Matthew 15:1-20 (On Physical and Spiritual Defilement)

Again, about what issue did the Pharisees and scribes challenge Jesus?  See Mat 15:2; cf. Mar 7:2-3.  Isn’t it a good idea to wash your hands before you eat?  What notions were behind their regard for cleanliness, and were their notions much different from ours today?  I.e., were their notions entirely ceremonial, or did they in fact have ideas similar to our own about the importance of cleanliness to good health and that having no regard for such could defile their food and lead to health problems that could affect their physical lives by making them sick?  What commandments and Biblical principles were behind their notions for cleanliness?  Cf. Exo 15:26, 22:31, Lev 11:24-25,39-40,43-45, 13:45-46, 14:39-47, etc…  Why in light of this is Jesus’ statement in Mat 15:10-11,19-20 especially surprising?  See also Mar 7:14-19.  Whereas the Pharisees, like so many today, understood man and his life in terms of the flesh, and defilement primarily in a physical sense, how did Jesus understand the life of a man and defilement?  See also Mat 10:28, 16:26, Mar 9:43-48.  What things did Jesus say defile a man and that which is his ultimate life, and what things did He say do not defile a man?  See Mat 15:19-20, Mar 7:21-23.  Why does Jesus say it is the things that proceed out of a man that defile the man?  See Mat 15:18.  What does this teach us about the importance of a person’s heart, and where the defilement takes place that ultimately affects a person’s life?

In what way is our modern germ theory of sickness similar to the beliefs the Pharisees and Scribes had from the “tradition of the elders” about the need to carefully wash their hands (Mar 7:3) before eating?  Think: in what way does it also understand man and his life in terms of the flesh and defilement primarily in a physical sense?  Is in fact the germ theory of disease (which says sicknesses are ultimately caused by tiny microbes we call germs) an established law, or is it possible that the ultimate cause of defilement that affects man and his life and may lead to sickness is more spiritually related as Jesus would seem to indicate?  Cf. Num 11:33, 14:37, 16:26, 41-50, 31:16, 2Sa 24:10-25, Psa 106:28-30, Isa 37:36, Hab 3:1-5, 2Co 6:17 and think: do we believe there was sickness in the world before the Fall of man into sin?  Think too: are diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease caused by microbes?  Are they entirely caused by physical factors?  Is it even possible that many of the sicknesses that we have come to believe are caused by microbes might actually have another cause, and the pathogenic bacteria or viruses associated with them (that just like sin can then be spread to others with the potential to infect them) are the result, and not the ultimate cause of the disease?[1] Think: is it the simple presence of a microbe that causes sickness?  Why then does it not always cause sickness in those who care for the sick?  Or is it the presence of a microbe in a certain environment that allows it to thrive that causes sickness?  Although not communicable in the same way as microbial diseases like the flu or colds or AIDS, in what way do diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease still seem to “spread” in families or close relations, and why do you think this is?

Is the nature of man purely physical?  See 1Th 5:23.  From Jam 2:26, what do we know about the relationship between the spirit and the body, and what does this teach us about which is primary?  Cf. Joh 6:63.  What is meant by a man’s soul, and how is it different from his spirit and body?  Note: the soul refers to the inner, non-material part of man that we refer to as the mind, will and emotions; it is the real “you” that is “clothed” with flesh and inhabits the “carton” that we call the body (cf. 2Co 5:1-4).  The spirit is the breath of life that comes from God and animates the soul, which together animate the body[2]; cf. Gen 2:7, 7:22, Job 32:8, 33:4, 1Co 15:45.  Consider: if a person loses a limb or appendage, why does he still experience “phantom” pains, as if it was still there?  Do we have a clear understanding about the relationship between a man’s spirit, soul, and physical body, and how they affect and influence one another?  Cf. Heb 4:12 for the near-inseparable relationship of the inner part of man that we call the soul and spirit.

