(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, unless they wash their hands to the wrist, do not eat, holding fast to the tradition of the elders, Bible

“to the wrist.” The Greek literally reads “with the fist.” This is a good example of a custom being so obscure that translating it into the text would only confuse the reader. Edersheim gives the best explanation we have seen, and Young’s Literal Translation renders according to his explanation.

“The water was poured on both hands…. The hands were lifted up, so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to ensure that the whole hand was washed, and the water polluted by the hand did not again run down the fingers. …But there was one point on which special stress was laid. In the ‘first effusion,’ which was all that originally was required when the hands were Leviticaly ‘defiled,’ the water had to run down to the wrist. Fn. “The language of the Mishnah…can only refer to the wrist. Fn. The rendering ‘wash diligently’ gives no meaning; that ‘with the fist’ is not in accordance with Jewish Law; while “up to the elbow’ is not only contrary to Jewish Law, but apparently based on a wrong rendering of [the Hebrew]” (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah).

The general uncertainty among commentators, however, about what the Greek texts, “with the fist” means, explains the huge number of variations in the translations: “oft” (KJV), “carefully” (NASB), “ceremonial washing” (NIV), “thoroughly” (NRSV), “to the wrist” (YLT), etc. “wash.” Greek = nipto, to wash.

Commentary for: Mark 7:3