Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 1 March 2012; Revised 17 September 2016
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Good News of Mark" because Mark describes his book as "good news" (1:1). Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Mark and his book.
Date: Winter A.D. 28-9
Tradition Versus Torah
Parallel Passage: Matthew 15:1-20
1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem,
The Pharisees: pl. of Grk. Pharisaios which translates the Heb. p'rushim, meaning "separatists." The title was born of the fact that they separated themselves from the common people of the land who did not tithe, were ritually impure and knew nothing of the Torah (Law). They traced their roots to the Hasidim ("pious ones") organized in the time of Ezra. There were many aspects of Phariseeism with which Yeshua would have agreed. They believed in resurrection and immortality, and the importance of living a holy life. They regarded Greek ideas as abominations. The Pharisees accepted the traditions of the Sages as having equal authority as the written Torah. Josephus estimated that there were at least six thousand Pharisees in the Land (Ant. XVII, 2:4). There were several Pharisaic communities in Jerusalem (Jeremias 252). In addition, Pharisee rabbis had many disciples throughout Israel and the Diaspora.
Many Christians equate the term Pharisee with being synonymous with hypocrite or legalist, as if Christians have never been guilty of legalistic definitions of ethics and sinful behavior. There are many verses in the Gospels that depict certain Pharisees in a bad light, as a concordance search can easily reveal. Even the Jewish Sages spoke harshly against seven types of hypocritical Pharisees (Avot 5:9; Sot. 22b). To many Pharisees almsgiving, long prayers, twice-weekly fasting and tithing were the most important components of righteous living (Matt 23:14, 23; Luke 18:12), all of them done in a manner designed to gain attention (Matt 6:16:1-2, 5-7, 16). These were the sort of adversaries with whom Yeshua contended.
Unfortunately, we know far more about the ones who harassed Yeshua than we do about his supporters among the Pharisees, like Nicodemus (John 3:1; 7:50-51), and the unnamed Pharisees who warned Yeshua of a plot by Herod to kill him (Luke 13:31). The good ones went about their daily lives focused on serving God and didn’t bother Yeshua, so we don’t have their stories. To impugn all Pharisees of that time with the same negative judgment would be unfair. While the Pharisees had many teachings with which Yeshua agreed and he enjoined his disciples to respect their authority (Matt 23:2), he also warned his disciples to avoid the hypocrisy found among so many Pharisees.
and some of the scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus translates Heb. sofer and refers to a specialist in Mosaic legal matters. A scribe was a legal scholar and a teacher of the Torah. See the note on 1:22. Unlike the Pharisees, which was Jewish faction defined by a religious point of view, the scribes were professionals. They might be Pharisees (2:16) or they might be Sadducees or some other party. In any event the scribes are normally seen as adversaries of Yeshua in the Gospels. gathered around Him: Yeshua's adversaries, self-appointed enforcers of orthodoxy, resort to an intimidation tactic. They may not have touched Yeshua, but by crowding close they believed they could bully him into submission. when they had come: Grk. erchomai, aor. act. part., to come or arrive. The verb suggests a very recent arrival. They wasted no time locating Yeshua after their trip.
from Jerusalem: Grk. Hierosoluma, a rough transliteration of the Heb. Yerushalayim, which means possession or foundation of peace (BDB 436). What a precious name is Jerusalem! The name of God’s holy city occurs ten times in this book. For the faithful Jew the city of Jerusalem that had been captured from the Jebusites and made Israel’s capitol by David represented all that was dear in the covenant relationship with God. One psalmist expressed his affection thus, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill, may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Ps 137:5-6).
The syntax suggests that these scribes were a team of legal specialists sent by the Sanhedrin to investigate (as in 3:22). They might also have been members of the Sanhedrin, which did include scribes. (See the note on 14:1).
2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed.
and had seen: The food police saw, because they had been closely watching Yeshua and his group for any sign of infringement of halakhah. that some of His disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs, one who learns through instruction from a teacher. In the apostolic writings mathētēs corresponds to the Heb. talmid and occurs only in the apostolic narratives. See the note on 2:15 for the expectations of a disciple. were eating: Grk. esthiō, pres., to consume food. their bread: Grk. artos, bread, without respect to leavening. Since bread was the main item for eating in biblical lands, it was often used as a synonym for food in general. The intention could be simply bread or as a metaphor for a meal.
with impure hands: Grk. koinos means common, unclean, or profane in a religious sense. The use of koinos alludes to the fact that the Torah identified four categories for people, animals and things: (1) "Holy," Heb. kodesh, apartness or sacredness (BDB 871); (2) "Common," Heb. chol, profaneness or commonness, in a concrete sense opposite of holy (not necessarily evil, 1Sam 21:5) (BDB 323); (3) "Clean," Heb. tahor, pure, free of pollution (BDB 373); and (4) "unclean," Heb. tumah, n.; tameh, adj., defiled, opposite of clean; (BDB 379f). G.J. Wenham explains,
"Everything that is not holy is common. Common things divide into two groups, the clean and the unclean. Clean things become holy when they are sanctified. But unclean objects cannot be sanctified. Clean things can be made unclean, if they are polluted. Finally, holy items may be defiled and become common, even polluted, and therefore unclean. … It is perhaps because "common" is a category between the two extremes of holiness and uncleanness that it is mentioned only once, in Lev. 10:10." (The Book of Leviticus. [William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1979], p. 19)
The book of Leviticus identifies several sub-categories of uncleanness: (1) Lev 11: animals unfit for eating; (2) Lev 12: childbirth; (3) Lev 13: skin disease; (4) Lev 14:33-35: mildew; (5) Lev 15: genital discharges, loss of semen or blood; and (6) Lev 21; Num 5, 19: touching a corpse. The status of uncleanness in most cases was temporary and could be ended by ritual washing.
that is, unwashed: Grk. aniptos, not having been cleaned with water. Mark gives the technical term from the Torah first and again translates for his non-Jewish readers. The narrative is precise in saying that the disciples had violated the washing rule. The criticism alludes to the organization of Pharisees into four degrees. The first degree Pharisees were characterized by tithing. The second degree Pharisees were noted for washing their hands before eating and before touching ritually clean food. The third degree involved more complicated expectations and achieving the fourth degree required a period of probation of thirty days to one year (Moseley 112f). So, Yeshua's disciples weren't even worthy as second-degree Pharisees. The lack of including Yeshua in the observation may mean either that Yeshua had washed his hands or he was fasting that meal. Yeshua was apparently not always scrupulous in this practice since at a later time when he ate lunch at a Pharisee's house he neglected the ritual hand washing (Luke 11:38).
3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders;
For the Pharisees: See the note on verse 1. and all the Jews: Grk. Ioudaioi, pl. of Ioudaios, Jew, Jewish or Jewess (BAG), although the term in biblical contexts does not mean the opposite of "Christian" as in common use today. The noun, occurring 194 times in the Besekh, is used to identify biological descendants of Jacob. In the LXX Ioudaios translates Heb. Y’hudi (pl Y’hudim). Y’hudi was derived from Y’hudah, the name given to Jacob’s son (Gen 29:35) and thereafter his tribal descendants (Ex 31:2). The plural Y’hudim first appears in 2 Kings 16:6; 25:25 and Jeremiah 34:9 to refer to Judeans or citizens of the Kingdom of Judah. The southern kingdom also included the tribes of Benjamin and Simeon, so Mordecai of the tribe of Benjamin is identified as a Yehudi (Esth 2:5; 6:10).
