STUDY TEN: MARK 7:1-37
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
A. A QUESTION OF ‘CLEANNESS’ - Mark 7:1-5
Task #1: Read 7:1-5. Answer these questions:
 Who questioned Jesus about his disciples’ actions?
 What was troubling them?
 Why were these actions a problem to these people?
 What was the basis of their definition of appropriate behaviour?
Again we have the Pharisees and teachers of the law from Jerusalem [compare Mark 3:22] voicing criticism of Jesus. Although here the criticism is against his disciples, what a Rabbi’s disciples do reflects on their Rabbi.
Their contention is not based on the Law of Moses [Genesis to Deuteronomy] but on ‘the tradition of the elders’ [7:5], which was attempt to break up the Law of Moses down into hundreds of small detailed rules and regulations. In addition, their contention about the disciples’ actions was not aimed at their breaking a moral law, but at their breaking a ritual, ceremonial law. Nor were they criticising the faith of the disciples, but their ritual uncleanness.
B. JESUS’ ANSWER – Mark 7:6-23
B.1 The quote from Isaiah – Mark 7:6-9
Task #2: Read Mark 7:6-8. Answer these questions:
 What did Jesus call the Pharisees and teachers of the law?
 List the four accusing contrasts that Jesus used to justify this:
The word ‘hypocrite’ - hupocrites – refers to an ‘actor’, a person playing an assumed role, a counterfeit. It is used twenty times in the New Testament – all in the synoptic gospels, and all spoken by Jesus. Thirteen of these are directed against the teachers of the Law and/or the Pharisees. Several others refer anyone whose religious actions are done deliberately to impress others. The over-riding theme of these references in context is the uselessness of such religion before God and the terrible and inevitable judgement that awaits those whose religion is mere outward show.
Quoting Isaiah 29:13 Jesus defends his reference to the Pharisees and teachers of the law as ‘hypocrites’. He says:
Although they honour God with what they say, their hearts are far away from God.
Although they worship God, it is without meaning.
Although they teach, they are teaching not God’s rules, but men’s.
They have let go the commands of God and hold on to the traditions of men.
Beyond the pretence of hypocrisy is the deeper issue identified in the third and fourth accusations. This substitution of human traditions, human rules, human practice for the Word of God has been with us since Genesis 3. The great Reformers of the sixteenth century sought to bring Christianity back to the Word of God, with their slogans of Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone. The original Fundamentalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had the same agenda and passion, confronting Liberalism’s denial and erosion of the Scripture. Christianity is today ripe for yet another band of faithful believers to recall Christians back to those same foundations, back to the Word of God and away from human additions to or corruptions of that Word.
Task #3: Discussion questions.
 To what extent are these four accusations made by Jesus applicable to contemporary Christianity?
 List evidence of contemporary Christianity’s substitution of human traditions, perceptions or experience for the sure and unchanging Word of God.
B.2 A specific example – Mark 7:10-13
In these verses Jesus at first says that they set aside the commands of God in order to observe their own traditions [verse 10], and concludes by saying that they nullify the word of God by their tradition [verse 13].
Both of these are serious accusations. In putting aside the commands of God in order to keep their traditions they have actually made the word of God null and void. They have disempowered the word of God. They have treated it as nothing. And why? Because they were more concerned about their own human traditions and practices than they were about the real word of God.
In the example of their behaviour that Jesus gives, they have excused themselves from keeping the actual command of God ‘Honour your father and your mother’ on the basis of an oral tradition which allowed them to let their parents starve because they had made a vow to give their money to God. They justify the selfishness and heartlessness of their attitude by a spurious outward expression of devotion to God.
Jesus adds: ‘And you do many things like that.’
Task #4: Questions:
 Search your own heart and life. Are there any ways in which you use your ‘religion’ as an excuse to justify your disobedience to the clear commands of the written Word of God?
 Analyse your church or Christian group. To what extent, and for what actions or teachings, could Jesus’ accusation in verse 13 be held against it?
B.3 The human heart – Mark 7:14-23
The criticism raised by the Pharisees and teachers of the law against Jesus’ disciples focused on ritual/ceremonial cleanness. Jesus’ response, now addressing the crowd, takes up this concept of ‘uncleanness’ and the question of what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. He makes two points:
That nothing going into a person from the outside makes him ‘unclean’.
Rather, it is what comes out of a person that makes him ‘unclean’.
