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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Mark 7

Introduction

CHAP. VII.

The Pharisees find fault with the disciples, for eating with unwashen hands. They break the commandment of God by the tradition of men. Meat defileth not the man. He healeth the Syrophenician woman's daughter of an unclean spirit, and one that was deaf and stammered in his speech.

Anno Domini 31.

Verse 3

Mark 7:3. Except they wash their hands oft, Some render it, up to the wrist. 'Εαν μη πυγμη νιψωνται . Theophylact translates it, up to their elbows; affirming that the word πυγμη denotes the whole of the arm, from the bending to the ends of the fingers: but this sense of the word is altogether unusual: for the word μυγμη properly is, "the hand with the fingers contracted into the palm and made round,—the fist." Theophylact's translation, however, exhibits the Evangelist's meaning; for the Jews, when they washed, held up their hands, and contracting their fingers, received the water that was poured on them by their servants, (see 2 Kings 3:11.) till it ran down their arms, which they washed up to their elbows. To wash with the fist, therefore, is to wash with great care. See Mintert on the word ΠΥΓΜΗ, and Lightfoot's Horae Hebraicae.

Verse 7

Mark 7:7. Teaching for doctrines, &c.— Teaching doctrines which are human injunctions. The words seem to allude to Isaiah 29:13. The word Διδασκαλια, in general, signifies any lesson; and the purpose to which our Lord here applies it, plainly shews that it must refer to ritual injunctions. See Doddridge.

Verse 8

Mark 7:8. Ye hold Κρατειτε ; ye retain—ye adhere to. See Heylin.

Verse 9

Mark 7:9. Full well ye reject Full well ye make of no effect. The word Καλως, rendered full well, might be rendered fairly, entirely. Dr. Heylin renders the clause, Ye do mighty well indeed to reject, &c. The words your own, at the end of the verse, are emphatical, distinguishing the commandments of men, the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, from the commandments of God. See 1 Corinthians 11. 2Th 2:15 and Mangey.

Verse 11

Mark 7:11. It is Corban, "You assert, that any one may say to his father or mother,—Let that be Corban; that is to say, let it be reckoned as a devoted thing, or be considered as a gift, dedicated to the altar,—by which thou mightest otherwise receive advantage from me; and he shall then be free from the command, and not be under any obligation to honour and relieve his father or his mother." The word Κορβαν is a Hebrew word, of which the Evangelist here gives the meaning. See Doddridge, and the note on Matthew 15:3-6; Matthew 27:6-8.

Verse 14

Mark 7:14. Hearken unto me, &c.— That is, "Let every one of you hearken to what I say, and attentively consider it, that ye may understand." See Mark 7:16.

Verse 22

Mark 7:22. Thefts, &c.— Thefts, avarice, malice, fraud, lasciviousness, envy, slander, pride, vanity: Mark 7:23. All these vices, &c. The word 'Αφροσυνη, which our bible translation renders foolishness, stands directly opposed to Σωφροσυνη, or sobriety of thought and discourse; and therefore particularly signifies the wild sallies of the imagination, and extravagant passions and appetites; and consequently must include a great many immoralities, not touched on in the preceding enumeration.

Verse 27

Mark 7:27. But Jesus said unto her, &c.— But Jesus, for the trial of her faith, seemed to reject and disdainher, saying, Pray stay, let the children of God's family (his visible church,) be first satisfied with the blessings that I am come to bestow: for as it would be thought very improper and unnatural, that a parent should take away his children's food before they have had enough, and give it to the dogs: so it is not fit that I should deal out these mercies to you, till the Jews, who are the visible household of God, are first served: especially since, for yourGentile abominations, you deserve to be treated as a dog.

