Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Mark/Chapter 7

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Mark 7:1-36 (New International Version)
Clean and Unclean

1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.

5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

9And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." 14Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' " 17After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")

20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "

The Faith of a Syrophoenician Woman

24Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. 26The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27"First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

28"Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

29Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter."

30She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

The Healing of a Deaf and Mute Man

31Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.

33After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!" ). 35At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

Loose Paraphrase

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"Clean" and "Unclean"

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The Pharisees came to Jesus and saw that some of his disciples were “unclean” which meant that they had not washed there hands and such. People that came from the marketplace usually washed before they ate. The Pharisees asked Jesus why they hadn’t washed and why they didn’t do the traditions of the elders. Jesus told them that the Pharisees were just as Isaiah had prophesied. He told them that they were honored God with their lips but not their hearts. The Pharisees then proceeded to tell Jesus that he was only abiding by his own rules and not the rules of God. Jesus then set everyone straight by telling them that nothing that goes into a mans body will make them “unclean”, but what comes out of a mans body makes him “unclean.” After this Jesus left with the Disciples. The Disciples asked him about the parable. Jesus told them that no food could make a man “unclean” because that food goes into their stomach. The only things that make a man “unclean” are things that affect the heart. This is where sinful nature, sexual immorality, and evil come form.

Faith of the Woman

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Jesus then left and he went to a foreign place where he did not want anyone to know where he was. This was hard to keep a secret because it was Jesus and people found out where he was staying. After a little while a woman of another faith came to Jesus because she had a daughter that was possessed. She begged Jesus to drive out the demon. Jesus told her that she should not give the child’s bread to the foreign dogs. She replied that even the dogs get crumbs. Jesus told her because of the response that she gave her daughter was healed. The woman left and found her daughter lying in bed and the demon was gone.

Jesus Heals A Deaf Man

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Jesus then went into the region of the Decapolis. There he was confronted by some people that wanted him to heal a deaf man that could hardly talk. Jesus took them aside where the crowed was not and healed the man. He healed the man by sticking his fingers in the man’s ears and then spit and touched the man’s tongue. He then looked up at Heaven and said, “Ephphata” which means “be open”. When Jesus did this the man was healed and began to speak freely. He told the people not to tell anyone about this, but the people were so amazed that they couldn’t stop talking about it.

Mark 7: 1-23 Detailed Content Outline.

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  • I. Heading: Pharisees saw disciples eating food with their hands that were “unclean” (7:2)
  • II. Mark explains what “unclean” means (7:3-4)
    • A. ceremonial washing and holding to the traditions of the elders (7:3)
    • B. Pharisees observer other traditions such as washing of the cups, pitches and kettles (7:4).
  • III. Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples do not live according to the tradition of the elders (7:5)
    • A. Jesus responds (7:6)
      • 1. References Isaiah when telling about hypocrites.
        • a. Living by rules of man
        • b. worshiping in vain
        • c. not holding on to the commandment of God.
      • 2. Honoring your Father and Mothers
    • B. Jesus addresses the crowed.
      • 1. Nothing outside of a man can make him “unclean”(7:15).
      • 2. It is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean” (7:15).
  • IV. Jesus Declares all foods “clean” (7:17-19)
    • A. Jesus tells his disciples that all things that enter the body from the outside go into the stomach no into a man’s heart.
    • B. What comes out of a man is what is “unclean” (7:21-22)
      • 1. it is what is in a man’s heart
        • a. evil thoughts
        • b. sexual immorality.
        • c. theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.
    • C. All of these evils come from inside a man’s heart (7:23)

Word study

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adjective, dative, plural, masculine
449. ἄνιπτος ániptos;
gen. aníptou, masc.–fem., neut. ánipton, adj. from a
(1), without, and níptō (3538), to wash. Not washed (Matt. 15:20; Mark 7:2, 5).

Syn.: akáthartos (169), dirty; rhuparós (4508), filthy. Ant.: katharós (2513), clean.

Matt 15:20 – These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

Mark 7:2 – hey was that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.

