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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Mark 7

 

 

Verse 1-2

Mark 7:1-2. Then came the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem — They probably came on purpose to find occasion against him. For some of them followed him from place to place, looking on every thing he did, even on his most innocent, yea, and most benevolent and holy actions, with an evil and censuring eye. Accordingly, here they ventured to attack him for allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands, thereby transgressing, they said, the tradition of the elders, which they thought to be a very heinous offence. When they saw his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashen, hands — The Greek word here rendered defiled, literally signifies common. It was quite in the Jewish idiom to oppose common and holy; the most usual signification of the latter word, in the Old Testament, being, separated from common and devoted to sacred use. As we learn from antiquity that this evangelist wrote his gospel in a pagan country, and for the use of Gentile converts, it was proper to add the explanation, that is, unwashen, to the epithet common, or defiled, which might have otherwise been misunderstood. They found fault — The law of Moses, it must be observed, required external cleanness as a part of religion; not, however, for its own sake, but to signify with what carefulness God’s servants should purify their minds from moral pollutions. Accordingly, these duties were prescribed by Moses in such moderation as was fitted to promote the end of them. But in process of time they came to be multiplied prodigiously: for the ancient doctors, to secure the observation of those precepts which were really of divine institution, added many commandments of their own as fences unto the former. And the people, to show their zeal, obeyed them. For example: Because the law, Leviticus 15:11, saith, Whomsoever he toucheth, that hath the issue, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, &c., the people were ordered to wash their hands immediately on their return from places of public concourse, and before they sat down to meat, lest, by touching some unclean person in the crowd, they might have defiled themselves. The Pharisees, therefore, being very zealous in these trifles, would not eat at any time unless they washed their hands with the greatest care. From this source came that endless variety of purifications not prescribed in the law, but ordained by the elders. These ordinances, though they were of human invention, came at length to be looked upon as essential in religion; they were exalted to such a pitch, that, in comparison of them, the law of God was suffered to lie neglected and forgotten, as is here signified.


Verses 3-5

Mark 7:3-5. For the Pharisees, &c., except they wash their hands oft — Greek, εαν μη πυγμη νιψωνται τας χειρας, except they wash their hands with their fist: or, as some render it, to the wrist. Theophylact translates it, unless they wash up to their elbows; affirming that 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 πυγμη, properly, is the hand, with the fingers contracted into the palm, and made round. “Theophylact’s translation, however,” says Macknight, “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, (who had it for a part of their office, 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.” A MS. termed Codex Bezæ, instead of πυγμη, the fist, or wrist, has πυκνη, frequently. And when they come from the market, except they wash — Greek, βαπτισωνται, bathe themselves, as the word probably ought here to be rendered, (see Leviticus 15:11,) they eat not — Having the highest opinion of the importance of these institutions. Indeed, some of their rabbis carried this to such a ridiculous height, that one of them determined the neglect of washing to be a greater sin than whoredom; and another declared, it would be much better to die than to omit it. See many instances of this kind in Hammond and Whitby on the place. The Pharisees, therefore, viewing these washings in this important light, did not doubt but our Lord, by authorizing his disciples to neglect them, would expose himself to universal censure, as one who despised the most sacred services of religion; services to which a sanction was given by the approbation and practice of the whole nation. Accordingly, they asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders? — Hast thou taught them to despise these institutions? But while they pretended nothing but a sorrowful concern for the contempt which the disciples cast on institutions so sacred, their real intention was to make Jesus himself to be detested by the people as a deceiver. But the charge of impiety which they thus brought against him and his disciples, he easily retorted upon them with ten-fold strength. For he shows clearly, that notwithstanding their pretended regard for the duties of godliness, they were themselves guilty of the grossest violations of the divine law. And as they thus transgressed, not through ignorance, but knowingly, they were the worst of sinners, mere hypocrites, who deserved to be abhorred by all good men; and the rather, as God had long ago testified his displeasure against them, in the prophecy which Isaiah had uttered concerning them. He answered, Well hath Esaias prophesied, &c. — See note on Matthew 15:7-9.


Verses 9-13

Mark 7:9-13. And he said, Full well καλως, fairly, wholly; ye reject, &c. — Or, reading the word separately, Finely done! How praiseworthy is your conduct! A strong irony. Ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your own tradition — The words, your own, are emphatical, distinguishing the commandments of men, the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, from the commandments of God. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother — “Lest the charge, which our Lord brought against the Pharisees, should be thought without foundation, because it contained an imputation of such gross profaneness, he supported it by an instance of an atrocious kind. God, saith he, has commanded children to honour their parents, that is, among other things, to maintain them when reduced to poverty, as the word honour signifies, 1 Timothy 5:17, promising life to such as do so, and threatening death against those that do otherwise. Nevertheless, ye Pharisees, presumptuously making light of the divine commandment, affirm that it is a more sacred duty to enrich the temple than to nourish one’s parents, though they be in the utmost necessity; pretending that what is offered to the great Parent is better bestowed than that which is given for the support of our parents on earth; as if the interest of God were different from that of his creatures. Nay, ye impiously teach that a man may lawfully suffer his parents to starve, if he can say to them, It is corban, (a gifts) &c., by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me — That is, that which should have succoured you, is given to the temple. Thus ye hypocrites have, by your frivolous traditions, made void the commandment of God, though of immutable and eternal obligation; and disguised with the cloak of piety the most horrid and unnatural action that a man can easily be guilty of.” — See Macknight, and the note on Matthew 15:4-6.


