the fact that St. Mark6
names Bethsaida, and St. John7
Capernaum, as the original destination of the boat, we would infer that
Bethsaida was the fishing quarter of, or rather close to, Capernaum, even as we
so often find in our own country a 'Fisherton' adjacent to larger towns. With
this would agree the circumstance, that no traces of an ancient harbour have
been discovered at Tell Hûm, the site of Capernaum.8
Further, it would explain, how Peter and Andrew, who, according to St. John,9
were of Bethsaida, are described by St. Mark10 as having their home in Capernaum. It
also deserves notice, that, as regards the house of St. Peter, St. Mark, who
was so intimately connected with him, names Capernaum, while St. John, who was
his fellow-townsman. names Bethsaida, and that the reverse difference obtains
between the two Evangelists in regard to the direction of the ship. This also
suggests, that in a sense - as regarded the fishermen - the names were
interchangeable, or rather, that Bethsaida was the 'Fisherton' of Capernaum.11
1. St. Matt. xv. 21.
2. St. Mark vi. 45.
3. St. John xii. 21.
4. I have myself counted twelve different places in England bearing names which might be freely rendered by 'Bethsaidsa,' not to speak of the many suburbs and quarters which bear a like designation, and, of course, my list is anything but complete.
5. In Jer. Megill. (p. 70 a, line 15 from bottom) we read of a htdyyc, but the locality scarcely agrees with our Beth-Saida.
6. St. Mark vi. 45.
7. St. John vi. 17.
8. Comp. Bäedeker (Socin) Paläst. page 270.
9. St. John i. 44; xii. 21.
10. St. Mark i. 29.
11. May this connection of Capernaum and Beth-Saida account for the mention of the latter as one of the places which had been the scene of so many of His mighty works (St. Matt. xi. 21; St. Luke x. 13)?
A superficial reader might object that, in the circumstances,
we would scarcely have expected Christ and His disciples to have returned at
once to the immediate neighbourhood of Capernaum, if not to that city itself.
But a fuller knowledge of the circumstances will not only, as so often, convert
the supposed difficulty into most important confirmatory evidence, but supply
some deeply interesting details. The apparently trivial notice, that (at least)
the concluding part of the Discourses, immediately on the return to Capernaum,
was spoken by Christ 'in Synagogue,'1213
enables us not only to localise this address, but to fix the exact succession
of events. If this Discourse was spoken 'in Synagogue,' it must have been (as
will be shown) on the Jewish Sabbath. Reckoning backwards, we arrive at the
conclusion, that Jesus with His disciples left Capernaum for Bethsaida-Julias
on a Thursday; that the miraculous feeding of the multitude took place on
Thursday evening; the passage of the disciples to the other side, and the
walking of Christ on the sea, as well as the failure of Peter's faith, in the
night of Thursday to Friday; the passage of the people to Capernaum in search
of Jesus,14 with all
that followed, on the Friday; and, lastly, the final Discourses of Christ on
the Saturday in Capernaum and in the Synagogue.
12. St. John vi. 59.
13. There is no article in the original.
14. St. John vi. 22-24.
Two inferences will appear from this chronological arrangement.
First, when our Lord had retraced His steps from the eastern shore in search of
rest and retirement, it was so close on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday), that He
was almost obliged to return to Capernaum to spend the holy day there, before
undertaking the further journey to 'the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.' And on the
Sabbath no actual danger, either from Herod Antipas or the Pharisees, need have
been apprehended. Thus (as before indicated), the sudden return to Capernaum,
so far from constituting a difficulty, serves as confirmation of the previous
narrative. Again, we cannot but perceive a peculiar correspondence of dates.
Mark here: The miraculous breaking of Bread at Bethsaida on a Thursday evening;
the breaking of Bread at the Last Supper on a Thursday evening; the attempt to
proclaim Him King, and the betrayal; Peter's bold assertion, and the failure of
his faith, each in the night from Thursday to Friday; and, lastly, Christ's
walking on the angry, storm-tossed waves, and commanding them, and bringing the
boat that bore His disciples safe to land, and His victory and triumph over
Death and him that had the power of Death.
These, surely, are more than coincidences; and in this respect
also may this history be regarded as symbolic. As we read it, Christ directed
the disciples to steer for Bethsaida, the 'Fisherton' of Capernaum, But, apart
from the latter suggestion, we gather from the expressions used,15
that the boat which bore the disciples had drifted out of its course - probably
owing to the wind - and touched land, not where they had intended, but at
Gennesaret, where they moored it. There can be no question, that by this term
is meant 'the plain of Gennesaret,' the richness and beauty of which Josephus16
and the Rabbis17
describe in such glowing language. To this day it bears marks of having been
the most favoured spot in this favoured region. Travelling northwards from
Tiberias along the Lake, we follow, for about five or six miles, a narrow ledge
of land shut in by mountains, when we reach the home of the Magdalene, the
ancient Magdala (the modern Mejdel). Right over against us, on the other
side, is Kersa (Gerasa), the scene of the great miracle. On leaving
Magdala the mountains recede, and form an amphitheatric plain, more than a mile
wide, and four or five miles long. This is 'the land of Gennesaret' (el
Ghuweir). We pass across the 'Valley of Doves,' which intersects it about
one mile to the north of Magdala, and pursue our journey over the well-watered
plain, till, after somewhat more than an hour, we reach its northern boundary,
a little beyond Khân Minyeh. The latter has, in accordance with
tradition, been regarded by some as representing Bethsaida,18
but seems both too far from the Lake, and too much south of Capernaum, to
answer the requirements.
15. St. Mark vi. 53.
16. Jewish War iii. 10.7, 8.
17. Pes. 8 b; Meg. 6 a; Ber. R. 98.
18. Bäedeker (Socin) has grouped together the reasons against identifying Khân Minyeh with Capernaum itself.
No sooner had the well-known boat, which bore Jesus and His disciples,
been run up the gravel-beach in the early morning of that Friday, than His
Presence must have become known throughout the district, all the more that the
boatmen would soon spread the story of the miraculous occurrences of the
preceding evening and night. With Eastern rapidity the tidings would pass
along, and from all the country around the sick were brought on their pallets,
if they might but touch the border of His garment. Nor could such touch, even
though the outcome of an imperfect faith, be in vain - for He, Whose garment
they sought leave to touch, was the God-Man, the Conqueror of Death, the Source
and Spring of all Life. And so it was where He landed, and all the way up to
Bethsaida and Capernaum.1920
19. St. Matt. xiv. 34-36; St. Mark vi. 53-56.
20. Mr. Brown McClellan (N.T. vol. i. p. 570) holds, that both the Passover and Pentecost had intervened - I know not on what grounds. At the same time the language in St. Mark vi. 56, might imply more than one occasion on which the same thing happened.