The meaning of Y'hudim expanded during the exile to refer to all those taken in captivity from the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah living throughout the Persian empire (Esth 8:9, 11, and 17). Indeed, the broader use of Y'hudim/Ioudaioi mirrors the Aramaic form Y'hudain that occurs in Ezra (4:12, 23; 5:1, 5; 6:7, 14) and Daniel (3:8, 12). This same usage is found in the writings of Josephus, the Jewish historian, in which he distinguishes Jews from other people groups (e.g., Apion 1:1, 5, 8, 13, 19, 22, 26-27, 32-35). The CJB renders the name as "Judeans," but there is no indication that Mark intended to exclude Jews in other parts of the world. However, "all" the Jews approaches hyperbole and probably means "all the observant Jews." Obviously Yeshua's disciples didn't follow the practice and if they didn't there were likely many in the Am Ha-Retz ("people of the Land") and Diaspora that neglected the duty as well.
they carefully: Grk. pugmē, fist or lit. "with the fist." The translation of "carefully," is a guess, but the word is probably a reference to a technique for washing, i.e., with a cupped hand. wash: Grk. niptō, aor. mid. subj., to cleanse with water. their hands: pl. of Grk. cheir, the body part with fingers. The descriptive detail of "washing with the fist" emphasizes the particularly Jewishness of Mark and his book. The practice of washing with the fist was an old custom and very practical for minimizing water usage, considering that water was (and is) a valuable commodity in the Land of Israel (Lane 246f). Pouring water on cupped hands indicated ritual washing in preparation for a meal. For purposes of cleanliness it was sufficient to pour some water on part of the hand, which could subsequently be spread all over the hand by rubbing both hands.
thus observing: Grk. krateō, pres. act. part., have a firm hold of, to hold fast to. the traditions: Grk. paradosis, a procedure or practice, whether long-standing or relatively current handed down by an authority. The Greek noun is actually singular, not plural. Mark is referring to a specific tradition or practice, not the entire body of rabbinic law. of the elders: pl. of Grk. presbuteros is related to presbus, which means "an old man," and thus means someone ranked as superior in age. As a plural noun the term has a variety of applications: (1) ancestors, those associated with remembrance of a venerable past and therefore respected; (2) elders, those having ruling authority, or official responsibility. Prior to A.D. 70 the term was used for officers in a synagogue, for members of local councils in individual cities, and for members of a group in the Sanhedrin (BAG).
In the LXX presbuteros renders Heb. zaqen (old, aged; and in the plural "elders," BDB 278). Presbuteroi first occurs in Exodus 19:7 to identify the leaders of Israel. It was from this group that the seventy elders were chosen to assist Moses (Num 11:24). These elders are referred to as "elders of the people" (Ex 19:7), "elders of Israel" (Num 11:16; Josh 7:23; 24:1; 2Sam 3:17; 17:15; 1Kgs 8:1; 2Chr 5:2; Ezek 20:3) and the "elders of the sons of Israel" (Deut 31:9), all of which emphasize that the national leaders were not of the tribe of Levi. Elders are identified in the Tanakh as having authority over clans, tribes, cities, regions in the Land and over the nation itself.
The term "elders" juxtaposed with "traditions" may have two applications. First, the traditions of the elders might refer to practices imposed by the Sanhedrin, the final authority on matters of religion and custom. Considering the mention of Pharisees in verse 1 and this verse, then the "traditions of the elders" points to an earlier time, perhaps to the Hasidim as the forerunners of the Pharisees. The leading teachers of the pre-Tannaitic era (200 B.C.–A.D. 20) and certainly some of the notable Rabbis in the first generation of Tannaim (20 B.C.–A.D. 80) would be included in this group. The Tannaim (from Heb. Tanna "repeaters" or "teachers") were the Sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah. (See the chart of Sages compiled by Rabbi Gavriel Bellino, Sixteenth Street Synagogue in New York City.)
The "tradition of the elders," then, refers to a broad set of rules developed by the Sages, based on interpretation of the laws given to Moses and followed by the Pharisees. Josephus provided this basic difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
"the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers." (Ant. XIII, 10:6)
4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)
when they come from the market place: Grk. agora, a place for gathering, especially a marketplace as the center of civic life. they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves: For "cleanse" the Maj-Text and the Textus Receptus have Grk. baptizo, which means to dip, soak, or immerse into a liquid, here referring to ritual washing. However, the WH-Text, based on some early and important MSS (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Coptic and Georgian) has rantizō, which means to apply a liquid or other substance in a dispersing pattern. Danker lists this verse as a reference for rantizō and the NA-21 Text has rantizō. However, the NA-27 Text adopted baptizō. It is very possible that rantizō, being a less familiar word, was replaced by the more familiar baptizō by later copyists in order to maintain the word for the Christian rite.
Rantizō seems more appropriate to the context of Jewish ritual hand washing as distinguished from the manner of washing household items. David Stern explains that the ritual hand washing described in the apostolic narratives corresponds to the details set forth in the Mishnah tractate Yadayim (92). In the marketplace one could touch ceremonially impure things and then the impurity would be removed by rinsing up to the wrist. The rationale for washing has nothing to do with hygiene but was based on the idea that "a man’s home is his Temple," with the dining table his altar, the food his sacrifice and himself the priest. Since the Torah requires priests to be "clean" before offering sacrifices on the sanctuary altar, rabbinic authority determined the same requirement applied before eating a meal in one's home.
and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe: This statement refers to the nature of Pharisaic traditions as having been passed on from generation to generation. Washing hands and household items was just one of those traditions. such as the washing: Grk. baptismos, thorough immersion in liquid. Danker defines the word as a washing with a ceremonial focus. of cups: pl. of Grk. potērion, a drinking cup. and pitchers: pl. of Grk. xestēs, a household pouring vessel. and copper pots: pl. of Grk. chalkion, a metal container, a kettle, which may be made of copper, brass or bronze, as culturally determined.
The majority of MSS add and beds: pl. of Grk. klinē, a structure used for lying down, whether stretcher, bed, couch or pallet. (GNB has "beds," ESV and NKJV has "couches," and KJV has "tables," which is clearly inaccurate). The NA-27 Text includes the words, but in brackets. The editors gave the phrase a "C" rating, which means a considerable doubt as to whether it is the correct reading. Metzger says that it is difficult to decide whether klinē was added by copyists who were influenced by Leviticus 15, or whether the words were omitted accidentally or deliberately because the idea of washing a bed seemed incongruous with the rest of the list. The words are omitted from a few strong but early MSS. Thus, most English versions as the NASB do not contain the words.
The frequent washing practice described here accounts significantly in the much lower rate of mortality among Jews from disease and medical procedures as compared to Gentiles from ancient times to almost modern times.
5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"
Why do Your disciples: The question on the face of it is meant to sound as reasonable request for an explanation of offensive behavior. There must be a logical reason, and they simply want to know what it is. In reality the question is a veiled attack on Yeshua himself. Disciples of a rabbi lived in obedience to the rabbi. In this instance the offensive behavior of the disciples must be approved, or even directed, by their rabbi. They imply that Yeshua is not worthy to be considered a rabbi.
6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
And: Grk. de, conj. He said: Grk. legō, aor., to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or in written form; say, tell, declare. to them: pl. of Grk. autos, pers. pron. Rightly: Grk. kalōs, adv., in an effective manner, often with the focus on meeting expectations; well, effectively, accurately, correctly, appropriately. did Isaiah: Grk. Ēsaias, a Graecized form of Heb. Yesha'yahu ("YHVH is Salvation" or "YHVH has saved"). Isaiah was the son of Amoz of the tribe of Judah and perhaps related to the royal house. The prophet lived during the reigns of the Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and probably the first years of Manasseh. He was contemporary with the last five kings of Israel: Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, and Hosea.
Isaiah received his call to ministry in a dramatic fashion c. 740 BC (Isa 6:1), and prophesied for forty years during which he was an adviser (court prophet) to Ahaz and Hezekiah. He was contemporary with the prophets Micah and Hosea. He married a prophetess and had two sons (Isa 7:3; 8:3). Jewish tradition says that Isaiah was put to death by King Manasseh by being sawn in half (Yebamoth 49b; Ascension of Isaiah 1:9; 5:2; cf. Heb 11:37). He left a monumental literary work of 66 chapters, the longest of the prophetic books, containing almost half of the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh. Isaiah wrote mostly warnings in the first half of his book and mostly comfort and promise in the second half.
