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Ch. 7:1 23 . Contest with the Pharisees of Jerusalem concerning Traditions of Eating
1. Then came together ] A few days only were assigned to the performance of those deeds of mercy described at the close of the last chapter. But the Saviour’s labours of love were soon rudely interrupted. Having kept the Feast at Jerusalem the Scribes and Pharisees returned to seek out matter for accusation against Him. The combination of the Pharisees of Galilee and the Pharisees of Judæa had already been concerted and entered upon, and they now watched His every step.
2. with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands ] Thus St Mark explains for his Roman readers, and then proceeds more fully to set forth certain Jewish usages. The Pharisees had probably crept in secretly into some of the social gatherings of the disciples.
3. except they wash their hands oft ] Oft , literally, with the fist. “When they washed their hands, they washed the fist unto the jointing of the arm . The hands are polluted, and made clean unto the jointing of the arm .” Lightfoot Hor. Heb. upon St Mark . When water was poured on the hands, they had to be lifted, yet so that the water should neither run up above the wrist, nor back again upon the hand; best, therefore, by doubling the fingers into a fist. The Israelites, who, like other Oriental nations, fed with their fingers, washed their hands before meals, for the sake of cleanliness. But these customary washings were distinct from the ceremonial ablutions; in the former water was poured upon the hands; in the latter the hands were plunged in water . When, therefore, some of the Pharisees remarked that our Lord’s disciples ate with “ unwashen hands ,” it is not to be understood literally that they did not at all wash their hands, but that they did not wash them ceremonially according to their own practice. And this was expected of them only as the disciples of a religious teacher; for these refinements were not practised by the class of people from which the disciples were chiefly drawn.
eat not ] “The Jews of later times related with intense admiration how the Rabbi Akiba, when imprisoned and furnished with only sufficient water to maintain life, preferred to die of starvation rather than eat without the proper washings.” Buxtorf, Syn. Jud.; quoted in Farrar’s Life of Christ , i. p. 443; Geikie, ii. 203 205.
the tradition of the elders ] The Rabbinical rules about ablutions occupy a large portion of one section of the Talmud.
4. except they wash ] “Wash” here implies complete immersion as contrasted with the mere washing of the hands in verse 3.
pots ] The original word thus translated is one of St Mark’s Latinisms. It is a corruption of the Latin sextarius , a Roman measure both for liquids and dry things. In Tyndale and Cranmer’s Versions it is translated “ cruses .” Earthen vessels were broken; those of metal and wood scoured and rinsed with water. See Leviticus 15:12 .
tables ] Rather, banqueting-couches , triclinia , the benches or couches on which the Jews reclined at meals.
6. Well hath Esaias ] Rather, Well , or full well did Esaias prophesy of you. “ Well ” is said in irony. This expression recurs in v . 9, “full well ye reject” = “ finely do ye set at naught and obliterate.”
This people honoureth me ] The words are found in Isaiah 29:13 .
10. Honour thy father ] The words are quoted partly from Exodus 20:12 , and partly from Exodus 21:17 .
11. If a man shall say ] Literally it runs, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That, from which thou mightest have been benefited by me, is Corban , that is to say, a gift , or offering consecrated to God, he shall be free, and ye suffer him no longer to do aught for his father or his mother. A person had merely to pronounce the word Corban over any possession or property, and it was irrevocably dedicated to the Temple. Our Lord is quoting a regular formula, which often occurs in the Talmudic tracts Nedarim and Nazir . Others would give to the words an imperative force, Be it Corban from which thou mightest have been benefited by me , i. e. “If I give thee anything or do anything for thee, may it be as though I gave thee that which is devoted to God, and may I be accounted perjured and sacrilegious.” This view certainly gives greater force to the charge made by our Lord, that the command “Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death” was nullified by the tradition.
13. through your tradition ] The Jews distinguished between the “Written Law” and the traditional or “Unwritten Law.” The Unwritten Law was said to have been orally delivered by God to Moses, and by him orally transmitted to the Elders. On it was founded the Talmud or “doctrine,” which consists of (1) the Mishna or “repetition” of the Law, (2) the Gemara or “supplement” to it. So extravagant did the veneration for the Traditional Law become, that there was amongst many other sayings this assertion, “The Law is like salt, the Mishna like pepper, the Gemara like balmy spice.” Buxtorf, Synag. Jud . ch. 3.
14. all the people ] Rather, when He had called the people again unto Him. As Wyclif has it in his Version, “and he eftsone clepinge to be cumpanye of peple.”