Verses 14-16

Mark 7:14-16. When he had called all the people unto him — See note on Matthew 15:10-11. He said, Hearken unto me, every one of you — As if he had said, Hear how absurd the precepts are which the scribes inculcate upon you, and understand the true differences of things. These hypocrites, anxious about trifles, neglect the great duties of godliness and righteousness, which are of unchangeable obligation. They shudder with horror at hands unwashed, but are perfectly easy under the guilt of impure minds, although not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, in the sight of God, but that which cometh out of the mouth; because, in the sight of God, cleanness and uncleanness are qualities, not of the body, but of the mind, which can be polluted by nothing but sin. Our Lord did not at all mean to overthrow the distinction which the law had established between things clean and unclean, in the matter of man’s food. That distinction, like all the other emblematical institutions of Moses, was wisely appointed; being designed to teach the Israelites how carefully the familiar company and conversation of the wicked is to be avoided. He only affirmed, that in itself no kind of meat can defile the mind, which is the man, though by accident it may: as when a man eats what is pernicious to his health, or takes an improper quantity of food or liquor. And a Jew might have done it by presumptuously eating what was forbidden by the Mosaic law, which still continued in force: yet in all these instances, the pollution would arise from the wickedness of the heart, and be just proportionable to it, which is what our Lord here asserts.


Verses 17-23

Mark 7:17-23. When he was entered into the house — And was apart from the people; his disciples asked him — Namely, Peter, in the name of the rest, (Matthew 15:15,) concerning the parable — So they term the declaration which our Lord had just uttered, because it appeared to them to be mysterious and needing explanation, which, that it should, seems very strange. And he saith, Are ye so without understanding — So dull of apprehension, so ignorant of the nature of true holiness? see note on Matthew 15:15-20, where most of the particulars contained in this paragraph are explained. From within proceed evil thoughts, &c. — The things here mentioned as coming from the heart, and defiling the man, are all either sins committed against the second table of the law, as they are reckoned up by St. Paul, Romans 13:9; or the dispositions which incline men to them. Covetousness — Gr. πλεονεξιαι, covetousness, or irregular and inordinate desires; wickedness, πονηριαι, ill-nature, cruelty, inhumanity, and all malevolent affections; an evil eye — An envious, grudging disposition; pride υπερηφανια, that pride which makes us contemn and overlook others, as unworthy of our regard, and highly to resent the least affront, or seeming injury; foolishness αφροσυνη, foolish, ungovernable passion; the word stands directly opposed to σωφροσυνη, or sobriety of thought and discourse; and therefore particularly signifies all kinds of wild imaginations and extravagant passions. “It is remarkable, that three of the crimes here mentioned, as pollutions of the mind, namely, murder, false witness, and blasphemy, were, on this very occasion, committed by the persons who charged our Lord with impiety because he neglected such ceremonial precepts of religion as were of human invention. For, while they reigned the highest reverence for the divine law, they were making void its most essential precepts. At the very time that they condemned the disciples for so small an offence as eating with unwashed hands, contrary only to the traditions of the elders, the scribes and Pharisees were murdering Jesus by their calumnies and false witnessings, notwithstanding it was the only study of his life to do them all the good possible!” All these evil things come from within — The Lord Jesus “represents these evil things as proceeding out of the mouth, (Matthew 15:18,) not so much by way of contrast to meats, which enter by the mouth into a man, as because some of them are committed with the faculty of speech, such as false witness and blasphemy; and others of them are helped forward by its assistance, namely, adultery, deceit, &c. — Thus our Lord defended his disciples by a beautiful chain of reasoning, wherein he has shown the true nature of actions, and loaded with perpetual infamy the Jewish teachers and their brood, who in every age and country may be known by features exactly resembling their parents, the main strokes of which are, that by their frivolous superstitions they weaken, and sometimes destroy, the eternal and immutable rules of righteousness.” — Macknight.