Considering the three part nature of man—physical, spiritual, and mental/emotional—is it possible that, apart from a direct smiting by God, sickness, disease, and eventual death arise as a natural consequence of God’s immutable laws when the physical, spiritual or mental/emotional environment of a person or people becomes “polluted” or defiled in any way?  Think: what was the physical, spiritual, and mental/emotional environment of the world like in 1918 after World War I when 50-100 million people around the world died of the flu and over 500 million (1/3 of the world’s population) were infected?[3] And thus various conditions like lead and arsenic poisoning arise in a polluted physical environment where man has not exercised good stewardship of God’s creation; other diseases like HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis arise in an environment of perversion and drug abuse, other diseases like heart disease and diabetes thrive in an environment of abundance where people are given to gluttony; and still other diseases manifest themselves when our mind and emotions become corrupted in ways unintended by the creator.  Considering too that it is the spirit that is primary in the life of man as that which animates the soul and body, is it possible that it is also primary as that which is defiled and that affects the whole life of man?  In this way, is it finally and ultimately that which comes out of a man—for the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart (Mat 12:34)—that defiles him, not what goes into him?  Cf. Deut 34:7, Jam 5:14-16, Mar 16:17-18, Act 28:3-5.  Although people today understand the importance of cleanliness to good health perhaps better than ever before and the physical environment of much of the world today is more than ever before “clean” and “undefiled” to promote good health, can the same be said of the world’s spiritual and mental / emotional environment?  Is it surprising then that sickness still abounds in spite of all the medical wonders available today to treat man’s physical condition?  While we believe that it is bad for a man’s life to pollute his body physically with unhealthy foods or chemicals, should we believe that there is no effect on his life by polluting his soul and spirit with wicked thoughts and attitudes that are contrary to the spirit that God breathed into man and that gives him life?  Cf. Phil 4:8, Col 3:2, Rom 12:2.  In what way is Jesus’ teaching in this passage the exact opposite?



1. Florence Nightingale wrote a criticism of the germ theory of disease in 1860, 17 years before Louis Pasteur adopted it as if it was an entirely new idea.  One of the key concepts in this theory is that the germ is fixed. For example, there is an anthrax germ, a cholera germ, a tuberculosis germ and so on. And this germ does not change. Nightingale challenged this idea when she wrote:  “Diseases are not individuals arranged in classes, like cats and dogs, but conditions, growing out of one another… like a dirty and a clean condition, and just as much under our control… I was brought up to believe that smallpox, for instance, was a thing of which there was once a first specimen in the world, which went on propagating itself, in a perpetual chain of descent, just as there was a first dog, (or a first pair of dogs) and that smallpox would not begin itself, any more than a new dog would begin without there having been a parent dog. Since then I have seen with my own eyes and smelled with my own nose smallpox growing up in first specimens, either in closed rooms or in overcrowded wards, where it could not by any possibility have been “caught”, but must have begun. I have seen diseases begin, grow up, and turn into one another.  Now, dogs do not turn into cats. I have seen, for instance, with a little overcrowding, continued fever grow up; and with a little more, typhoid fever; and with a little more, typhus, and all in the same ward or hut…  The specific disease doctrine is the grand refuge of weak, uncultured, unstable minds, such as now rule in the medical profession. There are no specific diseases; there are specific disease conditions.”  On his deathbed Pasteur himself is reported to have said “The pathogen is nothing. The terrain is everything.” acknowledging that it is not bacteria that cause disease, but the body environment that allows bacteria to thrive.  Consider that bacteria and viruses abound in every living creature accomplishing useful purposes, and even those that are harmful in one environment, such as a diseased person, are not necessarily harmful in another, such as the mother or nurse or doctor caring for the sick person.

2. “Man is not spirit, but has it: he is soul. …. In the soul, which sprang from the spirit, and exists continually through it, lies the individuality–in the case of man, his personality, his self, his ego.”  (ISBE, Soul).

3. Consider the following description of Argentina in December 2006 after it had suffered a complete economic collapse: “My brother visited Argentina a few weeks ago.  He’s been living in Spain for  a few years now.  Within the first week he got sick, some kind of strong flu, even though the climate isn’t that cold and he took care of himself.  Without a doubt he got sick because there are lots of new viruses in my country that can’t be found in 1st world countries.  The misery and famine lead us to a situation where, even though you have food, shelter and health care, most others don’t, and therefore they get sick and spread diseases all over the region.”

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