The term unwashed is a clarification to the reader about what this is meaning. Originally the Bible uses the Greek for “With defiled hands”. This is used in the biblical sense of “ritually unclean”. Using the term “unwashed” has some assumptions that go with it. IT assumes that the reader is unfamiliar with either the term “With defiled hands” or with the Jewish custom of hand washing (Guelich).

Literary Types

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These are the types of literature found in Mark Chapter 7
Mark 1:2-16:20 Gospel, Gospel Narrative
Mark 7:1-23 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Pronouncement Story: Controversy
Mark 7:6-7 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Pronouncement Story: Controversy, OT Quote
Mark 7:8-9 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Pronouncement Story: Controversy, Legal Saying
Mark 7:10 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Pronouncement Story: Controversy, OT Quote
Mark 7:11-13 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Pronouncement Story: Controversy, Legal Saying
Mark 7:14-23 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Pronouncement Story: Controversy, Parable
Mark 7:24-30 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Miracle Story: Healing
Mark 7:31-37 Gospel, Gospel Narrative, Miracle Story: Healing


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Traditions Mark 7:1-23

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Christ came to differentiate from the ceremonial law. He came to reject the things that man had added to God’s law. In Mark chapter 7 he is doing this when he tells his disciples to have clean hands and heart, which is very different from superstitions of the Pharisees. This leads into what Christ says next about what defines a man. Christ explains that the only things that define us as people are our thought, actions and words. We are not defined by the rituals we do, it is all about the heart and where our heart is at when we do the things we do.

Clean and Unclean

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The first section in Mark chapter 7 deals with the controversy of tradition. This first section is verses 1-23. The first part of this section is when the disciples are accused of defiling food because they did not do the ceremonial washing before they ate. In verses three and four, Mark explains the tradition that is usually upheld with regards to eating. This is unique and more than likely means that Marks earliest readers were gentile Christians (Hurtado).

The Pharisees in first five ask “Why don’t’ your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders.” The main question that is raised in this verse is the fact that they are talking more on a broader scale of the “traditions of the elders” and not just about the ritual washing (Guelich). It seems here that Jesus has no regard for the Jewish traditions here, but on the contrary, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees remarks is alluding to an internal cleanliness with regards to sin and unrighteousness originate (Elwell). He does this by first quoting Isa. 29:13 which simply talks about how some will worship God with their lips, but their hearts will be no where close to following God (Guelich). Jesus then goes on in this passage to debate against the religious leaders that most of these “traditions” are man-made and really have no part in pleasing God.

In verses 1-13 is essentially another conflict that Jesus has with the Pharisees. Jesus had the same type of conflict with the Pharisees many times before. Essentially, the Pharisees did not like the ministry that Jesus and the disciples were doing. The ministry that they did was a traveling ministry. They were proclaiming the forthcoming kingdom of God. These were people on the road that would eat when food was offered and did not ever turn down an opportunity to have a meal. They would also usually eat with the people that provided the food. Jesus was more worried and focused on the ministry and having the kingdom of God come to earth. This was more important than the rituals that the “Pharisaic lifestyle embodied”(Hurtado). Which in this case, Jesus put more importance on the relational part of the ministry than the hand washing rituals that the Pharisees would usually perform before a meal.

Verses 14-23 is about Jesus talking to the crowd and then explaining himself to his disciples. Jesus goes on to return to the questions on ritual purity. In this section, Jesus basically discards the ritual of unclean food and he says that all food is clean. Although Jesus is saying that there are no longer unclean foods, this is not the only thing that he is talking about. The bigger picture here is the warning that Jesus gives to Jews and Gentiles alike when he talks about how people may be doing the right rituals and have everything clean and polished on the outside, but yet the inner self is impure and sinful(Hurtado).

Two Accounts Of Healing Mark 7:24-37

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The second part of the passage deals with two different accounts of healing. The first one is the account of a mother coming to ask that her daughter be healed. He says a line about not feeding the dogs before the children and this could have something to do with the mercy that was shown to the Gentiles, but the woman’s response is not downplaying the mercy shown to the Gentiles, but to say that the Jews have been healed too. The next account deals with a man that is cured of being deaf and mute.

