The Gospel according to Mark

Chapter 7

7:1 "What was the reaction of the religious leaders to these healings?" The Pharisees (see 2:18) were constantly on the watch to trip up the Messiah. By adding the word Scribes, Peter explained that they were accompanied by some theologians who had come down from the rabbinic schools in Jerusalem. This must have seemed very threatening to a group of ordinary fishermen, but it obviously did not faze Jesus.

7:2 They were looking out for some infringement of their ritual laws. And they noticed that some of Jesus' disciples came in and began eating without the required ceremonial washing of hands. The fact that ordinary people coming in from work did not bother with such rules was bad enough, but for a prophet to allow his disciples to be lax about this was unpardonable.

7:3 This was not a hygiene rule, as in our day, but a tradition of keeping oneself pure from all defilement incurred by contact with unclean (sinful and unholy) persons in the community. These traditions of the fathers would have been very important to Paul before he became a Christian (Galatians 1:14)

7:4 In his interview Mark may have asked for some clarification of this rule. Not only were the person's hands to be washed, but meat and fruit and vegetables had to be washed carefully, and there were strict rules for purifying all the utensils used for preparing and serving food.

7:5 So the investigators (7:1) asked Jesus why he allowed his disciples to break with tradition (see Matthew 15:1-2).

7:6-8 Jesus answered by quoting Isaiah 29:13, and he explained that what was going wrong was that their heart was far from God, and they taught human traditions instead of what God had actually said.

7:9-13 Mark must have asked "Did Jesus give an example of how this might apply in practice?" The fifth of the ten commandments required honoring one's parents (Exodus 20:12). But instead of caring for their parents in their old age (there was no provision for medicare) the Pharisees told people they could make an offering to the temple instead. Corban is the Hebrew word for an offering (used in Leviticus 2:1, 5, Numbers 7:3). This was an example rejecting the obvious meaning of the Word of God by some human tradition. In this way the Pharisees were really training their followers in ways to get around what God had in mind.

7:14-15 "Can you give another example of how Jesus denied Pharisee tradition?" The Pharisees were meticulous about the kosher food laws (Leviticus 11). These were good rules for the people of the Exodus going through unfamiliar territory on their way to the promised land (it is possible they were based on the medical wisdom Moses had learned in Egypt). But the rules were now irrelevant, and they made eating with people of other nations impossible. Jesus explained that defilement was not a matter of what one ate, but the attitude of the mind and heart which were expressed in words out of one's mouth (defined in 7:20-23).

7:16 Some manuscripts include the words ""Let anyone with ears to hear listen"" (as in KJV). This was often used at the end of a parable or enigmatic saying as the equivalent of ""Think about it"" (as in Mark 4:9, 23).

7:17-18 Mark might have asked "Did you understand the difference between eating food and the attitude of the heart?" The disciples did not want to show their ignorance in public, so they waited to ask about the meaning till they were in the house. Jesus repeated what he had said (7:15), and obviously wanted them to think through the radical implications of teaching which would inevitably dismantle the traditional rules about kosher food. Peter would later need the much more explicit revelation that he received before going to eat with the family of a Roman centurion (Acts 10:13- 15, 18).

7:19-20 Food merely passes through one's body, so it does not defile us. By the time of this interview Peter had already been told to abandon the rule about kosher food, and Mark knew that among Christians there was an astonishing freedom to eat with people of every other nation (as missionaries do to gain a hearing for the good news). When Matthew quoted this saying from Mark's Gospel (Matthew 15:15-19) he omitted Mark's comment about all foods being clean. This was probably because the Council of Jerusalem had asked Christians from other nations who came to eat with Jews to avoid serving blood (as in some European sausages in our day) and animals from which the blood had not been drained (which was particularly abhorrent to Jews, see Acts 15:20, 29).

17:21-22 "Did Jesus explain what he meant by specific heart defilements?" Yes, he explained that long before the actual act there were evil intentions in the heart (as in Matthew 5:27-28).

Fornication (Greek porneia from porny a prostitute) was unhelpfully translated as fornication which means pre-marital sex . But porneia included prostitution and sleeping around (sex without commitment to the person). Paul viewed an hour with a prostitute as a form of marriage quickly ended by divorce (1 Corinthians 6:16).

Theft is taking what belongs to another. It is condemned among all nations, but what counts as stealing varies from culture to culture (Exodus 20:15, see Adultery: An Exploration of Love and Marriage chapter 1).

