Jesus talks about washed and unwashed hands, clean and unclean foods and the command of God taking priority over the traditions of the elders. He goes up north to retreat, but he is spotted. He heals a Syro-Phoenician Greek woman—a Gentile and a woman!—who “defeats” his challenge to her, in his role as a reluctant teacher who is testing his “student” to answer correctly. Finally, in the Decapolis, east of the Lake of Galilee, he heals a deaf and mute man, in an unusual manner.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The translation is mine. I add yet another translation for one purpose: to learn. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
I ask Growth Application (GrowApp) questions after each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
I add some Greek word studies, in a nontechnical way. The Greek terms with brief definitions can also be looked up at biblehub.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Tradition or the Word of God? Externals or Internals? (Mark 7:1-23)
1 Now the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law, coming from Jerusalem, gathered to Jesus. 2 They saw some of Jesus’s disciples–that they ate bread with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For Pharisees and all Jews, unless they wash their hands “with the fist,” do not eat, clinging to the tradition of the elders. 4 And coming from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they ceremoniously wash. They cling to many other things which they receive: washing of cups and pitchers and kettles and dining couches.) 5 The Pharisees and teachers of the law asked him: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders but eat bread with ceremonially unclean hands?”
6 But he said to them, “‘Perfectly’ Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites! As it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is distant from me by a long way.
7 They worship me with empty hearts,
Teaching doctrines that are commandments of men. [Is. 29:13]
8 Abandoning the commandment of God, you cling to the traditions of men.”
9 He also said to them, “You ‘perfectly’ set aside the commandment of God, so that you may establish your traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ [Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16] And ‘the one who curses father or mother must surely die.’ [Exod. 21:17; Lev. 20:9] 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to this father or mother, “corban!” that is, “A gift for God! Whatever you may benefit from me is a gift for God!”’ 12 “You no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus nullifying the word of God for your tradition which you pass on. And you do many similar things like this.”
14 Again summoning the crowd, he said to them “All of you, listen to me and understand! 15 Nothing from the outside of a person entering him is able to defile him, but the things coming out of the person are the things that defile the person. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
17 And when he entered a house away from the crowds, his disciples asked him about the illustration. 18 And said to them, “Are you still without understanding? Don’t you know that everything outside entering a person is unable to defile him 19 because it does not go into his heart but into the stomach and goes out into the latrine?” (This means all foods are clean.) 20 The thing coming out of a person—that defiles the person. 21 For on the inside from the heart of people are evil thoughts that come out: sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come out from the inside and defile the person.”
Let’s take this section by section.
The main points: (1) The word of God as written, that is, moral law, takes priority over the traditions of men or the elders, piled sky-high on the Word. (2) Don’t prioritize superficial, external things over and above the deeper things of the heart. (3) Things coming into a person, like food, don’t actually defile a person, but the things inside coming out of him defile him, like bad thoughts and deeds.
Let’s cover some historical details.
These religious leaders came from Jerusalem, so Jesus’s ministry was getting their attention. It is from them that the opposition to him will intensify.
“teachers of the law”: They are also called scribes in some translations.
You can learn more about both groups here:
Both groups were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6 (ESV): “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” … (see Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
They may sit in the seat of Moses, and God may have had a plan for them, but they failed to live up to his purposes. The proof is that they cannot see the Messiah standing right in front of them. One commentator says that this announcement of their seat of authority is ironical, because the next verses tell them how far off they are. In other words, God did not send them or set up this system of legalism.
“tradition of the elders”: The tradition of the elders were interpretations of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) which piled up at this time. It is likely that they were in the process of being written down at this time and was completed in the document called the Mishnah in about 200 A.D.
Now the washing tradition, though not commanded in Scripture, was a good idea in preventing germs to spread, but this is not about germs (first-century people knew nothing about them). Instead, this is a confusion or a fusing together of ritual cleanness and moral cleanness. Somehow these two groups of religious leaders merged the two, and washing hands indicated obedience to the tradition of the elders, which then indicated obedience to God and proper behavior. The believed that to obey these small minutiae is to honor the law, and to honor the law is to obey God, and to obey God is to be righteous or moral.