Faith of the Woman

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The first heal that is mentioned is the healing of a woman’s daughter. This is not just the fact that this is a healing, but it highlights the faith of this woman. This woman is a gentile, which the Pharisees and the teachers of the law would not help let alone associate with. Jesus went into mixed Jewish-Gentile territory where the people had more faith than those who were considered the more faithful and that had it all together.

When the woman asks for her daughter to be saved Jesus responds with, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children bread and toss it to their dogs.” When he says this, he is testing this woman’s faith, but also is pointing out the priority plan of salvation (Elwell). The woman’s response is what really makes this passage stick out. Her response is the fact that dogs get crumbs of the table. Here she is talking about how not only Jews are saved, but Gentiles too. In this instance the Children are the Jews because they are the children of God and the dogs are the Gentiles. Therefore, saying that dogs will get crumbs is saying that everyone has access to the kingdom of God.

The second part of this meeting with the Gentile woman is her faith that she has. This woman did not bring her child with her, but asks Jesus to heal her. This woman had to have faith that Jesus would actually be able to heal her daughter. This woman is asking for attention for not just herself, but for Gentiles as a whole. She was opening the door for the mission to the Gentiles and Jesus was providing the grounds for that by granting this woman’s request.

Healing Of A Deaf Man

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This second miracle that Jesus does is also a miracle done on faith. It also is showing Jesus’ attention to the needy person (Hurtado). Hurtado says that this could be taken in the fact that it was to encourage the faith of this man (117). This part of the passage in the Marcan text suggest that in Jesus the eschatological rein of God is present (Williamson). After Jesus is done doing this miracle he commands everyone not to tell anyone about what has just happened. The Reader knows more than the ones in the story in regards to what is happening and to what will unfold in the rest of the gospel (Williamson).

Comparisons between Mark and Matthew

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Green= Parts of this passage is found in both in Mark and Matthew
Blue= Parts of this passage are only found in Matthew
Red= Parts of this passage are only found in Mark


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What Jesus Says to the Pharisees and the situation with them.
When the Disciples ask him what the parable was about, these are practically the same between the two.


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There were some extra information in the Mark passage. Some more explanation than in the Matthew passage.
The story about the woman and her daughter was more in depth in the Matthew passage.
It was more broad in the Matthew passage when it came to the deaf man.
There is a big section after the deaf man in the Matthew passage.

Questions about Mark 7

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  1. Why is there so much more information in the Mark passage?
  2. What Jesus said is different between the passages.
  3. Why did Mark leave out the question asked by the disciples?
  4. Is Jesus only talking about food when he talks about being “unclean” and “clean”?
  5. Was Jesus sinning when he didn’t wash?
  6. Matthew has a big dialogue account with the woman and the demon possessed child, why does Mark leave this out?
  7. Why is there a discrepancy about where Jesus went? Or Why is Mark so much more detailed about this?
  8. Why does Matthew tell us that the woman is a Canaanite?
  9. What does Jesus mean by the statement about the dogs?
  10. Who are the Children Jesus Speaks of?
  11. Was Jesus really testing her faith?
  12. Why did the Woman answer the way she did?
  13. Jesus says this huge “speech” in Matthew’s account about compassion. Why?
  14. Why does Mark do into detail about what happened to the woman’s daughter?
  15. Did Mark go with the woman to her house?
  16. How does he know what happened to her?
  17. Why does Jesus not want anyone to know about what he did?
  18. If Jesus doesn’t want to be lifted up for what he did why do we praise him like we do?
  19. Why does mark just tell about one of the deaf men?
  20. Why is he so significant?

Works Cited

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Guelich A., Robert. Word Biblical Commentary . Dallas: Word Books, 1989.
Hurtado W., Larry. New Internation Biblical Commenatry Mark. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers , 1989.
Walter A., Elwell. Evangelical Comentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1995.
Williamson, Lamar Jr. Interpretation. Atlanta: john Knox Press, 1983.