Clean and Unclean, 1-23

Mark 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed.

Mk 7:1–23 = Mt 15:1–20

Here is another fact-finding (or, rather fault-finding) investigation (see Mk 3:22) of what Jesus was getting up to.  It is an indication both of his increasing fame and the Jews’ increasing concerns.  This enquiry is biased and fault-finding from the start.

On fault-finding

It was said of certain Scottish Christians, that they went to church not to hear the Gospel being preached, but to hear if the Gospel was being preached.

Misplaced zeal.  ‘These Pharisees and scribes with whom he had this argument, are said to come from Jerusalem down to Galilee – fourscore or a hundred miles, to pick quarrels with our Saviour there, where they supposed him to have the greatest interest and reputation. Had they come so far to be taught by him, their zeal had been commendable; but to come so far to oppose him, and to check the progress of his gospel, was great wickedness.’ (MHC)

Teachers of the law = scribes.

Hendriksen summarises the contrasts between these Jewish leaders and Jesus:- ‘His humility (Lk 22:27) contrasted sharply with their pomposity (Mt 23:5-7); his sincerity (Jn 8:46), with their hypocrisy (Mk 7:6); his sympathy (Mk 6:34), with their cruelty (Mt 23:14). To a considerable extent their “religion” was activity in the interest of self (Mt 6:2, 5, 16); his ministry was a sacrifice in the interest of others (Mk 10:45) and to the glory of the Father (Jn 17:1, 4).’

This is not the only time that Jesus is criticised indirectly, because of the behaviour of his disciples.  See Mk 2:18, 24.

The hand-washing referred to here has nothing to do with hygiene, nor was it required by the Law of Moses.  It was ritual washing prescribed by the oral traditions of which the scribes and Pharisees were the custodians.  Such rituals may well have functioned as ‘boundary-markers’ distinguishing Jews from the Gentiles.  But they hardly fit into E.P. Sanders’ category of ‘covenantal nomism’, for they do not derive from the Mosaic Law.

Ryle remarks that we have here evidence of the decay into which the Jewish religion had fallen, at the time of Jesus.  ‘From the religion of the books of Deuteronomy and Psalms, to the religion of washing hands, and pots, and cups, how great was the fall!’  Ryle adds, ‘There are branches of the Church of Christ at this day in which the Scriptures are never read, and the Gospel never preached, – branches in which the only religion now remaining consists in using a few unmeaning forms and keeping certain man-made fasts and feats, – branches which began well, like the Jewish Church, and like the Jewish Church have now fallen into utter barrenness and decay.’

Mark 7:3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.

The Pharisees and all the Jews – Mark is explaining for the benefit of his Gentile readers what was general Jewish practice.  The common people – the so-called ‘sinners’ were not careful about ritual cleanness.  Mark is referring to ‘the Jews generally’.

The tradition of the elders – What was being questioned was a matter of ritual not drawn from the Torah, but from the traditions that had grown up around the law.  Ex 30:19; 40:13 required priests to wash their hands and feet before entering the Tabernacle.  But this was vastly expanded over time so that ordinary Jews applied the purity laws to their own daily routines of praying and eating.  As Lane remarks, there was something potentially noble about this – an attempt to recognise ‘the priesthood of all believers’ and a desire to sanctify all aspects of daily life.

Mark 7:4 When 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.)

We could say many positive things about the scribes and Pharisees – not only their zeal and singlemindedness, but also their determination to live out their religion in everyday life.

Mark 7:5 So 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?”

“The tradition of the elders” was a vast system of interpretation and application of the law.  It had developed in order to cover virtually every aspect of personal and corporate life, and was safeguarded, in oral form, by the scribes.

Mark 7:6 He 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.

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ – The quote is from Isaiah 29:13.  We do well to remember this in both our public worship.  We must not, as Ryle puts it, take our bodies to church but leave our hearts at home.  Our bowed heads, serious expressions, and dutiful responses may impress other people, but they do not impress God, who looks upon the heart.  And in our private devotions, too, let us remember that God does not regard the length or fluency of our prayers, but their heartfelt sincerity.