“elders”: You can learn more about them, here:
Lane on the power of the tradition of the elders, in his comment on v. 5:
The binding character of the decisions handed down by honored Jewish teachers of the law was an essential component in Pharisaic thinking. It was Jesus’ failure to support the validity of the oral law which made him an object of concerted attack by the scribes. The question posed is clearly a challenge to Jesus himself, and on his response, no reference is made to the disciples. The deeper intention behind the question of eating with defiled hands is suggested by a passage in the Mishnah: “But whom do you place under a ban? Eleazar ben Enoch, because he cast doubt on (the tradition of the Elders concerning) the cleansing of hands.” (p. 247)
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
“with a fist”: no one knows exactly what that means, precisely. Strauss in his comments on vv. 3-4:
The dative noun [with a fist] Mark uses to describe the washing is an unusual one and could mean “with a fist,” “by a fist,” or even “to [the end] of the fist.” The phrase may refer to washing (1) with a handful of water, (2) up to the wrist or elbow, or (3) with cupped hands. The first view may be supported by m Yad 1:1 [a passage in the Mishnah], which specifies that a “quarter-log” of water, about the bulk of an egg and a half, must be used. The second view has some support from m Yad 2:3, which says that hands are rendered clean by pouring water over them up to the wrist.
Now let’s discuss this verbal sparring match between Jesus and these religious leaders.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back physically. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus! With anointed words!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive religious leaders.
And from here on to the end of this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH- koh-pea) or or unit or section of Scripture, Jesus is about to drive home the distinction between ritual cleanness and moral cleanness. Don’t confuse the two to the point that you overlook moral cleanness. Don’t believe that because you wash the outside (hands) that you are washing the inside (the soul) and are religiously and morally superior.
In v. 3, when Mark says “all Jews” wash, it is more impressionistic than literal.
“hypocrites”: originally it comes from the Greek play actor on the stage. They wore masks and played roles. There were stock characters, such as the buffoon, the bombastic soldier, or the old miser. The Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent and abbreviated LXX for the “seventy” scholars who worked on it) is a third to second century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It uses the term hypocrite to mean the godless. However, in Matthew’s Gospel (it is used only once in Mark 7:6 and three times in Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15), it is more nuanced. Hypocrites appeared one way, but in reality they were different. They appeared outwardly religious, but inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27). They wore religious masks. They actually did many things that the law required, but they failed to understand God’s view of righteousness. They were more self-deceived than deceivers, though in Matt. 23, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and experts in the law for teaching one thing but living another. They are religious show-offs who act out their righteousness to impress others but are out of touch with God’s mercy and love. Eccl. 7:16 says not to be overly righteous, but that is what they were and displayed it publicly.
“perfectly”: it could be translated “well,” or even ironically “beautifully.” So it could read: “Beautifully has Isaiah prophesied about you!”
Isaiah teaches us that our hearts have to be right or morally clean.
“men”: it could be translated as “people” as in “people-centered precepts” or “people-sourced commandments.” These commandments did not come from God, but from human over-thinking.
“empty hearts”: that’s my embellishment. It could be translated as “they worship me vainly” or “emptily they worship me.”
Knowing the Torah (as we all should), Jesus quotes clear commands from Scripture, and one of them comes from the mighty Ten Commandments: Honor your father and your mother (the Fifth Commandment). The Fifth Commandment is designed to keep your personal family in harmony and respect. The other commandment about cursing parents is a shot at these Pharisees and teachers of the law. They are not exactly commanding the cursing of parents, but by allowing a person to neglect his parents is awfully close, or at least it shows disrespect towards them.
“Corban”: it is a Hebrew loanword, which most translations keep because Mark has it too, in his Greek Gospel. The term means something that is set aside and to be given to God. The man still has the gift in his possession, and he promises to give it to God at a later date. Now he finds that his parents are in need, and instead of giving it to his parents, he gives it to a religious institution. Apparently, according to Jewish tradition at this time, a man could not use a gift devoted to God to help his parents in genuine need (NET). So a man could help his parents with his resources, but instead tells them he is giving the resources as a gift to God, to the temple.
