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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Mark 7

 

 

Introduction

Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:1. The Great Confession, and the First View of the Cross.—Here opens a new section of the gospel. The tendency to seek retirement with the Twelve, pronounced from Mark 6:31 onwards, now dominates the story. Jesus devotes Himself to traming the Twelve in the shadow of the Cross. This concentration on His disciples becomes possible when they pierce His secret. The full significance of the confession is only apparent if Jesus has not previously revealed Himself or been recognised as Messiah (cf. HNT). It constitutes a decisive development. The scene is laid near Cæsarea Philippi (p. 32), a largely Gentile town on the east side of Jordan, not to be confused with Cæsarea on the coast. The praise bestowed on Peter in Matthew 16:17 f. is not recorded in Mk. If Mk.'s dependence on Peter is to be proved by his showing "a special regard for Peter," the proof is wanting. But Eusebius rightly suggested that Mk.'s silence may reproduce the natural silence of Peter. A genuinely Petrine record might fail to praise Peter.

The charge to keep silence seems to be sufficiently explained by the intention of Jesus to await the Father's revelation (cf. Matthew 16:17) and by His unpopular expectation as to Messiah's task and end. Either from now on Jesus spoke much with the Twelve of the death He anticipated, or else the evangelist assumes that Jesus must have foreseen His fate and so boldly attributes such foresight to Him. The chief difficulty of the first alternative is found in the conduct of Jesus at Jerusalem, which "makes the impression that He journeyed thither, not in order to die but to fight and conquer, and that in looking forward to the conflict His own death presented itself not as a certainty, but at the most as a possibility" (Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, ii. 34f.). This assumes that Jesus must have regarded His death either as certain or as possible. But why may He not have considered it overwhelmingly probable—a judgment which would not exclude flashes of hope that even now Israel might repent? The difficulty of the second alternative is that it compels us to discard so much that looks like genuine tradition, e.g. the parable of the husbandmen, the answer to the sons of Zebedee, the lament over Jerusalem, and the upbraiding of the cities of Galilee, not to mention the whole development of the ministry from public evangelization to private communion with the Twelve, as Mk. conceives it. Such a surrender of material is not defensible. The note of necessity—the Son of Man must suffer—is best explained by the use of the same verb in Luke 24:26. Prophecy points this way and must be fulfilled.


Verses 1-23

Mark 7:1-23. The Washing of Hands and the Traditions of the Elders.—This discussion with the Pharisees serves to bring out the antagonism of Jesus to the restrictions which separated Jews from Gentiles. Perhaps for this reason it is associated with the story of the Syro-Phœnician woman. In substance it is connected with the disputes recorded in chs. 2f. The Jerusalem scribes of Mark 3:22 reappear in Mark 7:1. Into the original story some explanations are inserted, e.g. the reference to Jewish washings in Mark 7:3 f. and the interpretation of "common" by "unwashed" (Mark 7:2) and of "Corban" by "gift" (Mark 7:11). These insertions are probably due to Mk. himself. There is a characteristic touch of exaggeration in ascribing these customs to "all the Jews" (cf. Mark 1:5). The washings are ceremonial—to avoid religious defilement due to contact with Gentiles or with legally unclean objects in the market-place. The reply of Jesus to the challenge of the Pharisees consists of three main utterances, Mark 7:6-8, Mark 7:9-13, Mark 7:14 f. The quotation from Isaiah 29:13 may be due to the evangelist, since it is close to LXX and the point urged is not apparent from the Heb. The direct answer of Jesus begins with Mark 7:9 and consists of two parts: (1) To follow the traditions of the elders may annul the law of God instead of safeguarding it; (2) Religious impurity cannot be contracted from without. "Inward defilement, the defilement of the heart by the sins of the heart, is the only possible religious defilement" (Montefiore, i. 168, 170). The first involves the discussion of Corban. The term was used as a formula in vows. "This form of speech, ‘a gift, by whatsoever thou mayest be profited by me' does neither argue that he who thus spake devoted his goods to sacred uses nor obliged him . . . to devote them; but only restrained him . . . from helping him by his goods to whom he thus spake." So J. Lightfoot (Works, xi. 218) rightly explains the use of the phrase, which does not imply that the goods are actually made over for the use of the Temple, as Loisy and Menzies suggest. Herford (Pharisaism, pp. 156-162) and Montefiore point out two difficulties: (a) the binding character of vows is laid down in the Law, e.g. Numbers 30:2, and is not a matter of men's traditions; (b) it appears that Rabbinic teaching as recorded in the Mishnah did permit the annulling of vows which conflicted with duty to parents. With regard to (a), either Jesus was not conscious that His argument directly infringed Mosaic Law, just as in Mark 7:14 f. He criticises Lev. and not simply Pharisaic tradition, or else He regards the whole Pharisaic attitude towards the Law as a human tradition. The reverence which sets legislation about vows on an equality with the fifth commandment is a teaching of men which conflicts with God's will. The violence done to conscience in attempting to believe in the equal inspiration of all Scripture is a vain worship. As to (b), while we cannot, in view of later evidence, charge Pharisaism as a whole with this rigid maintenance of vows, there must have been some scribes in the time of Jesus who held the strict view, that a hasty vow, probably uttered in anger (this seems suggested by the cursing of father and mother in Mark 7:10) was binding, even if it involved neglect of parents. (See Matthew 15:1-20*, Montefiore, i. 166, and Menzies, Hibbert Journal, iv. 791f.).