All of this is a long way from true, heartfelt worship.  Archibishop William Temple  defined such worship as follows:-

To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.

‘We need to listen again to the biblical criticism of religion.  No book not even by Marx and his followers, is more scathing of empty religion than the Bible.  The prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries BC were outspoken in their denuciation of the formalism and hypocrisy of Israelite worship.  Jesus then applied their critique to the Pharisees of his day…And this indictment of religion by the Old Testament prophets and by Jesus is uncomortably applicable to us and our churches today.  Too much of our worship is ritual without reality, form without power, fun without fear, religion without God.’ (Stott, The Contemporary Christian, 228)

‘God wants us to give him our hearts, and not just our lip service. We believe in the heart, (Rom 10:9-10) love from the heart, (Mt 22:37) sing from the heart, (Col 3:16) obey from the heart, (Rom 6:17; Eph 6:6) and give from the heart.’ (2 Cor 9:7) (Wiersbe)

“You hypocrites” – This is the only place in Mark where this term is used.  It is used three times in Luke and yet more times in Matthew.  ‘The hypocrite is the man who hides or tries to hide his real intentions under (hypo) a mask of simulated virtue.’ (Hendriksen)

Why does Jesus react so strongly?  ‘It is because he sees, in their attitude, a fulfilment of biblical prophecy, and a vindication of the authority of the very Scripture upon which they should have leaned.’ (Cole)  The same writer adds that ‘we may perhaps compare the prophetic attack on much of the meaningless and hollow religious ritual of the days of the kings.’

And, after all, this was not an isolated and innocent enquiry on the part of the Jewish teachers, but a deliberate inquisition, v1.  Moreover, behind what they had presented as an infraction of a divine commandments lie, in fact, an intention to destroy the Son of Man.  (Cf. Hendriksen)

Mark 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

The Jewish leaders were not only insincere; they were also mistaken.

Mk 7:8 “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

‘The rabbis had divided the Mosaic law or Torah into 613 separate decrees, 365 of these being considered prohibitions and 248 positive directives. Then, in connection with each decree, by drawing arbitrary distinctions between what they considered “permitted” and “not permitted,” they had attempted to regulate every detail of the conduct of the Jews: their sabbaths, travel, meals, fasts, ablutions, trade, relation toward outsiders, etc., etc. One finds an example of their hair-splitting, casuistic reasoning in Mt 23:16-18…Thus, having an eye only for the multiplicity of the decrees and of their myriad applications to concrete life situations, they had piled up precept upon precept (cf. Isa 28:10, Isa 28:13) until at last, by most of these scribes and Pharisees, the unity and purpose of God’s holy law—see Deut 6:4; then Lev 19:18; Mic 6:8; cf. Mar 12:28-34—had suffered a total eclipse.’ (Hendriksen)

‘Theoretically, the oral law was a fence which safeguarded the people from infringing the Law.  In actuality, it represented a tampering with the Law which resulted inevitably in distortion and ossification of the living word of God.’ (Lane)

Mk 7:9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”

There is some evidence that some of the Pharisees and scribes did elevate the status of the oral tradition above that of the Torah itself.

Jesus distinguished sharply between the Scripture as the Word of God and tradition as the teaching of men, and insisted that all the traditions of the elders must be subordinated to the supreme authority of Scripture, Mk 7:1 ff. This means ‘that we always have the duty and the right to appeal back from the tradition to the Scripture which it claims to be interpreting.’

Mark 7:10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’

“For Moses said…” – Note how Jesus regards the law of Moses as the very word of God.

Jesus now goes on to give an example of how possible it is for tradition to violate God’s law, instead of merely clarifying or applying it.

The quotations are from Ex 20:12 (= Deut 5:16) and Ex 21:16 respectively.

‘Honour your father and your mother’ – ‘To honor father and mother means more than to obey them, especially if this obedience is interpreted in a merely outward sense. It is the inner attitude of the child toward his parents that comes to the fore in the requirement that he honor them. All selfish obedience or reluctant obedience or obedience under terror is immediately ruled out. To honor implies to love, to regard highly, to show the spirit of respect and consideration. This honor is to be shown to both of the parents, for as far as the child is concerned they are equal in authority.’ (Hendriksen)

Mark 7:11 But 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),

“Corban” (that is, a gift to God) – Money or other property could be designated as an offering to God, thus banning other uses.  Lane mentions a recently-discovered Jewish ossuary inscription: ‘All that a man may find-to-his-profit in this ossuary (is) an offering to God from him who is within it.’