17. his disciples ] From St Matthew we learn that the questioner was St Peter (Matthew 15:15 ). As in the walking on the water, so here, he modestly suppresses himself in the Gospel which was written under his eye.
the parable ] They regarded the words uttered in the hearing of the mixed multitude, and which deeply offended the Pharisees (Matthew 15:12 ), as a parable, or “dark saying.” See note above, 4:2.
19. into the draught ] Comp. 2 Kings 10:27 , “And they.… brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draughthouse unto this day.” Draught = latrina, cloaca , from Icel. draf , dregs, dirt, connected with A.S. drabbe, dréfe . Comp. Shakespeare, Tim. of Ath . v. i. 105, “Hang them, or stab them, drown them in a draught .” “There was a godde of idlenesse, a goddesse of the draught or jakes.” Burton, Anat. of Mel .
21. evil thoughts ] Thirteen forms of evil are here noticed as proceeding from the heart. The first seven in the plural number, are predominant actions; the latter six in the singular, dispositions . Comp. the blending of the singular and plural in St Paul’s enumeration of the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:19-21 .
adulteries ] The preferable order appears to be fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetousnesses, wickednesses .
22. covetousness ] “avarices,” Wyclif. The original word denotes more than the mere love of money , it is “the drawing and snatching to himself, on the sinner’s part, of the creature in every form and kind, as it lies out of and beyond himself.” Hence we find it joined not only with “thefts” here and with “extortion” in 1 Corinthians 5:10 , but also with sins of the flesh as in 1 Corinthians 5:11 ; Ephesians 5:3 , Ephesians 5:5 ; Colossians 3:5 . “Impurity and covetousness may be said to divide between them nearly the whole domain of human selfishness and vice.” “Homo extra Deum quaerit pabulum in creatura materiali vel per voluptatem vel per avaritiam.” See Canon Lightfoot on Colossians 3:5
wickedness ] or wickednesses The word thus translated occurs in the singular in Matthew 22:18 , “but Jesus perceived their wickedness, ” and again in Luke 11:39 ; Romans 1:29 ; 1 Corinthians 5:8 ; Ephesians 6:12 . In the plural it only occurs twice, here and in Acts 3:26 , where we have translated it “iniquities.” It denotes the active working of evil, “the cupiditas nocendi,” or as Jeremy Taylor explains it, an “aptness to do shrewd turns, to delight in mischief and trajedies; a love to trouble our neighbour and to do him ill offices; crossness, perverseness, and peevishness of action in our intercourse.” Trench’s N. T. Synonyms , p. 36.
lasciviousness ] The word thus rendered is of uncertain etymology, and in our Version is translated generally “ lasciviousness ,” as here and 2 Corinthians 12:21 ; Galatians 5:19 ; Ephesians 4:19 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; sometimes (2) “ wantonness ,” as in Romans 13:13 ; 2 Peter 2:18 . The Vulgate renders it now “impudicitia,” now “lascivia.” “Wantonness” is the better rendering. In Classical Greek it signifies “lawless insolence” or “boisterous violence” towards another; in later Greek “sensuality.”
an evil eye, blasphemy ] Of these the first denotes concealed , the second open enmity. The evil eye is notorious in the East; here it is the description of an envious look; “invidia et de malis alienis gaudium.” Bengel.
pride ] The substantive thus translated only occurs here in the N. T., its adjective occurs in Luke 1:51 , “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;” Romans 1:30 , “ proud , boasters;” 2 Timothy 3:2 , “ proud , blasphemers;” James 4:6 , 1 Peter 5:5 , “God resisteth the proud ,” The true seat of this sin, the German “ Hochmuch ,” is within, and consists in comparing oneself secretly with others, and lifting oneself above others, in being proud in thought . foolishness ] only occurs here in the Gospels, and three times in the Epistles of St Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:1 , 2 Corinthians 11:17 , 2 Corinthians 11:21 . “Causa cur insipientia extremo loco ponatur: quae etiam reliqua omnia facit incurabiliora. Non in sola voluntate est corruptio humana.” Bengel.
24 30. The Syrophœnician Woman
24. from thence he arose ] The malevolence of our Lord’s enemies was now assuming hourly a more implacable form. The Pharisaic party in Eastern Galilee were deeply offended (Matthew 15:12 ); even those who once would fain have prevented Him from leaving them (Luke 4:42 ) were filled with doubts and suspicions; Herod Antipas was inquiring concerning Him (Luke 9:9 ), and his inquiries boded nothing but ill. He therefore now leaves for awhile eastern Galilee and makes His way north-west through the mountains of upper Galilee into the border-land of Phœnicia. See the Analysis of the Gospel, p. 22.
the borders of Tyre and Sidon ] His travelling towards these regions was the prophetic and symbolical representation of the future progress of Christianity from the Jews to the Gentiles. So in ancient times Elijah travelled out of his own land into Phœnicia (1 Kings 17:10-24 ). Our Lord, however, does not actually go into Phœnicia, but into the adjoining borders of Galilee, the district of the tribe of Asher.
