Read the Passage: Mark 7
Pharisees Confronted (7:1–23)
In Mark 1–3 Jesus had several meaningful, albeit less than cordial, interactions with the scribes and Pharisees. Yet, interestingly, these religious leaders are completely absent from the narrative in Mark 4–6. As a side note, observe that the Sadducees are only mentioned one time in this Gospel, at Mark 12:18. Here, at Mark 7:1, it is recorded that a delegation of Pharisees traveled more than 80 miles from Jerusalem to interact with Jesus. These religious leaders confronted Christ about His disciples’ eating of bread with unwashed hands. The Old Testament, however, contains no laws requiring that hands be washed before eating (cf. Lev. 22:6–7), nor are there any examples of men doing so. These religious rulers even seem to be aware of this, as they refer to hand-washing as “the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5). These traditions were oral rules that appeared after the Babylonian exile.
By way of response, Jesus did not answer the religious leaders’ question; rather, He cites Isa. 29:13 and confronts the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. In general, Christ observes that these leaders had substituted the traditions of men for the commandments of God. More specifically, however, Jesus confronts the scribes and Pharisees for their immoral practice of Corban, which means “given to God.” In short, the religious leaders had purposefully created a legal loop-hole around the moral law that taught that adult children were to care for their aging parents (cf. Exod. 20:12; 21:17). This was done by allowing children to claim and vow that their material resources were dedicated to God to be used in His service. The scribes’ and Pharisees’ rationale for this practice, which not coincidentally increased their own net worth, was that vows to God could not be violated (cf. Num. 30:2).
At Mark 7:15 Jesus summarized His rebuke by teaching, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile man.” In Mark 7:17–23 the disciples asked Jesus to explain this teaching. In response, Christ explained that physical acts do not affect one’s moral or spiritual standing. Rather, one’s moral and spiritual condition will be manifest in one’s physical actions. Jesus had taught this basic principle earlier at Matt. 7:15–17; 25:31–46, and James would later appeal to this same idea at Jas. 2:14–17. Interestingly, at Mark 7:19, we read the parenthetical comment related to Jesus’ teaching, “Thus purifying all foods.” This is likely Peter’s conclusion, looking back on the events in this passage, given his later experience at Joppa relating to the salvation of Cornelius (cf. Acts 10:9–16).
Daughter Freed (7:24–30)
Mark 7:24–30 contains the miracle of the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter. This account, which is also recorded at Matt. 15:21–28, is important, for it is the only explicit example in the Gospels of Christ performing a miracle upon a Gentile. Yet, Jesus’ earlier casting out of a demon from the Gadarene demoniac (cf. Mark 5:1–20), as well as His later healing of a deaf-mute man (cf. Mark 7:31–37), were possibly worked for Gentiles. Note that Matt 15:22 even notes that the Syro-Phoenician woman was of Canaanite descent. When this woman initially asked Jesus for healing for her demon-possessed daughter, Christ first rebuffed her, as He clarified that His primary ministry was to the Jews (cf. Rom. 1:16). Yet, when the woman persisted, along with worship and faith (cf. Matt. 15:25, 28), Jesus assented to her request and freed her daughter from the demon.
Deaf-Mute Healed (7:31–37)
Mark 7:31–37 contains the account of Jesus healing a deaf-mute man near the region known as Decapolis. This passage is unique in that it is one of only two of Christ’s thirty-seven miracles that is solely recorded in the Gospel of Mark—the other being the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida (cf. Mark 8:22–26). As this passage begins, Christ had traveled to the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, more than 40 miles northwest of Capernaum. Perhaps Jesus traveled here to be somewhat anonymous, as well as to have time to teach his disciples. Next, Christ headed east, and then south, back into Galilee. Once here, he was confronted with a deaf-mute man who asked for healing. Immediately, Jesus healed this man, using physical signs that the deaf-mute man could understand—that is, putting His fingers in the man’s ears and touching his tongue.
- Like the scribes and Pharisees, have you ever been reluctant to change an aspect of your theology or to adjust a practice in church-life because of tradition?
- Have you ever been offended by a fellow believer who was unaware of or otherwise failed to keep certain local church practices?
- What responsibilities do adult children have in regard to caring for their aging parents? Are such duties contingent upon children or parents being Christians?
- Why did Jesus initially refuse to heal the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter? Why did Christ eventually heal the demon-possessed girl?
- In the process of healing the deaf-mute man, why did Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears and touch his tongue (cf. Exod. 4:11; Isa. 35:5–6)?