‘In the hypothetical situation proposed by Jesus, if the son declared his property qorban to his parents, he neither promised it to the Temple nor prohibited its use to himself, but he legally excluded his parents from the right of benefit.’ (Lane)

Mark 7:12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.

If the son regretted his decision, and brought the case to the scribes for arbitration, they would tell him him that his vow must be honoured.

Commenting on vv9-13, Cole says, ‘this is a wise warning that the passage about hating parents for Christ’s sake (Lk 14:26) is to be seen in the context of genuine filial piety as a Christian duty.’

Mk 7:13 “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

The scribes would have argued that a vow made to God takes precedence over responsibilities towards one’s parents.  But Jesus will not allow human tradition to pitch one commandments against another.  ‘This interpretation of Num 30:1f seized upon the letter of the passage in such as way as to miss the meaning of the Law as a whole.’ (Lane)

Lane suggests that in this context the quotation from Isa 29:13 is particularly relevant.  ‘The quotation indicates that Jesus is not so much attacking a particular scribal practice as he is showing that the scribes cannot properly honour God.  In their concern for the fulfilment of the letter of Scripture they forget that the Law was provided not for its own sake but to benefit men.  It is an expression of God’s covenant faithfulness as well as of his righteousness and in no circumstance was obedience to one commandment intended to nullify another.’

‘Jesus did not think of himself as setting aside the Mosaic Torah; it was not the Torah but the scribal evasions of it (“the traditions of the elders”) which he attacked. He calls the Torah “the word of God.” His own “new teaching” was designed to correct the accommodations which had had to be made in the Torah because of the hardness of men’s hearts; (Mk 10:5) he was concerned to restore its original intention and to fulfil it.’ (Mt 5:17) (Alan Richardson, Introduction to New Testament Theology, p166)

You nullify the word of God – ‘God’s statutes shall not only lie forgotten, as antiquated obsolete laws, but they shall, in effect, stand repealed, that their traditions may take place. They were entrusted to expound the law, and to enforce it; and, under pretence of using that power, they violated the law, and dissolved the bonds of it; destroying the text with the comment.’ (MHC)

And you do many things like that – Jesus declares that this was not an isolated example, but one of many.

‘Protestants do not deny the importance of tradition, and some of us should have more respect for it, since the Holy Spirit has taught past generations of Christians and did not begin his instruction only with us!  Nevertheless, when Scripture and tradition are in collision, we must allow Scripture to reform tradition, just as Jesus insisted with the “traditions of th elders” (cf. Mk 7:1-13).  If the Church of Rome were to have the courage to renounce unbiblical traditions (e.g. its dogmas about the immaculate conception and bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary), immediate progress would be made towards agreement under the Word of God.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 115)

‘We are all ready enough to condemn these Scribes and Pharisees for ‘teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,’ and ‘making void the commandment of God by their traditions.’  But let us remember that this pestilent spirit is by not means extinct, and let us guard against its influences.  In every country and age, men have discovered a disposition to mould the doctrines and worship of God according to their own fancy.  Whence but from this came the mummeries of opish superstition – its masses and penances and fasts and festivals and pilgrimages?  and whence come the unauthorised rites, and ceremonies, and office-bearers, that are to be found in churches claling themselves reformed?  Whence came the unholy connection between church and state, and all its diversified and innumerable fatal results?  whence have come those terms of communion, unsanctioned by the authority of Jesus Christ, that are to be found in so many societies which profess to be his churches?  All these spring from one ‘root of bitterness’, the substituting tradition in the room of revelation – the authority of man in the room of the authority of God.’ (John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, Vol 1, p499)

Mark 7:14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.

Having exposed the Jewish leaders’ general attitude towards God law and human traditions, he now turns, as he addresses the crowd, to the particular point that had been raised about ‘uncleanness’.

