Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.VII.
(1-23) Then came together unto him.—See Notes on Matthew 15:1-20.
And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.(2) With defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands.—The first word means literally common. This came to be associated, as in Acts 10:14, with what was “unclean,” and so, for Jews at all events, the word acquired a new meaning. St. Mark’s Gentile readers, however, were not likely to understand what was meant by “common hands,” and therefore he adds his explanation of “unwashed.”
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.(3) For the Pharisees, and all the Jews.—For the sake of the same class of readers, St. Mark adds another explanatory note. The custom of which he speaks was not, he says, peculiar to the Pharisees as a sect; it had passed, through their influence, to the whole body of the people.
Oft.—The Greek MSS. present two readings, one of which this is the natural meaning; another, which means literally, “with the fist,” and figuratively, “with might and main.” The evidence is, on the whole, in favour of the former.
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.(4) Except they wash.—The Greek verb differs from that in the previous verse, and implies the washing or immersion (the verb is that from which our word “baptise” comes to us) of the whole body, as the former does of part. The idea on which the practice rested was not one of cleanliness or health, but of arrogant exclusiveness, fastening on the thought of ceremonial purity. They might have come, in the crowd of the market, into passing contact with a Gentile, and his touch was as defiling as if it had been that of a corpse. So, too, the washing of cups and the like was because they might have been touched by heathen, and therefore impure, lips.
Washing.—Literally, baptism; but the form of the word is masculine, while that used for the sacramental rite is neuter. The masculine occurs again. probably in the same sense, as meaning ablutions generally, in Hebrews 6:2.
Pots.—The Greek word (xestes) may be noted as a corrupt form of sextarius, and therefore taking its place among the Latin words used by St. Mark. (See Introduction.)
Tables.—Better, couches—i.e., the low wide benches which were placed near the tables, and on which the guests reclined instead of sitting. These also had to be scrupulously washed, because it was possible that a heathen might have lain on them. The word is, perhaps, used in the same sense in Mark 4:21.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?(5) With unwashen hands.—The better MSS. give, “with defiled hands,” the word being the same as before. It was probable that the Pharisees would use the stronger word in their question, equally probable that a transcriber might think it better to substitute that which was the more easily understood.
He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.(6) Well hath Esaias prophesied.—Strictly, well did Esaias prophesy.
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.(7) In vain do they worship me.—The word used here and in Matthew 15:9, is not that commonly used to express the outward act of homage, but one which expresses (as in Acts 18:13) inward devotion.
The commandments.—The two Greek words used for “commandment” in this and the following verses are, as has been said in the Note on Matthew 15:9, not quite the same in meaning; that in this verse pointing to many detailed precepts; that in the next to the commandment which is “exceeding broad.”
For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.(8) As the washing of pots and cups.—Many of the better MSS. omit the whole of the latter part of this verse. On internal grounds, however, it is hardly likely that such words should have been added as a note, and it is likely enough that the passage should have been altered by a transcriber, to make it agree with the report in St. Matthew.
And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.(9) Full well ye reject.—The adverb is peculiar to St. Mark, and has in it the ring of a scathing and indignant irony. The word “reject” is hardly formal enough, the Greek conveying the idea, as in Galatians 3:15, Hebrews 7:18, of “rescinding” or “repealing.” This the Pharisees practically did when they added traditions which pretended to be interpretations, but were in reality at variance with it.
But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.(11) It is Corban.—The Hebrew word is peculiar to St. Mark. It occurs frequently in Leviticus and Numbers (e.g., Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 2:5; Numbers 7:3; Numbers 7:5), and is translated generally by “offering,” sometimes by “oblation” (Leviticus 2:13; Leviticus 3:1), but elsewhere in the Old Testament it only appears in Ezekiel 20:28; Ezekiel 40:43. It had come to be applied specifically (as in the Greek of Matthew 27:6; Jos. Wars, ii. 9, § 4) to the sacred treasure of the Temple.
He shall be free.—The words, as the italics show, have nothing corresponding to them in the Greek, nor are they needed, if only, with some MSS., we strike out the conjunction “and” from the next verse. So the sentence runs, “If a man shall say . . . ye suffer him no more . . .”
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.(13) Making the word of God of none effect.—Again the Greek word is somewhat more technical, making null and void, cancelling, as in Galatians 3:17.
Through your tradition.—Here the structure of the sentence points to the “tradition” as being the instrument with which the Law was made null and void. In Matthew 15:6 the meaning is slightly different (see Note there).
Many such like things.—Assuming the words “washing of cups and pots,” in Mark 7:8, to be genuine, there is an emphatic scorn expressed in this iteration of the same formula.
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.(16) If any man have ears to hear.—It was with this formula that our Lord had closed some at least of His parables (Mark 4:9, Matthew 13:10). And it was probably this that led to the form which the inquiry of the disciples took when they came to ask their Master “concerning the parable.” The whole verse is, however, omitted in many of the best MSS., and may have been originally a marginal note written by some early transcriber to call attention to the truth stated in the text.
Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?(19) It entereth not into his heart.—The words are not in St. Matthew, and emphasise the contrast with what follows. The “heart” is, after the common Hebrew idiom, the symbol of the mind as well as the affections. (Comp. Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 9:4; Proverbs 9:16; Proverbs 10:13, in all of which “understanding” stands for the Hebrew of “heart.”)