Verses 32-33

Mark 7:32-33. And had an impediment in his speech: Μογιλαλον . He was not absolutely dumb, but stammered to such a degree, that few understood his speech, Mark 7:35. However, the circumstance of his being able to speak in any manner, shews that his deafness was not natural, but accidental. He had heard formerly, and had learned to speak; but was now deprived of hearing, perhaps, through some fault of his own, which might be the reason that Jesus sighed for grief when he cured him. The friends of this man brought him to Jesus, and interceded for him, because he was not able to intercede for himself: his desire, however, of a cure, may have prompted him to do his utmost in speaking, whereby all present were made sensible of the greatness of the infirmity under which he laboured. Our Lord's exuberant goodness easily led him to give this person the relief that his friends begged for him; yet he would not do it publicly, lest the admiration of the spectators should have been raised so high, as to produce bad effects; for the whole country was now following him in expectation that he would soon set up his kingdom: or, as Gadara, where his miracle upon the demoniacs had been so ill received, was part of this region, (see Luke 8:26.) he might shun performing the miracle publicly, because it would have no effect upon so stupid a people. Whatever was the reason, he took the man with his relations aside from the crowd; and because the deaf are supposed to have their ears shut, and the dumb their tongues so tied or fastened to the under part of their mouth, as not to be able to move it, (see Mark 7:35.) he put his fingers into the man's ears, and then touched or moistened his tongue with his spittle, to make him understand that he intended to open his ears, and loosen his tongue. This, perhaps, was the only reason for these symbolical actions. Spiritual writers have given different interpretations of them."If any one should ask," says Dr. Doddridge, "why our Lord used these actions, when a word alone would have been sufficient, and when such means, if they may be called means, could in themselves do nothing at all to answer the end? I frankly confess I cannot tell;—nor am I at all concerned to know; yet I am ready to imagine it might be intended to intimate, in a very lively manner, that we are not to pretend to enter into the reasons of all his actions; and that where we are sure that any observance whatever is appointed by him, we are humbly to submit to it, though we cannot see why it was preferred to others, which our imagination might suggest. Had Christ's patients, like Naaman, (2 Kings 5:11-12.) been too nice in their exceptions on these occasions, I fear they would have lost their cure: and the indulgence of a curious or a petulant mind would have been but a poor equivalent for such a lo

Verse 34

Mark 7:34. And looking up to heaven, Our Lord did this, that the deaf man, whom he could not instruct by language, might consider whence all benefits proceed. After this, he sighed. Perhaps the circumstances mentioned in the former note, or some others unknown to us, made this man a peculiar object of pity: or by the example of bodily deafness and dumbness, our Lord might be led to reflect on the spiritual deafness and dumbness of men; but whatever was the cause, Christ's sighing on this occasion evidently displayed the tender love that he bore to mankind; for certainly it could be nothing else which moved him to condole our miseries, whether general or particular, in so affectionate a manner. See more instances of his compassion, Luke 19:41. Joh 11:33. After this he said, Ephphatha, "Be opened:" which Grotius applies by observing, that the internal impediments of the mind are removed by the Spirit of Christ; as those bodily impediments were by the word of his power. He opens the heart, as he did Lydia's, and thereby opens the ear to receive the word of God, and opens the mouth in prayer and praise. See Critic. Sacra in Loc.

Verse 36

Mark 7:36. And he charged them, &c.— See on Matthew 8:4. Dr. Stanhope, in the 3rd vol. of his Comment. on the Epistles and Gospels, p. 397 assigns the following reasons for our Saviour's forbidding the publication of his miracles. 1. To avoid, as much as was possible, the envy and opposition of the Pharisees. 2. To secure his life from their malice, till the appointed time. 3. To prevent any sedition or tumults among the people. And, 4. To set us an example of humility, of doing good for good's sake or for God's sake; which forbids ostentation, and seeking the esteem and admiration of men; because this would be, in effect, to make new masters to ourselves, and, by a base degeneracy of spirit, to become slaves to our fellow-creatures.

Verse 37

Mark 7:37. He hath done all things well Καλως,— in a most amiable and graceful manner, as well as to the utmost perfection. They were struck with his sympathetic tenderness for the afflicted, and admired his modesty in concealing the cure, and hiding it under the veil of second causes. Happy would it be, if all his followers, and especially his ministers, would learn of him, who was thus meek and lowly; neither acting as in their own strength, when they attempt a spiritual cure, nor proclaiming their own praise, when they have effected it. Then would they likewise do all things well;and there would be that beauty in the manner, which no wise man would entirely neglect,—even in those actions which are in themselves most excellent and great. It is a high commendation of a minister tosay, that in his measure he has done all things well; that is, both with exterior gravity, modesty, and decency, and with interior application, piety, and religion. It is the way, under divine grace, to make the deaf hearken to the truth, and to draw from sinners the acknowledgment and confession of their miseries.

Inferences drawn from the cure of the deaf and dumb man. Our Saviour's entrance into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon was not without a miracle; neither was his departure; as the sun neither rises nor sets without light. At his entrance he delivers the daughter of the faithful Syrophenician; in his egress he cures the deaf and dumb. He can no more want work, than that work can want success. Whether the patient were naturally deaf and perfectly dumb, or imperfectly dumb and accidentally deaf, I labour not to prove. Good neighbours, however, supply his ears, his tongue; they bring him to Christ. Behold a miracle, led in by charity, acted by power, led out by modesty.

