In the Old Testament Law the only washing which I can recall is for the priesthood as they conduct the duties of the tabernacle in the wilderness, at the brazen laver (Exodus 30:17-21). It was for the washing of the feet and hands of Aaron and his sons in going about their daily duties of the tabernacle. Somehow a tradition came to be for every Jew to wash their hands before they ate. So it seems they were condemned if they did not.
Now I would be the first to admit in our day and time that is a good practice, but for health reasons, not religious reasons. To test another Jew because of not washing their hands was what these religious leaders were up to; in particular questioning the Lord Jesus and His disciples; measuring whether He could be the Christ determined by whether He washed His hands ceremonially or not before He ate meals.
Our verses say,
“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” Matthew 15:1-2 (KJV).
We are not told how many of the scribes and Pharisees came to question Jesus; just that they came. They had travelled from Jerusalem to Galilee on a mission of question. Jesus’s popularity was growing. They wanted to check Him out, as though they had not already done so a few times. Oh how miserably we fail when we try to win people to traditions which are not based on Scripture, conviction, and the saving or betterment of society.
There is no tradition which can save a soul from the condemnation of Hell, unless you want to call repentance, and faith a tradition.
These men come to Jesus actually making a charge against Him with their supposed question, “Why do thy disciples transgress…”. It is already in the accusatory form. They were not coming to Jesus to learn from Him, but rather, to accuse Him and His disciples of breaking tradition.
I have a thing about washing hands, especially after visiting the restroom. I was in a men’s restroom in a steak and buffet place a few years ago, when I grew passionate about this washing hands. There was another man who was just leaving the urinal and walked right out the door, right to the buffet line. When I got out there, and yes, after washing my hands; there he was; picking up the utensils for dipping out the food, and I had to touch it if I wanted what he did. I didn’t. I watched where he went, what he dipped and I steered clear. Some have said that the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is in the Bible, but it is not. It sure is a good thought though.
It is a good practice to wash your hands, and regularly. You can help prevent colds, flu viruses, and conduct all around good hygiene by doing so. However, it is not the means of judging whether one is holy or not. These would judge Jesus, and reject Him because of their tradition, which really had no merit in the Law.
We are declared righteous and just by our Creator, through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for our sins. It is God’s declaration, not our good behavior or good deeds which cleanse us.
-Tim A. Blankenship