Lane in his comments on vv. 10-12:
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. Should the son regret his action and seek to help to alleviate the harsh vow which would deprive his parents of all the help they might normally expect from him, he would be told by the scribes to whose arbitration the case was submitted that his vow was valid and must be honored. Jesus’ statement that the scribes do not allow him to do “anything” for his parents is not extreme. The renunciation of all profitability extended beyond financial support to such practical kindness as assistance in the performance of religious duties or the provision of care in sickness. (p. 251)
Then in note 29, Lane quotes from a second-century Jewish source: “Korban! [may these evils fall upon me] if from me you receive benefit.” Then in note 30 Lane refers to another Jewish source which says that a son’s vow that created a breach between father and son could not be set aside even with the best will on the part of the son (M. Nedarim V.6).
Here’s the (imperfect) scene in a modern context: An extra-devout Christian named Ralph likes often to say “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” He carries a big Bible or has it on his phone and likes to visibly click on it during lunch hour. He is very pious in his behavior, praying in the lunchroom at work. He goes to a mega-church. The pastor often preaches sermons about how people owe the church tithes from gross pay and additional offerings. The pastor often, unbeknownst even to the pastor himself, twists Scriptures and traditions to his advantage. He often fishes around in Scripture to increase his church’s income. He now lives in a big house that Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper could never afford. Ralph comes into some money. He hears that his parents have financial needs. But the pastor of his mega-church tells Ralph that he must lay his gift at the altar in the church. He has to honor God first, and the only way to honor God is not to give money to his needy parents, but to give it to the church.
Here’s the modern parable broken down into smaller parts:
Manipulative mega-church pastor = the Pharisees and teachers of the law
Ralph = pious lay-Jews who are told to divert their money away from needy parents
Ralph’s Parents = parents in this passage who genuinely need money
The Pharisees and teachers of the law annul or cancel the word of God—the quoted commandments—by following the traditions of the elders, which “mysteriously” benefit the religious system, which in turn “mysteriously” benefit the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
“perfectly”: see v. 11 for more comments.
In vv. 14-15, Jesus announces to the crowds the bottom-line meaning to the beginning of the debate: it’s not the food that goes into a person that defiles him or makes him unclean, but the evil that comes out of him does. Jesus is about to expand on this statement in vv. 18-23.
Verse 16: apparently the best manuscripts don’t have this verse, but I add it in, just to be complete.
In v. 17, Jesus goes into a house, and his disciples ask him about the illustration. Let’s look at this term “illustration.”
Literally, it is the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable. Here you must see yourself in the parable.
Food going into the mouth does not make a person defiled. This pronouncement disagrees with Lev. 11, which lists all sorts of animals that are permitted or not permitted to be eaten.
Please see my post about these food laws and how the New Testament authors handled this issue.
The NT argues for liberation from the food laws, and in passages like this one, Jesus launches the move towards liberty. Mark, after all, adds the gloss in v. 19 that Jesus was making all foods clean.
The concept is clear enough: Food goes into the mouth, but thoughts, expressed in words and actions, flow from the heart, come out of the mouth. Food going in does not defile—not in any moral sense. Words that come out can defile a person morally. Don’t confuse the two.
“person”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “person.”
“envy”: is literally an “evil eye.”
In vv. 21-22, Jesus has a vice list, which appears often in Scripture (e.g. Rom. 1:29-31; Gal. 5:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:3-4). It is a series of hard-hitting words that expresses human vices. There are twelves vices that follow. The first six terms are in the plural (translated as singular), which indicates evil actions, and the next six terms are in the singular, which indicates attitudes or character traits. (Strauss, comment on vv. 20-23). Some in the first half of the list represent the decalogue (Ten Commandments): theft (eight), murder (eighth), adultery (sixth), and greed is loosely connected to covetousness (tenth).
I encourage all readers to go to biblehub.com and look them up. Just look for an interlinear Bible and then click on the English words that will take you back to the Greek definitions, but in English.
Instead, I’d like to make a general observation about the teachers in the church. I don’t hear very many preachers talking about these vices. If some do, then so much the better for them and the people they lead. But the ones who don’t teach avoiding the vices, even in passing, are withholding life lessons from God’s people. Jas. 3:1 (one of my life verses) says not to let there be many teachers, for they shall incur a stricter judgment. And Heb. 13:17 (another of my life verses) says that leaders will have to render an account for what they did. Be warned, teachers and pastors!