In what followed, we can still trace the succession of events,
though there are considerable difficulties as to their precise order. Thus we
are expressly told,21
that those from 'the other side' 'came to Capernaum' on 'the day following' the
miraculous feeding, and that one of the subsequent Discourses, of which the
outline is preserved, was delivered 'in Synagogue.'22
As this could only have been done either on a Sabbath or Feast-Day (in this
instance, the Passover23),
it follows, that in any case a day must have intervened between their arrival
at Capernaum and the Discourse in Synagogue. Again, it is almost impossible to
believe that it could have been on the Passover day (15th Nisan).24
For we cannot imagine, that any large number would have left their homes and
festive preparations on the Eve of the Pascha (14th Nisan), not to speak of the
circumstance that in Galilee, differently from Judæa, all labour, including, of
course, that of a journey across the Lake, was intermitted on the Eve of the
Similarly, it is almost impossible to believe, that so many festive pilgrims
would have been assembled till late in the evening preceding the 14th Nisan so
far from Jerusalem as Bethsaida-Julias, since it would have been impossible
after that to reach the city and Temple in time for the feast. It, therefore,
only remains to regard the Synagogue-service at which Christ preached as that
of an ordinary Sabbath, and the arrival of the multitude as having taken place
on Friday in the forenoon.
21. St. John vi. 22-25.
22. ver. 59.
23. St. John vi. 4.
24. This is propounded in Wieseler, Chronolog. Synopse, pp. 276, 290, as a possible view.
25. Pes. 55 a.
Again, from the place which the narrative occupies in the
Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, as well as from certain internal evidence,
it seems difficult to doubt, that the reproof of the Pharisees and Scribes on
the subject of 'the unwashed hands,'26
was not administered immediately after the miraculous feeding and the night of
miracles. We cannot, however, feel equally sure, which of the two preceded the
other: the Discourse in Capernaum,27
or the Reproof of the Pharisees.28
Several reasons have determined us to regard the Reproof as having preceded the
Discourse. Without entering on a detailed discussion, the simple reading of the
two sections will lead to the instinctive conclusion, that such a Discourse
could not have been followed by such cavil and such Reproof, while it seems in
the right order of things, that the Reproof which led to the 'offence' of the
Pharisees, and apparently the withdrawal of some in the outer circle of
should have been followed by the positive teaching of the Discourse, which in
turn resulted in the going back of many who had been in the inner circle of
26. St. Matt. xv. 1; St. Mark vii. 1.
27. St. John vi. 59.
28. St. Matt. xv. 1 &c.
29. St. Matt. xv. 12-14.
30. St. John vi. 60-66.
In these circumstances, we venture to suggest the following as
the succession of events. Early on the Friday morning the boat which bore Jesus
and His disciples grated on the sandy beach of the plain of Gennesaret. As the
tidings spread of His arrival and of the miracles which had so lately been
witnessed, the people from the neighbouring villages and towns flocked around
Him, and brought their sick for the healing touch. So the greater part of the
forenoon passed. Meantime, while they moved, as the concourse of the people by
the way would allow, the first tidings of all this must have reached the
neighbouring Capernaum. This brought immediately on the scene those Pharisees
and Scribes 'who had come from Jerusalem' on purpose to watch, and, if
possible, to compass the destruction on Jesus. As we conceive it, they met the
Lord and His disciples on their way to Capernaum. Possibly they overtook them,
as they rested by the way, and the disciples, or some of them, were partaking
of some food - perhaps, some of the consecrated Bread of the previous evening.
The Reproof of Christ would be administered there; then the Lord would, not
only for their teaching, but for the purposes immediately to be indicated, turn
to the multitude;31
next would follow the remark of the disciples and the reply of the Lord,
spoken, probably, when they were again on the way;32
and, lastly, the final explanation of Christ, after they had entered the house
In all probability a part of what is recorded in St. John vi. 24, &c.
occurred also about the same time; the rest on the Sabbath which followed.
31. St. Matt. xv. 10; St. Mark vii. 14, 15.
32. St. Matt. xv. 12-14.
33. St. Matt. xv. 15-20; St. Mark vii. 17-23.
Although the cavil of the Jerusalem Scribes may have been
occasioned by seeing some of the disciples eating without first having washed
their hands, we cannot banish the impression that it reflected on the
miraculously provided meal of the previous evening, when thousands had sat down
to food without the previous observance of the Rabbinic ordinance. Neither in
that case, nor in the present, had the Master interposed. He was, therefore,
guilty of participation in their offence. So this was all which these Pharisees
and Scribes could see in the miracle of Christ's feeding the Multitude - that
it had not been done according to Law! Most strange as it may seem, yet in the
past history of the Church, and, perhaps, sometimes also in the present, this
has been the only thing which some men have seen in the miraculous working of
the Christ! Perhaps we should not wonder that the miracle itself made no deeper
impression, since even the disciples 'understood not' (by reasoning) 'about the
loaves' - however they may have accounted for it in a manner which might seem
to them reasonable. But, in another aspect, the objection of the Scribes was
not a mere cavil. In truth, it represented one of the great charges which the
Pharisees brought against Jesus, and which determined them to seek His
It has already been shown, that they accounted for the miracles
of Christ as wrought by the power of Satan, whose special representative -
almost incarnation - they declared Jesus to be. This would not only turn the
evidential force of these signs into an argument against Christ, but vindicate
the resistance of the Pharisees to His claims. The second charge against Jesus
was, that He was 'not of God;' that He was 'a sinner.'34
If this could be established, it would, of course, prove that He was not the
Messiah, but a deceiver who misled the people, and whom it was the duty of the
Sanhedrin to unmask and arrest. The way in which they attempted to establish
this, perhaps persuaded themselves that it was so, was by proving that He
sanctioned in others, and Himself committed, breaches of the traditional law;
which, according to their fundamental principles, involved heavier guilt than
sins against the revealed Law of Moses. The third and last charge against
Jesus, which finally decided the action of the Council, could only be fully
made at the close of His career. It might be formulated so as to meet the views
of either the Pharisees or Sadducees. To the former it might be presented as a
blasphemous claim to equality with God - the Very Son of the Living God. To the
Sadducees it would appear as a movement on the part of a most dangerous
enthusiast - if honest and self-deceived, all the more dangerous; one of those
pseudo-Messiahs who led away the ignorant, superstitious, and excitable people;
and which, if unchecked, would result in persecutions and terrible vengeance by
the Romans, and in loss of the last remnants of their national independence. To
each of these three charges, of which we are now watching the opening or
development, there was (from the then standpoint) only one answer: Faith in His
Person. And in our time, also, this is the final answer to all difficulties and
objections. To this faith Jesus was now leading His disciples, till, fully
realised in the great confession of Peter, it became, and has ever since
proved, the Rock on which that Church is built, against which the very gates of
Hades cannot prevail.
