What does Mark 7 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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.
Verse Context:
Mark 7:1–13 argues that the traditions of Jewish elders are twisted interpretations of the Mosaic Law that hide the purpose of that law. Washing is a particular requirement of priests and has nothing to do with ensuring the ceremonial cleanness of a meal. And keeping a rash oath does not relieve a child from the commandment to care for his parents. In their attempt to add to the ceremonial law, the elders subtract from the moral law. They find that anyone who attempts to find salvation through works will end up stumbling on Christ (Romans 9:30–33). This story is also found in Matthew 15:1–9.
Mark 7:14–23 contains Jesus' rebuttal to the Pharisees' beliefs about cleanness (Mark 7:1–5), by condemning their habit of rejecting God's law for their own tradition (Mark 7:6–13). Here, He goes into more detail about what actually makes someone unclean. After, He will live out His teaching of love over tradition by healing a Gentile girl then remaining in a Gentile area to heal and feed four thousand (Mark 7:31–8:10). A parallel description can be found in Matthew 15:10–20.
Mark 7:24–30 follows a lengthy dissertation on what makes a person clean or unclean. Jesus takes His disciples to Gentile territory. There, He acts in strict contrast to the elders' traditions by interacting closely with Gentiles. First, He heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Mark's account of the faith of the Canaanite woman is relatively short. Matthew 15:21–28, written specifically to Jews, is fleshed out to better drive home the point. Through the end of chapter 7 and into chapter 8, He heals a deaf man and several of his neighbors (Matthew 15:24–30). Finally, He decisively dismisses any concern about clean or unclean food by providing a meal for four thousand, many of whom are undoubtedly Gentiles.
Mark 7:31–37 mentions only this one healed man and is the only Gospel to do so, while Matthew 15:29–31 describes Jesus healing a great crowd. It's possible that this one healing created the crowd mentioned in Matthew. Healing the deaf is associated with God's direct blessing (Isaiah 35:5) and the Old Testament does not record any account of a literally deaf person being healed; most mentions of ''deaf'' people are references to those who are spiritually hardened. The people praise Jesus not only for healing the deaf and mute man, but for doing it well.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus counters another traditional error from the scribes and Pharisees, explaining that food in and of itself does not make a person unclean. Rather, it is the intent of the heart that matters to God. He specifically condemns traditions which effectively undo the original intent of God's commands. Jesus heals the daughter of a persistent Gentile woman, and a man suffering from deafness and a speech impediment.
Chapter Context:
After showing His authority over demons, death, and physics, Jesus asserts His superiority over manmade traditions. For generations, Jewish religious leaders have added to the Law in an attempt to keep the nation holy. Such traditions, however, serve to make the leaders look good but unnecessarily burden the people. Jesus argues in word and action that any law that dismisses love is either misinterpreted or manmade.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes both Jesus' servanthood and His role as the promised Messiah: the Son of God. This is done through a concise, action-packed style. Mark provides relatively few details, instead focusing on actions and simple statements. This relates to the Gospel's authorship, which is believed to be based on the memories of the apostle Peter. These include many of Jesus' miracles, in contrast to other Gospels which include many more of Jesus' teachings and parables. Mark also makes frequent mention of Jesus' ministry being misunderstood by others.
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