Everything in this verse underscores the importance and seriousness of what Jesus is about to say.

‘In endeavouring thus to fix the attention, and to engage in active operation the mental faculties, of his hearers, our Lord sets an example which should be followed by every religious teacher.  There is no pouring christian truth passively into the minds of men.  If men will not listen, and reflect, and examine the meaning of statements, the validity of arguments, and force of motives, the best possible teaching will not make them wiser and better.  It is anything but a recommendation to a sermon, that is saves the audience the trouble of thinking.’ (Brown)

‘Corrupt customs are best cured by rectifying corrupt notions.’ (MHC)

Mark 7:15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”

This is a thorough contradiction of rabbinic teaching.  The rabbis assumed an initially pure state, that was then corrupted by something external.  Jesus has a much more profound and unsettling view of human impurity: it comes from within, from the heart.  The problem is not one of ceremonial impurity, but of moral impurity.

‘What, then, are we to make of the apparent identification of ritual and moral in, say, Leviticus?  Perhaps it is rather akin to the wise mother’s insistence that he child be scrubbed and in clean clothes on Sunday, that by outward things the child’s mind may appreciate at least something of the nature of God.  Paul is clear that the ritual law – though not the moral law – belonged to God’s kindergarten for his people, Gal 4:9.’ (Cole)

Our human depravity

  1. universal extent – Jesus was speaking of people generally
  2. self-centred nature – the examples given, vv21-23, are all to do with the assertion of self against others or against God
  3. inward origin – from the heart, v21
  4. defiling effect – these evils make a person ‘unclean’, v23

(See Stott, The Contemporary Christian, v41f)

“It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'” – That is to say, it is what comes up from a person’s inmost being, and is then expressed in word and action, that defines a person’s purity.  This is, of course, frequently stress in the OT.

‘As a corrupt fountain sends forth corrupt streams, so doth a corrupt heart send forth corrupt reasonings, corrupt appetites and passions, and all those wicked words and actions which are produced by them.’ (MHC)

Mark 7:16

The best manuscripts omit this verse.

Mark 7:17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.

As is the case with the parable of the sower, Mk 4, the disciples themselves claim not to understand and so receive an explanation from Jesus.

Mark 7:18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?

“Are you so dull?” – The disciples repeatedly failed to understand Jesus’ teaching (cf. Mk 8:16), and the same dullness characterises the mind of the unbeliever, 2 Cor 3:14.  A change of heart will go along with a change of mind, and this will be a key part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jn 14:26.

Jesus has no intention of denying the validity of the Law of Moses.  He is, rather, stressing that outward observance is useless without the appropriate inward attitude.

Mk 7:19 “For 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.”)

(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean”) – Literally, ‘declaring all foods clean’.  ‘If we see this interpretative comment as emanating from the preaching of Peter, then it takes a new meaning in view of Peter’s vision before the visit to Cornelius, Acts 11:5ff.’ (Cole)

The early church had difficulty in resolving issues around the Jewish food laws (Gal 2:11-17; Rom 14:14; Col 2:20-22).  It took some time to see that the old rituals were intended as outward signs of inward purity.

All of this feeds into the wider teaching of the New Testament on who are the ‘true’ people of God.  A person is a member of the Israel of God not through human descent, nor because of outward observance of the Law of Moses.  Rather, the true Israelite is the person – Jew or Gentile – who loves and serves God from the heart.

Mark 7:20 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’

Mk 7:21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, Mk 7:22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.

From within, out of men’s hearts – ‘The source of true defilement in men is the human heart, and the tragedy of men’s having to sin reaches its demonic fulfilment in man’s wanting to sin.  There is no heart in which this radical evil has failed to take root.’ (Lane)

‘This explanation places the question of defilement and purity on a fundamentally different plane than that presupposed by the scribes and Pharisees.  By this interpretation Jesus does not alleviate the demand for purity but sharpens it…The capacity for fellowship with God is not destroyed by material uncleanness of food or hands; it is destroyed by personal sin.’ (Lane)

It is difficult, in the light of this teaching, to accept the assertion by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann (The Lost Message of Jesus, p67) that ‘Jesus believed in original goodness’ (i.e. not ‘original sin’).  Subsequently, Chalke defended this contention by reference to Gen 1:31, but this, of course, comes before the Fall, a fact inexplicably ignored by him.