Tyre ] A celebrated commercial city of antiquity, situated in Phœnicia. The Hebrew name “Tzôr” signifies “a rock,” and well agrees with the site of Sû , the modern town on a rocky peninsula, which was formerly an island, and less than 20 miles distant from Sidon. We first get glimpses of its condition in 2 Samuel 5:11 in connection with Hiram, King of Tyre, who sent cedar-wood and workmen to David and afterwards to Solomon (1 Kings 9:11-14 , 1 Kings 10:22 ). Ahab married a daughter of Ithobal, King of Tyre (1 Kings 16:31 ), and was instrumental in introducing the idolatrous worship of Baalim and Ashtaroth. The prosperity of Tyre in the time of our Lord was very great. Strabo gives an account of it at this period, and speaks of the great wealth which it derived from the dyes of the celebrated Tyrian purple. It was perhaps more populous even than Jerusalem.
Sidon ] The Greek form of the Phœnician name Zidon , an ancient and wealthy city of Phœnicia, situated on the narrow plain between the Lebanon and the Sea. Its Hebrew name Tsidôn signifies “Fishing” or “Fishery.” Its modern name is Saida . It is mentioned in the Old Testament as early as Genesis 10:19 ; Joshua 11:8 ; Judges 1:31 , and in ancient times was more influential even than Tyre, though from the time of Solomon it appears to have been subordinate to it.
would have no man know it ] desiring seclusion and rest after His late labours.
25. heard of him ] The fame of His miracles had already penetrated even to these old Phœnician cities, and we have seen (Mark 3:8 ) “a great multitude” from Tyre and Sidon coming to Him (comp. also Matthew 4:24 ).
26. a Greek ] St Matthew describes her as a “ woman of Canaan ” (Matthew 15:22 ), St Mark calls her a Greek, a Syrophœnician . The first term describes her religion, that she was a Gentile; the second the stock of which she came, “which was even that accursed stock once doomed of God to total excision, but of which some branches had been spared by those first generations of Israel that should have extirpated them root and branch. Everything, therefore, was against this woman, yet she was not hindered by that everything from drawing nigh, and craving the boon that her soul longed after.” Trench on the Parables , p. 339. She is called a Syro phœnician , as distinguished from the Liby phœnicians , the Phœnicians of Africa, that is, Carthage. Phœnicia belonged at this time to the province of Syria.
27. But Jesus said unto her ] St Mark passes more briefly over the interview than St Matthew. The latter Evangelist points out three stages of this woman’s trial; (i) Silence; “ He answered her not a word ” (Matthew 15:23 ); (ii) Refusal; “ I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel ” (Matthew 15:24 ); (iii) Reproach; “ It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs ” (Matthew 15:26 ). But in spite of all she persevered and finally conquered.
the dogs ] In the original the diminutive is used = “ little dogs .” “Little whelps” Wyclif; “the whelps” Tyndale, Cranmer. The Jews, “ the children of the kingdom ” (Matthew 8:12 ), were wont to designate the heathen as “ dogs ,” the noble characteristics of which animal are seldom brought out in Scripture (comp. Deuteronomy 23:18 ; Job 30:1 ; 2 Kings 8:13 ; Philippians 3:2 ; Revelation 22:15 ). Here however the term is somewhat softened. The heathen are compared not to the great wild dogs infesting Eastern towns (1 Kings 14:11 , 1 Kings 14:16 :4; 2 Kings 9:10 ), but to the small dogs attached to households. In the East now the Mahometans apply this name to the Christians.
28. yet the dogs ] Rather, Yea Lord, for even the little dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. So it is rightly translated in Wyclif’s and Cranmer’s Versions, following the Vulgate “Etiam, Domine, nam et catelli edunt.” “ Truth it is Maister, for indeed the whelpes eat under the table, of the childerns crommes .” Geneva, 1557. Her “yea” is the “yea” of admission not of contradiction. She accepts the declaration of Christ, and in that very declaration she affirms is involved the granting of her petition. “Saidst Thou dogs? It is well; I accept the title and the place; for the dogs have a portion of the meat not the first, not the children’s portion, but a portion still the crumbs which fall from the table.” Her words speak to us even now across the centuries, and our Church adopts her words of faith in the “Prayer of Humble Access” at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
crumbs ] These were probably something more than what would accidentally fall from the table. It was the custom during the meal for the guests after thrusting their hands into the common dish to wipe them on the soft white part of the bread, which, having thus used, they threw to the dogs.
