8. Concerning the Pharisees and Scribes Who Came and Inquired, Why Do Thy Disciples Transgress the Tradition of the Elders?
“Then there came to Him from Jerusalem p. 437 Pharisees and scribes, saying, Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” 5403 He who observes at what time the Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus, saying, “Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders,” etc., will perceive that Matthew of necessity wrote not simply that Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem came to the Saviour to inquire of Him the matters before us, but put it thus, “Then come to Him from Jerusalem.” What time, therefore, are we to understand by “then”? At the time when Jesus and His disciples crossed over and came in the boat to the land of Gennesaret, when the wind ceased from the time that Jesus entered into the boat, and when “the men of that place knowing Him sent into all that region round about, and brought unto Him all that were sick, and besought Him that they might touch if it were only the border of His garment, and as many as touched were made whole.” 5404 At that time came to Him from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, not struck with admiration at the power which was in Jesus, which healed those who only touched even the border of His garment, but in a censorious spirit, accusing the disciples before their Teacher, not concerning the transgression of a commandment of God, but of a single tradition of the Jewish elders. And it is probable that this very charge of these censorious persons is a proof of the piety of the disciples of Jesus, who gave to the Pharisees and scribes no opportunity of censure with reference to the transgression of the commandments of God, as they would not have brought the charge of transgression against the disciples, as transgressing the commandment of the elders, if they had had it in their power to censure those whom they accused, and to show that they were transgressing a commandment of God. But do not suppose that these things go to establish the necessity of keeping the law of Moses according to the letter, because the disciples of Jesus up to that time kept it; for not before He suffered did He “redeem us from the curse of the law,” 5405 who in suffering for men “became a curse for us.” But just as fittingly Paul became a Jew to the Jews that he might gain Jews, 5406 what strange thing is it that the Apostles, whose way of life was passed among the Jews, even though they understood the spiritual things in the law, should have used a spirit of accommodation, as Paul also did when he circumcised Timothy, 5407 and offered sacrifice in accordance with a certain legal vow, as is written in the Acts of the Apostles? 5408 Only, again, they appear fond of bringing accusations, as they have no charge to bring against the disciples of Jesus with reference to a commandment of God, but only with reference to one tradition of the elders. And especially does this love of accusation become manifest in this, that they bring the charge in presence of those very persons who had been healed from their sickness; in appearance against the disciples, but in reality purposing to slander their Teacher, as it was a tradition of the elders that the washing of hands was a thing essential to piety. For they thought that the hands of those who did not wash before eating bread were defiled and unclean, but that the hands of those who had washed them with water became pure and holy, not in a figurative sense, in due relation to the law of Moses according to the letter. But let us, not according to the tradition of the elders among the Jews, but according to sound reason, endeavour to purify our own actions and so to wash the hands of our souls, when we are about to eat the three loaves which we ask from Jesus, who wishes to be our friend; 5409 for with hands that are defiled and unwashed and impure, we ought not to partake of the loaves.
Matt. 15:1, 2.437:5404
Matt. 14:35, 36.437:5405
Gal. iii. 13.437:5406
1 Cor. ix. 20.437:5407
Gal. ii. 3.437:5408
Acts 21:26, Acts 18:18.437:5409
Cf. Luke xi. 5.