Other lists of vices are found in Rom 1:18-32; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 4:19; 5:3-5; Col 3:5-9; 1 Thess 2:3; 4:3-7; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 6:4-5; 2 Tim 3:2-5; Tit 3:3, 9-10; 1 Pet 4:3; Rev 21:8, 22:15.

Evil thoughts – ‘Our hearts are of that colour which our most constant thoughts dye into it. Transient fleeting thoughts, whether of one kind or another, do not alter the temper of the sould. Neither poison kills nor food nourishes, unless they stay in the body; nor does good or evil benefit or hamr the mind unless they abide in it.’ (Gurnall)

“Adultery” – ‘This is the violation of the marriage bond: a married man’s voluntary sexual intercourse with someone other than his wife; or a married woman’s voluntary sexual intercourse with someone other than her husband.  It should be made clear, however, that Jesus sharpened the edge of every commandment. He taught that hatred is murder (Mt 5:21-22), and that a married man’s lustful look at another woman is adultery (Mt 5:28).’ (Hendriksen)

“Lewdness” – ‘The term stresses the lack of self-control that characterizes the person who gives free play to his perverse impulses.’ (Hendriksen)

“Envy” – ‘One of the most soul-destroying vices is envy…Our English word envy comes from the Latin in-video, meaning “to look against,” that is, to look with ill-will at another person because of what he is or has. It is interesting to note that the Greek original which is found here in Mar 7:22 expresses this idea literally, for its basic meaning is “a sinister eye,” an eye that views another person with fierce and grudging displeasure.’ (Hendriksen)

Mark 7:23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

John Stott offers, from this passage, the following outline concerning evil:-

  1. Its extent is universal
  2. Its essence is self-centredness
  3. Its origin is the human heart
  4. Its consequence is defilement

…and make a man ‘unclean’ – ‘they render a man unfit for communion with God, they bring a stain upon the conscience; and, if not mortified and rooted out, will shut men out of the new Jerusalem, into which no unclean thing shall enter.’ (MHC)

The Faith of a Syrophoenician Woman, 24-30

Mk 7:24–30 = Mt 15:21–28

Mk 7:24 Jesus 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.

Tyre was situated on the Mediterranean coast.

Mark 7:25 In 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.

Mark 7:26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

There are Old Testament precedents (notably the Sidonian woman and Elijah (1 Kings 17:18–19) and the Shunammite woman with Elisha (2 Kings 4:28) for Gentile women pleading for help from a prophet, and refusing to take no for an answer.

According to Mt 15:22, this woman is a Canaanite.  Peter Enns (The Bible Tells Me So, p42) thinks that the woman isn’t really a Canaanite – Matthew just calls her that, as if to make the point that the only mention in the NT of Israel’s ancient enemies is in the context of our Lord’s favour towards them.  (Enns adds that if there were any ‘Canaanites’ living in the land in Jesus’ day, it was the Romans – and Jesus made perfectly clear that these ‘enemies’ were to be ‘loved’ by his followers.)

Actually, this woman’s ethnic and cultural background would seem a little more complex than Enns allows.  Mark describes her as ‘Greek’, suggesting that she was Hellenised to some degree.  Her conversation with Jesus was presumably carried out in Greek.  Then her opening words are in Jewish idiom, with ‘Son of David’ being a Jewish title for the Messiah.  And, as France points out, her subsequent dialogue with Jesus ‘suggests a more sophisticated awareness of the significance of Jesus’ role as the Jewish Messiah.’

Mark 7:27 “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.”

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France notes that this has been described as ‘an atrocious saying’, expressing ‘incredible insolence’ and based on ‘the worst kind of chauvinism’.  It is certainly true that in referring to Gentiles as ‘dogs’ Jesus was employing a current Jewish term of abuse.  But there is nothing in what we know otherwise about Jesus to suggest that he would resort to personal insults of this kind.  But, says, France, ‘written words cannot convey a twinkle in the eye, and it may be that Jesus was almost jocularly presenting her with the sort of language she might expect from a Jew in order to see how she would react.’