34. St. John ix. 16, 24.
It was in support of the second of these charges, that the
Scribes now blamed the Master for allowing His disciples to eat without having
previously washed, or, as St. Mark - indicating, as we shall see, in the word
the origin of the custom - expresses it with graphic accuracy: 'with common
hands.'35 Once more
we have to mark, how minutely conversant the Gospel narratives are with Jewish
Law and practice. This will best appear from a brief account of this 'tradition
of the elders,'36
the more needful that important differences prevail even among learned Jewish
authorities, due probably to the circumstance that the brief Mishnic Tractate
devoted to the subject37
has no Gemara attached to it, and also largely treats of other matters. At the
outset we have this confirmation of the Gospel language, that this practice is
expressly admitted to have been, not a Law of Moses, but 'a tradition of the
and perhaps on this very account, it was so strictly enjoined, that to neglect
it was like being guilty of gross carnal defilement. Its omission would lead to
or, at least, to poverty.40
Bread eaten with unwashen hands was as if it had been filth.41
Indeed, a Rabbi who had held this command in contempt was actually buried in
Thus, from their point of view, the charge of the Scribes against the
disciples, so far from being exaggerated, is most moderately worded by the
Evangelists. In fact, although at one time it had only been one of the marks of
a Pharisee, yet at a later period to wash before eating was regarded as
affording the ready means of recognising a Jew.4344
35. The word quite corresponds to the Jewish term. Notwithstanding the objection of the learned Bishop Haneberg (Relig. Alterth. p. 475, note 288) I believe it corresponds to the Rabbinic lwx or )l@afw@x (Hebr. lx) profanus,
in the sense of 'common,' 'not hallowed.'
36. The fullest account of it within reach of ordinary readers is in the Notes to Pocock's
Porta Mosis (pp. 350-402) though it is confused, not quite accurate, and based chiefly on later Jewish authorities. Spencer (de Leg. Hebr. pp. 1175-1179) only adds references to similar Gentile rites. Goodwin, even
under the revision of Hottinger (pp. 182-188), is in this instance
inferior to Pocock. Buxtorf (Synag. pp. 179-184) gives chiefly illustrative Jewish legends; Otho (Lex. Rabb. pp. 335, 336) extracts from his predecessors, to little advantage. The Rabbinic notes of Lightfoot,
Wünsche, Schöttgen, and Wetstein give no clear account; and the Biblical Dictionaries are either silent, or (as Herzog's) very
meagre. Other accounts are, unfortunately, very inaccurate.
37. Yadayim, in four chapters, which, however, touches on other subjects also, notably on
the canonicity of certain parts of the O.T.
38. We refer here generally to Chull. 105 a, b, 106 b.
39. Sot. 4 b.
40. Shabb. 62 b.
41. Sot. 4 b.
42. Eduy. v. 6; Ber. 19 a.
43. Chull. 106 a; Bemidb. R. 20, ed. Warsh. p. 81 b.
44. Many illustrative stories are given of its importance, on the one hand, and of the danger of neglecting it on the other. With these legends it is not necessary to cumber our pages.
It is somewhat more difficult to account for the origin of the
ordinance. So far as indicated, it seems to have been first enjoined in order
to ensure that sacred offerings should not be eaten in defilement. When once it
became an ordinance of the elders, this was, of course, regarded as sufficient
ground for obedience.45
Presently, Scriptural support was sought for it. Some based it on the original
ordinance of purification in Lev. xv. 11;46
while others saw in the words47
'Sanctify yourselves,' the command to wash before meat; in the command, 'Be ye
holy,' that of washing after meat; while the final clause, 'for I am the Lord
your God,' was regarded as enjoining 'the grace at meat.'48
For, soon it was not merely a washing before, but also after meals. The former
alone was, however, regarded as 'a commandment' (Mitsvah), the other
only as 'a duty' (Chobhah), which some, indeed, explained on sanitary
grounds, as there might be left about the hands what might prove injurious to
Accordingly, soldiers might, in the urgency of campaigning, neglect the washing
before, but they ought to be careful about that after meat. By-and-by, the more
rigorous actually washed between the courses, although this was declared to be
This washing before meals is regarded by some as referred to in Talmudic
writings by the expression 'the first waters' (Mayim rishonim), while
what is called 'the second' (sheniyim), or 'the other,' 'later,' or
'afterwaters' (Mayim acharonim), is supposed to represent the washing
45. Chull. 106 a.
46. Chull. 106 a.
47. Lev xi. 44.
48. Ber. 53 b, end.
49. Erub. 17 b; Chull. 105 b.
50. The danger from 'Salt of Sodom' is specially mentioned.
51. Chull. 105 a, b.
But there is another and more important aspect of the
expression, which leads us to describe the rite itself. The distinctive
designation for it is Netilath Yadayim,52
literally, the lifting of the hands; while for the washing before meat the term
Meshi or Mesha53
is also used, which literally means 'to rub.' Both these terms point to the
manner of the rite. The first question here was, whether 'second tithe,'
prepared first-fruits (Terumah), or even common food (Chullin),
or else, 'holy' i.e. sacrificial food, was to be partaken of. In the latter
case a complete immersion of the hands ('baptism,' Tebhilath Yadayim),
and not merely a Netilath, or 'uplifting,' was prescribed.54
The latter was really an affusion. As the purifications were so frequent, and
care had to be taken that the water had not been used for other purposes, or
something fallen into it that might discolour or defile it, large vessels or
jars were generally kept for the purpose. These might be of any material,
although stone is specially mentioned.55
It was the practice to draw water out of these with what was called a natla,
antila, or antelaya,56
very often of glass, which must hold (at least) a quarter of a log57
- a measure equal to one and a half 'egg-shells.' For, no less quantity than
this might be used for affusion. The water was poured on both hands, which must
be free of anything covering them, such as gravel, mortar, &c. The hands
were lifted up, so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to ensure
that the whole hand was washed, and that the water polluted by the hand did not
again run down the fingers. Similarly, each hand was rubbed with the other (the
first), provided the hand that rubbed had been affused: otherwise, the rubbing
might be done against the head, or even against a wall. But there was one point
on which special stress was laid. In the 'first affusion,' which was all that
originally was required when the hands were Levitically 'defiled,' the water
had to run down to the wrist58
(qrepela, or qrepeha d(a - lappereq, or ad happereq). If the water
remained short of the wrist (chuts lappereq), the hands were not clean.59
Accordingly, the words of St. Mark60
can only mean that the Pharisees eat not 'except they wash their hands to the
52. hly+n, sometimes though rarely, trh+ Mydy, but not tcyxr, which refers to ordinary washing. Occasionally it is simply designated by the term Netilah.
53. )#m (Chull. 107 a and b).
54. Chag. ii. 5, 6.
55. This and what follows illustrates St. John ii. 6.
57. Chull. 107 a; Baba B. 58 b, and often.
58. The language of the Mishnah shows that the word qrp, which bears as vague and wide meaning as pugmh, which
seems a literal translation of it, can only apply to the wrist.