Verses 24-26

Mark 7:24-26. From thence he arose, and went into the borders εις τα μεθορια, into the parts which bordered upon, or rather lay between, Tyre and Sidon; and entered into a house, and would have no man know it — Namely, that he was there, or, know him. Jesus, knowing that the Pharisees were highly offended at the liberty which he had taken in the preceding discourse, in plucking off from them the mask of pretended piety, wherewith they had covered their malevolent spirit and conduct, and not ignorant of the plots which they were forming against his reputation and life, he judged it proper to retire with his disciples into this remote region, with a view to conceal himself a while from them. We learn from Joshua 19:28-29, that Tyre and Sidon were cities in the lot of Asher; which tribe having never been able wholly to drive out the natives, their posterity remained even in our Lord’s time. Hence he did not preach the doctrine of the kingdom in this country, because it was mostly inhabited by heathen, to whom he was not sent. See on Matthew 10:5. Neither did he work miracles here with that readiness which he showed everywhere else, because, by concealing himself, he proposed to shun the Pharisees. But he could not be hid — It seems he was personally known to many of the heathen in this country, who, no doubt, had often heard and seen him in Galilee. And, as for the rest, they were sufficiently acquainted with him by his fame, which had spread itself very early through all Syria, Matthew 4:24. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him — This person was a descendant of the ancient inhabitants, and probably by religion a heathen. She “is called, Matthew 15:21, a woman of Canaan; here, a Syro-Phenician, and a Greek. There is in these denominations no inconsistency. By birth, she was of Syro-Phenicia, so the country about Tyre and Sidon was denominated; by descent, of Canaan; as most of the Tyrians and Sidonians originally were; and by religion, a Greek, according to the Jewish manner of distinguishing between themselves and idolaters. Ever since the Macedonian conquest, Greek became a common name for idolater, or, at least, one uncircumcised, and was equivalent to Gentile. Of this we have many examples in Paul’s epistles, and in the Acts. Jews and Greeks, ελληνες, are the same with Jews and Gentiles.” — Campbell. Nevertheless, though a heathen, this woman had conceived a very great, honourable, and just notion, not only of our Lord’s power and goodness, but even of his character as Messiah; the notion of which she had probably learned by conversing with the Jews. For when she heard of his arrival, she came in quest of him, and meeting him, it seems, as he passed along the street, she fell at his feet, addressing him by the title of son of David, and besought him to cast the evil spirit out of her daughter. See the story related more at large, and explained, Matthew 15:22-28.


Verses 31-36

Mark 7:31-36. He came unto the sea of Galilee, &c. — See note on Matthew 15:29-31. They bring unto him one that was deaf and had an impediment, &c. — Greek, ΄ογιλαλον: “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, shows 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. And they beseech him to put his hand upon him — His friends interceded for him, because he was not able to speak for himself, so as that any one could understand him. His desire of a cure, however, 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 prompted him to give this person the relief which 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 on 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 loose his tongue.” — Macknight. This, perhaps, was the only reason for these symbolical actions, or our Lord might have other reasons for doing them, of which we are ignorant. “If any should ask,” says Dr. Doddridge, “why our Lord used these actions, when a word alone would have been sufficient; and 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 loss.” And looking up to heaven — That the deaf man whom he could not instruct by words might consider from whence all benefits proceed; he sighed — Probably the circumstances above mentioned, or some others, to us unknown, made this dumb person a peculiar object of pity. Or by this 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 he bore to our kind. For certainly it could be nothing less which moved him to condole our miseries, whether general or particular, in so affectionate a manner. And saith unto him, Ephphatha — This was a word of SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY, not an address to God for power to heal. Such an address was needless, for Christ had a perpetual fund of power residing in himself, to work all miracles whenever he pleased, even to the raising of the dead, John 5:21; John 5:26. And straightway his ears were opened — The word had an immediate effect, and all obstructions to his hearing distinctly, and speaking articulately and plainly, were instantly removed. And, as those bodily impediments vanished before the word of Christ’s power, the impediments of the mind to spiritual acts and duties are removed by the Spirit of Christ. He opens the internal ear, the heart, as he did Lydia’s, to understand and receive the word of God; and opens the mouth in prayer and praise. And he charged them that they should tell no man — When Jesus formerly cured the demoniac in this country, he ordered him to return to his own house, and show, namely, to his relations and friends, how great things God had done for him. But, at this miracle, the deaf and dumb man’s relations seem to have been present. Wherefore, as they had no need to be informed of the miracle, he required it to be concealed, probably for the reasons assigned in the note on Mark 5:43. Neither the man, however, nor his friends, obeyed Jesus in this; but the more he charged them — To conceal it; so much the more they published it — So greatly were they struck with the miracle, and so charmed with the modesty and humility which Christ manifested, especially the man, who, having the use of his speech given him, was very forward to exercise it in praise of so great a benefactor.


Verse 37

Mark 7:37. And were beyond measure astonished — Both at what was done, and at the amiable spirit of him who did it. And said, He hath done all things well — Performed the most extraordinary cures in the most humble and graceful manner. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak — And that, not only in this, but in many other instances. Whereas there were many that hated and persecuted him, as an evil doer; these are ready to witness for him, not only that he has done no evil, but that he has done a great deal of good, and has done it well, modestly, humbly, devoutly, and all perfectly gratis, without money and without price; circumstances which greatly added to the lustre of his good works. “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.” — Doddridge.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 7:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/mark-7.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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