30. she found the devil gone out ] Thus the daughter was healed in consequence of the mother’s faith and in answer to her prayers. This is an instance of a cure effected at a distance: other instances are, (1) the nobleman’s son at Capernaum, whom our Lord healed while Himself at Cana (John 4:46 ), (2) the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:6 ). The case also of this lonely woman not suffering the Lord “to go” until He had blessed her (comp. Genesis 32:24-32 ) is the greatest of the three ascending degrees of faith, “as it manifests itself in the breaking through of hindrances which would keep from Christ. The paralytic broke through the outward hindrances , the obstacles of things merely external (Mark 2:4 ); blind Bartimæus through the hindrances opposed by his fellow-men (Mark 10:48 ); but this woman, more heroically than all, through apparent hindrances, even from Christ Himself .” Trench on the Miracles , p. 347.
31 37. The Healing of one Deaf and Dumb
31. the coasts ] A misleading archaism is this word for “border” or “region.” No allusion is made, in the original word to the sea-board. Thus we are told that Herod “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof,” though Bethlehem was not near the sea; and again we read of “ the coasts ” (=borders) of Judæa in Matthew 19:1 ; comp. Mark 10:1 , where there is no sea-coast at all; of the coasts (=borders) of Gadara in Mark 5:17 ; “the coasts of Decapolis” in this verse; of “the coasts ” (=regions) of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:50 ). Comp. 1 Samuel 5:6 . The word comes from the Latin costa , “ a rib ,” “ side ,” through Fr. “ coste .” Hence it = “a border” generally, though now applied to the sea-coast only. Wyclif translates it here “bitwix be Endis ( or coostis ) of Tire, be myddil endis of Decapoleos.”
and Sidon ] The preferable reading here, supported by several MSS. and found in several ancient versions, is, And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre, He came through Sidon unto the Sea of Galilee. This visit of the Redeemer of mankind to the city of Baal and Astarte is full of significance.
he came unto the sea of Galilee ] The direction of the journey appears to have been (1) northward towards Lebanon, then (2) from the foot of Lebanon through the deep gorge of the Leontes to the sources of the Jordan, and thence (3) along its eastern bank into the regions of Decapolis, which extended as far north as Damascus, and as far south as the river Jabbok.
32. one that was deaf ] The healing of this man, on the east side of the Jordan, is related only by St Mark.
and had an impediment ] The word thus rendered does not imply that he was a mute, as some have thought, but that with his deafness was connected a disturbance of the organs of speech, so that he could make no intelligible sounds. Tyndale renders it “one that was deffe and stambred in hys speche.”
they beseech him ] This is one of the few instances where the friends of the sufferer brought the sick man to Christ. We have already met with another instance in the case of the paralytic borne of four (Mark 2:3-5 ), and shall meet with another in the case of the blind man of Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26 .
33. aside from the multitude ] Comp. Mark 8:23 . Why? (1) Some think it was to avoid all show and ostentation; (2) others, to prevent a publicity which might bring together the Gentiles in crowds; (3) others, far more probably, that apart from the interruptions of the crowd the man might be more recipient of deep and lasting impressions.
and put his fingers into his ears ] In this man’s case there were evidently circumstances which rendered it necessary that his cure should be (1) gradual, and (2) effected by visible signs. And so our Lord ( a ) took him aside from the multitude; ( b ) put His fingers into his ears, ( c ) touched his tongue with the moisture of His mouth (comp. ch. 8:23; John 9:6 ; 2 Kings 2:21 ); ( d ) looked up to heaven (comp. Matthew 14:19 ; Mark 6:41 ; John 11:41 ), and sighed (comp. Mark 8:12 ; John 11:33 , John 11:38 ), and ( e ) spake the one word Ephphatha (comp. Mark 5:41 ).
34. looking up to heaven ] This upturned look expressive of an act of prayer and an acknowledgment of His oneness with the Father, occurs also (1) in the blessing of the five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:19 ; Mark 6:41 ), (2) at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:41 ), and (3) before the great high-priestly prayer for the Apostles (John 17:1 ).
he sighed ] or “groaned” as in the Rhemish Version. The sigh of the “First-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29 ), attesting that the Human sympathies of the Saviour were co-extensive with human suffering and sorrow. Comp. John 11:33 .
Ephphatha ] The actual Aramaic word used by our Lord, like the “Talitha cumi” of Mark 5:41 , treasured up by actual eye and ear witnesses, on whom the actions used and the word spoken made an indelible impression.
36. he charged them ] i. e. the friends of the afflicted man, who had accompanied or followed him into the presence of his Healer.
so much the more ] Observe the accumulation of comparatives, “ The more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it, and were beyond measure astonished.” The original word for “beyond measure” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29