Matthew 15: What Makes One Unclean?

Today’s post is more of a question than a thought.  Even if you are not the kind to give a comment I would love your input on this one.  Please consider.

Jesus argues with the Jewish religious leaders again in today’s chapter.  Today, the issue is eating with unwashed hands, an elaborate tradition they had developed in an effort to remain a ceremonially clean people.  Notice that is ceremonially clean.  They hadn’t developed this ritual to remain a physically healthier group.  Jesus’ disciples evidently weren’t as meticulous about this tradition as the Jewish religious leaders would have liked.  Jesus points out the error in their logic:

What makes someone unclean isn’t what goes into the mouth.  It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean. (15:11)

What comes out of the mouth begins in the heart, and that’s what makes someone unclean.  Out of the heart, you see, come evil plots, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and blasphemy.  These are the things that make someone unclean.  But eating with unwashed hands doesn’t make a person unclean. (15:18-20)

In fact, a tradition could make a person unclean if it caused them to nullify or trespass against God’s law.  The Pharisees were doing exactly that with their unwillingness to honor their parents by devoting money to God needed to help their parents (15:3-6).  God’s desire is for honor, not donations.

So, I am wondering today what, if any, are the “traditions” we have in our churches today that miss the point and maybe even cause us to work against what God is really looking for?  What are the “unwashed hands” that we get up in arms about even though these are not the things that really cause moral problems?  

What do you think?  

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Matthew 15: What Makes One Unclean?

  1. Greetings Jason, I enjoy the revelation here I admit I have not seen it like this, so thanks for sharing. In reply to your question, what are the tradiions that go against God. I think one of the biggest traditons we have is teaching a Romans ten salvation (asking Jesus into our heart) gospel when the apostles clearly preached “the” gospel as in Acts which is repentance, baptism in Jesus name and reception of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38 Acts 10:44-17).as one event. Easy believism is a tradition that has made the word of God of none effect.

    Thanks for allowing me to respond
    The Lord belss you

    • Don’t get me wrong, I have a very high view of adult immersion baptism too, but do you think baptism as it is sometimes practiced in some churches can lead to the same “easy believism” you mention?

  2. I have a feeling that the word “clean” have double/ triple meaning. I have notice few verse showing different way of describing the word “clean”.

    Clean in term of sin, clean in term of hygiene, clean in term of heart and clean in term of food.

    In this verse, I see Jesus have denied the tradition of cleaning hand before wash (which I think, in term of hygiene or manner). Even it was good to wash your hand before eat, but it not compulsory.

    The way Bible describe, Elders have made the laws more complicated than it supposed to be (which is suppose more easier).
    Interestingly, Jesus did not denied the action that be done by Elders (cleaning). He just explain in different way.

    How I look at it.
    Jesus want to teach that there are more bigger priority than focusing on cleaning hand ritual as there are murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and blasphemy out there.
    In this verse, Jesus critic the action of Elder who closed their to sin that commit by society. I think Jesus want to tell about PRIORITY.

    (Sorry, comment are heavily influence by Muslim thought)

    • Muslim thought or not, I thinking you are reading this exactly right. Jesus is talking about priorities. It is the internal that makes us unclean not the external, so prioritize the issues of the heart.

    • Hi hifzan shafiee,

      salam alaikum!

      I grew up in a family whose background is muslim. we are called tausug, a tribe consist of primarily muslims. but most of my clan are now christians.

      I appreciate your thoughts, and understand them as I have grew up with muslims.

      my Jesus bless you!

      – grace and peace

      • Hi Savedbygrace,
        Nice to know there Asian, (Philippine, I guess) around here.

        It good that you understand it. I hope I do not offense you.


        • @Nice to know there Asian, (Philippine, I guess) around here.
          you are right, I am from Phil. from the western side.

          @It good that you understand it. I hope I do not offense you.

          not at all bro. I totally understand everything you are saying.

  3. Hi Jason,

    I believe our feet becomes unclean everyday, as we walk this world.
    everything around us can cause us to be unclean in some way or the other

    television, media ads, bill boards, internet. to name a few, all contributes to the
    factors. not to mention the daily grind of work, meeting deadlines, meetings.

    we cannot be contaminated by these things, rather our feet becomes dirty.

    “Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my
    hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only
    to wash his feet, but is completely clean;”
    – John 13:9-10

    that is why it is imperative to hear messages about Jesus everyday,
    before we go to work, before we sleep.

    “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”
    – Ephesians 5:25

    – grace and peace

    • I like what you are saying here. If the greatest impurities are internal, we need to be washed on the inside — for worship, service, prayer, word, meditation, etc. Good thought!

  4. Melanie Semore

    Living in a world of high school students as I do, I see us (the church) answering questions that young people are not asking. We sometimes lament that young people are unable to defend some of our practices as we were able to do at their age. Some of the practices we hold on to but which they don’t “get” might be acappella music, various roles limited to males, “5 steps in the plan of salvation,” formal orders of worship, invitation songs. For people who are trying to figure out if they believe in God, these issues, held dearly by some, are just puzzling.

    Then there are the things we do without thinking. For example, how often is a prayer before a meal simply a formality? We are waiting for it to be over so we can eat. Worse, do we in the church make plans to build or move, and THEN ask God’s blessing? Then there’s the issue of finding some kind of comfort knowing we’ve DONE all the right this: we’ve gone to church on Sunday, we’ve taken communion, sung acappella, contributed to the offering, been led in prayer–but have not been concerned on Monday about charity, kindness, love, or honesty. The actions that substitute for matters of the heart do actually keep is at a distance from God.

    • Your last line is what it all comes down to, as I see it. When we substitute religious action (or “easy believism” as “Paul” said in the comments above) for real lifestyle change, we are missing the point. I love how you are using teenagers and young adults as a barometer for our accuracy. If this sector of society that usually asks the right questions (though doesn’t always answer them well) finds us talking about all the wrong things, we have probably missed the real point. Thanks

    • Christina

      I completely agree, and I, too, have noticed that the older members of the church today seem to be disappointed because the youth don’t “know their Bibles” as well as they should. I would like to point out that the youth today seem to be more active in reaching out to the world, i.e. feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the broken-hearted–do those things sound familiar? Seems to me that maybe the youth understand the meaning of Christ’s teachings much more than people give them credit.

      • Nice comment! Do you think a synergy between the knowledge of past generations and the passion and compassion of younger generations would be recipe for success? How is that most possible?

  5. “Listen and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.”

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