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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Mark 7

Verses 31-37

B. The first cycle of self-revelation to the disciples 6:31-7:37

Mark arranged selected events in Jesus’ training of His disciples to show how He brought them to a deeper understanding of who He was and to a deeper commitment to Himself. Jesus led them through two similar series of experiences to teach them these lessons. He had to do it twice because the disciples where slow to learn.

Verses 1-2

For a second time Mark recorded a delegation of religious leaders coming from Jerusalem to investigate Jesus (cf. Mark 3:22). The writer clarified what ceremonially impure hands were for his Gentile readers. The scribes and Pharisees were not objecting because the disciples were eating with dirty hands but because they had not gone through the accepted purification rituals before eating with their hands.

Verses 1-5

The religious leaders’ objection 7:1-5

Verses 1-23

3. The controversy with the Pharisees and scribes over defilement 7:1-23 (cf. Matthew 15:1-20)

This confrontation played an important part in Jesus’ decision to withdraw from Galilee again (Mark 7:24; cf. Mar_2:1 to Mar_3:6). Along with mounting popularity (Mark 6:53-56) came increasing opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. This section is essentially another block of Jesus’ teaching. It revealed Jesus further and continued the preparation of the disciples for what lay ahead of them. In Mark’s narrative, the words "unclean" (Mark 7:2; Mark 7:5; Mark 7:15; Mark 7:18; Mark 7:20; Mark 7:23) and "tradition" (Mark 7:3; Mark 7:5; Mark 7:8-9; Mark 7:13) are key.

Verses 3-4

These verses do not appear in Matthew’s parallel account. They explain Pharisaic tradition for those unfamiliar with it such as Mark’s original Gentile readers. In Jesus’ day the Jews communicated the traditions of the elders orally from generation to generation. About A.D. 200 the rabbis completed compiling these into the Mishnah, which became the basis for the Talmud (ca. A.D. 425). The Pharisees customarily washed themselves after visiting the marketplace to rid themselves of the defilement that contact with Gentiles produced. Most Jews regarded breaking these traditions as sin.

"Indeed, a Rabbi who had held this command in contempt was actually buried in excommunication." [Note: Edersheim, 2:10.]

Verse 5

The critics asked Jesus for an explanation of His disciples’ conduct because, as their teacher, He was responsible for them. They suspected that the disciples’ failure to wash properly indicated that Jesus disregarded all the traditions of the elders. Walking is a Hebrew figure of speech meaning habitual conduct (e.g., Genesis 5:24; Psalms 1:1). It occurs frequently in John’s Gospel and in Paul’s epistles.

Verses 6-7

Jesus boldly called His critics hypocrites. They professed to honor God with their behavior, but they really did not honor Him in their hearts. What Isaiah said about the hypocrites in his day fit these critics exactly. They stressed precepts to the exclusion of principles.

"Jesus calls the opponents ’hypocrites’ (hupokriton), a word in classical Greek that means ’to play a part,’ an ’actor.’ It does not carry the moral overtone of fraud that our English word does today. Rather it refers to the discrepancy in the behavior of one who unconsciously has alienated oneself from God, an ’ungodly’ person . . , by one’s actions . . ." [Note: Guelich, p. 366.]

Verses 6-13

Jesus’ teaching about the source of authority 7:6-13

In replying, Jesus did not explain or justify His disciples’ conduct. Instead He addressed the issue of the source of religious authority (Mark 7:6-13) and the nature of defilement (Mark 7:14-23).

Verses 8-9

Jesus contrasted the commands of God and the traditions of men. The rabbis had built a fence around the law by erecting their dos and don’ts to keep the Israelites from breaking the law. However rather than protecting it their legalistic requirements distorted and even contradicted the law. This is always the problem that accompanies attempting to legislate obedience to God’s Word. Legalism involves making laws that God has not made and treating them as equally authoritative as God’s Word. The Pharisees had even abandoned God’s commandments in favor of their oral traditions that came from men. Jesus rejected the authority of the oral law.

Verses 10-13

Jesus cited an example of how his critics used human traditions to set aside divine imperatives. They professed to honor Moses through whom God commanded the Israelites to honor their parents and threatened disobedience with death (Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:17). Honoring parents manifests itself in financial support and practical care if necessary. Mark interpreted the word "corban," a gift devoted to God, for his Gentile readers. This word is Greek, but it transliterates a Hebrew word that the Jews used when they dedicated something to God. Jewish tradition permitted people to declare something they owned as dedicated to God. [Note: See ibid., p. 369, for an example.] This did not mean that they had to give it to the priests or even give up the use of it themselves. However it freed them from giving it to someone else, even a needy parent.