59. Comp. Yad. ii. 3; Chull. 106 a and b.
60. St. Mark vii. 3.
61. The rendering 'wash diligently,' gives no meaning; that 'with the fist' is not in accordance with Jewish Law; while that 'up to the elbow' is not only contrary to Jewish Law, but apparently based on a wrong rendering of the word qrp. This is fully shown by Wetstein (N. T. i. p. 585), but his own explanation, that pugmh refers
to the measure or weight of the water for washing, is inadmissible.
Allusion has already been made to what are called 'the first'
and 'the second,' or 'other' 'waters.' But, in their original meaning, these
terms referred to something else than washing before and after meals. The hands
were deemed capable of contracting Levitical defilement, which, in certain
cases, might even render the whole body 'unclean.' If the hands were 'defiled,'
two affusions were required: the first, or 'first waters' (mayim rishonim)
to remove the defilement, and the 'second,' or 'after waters' (mayim
sheniyim or acharonim) to wash away the waters that had contracted
the defilement of the hands. Accordingly, on the affusion of the first waters
the hands were elevated, and the water made to run down at the wrist, while at
the second waters the hands were depressed, so that the water might run off by
the finger points and tips. By-and-by, it became the practice to have two
affusions, whenever Terumah (prepared first-fruits) was to be eaten, and
at last even when ordinary food (Chullin) was partaken of. The modern
Jews have three affusions, and accompany the rite with a special benediction.
This idea of the 'defilement of the hands' received a very
curious application. According to one of the eighteen decrees, which, as we
shall presently show, date before the time of Christ, the Roll of the
Pentateuch in the Temple defiled all kinds of meat that touched it. The alleged
reason for this decree was, that the priests were wont to keep the Terumah
(preserved first-fruits) close to the Roll of the Law, on which account the
latter was injured by mice. The Rabbinic ordinance was intended to avert this
To increase this precaution, it was next laid down as a principle, that all
that renders the Terumah unfit, also defiles the hands.64
Hence, the Holy Scriptures defiled not only the food but the hands that touched
them, and this not merely in the Temple, but anywhere, while it was also
explained that the Holy Scriptures included the whole of the inspired writings
- the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa. This gave rise to interesting
discussions, whether the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, or Esther were to be
regarded as 'defiling the hands,' that is, as part of the Canon. The ultimate
decision was in favour of these books: 'all the holy writings defile the hands;
the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands.'65
Nay, so far were sequences carried, that even a small portion of the Scriptures
was declared to defile the hands if it contained eighty-five letters, because
the smallest 'section' (Parashah) in the Law66
consisted of exactly that number. Even the Phylacteries, because they contained
portions of the sacred text, the very leather straps by which they were bound
to the head and arm - nay, the blank margins around the text of the Scriptures,
or at the beginning and end of sections, were declared to defile the hands.6768
62. Shabb. 14 a.
63. In Yad. iv. 6, the Pharisees in dispute with the Sadducees indicate what seems to me a far more likely reason, in the desire to protect the Scriptures from profane use.
64. Yad. iii. 2.
65. Yad. iii. 5.
66. Numb. x. 35, 36.
67. Yad. iii. 3-5.
68. By a curious inversion the law ultimately came to be, that the Scriptures everywhere defiled the hands, except those of the Priests in the Temple (Kel. xv. 6). This on the ground that, taught by former enactments, they had learned
to keep the Terumah far away from the sacred rolls, but really, as I believe, because the law, that the Priests' hands became defiled if they touched a copy of the sacred rules, must have involved constant difficulties.
From this exposition it will be understood what importance the
Scribes attached to the rite which the disciples had neglected. Yet at a later
period Pharisaism, with characteristic ingenuity, found a way of evading even
this obligation, by laying down what we would call the Popish (or semi-Popish)
principle of 'intention.' It was ruled, that if anyone had performed the rite
of handwashing in the morning, 'with intention' that it should apply to the
meals of the whole day, this was (with certain precautions) valid.69
But at the time of which we write the original ordinance was quite new. This
touches one of the most important, but also most intricate questions in the
history of Jewish dogmas. Jewish tradition traced, indeed, the command of
washing the hands before eating - at least of sacrificial offerings - to
acknowledgment of which 'the voice from heaven' (Bath-Qol) had been
heard to utter Prov. xxiii. 15, and xxvii. 11. But the earliest trace of this
custom occurs in a portion of the Sibylline Books, which dates from about 160 b.c.,71
where we find an allusion to the practice of continually washing the hands, in
connection with prayer and thanksgiving.72
It was reserved for Hillel and Shammai, the two great rival teachers and heroes
of Jewish traditionalism, immediately before Christ, to fix the Rabbinic
ordinance about the washing of hands (Netilath Yadayim), as previously
described. This was one of the few points on which they were agreed,73
and hence emphatically 'a tradition of the Elders,' since these two teachers
bear, in Rabbinic writings, each the designation of 'the Elder.'74
Then followed a period of developing traditionalism, and hatred of all that was
Gentile. The tradition of the Elders was not yet so established as to command
absolute and universal obedience, while the disputes of Hillel and Shammai, who
seemed almost on principle to have taken divergent views on every question,
must have disturbed the minds of many. We have an account of a stormy meeting
between the two Schools, attended even with bloodshed. The story is so
confusedly, and so differently told in the Jerusalem75
and in the Babylon Talmud,76
that it is difficult to form a clear view of what really occurred. Thus much,
however, appears - that the Shammaites had a majority of votes, and that
'eighteen decrees' Myrbd x``y were passed in which the two Schools agreed, while
on other eighteen questions (perhaps a round number) the Shammaites carried
their views by a majority, and yet other eighteen remained undecided. Each of
the Schools spoke of that day according to its party-results. The Shammaites
(such as Rabbi Eliezer) extolled it as that on which the measure of the Law had
been filled up to the full,77
while the Hillelites (like Rabbi Joshua) deplored, that on that day water had
been poured into a vessel full of oil, by which some of the more precious fluid
had been split. In general, the tendency of these eighteen decrees was of the
most violently anti-Gentile, intolerant, and exclusive character. Yet such
value was attached to them, that, while any other decree of the sages might be
altered by a more grave, learned, and authoritative assembly, these eighteen
decrees might not under any circumstances, be modified.78
But, besides these eighteen decrees, the two Schools on that day79
agreed in solemnly re-enacting 'the decrees about the Book (the copy of the
Law), and the hands' (twryzg Mydyhw rpsh). The Babylon Talmud80
notes that the latter decree, though first made by Hillel and Shammai, 'the
Elders,' was not universally carried out until re-enacted by their colleges. It
is important to notice, that this 'Decree' dates from the time just before, and
was finally carried into force in the very days of Christ. This fully accounts
for the zeal which the Scribes displayed - and explains 'the extreme minuteness
of details' with which St. Mark 'calls attention' to this Pharisaic practice.81
For, it was an express Rabbinic principle82
that, if an ordinance had been only recently re-enacted (h#dx hryzg), it might
not be called in question or 'invalidated (Ny) hb Nyqp@qpm).'83
Thus it will be seen, that the language employed by the Evangelist affords most
valuable indirect confirmation of the trustworthiness of his Gospel, as not
only showing intimate familiarity with the minutiæ of Jewish
'tradition,' but giving prominence to what was then a present controversy - and
all this the more, that it needs intimate knowledge of that Law even fully to
understand the language of the Evangelist.
