David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
Mark 7 - DECLARING FOOD AND PEOPLE “CLEAN”
A. A dispute about ritual washings.
1. (Mark 7:1-5) Religious leaders from Jerusalem come to find fault and to ask questions about the failure of the disciples to observe ceremonial washings.
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”
a. Having come from Jerusalem: This was another “official delegation” of religious leaders from Jerusalem, coming to evaluate the ministry of Jesus. We saw a previous delegation in Mark 3:22, and they pronounced a harsh, condemning judgment against Jesus. This delegation from Jerusalem has already made up their mind about Jesus. Now they are just trying to “pin” something on Him.
i. The concept of evaluating Jesus’ ministry was fine. In outward appearance, these men were protecting Israel from a potential false prophet or false messiah. But they way they actually evaluated Jesus was all wrong. First, they already made up their mind about Jesus. Second, they did not evaluate Jesus against the measure of God’s Word. The evaluated Him against the measure of their religious traditions.
b. But eat bread with unwashed hands: The religious leaders speak of elaborate ceremonial washings, not washing for the sake of cleanliness. The observant Jews of that time strictly observed a rigid, extensive ritual for washing before meals.
i. The hand-washing described here was purely ceremonial. It wasn’t enough to properly clean your hands if they were very dirty. You would have to first wash your hands to make them clean, then perform the ritual to make them spiritually clean. But why would they ever have such traditions?
ii. “The biblical mandate that the priests had to wash their hands and feet prior to entering the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:19; Exo_40:12) provided the foundation for the wide-spread practice of ritual washings in Palestinian and diaspora Judaism.” (Lane)
iii. They even had an accompanying prayer to be said during the ritual washing: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the universe, who sanctified us by the laws and commanded us to wash the hands.” (Cited in Lane)
c. Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders: These washings were commanded by tradition, not by Scripture. The religious leaders knew this, yet they still criticized the disciples for not obeying these traditions.
i. In Judaism of that time, they honored the Scriptures - what we would call the Old Testament - as the written law. But there was also the oral law, which was written down, but was man’s tradition and interpretation on top of the written law. Many Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time honored the oral law even more than the written law.
ii. “Rabbi Eleazer said, ‘He who expounds the Scriptures in opposition to the tradition has no share in the world to come’ . . . The Mishna, a collection of Jewish traditions in the Talmud, records, ‘It is a greater offense to teach anything contrary to the voice of the Rabbis than to contradict Scripture itself.’“ (Wiersbe)
iii. “The Jews have several ordinary sayings, that show in what esteem they had these traditions, as If the scribes say our right hand is our left, and our left hand is our right, we are to believe them. And, There is more in the words of the scribes than the words of the law . . . The Jewish Rabbi Jose saith, He sinneth as much as who eateth with unwashen hands, as he that lieth with an harlot.” (Trapp)
iv. “There had grown up a great body of traditions; traditions which in the first place were intended to be interpretations of the law, and applications of the law to local circumstances; traditions which in the second place became interpretations of traditions, and applications of traditions; and the traditions in the third place, which were interpretations of interpretations of interpretations of traditions!” (Morgan)
v. What a person says never has the same authority as God’s Word. Even if they sincerely say it is from God, it never has the same authority as God’s Word. Even if everyone accepts it, it never has the same authority as God’s Word. Even if it makes perfect sense, it never has the same authority as God’s Word.
vi. “It was Jesus’ failure to support the validity of the oral law which made him an object of concerted attack by the scribes.” (Lane)
d. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders: For these ceremonial washings, special stone vessels of water were kept, because ordinary water might be unclean. To wash your hands in a special way, you started by taking at least enough of this water to fill one and one-half egg shells. Then, you poured the water over your hands, starting at the fingers and running down towards your wrist. Then you cleansed each palm by rubbing the fist of the other hand into it. Then you poured water over your hands again, this time from the wrist towards the fingers.
i. A really strict Jew would do this not only before the meal, but also between each course.
ii. The rabbis were deadly serious about this. They said that bread eaten with unwashed hands was no better than excrement. One rabbi who once failed to perform the ritual washing was excommunicated. Another rabbi was imprisoned by the Romans, and he used his ration of water for ceremonial cleansing instead of drinking, nearly dying of thirst. He was regarded as a great hero for this sacrifice.
