Mark 7:1-2. Then came the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem They probably came on purpose to find occasion against him. For some of them followed him from place to place, looking on every thing he did, even on his most innocent, yea, and most benevolent and holy actions, with an evil and censuring eye. Accordingly, here they ventured to attack him for allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands, thereby transgressing, they said, the tradition of the elders, which they thought to be a very heinous offence. When they saw his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashen, hands The Greek word here rendered defiled, literally signifies common. It was quite in the Jewish idiom to oppose common and holy; the most usual signification of the latter word, in the Old Testament, being, separated from common and devoted to sacred use. As we learn from antiquity that this evangelist wrote his gospel in a pagan country, and for the use of Gentile converts, it was proper to add the explanation, that is, unwashen, to the epithet common, or defiled, which might have otherwise been misunderstood. They found fault The law of Moses, it must be observed, required external cleanness as a part of religion; not, however, for its own sake, but to signify with what carefulness God’s servants should purify their minds from moral pollutions. Accordingly, these duties were prescribed by Moses in such moderation as was fitted to promote the end of them. But in process of time they came to be multiplied prodigiously: for the ancient doctors, to secure the observation of those precepts which were really of divine institution, added many commandments of their own as fences unto the former. And the people, to show their zeal, obeyed them. For example: Because the law, Leviticus 15:11, saith, Whomsoever he toucheth, that hath the issue, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, &c., the people were ordered to wash their hands immediately on their return from places of public concourse, and before they sat down to meat, lest, by touching some unclean person in the crowd, they might have defiled themselves. The Pharisees, therefore, being very zealous in these trifles, would not eat at any time unless they washed their hands with the greatest care. From this source came that endless variety of purifications not prescribed in the law, but ordained by the elders. These ordinances, though they were of human invention, came at length to be looked upon as essential in religion; they were exalted to such a pitch, that, in comparison of them, the law of God was suffered to lie neglected and forgotten, as is here signified.
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