82 Tradition of men vs. the Word of God.

Ceremonial washing of eating utensils, Mark 7:8 In Mark 7:1-4 the evangelist first gives the background to a conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were concerned with the fact that Jesus’ disciples ate bread without first ceremonially washing (baptizo) their hands. Mark then mentions how the Jews were very unyielding with their demand on washing all eating utensils, even the couches or tables! In His answer, Jesus addresses a real concern, the caring of the elderly. According to the older versions of the Bible, in verse eight Jesus again mentions the washing of the utensils as a nearer orientation for His answer, while modern versions bring the conversation directly to the point concerned. The challenge before us is to discern which version rather would represent the original autograph, and try and explain how this variation could have originated. The words in dark are lacking in modern versions. Mk.7:8, KJV: “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.” NIV: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” In the table below all manuscripts available are mentioned in the time of their origin:

Mark 7;8

Possibilities: Lacking: Included:
Witness: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers:
101-200 Diatessaron
201-300 Papyrus 45 Sahidic
301-400 Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Washington Bohairic Vulgate, Gothic
401-500 Armenian, Georgian Alexandrinus, Bezae Syriac, Ethiopic
501-600 1 Old Latin
601-700 2 Old Latin, Syriac
701-800 Regius
801-900 Sangallensis Cyprius, Monacensis, Petropolitanus, Uncial 0131
1001-1600 Family f1, 1 Minuscule Family f13, 16 Minuscules, 1 Byzantine Lectionary

External indicators

Up to the year 500 A.D. the elaboration on verse eight is lacking in four of the six Greek manuscripts that have survived.

In ancient translations both versions are equally represented in four translations each, spreading over large geographically terrain, but the oldest (Sahidic) is part of those lacking the elaboration.

This elaboration is present in the Diatessaron, a continuous account of the four gospels compiled by Tatian the Syrian. He added and omitted as he saw fit. It is possible that this document could be the origin of this variation, accentuated by the fact that both the Syriac and the Gothic translations from that area contain this version.

The manuscript evidence points in the direction of the original autograph being without this elaboration.

Internal indicators.

Apart from the possibility that Tatian could have been the origin of the variation, we also look at the possibility that the variation could have originated during the normal activities of a scribe.

This elaboration is almost a direct repetition of the second part of verse four, together with part of verse thirteen. If the original autograph had been with the elaboration, no logic explanation could be given why a scribe would have excluded it from his copy. On the other hand, it is quite possible, since the first part of the sentence closely represents the first part of verse four, that a scribe could have remembered what he had just written in verse four, and from memory added it unperceived.

The addition of part of verse thirteen should then be explained as a deliberate harmonizing.

Additions of this kind can more logically happen rather than omissions. Therefore the version without the elaboration has a greater possibility to be the original form of this verse.


Looking at Mark 7:1-13 as a whole, the pericope is compiled as follows:

1-4:     Mark gives the background for this conversation.

5:         The Pharisees and scribes pose their question.

6-7:     Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 and makes it applicable to them.

8:         Jesus states the problem that the Pharisees give the traditions of men greater priority than the word of God.

9-12:   Jesus gets to a core problem, namely that they misuse the traditions to allow people to neglect the care for their elderly.

13:       Jesus comes to the conclusion that they are making the word of God void in favour of their own teachings.

Looking at this pericope as a whole, it is obvious that Jesus was not concerned with giving an opinion on the ceremonial washing requirements. He rather addressed the deprivation of the word of God in favour of their traditions. With the referral to the ceremonial washing directly after Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah, His case is rather weakened, instead of coming directly to the core matter.

Looking at the context, the variation without the elaboration better serves the matter at hand, and therefore seems rather to represent the original autograph.


The variation without the elaboration in verse eight has better manuscript evidence, has no easy explanation as to how it could have originated, and enhances Jesus’ reasoning. Therefore it seems as though this version without the elaboration in verse eight rather represents the original autograph.

The question Jesus put on the table also stands before each of us. To what extent do we make the word of God to no effect in favour of traditions and ideas that developed in our own culture, or even so called scientific findings to which we give more value than the word of God itself?

God bless,


Your comments at the bottom of this page are very welcome.

About Herman of bibledifferences.net

The reasons for the differences between older Bibles like the King James Version and newer Bibles like the New International Version have fascinated me ever since my studies in Theology at the University of Pretoria in the seventies. I have great respect for scribes through the ages as well as Bible translators, so there must be good reasons for the differences. With more than 5600 Greek manuscripts and more than 19000 manuscripts of ancient translations to our disposal, the original autographs of the New Testament can be established without doubt. I investigate the reasons behind the differences and publish the facts in a post on my blogs www.bibledifferences.net (Afrikaans: www.bybelverskille.wordpress.com) to enable my readers to judge for themselves. Personally I love to make an informed decision based of facts. That is why I endeavor to provide that same privilege to the readers of my blogs. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page, founder director of Act-Up Support (www.actup.co.za) a prayer ministry for families struggling with drug-, occult- and other dependencies. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, four grand sons and two grand daughters. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman Grobler.
This entry was posted in Causes for Variations, External Criteria, Internal Criteria, KJV/NIV Controversy. Bookmark the permalink.

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