iii. If they were as concerned about cleansing their hearts as they were about their hands, they would be more godly men! We always want to think there is some ritual we can do to cleanse ourselves.
iv. It’s easy for us to think these religious leaders, or this whole religious culture was really stupid and phony for their emphasis on traditions like this. But we don’t realize how subtly these things emerge, and how spiritual they seem to be, especially in the beginning. Many rituals or traditions seem to be built on unshakable spiritual logic:
v. When the questions are put this way, it’s easy to say “Yes, yes, yes,” until you have agreed with the logic supporting the tradition. But if in the end you have a word of man, a tradition of man, a ritual of man, that has the same weight as the Word of God, you’re wrong. Your “spiritual logic” doesn’t matter. You’re wrong.
2. (Mark 7:6-9) Jesus’ answer: you religious leaders exalt man’s tradition over God’s will.
He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men; the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
a. You hypocrites: Why was Jesus so stern in His reply? Because the leaders were far too concerned with trivial matters like ritual washing. When they focused on these trivial traditions, they excluded everyone who didn’t keep the traditions, and so they discouraged them from coming to God.
i. The Living Bible paraphrases Isaiah’s quote: These people speak very prettily about the Lord but they have no love for Him at all. Their worship is a farce, for they claim God commands the people to obey their petty rules.
b. This people honors Me with their lips: Yes, they honored God with their lips; but in fact, God said of them their heart is far from Me. It is possible to have the image of being religious or spiritual, but actually be far from God. This was exactly the case with these religious leaders.
i. This is the whole idea behind the word hypocrite. The word in the ancient Greek language referred to “an actor” or “someone who wears a mask.” The image they promote is more important to them than what they actually are.
ii. Would God say something similar to us?
c. Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men: This is one of the pillars of legalism. Taking a commandment or opinion of men, and teaching or promoting it as a doctrine from God is what supports legalism. It gives man’s word the same weight as God’s word.
i. If I say, “In my opinion, you should no longer eat hamburgers from MacDonald’s” then you are free to say “That’s a nice opinion, now leave me alone.” But when someone says, “God says you should no longer eat hamburgers from MacDonald’s” then they make it seem like you are opposing God if you don’t do as they say.
ii. Not everything in the Christian life is a matter of right and wrong. Some things - many things - are simply matters of personal conscience before God. The Scriptures do not command ritual washing before meals. If you want to do it, then fine. Do it unto the Lord, and without a sense of spiritual superiority before your brothers and sisters. If don’t want to do it, fine also. Don’t do it unto the Lord, and don’t look down upon those whose conscience compels them to do the ritual washing.
d. You reject the commandment of God: This is another pillar of legalism. It would be bad enough to add the commandments of men to the word of God. But almost without fail, the legalist or religious hypocrite goes the next step - to reject the commandment of God and to keep your tradition. In doing this, they subtract the real essence and focus of God’s word.
i. “He made it perfectly clear first of all that the tradition of man misses its own aim. Men are still defiled, wash they ever so often.” (Morgan)
ii. “To the spiritual mind, it is a question of unceasing wonder that men should be so ready to follow and even fearlessly contend for the authority of human traditions, while they are just as ready to ignore the plain teachings of the Word of God.” (Ironside)
3. (Mark 7:10-13) An example of how their traditions dishonored God: the practice of not helping your parents with “devoted” goods.
“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”; ‘ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
a. For Moses said: The Old Testament clearly lays out the responsibility of children to honor their parents. When children are young and in their parent’s household, they are also responsible to obey their parents. But even when they are no longer responsible to obey, they are still responsible to honor.
b. Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban: In this practice, a son could say that his possessions or savings were Corban - that is, specially devoted to God - and therefore unavailable to help his parents.
b. Through this, a son could completely disobey the command to honor your father or mother, and do it while being ultra-religious. Jesus called this making the word of God of no effect through your tradition.
4. (Mark 7:14-16) Jesus speaks to the multitude about the mere image of religion.