NBC similarly: ‘The language seems incredibly harsh, especially when spoken by the same Jesus who had earlier welcomed the faith of the Gentile centurion as a pointer to Gentiles sharing in future in the blessings of Israel. Perhaps cold print conceals an element of irony, even playfulness, in Jesus’ tone. At any rate, he was confronting her with the sort of language a Gentile could expect to hear from a Jew, and her faith rose to the test.’

‘Every accepted prayer is not immediately an answered prayer. Sometimes God seems not to regard his people’s prayers, like a man asleep or astonished; (Ps 44:23; Jer 14:9; Ps 22:1,2) nay, to be angry at them; (Ps 80:4; Lam 3:8,44) but it is to prove, and so to improve, their faith, and to make his after-appearances for them the more glorious to himself, and the more welcome to them; for the vision, at the end, shall speak, and shall not lie, Heb 2:3. See Job 35:14.’ (MHC)

Mark 7:28 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Consistent with the interpretation given of the previous verse, the woman’s reply gives no indication that she feels insulted.  Her reply, however, does suggest remarkable perception ‘in recognising both the primary scope of Jesus’ mission to Israel and also the fact that that was not to be its ultimate limit.  She thus, like the centurian, foreshadows the time when the true Israel will transcend the boundaries of culture and nationality.’ (France)

‘The woman’s answer is masterly. Those two words “but even” reveal immense wisdom and faith. She does not argue that her needs make her an exception, or that she has a right to Israel’s covenanted mercies, or that the mysterious ways of divine election and justice are unfair. She simply asks for help, hopeful that she may be allowed to receive a crumb from the kindness of the Lord.’ (EBC)

Mark 7:29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

Mark 7:30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

The Healing of a Deaf and Mute Man, 31-37

Mk 7:31–37 = Mt 15:29–31

Mark 7:31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.

This would have been a horseshoe-shaped journey of around 120 miles.  For some commentators, it is evidence of the Evangelist’s lack of knowledge of the geography of Palestine.  H. Anderson, for example, says that this ‘is like travelling from Cornwall to London via Manchester.’

Edwards does not share the scepticism of some scholars: ‘Contrary to the judgments of some scholars, I find Mark’s geographical designations to be both defensible and accurate in every instance where they can be checked. That includes the present description.’  He points out that such a circuitous route is not unknown: two examples of ‘hairpin’ journeys can be found in 2 Kings 2.  ‘This journey,’ he writes, ‘can be plausibly explained by a desire on Jesus’ part to escape the growing opposition of the Pharisees and Antipas. Jesus is not simply evading opposition or buying time, however. The journey deep into Gentile territory—indeed notorious Gentile territory—indicates his willful inclusion of the non-Jewish world in his ministry.’

Mk 7:32 There 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.

‘One man whom Jesus healed was deaf and had ‘an impediment in his speech’ (mogilalos, ‘speaking with difficulty’, Mk 7:32) which was probably caused by his deafness (but obviously might have been due to a separate mechanical defect, as AV ‘the string’, lit. bond, ‘of his tongue was loosed’ might suggest). It is surely significant that his hearing was healed first. Some authorities consider that the man was deaf and dumb but the Greek does not suggest this. It is more likely that he could make noises but, because he could not hear them (or other people’s words), they did not form normal speech.’ (NBD)

Mark 7:33 After 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.

Mark 7:34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).

Mark 7:35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Mark 7:36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.

Mark 7:37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

“He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” – According to Hurtado, Mark, in recording this, may have intended his readers to think of Isaiah 35, with its reference to the same geographical area (Lebanon, Isa. 35:1–2/Tyre and Sidon), its promise of miracles of healing, Isa 35:5–6, and its expectation that God’s people will be gathered and follow him in holiness, Isa 35:8-10.  The linkage with Isaiah 35 is made even stronger by the fact that Mark does not describe the man as having actually been mute, whereas Isa 35:5f does refer to ‘the ears of the deaf’ and ‘the mute tongue’.