While many in 21st century Christianity believe a Judaizer is one who follows and teaches the law of Moses, the Scriptural use of the term primarily has to do with a person from the Jewish faith of the 1st century attempting to enforce their extra-scriptural customs upon others, and then making the claim that through such customs is found justifying righteousness. This is what I dealt with in basics in the first post of this series. If this sounds strange or unorthodox to you, please bear with me for a few minutes in this second installment. It's time to do some digging into parts of the word where the soil is generally left unturned.
When people think of a Judaizer, or the more popular term Pharisee, they think of "those Old Testament laws." I must say that I cringe when I hear someone speak about the Old Testament in a flippant or derogatory manner. Far be it that we should ever speak about anything the Almighty has declared, in a negative fashion. He is Creator, and He designs and enacts everything for a purpose. Nothing is meaningless, and that includes the 75% of the Bible that usually goes unread and unstudied by Christians today.
My challenge for you today is to reprogram your thinking. If you think that a Judaizer or Pharisee is one who holds Biblical, Mosaic law to a high standard, and then teaches others to follow such law, you need to reevaluate what you believe and why you believe it. Have you taken the time to study these terms? Do you understand the culture of 1st century Israel? Asking questions like this is prosperous. We shouldn't desire to blindly follow. We must open our eyes and walk the proper path.
It is crucial to know that Pharisees and their scribes (in the days of Yeshua Messiah) had a body of law that they believed ranked higher than the written law of Moses. They never got to a point where they would verbally criticize Moses' law, they would honor it with their words. However, they believed that Moses could only be understood by oral tradition; tradition that they claimed was handed down to them initially by prophet Moses, but in reality often deviated from Yahweh's original intent through Moses.
Let's begin in the Gospel according to Mark.
The first thing to note here is that the passage specifically mentions the Pharisees and some scribes. We learn that the Pharisees observed Yeshua's disciples doing something that they would consider to be transgression. The disciples were eating with unclean hands.
I remember the first time I ever read this text. I was thinking to myself, "Why in the world did the Pharisees wash their hands before they eat? Mama always made us do that growing up."
It's key to know that what Mama had us do - wash our hands before dinner - is not what the Pharisees had in mind. They were concerned with a ritual washing of the hands, a ceremony. So many dips, so many pours, so many prayers, and so on. The translation I'm quoting from (HCSB) points this out in verse 3 by adding the word ritually so that the reader understands better what is going on.
Notice in verse 3 that it says not only the Pharisees, but ALL the Jews wash their hands ritually before they eat bread, following the tradition of the elders. I take this phrase "all the Jews" as meaning "the majority of the Jews." Certainly we know that all does not mean every single individual Jew here, because we just read that the disciples didn't follow the custom. If you flip over to Luke 11:37-41 you will see that Yeshua did not perform the ritual washing before eating dinner at a Pharisees house. I'm sure there were other Jews (Judahites) who did not follow the customs (among the Saducees, Essenes, and Zealots), but the majority of Jews did.
Verse 4 informs us that when the Pharisees come from marketing, they don't eat until they first perform this ritual washing. This verse also tells us that they had received (and kept) MANY other customs. I want to focus upon this point a little. The ritual hand washing custom they followed is the gist of Mark 7, but we must not miss that they kept many other customs in their daily walk of life. Verse 4 mentions some of these other customs. The custom of washing other items like cups, jugs, and various utensils.
This is all vital to understanding what exactly a Judaizer is. Let's keep going.
So the Pharisees have watched the disciples, observed that they do not follow Jewish custom, and now ask Yeshua about it. Does Yeshua instruct his disciples to follow along so as not to offend the Pharisees? Not hardly.
Yeshua calls the Pharisees pretenders (hypocrites) and begins to quote and apply a text from Isaiah to them. The Isaiah text (29:13) deals with a people who honor Yahweh with their words, but their heart is as hard as stone. Is like a husband telling his wife "I love you" but not caring about her from his heart. Yeshua goes on to quote from Isaiah concerning a people who worship Yahweh in vain. I find that statement amazing each time I read it. It is possible to worship Yahweh, but it be all in vain. In other words, it is possible for a person to think they are worshipping the Creator, the One Almighty, but the entire time their worship is useless and worthless. That's a sobering thought for sure.
How was the worship by the Pharisees in vain? Yeshua tells us: they teach for doctrines the commandments of man. In verses 8-9 Yeshua goes on to say that they DISREGARD the commands of Yahweh, but KEEP the traditions of men.
It's fascinating to me that in a chapter where Yeshua Messiah is devoted to uplifting Yahweh's commandments through Moses, you have many today go to this exact chapter in attempts to bypass the Lord's instructions on diet. That's kind of another issue, but it's baffling to me so I had to at least mention it. Suffice to say for now, our Lord was not declaring shrimp and pork okay to eat in Mark 7:19, right after he scathed the Pharisees for disregarding Yahweh's commands.
Pay attention carefully to what our Messiah says next.
Notice how Yeshua contrasts Moses with the Pharisees. The Pharisees are not upholding Moses in the example he gives. Rather:
(1) Moses says THIS
(2) You [the Pharisees] say SOMETHING ELSE
Right here we have the ultimate definition of the Pharisee or Judaizer. It is one who could really care less at the intent of Moses, opting to go with his own understanding or custom or tradition, and then plank that down hard upon others. On top of all that they would teach that if you did not follow their traditions you were not and could not be righteous.
So, let's dissect Yeshua's statement about the law of Moses here. Moses says that we are to honor our parents. Honoring parents is so important that if we speak evil of them the penalty is death. That is what YESHUA says. That is how he (infallibly by the way) interprets Moses. If I were to say that to most church-goers today, I'd be looked at as though the devil had entered me, yet Yeshua says it right here in black and white, no batting an eye, a man's parents are to be honored and respected, not cursed.
On the flip side the Pharisees were saying something different than Moses. They had come up with the Corban rule. Corban is a Hebrew term that means "gift or present." Their Corban rule stated that a man could dedicate his belongings to the Temple at Jerusalem, and then be free from having to take care of his parents when they needed his help. Honoring parents has to do with more than saying yes ma'am or no sir. Honoring parents means helping parents when they need you, especially as they grow older and have need of more help.
The Pharisees had created a loophole in the law whereby they relieved themselves from having to honor their parents. This is why Yeshua says in verse 14 that they revoke the word of Yahweh by their tradition they have handed down. Don't miss that we are learning of one of those many traditions that was mentioned back in verse 4. Yeshua mentions this also at the end of verse 14 when he says "and you do many other similar things."
The point is that the Pharisees (which were the big Judaizers of the 1st century) were not keepers of Mosaic law. Moses said one thing, they said another. They were interested only in getting you to comply with the tradition of the elders, tradition or law which they believed to make a person righteous before Yahweh.
There is more to add to this, but I'll stop here for now. I encourage you to do more digging into Mark 7 in the meantime. Shalom...
~ Matthew Janzen
Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.