What does Mark chapter 7 mean?Mark chapter 7 includes accounts of teaching, debating, and miracles. In all the stories, Jesus emphasizes the importance of God's moral standards over man's tradition, setting the stage for the culture of the church that will live in the truth that Jesus has fulfilled the Law. The sequence of Mark 6:31–7:37 is loosely paralleled in Mark 8:1–30, including feeding a multitude, crossing the sea, dealing with the Pharisees, teaching about bread, healing, and a confession of Jesus as Messiah.
The scribes from Jerusalem once again join the local Pharisees to debate Jesus (Mark 3:22). They attack the disciples who do not follow the tradition of washing before eating. Jesus responds with strong words, pointing out that their human tradition is not as sacred as they insist; they can even use their extra-scriptural standards to refuse to care for their aging parents and look pious doing it.
Jesus then gives the people a lesson in ethics, showing exactly why the Pharisees are in the wrong. God gave Moses and the Israelites ceremonial laws as a sign that their culture was far removed from that of the pagan nations they interacted with. He also gave them moral laws to define right from wrong and civil laws to enforce ceremonial laws, moral laws, and enforce general order. While these laws are not explicitly grouped as civil, moral, or ceremonial, context gives us great insight into which ones represent earthly concerns, and which are expressions of God's character. He never meant the people to honor the ceremony more than the moral principle behind it. He never meant for the religious leaders to add to and use the ceremonial law as justification for neglecting the moral law. And He certainly never intended for the religious leaders to add manmade traditions that placed a heavy burden on the people (Mark 7:1–23).
The story of the Syrophoenician woman is a subject of much debate, but when seen in the context of the chapter, it makes more sense. The Pharisees value the traditions of washing and keeping an oath at all costs. All devout Jews value the tradition of avoiding Gentiles. Even Jesus' ministry in general is designed to reach the Jews and leave reaching the Gentiles for Paul and early members of the church. The gospel is meant for the Jews first. But when faced with a Gentile woman with a great need, Jesus forgoes tradition and takes the moral act of granting her request. The controversy of the story comes in the way He stages the interaction. What some scholars see as dismissive and insulting can also be interpreted as a cunning revelation of faith the disciples can't understand (Mark 7:24–30).
After teaching the disciples that the ceremony of avoiding Gentiles is passing away, Jesus travels through the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, then turns east and enters Decapolis again. The witness of the man freed from a legion of demons has done its work, and the people are much more amenable to His presence. They bring Him a deaf and mute man whom He heals (Mark 7:31–37).
Jesus began this tradition vs. moral argument with the Pharisees early on in His ministry when He defended His disciples as they picked heads of grain on the Sabbath. It's interesting to note that the traditions the Pharisees value serve more to make them look good than to worship God. We still argue about tradition, like what should a pastor wear, what songs should we sing, what instruments should we use, if we should celebrate Christmas…. We forget that tradition is merely an optional tool designed to point us to God. It is never meant to take the place of obeying God's law to love Him and others. When it does, it becomes an idol.