When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
a. There is nothing that enters a man from the outside which can defile him: This is not to say that there are not defiling things that we can take into ourselves (such as pornography). But in this specific context, Jesus spoke about ceremonial cleanliness in regard to food, and He anticipated when all foods would be declared kosher (Acts 10:15).
b. The things which come out of him, those are things that defile a man: The fundamental principle is simple. Washing with “unclean hands” or any other such thing that we “put into us” is not defiling. Rather, what comes out of us defiles, and reveals that we have unclean (defiled) hearts.
i. “Although it may not seem so now, this passage, when it was first spoken, was well-nigh the most revolutionary passage in the New Testament.” (Barclay)
5. (Mark 7:17-23) Jesus speaks to His disciples about religious externalism.
When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
a. Are you thus without understanding also? In response to the parable, Jesus amplifies the point made to the multitudes. We are defiled from the inside out rather than from the outside in, and this is particularly true of ceremonial things like foods.
b. For from without, out of the heart of men, proceed evil: God is far more concerned with what comes out of us than what goes into us. This is especially true when it comes to foods and traditions and rituals.
c. Evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications: This is a thirteen-part list that exposes the kind of evil that lives in the human heart. You don’t need to travel a long distance to find the source of these sins. You don’t need to conduct an exhaustive search. All you need to do is look at your own heart. “The source from which these rivers of pollution proceed is the natural heart of man. Sin is not a splash of mud upon man’s exterior, it is a filth generated within himself.” (Spurgeon)
i. “I sicken as I think how man has plagued his fellow-men by his sins. But I will not go through the list, nor need I: the devil has preached upon this text this week, and few have been able to escape the horrible exposition.” (Spurgeon)
ii. There’s a huge danger in looking at this list and saying, “I sure would never do this or that.” If we don’t see the capability of these kind of sins in us, then we are out of touch with the reality of our fallen nature.
d. Evil thoughts: “Every outward act of sin is preceded by an inward act of choice; therefore Jesus beings with the evil thought from which the evil action comes.” (Barclay)
i. “Thoughts are the eggs of words and actions, and within the thoughts lie compacted and condensed all the villainy of actual transgressions. If men did but more carefully watch their thoughts, they would not so readily fall into evil habits; but men first indulge the thought of evil, and then the imagination of evil; nor does the process stay there. Picturing it before their mind’s eye, they excite their own desires after it; these grow into a thirst and kindle into a passion.” (Spurgeon)
e. Blasphemy: “When this is used of words against man, it means slander; when it is used of words against God, it means blasphemy. It means insulting man or God.” (Barclay)
f. This is a powerful reminder that what God first wants from us is our heart. We can only really be changed before God from the inside out. If the life and the power and the work of God isn’t real in our heart, then it isn’t real at all.
B. Two wonderful examples of the healing power of Jesus.
1. (Mark 7:24-26) A Gentile woman’s request.
From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
a. He entered a house and wanted no one to know it: Jesus traveled some 50 miles to the north to visit these Gentile cities (the region of Tyre and Sidon). This is unusual in Jesus’ ministry, because His focus was on the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24).
i. It also shows that Jesus did not obey the Jewish traditions that said a faithful Jew would have nothing to do with Gentiles, and would never enter a Gentile’s house.
ii. “The previous incident shows Jesus wiping out the distinction between clean and unclean foods. Can it be that here, in symbol, we have him wiping out the difference between clean and unclean people? Just as a Jew would never soil his lips with forbidden foods, so he would never soil his life by contact with the unclean Gentile.” (Barclay) This was “a concrete example of Jesus’ disregard for the scribal concept of defilement.” (Lane)
iii. Wanted no one to know it: At the same time, Jesus didn’t want to needlessly offend people. He knew that time for breaking down the wall between Jew and Gentile by bringing them into one body (the church) was still in the future. So while not keeping His presence in the region of Tyre and Sidon strictly secret, He did not want it publicized.
b. But He could not be hidden: It’s a glorious principle - Jesus cannot be hidden. Anytime Jesus is present at all, He finds a way to touch lives, because He cannot be hidden.
c. She came and fell at His feet . . . she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter: This woman came to intercede for her daughter, and she is a picture of an intercessor because she made her daughter’s needs her own.
2. (Mark 7:27-30) Jesus responds to the woman’s request.