Purging all meats.—This also is peculiar to St. Mark, and presents some difficulties. In the commonly received text, the participle is in the neuter nominative, agreeing with the nominative to the verb “goeth out.” But in this construction it is difficult to see in what sense that which goeth into the mouth—itself an article of food, with no special character—can be said to purge or cleanse all other forms of food. The better MSS., however, give the participle in the masculine. This has been explained by many as a grammatical anomaly, and the participle being treated as if it agreed (though in a different case) with the word “draught” or “cesspool,” the latter is said to cleanse all meats, as removing the excreta, or impure parts, from them, and leaving only that which nourishes the body. A far better construction, both as to grammar and meaning, is found by making the word “purging,” or better, cleansing, agree with the subject of the verb “He saith,” in Mark 7:18—“He saith this . . . and in so saying, cleanseth all meats.” So taken, the words anticipate, in almost the same terms, the truth of Acts 10:15, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” The construction is tenable grammatically, has the support of high authority both ancient and modern, and obviously gives a much better sense. It is a possible conjecture that the words “cleansing all meats” may have been, at first, a marginal note (like the addition in Mark 7:16), attached to “He saith,” and have afterwards found their way into the text.
Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:(22) Covetousness, wickedness.—The Greek words for these are, like the preceding, in the plural, as pointing to the manifold forms in which the sins show themselves.
An evil eye.—As explained by Matthew 20:15 (where see Note), the “evil eye” is that which looks askance on the good of others—i.e., envy in its most malignant form.
Foolishness.—This, again, is a rare word in the New Testament, meeting us only in 2Corinthians 11:1; 2Corinthians 11:17; 2Corinthians 11:21. As interpreted by Proverbs 14:18; Proverbs 15:21, it is the folly which consists in the absence of the fear of God, the infatuation of impiety.
And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.(24-30) And from thence he arose.—See Notes on Matthew 15:21-28.
Tyre and Sidon.—The better MSS. omit the latter name here, and reserve it for Mark 7:31, where see Note.
Entered into an house.—The fact is peculiar to St. Mark, and seems specified as an indication of our Lord’s wish to avoid publicity.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.(26) A Greek—i.e., in the sense which the word had gained in Palestine, a Gentile, as in Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9-10. The modern use of “Frank” in the East for Europeans of every country, offers an analogous extension of the original meaning of a name.
Syrophenician.—The word, which occurs in Juvenal (Sat. viii. 159), may be noted as an instance of St. Mark’s tendency to use Latin forms. The Emperor Adrian divided the province of Syria into three parts—Syria proper, Syro-Phœnicia, and Syria-Palæstina—and we may well believe that this official distinction rested on a pre-existing nomenclature.
But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.(27) Let the children first be filled.—The precise form of the answer thus given is peculiar to St. Mark.
And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs.(28) Eat of the children’s crumbs.—The form varies slightly from St. Matthew’s “the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” and has, perhaps, a certain vividness of antithesis.
And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.(29) For this saying go thy way.—St. Mark omits the words “O woman, great is thy faith,” and puts the answer to the prayer in a somewhat more definite form than St. Matthew’s “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.(30) Her daughter laid upon the bed.—The graphic description, as usual, is characteristic of St. Mark.
And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.(31) Departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.—The better MSS. give “from the coasts of Tyre through Sidon.” The latter city lay about twenty miles to the north. Accepting this reading, it marks the extreme limit of our Lord’s journeyings—we can hardly say of His ministry, for there is no indication that He went there as a preacher of the Kingdom. We may however, perhaps, trace the feeling which prompted the visit in the words, “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon,” in Luke 10:14, and in the “Other sheep, not of this fold,” in John 10:16.
Decapolis.—Another instance of St. Mark’s use of a Roman nomenclature. St. Matthew says simply, “He departed thence, and came by the Sea of Galilee.” For Decapolis, see Note on Matthew 4:25.
And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.(32) They bring unto him one that was deaf.—The narrative that follows is peculiar to St. Mark. The locality is not named, but was probably somewhere near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Had an impediment in his speech.—The English rendering is quite accurate, but it may be noted that the word which St. Mark uses stands for “dumb” in the Greek version of Isaiah 35:6, and may therefore have been used by him to connect the miracle which he describes with that prophecy.
And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;(33) He took him aside from the multitude.—We trace in this, and in the manual acts that followed, the same tender considerateness for the infirmities of the sufferer as in our Lord’s treatment of the blind. (See Note on Matthew 9:29.) Here the man could not find in the pitying tones of the voice of the Healer that on which his faith could fasten, and the act came in to fill up the void.
And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.(34) Looking up to heaven, he sighed.—The look, it is clear, implied prayer, as in John 11:41. The “sigh,” too, has its counterpart in the “groans” and “tears” of John 11:33; John 11:35; John 11:38, and finds its analogue in the sadness of sympathy which we feel at the sight of suffering, even when we know that we have the power to remove its cause.
Ephphatha.—Another instance of St. Mark’s reproduction of the very syllables uttered by our Lord. (See Introduction, and Note on Mark 5:41.)
And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(35) His ears.—Literally, his hearing, or, as the word is in the plural, his organs of hearing.
The string of his tongue.—Better, bond, that which confined and hampered his speech. (Comp. Luke 13:16.) There is no ground for thinking that St. Mark used the word in any anatomical sense, as the English word seems to suggest, for a “nerve” or “tendon,” as in the “eye-strings” of the original text of the “Rock of Ages.”
And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.(37) And the dumb to speak.—We note the distinction between St. Mark’s accurate description in Mark 7:32, and the less precise language of popular amazement.