These small group studies of the gospel of Mark 7:1-13 contain  commentary, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications to encourage life change.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more practical studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Mark 7:1-13 Bible Study Guide – Relationship Is More Important Than Tradition

Outline

I. The Pharisees observe the disciples’ lack of tradition (1-5)
II. Obeying God from the heart is more important than tradition (6-13)

I. The Pharisees observe the disciples’ lack of tradition (1-5)

Discussion Questions

• What did the Pharisees observe about the disciples?
• What was their goal in pointing out this issue?
• Why do you think this tradition was started?
• Is there any Biblical basis for this tradition?
• What are some of the traditions that are observed in your church?
• Share some ways that tradition can be a good thing.
• Share some ways that tradition can become a bad thing.
• Should Christians develop traditions in church and the family?’

Cross-References

1 Peter 1:18-19 – Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Titus 1:14 – Not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 – So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

1 Corinthians 11:2 – Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The Pharisees challenge Jesus – Their attack on Jesus and the disciples was disguised as a question. They were like the helpful boy who asked the teacher, “Is Jerry supposed to be throwing food?”

Some people just like to argue and be disagreeable. The Pharisees saw Jesus’ miracles. They heard His teaching. But they were not teachable. Instead of seeing the truth that was right in front of their faces, they wanted to quibble about minutiae.

Application – Don’t be one of those people! We should not look for flaws in others to pick on. For example, don’t listen to a sermon with a critical eye looking for something to disagree with. You can generally learn something helpful even from a weak sermon.

2. They do not wash their hands when they eat bread. – There is no command anywhere in the Old Testament that a person must wash their hands before eating. The Pharisees added this requirement to the original in Leviticus 15:11.

Leviticus 15:11 – Anyone whom the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.

The Pharisees had added many of their own traditions to the Old Testament commands. Here is just one example.

Washing hands is actually a good thing and has many health benefits. But they demanded it as a requirement for a religious person. In essence, they believed that a person who washed his hands was righteous and a person who didn’t was pagan. The problem is that they focused on the external rituals rather than the heart. Because they carefully observed these external rituals, they wrongly believed that they were righteous and did not need saving.

They equated man-made traditions like these with the Scriptures. It was their way of trying to earn favor with God. The washing of hands is still very prevalent in Judaism.

Apparently, there are at least nine different types of hand washing. Here are a few of the required situations for hand washing.• When one wakes up

• Before prayer
• When one leaves a grave
• Before eating bread (Netilat Yadayim)
• After eating bread (Mayim Acharonim)
• Before eating dipped fruit or vegetables
• Before worship
• Before blessing people
• After cutting one’s hair or nails
• Upon leaving a latrine

The rules can be extreme. After sleeping and before breaking bread, it is required to use a vessel to pour water over your own hands. The rules are very detailed, stating that there must be enough water to at least cover one’s middle knuckles. Water must be poured over each hand twice.

Washing is required after sleeping, whether that is all night or a nap. It is believed to remove any evil spirits present as well as prepare a person for prayer or reading Scripture.

Of all of these washings, the one before eating bread is considered the most important. It is so important that disobeying it can bring about ex-communication. Rabbinic law requires that travelers go up to four miles away to find water for this ritual. However, that is only required if the water source is in the same direction as the traveler is journeying. If the water source is in a different direction, he is only required to journey one mile.

3. Traditions versus commandments – The Pharisees and most Jews at the time of Jesus were following a largely man-made religion. Thousands of rules had been passed down over generations and were slowly added to govern religious life. People were very religious. They meticulously kept long lists of rules. But they did not have a relationship with God. The making and following of man-made rules was so out of control that, at times, they took precedence over clear biblical commands. These burdened the people with such a load that they could never stand up under it.

Application – We need to have a discerning eye to distinguish between traditions and biblical commands. Many of the things which believers practice as routine are, in fact, simply traditions, not commands from the Scripture.

Traditions can be helpful. Generally, they were established with good motivations. Here are some traditions that are not inherently bad but can become external rituals.

• Gift giving at Christmas
• Celebrating communion on the first Sunday of each month
• Taking a baptism class before being baptized
• Wearing a suit and tie to church
• Praying at meals
• Saying “amen” or “praise the Lord.”