"History reveals that the Jewish religious leaders came to honor their traditions far above the Word of God. Rabbi Eleazer said, ’He who expounds the Scriptures in opposition to the tradition has no share in the world to come.’ The Mishna, a collection of Jewish traditions in the Talmud, records, ’It is a greater offense to teach anything contrary to the voice of the Rabbis than to contradict Scripture itself.’ But before we criticize our Jewish friends, perhaps we should examine what influence ’the church fathers’ are having in our own Christian churches. We also may be guilty of replacing God’s truth with man’s traditions." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:134.]

Jesus claimed the authority to reorder social relationships. He said a son’s responsibility to provide for his parents superseded the legal option of corban. [Note: Edwards, p. 224.]

Note that Jesus equated what Moses said (Mark 7:10) with the Word of God (Mark 7:13). He also attributed Mosaic authorship to the Torah, something many liberal modern critics of the Bible deny. Jesus’ enemies failed to recognize the difference between inspired and uninspired instruction. The "you" in Mark 7:11 is in the emphatic first position in the Greek text indicating a strong contrast between God’s view and the critics’. They had not only rejected God’s Word (Mark 7:9), but they had even invalidated it, that is, robbed it of its authority (Mark 7:12). Mark added Jesus’ words that this was only one example of how these Pharisees and scribes had voided the authority of what God had revealed by their traditions (Mark 7:13).

Verses 14-15


What Jesus had to say was so important that He urged the crowd present to listen carefully to His words (cf. Mark 4:3). His response so far had been to His critics primarily.

Mark 7:15 states the general principle. It clarifies what does not and what does cause uncleanness. Food does not, but thoughts do (cf. Isaiah 29:13). Obviously Jesus was speaking morally and spiritually, not medically and physiologically. Jesus clarified the intent of the Mosaic laws regarding clean and unclean food (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). The Jew who ate unclean food became unclean because he or she disobeyed God’s Word, not because the food made him or her unclean.

Mark 7:16 is of questionable authenticity. Later copyists may have added it as a result of reading Mark 4:9 and or Mark 4:23. It may be genuine since many early manuscripts contain it. Most modern translators have judged it a later addition to the text.

Verses 14-23

Jesus’ teaching about the true nature of defilement 7:14-23

Jesus continued His response to the critics by focusing on the particular practice that they had objected to (Mark 7:5). The question of what constituted defilement was very important. The Jews had wandered far from God’s will in this matter because of their traditions.

Verse 17

Jesus had finished His response to His critics and His teaching of the multitude. He went into the house nearby with His disciples. There they asked Him a question that indicated that they had not understood what He meant. What He had said was revolutionary when He said it. They probably could not believe that He really meant what He had said. In Mark’s Gospel a house was a common setting where Jesus taught His disciples privately (cf. Mark 9:28; Mark 9:33; Mark 10:10).

Verses 18-19

The disciples had heard and seen enough to have been able to understand Jesus’ meaning. Their "hardness of heart" is a prominent theme in Mark 6:31 to Mark 8:26 (cf. Mark 6:52; Mark 8:14-21).

Mark interpreted the significance of Jesus’ teaching for his Gentile readers. Mark meant that Christians need not observe the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law (cf. Romans 14:14; Galatians 2:11-17; Colossians 2:20-22). This was a freedom that Jewish Christians struggled with for many years during the infancy of the church (cf. Acts 10; Acts 11; Acts 15). Later revelation clarified that Jesus terminated the entire Mosaic Law as a code (Romans 10:4; et al.).

"This statement ["Thus He declared all foods clean"] clearly has its eye on a situation such as developed in the Pauline mission churches in which questions of clean and unclean foods (cf. Acts 10:9-16; Acts 11:5-10 and see Romans 14:13 ff.) and idol-meats became live issues (as we know from 1 Corinthians 8:10). This chapter in Mark 7 is perhaps the most obvious declaration of Mark’s purpose as a Christian living in the Graeco-Roman world who wishes to publicize the charter of Gentile freedom by recording in the plainest terms Jesus’ detachment from Jewish ceremonial and to spell out in clear tones the application of this to his readers." [Note: Martin, p. 220.]

If Peter did influence Mark’s writing, it is interesting that the disciple who struggled with unwillingness to abandon the dietary laws should have spoken out so strongly for their termination. Mark apparently got the material for his Gospel mainly from Peter’s sermons, as mentioned earlier. Thus it appears that Peter finally learned this lesson.

"These ceremonial regulations in the law had a function as symbolically teaching the reality and importance of moral purity. They demanded an external separation which pointed to the need for an inner heart condition of separation unto God. But these external regulations in themselves did not convey the purity of heart to which they pointed. They were the shadow and not the substance (Hebrews 10:1). When they found their fulfillment in Christ, these ceremonial foreshadowings became obsolete." [Note: Hiebert, p. 181.]

