Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


If one punctuates according to the Nestle's Greek text, verse 1 is a complete sentence and verses 2-5 are the second sentence with the main verb in verse 5. In that case, "kai" means "then," when they had observed the disciples. If one punctuates according to Westcott/Hort Greek text he places a comma after verse 1 and a period after verse 2, linking the two participles in verses 1 and 2. In any case, verses 3-4 are parenthetical, introduced by explanatory "you see."

Mark 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and (Buls: Then the Pharisees and some of the Bible scholars, after coming from Jerusalem, gathered together to Him.)

The fact that they are not mentioned from verse 14 on, likely indicates that they found precisely what they wanted, a heretic. It was a bitter confrontation.

By the way, Pharisees were a religious party, Scribes a religious profession. But they joined in attacking Jesus on this occasion.

Ylvisaker: Matthew and Mark connect this account with the feeding of the 5,000. We must suppose, therefore, that the following rebuke was administered while Jesus sojourned in the land of Gennesaret, before He set out for the north and west.

Mark 7:2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. (Buls: And when they had seen some of His disciples, that with polluted, that is, unwashed hands were eating their bread)

"Define" or "unclean" had a particular local usage in those days. "Some of His disciples," the Pharisees and Scribes cleverly and hypocritically attack Jesus through His disciples.

Lenski: Mark explains "unclean" for his Gentile readers.

Mark 7:3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. (Buls:[you see, the Pharisees, in fact all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands carefully because they cling to the tradition of the elders,])

In verses 3 and 4 we have three difficulties in textual criticism:

  1. AAT: "without washing their hands up to the wrist." NASB renders this same word with "carefully." KJV: "Often." RSV and NEB, according to some manuscripts, omit the word altogether.

  2. "Wash" from the Greek word "Baptize," or "apply water to." In KJV, NEB, AAT and NIV the word is translated "wash." RSV uses "purify."

  3. "And tables" is maintained by KJV. AAT translates "couches." The other translations omit the word. There is sufficient evidence here to prove that "baptize" need not mean "to immerse." Look at Luke 11:38.

Mark 7:4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) (Buls: [for example, they do not eat when coming from the market unless they wash themselves; furthermore, there are many other traditions which they have received and cling to them, for example the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels and beds,])

There are two examples. The Greek indicates an axiomatic condition, a rule, a way of life.

Mark 7:5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" (Buls: then the Pharisees and Bible scholars asked Him: "Why don't your disciples live in keeping with the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with polluted hands?")

The Greek word indicates a way of life. The way of life of the disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders. What a wonderful observation!

Bengel: The Pharisees were always giving their whole zeal to mere questionings.

Correct. They could never contribute anything positive. They were always asking defensive questions.

Ylvisaker: The Talmud is a work in two parts, the Mishnah, containing the traditional legal enactments, and Gemara, with the corresponding interpretative annotations. It is these traditional regulations which are designated 'the tradition of the elders.' These were based on Deuteronomy 4:14 and 17:10. In the 'tradition of the elders' there was one to the effect that a person should not eat with unwashed hands, in accordance with Leviticus 15:11 . . . Rabbi Jones contended that it was just as sinful to eat with unwashed hands as to commit adultery.
Lenski: They are convinced that Jesus cannot answer their question. . . . They are so steeped in their traditionalism and formalism that they are utterly blind to the true teaching of their own divine Torah.

Mark 7:6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (Buls: And Jesus said to them: "Rightly did Isaiah prophecy about you hypocrites, as it stands written; 'This people honors Me with the mouth, but their heart is far from Me.)

"Rightly did Isaiah prophesy" NASB. Thus the other versions, other than KJV. Isaiah spoke as God's inspired mouthpiece for his own time, for Jesus' time and our time. Jesus attacks the Pharisees with the Word of God, not on His own.

The intended sense of the Massoretic text, the LXX, and Mark 7:6 are the same.

"You, the hypocrites" applies this prophesy personally to Jesus' questioners. Of course Jesus does not mean that it is limited to them. The word "hypocrite" is found ten times in Matthew, three in Luke, but only here in Mark. Not elsewhere in the New Testament.

Bengel: We may derive a definition of hypocrisy from this passage.
Lenski: The hypocrite tries to appear before men, as marks of fully developed hypocrites are presented in Jehovah's characterization: honor that is mere pretense (with the lips, not with the heart); teachings that are likewise empty pretense (presenting as divine, when they are only put forward by men). The two always go together; for, the moment the heart keeps far from God it leaves also His Word.
Hendriksen: The hypocrite is the man who hides or tries to hide his real intentions under a mask of simulated virtue. As the passage now under study presents it: he honors God with his lips but his heart is far from God . . . Their real intention was the destruction of the Very Son of God.

Hypocrisy is so dangerous because it is always allied with work-righteousness. Compare the example of Peter in Galatians 2:13. Though Peter knew better, he played the hypocrite and drew Barnabas and the other Christians into hypocritical work-righteousness, by his actions denying that the righteousness of God in Christ is sufficient for the justification of man before God.

Mark 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' (Buls: And they worship Me in vain because they teach as doctrines (mere) human injunctions.')