It was a true office of love to speak thus in the cause of the dumb; to lend senses to him who wanted them. This spiritual service we owe to each other. Every soul is naturally deaf and dumb. But some have yielded to be saved by grace: the infinite mercy of God has bored their ears; he has untied their tongues by the power of regeneration: these misuse their holy faculties, if they do not improve them in bringing the deaf and dumb to Christ, in their respective spheres of action whether small or great.

These people do not only lend their hand to this man, but their tongue also; and say that for him, which he could not but wish to say for himself: almost every man has a tongue ready to speak for himself; happy is he that keeps a tongue for other men. We are charged not with supplications only, but with intercessions. Herein is both the largest improvement of our love, and the most effectual: no distance can hinder the fruit of our devotion:—What was their suit to Christ, (Mark 7:32.) but that he would put his hand upon the patient? Not that they would prescribe the means, or imply the necessity of the touch, but because they saw this was the ordinary course both of Christ and his disciples, to heal by touching. Our prayers must be directed to the usual proceedings of God; his actions must be the rule of our prayers; our prayers must not prescribe his actions.

That gracious Saviour, who is accustomed to exceed our desires, does more than they sue for; not only does he touch the patient, but takes him by the hand, and leads him from the multitude. He that would be healed of his spiritual infirmities, must be sequestered from the throng of the world. There is a good use in solitude, at proper seasons; and that soul can never enjoy God, which is not sometimes retired.

Perhaps this retirement was for an example to us of a careful avoidance of vain glory in our actions; whence also it is, that our Saviour gives an after-charge of secrecy. He that could say, he that doeth evil hateth the light, now avoideth the light even in doing good. To seek our own glory, is not glory. Here was also a due regard paid to opportunity by our Lord in his conduct: the envy of the scribes and Pharisees might oppose his divine ministry; their exasperation is wisely avoided by his retiring. He, in whose hands time is, knows how to make the best choice of seasons. Wisdom has no better improvement than in distinguishing times, and discreetly marshalling the circumstances of our actions; which, whoever neglects, will be sure to spoil his work, and mar his hopes.

Is there a spiritual patient to be cured? Take him aside. To undertake his cure before the face of the multitude, is not to heal, but to wound him. Reproof and good counsel must be, like our alms, in secret; that being the best remedy, which is least seen and most felt.

What means this variety of ceremony? O Saviour, thy word alone, thy nod alone, thy wish alone, yea, the least act of thy will, might have wrought this cure. Why wouldst thou employ so much of thyself in this work? Was it to shew thy liberty, in not always equally exercising the power of thy Deity;—that at one time thy command only shall raise the dead, and eject devils; at another thou wouldst accommodate thyself to the mean and homely fashions of natural agents, and, condescending to our senses and customs, take those ways which may carry some nearer respect to the cure intended? or was it to teach us, how well thou likest that there should be a ceremonious carriage of thy solemn actions, which thou art pleased to produce clothed with such circumstantial forms?
It did not content thee to put one finger into one ear: both ears equally need a cure; thou wouldst establish the means of cure to both: the Spirit of God is the finger of God; then dost thou, O Saviour, put thy finger in our ear, when thy Spirit enables us to hear effectually. Hence the great philosophers of the ancient world, the learned rabbis of the synagogue, the great doctors of a false faith, are deaf to spiritual things. It is that finger of thy spirit, O blessed Jesus, which can open our ears, and make through them a passage into our hearts; and thou art willing to do this for all who will come unto thee: let that finger of thine be put into our ears, so shall our deafness be removed, and we shall hear, not the loud thunders of the law, but the gentle whisperings of thy gracious motions to our souls.
Our Saviour was not content to open the ears only, but to untie the tongue: with the ear we hear, with the mouth we confess. There are those whose ears are open, but their mouths are still shut to God; they understand, but do not utter the wonderful things of God. There is but half a cure wrought upon these men; their ear is but open to hear their own judgment, except their mouth be open to confess their Maker and Redeemer. O God, do thou so moisten my tongue with thy graces, that it may run smoothly (as the pen of a ready writer) to the praise of thy name.
While the finger of our Saviour was on the tongue and in the ear of the patient, his eye was in heaven. Never man had so much cause to look up to heaven as he; there was his home, there was his throne: he only was from heaven, heavenly: what does thine eye, O Saviour, in this, but teach ours where to be fixed? Every good and every perfect gift comes down from above; O let not then our eyes or hearts grovel upon this earth; but let us fasten them above the hills, whence cometh our salvation. Thence let us acknowledge all the good that we receive; thence expect all the good that we want.
But why did the Saviour sigh? Surely it was not for assistance. How could he but be heard of his Father, who was one with the Father? Not for any fear or distrust;—but partly for compassion, partly for example. For compassion towards those manifold infirmities, into which sin had plunged mankind;—a pitiable instance whereof was here presented to him: for example, to fetch sighs from us for the miseries of others; sighs of sorrow for them, sighs of desire for their redress. This is not the first time that our Saviour spent sighs, yea, tears upon human distresses. We are not bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, if we do not so feel the pains of our brethren, that the fire of our passion breaks forth into sighs. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended and I burn not?

