Mark 7:1-5

Mark 7:1 (KJB)
Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.

The Scribes and Pharisees had lived all over the area where Jesus was ministering but the group that came to Jesus were an official delegation from Jerusalem. Since Jesus was growing in popularity and reputation, this group was becoming concerned. They had hoped that Jesus would go to Jerusalem for the Passover but since He did not show up there, the delegation was sent from Jerusalem to meet with Him, or better yet to harass and hopefully ensnare Him in some matter of the law.

Mark 7:2 (KJB)
And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.

The Jews had followed both the written law of the Old Testament and an oral law known as “the tradition of the elders.” The oral tradition was regarded as the only valid interpretation of the divine law and was held to be equally authoritative as the written law. This oral tradition was compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince in the second century A.D. In this verse the opponents of Jesus had questioned the conduct of the disciples. They would be in violation of the oral law if they failed to adhere to any aspect of it. The question here is concerning the washing of the hands which was a ceremonial aspect of the oral law.

Mark 7:3 (KJB)
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.

The method that the Jews would use would be to pour cold water over their hands two times. The first washing cleansed the hands and the second pouring of the water rinsed off the first water which had become unclean. There is nothing written in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning this ceremonial washing of hands before each meal and yet the verse tells us that they did this very often. Since they believed that the oral law and the written law were equal, if there was any disobedience to the oral law, then it would be like disobeying the Mosaic scriptures and I am sure they levied some kind of penalty for not adhering to it.

Mark 7:4 (KJB)
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables.

The marketplace would certainly be a place where there would be much ceremonial uncleanness and not to mention hygienically unclean. It did not matter what utensils were being used, they all had to be ceremonially washed. It was in the marketplace where day laborers waited for work and the sick and lame were placed in strategic areas to beg for a living. It was a very busy place and the Pharisees would go there with their long flowing robes to be honored by men. (Mat 23:7 KJV) And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. The Pharisees would go so far as to wash their couches which they sat on. They were always looking at the outside but the real cleansing has to take place on the inside when the Lord Jesus Christ removes al the sin by means of His sacrifice upon Calvary. The outside was for show and I am sure they got their utensils nice and clean and spotless, but again, it did not help one bit toward salvation. (Lev 15:12 KJV) And the vessel of earth, that he toucheth which hath the issue, shall be broken: and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water. According to Leviticus 15:12, the earthen vessels were to be broken and the wooden ones cleansed with water. I would not doubt the immense amount of tradition which was added to this over the years.

Mark 7:5 (KJB)
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

The Pharisees and scribes had asked Jesus why the disciples did not walk according to the tradition of the elders. In reality, they were not challenging the disciples but were challenging Jesus. Jesus did not support the validity of the tradition of the elders and in their thinking Jesus had been responsible for the shameful way the disciples were acting. Jesus did not accept the man made regulations known as legalism, which had bound the people beyond what they could endure. It was the legalism of the tradition of the elders versus the real law of God.