"Worship" here denotes the entire religious worship of heart, mouth and deed. The nouns "teachings" and "commandments" are predicate to each other. Note that verb and participle are in the present tense, denoting a continuous and customary action.

Jesus is not condemning human traditions and ceremonies per se. But when they displace God's Word and righteousness is attached to them, then hypocrisy results and the traditions become sin. Paul did not condemn circumcision. But when the Judaizers insisted on circumcision in addition to justification through faith, then it became wrong and led to hypocrisy.

Ylvisaker: These Pharisees and scribes are dead, but their spiritual children have not departed with them. . . . There are many who are strict in the matter of self-made commandments but who simultaneously evince an inconceivable moral laxity in matters pertaining to the definite and revealed will of God.

Mark 7:8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." (Buls: Because you have laid aside the command of God you cling to the tradition of men.")

Verses 8 to 13 are a specific example of the "way of operation" of the Pharisees. Jesus adds, verse 13, "And you constantly do many such things."


Mark 7:14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. (Buls: . . . .Now after He had called to Himself the multitude again, He went on to say to them: "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand.)

This verse begins a paragraph, but not a different occasion. Jesus had likely been talking to the common people in verse 1, when interrupted by the delegation from Jerusalem. Likely at verse 14 the delegation left and Jesus again addressed the people who were misled by the authorities.

NEB seems to translate wrongly: "On another occasion he called the people etc."

"Called the crowd" is a tender word of invitation. The crowd, misled by the religious authorities, is treated with compassion. "He went on to say."

Bengel: An admonition salutary to ALL, in opposition to the prejudice which is most hostile to true Divine worship.

No one but God Himself could ever truly speak to men as Jesus did here.

Mark 7:15 Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'" (Buls: There is nothing outside of man which is able to pollute him by entering him. On the contrary, it's the things which come out of man that pollute man.")

Verses 17 to 20 make it clear that Jesus is here speaking an axiomatic truth which He then applies in verses 21 to 23 in the spiritual realm. The article appears three times with the word "man." This is called the generic use of the article. It is applicable to all human beings. We translate it with "man."

Ylvisaker: No act as such will defile a person; the deed is, in itself, something detached, it is ethically inactive or indifferent. But the attitude of the heart or of the person toward the deed is the determining factor. . . It is the nature of the true morality which Jesus here portrays. The Pharisees made morality practical, a symposium of outward acts. Jesus teaches that it is personal . . . It is the quality of the tree which determines the character of the fruit, and not the fruit that determines the nature of the tree.
Lenski: Defilement is not physical, but moral and spiritual. (Buls: And then he adds an important paragraph) Did not God in the Levitical law forbid certain kinds of food to the Jews, and would not eating such foods defile a man? The answer that Jesus is here abrogating the Levitical law is unwarranted; he himself fulfilled every requirement of it as a Jew, and maintained that law for his disciples until Pentecost (Acts 11:1 etc). The true answer is that it was not the food as food entering the mouth that made a man unclean, but the man's disregard of the Levitical law given him as a Jew by God, the disobedience he would be voicing in asking for such food and in justifying his eating thereof.


In verses 17 to 20 Jesus explains to the disciples in private. These verses ought be read by the person who is working on this text.

Mark 7:21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, (Buls: . . . . "You see, from within, out of the heart of man come forth evil reasonings, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,)

This is an explanation. Again the generic "man" is used, the ultimate meaning is "of all people."

All sins begin with evil thoughts. The word here denotes the carefully thought through reasonings of the mind. The twelve nouns which follow are examples of these. This is the classic doctrinal location for the total depravity of human nature.

Bengel: O how impure is the fountain of our heart!

Mark 7:22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Buls: covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lack of self-control, an evil eye, slander against God and man, arrogance, foolishness.)

"Adultery" includes sins against marriage in particular. "Greedy covetousness" is always wanted what belongs to another, compare 9th and 10th commandments. "Lewdness" is the inability to curb the flesh. "Slander" is that directed either against God or man. "Arrogance" is disregarding the first commandment. "Foolishness" includes everything that is the opposite of a sound clean mind. The foolishness of human nature is constantly observable and proceeds from the heart, depraved by nature.

Bengel: This is the reason why foolishness is placed last of all, inasmuch as being that which renders even all the rest incurable. Human corruption has its seat not merely in the will but in the understanding also, look at verse 18.
Lenski: Here Jesus reveals what a cesspool the human heart is.
Hendriksen: The first six of the twelve items are in the plural, the second six retain the singular. The first six describe wicked actions; the second six the evil drives and words that are related to such and similar actions.

Mark 7:23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" (Buls: All these wicked things come from within and pollute man.")

The word for "evil" used in verse 21 usually denotes an evil condition. The word used for "evil" in this verse denotes something that is actively evil. All the items mentioned in verses 21-22 are called "active evils." It all begins in the heart.

Verses 20-23 present a somber picture of mankind, Christians included. Christians still have a flesh. How often must not a Christian confess with Paul: "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing."

There are those in our society who believe that the primary way to improve man is to cleanse his environment and the pollution which enters man. But Christianity teaches that God cleanses our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9) and the Christian must often pray: "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God." (Psalm 51:10)


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B Mark-John, Sundays after Pentecost, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 48-51

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