Verses 20-23

Jesus repeated and became more specific so the disciples would understand Him. The list of sins proceeds from six actions to six attitudes (cf. Romans 1:29-31; Galatians 5:19-23). Matthew’s record included only six sins. Evil thoughts are the ground out of which the evil actions and attitudes grow. The order in the text is true to life. Sin proceeds from the heart (human nature) to the thoughts (human mind) to actions (human deeds).

This controversy with the Pharisees and the scribes was a factor that led Jesus to withdraw from Galilee a third time (cf. Mark 4:35-36; Mark 6:31-32).

Verse 24

Mark normally began a new paragraph with the Greek word kai ("and"). Here he used de ("and" or "now"). This difference indicates a significant change in the narrative. The hostility of Israel’s leaders led Jesus to correct them "and" to leave Galilee for ministry elsewhere.

The New Testament writers often spoke of Phoenicia as the land of Tyre and or Sidon because they were the two notable cities of the region. Tyre stood on the Mediterranean coast about 40 miles northwest of Capernaum. Jesus went there to be alone with the disciples. Nevertheless His fame accompanied Him, and He was not able to remain incognito. Josephus described the people of this region as "notoriously our bitterest enemies." [Note: Josephus, Against Apion, 1:13, quoted by Guelich, p. 384.]

Verses 24-30

4. Jesus’ teaching about bread and the exorcism of a Phoenician girl 7:24-30 (cf. Matthew 15:21-28)

Jesus increased His ministry to Gentiles as He experienced increasing rejection from the Jews. This third withdrawal from Galilee took Jesus outside Palestine for the first time. Mark also recorded Jesus doing more things outside Galilee and fewer things within Galilee than the other evangelists. By pointing this out Mark helped his readers realize that ministry to Gentiles was God’s will in view of Israel’s final rejection of Jesus. One writer believed the point of this story was simply that Jesus could heal. [Note: R. S. Sugirtharajah, "The Syrophoenician Woman," The Expository Times 98:1 (October 1986):13-15.] But this seems shortsighted. Mark included three events that occurred outside Palestine and one following Jesus’ return.

There is a logical connection between this section and the one that precedes it (Mark 7:1-23). Jesus had explained why He did not observe the traditional separation from defiling associations. Now He illustrated that by going into Gentile territory. This contact would have rendered Him ceremonial unclean according to the Jews’ traditions.

Verses 25-26

"Syrophoenician" combines the terms Syrian and Phoenician. Phoenicia was a part of the larger Roman province of Syria. Other Phoenicians lived elsewhere since they were a great seafaring and commercial people. For example, the Libyo-Phoenicians lived in North Africa. [Note: Wessel, p. 682.]

The woman who heard about Jesus and sought Him out was a Gentile. Demons were afflicting her young daughter (cf. Mark 7:30). Her persistent request for help demonstrated her faith in Jesus. She believed Jesus could heal her if He would do so.

Verses 27-28

Jesus probably conversed with the woman in the Greek language, which was common in that area. The woman conceded that the Jews had a prior claim on Jesus’ ministry. Nonetheless if the little pet dogs (Gr. kynarion) get the table scraps, then she felt she had a right to a crumb from Jesus’ table. She implied that the Gentiles need not wait to receive Jesus’ blessings until a later time. They could feed when the children did, namely, during Jesus’ ministry. A little Gentile blessing would not deprive the Jews of what God wanted them to have.

"The Gentiles are not called ’dogs’ but ’doggies,’ not outside scavengers, but household companions." [Note: Plummer, p. 189.]

"This ’title’ of ’Lord’ that consistently comes on the lips of ’believers’ in Matthew occurs only this one time with confession overtones in Mark and sets the stage for Jesus’ concluding remark and his offer of help to the woman." [Note: Guelich, p. 588.]

Verses 29-30

The woman’s answer had revealed a quick wit and humility, but it was her persistent faith that Jesus rewarded (cf. Matthew 15:28).

"In contrast to the tradition of the elders Jesus [authoritatively] embraces the alienated of the Mosaic and rabbinic tradition: a leper (Mark 1:40-45), tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:13-17), and even unclean Gentiles, including a Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30)." [Note: Edwards, p. 224.]

The woman’s departure for home without Jesus also shows her faith. This is the only instance of Jesus healing from a distance without a vocal command that Mark recorded. As such, it demonstrates the great power of Jesus working for this woman’s need. The healing was instantaneous, as usual. Perhaps one of the disciples accompanied the woman and reported what Mark wrote in Mark 7:30.

