234 Unwashed Hands
(1a) Mark 7:1-5 = Matt 15:1-2
(1b) Luke 11:37-38
Stratum: II (60-80 CE)
Common Sayings Tradition: No
(1a) Mark 7:1-5
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"
“Καὶ συνάγονται πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καί τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐλθόντες ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων. καὶ ἰδόντες τινὰς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ὅτι κοιναῖς χερσίν, τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν ἀνίπτοις, ἐσθίουσιν τοὺς ἄρτους _ οἱ γὰρ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐὰν μὴ πυγμῇ νίψωνται τὰς χεῖρας οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, κρατοῦντες τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, καὶ ἀπ᾿ ἀγορᾶς ἐὰν μὴ βαπτίσωνται οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἄλλα πολλά ἐστιν ἃ παρέλαβον κρατεῖν, βαπτισμοὺς ποτηρίων καὶ ξεστῶν καὶ χαλκίων [καὶ κλινῶν] _ καὶ ἐπερωτῶσιν αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς· διὰ τί οὐ περιπατοῦσιν οἱ μαθηταί σου κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, ἀλλὰ κοιναῖς χερσὶν ἐσθίουσιν τὸν ἄρτον;” (Mark 7:1–5 GNT-T)
= Matt 15:1-2
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat."
“Τότε προσέρχονται τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων Φαρισαῖοι καὶ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες· διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταί σου παραβαίνουσιν τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων; οὐ γὰρ νίπτονται τὰς χεῖρας [αὐτῶν] ὅταν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν.” (Matthew 15:1–2 GNT-T)
(1b) Luke 11:37-38
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner.
“Ἐν δὲ τῷ λαλῆσαι ἐρωτᾷ αὐτὸν Φαρισαῖος ὅπως ἀριστήσῃ παρ᾿ αὐτῷ· εἰσελθὼν δὲ ἀνέπεσεν. ὁ δὲ Φαρισαῖος ἰδὼν ἐθαύμασεν ὅτι οὐ πρῶτον ἐβαπτίσθη πρὸ τοῦ ἀρίστου.” (Luke 11:37–38 GNT-T)
Marcus J. Borg
In Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (Trinity Press International, 1998: 111-13) Borg makes the following analysis of this saying:
... one of the consequences of the Pharisaic extension of priestly regulations to nonpriests was the insistence that hands be washed before even ordinary meals. At issue here, of course, was not hygiene but holiness. According to both Mark and Q (or Luke), Jesus and his disciples were charged with eating with unwashed hands. Both sources indicate deliberate nonobservance and give no reason to suggest that the behavior was necessitated by special circumstances.
To determine the response of Jesus to this accusation, the complexities of Mark 7:1-23 must serve as a point of departure. As it stands in Mark, it begins with the accusation regarding washing of hands and climaxes with v. 15:There is nothing outside of a person which by going into that person can defile;
but the things which come out of a person are what defile.
There is virtual unanimity among all schools of criticism that this saying is authentic. The major issue is the meaning of the saying. To what did it refer when Jesus spoke it? Since it was spoken to some concrete situation involving controversy with opponents, its primary thrust is to be determined by that controversy rather than in isolation.
In Mark, it has two different thrusts to two different audiences. in public (v. 14), it answered the Pharisaic charge that Jesus' disciples ate with unwashed hands. In private (vv. 17-23), to the disciples, it nullified the Mosaic laws on clean and unclean foods (Deut. 14:3-20; Lev. 11), most explicitly in v. 19b: "Thus he declared all foods clean."
That the second thrust is authentic is unlikely for several reasons. First, there is no indication elsewhere that this was an issue during the ministry. Indeed, had Jesus rejected the food laws of the Pentateuch, most likely an accusation to that effect would have been made and preserved, but no such accusation is reported. Though this is an argument from silence, it has some force since accusations about sabbath observance, washing of hands, eating with tax collectors and sinners, etc., do appear. Of greater weight is a second reason: the indecision of the early Jesus movement after Jesus' death over the continued validity of the Mosaic laws on forbidden foods is virtually inexplicable if Jesus had unambiguously rejected the distinction between clean and unclean foods. Moreover, v. 19b, which is responsible for directing the saying to the question of forbidden foods is in a section (vv. 17-23) commonly viewed as secondary ...
Two possibilities remain: it was addressed to a conflict which can no longer with certainty be identified, or it was directed to the issue of ritual purity of hands at meals. The first is certainly possible, though the second is more probable for two reasons. Concern about ritual purity of hands is a known controversy; and Luke independently of Mark reports a Q saying with similar content as a reply to the same accusation:
Luke 11:38-41: The Pharisee noticed with surprise that Jesus had not begun by washing before the meal. But the Lord said to him, "You Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and plate; but inside you there is nothing but greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? But cleanse those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you."
... Taken together, the accusations and replies reported by Mark and Luke lead to very important conclusions. First, the behavior against which the accusations were directed contravened an important aspect of the extension of priestly regulations to daily life: it denied the validity of one of the main requirements for membership in a Pharisaic havurah. Second, the warrant given for the contravention called into question and indeed negated the whole notion of how holiness was to be achieved. The equation between holiness and separation, qadosh and parush, was denied, for holiness had nothing to do with separation from the external sources of defilement ... Denying the equation of qadosh and parush constituted an eminently clear opposition to the main thrust of Pharisaic polity and indeed to much of the postexilic development of Judaism.
The historic meaning of the challenge can be refined by comparing it to two modern ways of stating the significance of Mark 7:15, both of which blunt the cultural and political edge of the controversy. Perrin and Kasemann, both of whom appreciate the radical nature of the saying, argue that here Jesus established the distinction between the sacred and the secular. Though this may finally be quite similar to what is argued above, putting the issue in the form, "Jesus denied the equation of holiness and separation," has the advantage of being cast in the form of a cultural question of the day. Its historical bite as a challenge to the Pharisaic program for Israel can be better appreciated. Its controversial setting is more seriously obscured by a second modern way of stating the point: Jesus replaces the concern about external rectitude with a concern about the inner spiritual health of the individual. Though this is a valid insight, it both generalizes and individualizes what was originally a specific challenge to a collective model of behavior for a society.
Here, then, in the behavior of Jesus and his disciples, we have a specific contravention of a necessary prerequisite for table fellowship as understood by the Pharisees, and of a major element in the program to make Israel a kingdom of priests. Moreover, the warrant which Jesus articulated for such nonobservance denied not only the necessity of ritual washing of hands, but also undercut the understanding of holiness as a separation upon which hinged Israel's course in the present and anticipation of the future.