69. Chull. 106 b.
70. Shabb. 14 b, end.
71. Or. Sib. iii. 591-593.
72. We must bear in mind, that it was the work of an Egyptian Jew, and I cannot help feeling that the language bears some likeness to what afterwards was one of the
distinctive practices of the Essenes.
73. Shabb. 14 b, about the middle.
75. Jer. Shabb. p. 3 c, d.
76. Shabb. 13 b to 14 b.
77. Jer. Shabb. 3 c.
78. Jer. Shabb. 3 d.
79. Shabb.13 b; 14 b.
80. Shabb. 14 b, towards end.
81. In the 'Speaker's Commentary' (ad loc.) this 'extreme minuteness of details' is, it seems to me not correctly, accounted for on the ground of 'special reference to the Judaisers who at a very early period formed an influential party at Rome.'
82. Ab. Z. 35 a.
83. This is the more striking as the same expression is used in reference to the opposition or rather the 'invalidating' by R. Eliezer ben Chanokh of the ordinance of hand-washing, for which he was excommunicated (Mydy trh+b qpqp#, Eduy. v.
6). The term qpqp, which originally means to stop up by pouring or putting in something, is used for contemning or bringing into contempt, invalidating, or shaking a decree, with the same signification as lz'l:za. This is proved
from the use of the latter in Ab. Z. 35 a, line 9 from bottom, and 36 a, line 12 from top.
After this full exposition, it can only be necessary to refer
in briefest manner to those other observances which orthodox Judaism had
'received to hold.' They connect themselves with those eighteen decrees,
intended to separate the Jew from all contact with Gentiles. Any contact with a
heathen, even the touch of his dress, might involve such defilement, that on
coming from the market the orthodox Jew would have to immerse. Only those who
know the complicated arrangements about the defilements of vessels that were in
any part, however small, hollow, as these are described in the Mishnah
(Tractate Kelim), can form an adequate idea of the painful minuteness
with which every little detail is treated. Earthen vessels that had contracted
impurity were to be broken; those of wood, horn, glass, or brass immersed;
while, if vessels were bought of Gentiles, they were (as the case might be) to
be immersed, put into boiling water, purged with fire, or at least polished.84
84. Ab. Zar. v, passim.
Let us now try to realise the attitude of Christ in regard to
these ordinances about purification, and seek to understand the reason of His
bearing. That, in replying to the charge of the Scribes against His disciples,
He neither vindicated their conduct, nor apologised for their breach of the
Rabbinic ordinances, implied at least an attitude of indifference towards
traditionalism. This is the more noticeable, since, as we know, the ordinances
of the Scribes were declared more precious,8586
and of more binding importance than those of Holy Scripture itself.87
But, even so, the question might arise, why Christ should have provoked such
hostility by placing Himself in marked antagonism to what, after all, was
indifferent in itself. The answer to this inquiry will require a disclosure of
that aspect of Rabbinism which, from its painfulness, has hitherto been
avoided. Yet it is necessary not only in itself, but as showing the infinite
distance between Christ and the teaching of the Synagogue. It has already been
told, how Rabbinism, in the madness of its self-exaltation, represented God as
busying Himself by day with the study of the Scriptures, and by night with that
of the Mishnah;88
and how, in the heavenly Sanhedrin, over which the Almighty presided, the
Rabbis sat in the order of their greatness, and the Halakhah was discussed, and
decisions taken in accordance with it.89
Terrible as this sounds, it is not nearly all. Anthropomorphism of the coarsest
kind is carried beyond the verge of profanity, when God is represented as
spending the last three hours of every day in playing with Leviathan,90
and it is discussed, how, since the destruction of Jerusalem, God no longer
laughs, but weeps, and that, in a secret place of His own, according to Jer.
xiii. 17.91 Nay, Jer.
xxv. 30 is profanely misinterpreted as implying that, in His grief over the
destruction of the Temple, the Almighty roars like a lion in each of the three
watches of the night.92
The two tears which He drops into the sea are the cause of earthquakes;
although other, though not less coarsely realistic, explanations are offered of
85. Jer. Chag. 76 d.
86. In this passage there is a regular discussion, whether that which is written (the Pentateuch), or that which is oral (tradition) is more precious and to be loved
(Nybybx Nhm hzy)). The opinion is in favour of the oral (hpb# Ntw)).
87. Jer. Ber. 3 b; Sanh. xi. 3; Erub. 21 b.
88. Targum (ed. Ven.) on Cant. v. 10; comp. Ab. Z. 3 b.
89. Baba Mez. 86 a.
90. Ab. Z. u. s.
91. Comp. Chag. 5 b.
92. Ber. 3 a.
93. Ber. 59 a.
Sentiments like these, which occur in different Rabbinic
writings, cannot be explained away by any ingenuity of allegorical
interpretation. There are others, equally painful, as regards the anger of the
Almighty, which, as kindling specially in the morning, when the sun-worshippers
offer their prayers, renders it even dangerous for an individual Israelite to
say certain prayers on the morning of New Year's Day, on which the throne is
set for judgment.94
Such realistic anthropomorphism, combined with the extravagant ideas of the
eternal and heavenly reality of Rabbinism and Rabbinic ordinances, help us to
understand, how the Almighty was actually represented as saying prayers. This
is proved from Is. lvi. 7. Sublime through the language of these prayers is, we
cannot but notice that the all covering mercy, for which He is represented as
pleading, is extended only to Israel.95
It is even more terrible to read of God wearing the Tallith,96
or that He puts on the Phylacteries, which is deduced from Is. lxii. 8. That
this also is connected with the vain-glorious boasting of Israel, appears from
the passage supposed to be enclosed in these Phylacteries. We know that in the
ordinary Phylacteries these are: Exod. xiii. 1-10; 10-16; Deut. vi. 4-10; xi.
13-22. In the Divine Phylacteries they were: 1 Chron. xvii. 21; Deut. iv. 7-8;
xxxiii. 29; iv. 34; xxvi. 19.97
Only one other point must be mentioned as connected with Purifications. To
these also the Almighty is supposed to submit. Thus He was purified by Aaron,
when He had contracted defilement by descending into Egypt.98
This is deduced from Lev. xvi. 16. Similarly, He immersed in a bath of fire,99
after the defilement of the burial of Moses.