Four-part series on how one should not practice lawlessness, particularly church leaders:
Everyone now knows (or should know) Jesus’s bottom-line point: We must avoid the vices, because they make us morally unclean. Food does not. Don’t confuse your priorities.
In any case, let there not be any confusion about Jesus being so loving that he overlooked people’s vices. No. He told everyone that the basic message of the kingdom is “Repent!” (Mark 1:15). He can purge each vice in the list, on our repentance.
GrowApp for Mark 7:1-23
A.. Have you been too religious about external things? How do you correct your overemphasis?
B.. How do you best honor your father and mother? Does honor mean “love” or “obey”?
C.. How has God helped you overcome any item in the list of vices?
A Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith (Matt. 7:24-30)
24 From there he set out and departed to the region of Tyre and went into a house and did not want anyone to know, but it was not possible to escape notice. 25 Instead, at that time, a woman, hearing about him, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, came and fell down at his feet. 26 But the woman was Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. She asked him that he would expel the demon from her daughter. 27 Then he said to her, “First permit the children to be fed, for it is not right to take the bread for children and toss it to the little dogs.” 28 But she replied and said to him, “Lord, even the little dogs under the table eat from the little children’s little crumbs.” 29 So he said to her, “Because of this word, go on your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter. 30 She departed for her home and found the little child lying on the bed, the demon having gone out.
This is a true story about raising a woman’s faith by first reminding her of an ethnic barrier between her and Jesus and then momentarily denying her request, because she was not part of his mission to his fellow Jews. (Matthew’s version in 15:21-28, says that she was a Canaanite, a term bringing up all sorts of bad connotations because of the ancient history between Canaanites and Israelites.) But he must have seen something in this mother to throw down the gauntlet. He must have seen that she would rise to the challenge and overcome.
In the previous long pericope, Jesus pronounced foods clean. Now we are about to see that even Gentiles are acceptable before God and are “clean” before God.
The guest list is the messianic banquet, where people sit to enjoy the Messiah’s victory. The guest list includes Abraham’s descendants; it now includes anyone who has accepted Abraham’s Savior (Rom. 4; Gal. 3:6-9) (Strauss p. 315).
It is now obvious that Jesus knew of a Jewish community up in Tyre, and he even knew someone up there, where he could retreat by himself. (Matthew’s version says that the disciples were with him, and they even told him to send her away because she was bothering them.) Now we know why Jesus went up to Tyre and went into a house to escape people’s notice. It’s okay to take a break once in a while, from the crowds. Whose house? We don’t know.
However, he was unable to escape the notice of the people. Which people? One in particular—this foreign woman.
She fell at his feet. This is a desperate mother. She sought him out. He was her only hope. Since she was Greek, any Greek soothsayer must have told her that her daughter was possessed by one of the minor gods, so she should celebrate that divine blessing. She may have approached a Jewish exorcist, and either he did not bother with a Greek, a Gentile woman, or he could not expel it, even for a fee. However, the text is silent about these elements, but they fit the logic of a desperate mother. In any case, this woman knew better. She did not want the “divine blessing” of a minor deity, and she would not take no from this man named Jesus. Do we ever fall at the feet of Jesus? How desperate are we for our needy children?
Her request was direct and clear. Expel the demon from my daughter.
There are two main ways in the Greek NT to express demonic attacks to varying degrees, from full possession to just attacks: “have a demon” and “demonized.” The latter term is used often in Matthew: 4:24; 8:16, 28, 35; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22, but only once in Luke (8:36), and Mark four times (1:32; 5:15, 16, 18). John uses the term once (10:21). In Luke 8:26-39, Luke uses both “have a demon” and “demonized,” so he sees the terms synonymously. “Demonized” comes from the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-mo-nee-zo-my), which just adds the suffix –izo to the noun daimōn (pronounced dy-moan). It is a very convenient quality about Greek (English has this ability too: modern to modernize). Just add this prefix to a noun, and it turns into a verb. So it looks like “have a demon” and “be demonized” are synonyms. The context determines how severe the possession was. In this verse it is used generally, without precision as to the depth of possession.