Whenever we follow a tradition, we should evaluate our motivation. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. We should be careful to emphasize a personal relationship with the Lord. At the same time, we should not be afraid to set aside traditions that become mere rote habits or worse, cause disunity or distract us from following the Lord.

II. Obeying God from the heart is more important than tradition (6-13)

Discussion Questions

• Why do you think Jesus did not answer their question directly?
• What did Jesus call them?
• Why did He call them hypocrites?
• What problem in their attitudes did He point out?
• Which of their traditions did they place a higher priority on than God’s commands?
• What can we learn from this passage about what God expects of us?
• What is true worship?
• What are some traditions in church history that have replaced God’s commands?
• What can we learn from this passage about how to treat our parents?
• How can we make sure our heart is in the right place when we keep traditions?
• What should we do if a tradition is distracting us from true worship?

Cross-References

Isaiah 29:13 – And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.

1 Timothy 4:3-4 – Who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

Deuteronomy 5:16 – Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Proverbs 30:17 – The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me – Jesus quickly discerned the root of the problem with the religious establishment of His day. They were outwardly religious but inwardly lifeless.

Matthew 23:27-28 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The Pharisees appeared righteous on the outside. They were careful to follow the rules. But it was faked. It did not come from a heart of love. Often their good deeds were done out of either obligation or a desire to impress others.

Sadly, this description of the Pharisees is applicable to many in the church today as well. Some churches are very rigid in adhering to certain traditions.

One sister shared with me about her home church. Rules governed everything. Women were not allowed to wear pants. The only acceptable translation of the Bible was KJV. The weight of rules burdened and confused her. She was not experiencing the love of Christ in the way that these were implemented. Her story reminds us that outward regulations are not as important as a transformed heart. It was ritual without the reality.

What is clear from Jesus’ statement is that God desires our heart. That is why love is considered the greatest Christian virtue.

1 Corinthians 13:3 – If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

We should do good deeds, yes. But these should be done because of our love for the Lord and for others and not just out of duty, habit, or a desire to impress.

Application – We should be careful about doing certain things to impress others. Do not talk often about the good things that you have done, either the money you gave, the time you served, or how you helped others. Instead, ask about and show concern for others. Do not seek after the spotlight. Instead, be content to serve in the background. Do not seek to get appreciation or thanks from others for the tasks that you do. One warning sign that you are serving with the wrong motivation is if you get upset when others don’t say “thank you.”

Reflect – What are some things which we may tend to do to try to impress others?

We need to often examine our own heart and motivation and ask why we do the things that we do. Why are you preaching or leading the study? Why are you helping with the housework? Why are you sharing about your latest service project? Is there any thought of impressing others or getting recognition? Make sure that the reasons you do these things are pure. Ask God to give you a humble heart and a passion to serve.

2. You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition – Traditions should always be subject to the Word of God. They are not higher to or even equal to the Bible.

3. Jesus gives an example of a tradition taken too far – God’s command was to honor one’s parents. This was so important that those guilty of disobeying were worthy of death.

The Pharisees had a tradition called “corban,” which meant dedicating money to God. On the surface, it was a good practice. Self-sacrifice is commendable. Generosity and tithing are important.

However, they used this tradition in a devious way. In order to get out of their duty of providing for their needy parents, the Pharisees would say, “it is corban,” and donate the money that should have been used to help their parents to the temple treasury instead. Through this way they would shirk their God-given responsibility toward their parents.

It is likely that money donated to the temple treasury could then be used to support themselves. It would be akin to a pastor refusing to help his parents and instead donating that money to his own church. Then he could increase his benefits out of the church funds.

Such a practice was clearly wrong. Sin was spiritualized and made to appear honorable. While they praised themselves for their zeal for God, His command was nullified and their parents were neglected. It was altogether evil. Their traditions were being used as an excuse to find ways around obeying God.

Jesus said they did “many such things.” It was ritual without relationship.

The key lesson is that God wants a personal relationship with His people. Those who have that will do what is right because they love Him and want to. Moral duty is not a good substitute for love. Perhaps that is why Jesus would later ask Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”

Reflect – Do you love Him?