One of the most striking features about the Pharisees in Palestine prior to the Jewish revolt was their preoccupation with defining the limits of table-fellowship more scrupulously. J. Neusner has concluded from his meticulously detailed study of rabbinical traditions about the Pharisees that of the 341 individual rulings from our period "no fewer than 229 directly or indirectly pertain to table-fellowship, approximately 67% of the whole" (Neusner, Rabbinic Traditions 3.297, pp. 291-4). Within these the major concerns were quite clearly ritual purity and tithing.
As to ritual purity, the Pharisees quite simply sought to apply the purity laws governing the temple ritual to their everyday lives. Others might quite properly conclude that these laws referred only to the priests when performing their temple service and to themselves only when they went to the temple; outside the temple the laws of ritual purity need not be observed.
But the Pharisees held that even outside the temple, in one's own home, the laws of ritual purity were to be followed in the only circumstances in which they might apply, namely, at the table. Therefore, one must eat secular food (ordinary, everyday meals) in a state of ritual purity as if one were a temple priest.
The detail with which the schools' debates were already concerned, as to the precise circumstances in which foods and food containers would be rendered unclean, indicates clearly the importance of such matters for the Pharisees and their conscientiousness in trying to maintain their purity (cf. Matt. 23.25-6).
Matt 23:25-26 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (KJV)
It is important to note that Jesus was not condemning the Pharisees for their ritual purity and their efforts in such regards, he was however, rebuking their religiosity at the expense of weightier matters of their faith; namely, the issues of the heart and their neglect of loving-kindness to the poor and downtrodden. The Kingdom of Heaven, of what Jesus spoke, was not just internal and personal, it was something that needed to be manifested in positive actions to those needing help. It was love in action, not just in theory. This is where some, but not all, of the religious Pharisees failed! Notice I said "some" for history shows that many would not be included in Jesus' rebuke for they understood and lived the life which Jesus modeled. But as you know, even today we have our "hypocrites."
Particularly important here was the cleansing of the hands which were always liable to uncleanness through an unintentional touching. A complete tractate of the Mishnah was to be devoted to the purity of hands (Yadayim), and the ramifications must already have been the subject of debate at our time, as our own Gospel traditions also testify (Mark 7.2-5; Matt. 15.2; Luke 11.38).
Mark 7:2-5 2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? (KJV)
Tithing was important according to the same logic, since only food which had been properly tithed was ritually acceptable. That is to say, tithing was as much concerned with table-fellowship as ritual washing. Tithing was considered a dietary Law (Neusner, Politics to Piety, 80, 83). Here too it is significant that a whole tractate of the Mishnah was to be devoted to rulings about produce not certainly tithed (Demai), that is to guidance for the devout Jew in his dealings with Jews whose devotion to the law could not be presumed (particularly the am ha-aretz). And again there can be little doubt that scrupulous tithing must have formed an important element in the Pharisaic halakoth of pre-AD 70 Palestine, as our own Gospel traditions again confirm (Matt. 23.23; Luke 18.12).
Matt 23:23 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (KJV) Again we find Jesus not rebuking them for what they were doing in this regard, but failing to continue their actions to the more important aspects of their faith; namely, positive actions toward others. True Biblical faith does not just "believe," it "responds in concrete actions based on that faith."
Jesus' brother even said: But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead [James 2:20 20] (KJV)
We should not confine the influence of such Pharisaic rulings and practice to their own ranks (the haberim). For the well-attested Pharisaic criticisms of Yeshua's table-fellowship as an eating with 'tax collectors and sinners' (Mark 2.16; Matt. 11.l9; Luke 7.34; Luke 15.2) and of his eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7.2-5; Matt. 15.2; Luke 11.38) were precisely criticisms of a devout Jew outside the Pharisaic circle for not observing the Pharisaic halakoth -"Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders . . .?" (Mark 7.5; Matt. 15.2). What is important for our understanding here is if this issue, as detailed in the New Testament, was in reality in effect and imposed upon non-Pharisees and non-Priests in the days of Jesus. There is evidence that such regulations, as imposed upon the general populace, was only later applied to the common people in the time of Rabbi Akiba. That means when reading the New Testament that such events most likely never happened as recorded, and was later inserted into the text to further separate Jesus and his faith in order to give authority for the new religion which would later be created by Rome.