In explaining this to his disciples he taught them:
Anything physically unclean that goes into the body, enters the stomach, and is eliminated from the body. It does not have the ability to make that person spiritually ‘unclean’.
It is what comes from within a person, from a person’s heart [and is expressed in his attitudes, words and actions] that makes a person spiritually ‘unclean’.
Task #5: Answer these questions:
 Make a list of everything Jesus mentions that come from a person’s heart and make that person ‘unclean’.
 What is Jesus’ one-word summary of all of these things?
 What is the significance of Jesus’ inclusion of relatively ‘little sins’ such as ‘folly’ beside really ‘big sins’ like ‘murder’?
 Suggest what Jesus means when he says these things make a person ‘unclean’.
 In what way does Jesus’ teaching here outlaw any human attempt to blame other people, or circumstances, or evil spirits or Satan for their sin?
This brief teaching, with its inclusion of a wide range of sins, exposes us all as ‘unclean’. No amount of ritual washing can eradicate this for it is not an external uncleanness. It is an inner uncleanness. Nor can any amount of verbal confession or public worship cover-up this inner uncleanness [verse 6,7]. Sin has corrupted us inside.
Task #6: What do these scriptures teach about the human heart?
 Jeremiah 5:23:
 Jeremiah 17:9:
 Matthew 12:34:
 Matthew 23:27:
 Romans 1:21:
 Romans 2:5:
 Romans 7:18:
 Ephesians 4:18:
 Ezekiel 36:26:
The last of the above references mentions not only the hardness of the human heart but also the remedy.
C. TWO FURTHER MIRACLES – Mark 7:24-37
C.1 The Syro-phoenician woman – Mark 7:24-30
In contrast to the hypocritical faith of the Pharisees and teachers of the law is the faith of the Syro-phoenician woman. She is a Gentile, a pagan. She does not have the Law of Moses. She does not have the tradition of the elders. She does not have the ritual and ceremony of either biblical or rabbinical Judaism. We learn from Matthew’s slightly longer account [Matthew 15:21-28] that she does have some information about the expected Jewish Messiah – she knows that he is the ‘Son of David’.
And she, like the other inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, has heard the reports of the miraculous cures wrought by Jesus. She comes to him in simple and desperate faith:
Past the Jew/Gentile divide and all of its implications.
Past the ritual uncleanness attributed to her by the Jews.
Past the prohibitive words of the disciples [see Matthew 15:20].
Past that statement of Jesus that expressed the priority of his ministry to the house of Israel [Matthew 15:25].
And past that seemingly cold and uninviting statement of Jesus in Mark 7:27.
So confident is she that he can cure her daughter, so desperate is she for that cure, that she takes no offence either from the fact that the Jews [‘the children’] have first rights to his ministry or from the fact that she, a Gentile, has been symbolised by the term ‘dogs’. In the deep trust and humility of her faith she is quite happy to be in second place after the Jews, she is happy to be called a ‘dog’ … because ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs’.
This reply elicited Jesus’ approval. And we are caused to wonder just how much this Gentile woman actually expressed in this simple statement of faith. Did she here express a number of fundamental truths?
That both Jew and Gentile have the same Creator?
That both Jew and Gentile are answerable to the same Lord?
That both Jew and Gentile belong in the same ‘house’?
That both Jew and Gentile are equally dependant upon the one God for their survival?
That Jesus Christ is actually this Sovereign Creator Lord of both Jew and Gentile?
The obstacles put in her way do not diminish her faith, rather they serve to define and intensify her faith. She knows that it is only this man, this ‘Son of David’, this ‘Lord’, who can grant her the gift she seeks. She does not ask for the blessedness of being a Jew. All she wants is this small crumb of grace … healing for her daughter.
It is only the humble who can accept the free gifts of God’s grace: those who have discarded any form of trust in themselves and confidence in their own merit. Such is this woman’s faith. It is not at all about herself and her own significance and reputation; it is totally dependant on Jesus.
C.2 The deaf and dumb man – Mark 7:31-37
Jesus went again to ‘the Decapolis’ – ‘the ten cities’ – scattered to the east of the Jordan River. It is largely a Gentile region, but with Jews living among them. This is where he had healed the man possessed by a legion of demons [Mark 5:1-20]; this is where, on his second visit, the people in all the towns brought their sick to him for healing [Mark 6:53-56].
Task #7: Answer these questions:
 What was wrong with this man?
 Was he a Jew or a Gentile?
 What is different about this healing?
 What was the impact of this healing?