Various scholars have proposed that some unknown author wrote the second half of the book of Isaiah (40─66) and a few scholars have actually suggested a Third Isaiah (56─66). Against this viewpoint are these arguments: (1) for 25 centuries no one doubted that Isaiah was the author of all 66 chapters; (2) there is no evidence whatever that the two (or three) parts of the book ever existed separately; and (3) all the quotations in the Besekh from parts of Isaiah labeled as "Second” and "Third” Isaiah" attribute those passages to Isaiah the prophet (e.g., Isa 40:3 in Matt 3:3; Isa 61:1 in Luke 4:17-18).
We’re supposed to believe that some of the greatest literature in the Bible, not to mention the world, with its many and detailed prophecies of the Messiah, was written by someone completely anonymous and unremembered in Judaism. Modern scholars go to incredible lengths to avoid believing in the truth of biblical material, just because they can’t accept that the Lord revealed the name of Cyrus (Isa 44:28; 45:1) almost two hundred years before he was born or that Isaiah was given words of exhortation and comfort for a people he knew would go into exile (Isa 39:6). If they can't believe the prophecy about Cyrus, how can they believe the prophecies that named the Messiah (Isa 7:14; 9:6; 46:13; 51:5; 59:16)?
prophesy: Grk. prophēteuō, aor., may mean (1) to proclaim a divine revelation; (2) prophetically reveal what is hidden; or (3) foretell the future, prophesy (BAG). In the LXX prophēteuō generally translates Heb. nava, which means to show, present or express oneself, to speak as a prophet (DNTT 3:77). The Hebrew verb primarily means to speak prophetically, that is "forth-telling," with occasional predictions (foretelling). Forth-telling predominates in the Tanakh and messages might consist of warning against sinning, announcing divine judgments, encouraging repentance and giving hope of restoration. True prophesying is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2Pet 1:21).
of you: Grk. humeis, 2p-pl. pers. pron. hypocrites: pl. of Grk. hupokritēs, one who claims to be what one is not; play actor, pretender. Mounce adds "a moral or religious counterfeit." The term appears 18 times in the Besekh, all in the apostolic narratives. as: Grk. hōs, adv. with the primary function of connecting narrative components; used with the focus on a pattern or model, often to introduce a simile; as, just as, like, similar to. it is written: Grk. graphō, perf. pass., to write or inscribe, generally in reference to a document. In the LXX graphō appears about 300 times and translates Heb. kathab, to write. The first use of graphō in the LXX is Exodus 24:4, "And Moses wrote all the words of ADONAI." The first use of kathab in the Tanakh is Exodus 17:14, "ADONAI said to Moses, 'Write [LXX katagraphō, "write down"] this for a memorial in the book and rehearse it in the hearing of Joshua" (TLV).
The phrase "it is written" is the standard formula in the apostolic writings for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh. Yeshua then quotes from Isaiah 29:13, no doubt in Hebrew, but Mark presents the LXX text, which seems to differ markedly from the Hebrew text:
Then the Lord said, "Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote," Isa 29:13
7 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'
Stern comments that sometimes the apostolic writers are criticized for not quoting from the Masoretic Hebrew Tanakh as we have it today (even though this form of the text did not become fixed until around AD 800). The critics forget that in Yeshua’s time there were several different Hebrew texts of most books. Moreover, the Septuagint (LXX) itself was translated into Greek by Jews about two hundred years earlier from an obviously different Hebrew text which they presumably considered authoritative. To Greek-speaking Jews the LXX was the normal means of access to the content of the Bible, just as English-speakers today rely on an English version.
To the bad theology, misguided halakhah and petty legalism, Yeshua launches into a scathing condemnation. Their temerity in attempting to correct the Messiah is breathtaking. They had no clue how close they were to the ground opening up under them as it did to Korah and his followers (Num 16:32).
8 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."
Yeshua presents a two-count indictment. Neglecting: Grk. aphiēmi, aor. act. part., to cancel, leave behind, abandon in the sense of neglect. The aorist participle functions like a perfect tense. The action occurred in the past, but continues. the commandment: Grk. entolē, a directive for action, command, order or instruction. In the LXX entolē, occurs 244 times (46 times without a Hebrew equivalent). The noun is concentrated in the Torah, especially in Deuteronomy. In the majority of passages entolē renders Heb. mitsvah, (e.g., Ex 20:6; Ps 119:6), 159 times. A mitsvah is instruction intended for obedience and often associated with a good deed or charitable works with the promise of blessing for obedience. Violation produces guilt and need for atonement.
Another word translated with entolē is Heb. piqqudim (e.g. Ps 119:4), occurring 18 times. The word may be translated as precepts, statutes or commandments. Its root meaning is exercise oversight of a subordinate and only occurs in Psalms. The third word translated by entolē is Heb. choq (Deut 6:24; 16:12; 28:15), which means to engrave, hence to write; and alludes to engraving laws on stone, metal or scrolls. We can say that God's Word is "set in stone." This term is used especially in laws of offerings due the priests, laws that prescribed justice due to victims, laws for holy living (e.g., sexual relations) and laws for holy days and festivals. The fourth word entolē translates is Heb. dabar (Deut 18:14: Ps 119:9), occurring ten times and means to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, or warn. The term refers to what God said or says. The ten commandments are called the ten words (Deut 4:3; 10:4) and the Hebrew name for the book of Deuteronomy is D’varim, "all the words."
of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel, the One who always was and always will be. In direct contrast to its polytheistic use in pagan Greek, the Jewish translators of the LXX employed theos to render the Hebrew words for God, El (which occurs over 200 times) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70). In other words, the Scriptures were written at the direct instigation and inspiration of God (cf. 2Pet 1:20-21).
you hold: Grk. krateo, to gain control of or to have firm hold on, to hold fast. The present tense emphasizes a continual value choice. to the tradition: Grk. paradosis, a procedure or practice, whether long-standing or relatively current handed down by an authority. The singular noun probably refers to a principle that guides their lifestyle, not one particular rabbinic law. of men: Yeshua reminds them that the traditions they so highly value were the creation of human beings, not God.
9 He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
You are experts: Grk. kalōs, adv., in an effective manner. Yeshua is being sarcastic. at setting aside: Grk. atheteō, to set aside as unworthy of consideration, to invalidate or nullify. the commandment of God: See the previous verse. in order to keep: Grk. histēmi, aor. act. subj., to cause to be in a place, to maintain. your tradition: See the previous verse. Yeshua charged his critics with neglecting the most important things for the lesser important things. The former crime is one of laziness, but the latter is one of presumption, a capital crime in the Torah (Num 15:30). Yeshua's rebuke affirms in the strongest terms that he did not cancel the Torah. (See my commentary on Matthew 5:17.) If the commandments given to Moses no longer have authority the Pharisees could not very well be accused of neglecting them as is so often with case with modern Christians.
Many Christians think Yeshua’s answer to the question of verse 5 condemns all of Pharisaic tradition. In fact, Yeshua objects only to the practice of elevating man-made rules above God’s commandments. He is not opposed to tradition as such, because he followed some Pharisaic traditions himself (e.g., prayer before eating, Mark 6:41). After all, the Pharisees don't complain about Yeshua's behavior but that of his disciples. Yeshua also refers to "your tradition," which might even suggest that the rule was more recent and not laid down by the Sages. In any event, Yeshua could not be opposing tradition in general because the apostles would later insist congregations follow certain practices (1Cor 7:17; 11:2, 16; 16:1; Php 4:9; 2Th 2:15; 3:6).
10 "For Moses said, `HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, `HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH';
For Moses: Grk. Mōusēs, the transliteration of Heb. Moshe, which is most likely derived from Egyptian mes meaning "child" or "son" (BDB 602), since the daughter of Pharaoh named him (Ex 2:10). She explained the chosen name by saying, "Because I drew [Heb. mashah, "to draw"] him out of the water." Moses was the great Hebrew leader, prophet and lawgiver of Israel. Moses was a Levite, the son of Amram and Jochebed, who was Amram's aunt (Ex 6:20). He had two wives, Zipporah (Ex 2:21; 18:2) and a Cushite woman (Num 12:1), and two sons of Zipporah, one named Gershom and the other named Eliezer (Ex 18:3-4).