Here in this verse, Mark says the daughter “has a demon.” “Demonized” is not the only verb to express a demonic attack (see Mark 3:22, 30; 7:25; 9:17; Luke 4:33; 7:33; 8:27; Acts 8:7; 16:16; 19:13). But I see no substantive difference between the two verbs and are used interchangeably in Luke 8:27, 36. What is more relevant is the soul of the person being attacked and how deep the attack goes because the person gives the demon access.
This verse means that Jesus was a on a mission to his fellow Jews. He did not want to be sidetracked. So he puts her off only a little by using the diminutive word “little dog” or “doggie.” The Greek word is kunarion (pronounced koo-nah-ree-on), and it literally means “little dog” (or plural, as here, “little dogs”). It is contrasted with wild dogs that roamed the streets. So it is not a strong putdown, necessarily, because these puppies have access to the children’s table. Yet the term does draw a line between Jews and Gentiles. He said it to elicit from her hunger and desperation. Then she must go beyond those things and call out in faith.
Grammarian Decker writes (with my translation of his Greek words in brackets):
Although the diminutive forms in Mark do not always carry a diminutive meaning (many have lost that sense in the Koine), this one may still carry that connotation: “little dog, doggie” … It was a term that might be used for small dogs allowed into the house, with [dog] designating dogs of the yard and street, though [dog] could have an affectionate sense in some contexts. There are several diminutive forms used together here: “(little) dogs” eat the “(little) children’s” (… v. 28) “(little) crumbs” (… v. 28). This “looks intended for effect” (Gundry, 375), … . That Jesus intends [little dog] to be understood as a derogatory term that Jews sometimes used to refer to Gentiles is not likely (see Cranfield, 248) (p. 197).
Jesus is about to be delighted to “lose” the debate, so he can prompt or lift her to a greater faith.
Furthermore, the kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet” in Jesus’ preaching; the presence and power of the kingdom is already available to all who respond in faith—whether Jew or Gentile. While the orderly progress of the gospel remains intact (from Jews to Gentiles), at all times salvation comes be grace through faith for all who believe, not through membership in ethnic Israel (Rom. 9:6-8). Jesus’ choice of the verb “eat their fill” or “be satisfied” … may also be significant here. The only other times Mark uses this word is in two feeding miracles (Mark 5:42; 8:4, 8). While the first of these represents Israel’s presence at the messianic banquet, the second likely previews the presence of the Gentiles. (comment on v. 27)
As noted, it is designed, however, to elicit a response of faith. How much faith does she have in Jesus? Will she turn around and walk away, mumbling under her breath that she did not get an instant answer? Or will she press in?
The next verse answers the question.
“Lord”: in Mark’s theology is the right translation, because the woman understood who he was. She “gets it” in terms of Jesus’s identity (Strauss).
She retorts with a degree of defiance. In effect she says, “Yes, I know we Greeks don’t fit into your mission, and I have heard of the ‘dog’ label before. But I notice you said ‘little dogs,’ so I have hope. I’m pressing in to get my answer for my daughter. Yes, lord, but even the little dogs eat the little crumbs from under the little children’s table. I’m just asking for a small portion of the little crumbs, not even a small piece of bread fed by the hand of the children. Just give me one crumb that falls from the table. Those little crumbs won’t distract you from your mission, surely!” She showed desperation and faith and moxie. God values bold faith that won’t be put off.
It is first her faith and then her words, which bring the answer. She knelt before his feet, which indicates that she knew who the source of any blessing was—Jesus. Her faith was in him, not in her own faith. She did not issue a decree that Jesus had to answer. She sought the Lord, and he heard her. Faith is directional—in God, not in ourselves and in our own words and decrees.
It is possible to detect, by the Spirit, faith surging in someone. Paul saw faith in a man crippled from birth, and the man was healed (Acts 14:9). I believe Jesus saw extraordinary faith in this woman.
Jesus must have smiled. He got it out of her! She demonstrated great faith by her riposte (retort) to his denial. He really was a soft touch, must like a father who gives in to the pleading of his special child. “That girl has me wrapped around her little finger!” He gladly let himself get “defeated” not by a learned rabbi but by a Gentile and a woman, which disqualifies her from any spiritual insight, said Rabbinic Judaism at the time.
The woman moved from desperation to faith. She conquered him with her faith. And her faith was demonstrated by her words. Never underestimate the power of spoken words to reveal your faith. Ask God out loud in your prayers.