Christ was not silent, While he cured the dumb: his ephphatha gave life to all his other actions. His sighing, his spitting, his looking up to heaven, were the acts of a man; this command was the act of God. In his mouth the word cannot be severed from its success. No sooner are the Saviour's lips opened in his ephphatha, than the mouth of the dumb and the ears of the deaf are opened at once. Behold here united celerity and perfection. Natural agents work leisurely, by degrees; omnipotence knows no rules.

And can we blame the man, if he bestowed the first fruits of his speech upon the power that restored it? Or can we expect other than that our Saviour should say, "Thy tongue is free, use it to the praise of him who made it so; thy ears are open, hear him who bids thee proclaim thy cure upon the house-top?"—But now, behold, on the contrary, he that opens this man's mouth by his powerful word, by the same word shuts it again!—Charging silence by the same breath wherewith he gave speech;—tell no man! O Saviour, thou knowest the grounds for thine own commands. It is not for us to inquire, but to obey. We must not honour thee with a forbidden celebration; good meanings have often proved injurious.

Those men whose charity employed their tongues to speak for the dumb man, do now employ those tongues to speak of his cure, when they should have been dumb. This charge, they imagine, proceeds from a humble modesty in Christ, which respect to his honour bids them violate. I know not how, but we itch after those forbidden acts, which, if left to our liberty, we too often willingly neglect. This prohibition increases the rumour; every tongue is busied about this one. What can we make of this, but a well-meant disobedience?

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The scribes and Pharisees could not bear to see the poor people follow Jesus, though to be cured; yet they could take a long journey merely to cavil with him.

1. They found fault with his disciples for eating with unwashen hands, contrary to the tradition of the elders; and complained to Christ of their criminal neglect; for so they esteemed it, being superstitiously scrupulous to wash before they sat down to meat, when they returned from market, and on a variety of other occasions; pretending great carefulness to avoid defilement. And for the same purpose they washed also their pots, cups, brazen vessels, and tables, or beds; lest by the touch of any impure person they should have contracted pollution; and fancying much religion consisted in these absurd traditions, they were ready to condemn every deviation from them with greater severity, than even the breaches of God's written law.
2. Christ vindicates his disciples, and reproves the hypocrisy and wickedness of their accusers. They truly fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah; apostate in heart from God, while they pretended to honour him in much apparent devotion. They stamped human traditions with divine authority; imposed them as obligatory on men's consciences; and not only laid great stress upon the observance of these superstitious washings, but really subverted the plainest and weightiest commands of the law, when they stood in competition with their traditions. A more flagrant evidence of which cannot be conceived, than our Lord here produces against them. The tradition of the elders had established it as a rule, that if a man swore by Corban, by the gold of the temple, or that he would devote such a thing to the treasury of the temple, or would regard it as a devoted thing, and not part with it on any occasion, he was bound to fulfil his vow: and though the commandment of God had so expressly provided for the honour and support of parents, laying an aweful curse upon the undutiful son that spoke or acted contemptuously against them; yet they held he was bound by his vow, and dispensed with from observing the evident commands of God, and the plainest dictates of duty and gratitude; so that he might safely withhold the least relief from his parents, however indigent, infirm, or aged; yea, was conscientiously obliged to do so: a tradition so iniquitous and shocking, as most strictly violated the word of God, and made it of no effect. Yet that, and many other things as impious, did the Pharisees import on their disciples; and, under the mask of pretended sanctity, and reverence for the temple, sapped the very foundations of true religion.