Murder is also condemned in all nations It did not include the killing of animals or killing in war or capital punishment (compare Exodus 20:13 and 21:12-17), but there is a continual debate among Christians whether killing is ever necessary (e.g. by a police officer, or in war, abortion or euthanasia).

Adultery was the intention to have sexual intercourse with the wife or husband of another (Exodus 20:14). Jesus explained that a decision to carry out the act was a heart defilement as much as actually doing it (Matthew 5:27-30 where he used an illustration from archery).

Avarice is greedily wanting to have more than one needs - condemned as coveting in the tenth commandment.

Wickedness could be viewed as anything that disturbs the peace and well-being of others

Deceit is any kind of dishonest trickery.

Licentiousness is not the actual act of adultery or prostitution but it might include engaging in indecent or pornographic conduct.

Envy is hating others for having more than we possess.

Slander was included in "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). It is the untruthful destruction of the reputation of another.

Pride The first commandment forbids having another god but God, and that would include viewing oneself as above others. Haughtiness might be a better translation. It is expressed in our words and attitudes towards those we look upon as inferior.

Folly (aphrosuny means unwise, senseless behavior).

7:23 This list makes it clear that the intention to engage in any of these kinds of behavior defiles the human heart. It then results in words that come out of our mouth (see James 3).

7:24 Then Mark the interviewer might asked "Did Jesus ever preach outside Galilee and Judah?" The region of Tyre was along the Mediterranean coast north of Galilee. Jesus took his disciples (Matthew 15:23 made clear they accompanied him) for a holiday visit there. This was not meant to be an evangelistic tour, and Jesus did not want people to know he was in the house where they lodged.

7:25-26 But a woman, whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit, heard the news that the preacher from Galilee had come to her city. She seized this opportunity of healing for her daughter, and threw herself at his feet. She was from the despised race of Canaanites who had been driven out of the area occupied by Jews but remained in the Phoenician area to the north. She knew that Jews despised her people, but she had the courage to ask for the healing of her daughter.

7:27 Jesus' words are not as heartless as they sound. He was merely stating in metaphorical language his agenda of working first among his own Jewish people. "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6), and that would prepare the ground for an outreach to all nations (Matthew 28:19). There is a similar strategic sequence in the development of any business, or in fighting a war.

7:28 The woman picked up the metaphor and pointed out that puppies under the family table get to pick up crumbs as the children are eating (in Greek kuon is a dog, as in 7:27, Philippians 3:2, Revelation22:15 where the word is used metaphorically for false teachers and evil workers). But the word used here is kunarion meaning a house dog, as opposed to a wild dog. (But Matthew used kunarion in both Matthew15:26 and 27).

7:29-30 Jesus was astonished and touched by the woman's response, and made an exception to his usual rule. Matthew, who was present (Matthew 15:23) when this woman came to Jesus, added the words "Woman, great is your faith" (Matthew 15:28). She returned home to find her daughter perfectly healed.

7:31 Instead of retracing his steps, Jesus went on 20 miles north to Tyre, which was as far north as Jesus traveled. He seems to have brought the disciples east over the Lebanon range, and then south from the Mount Hermon foothills through Caesarea-Philippi (Mark 8:27) and the Decapolis (Mark 5:20) back to Capernaum. There is no better way to get to know one's teacher than sharing a two or three week journey staying in unfamiliar cities and tough climbing up and down through snow covered mountain passes.

7:32-33 Mark may have asked "Did Jesus heal any others during this three week holiday?" On the way home there was a deaf man the disciples could hardly understand. Jesus took him away from the crowd, and being unable to communicate by words he put his fingers in his ears and touched his tongue

7:34 Jesus' power to heal came from the Father by the Spirit. But his deep sighs showed his sadness in the face of sickness and death (as in 8:12, John 11:33). Peter remembered the actual Aramaic word that Jesus used to command healing (as in talitha cumi, 5:41). Either Peter or Mark transliterated it as epphata, and gave the Greek translation "Be opened."

7:35-37 The cure was instantaneous so he could hear and speak plainly. Jesus kept telling (a Greek imperfect tense) the crowd not to trumpet this around, but they kept proclaiming (another imperfect) that a miracle had occured. And Peter remembered their total astonishment.

Chapter 8