Recall this expanded translation (from the context) of Matt. 7:7: “Continually ask, and it will be given to you. Continually seek, and you will find. Continually knock on the door, and it will be opened to you.”
She got her answer to prayer that very moment.
This story moves me. It seems that he went up north just for her.
So why was Jesus apparently so harsh and standoffish? We cannot catch the scene fully when we read these words. We have to picture a lively dialogue.
I really like how France summarizes the whole wonderful dialogue:
Misunderstandings of the pericope spring largely from the failure to read it as a whole. It is a dialogue within which the individual sayings function only as parts of the whole, and are not intended to carry the weight of independent exegesis on their own. The whole encounter builds up to the totally positive conclusion of vv. 29–30, while the preceding dialogue serves to underline the radical nature of this new stage in Jesus’ ministry into which he has allowed himself to be ‘persuaded’ by the woman’s realism and wit. He appears like the wise teacher who allows, and indeed incites, his pupil to mount a victorious argument against the foil of his own reluctance. He functions as what in a different context might be called ‘devil’s advocate’, and is not disappointed to be ‘defeated’ in argument. As a result the reader is left more vividly aware of the reality of the problem of Jew-Gentile relations, and of the importance of the step Jesus here takes to overcome it. The woman’s ‘victory’ in the debate is a decisive watershed as a result of which the whole future course of the Christian movement is set not on the basis of Jewish exclusivism but of sharing the ‘children’s bread’.
Never forget that the words on the page do not reveal the spirit of the interaction between him and her. Was there a raised eyebrow? A knowing look from him, which communicated to her to keep pressing on? Jesus was playing the role of a reluctant teacher to bring out the best in his student. We must not look at this text on the surface. Jesus was simply playing the role of a reluctant teacher to test the hunger of the woman in need, to incite more of her hunger that he saw in her words. She succeeded. The lesson for us: when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will be found by him (Jer. 29:13). After you demonstrate your hunger, he will give you his good purpose and plans (Jer. 29:11). Our relationship with God in heaven cannot be casual or complacent, so we get what we want by just snapping our fingers. No shortcuts with God, as if he is our cosmic butler.
This was a true story of how Jesus temporarily withheld an answer to a woman who was not part of his mission, just to draw out from her the faith that he must have perceived in her.
These verses are a good ending to this startling pericope:
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, (Jer. 29:12-14, ESV)
Seek him hard, everyone!
GrowApp for Mark 7:24-30
A.. Have you ever fell before the throne of Jesus out of desperation, to get your answer?
B.. How has your desperation turned into to faith?
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man (Mark 7:31-37)
31 And again leaving the region of Tyre, he went through Sidon towards the Lake of Galilee and up to the area of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf and mute man and begged him that he would lay his hand on him. 33 And after he took him aside from the crowd, by themselves, he placed his fingers in his ears and, after spitting, touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Open up!” 35 And immediately his hearing opened up and the bond on his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. 36 He ordered them that they must not tell anyone. But the more he ordered them, the more profusely they proclaimed it. 37 The people were utterly astonished, saying, “He does all things well! He makes even the deaf hear and the mute speak!”
“Lake of Galilee”: it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate. He went north towards Sidon, and then went towards the Decapolis, which is on the eastern side of the lake. So apparently Jesus passed on the northside of the lake and traveled southward towards the Decapolis. It was a region of ten cities, which changed in numbers over the centuries, and was primarily Gentile.
One thing is certain: he is expanding his ministry beyond the western shore of the Lake of Galilee because he went north to Tyre, and now south and east towards the Decapolis. Soon he will tell his disciples to go to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
This carries on the theme of this chapter that not only food is clean, but also Gentiles will be accepted before God and are ceremonially clean.
You can google Bible maps and Decapolis at the time of Jesus for a clear picture of where he was. He had to be in shape to walk such a long distance.
Even in the Decapolis they had heard of Jesus. Recall that the man delivered from a legion of demons proclaimed his deliverance done by Jesus. Now the Lord’s reputation preceded him. I like their faith. All he had to do was lay hands on him. But he’s about to do more than lay hands on the mute and deaf man.