Moses was the leader of the Israelites in their Exodus from Egyptian slavery and oppression, their journey through the wilderness with its many threats, and finally in their meeting with God at Mount Sinai where the distinctive covenant bonding between Israel and God took place. The Tanakh describes Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, a heroic leader of the people and as a devout man of God. His story is found in the extensive narratives from Exodus 1:1 through Deuteronomy 34:1. His name appears 764 times in the Tanakh and 80 times in the Besekh. Moses was a giant of a man.
said: Grk. legō, to make a statement or utterance, whether in oral or written form. In the LXX legō renders Heb. amar (SH-559), to utter, say, shew, command or think. The Greek verb "say" functions as quotation marks for the text following since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. Yeshua quotes from two commandments found in the Torah. By appealing to Moses there is no intention of suggesting that Moses invented these commandments. Rather, Moses was God's agent to communicate His will to Israel, both orally and in writing. Yeshua sets up his argument since the Pharisees claimed their traditions could be traced back to Moses. However, little considered by Christian commentators is that Yeshua indirectly affirms the authority of all the commandments given to Moses.
Honor: Grk. timaō, pres. imp., to have special regard for, to show respect to. Yeshua quotes the fifth of the ten commandments found in Exodus 20:12. The Hebrew verb kabad means to honor or to glorify (BDB 457). The present tense of timaō accurately translates the imperfect tense of kabad, indicating that honoring parents should be an ongoing activity. The rest of the commandment adds the promise "that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you." Yeshua's quotation, typical of Rabbinic use of Scripture, would include the context.
He who speaks evil: Grk. kakologeō, pres. part., to speak slanderously of or to badmouth someone. The second quoted commandment comes from Exodus 21:17, a prohibition of cursing a parent. The Greek verb renders Heb. qalal, to lightly esteem (BDB 886). The translation of "curse" does not refer to pronouncing a verbal curse, as commonly conceived, but to bringing the curse of contempt on the parents by virtue of a son's dishonorable behavior. The context of Exodus 21:17 (verses 12-25) lists several actions that would bring dishonor to parents, including striking a parent (v. 15). The LXX translates verse 15 as beating a parent to death, and switches the order of verses 16 and 17 to make verbal abuse against a parent comparable to a physical beating.
Since many Christians typically only consider commandments given in the Besekh to be authoritative, then obviously the command to honor one's parents should be obeyed. Both Yeshua and Paul repeat the commandment (Matt 19:19; Eph 6:2). That means, of course, that the second commandment Yeshua quoted here must have authority also. However, Yeshua made a significant change to the Torah. He removed the authority of the congregation to carry out capital punishment and vested it solely in the civil government. Instead, sinning behavior is to be confronted repeatedly and if repentance is not forthcoming, then the offender is to be removed from membership in the congregation (Matt 18:15-19; Luke 7:3; cf. Lev 19:17; Rom 13:1-4; 1Cor 5:1-5; 6:1-8; Gal 6:1; 2Th 3:6; 1Tim 5:19-20; Titus 3:10). Unfortunately, most Christians and most congregations avoid obeying Yeshua's commands given in Matthew 18.
11 but you say, `If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother;
but you say: Yeshua then introduces the tradition that has been allowed to set aside obedience to the two commandments quoted from Moses. Corban: Grk. korban, which transliterates the Hebrew word for "near" (Stern). Mark in his typical style gives the Hebrew word and then translates its meaning as something set apart for God. Korban is also a technical term for a ritual formula pronounced over some object to remove it from profane use (Rienecker).
Yeshua’s objection on one level is to bad priorities. Vows and oaths are not to be used selfishly to give a pretext for avoiding doing what God, love and righteousness require. Compare Matt 5:33–37, 12:7, 23:16–23, and see how Yeshua continues this teaching in vv. 12–23. The rabbinic elaboration of the formulas and rules concerning oaths and vows can be found in Talmud tractates Shebuoth and Nedarim. On another level Yeshua's proclamation seethes with deep displeasure (cf. Isa 58:7) and is in keeping with the divine rebukes against mistreatment of widows found in the Tanakh (Isa 1:17, 23; 10:2; Jer 7:6; 22:3; Ezek 22:7; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5; cf. Matt 23:14).
13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that."
thus invalidating: Grk. akuroō, pres. part., to cancel, to render null and void, to revoke. The term was often used of annulling wills and contracts (Rienecker). the word of God: Yeshua affirms in simple language that the fifth commandment is the word of God, that is, it was spoken by God to Moses, and if that commandment is the word of God, then so are all the other commandments given to Moses. They stand or fall together. by your tradition: see the notes on verses 5 and 9. which you have handed down: Grk. paradidōmi, aor., to give further, to pass on, to transmit by teaching. The aorist tense emphasizes the contemporary nature of the Pharisee's tradition. and you do many things such as that: This catch-all statement on anyone else's lips might be deemed an unsupportable or unfair generalization. On the lips of Yeshua the criticism says much about the state of Phariseeism of that time. There were certainly good Pharisees, but in general the movement was in need of a spiritual and moral revival. A number of these "many things" are documented in Matthew 23. NOTE: Yeshua does not dispute the public health benefit of washing, but rather the religious significance Pharisees attached to the practice.
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:
After He called: Grk. proskaleomai, aor. mid. part., to call to one's presence, to summon; lit. "and called." the crowd to Him again: Grk. palin, adv., again, once more. The adverb does not mean that Yeshua had been speaking to this crowd, was interrupted and now resumes his teaching. Rather, the point is that he once more sought to teach the people the true meaning of the ways of God. Listen to Me: the command to listen is not just an attention getting interjection, but a declaration of authority. The unbelieving Pharisees have lost their right to interpret Torah by virtue of subverting God's intention. all of you: Grk. pas, an adj. that conveys the sense of comprehensiveness and means "all" or "whole." The phrase is lit. "listen to me all," so pas could be a reference to everyone in the crowd before him or pas could mean, "listen to everything I'm saying." and understand: Grk. suniēmi, to grasp significance, to comprehend. Yeshua issues a second command to understand a simple principle.
15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
there is nothing outside the man: Grk. anthrōpos, used in its general meaning of an individual person, whether male or female, and by extension to all of mankind. which can: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. ind., be capable of doing or achieving something. defile: Grk. koinoō, aor. inf., to make common, unclean, profane, in a religious sense. See the note on verse 2 for the Torah classification system. him if it goes into him: Yeshua makes an important distinction here by referring to physical consumption into the human body. Inanimate things not only lack the power to change themselves (as evolutionists claim), but they also have no power to affect the spiritual condition of a man by ingestion. The uncleanness with which the Pharisees were concerned was contrived and not found in the Torah at all.
Yeshua insists that what really defiles a man must come from within. He offers a specific list to demonstrate the principle in verses 20-23.
16 [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."]
This verse is placed in brackets because there is some doubt as to whether it was in the original manuscript of Mark. While the verse is found in the Vulgate (405), Augustine (4th cent.), Alexandrinus (5th cent.) and the majority of later MSS, it is not found in the significant early MSS Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (both 4th cent.).
