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)

The Lord’s answer: V. 6. He 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. 

V. 7. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. V. 8. For laying aside the commandments of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such like things ye do.

In cases of weakness and lack of understanding the Lord was always willing to employ a great deal of patience, but in the case of the Pharisees, where utter hardness of heart was united with supercilious haughtiness and unwillingness to be taught, Jesus used the weapons of invective and sarcasm, and sometimes of bitter denunciation.

He applies a double prophecy of Isaiah to them, chapter 29, 13. With their lips they honored the Lord, endless prayers with babbling repetition were their strong suit, but their heart was altogether away, at a great distance from Him.

They were proud of their outward observance of the precepts of both the Law and of the tradition of the elders, believing that this was true service of God. But vain is such worship, the Lord informs them, since they teach and insist upon the doctrines of men.

In accordance with this prophecy, Jesus fitly calls them hypocrites, actors of a kind, that go through the routine of their part, say their prayers, and make the appropriate gestures by rote, but who seldom or never can reach the spontaneous expression of one that speaks and acts out of the fullness of his heart.

Like them, all people that place the commandments of men on the same level with God’s holy Law and for the sake of their precepts change and even set aside the eternal Word of God, are hypocrites, whose heart is far from God, who do not give the Lord their heart, for otherwise they would have the proper reverence for the same.

The rebuke of Jesus exactly strikes the sore spot: they put aside the command of God and cling to the tradition of men.

The attack of Christ: V. 9. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the command of God, that ye may keep your own tradition… Having defended Himself successfully and silenced His detractors, the Lord now assumes the offensive.

He employs pointed sarcasm: It is a fine way in which you frustrate the commandment of God that your tradition may be upheld! The Pharisees not only placed the precepts of tradition on the same level with those of God, but by their peculiar emphasis upon them actually set the latter aside. (source)

Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann

Further reading