This incident would have had special interest for Gentile readers. It shows that Jesus rewards Gentile faith as well as Jewish faith. Jesus had come to deliver both Gentiles and Jews (Mark 10:45).

Verse 31

Jesus seems to have traveled north toward Sidon, which stood about 20 miles north of Tyre, and then eventually back to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. He penetrated deeply into Gentile territory. The Decapolis region was also primarily Gentile (cf. Mark 5:1-20). Evidently Jesus looped around northern Palestine and approached the Sea of Galilee from the north or east. This trip may have taken several weeks or even months. [Note: Blunt, p. 192.]

Verses 31-36

5. The healing of a deaf man with a speech impediment 7:31-36

Mark was the only evangelist to record this miracle. He apparently included it in his Gospel because it is another instance of Jesus healing a Gentile. This particular miracle is also significant because it prefigured Jesus opening the spiritual ears of His disciples. From Mark 6:31, the beginning of the second withdrawal and return, to Mark 7:37, Jesus had been revealing Himself with increasing clarity to the disciples but with little response. A repetition of some of these lessons followed culminating in the disciples’ confession of Jesus as the divine Messiah (Mark 8:1-30).

Verse 32

The Greek word describing this man’s speech impediment, mogilalos, is a rare one. It occurs only here in the New Testament and only in Isaiah 35:6 in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Its presence there is significant because Isaiah predicted that Messiah would loose the tongues of the dumb when He came (cf. Mark 7:37).

"Defective speech usually results from defective hearing, both physically and spiritually." [Note: Grassmick, p. 136.]

Verse 33

Jesus had personal contact with this man as He did with so many others He healed, which Mark stressed. Jesus apparently did what He did to help the man place his trust in Jesus.

"The laying on of hands would of itself have been sufficiently efficacious, and even, without moving a finger, he might have accomplished it by a single act of his will; but it is evident that he made abundant use of outward signs, when they were found to be advantageous. Thus, by touching the tongue with spittle, he intended to point out that the faculty of speech was communicated by himself alone; and by putting his fingers into the ears, he showed that it belonged to his office to pierce the ears of the deaf." [Note: Calvin, 2:271-72.]

Jesus may have spat on the ground and then touched the man’s tongue with His finger. Both acts would have told the man that Jesus intended to do something about his tongue and mouth.

". . . spittle supposedly had a therapeutic function in both the Greco-Roman (e.g., Pliny, Nat. Hist. 28.4.7; Tacitus, Hist. 6.18; Suetonius, Vesp. 7) and the Jewish world (Str-B, Mark 2:15-17)" [Note: Guelich, p. 395. Str-B is H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament.]

Verses 34-35

Looking up to heaven and sighing were also acts intended to communicate with the man. By looking up Jesus associated the coming healing with God. By sighing or groaning He conveyed His compassion for the man and the fact that the healing involved spiritual warfare. [Note: Cranfield, p. 252.] Jesus spoke in Aramaic since this was the language that was common in Palestine (cf. Mark 5:41). Probably the man could read Jesus’ lips. Jesus’ healing was again instantaneous. Not only could the man now speak, but he spoke without any defect. Jesus’ elaborate use of means to heal this man would have minimized the possibility of magic and focused attention on Him as the healer.

Verse 36

Another command to keep the miracle quiet went unheeded (cf. Mark 1:44; Mark 5:43).

"The conduct of the multitude is a good example of the way in which men treat Jesus, yielding him all homage, except obedience." [Note: Ezra P. Gould, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark, p. 139.]

"Jesus’ role once known always draws a crowd in Mark." [Note: Guelich, p. 397.]

"The difficult conflicts . . . lie not with demons, for Jesus has authority from God to destroy them, Nor does Jesus struggle much in conflict with nature, for Jesus has authority over it. The difficult conflicts arise with people, for Jesus has no authority to control them; people choose and nothing can be forced upon them. . . . He can successfully order a deaf-mute to hear and talk, but he cannot make him keep quiet or stop others from listening to him. Furthermore, he cannot make his disciples understand nor can he constrain the authorities to stop opposing him." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 78.]

Verse 37

6. The preliminary confession of faith 7:37 (cf. Matthew 15:29-31)

Mark expressed the crowd’s amazement with a strong word that appears only here in the New Testament: hyperperissos. It means "extremely overwhelmed" (cf. Mark 1:22; Mark 6:2; Mark 10:26; Mark 11:18). Their statement that Jesus did everything well recalls Genesis 1:31 where Moses wrote that God saw that everything that He had created was good. The restoration of hearing to the deaf and speaking to the dumb was the work of God (cf. Isaiah 35:3-6). Matthew recorded that Jesus healed many other people with various afflictions at this time (Matthew 15:29-31).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.