1Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?
Beginning with chapter 14, Matthew follows more of a chronological order of Christ’s life. Chapter 15 continues the King’s dispute with religion. Jesus came to a head-on clash with religion.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,
The Sanhedrin (the religious hierarchy) headquartered in Jerusalem sent an official delegation of both scribes and Pharisees to Jesus in Galilee with a religious question. The time was during the Passover (Jn 6:4), a year before His final Passover. The delegation questioned and censured Jesus’ disciples. This was an attempt to lay the groundwork for charging Him and His disciples with heresy.
“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?
Opponents to Jesus in the New Testament expressed their opposition in a question. They appeared as sincere but they were out to undermine Jesus.
The tradition here is oral tradition, later written down as extra-biblical law. These traditions were interpretations of the Old Testament laws over centuries. Eventually these interpretations became authoritative.
For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
The charge against Jesus’ disciples was that they ate without going through a ritual of washing hands. A person with ritually washed hands was ritually right to worship. By the time of the New Testament, the elders added to the Old Testament an elaborate washing process. This was passed down by oral tradition known as the Mishna. The issue here has little to do with physical washing but more with ceremonial washing.
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress [cross a line] the commandment of God because of your tradition?
Instead of answering their questions, Jesus countered with another question challenging the premise of their question. Religious leaders accused Jesus’ disciples of transgressing tradition, and now Jesus accused them of transgressing Scripture. He confronted His critics with breaching the Bible. The issue became tradition versus the Bible. They put their views above the Bible.
Putting personal belief over the Bible renders the Word of God ineffective.
We often confuse our religious traditions with the Word of God. It is important for the Bible to govern what we believe above all. Many Christians are long on books about God and short on the Bible.