In Mark the idiomatic expression occurs elsewhere only in chapter four. He who has ears: The opening clause draws attention to his call to listen in verse 14 and the point of the parabolic principle he just stated. In Hebrew writing parts of the human body were often used as allusions to behavior, both positive and negative (cf. Matt 5:29f; Rom 6:13; Heb 12:13). The human ear is a beautifully designed organ to receive sound. The ear, of course, does not pick and choose the sounds it will accept. By turning the physical function of the ear into a metaphor, Yeshua could address the fundamental issue of obedience. The metaphor of having "ears" points to the willingness to learn or to be open to the truth.
to hear: Grk. akouō, pres. inf. The infinitive emphasizes the capacity to hear sounds in contrast to being deaf. let him hear: Grk. akouō, pres. imp. The present tense verb emphasizes to start and continue the activity. The complete exhortation "he that has ears (or "an ear"), let him hear" (rather than "read") is a Hebrew idiom that reflects the typical manner of first century learning. Scrolls were found in synagogues, not in personal possession, and knowledge of God’s Word came from hearing the Scriptures read aloud and memorizing them (cf. Rom 2:13). The words "let him hear" is actually a single word in the Greek, a stronger exhortation than it appears on the surface. It is not a permissive directive, but a strong exclamation as if the Lord is yelling to a deaf person, "Hear!!"
Moses used a similar command to Israel in reiterating the Torah before their entry into Canaan, "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully" (Deut 5:1). Yeshua likewise used the exclamatory imperative "Hear!" on several occasions to introduce important teachings (Matt 13:18; 15:10; 21:33; Mark 4:3; 7:14; Luke 18:6), though the word is usually translated in modern versions with the softer request to "listen."
The call to hear may also be an allusion to a Hebrew practice. The Torah provided that if a man or woman was sold into service as a slave, the owner would set the slave free after six years. However, the slave had the option of remaining in the service of his employer rather than accepting freedom. In that event the owner was to take an awl and pierce the slave’s ear as a sign of permanent ownership (Ex 21:5f). Piercing the ear was a visible sign that the slave lived to hear and obey his master’s voice. Thus, David said to God, "My ears You have opened. ... I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart" (Ps 40:6, 8). Likewise, true disciples delight to do God’s will and are ready to respond to the Spirit’s voice.
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable.
For parable, see the note on 4:2. A parable is not always a story. The question of the disciples alludes to the principle articulated in verse 15.
18 And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him,
Are you lacking in understanding? Grk. asunetos, without good sense, lacking comprehension, undiscerning. The rhetorical question may reflect disappointment, but he tactfully indicates that they have failed to grasp the fallacious nature of the Pharisee tradition, just as the crowd did. Do you not understand: Grk. noeō may mean (1) to grasp with the mind or heart or (2) to think about, to ponder. If the latter meaning is applied then Yeshua is not berating his disciples as it seems with the above translation. Yeshua probably means something like "haven't you ever thought about how the body works?" It's as if he is pointing out a scientific puzzle.
Yeshua then restates the first part of the principle of verse 15 that nothing ingested into the body can have any material impact on the spiritual condition of the person. The cleanliness of the hands is immaterial to the issue.
19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
LITV: "This is because it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and goes out into the waste-bowl, purging all the foods."
The explanation that follows is based on J.P. Green's Literal Translation (1985) given above, because it is the closest to the original Greek. Virtually all versions obscure one or more aspects of this verse. Discussion of variant translations follows.
This is because it does not enter into his heart: Grk. kardia is a term in Scripture for the seat of physical, spiritual and mental life. Yeshua is not referring to the muscle in the center of the chest that pumps blood, but using "heart" in its Hebraic metaphorical sense of the soul-spirit, thus preserving the analogy of physical versus spiritual. but into the belly: Grk. koilia, body cavity, belly, the abdomen area. When the term is used of women it may be translated as "womb." The ancients knew enough of anatomy to know where food went inside the body. and goes out: Grk. ekporeuomai, pres. mid., to move from one place to another, here used of waste leaving the body.
into the waste-bowl: Grk. aphedrona, drain, toilet or sewer. The Greek word refers to the place where one would sit for a bowel movement. Only a few modern versions translate the place for taking care of this bodily function (TLV "sewer," CJB/HNV "latrine," DRA "privy"). The ESV has a marginal note "goes out into the latrine." The KJV and other early English versions use the word "draught," which refers to the movement of air.
The earliest recorded sanitary laws concerning disposal of human waste are found in the Tanakh. Israelites were instructed to dispose of their waste away from the camp, and to use a spade to turn the remains under the earth or sand (Deut 23:12-13). Of course, in crowded cities, more ingenuity is required. By the time of King David a system of drainage had been developed in Jerusalem to remove sewage from homes and streets, while excess waste and refuse were carted out through the appropriately-named "Dung Gate" on the south side of the city (Neh 2:13) into the city dump located in the Valley of Hinnom (Heb. Gei-Hinnom).
In the ancient world people were capable of designing quite sophisticated toilets. In ancient Egypt rich people had proper bathrooms and toilets in their homes. Toilet seats were made of limestone. Poor people made do with a wooden stool with a hole in it. Underneath was a container filled with sand, which had to be emptied by hand. In Rome wealthy people had their own toilets, but the Romans also built public lavatories. In them there was no privacy, just stone seats next to one another without partitions of any kind. Despite the public lavatories many people still went in the street. After using the toilet people wiped their behinds with a sponge on a stick. (Tim Lambert, A History of Toilets)
purging: Grk. katharizō, pres. part., to purge or cleanse for ceremonial purposes. all the foods: pl. of Grk. brōma means simply material food. In 1 Corinthians 10:3 brōma is used in reference to manna. Yeshua used none of the words for "animal," such as Grk. zōon, a living creature; ktisma, creature; tetrapous, a four-footed animal or kreas, flesh from an animal. Yeshua clearly spoke of prepared food. Of interest is that Matthew's version (15:17) does not contain this participial clause.
The NASB, as well as other versions (CJB, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NAB, NCV, NEB, NET, NIRV, NIV, NLT, NRSV, and RSV) render the participial clause as "thus he declared all foods clean." However, there is no "thus he declared" in the Greek text. Gentile translators have allowed their theology to determine translation in this instance. The inaccurate translation has caused most Christians to erroneously believe that Yeshua canceled the Torah food regulations. However, in addition to the LITV quoted above the DRA, HNV, ISV, JUB, KJV, MW, NJB, NKJV, OJB, TLV and WEB, give a literal translation.
The Complete Jewish Bible, ironically, contains the interpretative statement. David Stern, translator of the CJB and a Messianic Jew, acknowledges the participial clause, but justifies his translation by saying:
"I have added these words for the sake of clarifying the one meaning I believe this passage can have, namely, that it is Mark’s halakhic summary of Yeshua’s remarks. However, some believe this phrase is not a comment by Mark but part of what Yeshua himself said and render it: "a process which cleanses all food." According to this understanding, Yeshua is explaining that the body’s ordinary digestive process makes all foods clean enough to be eaten, so that handwashing is of minor importance and the P'rushim shouldn’t be giving it so much attention. Conclusively against such a rendering is that it suddenly puts the focus on hygiene instead of ritual purity, which is the topic of the rest of the passage. It does not answer the halakhic sh'eilah ("question") about ritual purity posed by the P'rushim, because food can have in it not a single germ and yet be ritually unclean. Moreover, the nominative masculine form of the Greek participle "katharizōn" ("cleansing") agrees grammatically with "legei" ("he replied," literally, "he says") in v. 18, so that on the basis of the linguistic evidence it makes better sense to suppose that "cleansing all the foods," like "he replied," is a comment by Mark and not part of what Yeshua said."
Stern further explains that his translation of "Thus he declared all foods ritually clean," is not intended to suggest that ham is kosher. Stern insists, "There is not the slightest hint anywhere that foods in this verse can be anything other than what the Bible allows Jews to eat, in other words, kosher foods." In contrast to the CJB, the Messianic Jewish Tree of Life Bible and the Hebrew Names Version render the clause literally.
There is another viable approach to interpreting the verse. The literal translation implies that Yeshua was stating the obvious in terms of the function of the body to remove waste. This approach can yield one of two meanings. Instead of hygiene Yeshua could be pointing out how the body functions to separate what benefits the body from what doesn't. This possible meaning is suggested in Daniel Mace's New Testament (1729), which says, "because that does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, whence it is discharg'd, the purest part of the food being left for nutrition."