[Mark 7:3. diligently: lit. "with the fist" (mg.) but the meaning of this is quite uncertain. The rendering "up to the wrist" is grammatically questionable, and this applies to that in the Westminster Version, "do not eat save only after washing their fingers," the Gr. being supposed to mean "to the juncture of the fingers." Possibly the clenched list was rubbed against the palm of the other hand. Allen says, "It suggests some particular method of ceremonially cleansing the hands, the precise nature of which we do not know."—A. S. P.]

Mark 7:17-23. forms the development and interpretation of the principle laid down in Mark 7:15. The catalogue of things that defile may be compared with the list of sins in Galatians 5:19 f., Romans 1:29 f.

Mark 7:19. Follow RV in regarding the phrase "making all meats clean" as referring to Jesus. A late addition, emphasizing the far-reaching significance of the position taken up by Jesus. (Cf. Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 118, brma.)

Mark 7:22. an evil eye: not the malignant power familiar in folk-lore, but the spirit of envy (cf. Matthew 20:15).


Verses 24-30

Mark 7:24-30. The Healing of the Greek Woman's Daughter.—Jesus now leaves Galilee and withdraws to Gentile districts, not to evangelize them, but to avoid Herod and the Pharisees, and to train the Twelve. A Greek, i.e. a pagan, woman discovers Him, and requests Him to heal her daughter. Jesus asserts His conviction that His mission is to the Jews. The assertion is somewhat harsh, only softened by the diminutive "little dogs," i.e. household dogs. This must be original. The woman's wit is seen in the way she catches up and builds on the very word which Jesus uses. If Jesus said "dogs" and the woman changed it to "little dogs," the repartee is dulled. Mt. says the woman's request was granted because of her faith. Mk. implies that Jesus yielded out of admiration for the quickness of her answer. "Jesus is won, not by the recognition of Jewish primacy, but by the ready wit of the woman" (so HNT rightly, against Menzies and others). This in itself stamps the incident as historical, and throws a valuable light on the person of Jesus. The cure is wrought at a distance, as in the case of the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5 f.).

Mark 7:24. And from thence: the district of Gennesaret is the last place named (Mark 6:53). Presumably the reference is to Gennesaret.

Mark 7:27. Let the children first be filled is not given in Matthew 15:26, and is probably no part of the original saying. It embodies the principle on which the subsequent mission of the Church was regulated" (Swete), and may reflect Pauline influence, as Loisy supposes.


Verses 31-37

Mark 7:31-37. The Healing of a Deaf-Mute.—The cure of the Syro-Phœnician woman's daughter threatens the privacy Jesus sought in Tyre. He therefore withdraws to Decapolis (another Gentile district, Matthew 4:25*), going northward through Sidon, and presumably reaching Decapolis by a circuitous route which avoided Galilee. (Wellhausen's conjecture, Bethsaida for Sidon, is unnecessary.) The incident that follows is peculiar to Mk. Jesus heals a deaf-mute, by means not unusual in that age (cf. account of healings by Vespasian in Tacitus, Hist. iv. 81). Mt. omits this story, perhaps because the methods employed (cf. Mark 8:23) savour of magic. Mk., a popular writer, is interested in the details and in the actual word used. The rare word mogilalos, "with an impediment in his speech," recalls Isaiah 35:5 f., and the conclusion, "He hath done all things well," possibly means, "How exactly He fulfils the prophecy!" It is Messiah's part to loose bonds, i.e. restraints imposed by demonic power (cf. Luke 13:16). The desire of Jesus to do this miracle privately and keep it secret is intelligible, and need not be traced to any dogmatic presupposition of Mk. The failure of His wishes is also intelligible.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Mark 7:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/mark-7.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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