Matthew 15:1-5

Mat 15:1 (KJB)
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,

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.

Mat 15:2 (KJB)
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

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. The Jews would 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.

Mat 15:3 (KJB)
But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

Jesus did not contend with them concerning the fact that the disciples did break the oral commandment by not washing their hands ceremonially. However, He responded to them with His own charge concerning their violation of the law of Moses which yielded more serious consequences. Jesus accused them of breaking the commandment of God by means of their own tradition. Man’s religious laws will always go against the law of God because man tries to place his laws above God’s laws and that is what the tradition of the Elders was all about.

Mat 15:4 (KJB)
For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

Jesus then brings in the fifth commandment concerning honoring one’s mother and father. A child is not to just to obey and respect their parents but they are to go beyond that. They are to love them and physically care for them when they become old or to aid them if they hit hard times even before they reach old age. Those who fail to help their parents are showing their spiritual condition and if they refuse to help them and instead curse or speak evil of them, then they are to die the death. Those who do not help their parents are in essence showing that they despise them and not merely speaking it. What is in view concerning “the death” is the second death, that is, eternal damnation. That is how serious God takes His command for children to care for their parents.

Mat 15:5 (KJB)
But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;

Jesus now contrasts the tradition of the elders with the word of God. The Pharisees and Scribes did just the opposite. What they allowed was a reduction in the authority of the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath and any donations made on that day. If a child did not want to help his parents, he could circumvent the command by claiming that he is making a vow to consecrate his goods for the work of the temple. Their tradition had stated that one could pledge their goods to the temple and be absolved from responsibility to others. Of course, the Pharisees would not have a problem with this because they were becoming rich by people pledging their goods to the temple. This tradition was even worse than its theory. Children not only neglected their own parents but were able to abscond with the money for their own benefit. The temple vow allowed any funds or goods pledged to the temple, which otherwise would have gone to parents to be considered Corban. (Mark 7:11 KJV) But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. The parents received nothing while the children retained the gift for their own.