94. Ber. 7 a; Ab. Z. 4 b.
95. Ber. 7 a.
96. Shem. R. 42, comp. Rosh haSh. 17 b.
97. Ber. 6 a.
98. Shem. R. 15, ed. warsh. p. 22 a, line 13 from top.
99. Is. lxvi. 15; comp. Numb. xxxi. 23.
These painful details, most reluctantly given, are certainly
not intended to raise or strengthen ignorant prejudices against Israel, to whom
'blindness in part' has truly happened; far less to encourage the wicked spirit
of contempt and persecution which is characteristic, not of believing, but of
negative theology. But they will explain, how Jesus could not have assumed
merely an attitude of indifference towards traditionalism. For, even if such
sentiments were represented as a later development, they are the outcome of a
direction, of which that of Jesus was the very opposite, and to which it was
antagonistic. But, if Jesus was not sent of God - not the Messiah - whence this
wonderful contrast of highest spirituality in what He taught of God as our
Father, and of His Kingdom as that over the hearts of all men? The attitude of
antagonism to traditionalism was never more pronounced than in what He said in
reply to the charge of neglect of the ordinance about 'the washing of hands.'
Here it must be remembered, that it was an admitted Rabbinic principle that,
while the ordinances of Scripture required no confirmation, those of the
Scribes needed such,100
and that no Halakhah (traditional law) might contradict Scripture.101
When Christ, therefore, next proceeded to show, that in a very important point
- nay, in 'many such like things' - the Halakhah was utterly incompatible with
Scripture, that, indeed, they made 'void the Word of God' by their traditions
which they had received,102
He dealt the heaviest blow to traditionalism. Rabbinism stood self-condemned;
on its own showing, it was to be rejected as incompatible with the Word of God.
100. Jer. Taan. 66 a, about the middle.
101. It was, however, admitted that the Halakhah sometimes went beyond the Pentateuch (Sot. 16 a).
102. St. Matt. xv. 3, 6; St. Mark vii. 9, 13.
It is not so easy to understand, why the Lord should, out of
'many such things,' have selected in illustration the Rabbinic ordinance
concerning vows, as in certain circumstances, contravening the fifth
commandment. Of course, the 'Ten Words' were the Holy of Holies of the Law; nor
was there any obligation more rigidly observed - indeed, carried in practice
almost to the verge of absurdity103
- than that of honour to parents. In both respects, then, this was a specially
vulnerable point, and it might well be argued that, if in this Law Rabbinic
ordinances came into conflict with the demands of God's Word, the essential
contrariety between them must, indeed, be great. Still, we feel as if this were
not all. Was there any special instance in view, in which the Rabbinic law
about votive offerings had led to such abuse? Or was it only, that at this
festive season the Galilean pilgrims would carry with them to Jerusalem their
votive offerings? Or, could the Rabbinic ordinances about 'the sanctification
of the hands' (Yadayim) have recalled to the Lord another Rabbinic
application of the word 'hand' (yad) in connection with votive
offerings? It is at least sufficiently curious to find mention here, and it
will afford the opportunity of briefly explaining, what to a candid reader may
seem almost inexplicable in the Jewish legal practice to which Christ refers.
103. See the remarks this point in vol. i. pp. 567, 576, 577.
At the outset it must be admitted, that Rabbinism did not encourage
the practice of promiscuous vowing. As we view it, it belongs, at best, to a
lower and legal standpoint. In this respect Rabbi Akiba put it concisely, in
one of his truest sayings: 'Vows are a hedge to abstinence.'104
On the other hand, if regarded as a kind of return for benefits received, or as
a promise attaching to our prayers, a vow - unless it form part of our absolute
and entire self-surrender - partakes either of work-righteousness, or appears
almost a kind of religious gambling. And so the Jewish proverb has it: 'In the
hour of need a vow; in time of ease excess.'105
Towards such work-righteousness and religious gambling the Eastern, and
especially the Rabbinic Jew, would be particularly inclined. But even the
Rabbis saw that its encouragement would lead to the profanation of what was
holy; to rash, idle, and wrong vows; and to the worst and most demoralising
kind of perjury, as inconvenient consequences made themselves felt. Of many
sayings, condemnatory of the practice, one will suffice to mark the general
feeling: 'He who makes a vow, even if he keeps it, deserves the name of
Nevertheless, the practice must have attained terrible proportions, whether as
regards the number of vows, the lightness with which they were made, or the
kind of things which became their object. The larger part of the Mishnic
Tractate on 'Vows' (Nedarim, in eleven chapters) describes what
expressions were to be regarded as equivalent to vows, and what would either
legally invalidate and annul a vow, or leave it binding. And here we learn,
that those who were of full age, and not in a position of dependence (such as
wives) would make almost any kind of vows, such as that they would not lie down
to sleep, not speak to their wives or children, not have intercourse with their
brethren, and even things more wrong or foolish - all of which were solemnly
treated as binding on the conscience. Similarly, it was not necessary to use
the express words of vowing. Not only the word 'Qorban' [Korban],
'given to God', but any similar expression, such as Qonakh, or Qonam107
(the latter also a Phoenician expression, and probably an equivalent for Qeyam,
'let it be established') would suffice; the mention of anything laid upon the altar
(though not of the altar itself). such as the wood, or the fire, would
constitute a vow,108
nay, the repetition of the form which generally followed on the votive Qonam
or Qorban had binding force, even though not preceded by these terms.
Thus, if a man said: 'That I eat or taste of such a thing,' it constituted a
vow, which bound him not to eat or taste it, because the common formula was:
'Qorban (or Qonam) that I eat or drink, or do such a thing,' and the omission
of the votive word did not invalidate a vow, if it were otherwise regularly
104. Ab. iii. 18.
105. Ber. R. 81.
106. Nedar. 9 a; 22 a.
107. According to Nedar. 10 a, the Rabbis invented this word instead of 'Qorban
to the Lord' (Lev. i. 2), in order that the Name of God might not be idly
108. Nedar. i. 1-3.
109. Jer. Nedar. 36 d, line 20 from top.
It is in explaining this strange provision, intended both to
uphold the solemnity of vows, and to discourage the rash use of words, that the
Talmud110 makes use
of the word 'hand' in a connection which we have supposed might, by
association of ideas, have suggested to Christ the contrast between what the
Bible and what the Rabbis regarded as 'sanctified hands,' and hence between the
commands of God and the traditions of the Elders. For the Talmud explains that,
when a man simply says: 'That (or if) I eat or taste such a thing,' it is
imputed as a vow, and he may not eat or taste of it, 'because the hand is on
- the mere touch of Qorban had sanctified it, and put it beyond his reach, just
as if it had been laid on the altar itself. Here, then, was a contrast.
