In the New Testament we find various rules of accommodating others in the spirit of love and peace. For example:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. (1 Corinthians 9:20, NIV)

I understand this to mean that to those who considered themselves still under obligation to observe some ceremonies of the law, though they had begun to believe the Gospel, Paul became like them under the same obligations.

However, when the Pharisees pointed out that the disciples did not wash there hands before eating Jesus did not accommodate them at all, but used the opportunity to show that he was in direct opposition to traditional Rabbinism.

"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" (Matthew 15:2, NIV)

The question is: Why was it so important to Jesus NOT to accommodate the seeming neutral rule about washing hands before eating bread? What was the harm in accommodating the Pharisees?

  • What version of NIV are you using? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
    – user1054
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 12:57
  • @DanAndrews- thanks I had 9:2 but meant. 9:20. fixed it.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 14:39
  • Jesus was not Paul. Given his status as God incarnate he could care less what anyone thinks. He doesn't accommodate, we do. Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 15:06
  • @MonikaMichael - I prefer to think that Paul was accommodating to be like Christ, this means that Paul would have opposed hand washing also.the question is really why would Paul and Christ not accomidate this.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 15:11
  • @Mike This is an interesting question. Now I'm thinking if Jesus accommodated anywhere in the gospels. Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


Well, they were traditions--not commandments. Jesus actually rebuked them for rejecting the commandments of God in order to keep their traditions, calling them hypocrites for doing so.

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! Mark 7:6-9 ESV

The problem the Pharisees had was their tradition, because in following it they believed they attained righteousness before God by their own efforts. Jesus defied the traditions and called them hypocrites to reveal that they could not attain righteousness in such manner.

  • Ya it seems that traditional rabbinism with its emphasis on the external could not be reconciled or accommodated with the message Jesus had about the internal. Washing of hands was not a neutral matter but was symbolic of the irreconcilable difference between the holiness of Christ and that of traditionalism. Was like oil and water. Cheers.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 10, 2012 at 1:15

'Rules' regarding hygiene are literally a matter of life and death. The Pharisees enforced their 'rules' strictly to ensure the health of the Jewish community. The rules became laws that separated, when less hygienic gentiles started mixing with the Jews. The Galileans followed the custom of the Greeks who did not wash their hands before eating.

According to the Pharisees only Jews went to heaven. Those that did not wash their hands were deemed defiled and not Jews. This led to a conflict that was so serious that when Eleazer ben Enoch questioned the Pharisees1 about the washing of hands he was condemned to death by stoning but he died before the sentence could be carried out.

The Pharisees sent a legal delegation to investigate if they should declare the Disciples defiled as they did regularly especially in the Galilee and amongst the poor. Jesus had to act firmly to show that man-made laws did not determine defilement.

1 Mishnah, Eduyoth 5: 6


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