3. To prevent the people from being imposed upon by those blind guides, he demands their attention to his discourse, as being a matter of highest importance; for if their principles were right, a correspondent practice would follow. This great axiom therefore Christ lays down, that nothing without a man, which he touches or eats, any farther than it has a bad influence upon his heart, can render him in God's sight morally unclean; but that all impurity comes from within: and the evil thoughts and desires which are expressed in words and actions, these are what defile the man, and render him odious in the sight of God; and this he bids them carefully remark and remember. The disciples, far from being yet emancipated from the vulgar opinions concerning the things by which a person was defiled, when they were alone, desired our Lord to explain his last observation to them, which appeared to them hard to be understood. With an air of surprise at their dulness, our Lord reproves their stupidity: if others were in the dark, they at least should have understood him. However, he is pleased to explain his meaning, so as to prevent the possibility of mistake. Two things he lays down, and supports with the clearest arguments. (1.) That whatever meats a man may eat, as they do not enter into his heart, which is the source of all moral purity or pollution, but merely pass through the body, they cannot, without intemperance, communicate any defilement before God. (2.) That the origin of all evil, and the cause of all uncleanness, is from within; whence proceeds all that train of evils before observed, Mat 15:19 to which others are here added; covetousness, the unsatisfied cravings of the heart after worldly things; wickedness, the contrivances of malice, and delight in mischief; deceit, in words or deeds, to conceal the designs of iniquity; lasciviousness, the impure imaginations, dalliance, or discourse, which the lewd indulge, though deterred from grosser acts of impurity; an evil eye, envying the enjoyments of others, or coveting what they possess; blasphemy, offering injury or indignity to God, or heavenly things; pride, the high conceit, the lofty look, the contemptuous or insolent carriage of the swelling heart; foolishness, the boasts of vanity; the ebullitions of folly, the rashness of inconsiderate censure, and the hastiness of imprudence. These, and these alone, are the defiling things that spring from the fountain-head of evil in the fallen spirit, and render the soul vile in itself, and abominable in the eyes of God.

2nd, We have one short excursion of the divine Redeemer into the coasts of the Gentiles; an earnest of the gracious designs that he had in store for them; but, perhaps that he might not offend the Jews, to whom he was particularly sent, he chose not to appear in public, and therefore entered into a house; but, though he would have no man knew it, his fame was too much spread abroad to admit his concealment. And we have,
1. The application of a poor Gentile to him in behalf of her daughter who was possessed. Falling at his feet, she earnestly importuned him to cast out the devil from her child. At first her address met with such discouragement as Jesus was unaccustomed to give to poor petitioners. Compared with the chosen people of Israel, his visible church, he speaks as if the Gentiles were but as dogs, to whom the children's meat (the miracles that he wrought) must not be thrown, at least not till the children first be filled. Far from desisting on such a repulse, she wonderfully turns the apparent refusal into an argument for granting the favour which she asked and desired, as a dog, only to have one crumb, one miracle, among the multitudes that every day were so abundantly dispensed to the Jewish children. Note; (1.) They who have children possessed with unclean spirits, and have any genuine religion, cannot but earnestly present their sad case before the Lord, who alone can cure them. (2.) Poor supplicants at the feet of Jesus may confidently hope, amidst every discouragement, for an answer of peace at the last. If Jesus delays, it is to exercise their faith, and prove their perseverance.

2. The cure is wrought. Pleased with the poor Gentile's address, and admiring her faith, he grants her request: The devil is gone out of thy daughter; as she found to her unspeakable comfort, when, depending on the accomplishment of the word of Jesus, she returned to her house. So sure is the prayer of faith to prevail.

3rdly, Jesus was never weary of the delightful work of going about doing good. On his return from the Gentile coast into the region of Decapolis, a new object of mercy is presented before him.
1. The case was afflictive: the poor patient was deaf, and either quite dumb, or not able to speak without much difficulty; the emblem of a miserable sinner, whose ears are closed to all the sweet sounds of gospel-grace, and unaffected by the thunders of Sinai; his lips sealed up, unable to speak the language of prayer or praise, or in conversation to communicate grace to the hearers.
2. The cure was singular; not by a word merely, as Jesus usually wrought his miracles; but, taking the poor man aside, he put his fingers into his ears, and spat, and touched his tongue; not as causes that could contribute to his cure, but to shew that he was not bound to any method of procedure. Then, looking up to heaven, he sighed, in compassion to human misery; or was grieved for the hardness of their hearts, who, after so many miracles, believed not on him; and he then saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is in the Chaldee dialect, Be opened; and instantly the cure was wrought, he heard distinctly and spoke plainly. And thus by the commanding voice of his Spirit he saith to the spiritually deaf and dumb that come to him, Be opened; and the ears are unstopped, the tongue is loosed, they know the joyful sound of gospel-grace, and speak aloud the praises of their Redeemer.

3. To avoid all appearances of vain glory, and not to exasperate his malicious enemies, he gave the people a charge to conceal the miracle; but they could not be silent; nay, rather the more they published it, that such modest excellence might be known: and all with astonishment heard the report, and from such repeated instances were compelled to acknowledge to his honour, that all his works bespoke the glory of his character, full of power and grace, without the least tincture of ostentation. He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. Is not this then the Christ? See Isaiah 35:5-6.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Mark 7". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/mark-7.html. 1801-1803.