But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.
a. Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs: Jesus seems to discourage the woman, reminding her that the children (the Jewish people) get priority over the little dogs (Gentiles like her).
i. In that day, Jews often called Gentiles “dogs” in a very derogatory way. “The dog was not the well-loved guardian that it is to-day; more commonly it was the symbol of dishonour. To the Greek, the word dog meant a shameless and audacious woman; it was used exactly with the connotation that we use the word bitch to-day. To the Jews it was equally a term of contempt.” (Barclay)
ii. Yet Jesus did not use the normal word for “dogs.” Instead He softened it into little dogs - essentially, reminding the woman of her place as a Gentile, yet not wanting to push her completely away. “In Greek, diminutives are characteristically affectionate. Jesus took the sting out of the word.” (Barclay)
b. Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs: The woman responds with great faith. First, she accepted her low place before Jesus by not debating the reference to little dogs. Second, she asked Jesus to deal with her on her own low level (even the little dogs under the table eat). She therefore received from Jesus.
i. We need to see the power of coming to God as we are, and letting Him make true His promises to those weak and unclean. If the woman had responded, “Who are you calling a dog?” she would not have received from Jesus what her daughter needed. Her humble, faith-filled submission to Jesus brought the victory.
ii. “Nothing appealed to our blessed Lord more than faith coupled with humility.” (Ironside) Some people come to God with a kind of faith, but without humility. Others come to God with a kind of humility, but without faith. But if the two are combined it is a powerful thing before God.
iii. Clarke praises the prayer of this woman showing it has nine notable features: “1. It is short; 2. humble; 3. full of faith; 4. fervent; 5. modest; 6. respectful; 7. rational; 8. relying only on the mercy of God; 9. persevering.”
3. (Mark 7:31-37) The healing of a deaf and dumb man.
Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
a. They begged Him to put His hand on him: This is another example of intercession. The friends of this troubled man came and brought his need to Jesus.
b. He took him aside . . . put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue: Jesus used a curious manner in healing this man. Why would Jesus use such an unusual way of healing?
i. Jesus used many different ways of healing. He healed with a word, healed without a word, healed in response to one’s faith, healed in response to the faith of another, healed those who asked, and He healed those He approached. Jesus didn’t want to be tied down to any “one method” to show that His power was not dependent on any method, but on the sovereign power of God.
ii. Many people cared about this man, and perhaps many had prayed for his healing. But no one every stuck their fingers in his ears and spit on his tongue like this. Jesus did something completely new to catch this man’s attention, because He could not catch his attention with words. “Through touch and the use of spittle Jesus entered into the mental world of the man and gained his confidence.” (Lane)
iii. Undoubtedly, Jesus knew there was something special in His manner that would minister to this man. “He adapts His method to the peculiar circumstances of need of the one with whom He is dealing. I am quite convinced if we could perfectly know these men we should discover the reason for the method. In each case Christ adapted Himself to the need of the man.” (Morgan)
c. He sighed: “Behold, ‘a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief!’ Behold a Man exercising a ministry full of healing power and elemental light; but never forget that this service was costly.” (Morgan)
i. “The ‘sigh’ was an inward groan, our Lord’s compassionate response to the pain and sorrow sin has brought into the world. It was also a prayer to the Father on behalf of the handicapped man. (The same word is used in connection with prayer in Romans 8:23, and the noun in Romans 8:26).” (Wiersbe)
ii. He sighed “To show the wretched place of man by sin, and how tenderly concerned God is for his present and eternal welfare; and to intimate that men should seek the salvation of God in the spirit of genuine repentance, with strong crying and tears.” (Clarke)
d. Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly: The ancient Greek word for impediment in his speech is mogilalon, and is only used here in the New Testament. It is a word that is also used once in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, in Isaiah 35:5-6 : Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb [mogilalon] sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Mark wants us to know that the Messiah is here, bringing the glorious benefits of His rule.
i. “Mark’s use of an extremely rare word to describe the man’s speech defect is almost certainly an allusion to Isaiah 35:5 which celebrates God as the one who comes in order to unstop the ears of the deaf and to provide song for the man of inarticulate speech.” (Lane)
e. He has done all things well: Jesus does things well. There is no shoddy, slip-shod work with Him. It is true of creation, but it is even more true of His work of redemption.
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