Gospel of Mark: Chapter 7

The Gospel of Mark:

Commentary on Chapter 7

  • vv. 1-5 – The Pharisees believed that God had given Moses many commands besides those found in Scripture and these were the “oral law.” They were passed on from generation to generation via the spoken word and would not be written down until around 200 AD when they were compiled in a work called the Mishnah.
  • vv. 3-4 – This was not done out of a concern for physical cleanliness or health but in order to be ritually clean. Nor was this a simple matter of washing one’s hands as one might today but required special water used in particular steps.[1]
  • vv. 6-7 – Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13).
  • v. 10 – Jesus is referencing Exodus 20:12, 21:17,  Deuteronomy 5:16, and Leviticus 20:9.
  • vv. 11-13 – Corban here is Aramaic, though there were also similar terms in Hebrew and Greek.[2] It appears to be a technical term for a specific type of offering made to God.
    • It may be that the individual committed some possessions to God in this manner and was allowed to continue utilizing them until they were actually given – but that he could not give them away, since they were already God’s possession in the ultimate sense. Thus it would have been a way to keep possessions from being shared with one’s family.
    • It is also possible that corban was a sort of curse that bound an individual irrevocably. In this case an individual might have committed something to God, a need may have arisen within his own family, but the religious leaders refused to allow the curse be undone – forcing the individual to overlook God’s commandment to care for father and mother.
  • vv. 18-19 – Jesus is not suggesting that anything can be consumed without injury to the body – he would have been aware of various poisonous items available at that time. He is suggesting that anything can be consumed without causing a person to be unclean in the sight of God.[3]
    • The Jews had numerous laws, many of them given by Moses in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 11). Here Jesus is making a radical statement obliterating these old dietary restrictions.[4]
  • v. 24 – Tyre and Sidon were in Syria[5] – this was Gentile country.
    • Note that immediately after Mark records for us Jesus refuting the idea of unclean foods he proceeds to entire Gentile country – a place of unclean people.
    • Tyre and Sidon were amongst the lands the Jews were to have originally had when they entered the promised land. They had been promised to the tribe of Asher but were never taken (Joshua 19:28-29). Jesus may be indirectly proclaiming that His kingdom will expand beyond the boundaries of what had thus far been the scope of Israel’s boundaries.[6]
    • It may be that Jesus went away to this Gentile country in order to gain some rest from the masses that followed him amongst the Jews.[7]
  • v. 26 – Note again that this story immediately follows the story of Christ overruling the laws on clean/unclean foods and now comes to Jesus an “unclean” woman.[8]
  • v. 27 – The children being the Jews, the dogs being the Gentiles.
    • Dogs were not usually family pets at this time, but Barclay points out that the term used her for dogs is one that probably indicates affection.
  • v. 28 – One did not use utensils and did not have readily disposable napkins as we do today. Instead one took bread and rubbed one’s hands on it to clean the hands after eating. This bread was then dropped under the table for the dogs to eat.
  • v. 31 – Sidon is north of Tyre, Galilee is south of Tyre. To go to Sidon on the way to Galilee was to go in entirely the wrong direction. Barclay suggests this trip would have taken several months and may have been an opportunity for Jesus to provide intensive teaching and training to his disciples.
  • v. 33 – Jesus was likely avoiding the publicity that would come with a public miracle and bring on further crowds than already gathered around him at every turn.
    • Spit was frequently used in the ancient world for medicinal purposes as it was believed to have curative properties.[9]
  • v. 34 – Jesus’ looking up to heaven recognizes His dependence upon the Father and that the healing would come from the Father.
    • “Ephphatha” is again an Aramaic word and would have been the actual word Jesus spoke. We have seen this previously when Jesus called the little girl back from the dead.[10]
  • v. 37 – The people are seeing the works of Jesus and noting that they are good, this may echo Genesis 1 in which God repeatedly says over what He has done that it is good.

Author: David Mackey

Revision: 1.0 4/27/13


[1] If you are interested in learning more about the details of this hand washing and the ritual cleaning of dishes see William Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark Commentary on 7:1-4.

[2]The fact that Mark chooses to use the Aramaic word rather than either the Hebrew or Greek terms indicates the technical nature of the word. There was not a direct equivalent in Greek, so he includes the technical term and then explains its general meaning.

[3] This is not to say that one can consume as much as one wants of any given food (gluttony) or even that there may not be foods one should avoid because of their tendency to bring out that which is within – but that the ultimate issue lies not in the substance but in the inner condition of the heart.

[4] William Barclay points out the radical nature of this statement by highlight 1 Maccabees 1:62-63 in which many Jews were tortured and died by the Greeks rather than eat unclean foods. See Barclay’s commentary on 7:14-23 for additional details.

[5] Currently these cities are in the country of Lebanon.

[6] Remember at this juncture the Jews are under the rule of the Romans. Their country is not even their own, it is in captivity to Rome.

[7] We see several times Jesus pursuing time alone and seeking to give his disciples rest, but the crowds will not allow it.

[8] Jews were “clean” if they kept the law, but Gentiles were always “unclean” unless they entirely converted to Judaism.

[9] By “curative” I do not mean “magical” but “medical” – that is, doctors would have used spit as a form of treatment.

[10] Jesus says “Talitha koum!” to the little girl in Aramaic, see Mark 5:41.