The second approach relates to the object of the cleansing. The Pharisees were concerned about the cleansing of the external. Yeshua addresses the cleansing of the internal, so that what's being purged is not the food, but the body. In other words Yeshua could be illustrating absurdity by being absurd, "if you think external unwashed hands makes clean food unclean what do think the body's internal waste disposal system does to it." On the other hand, Yeshua could be hinting at their spiritual shortcoming. "The body cleanses itself of that which is bad for it, but you don't cleanse your hearts."
Translators and commentators forget that Yeshua had already described himself with Messianic terminology and announced the Kingdom of God. From a Jewish point of view, Yeshua presenting himself as the Jewish Messiah would preclude him from speaking contemptuously of the Torah but he would have upheld it. Indeed, he declared in the Sermon on the Mount that he did not come to annul the Torah (Matt 5:17). He followed that categorical statement with a categorical warning, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:19). So, if Yeshua had canceled Torah food rules and declared ham kosher, he would have made himself a liar and invited an immediate charge of heresy followed by stoning.
For a full discussion on the interpretation of this verse see my web article Did Yeshua Cancel Torah Food Laws?
20 And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.
Yeshua lays the responsibility for the corruption of character on the individual. In spite of the popularity of various forms of Freudian psychology, no one else can be blamed for a person's sinful character and conduct.
21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,
For from within: Grk. esōthen, adv., with focus on origin from within or inside, in this case a person. out of the heart: Grk. kardia. See the note on verse 19. of men: pl. of Grk. anthropos, human being, used generically of mankind (male and female) and of individuals. proceed: Grk. ekporeuomai, pres. mid. ind., to move from one place to another; to go out or to come out. Yeshua proceeds to contrast the waste that comes out of the physical body with the spiritual waste that comes out of the heart. the evil: Grk. kakos, adj., may mean (1) morally or socially reprehensible, something that violates community standards, thus bad, wrong or evil; or (2) causing harm with focus on personal or physical injury, bad, injurious or harmful. In the LXX kakos is used predominately to render Heb. ra, which has the same dual meaning (DNTT 1:562). Kakos here refers to evil as a moral quality. thoughts: pl. of Grk. dialogismos, a verbal exchange involving a clash of ideas, disputing, bickering, or wrangling. The phrase probably should be translated "proceed the evil disputing," the practice of stirring up controversy for no good purpose.
fornications: pl. of Grk. porneia. The word-group originally meant a prostitute or the practice of prostitution. A pornē (probably derived from pernēmi, "export for sale") was a woman who sold her body, a prostitute or a courtesan (1Cor 6:15-16). A pornos referred to a male prostitute, a man who frequented prostitutes or an habitually immoral man (1Cor 5:11) (DNTT 1:497). In the LXX porneia translates zanah, which means "harlotry" (BDB 275). The Tanakh usage of harlotry included both the practice of prostitution (Gen 38:24; Lev 21:9, 14; Deut 22:21), but also wives having multiple lovers (Prov 6:24-32). Intertestament Jewish writings also included unlawful sexual relations (Lev 18) in porneia as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:1. Zanah particularly stood for the wicked practices of idolatry, pagan religion, occultism, child sacrifice, and intermarriage with forbidden peoples (Ex 34:15-16; Lev 20:5-6; Num 25:1-2; Deut 31:16). Zanah is rebellion against God.
thefts: pl. of Grk. klopē, from the verb klepto and means stealing or thievery. murders: pl. of Grk. phonos, the unlawful taking of human life, a violation of the sixth commandment. In Scripture the definition of murder does not include killing in self-defense or killing in war. adulteries: pl. of Grk. moicheia, a violation of the seventh commandment. From the beginning adultery was understood to be sexual relations between a married woman and a man not her husband (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24; Prov 6:32; Jer 29:23; Hos 2:2; Rom 7:3). Adultery could also be spiritual. God accused Israel of adultery because of idolatry (Jer 3:9; Ezek 23:37). In addition, Yeshua likened covetousness of a married woman to adultery. The lust of which he spoke is not simple admiration of beauty or normal desire, but approaching fixation with one specific person. "I want that woman." Yeshua is talking about an intentional act. Yeshua invokes the tenth commandment and decrees that this kind of desire constitutes adultery in the heart.
22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.
deeds of coveting: Grk. pleonexia, a motivating force for gaining something beyond an acceptable standard, thus greed or avarice. and wickedness: Grk. ponēria, a mindset of hurtful scheming, thus cunning, baseness or maliciousness. as well as deceit: Grk. dolos, treacherous behavior; cunning that relies on deception for effectiveness. sensuality: Grk. aselgeia contains the idea of shameless greed, animal lust, sheer self-indulgence which is such a slave to its so-called pleasures that it is lost to shame. It is one who acknowledges no restraints, who dares whatever his caprice and wanton petulance may suggest (Rienecker, II, 33). envy: Grk. ophthalmos ponēros, lit. "eye of evil." The Hebrew idiom ayin ra’ah (a "bad eye") was used in two related ways: (1) stinginess, which might be expressed in denying loans or neglecting the poor (cf. Matt 6:23; Deut 15:9); (2) self-seeking, that is, looking at what someone else has and feeling cheated by God (cf. Matt 20:15). Danker applies the second meaning here, saying the idiom means an eye filled with envy.
slander: Grk. blasphēmia, means slander, defamation, blasphemy or abusive speech, and in the apostolic writings is sometimes directed at men and sometimes at God. Barclay comments that blasphēmia refers to an insult, and as sin, it represents a person flouting God’s commandments by putting self in the place that God should occupy and above all, by grieving His love with harsh rhetoric (NTW 122). pride: Grk. huperēphania, disposition or state of looking down on others; haughtiness, arrogance. This word occurs only here in the Besekh. and foolishness: Grk. aphrosunē, absence of good sense.
23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."
Jews expected that when Messiah came he would explain the true meaning of the Torah (cf. John 4:25; 7:17) and Yeshua gave a simple, but powerful revelation. The real problem is in the heart, and Yeshua interprets "heart" as symbolic of the spiritual nature of man. So, since food does not go into the heart, but is simply digested and expelled, it cannot affect a man’s spiritual condition.
Date: Summer A.D. 29
The Syrophoenician Woman
The parallel account of this story may be found in Matthew 15:21-28.
24 Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.
Jesus: The English transliteration of the Greek Iēsous, which itself is a transliteration of Yeshua, our Lord's Hebrew name given to him by his parents in accordance with angelic direction. Yeshua is the only name by which he was known to contemporaries. See the note on 1:1 for the background of this precious name. got up: Grk. anistēmi, aor. part., to rise up or to get up, used of someone in a recumbent position. The verb may indicate rising after a night of sleep. and went away: Grk. aperchomai, aor., to be in movement from a position. Yeshua left the place of his residence in Capernaum and went for a long walk. There is no mention of his disciples in any of the narrative of this trip, but it doesn't seem likely that he would have traveled alone.
to the region: Grk. orion, a defined geographical area, region, district or part of. The "region" could be a reference to the Roman province of Syria in which the cities Yeshua visited were located. More likely is that the "region" mentioned in conjunction with the name of a city would be the area around the city over which the city exercised the civil administration. of Tyre: the city of Tyre was an ancient seaport of the Phoenicians situated northwest of Galilee, about 40 miles from Capernaum as the raven flies. Tyre consisted of two cities: a rocky coastal city on the mainland and a small island city just off the shore. Tyre lay about 25 miles south of Sidon, generally considered a sister city, although older. Dates of founding range from 2000 BC to 2750 BC. Tyre is mentioned 53 times in Scripture, the first at Joshua 19:29 in reference to the northern border of the tribe of Asher. Tyre was a Hellenistic city, which may account for why Yeshua did not enter it (cf. Matt 10:12).
