739. Diligent Hand Washing

Mark 7:3  •  1 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Mark 7:3. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
There is great diversity of opinion among critics as to the proper rendering of πυγμή “oft.” Its primary signification is the fist, and hence Robinson renders the text, “unless they wash their hands (rubbing them) with the fist, that is, not merely dipping the lingers or hand in water as a sign of ablution, but rubbing the hands together as a ball or fist in the usual Oriental manner when water is poured over them.”—Lexicon of the New Testament. From this he supposes the word to be taken in the sense of “sedulously, carefully, diligently.
The “traditions of the elders” required the Pharisees to wash is illustrated by Lightfoot in extracts from Rabbinical writers. See Mira Hebraicae on Matthew 15:2. He states that they make mention “of the quantity of water sufficient for this washing—of the washing of the hands, and of the plunging of them; of the first and second water; of the manner of washing; of the time; of the order, when the number of those that sat down to meat exceeded five, or did not exceed; and other such like niceties.” Not content with the ordinary usage of washing after eating (see note on 2 Kings 3:11, #329) they carefully washed before eating, lest they should be injured by Shibta, “an evil spirit, which sits upon men’s hands in the night; and if any touch his food with unwashen hands that spirit sits upon that food, and there is danger from it.”