According to the Rabbis, the touch of 'a common' hand defiled God's good gift
of meat, while the touch of 'a sanctified' hand in rash or wicked words might
render it impossible to give anything to a parent, and so involve the grossest
breach of the Fifth Commandment! Such, according to Rabbinic Law, was the
'common' and such the 'sanctifying' touch of the hands - and did such
traditionalism not truly 'make void the Word of God'?
110. u. s.
111. brql dy M#m (Jer. Nedar. 36 d, line 22).
A few further particulars may serve to set this in clearer
light. It must not be thought that the pronunciation of the votive word 'Qorban,'
although meaning 'a gift,' or 'given to God,' necessarily dedicated a thing to
the Temple. The meaning might simply be, and generally was, that it was to be
regarded like Qorban - that is, that in regard to the person or persons
named, the thing termed was to be considered as if it were Qorban, laid
on the altar, and put entirely out of their reach. For, although included under
the one name, there were really two kinds of vows: those of consecration to
God, and those of personal obligation112
- and the latter were the most frequent.
112. See Maimonides, Yad haChas., Hilkh. Nedar. i. 1, 2.
To continue. The legal distinction between a vow, an oath, and
'the ban,' are clearly marked both in reason and in Jewish Law. The oath was an
absolute, the vow a conditional undertaking - their difference being marked
even by this, that the language of a vow ran thus: 'That' or 'if' 'I or another
do such a thing,' 'if I eat;'113
while that of the oath was a simple affirmation or negation,114
'I shall not eat.'115
On the other hand, the 'ban' might refer to one of three things: those
dedicated for the use of the priesthood, those dedicated to God, or else to a
sentence pronounced by the Sanhedrin.116
In any case it was not lawful to 'ban' the whole of one's property, nor even
one class of one's property (such as all one's sheep), nor yet what could not,
in the fullest sense, be called one's property, such as a child, a
Hebrew slave, or a purchased field, which had to be restored in the Year of
Jubilee; while an inherited field, if banned, would go in perpetuity for the
use of the priesthood. Similarly, the Law limited vows. Those intended to
incite to an act (as on the part of one who sold a thing), or by way of exaggeration,
or in cases of mistake, and, lastly, vows which circumstances rendered
impossible, were declared null. To these four classes the Mishnah added those
made to escape murder, robbery, and the exactions of the publican. If a vow was
regarded as rash or wrong, attempts were made117
to open a door for repentance.118
Absolutions from a vow might be obtained before a 'sage,' or, in his absence,
before three laymen,119
when all obligations became null and void. At the same time the Mishnah120
admits, that this power of absolving from vows was a tradition hanging, as it
were, in the air,121 since it received little (or, as Maimonides
puts it, no) support from Scripture.122
113. lkw) yn)#
114. lkw) )l
115. Jer. Ned. u. s.
116. Tos. Arach. iv.
117. 'They open a door.'
118. Nedar. ix. passim.
119. Maimonides u. s. Hilk. Shebh. v. 1.
120. Chag. i. 8.
121. This is altogether a very curious Mishnah. It adds to the remark quoted in the text
this other significant admission, that the laws about the Sabbath, festive
offerings, and the malversation of things devoted to God 'are like mountains hanging by one hair,' since Scripture is scant on these subjects, while the
traditional Laws are many.
There can be no doubt, that the words of Christ referred to
such vows of personal obligation. By these a person might bind himself in
regard to men or things, or else put that which was another's out of his own
reach, or that which was his own out of the reach of another, and this as
completely as if the thing or things had been Qorban, a gift given to
God. Thus, by simply saying, 'Qorban,' or 'Qorban, that by which I might be
profited by thee,' a person bound himself never to touch, taste, or have
anything that belonged to the person so addressed. Similarly, by saying
'Qorban, that by which thou mightest be profited by me,' he would prevent the
person so addressed from ever deriving any benefit from that which belonged to
him. And so stringent was the ordinance that (almost in the words of Christ) it
is expressly stated that such a vow was binding, even if what was vowed
involved a breach of the Law.123
It cannot be denied that such vows, in regard to parents, would be binding, and
that they were actually made.124
Indeed, the question is discussed in the Mishnah in so many words, whether
'honour of father and mother'125
constituted a ground for invalidating a vow, and decided in the negative
against a solitary dissenting voice.126
And if doubt should still exist, a case is related in the Mishnah,127
in which a father was thus shut out by the vow of his son from anything by
which he might be profited by him (h)afnafha: w@nmeyh' rd@afmu wybi)af hyafhaf#$@e).128
Thus the charge brought by Christ is in fullest accordance with the facts of
the case. More than this, the manner in which it is put by St. Mark shows the
most intimate knowledge of Jewish customs and law. For, the seemingly
inappropriate addition to our Lord's mention of the Fifth Commandment of the
words: 'He that revileth father or mother, he shall (let him) surely die,'129
is not only explained but vindicated by the common usage of the Rabbis,130
to mention along with a command the penalty attaching to its breach, so as to
indicate the importance which Scripture attached to it. On the other hand, the
words of St. Mark: 'Qorban (that is to say, gift (viz., to God)) that by which
thou mightest be profited by me,' are a most exact transcription into Greek of
the common formula of vowing, as given in the Mishnah and Talmud (yli hnehene ht@af)a#e Nb@afr:qaf).131
123. Nedar. ii. 2.
124. I can only express surprise, that Wünsche should throw doubt upon it. It
is fully admitted by Levy, Targ. Wörterb. sub Nbrq.
125. wm)w wyb) dwbk
126. Ned. ix. 1.
127. Nedar. v.
128. In this case the son, desirous that his father should share in the festivities at
his marriage, proposed to give to a friend the court in which the banquet was to be held and the banquet itself, but only for the purpose that his father might eat and drink with him. The proposal was refused as involving sin, and the point afterwards discussed and confirmed - implying, that in no circumstances could a parent partake of anything belonging to his son, if he had pronounced such a vow, the only relaxation being that in case of actual starvation ('if he have not what to eat') the son might make a present to a third person, when the father might in turn receive of it.
129. Ex. xxi. 17.
130. Comp. Wünsche, ad loc.
131. Other translations have been proposed, but the above is taken from Nedar. viii. 7, with the change only of Qonam into Qorban.
But Christ did not merely show the hypocrisy of the system of
traditionalism in conjoining in the name of religion the greatest outward
punctiliousness with the grossest breach of real duty. Never, alas! was that
aspect of prophecy, which in the present saw the future, more clearly
vindicated than as the words of Isaiah to Israel now appeared in their final
fulfilment: 'This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far
from Me. Howbeit, in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the
commandments of men.'132
But in thus setting forth for the first time the real character of
traditionalism, and setting Himself in open opposition to its fundamental
principles, the Christ enunciated also for the first time the fundamental
principle of His own interpretation of the Law. That Law was not a system of
externalism, in which outward things affected the inner man. It was moral and
addressed itself to man as a moral being - to his heart and conscience. As the
spring of all moral action was within, so the mode of affecting it would be
inward. Not from without inwards, but from within outwards: such was the
principle of the new Kingdom, as setting forth the Law in its fulness and
fulfilling it. 'There is nothing from without the133
man, that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which proceed out
of the man, those are they that defile the man.'134
Not only negatively, but positively, was this the fundamental principle of
Christian practice in direct contrast to that of Pharisaic Judaism. It is in
this essential contrariety of principle, rather than in any details, that the
unspeakable difference between Christ and all contemporary teachers appears.
