The Law of Moses clearly sought to distinguish between that which defiles a person and that which makes one holy. Throughout the Law things were designated as clean or unclean. Certain animals were said to be unclean and consequently unfit for human consumption (Leviticus 11). A women was said to be "unclean" after childbirth (Leviticus 12). People who had skin conditions had to submit to the priest for an examination of their skin to determine if they were "clean" or "unclean" (Leviticus 13). In similar fashion, mildew could render a house "unclean" (same chapter). Likewise, touching a dead body, semen or blood could make one "unclean" (Leviticus 15). Finally, sins (especially sexual sins) could make the people unclean (Leviticus 19 and 20). A man could "defile" the Sabbath, Sanctuary, land, himself with his neighbor's wife, etcetera, etcetera (you get the picture).
Under the Law, one of the principal remedies for all this "uncleanness" was ceremonial washing. The people were instructed to wash their clothes prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments so that they would be clean and sanctified before the Lord (Exodus 19:10). Aaron and his sons were instructed to wash just about everything in connection with their priestly duties (Exodus 29:4, 30:18-21, 40:12, Leviticus 16:4, 24). Those who had defiled themselves in one of the many ways outlined in the Law were also instructed to wash themselves (Leviticus 11:25, 28, 40, 13:6, 34, 54, 58, 14:8-9, 47, 15:5-27, 17:15-16, 22:6). As you will see when you look at the scriptures cited herein, the hands were often singled out as being especially important in this regard.
Why have we taken this time to underscore the Mosaic Law's emphasis on clean and unclean? Why have we referenced so many scriptures relative to what defiles a person? Because Jesus Christ took God's Law in a radically different direction.
In the Gospel According to Mark, we read: "Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders...Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen (defiled) hands? He (Christ) answered and said unto them, 'Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as of the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.'" (Mark 7:1-8, see also Matthew 15:1-20) Notice that Christ was telling them that this ceremonial washing that they had been practicing was a manmade tradition! Was Christ implying here that only part of the Mosaic Law was of Divine origin?
Continuing in this passage, we read: "And he said unto them, 'Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother, and whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 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 mightiest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.'" (Mark 7:9-13) Christ compares their objection to the fact that his disciples have ignored ceremonial hand washing to their practice of exempting contributors to the temple from any financial obligation to help their parents (something that he points out is also enjoined by the Mosaic Law).
In the verses that follow, Christ proceeds to completely redefine the things that have the ability to defile a person. We read: "And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, 'Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man (on the outside), that entering into him can defile him (make him unclean): but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.'" (verses 14-16) Now that was very different from the traditional Jewish reading of the Mosaic Law!
Notice that, as soon as they were alone, his disciples asked him about the meaning of his previous statement (verse 17). Christ responded: "Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?" And he said, "That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile (make unclean) the man." (verses 18-23) Christ is totally upending here what the Mosaic Law taught about clean and unclean! Can anything be more plain? Christ a conservative regarding the Mosaic Law? I don't think so!
And, not only does he upend the teaching on what defiles a person, he also suggests that some components of the Mosaic Law were not of Divine origin! Moreover, this is not the only instance where Christ suggested that parts of the Mosaic Law were not God ordained. In the next installment, we'll explore some of Christ's specific teachings regarding the Mosaic Law and how he both distilled and expanded its application/meaning.