He had entered a house: Upon arrival in the district Yeshua found a place to stay. The house was probably close to the coastal highway or on a main thoroughfare frequented by travelers. While the house might have been in Tyre, the narrative only places Yeshua in the "region" of Tyre. He wanted no one to know: And, in reality we still don't know who gave Yeshua hospitality. He could not escape notice: lit. "could not be hidden." The beginning of this narrative suggests that Yeshua decided to escape the controversy and confrontation in Capernaum and its environs. He needed some time away. There are striking parallels between this trip and one that Elijah took into the region after a confrontation with King Ahab (1Kgs 17). Yet, typical of his life to date, so sooner did he try to get away than he was found.
25 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet.
a woman: Grk. gunē, an adult female person, without respect to age or social status except as defined in the context. whose little daughter: Grk. thugatrion (dim. of thugatēr, "daughter"), meaning "little daughter" probably intended as an endearing term. The girl was precious to her mother. had an unclean: Grk. akathartos, unclean or impure, used generally in a religious sense of isolating one from contact with deity. spirit: Grk. pneuma, breath, wind or spirit as the animating force for bodily movement. See the notes on 1:23 and 1:34 concerning the evil entities. There is no evidence that the girl or the mother were involved in occultic activities. This was likely a demonic attack, part of Satan's campaign of terrorism (cf. John 10:10) against those whom the Messiah would deliver.
immediately: Grk. euthus, adv., "immediately" or "at once," occurs 40 times in Mark and emphasizes the fast-paced nature of the book. came and fell at His feet: To bow at the feet of Yeshua speaks of the woman's humility and recognition of Yeshua as an authority figure.
26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Now the woman was a Gentile: Grk. Hellēnis, fem. of Hellēnios, Hellenic, which is derived from Hellēn ("Hellenist"), used here with the focus on outsider status. The translation of "Gentile" was chosen for modern readers, but the noun really means "Hellenist," a cultural description rather than an ethnic description. In classical Greek Hellēn meant a Greek, as opposed to a barbarian, and generally a term for ethnic Greeks. After Alexander the Great conquered the world he and his successors sought to educate and assimilate people in the Greek way of life. All who adopted the Greek language and culture were counted as Hellēn, even though they were of a different ethnic group (DNTT 2:124).
of the Syrophoenician: Grk. Surophoikinissa, a word derived from two place names, Suros (Syria) and Phoinikē (Phoenicia). Syrophoenicia was a district which drew its name from the fact that the seacoast land of Phoenicia belonged to the Roman province of Syria. Tyre and Sidon were the two most important cities of this area. race: Grk. genos, line of descent or ancestral origin. "Race" is an unfortunate choice of words since in English it is derived from an evolutionistic view of the origin of man. There is only one race, the human race. A far better translation is "Syrophoenician by birth" (CJB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, RSV). The descriptor of "Syrophoenician" was added because in the apostolic era so many Hellenists were ethnic Jews (John 7:35; 12:30; Acts 6:1; 9:29; 11:20).
And she kept asking: Grk. erōtaō, impf., to ask or inquire and in this instance to request. The imperfect tense indicates the continuing nature of her entreaty. In Matthew's version of the story the woman cries out, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David" (Matt 15:22). Her address indicates that she recognized Yeshua as both Messiah and Master. She had likely heard stories of exorcisms Yeshua had performed, so she had every reason to believe in his power. The only issue was his willingness.
27 And He was saying to her, "Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
And He was saying to her: Parallel to the verb "asking" in the previous verse, so the verb "saying" is in the imperfect tense. Put together the verbs indicate an active dialog, but the narrative preserves the salient points of the conversation. Let the children: The "children" refers to Israel, which is echoed in Matthew's version, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24). That God viewed Israel with familial interest was established prior to the exodus from Egypt when he called Israel "my son" (Ex 4:22). be satisfied first: The principle of priority for attending to the needs of the people of God is reiterated elsewhere in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:40) and the apostolic letters (Gal 6:10; 1Tim 5:8; 1Jn 3:16-17), just as the good news is for the Jew first (Rom 1:16).
for it is not good: Grk. kalos, meeting a high standard, fine or good. to take the children's bread: Grk. artos, bread made from grain, without respect to leavening, but also food in general. Yeshua does not mean that children ate different bread than adults, but referring to a domestic illustration he refers to bread apportioned to the children by the father. The allusion is obviously loaded with meaning since the woman did not ask for food.
and throw it to the dogs: Grk. kunarion, dogs permitted in a house, perhaps as pets, but without reference to size. The only other Greek for "dog" is kuōn, which were scavenging hounds that roamed the streets in packs and generally considered a pariah in ancient communities (Bruce 111).
Yeshua's words to the woman must be judged by the outcome of the story rather than just the words themselves. He was not predisposed to deny help to non-Jews, because he had already healed a Roman centurion's servant (Matt 8:5-10). Yeshua's statement sounds proverbial in content and it probably reflected a popular sentiment among Jews of the time, especially the Pharisees. It may be that Yeshua is engaging in a bit of social satire because the "children" (good Jews) would never allow a "pet dog" (Gentile) into their homes nor would a Jew enter a "dog's" (Gentile) house, but in so doing ended up in the "dog house" with God.
28 But she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs."
But she answered: Grk. apokrinomai, aor. pass., to answer or reply to someone, whether to a question, request, exhortation, command, etc. (BAG). In the LXX apokrinomai renders Heb. anah, to answer or respond to something said in conversation; to respond to an occasion and speak in view of circumstances or to testify or respond as a witness in a legal proceeding (BDB 772). and said: Grk. legō, See the note on verse 10 above. The use of "answered and said" is typical Hebraic way of advancing the narrative of dialog (e.g., Gen 27:39; 40:18; Josh 24:16; Judg 20:4; 1Sam 1:17). Yes, Lord: Grk. kurios may mean owner, master or lord. The woman addresses Yeshua with respect, acknowledging his position of authority and status as a Rabbi, but possibly also as Messiah.
but even: Grk. kai, conj. A better translation is "and yet" (Marshall), or simply "but." the dogs: Grk. kunarion, dogs. See the note on the previous verse. under: Grk. hupokatō, indicating a position that is at a lower level than, under, beneath. the table: Grk. trapeza, a surface on which something can be placed. In the LXX trapeza renders Heb. shulchan, and while it's usually translated "table," meaning an item of furniture, its root meaning is "a skin or leather mat spread on the ground" (BDB 1020). In the Besekh trapeza is used of a table for money transactions (Matt 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:23; John 2:12), and a table for the showbread in the tabernacle (Heb 9:2). A low rectangular wooden table was likely meant here. feed: Grk. esthiō, to consume food. on the children's: pl. of Grk. paidion, a child of indeterminate age from new-born to youth, normally pre-puberty. crumbs: pl. of Grk. psix, a crumb of food.
The woman is not being argumentative. There is humor in the woman's response, because she accepts Yeshua's absurd and satirical statement, and answers appropriately and cleverly. She accepted the priority of the children of God, but she may have known from the example of Elijah that non-Israelites mattered to God. In the story of Elijah and the widow of "Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon" (1Kgs 17:9), Elijah asked to be fed first, yet the widow coming second, gained a miraculous lasting food supply. It was this story and another dealing with Naaman the Syrian being healed which Yeshua mentioned in his address to the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:26) that almost got him killed. Many of his fellow Jews would have denied the non-Jews even the crumbs.
29 And He said to her, "Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter."
Because of this answer go: On other occasions Yeshua remarked on the faith of the person he helped as integral to receiving divine aid. In this story there is no mention of faith. Yet, the argument of the woman clearly indicates her trust in Yeshua to accomplish her request.
Interesting to the story is that Yeshua does not inquire into the details of the demon-possession nor does he lecture the woman about her competence as a mother. These issues were irrelevant. There was a child afflicted by Satan, a frantic mother and a miracle-worker who could provide a remedy for both. From the mother's point of view she did not receive "crumbs" but the abundance of God grace and favor.