In these two verses, Jesus takes action to solve the problem.
“Ephphatha”: it is an Aramaic loanword, which Mark translates for us. Please don’t turn it into a magical word of an incantation.
There was some special need in the man for Jesus to go to all the trouble. He put his fingers in his ear for physical contact and to symbolize the opening, and he spit on his fingers, probably his index finger, and put it on the man’s tongue. This is recorded in a sequential manner: (1) place his fingers in the man’s ears, (2) spit on his own finger, and (3) place his finger on the man’s tongue, (4) sigh, (5) and finally command.
Apparently the third step was also for contact between Jesus and the man. Jesus will once again spit in Mark 8:23 and John 9:4-5. This was unusual for his ministry. No one can box God in. Also, there was a belief in the ancient world that saliva had a spiritual component to it, so Jesus was momentarily and occasionally fitting in to his culture. But please don’t build an entire healing system on spitting! Remember, the Bible was not written to us, but for us and for people of all generations, past and future, after proper interpretation and exegesis is done. The real cause of healing was found in the command and in Jesus’s faith and probably the man’s faith too.
But why sigh?
It is the Greek verb stenazō (pronounced steh-nah-zoh), and it can mean “sigh” and “groan” or “burden” or “grumble.” It is used six times, as follows. In Rom. 8:23, it means that we ourselves groan inwardly, waiting for our ultimate redemption. In 2 Cor. 5:2, 4, we groan, waiting for our new bodies in our present “tents” or the bodies we have now. In Heb. 13:17, church goers are not to “burden” the leaders or make them “groan” because the church members are high maintenance. They should be cooperative. In Jas. 5:9, we are not to grumble against each other. No sighing loudly in frustration, please, when people don’t do what you say or you don’t get your way.
So why sigh? Evidently, Jesus was burdened by all the human degradation that his people had to put up with. Call it an “action parable,” in which he acted out his burden for broken humanity.
Don’t be afraid to command a disease or brokenness to go from a person. Command the deafness and muteness or a demon or a fever or any other disease.
Please note: an authoritative command is not the same as decreeing things out of your own mind, forcing God’s hand.
God’s hand shall not be forced by arrogant followers of his Son. He leads. They follow.
In this verse the answer comes. The man is set free. The hearing or ears were opened. And the bond or fetter attached to the tongue, so to speak, was loosed. The Greek noun for “bond” or “fetter” and can also mean “imprisonment” or “prison.” The Greek indicates that he was not completely mute, but just could not enunciate clearly, due to his deafness. In any case, the man’s tongue was in prison. All this deliverance and healing from a command and physical contact! Wonderful.
These final two verses are about the response of the people.
The people said he does all thing well. Some commentators say this reflects Gen. 1:31, which says that God saw all that he made, and it was good. Jesus is bringing to earth a “new creation” in his preaching the kingdom and his healing ministry and expelling demons.
He told them not to broadcast this healing to the masses. Why? First, Jesus simply wanted to spread the message his way without the false expectations from noninformed people. Second, the exuberant expectation from the masses may spark an insurrection, which would hinder his message and his mission: to proclaim the kingdom of God, backed up by signs and wonders. People had to learn about his Messiahship through their thirst and hunger for the knowledge of God. They had to connect the dots. This is one of the purposes of teaching in parables. Only the hungry seekers could understand.
Let’s talk about the signs of the Messiah or the Messianic Age, to find out which dots they had to connect without a loudspeaker blasting it.
As I note in various places throughout the commentary on the Gospels, one sign of the Messianic Age was the healing of diseases and broken bodies. Is. 35 describes this age. After God comes with a vengeance to rescue his people, these things will happen:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6).
Is. 26:19 says of the Messianic Age: “But your dead will live, LORD, their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout with joy” (Is. 26:19, NIV).
The phrase “in that day” refers to the age that the Messiah ushers in: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll and out of gloom and darkness the eyes will see” (Is. 29:18, NIV).
The Lord’s Chosen Servant will do many things. Here are some: “I am the LORD: I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for my people, a light for the nations, to open they eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Is. 42:6-7, ESV). Is. 42:18 connects hearing and seeing with walking in God’s ways, and deafness and blindness with national judgment. As for leprosy, Jesus referred to the time when Elijah the prophet healed Namaan the Syrian of his skin disease, and the return of Elijah was a sign that the Messiah was here (Mal. 4:5-6; Luke 9:28-36).