Nor is even this all. For, the principle laid down by Christ concerning that
which entereth from without and that which cometh from within, covers, in its
full application, not only the principle of Christian liberty in regard to the
Mosaic Law, but touches far deeper and permanent questions, affecting not only
the Jew, but all men and to all times.
132. The quotation is a 'Targum,' which in the last clause follows almost entirely the LXX.
133. Mark the definite article.
134. The words in St. Mark vii. 16 are of very doubtful authenticity.
As we read it, the discussion, to which such full reference has
been made, had taken place between the Scribes and the Lord, while the
multitude perhaps stood aside. But when enunciating the grand principle of what
constituted real defilement, 'He called to Him the multitude.'135 It was probably while pursuing their
way to Capernaum, when this conversation had taken place, that His disciples
afterwards reported, that the Pharisees had been offended by that saying of His
to the multitude. Even this implies the weakness of the disciples: that they
were not only influenced by the good or evil opinion of these religious leaders
of the people, but in some measure sympathised with their views. All this is
quite natural, and as bringing before us real, not imaginary persons, so far
evidential of the narrative. The answer which the Lord gave the disciples bore
a twofold aspect: that of solemn warning concerning the inevitable fate of
every plant which God had not planted, and that of warning concerning the
character and issue of Pharisaic teaching, as being the leadership of the blind
by the blind,136
which must end in ruin to both.
135. St. Matt. xv. 10; St. Mark vii. 14.
136. Both these sayings seem to have been proverbial at the time, although I am not able to quote any passage in Jewish writings in which they occur in exactly the same form.
But even so the words of Christ are represented in the Gospel
as sounding strange and difficult to the disciples - so truthful and natural is
the narrative. But they were earnest, genuine men; and when they reached the
home in Capernaum, Peter, as the most courageous of them, broke the reserve -
half of fear and half of reverence - which, despite their necessary
familiarity, seems to have subsisted between the Master and His disciples. And
the existence of such reverential reserve in such circumstances appears, the more
it is considered, yet another evidence of Christ's Divine Character, just as
the implied allusion to it in the narrative is another undesigned proof of its
truthfulness. And so Peter would seek for himself and his fellow-disciples an
explanation of what still seemed to him only parabolic in the Master's
teachings. He received it in the fullest manner. There was, indeed, one part
even in the teaching of the Lord, which accorded with the higher views of the
Rabbis. Those sins which Christ set before them as sins of the outward and
and of what connects the two: our relation to others, were the outcome of evil
thoughts. And this, at least, the Rabbis also taught; explaining, with much
detail, how the heart was alike the source of strength and of weakness, of good
and of evil thoughts, loved and hated, envied, lusted and deceived, proving
each statement from Scripture.138
But never before could they have realised, that anything entering from without
could not defile a man. Least of all could they perceive the final inference
which St. Mark long afterwards derived from this teaching of the Lord: 'This
He said, making all meats clean.'139140
137. In St. Mark vii. 21 these outcomings of 'evil thoughts' are arranged in three groups of four, characterised as in the text; while in St. Matt. xv. 19 the order of the ten commandments seems followed. The account of St. Mark is the fuller. In both accounts the expression 'blasphemy' (blasfhmia) - rendered in
the Revised Version by 'railing' - seems to refer to calumnious and evil speaking about our fellow-men.
138. Midr. on Eccles. i. 16.
139. St. Mark vii. 19, last clause.
140. I have accepted this rending of the words, first propounded by St. Chrysostom, and now adopted in the Revised Version, although not without much misgiving. For there is strong objection to it from the Jewish usus and views. The
statement in Ber. 61 a, last line, 'The œsophagus which causeth to enter and which casteth out all manner of meat' (lk)m ynym lk )ycwmw synkm +#w) seems to imply that the
words of Christ were a proverbial expression. The Talmudic idea is based on the curious physiological notion (Midr. on Eccles. vii. 19), that the food passed from the œsophagus first into the larger intestine (Hemses,
ssmh, perhaps = omasum), where the food was supposed to be crushed as in a mill (Vayyik R. 4, 18; Midr. on Eccl. xii. 3), and thence only, through various organs, into the stomach proper. (As regards the process in animals, see Lewysohn, Zool. d. Talm. pp. 37-40). (The passage from Ber. 61 a
has been so rendered by Wünsche, in his note on St. Matt. xv. 17, as to be in parts well nigh unintelligible.) It may interest students that the strange word afedrwn rendered
both in the A.V. and the R.V. by 'draught,' seems to correspond to the Rabbinic Aphidra ()rdyp)) which Levy renders by 'the floor of a stable formed by the excrements of the animals which are soaked and stamped into a hard mass.'
Yet another time had Peter to learn that lesson, when his
resistance to the teaching of the vision of the sheet let down from heaven was
silenced by this: 'What God hath cleansed, make not thou common.'141
Not only the spirit of legalism, but the very terms 'common' (in reference to
the unwashen hands) and 'making clean' are the same. Nor can we wonder at this,
if the vision of Peter was real, and not, as negative criticism would have it,
invented so as to make an imaginary Peter - Apostle of the Jews - speak and act
like Paul. On that hypothesis, the correspondence of thought and expression
would seem, indeed, inexplicable; on the former, the Peter, who has had that
vision, is telling through St. Mark the teaching that underlay it all, and, as
he looked back upon it, drawing from it the inference which he understood not
at the time: 'This He said, making all meats clean.'
141. Acts x.14.
A most difficult lesson this for a Jew, and for one like Peter,
nay, for us all, to learn. And still a third time had Peter to learn it, when,
in his fear of the Judaisers from Jerusalem, he made that common which God had
made clean, had care of the unwashen hands, but forgot that the Lord had made
clean all meats. Terrible, indeed, must have been that contention which
followed between Paul and Peter. Eighteen centuries have passed, and that fatal
strife is still the ground of theological contention against the truth.142
Eighteen centuries, and within the Church also the strife still continues.
Brethren sharply contend and are separated, because they will insist on that as
of necessity which should be treated as of indifference: because of the not
eating with unwashen hands, forgetful that He has made all meats clean to him
who is inwardly and spiritually cleansed.
is, of course, well known that the reasoning of the Tübingen school and of
kindred negative theology is based on a supposed contrariety between the
Petrine and Pauline direction, and that this again is chiefly based on the
occurrence in Antioch recorded in Gal. ii. 11 &c.