30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
And going back to her home: The woman took Yeshua at his word and hurried home, a journey of faith, not sight. she found the child lying: Grk. ballō, perf. pass. part., to put, place or lay, lit. "having been laid" (Marshall). on the bed: Grk. klinē, a structure used for lying down, whether stretcher, bed, couch or pallet. In other words, someone laid the little girl on her bed, although the verb does not necessarily mean that she was asleep. The narrative does not describe the nature of the demonic torment or the symptoms the girl suffered, but other accounts may be suggestive (cf. Matt 17:15). The important point made here is that the woman's daughter was delivered immediately from her torment, and as in the other instance of Gentile healing (the centurion's servant) Yeshua ministered to the need from a distance without direct contact.
31 Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.
He … came through Sidon: Grk. Sidōn, an ancient seaport of the Phoenicians, located about 20 miles north of Tyre. Like Tyre dates of Sidon's founding range from 2000 BC to 2750 BC, although Sidon is considered the older of the two cities. The city is first mentioned in Genesis 10:19 and probably had been named for the firstborn son of Canaan (Gen 10:15).
Decapolis: Grk. Dekapolis, a Greek place name meaning "ten cities," was originally a group of ten free cities organized on the Greek model and founded during the Seleucid period, brought under Hasmonean control by John Hyrcanus, and "liberated" by the Roman general Pompey (Wessel). The cities are identified as Damascus, Philadelphia (modern Amman), Canatha, Scythopolis, Pella, Hippos, Gadara, Dion, Raphana, and Gerasa. All the cities were located (except Scythopolis) on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. Later, other cities were added. The mention of the area next to the Sea of Galilee suggests that Yeshua did not venture very far into the Decapolis.
This is the second mention in Mark of the Decapolis area and the third in the Gospels. Yeshua had already ministered to people from the Decapolis in the early months of his ministry when they sought him in Galilee (Matt 4:25). Now he has come to the region for the second time, the first time being to deliver the demoniac (chapter five). In a sense the disciple Yeshua sent home as a witness then served as a forerunner (Mark 5:20) for Yeshua, who has now come back to be sought by crowds of needy people (7:31—8:8).
Scholars have traditionally assumed the Decapolis to be a league of cities that stood as a stronghold of Greek thought and life and resisted the Semitic influences of the Jews. According to the Roman historian Pliny, however, it was not a very solid political alliance. A recent view is that it was not even a league, but a geographical region. These cities do seem to have much in common; they were centers for the spread of Greco-Roman culture and had no great love for the Jews. They were associated with one another closely enough that in some ways they were considered as a group, if not as a league (Wessel).
Against the traditional assumption is the witness of Yeshua that he came to preach the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 10:6; 15:24) and he would not have gone into Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis if there were no Jews there. Jews were scattered throughout the world of that time from Babylon to Rome, many of whom had adopted Hellenistic culture (cf. Acts 6:1; 11:20). The narrative of Yeshua's ministry in the Decapolis makes no mention of the ethnic makeup of the audience or those who directly benefited from his miracles in the region. However, Yeshua did hold up the Gentile cities as models of positive response when he said,
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you." Matt 11:21-22
32 They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him.
They brought: Grk. phero, pres. act. ind., to move an entity from one position to another through physical action or personal guidance. The third person plural verb is lit. "they are bringing," but no indication is given of the helpers' identity. to Him one who was deaf: Grk. kōphos may mean either incapable of articulate speech or lacking auditory capability. Given the next descriptor the noun is rendered as "deaf." According to the Talmud deafness in an adult (not from a birth defect) is generally results from a wound [i.e., a blow to the head] causing blood in the ear (Baba Kama 98a).
and spoke with difficulty: Grk. mogilalos, deficient in uttering sounds or speech-impaired. Such an impairment would have been due to the deafness. and they implored: Grk. parakaleo, pres. act. ind., to entreat for personal assistance. The present tense may emphasize the urgent or repetitive nature of the request. Him to lay His hand on him: The request could be taken literally in the sense that the helpers' believed that just physical contact between a hand of Yeshua and the deaf man would bring healing. The request mirrored Yeshua's actions on previous occasions (Mark 1:41; 5:23; 6:5).
The compassion of the friends are on a par with those who brought the paralytic to Yeshua. In Jewish law a deaf person was classed among minors and idiots, excluded from public life and could not serve as a witness, lead public prayer or be involved in property transactions ("Deaf and Dumb in Jewish Law," JE). Healing would restore the man to full citizenship rights in the community.
33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva;
Jesus took him aside: Yeshua does something surprising. Rather than healing the man in public, he sought privacy. and put His fingers into his ears: The translation assumes that Yeshua put his fingers in the man's ears. The Greek says lit. "he put the fingers of him into the ears of him," so it's possible that Yeshua placed the man's own fingers into his ears.
and after spitting: Grk. ptuō, aor. part., to spit out of the mouth. He touched his tongue: Grk. glōssa. Originally in Greek culture glōssa meant the tongue of humans and animals in the anatomical sense, but figuratively glōssa stands for the faculty of speech, utterance, and also language and dialect. with the saliva: These words are added to complete the thought. The Greek is lit. "and spitting he touched the tongue of him." If Yeshua used his own fingers, then Mark is describing a three-step process: first he puts his fingers into the man's ears, then he removes the fingers and spits on one of them (he does not put the finger in his mouth) and then touches the man's tongue.
Of interest is that from ancient times in Judaism there was a tradition that the spittle of a firstborn son had healing powers (Baba Bathra 126b). Yeshua was not adverse to following tradition, so long as it did not set aside the word of God as the Pharisees did in verse 9 above. In fact, he used his spittle on another occasion for healing (John 9:6).
34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!"
and looking up to heaven: Grk. ouranos. See the note on 6:41. This is the second time in Mark that Yeshua is reported to have prayed while looking (with his eyes open) toward the sky. Yeshua's practice indicates that there is no particular virtue in closing ones eyes while praying. with a deep sigh: Grk. stenazō, aor., to make a deep inarticulate moaning sound, to groan. Somehow "deep sigh" just doesn't capture the pathos of this verb. This was a deep emotional response to a disturbing situation.
Ephphatha: Grk. ephphata transliterates the Hebrew word. Commentators typically say that Ephphatha is Aramaic, but Hamp persuasively contends that Ephphatha is Hebrew (60-63). Mark then gives the Greek translation of the decisive command of the Creator. Be opened: Grk. dianoigō, aor. pass. imp., to open up, often used in reference to something that has been closed or sealed.
35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly.
Yeshua resorts to what seems like a very unorthodox medical procedure, which may account for why he wanted to do it in private. In reality his actions of putting fingers into the man's ears was unprecedented. This novel technique may have been an acted out parable. Moses received the tablets of commandments written by the "finger of God" (Ex 31:18). Yeshua's action implies that he figuratively wrote on the man's mind the word of God, not unlike David's words, "My ears You have opened. ... I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart" (Ps 40:6, 8).
36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it.
not to tell anyone: For the supposed Messianic Secret see the note on 1:34. Yeshua could have had a very practical reason for trying to discourage broadcasting the miracle. If the man was a Gentile (whom Pharisees generally treated as unclean), rabbinic authorities would have had apoplexy because of Yeshua's physical contact with the man's tongue and his saliva.
If the man was a Jew, then by virtue of his residence in the Decapolis the Pharisees would have regarded him as part of the am-ha-aretz, (lit. "people of the land" or "country people"), the name given in Rabbinic literature to a person who through ignorance was careless in the observance of the laws of ritual purity. The term was also used to mean an illiterate or uncultured man. The Talmud presents a bizarre rule that the spittle of a man who has had intercourse with his menstruant wife is unclean (Nidd. 33b). This rule is based on the Torah regulation that the spittle of a man with a discharge is unclean (Lev 15:8). Thus, if the man was am-ha-aretz then Yeshua should have inquired into whether the man was "clean" before proceeding with healing.
Yeshua was not trying to keep his Messianic identity a secret. He simply did not need more grief from the Pharisees.
they continued to proclaim it: Like all the previous healings, people shared the good news of God's help.
37 They were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
The people had good reason to be astonished since such a miracle had never happened before. The praise of the people echoes the promise in Isaiah:
"Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy." (Isa 35:5-6)
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