The people in vv. 36-37 did not obey Jesus’s command not to talk about it. Mark in fact says that the more he told them not to, the more they did just the opposite. Why did Jesus command the man’s friends not to tell others? He did not want to excite popular hysteria about his miraculous works. Jesus downplayed the miracles (Luke 4:35, 41; 8:56; Matt. 9:30; 12:16; Mark 1:34; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). His main goal was teaching, not just wonder-working.
GrowApp for Mark 7:31-37
A.. What great miracle has God done for you? Has he healed you of shyness and a refusal to listen? Has he healed you physically?
Summary and Conclusion
Many scholars believe that the long passage about the Word of God taking priority over the tradition of the elders and declaring all foods clean is an answer to Jewish objection to the early Christian communities, who began to allow Gentiles to enter, and the Gentiles did not have scruples about foods and washing. The point is that washing before eating was ceremonial and was one more marker to separate the Jewish communities from the Gentile “dogs.” Jesus broke down those barriers.
Here’s Peter’s vision about unclean things:
9 The next day, while they were traveling and nearing the town, Peter went up on the housetop to pray around noon. 10 He got hungry and was wanting to partake. While they were preparing the meal, a trance happened to him. 11 He saw heaven open up and an object coming down, something like a huge sheet, lowered by the four corners to the ground. 12 On it were four-footed animals, ground crawlers, and birds of the sky. 13 And a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter, slaughter and eat!” 14 Peter said, “No way, Lord! I have never eaten anything common or unclean!” 15 And again a voice said to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, don’t you reckon common. 16 This happened a third time, and instantly the object went back up into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16, my tentative translation)
The long passage in Mark is in agreement. (Recall that many scholars believe that Mark wrote his Gospel from Peter’s preaching.)
Next, Jesus not only tells and declares all foods are clean, and by extension, Gentiles are clean, he demonstrates it by healing a Syro-Phoenician Greek woman—a Gentile and a woman, both categories not very “kosher” to many Jews back then. At first, he puts her off by denying her request. He is role-playing as a teacher to challenge the student to rise to victory and “defeat” him. Will she pass the test? Will she rise? Jesus must have seen something in her to do this, because she answered very strongly and wisely. Yes, she says (my paraphrase), but even little dogs eat little crumbs dropped from the table for little children. I don’t ask for a loaf, not even a torn-off piece. Just a crumb right now. Your kingdom and healing ministry is so powerful that a crumb will fix my daughter. So she “defeated” him. Brava! He replies (paraphrased). With your reply or message or word, your daughter is delivered.
Finally, Jesus heals a deaf man. Jesus takes him aside so the healing would not become known. He wanted his Messiahship to be revealed in the right way and at the right time, and on his own terms. He could not have a fleshly insurrection, with the noninformed people making him to be a king in their image. He was a king in God’s image, and this king was a servant who will give his life a ransom for many. In any case, Jesus used an unusual way to heal the man, spitting on his own finger and putting it on the man’s tongue. Don’t box God in. He’ll heal any way he wants. Culturally speaking, however, people believed that saliva had some power in it, so he momentarily fit into his culture, but it was an authoritative command that healed the man. The touch of the ears and the tongue was a symbolic way of a faith contact. Putting the fingers in the ears and taking them out was an action parable to unplug the ear. And putting his finger on the tongue was an action parable to symbolize his tongue being loosed from the bond or fetters that made the man “tongue-tied,” literally!
I have heard of an evangelist who also healed that God spoke to him to moisten his index finger and put it on a mute woman’s tongue. He was reluctant, but finally obeyed. She was healed. However, it does not need to be said that no one should build a healing system on it, either! But definitely speak authoritative commands to your sickness, and lay hands on sick people (Jas. 5:14-15).
Decker, Rodney J. Mark 1-8: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor UP, 2014).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2002).
Garland, David E. Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996).
Lane, William L. Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Eerdmans, 1974).
Strauss, Mark L. Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Wessel, Walter W. and Mark L. Strauss. Mark: The Bible’s Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 9, Rev. ed. (Zondervan 2010).