Now let us look closer to how this applied to Paul and his Gentile followers. Nor can we assume that such influence was limited to Palestine. It is true that some halakic sources ruled that the law of tithes did not apply "outside the Land" (e.g. m. Halla 2.2; m. Qiddusin 1.9):
Answer for yourself: So what do we learn from the above statement? Namely, that the Laws of the Tithes, although officially not required outside the Land of Israel, was seen to be practiced as the usual "custom".
As to the purity ritual we may simply note that the practice of Jewish ritual cleansing outside Palestine is presumed by the Epistle of Aristeas 305-6, and that such purifications are described as characteristic of Jews as a people by the Sibylline Oracles 3.592-3 and Josephus, Against Apion, 2.23, 24 §§198, 203. Philo also testifies to a more general concern in Diaspora Judaism for a punctilious observance of the law (Migration of Abraham, 89-93). Here too we should note Paul's own testimony, that though he came from the Diaspora, nevertheless he "advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1.14; cf. Phil. 3.6). It is this Pharisaic striving for a rectitude beyond what was written which is probably in view in the fierce condemnation of Matthew 23.15 - a proselytizing zeal on the part of the Pharisees is elsewhere unattested, but the Pharisees may indeed have been more than willing to "traverse sea and land" to ensure that those who became proselytes properly understood the full extent of their obligations under the law ("when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves").
We may justifiably infer, then, that wherever Pharisaic influence was strong during the middle decades of the first century of our era, both within Palestine and among strong concentrations of Jews in the Diaspora, there would be pressure on those who thought of themselves as good Jews to observe the halakic clarifications of the laws on tithes and purity - that is to say, pressure on devout Jews (including proselytes) to observe strict limits in their practice of table fellowship.
On the other hand we should not assume that this pressure would be constant and consistent. The Pharisees were not the only ones with views on these matters. For a start, the Sadducees denied that the laws of purity were applicable outside the temple. At the other end of the spectrum, the Essenes observed rules of ritual purity even stricter than those of the Pharisees (lQS 3.4-5, 8-9; 5.13; 6.16-17, 25; 7.3, 16; lQSa 2.3-9; CD 10.10-13; Josephus, Jewish War 2.8.5, 9-10 §§129, 149-50). And we know that within the ranks of the Pharisees there were many debates between the schools of Shammai and Hillel about particular details, where the concern in effect was to define the precise limits of table-fellowship. We also know that the Pharisees of our period already distinguished several degrees of purity.
Similarly with the Essenes: according to Josephus the novice had to pass through several stages of purification before participating in the common food (Jewish War, 2.8.7 §§137-9), and a senior member could be rendered impure by the touch of a junior member of the community (Jewish War, 2.8.10 §150). Once the concept of differing degrees of purity within the temple ritual was translated into rules governing everyday table-fellowship it inevitably meant that different degrees of association were possible - he who lived at a stricter level of purity could not eat with one who observed a less strict discipline. And I stress that Jewish records date this event in the time of Rabbi Akiba around 100 A.D.; long after the life-time of Jesus!
We may conclude that in the Palestine of our period there was a wide spectrum of teaching and practice on this precise issue - from the am-ha-aretz who knew not the law (cf. John 7.49) to the stricter Pharisees and 'the many' of the Essenes at the other, with varying degrees of scrupulousness and disagreement about particular details in between. Insofar as the new sect of followers of Yeshua was to any extent influenced by Pharisaic views, its members were bound to be caught up in these debates and cross-currents about the acceptable limits of table-fellowship. We need simply note here that it is precisely an issue of this sort, and the disagreements between Christians concerning it, which is reflected in the different emphases drawn by Mark and Matthew from Yeshua's words about true cleanliness (Mark 7.19; Matt. 15. 17, 20).
Mark 7:19 19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? (KJV)
Of particular interest for us is what all this would have meant for the devout Jew (including the devout Nazarene) in his social intercourse with Gentiles. It is to this subject we continue to investigate as this get us to the core of the problem at Antioch. Having surveyed the various beliefs about Table-fellowship with non-Jews let us now turn our attention to the Paul-Peter problem at Antioch.