The purpose of the Mosaic Law was to keep the Israelites from being separated from God. Over the years, the content of God’s message to his people was transferred from generation to generation by means of a religious system that focused on purity or “cleanness” (Psalm 18:20), which meant you were undefiled or without blemish, i.e. perfect, complete, whole in God’s sight. At the time of Jesus ministry, the Jewish religious system had gotten so far off track from God’s original intent that Jesus called its leaders hypocrites (Matthew 15:7). They pretended to know what they were talking about, when in actuality, they were blind to the truth of God’s word. Jesus said of these religious experts, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
What was happening among God’s people could be referred to as upside down religion. In other words, they were doing the opposite of what God wanted them to. An example Jesus used to illustrate his point was the fifth of God’s Ten Commandments, which stated, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). The Jews were being taught that it was lawful for them to take resources that could benefit their parents and give them to God as a gift or sacrificial offering (Matthew 15:5-6). Jesus said about this practice, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6). The Greek term Jesus used that is translated none effect is akuroo (ak-oo-ro’-o), which means to invalidate.
Jesus described this upside down form of religion as the blind leading the blind. He told his disciples, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Even though the Pharisees false teaching was harmful to those that believed it, Jesus knew it was useless to try and change the minds of those who were unable to see the error of their ways. Instead, Jesus presented them with the truth and left it up to each individual to believe or not believe what he said. Mark tells us of Jesus’ response, “And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 7:14-16).
The problem with the Jews upside down religion was that it took the emphasis off of being separated from God and put it on cleanness or what could be described as self-righteous religiosity. When his disciples asked him to explain what he had said to the people, Jesus asked them, “Are ye so without understanding also?” (Mark 7:18). This remark revealed that even Jesus’ twelve apostles had been influenced by the Pharisee’s false doctrine about the importance of making sacrifices to God. In order to set the record straight about what actually separated them from God, Jesus stated, “Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart…for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23).