Mark 7

1. Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.

These Pharisees come from their headquarters in Jerusalem to see the Lord Jesus. What their purpose was is not stated. Since the Pharisees styled themselves as the guardians of the true worship of Yahweh in Israel, it is likely that they wanted to check up on the Lord Jesus and see if He might really be the Messiah, as many were starting to believe.

2. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.

As we might expect with people who have gone on what they consider a mission of inspection, it does not take the Pharisees very long to find something about the Lord’s disciples to disapprove of. We might imagine them in our day with clipboards and pencils, grimly scribbling notes at this and shaking their heads. The problem is that the disciples are eating food (“bread” here is symbolic for all kinds of food) with defiled hands. Mark explains to us that defiled hands are unwashed hands. This shows that Mark had an at least partially Gentile (or at least dispersed Israelite) audience in mind in writing his book, for any Isarelite living in the land would have known instantly what eating with defiled hands meant, and would not have needed any explanation.

3. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.

This hand washing was not just for the removal of dirt and germs, which is the reason many are avid hand-washers in our day. Rather, this was a ceremonial practice that they had developed, and had to be done in a certain way. All the upper class in Israel would adhere strictly to this tradition. Thus, the actions of the Lord’s disciples would have been considered by them as unacceptable and “low class.” Surely someone who claimed to be the Messiah would have a better class of disciple, they might have thought!

4. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.

This sets forth for us more of the traditions that these Jews had. The Pharisees and scribes had many ceremonial cleansings such as this, but the Lord paid little attention to any of them. The word for “washing” here is baptismos, the word from which we get our English word “baptism.” Here, it is in its masculine singular form, which is unusual, the word usually being found in its neuter singular form, baptisma, in the Scriptures.

It is interesting to note that the word here is used to describe the baptism of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and especially couches. That being baptized does not mean being saved is clear here, for how could such household utensils be “saved?” Moreover, this proves to us that baptism was not done (or at least did not have to be done) by immersion, for who could possibly argue that couches were immersed? Immersing a couch would result in damage to the fabric and the wood, and would be inviting mildew to destroy the furniture. That this baptism was done by sprinkling can hardly be argued against. Yet if this baptism was done by sprinkling, then the argument that baptism was always by immersion, or even that the word baptism means immersion, is destroyed utterly. If baptism does not mean immersion here, then there is no guarantee it means immersion when speaking of men being baptized!

5. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

The Pharisees bring this before the Lord, questioning Him as to why He allows His disciples to break with tradition.

6. He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.

The Pharisees had rebuked Him, but the Lord Jesus responds to these men with even stronger rebuke. He accuses them of being hypocrites, and quotes from Isaiah 29:13. He includes these men in this verse, indicating that they were hypocrites who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. He will explain why He is bringing this accusation against them in the next verse.

7. “‘And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

His anger towards them is caused by the fact that they are teaching their own traditions as if they were the commandments of God. We have no right to do this. Note that this does not mean that we cannot have traditions, but only that we cannot teach them as if they were from God. That is what these men were doing. This is nothing unusual, and many in Christendom do the exact same thing today. If the Lord were to encounter our cherished traditions that we claim are actually His commands, I doubt that His response today would be any different than it was to these men then.

8. “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

These men worshipped in vain or emptily, as Christ said above, in that they actually laid aside the commandment of God! And what they put in its place was the tradition of men. The Lord lists some of these traditions here…baptizing pitchers and cups, and many other such things. It seems that these men had many baptisms that they kept by their own traditions, but not by the commandment of God.

9. He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.

It seems that when their tradition and the commandment of God contradicted each other, these men would reject the commandment of God every time so that they could keep their own tradition! Tradition plays an equally important role even today in the minds of many for whom “Christianity” is a religion, not a relationship with a Savior. We must be careful not to put tradition in too high a place in our own lives, for it should always be far inferior to the Word of God!

10. “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’

The Lord is going to give an example of how the Pharisees and scribes were using their own made-up rules to negate the commandments of God. He starts out by quoting Exodus 20:12 and Exodus 21:17, wherein God had commanded honor and respect for parents.

11. “But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”–‘ (that is, a gift to God),
12. “Then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,

The Word of God commanded honor towards parents. The Pharisees and scribes loved their money more than their parents, however, and it seems that the thought of having to give to their parents when they were in need was repulsive to them. Therefore, they made up a law whereby, since they were considered the religious leaders of Israel, all their money would be considered dedicated to God, calling it “Corban,” which means a gift dedicated to God. This allowed them to cling to the money they so selfishly desired and to refuse to use it even to help their parents. Since it was God’s money, they claimed, they could not use it for the betterment of others, even if it was to aid their own parents. Of course, they were more than willing to use “God’s money” for their own good, but not that of their parents. Thus, by this made-up rule, they avoided having to care for their parents in the manner God prescribed in His Word.

13. “Making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This rule, which had been handed down by tradition, had made the word of God of no effect. How common this is in our day as well! Numerous and widespread are the traditions of men which negate the word of God and strip it of its power to change men’s lives.

14. When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand:

Having rebuked the Pharisees and scribes, He calls the multitude to Himself and urges them to hear and understand. He is going to teach them a lesson regarding what has just been occurring.

15. “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.

The Pharisees and scribes were consumed with concern about being defiled by any filthiness that might enter their mouths. However, the Lord was more concerned with the attitude that was proceeding from their hearts. It showed that, though they might be clean and washed without, they were filthy and defiled within!

16. “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

This phrase is given for solemn emphasis, and calls upon those who hear to take note. We, too, need to realize this, in a day where men who go to church on Sunday and live however they wish during the week suppose that they are “Christians.” Yet these men prove that they are defiled within, no matter how pious they may look on Sunday morning!

17. When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable.

The disciples thought that the Lord was teaching some great parable by these words. They did not realize that He was not telling a parable, but rather was speaking plainly.

18. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him,

The Lord chastises His disciples for not understanding this, for they should have realized what it was that He was saying. His point was that the things that proceed from the heart are the things that can truly defile someone, not the things which go into the mouth. Food that goes into our mouths may defile our bodies if it is bad, but it cannot defile our souls in the sight of God. Many are the things that we can do, however, which can defile us in God’s sight. But remember, it is the things that we do, not the things that others may do to us, that are defiling. Rape does not proceed from the heart of the victim, and therefore does not defile, whereas fornication proceeds from the heart and defiles. Rape is outside and contrary to the heart whereas fornication proceeds from the heart. Therefore rape perpetrated against someone does not defile inwardly as fornication does.

19. “Because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”

There is argument about this verse, as some try to assert that the Greek indicates that this statement of our Lord’s was declaring all foods clean. Yet if this was the case, then it seems that Peter did not understand Him, for he still refused to eat unclean food in Acts 10:14. Moreover, the Jerusalem Council’s decision must have been rebellious and outside the will of God, for they outlawed the eating of certain foods by Gentiles in Acts 15:20&29. Yet I cannot believe that this was so! Peter knew of no statement by our Lord making all foods clean, and the Jerusalem Council acted as they did by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Who guided their decision. The Lord in His statement here was not speaking about clean and unclean foods. Rather, He was speaking of this matter of food being defiled by unwashed hands. He was explaining that the stomach purifies all foods, even those eaten with dirty hands. This was excusing His disciples from having to baptize their hands before they ate, not from having to keep the Biblical commands regarding clean and unclean foods. Those who try to bring this idea in here are attempting to force it into the verse when no such idea is in the context. They do so in an attempt to make the entire New Testament teach truth the way it is today, not understanding the principles of dispensationalism and right division. Foods are no longer clean and unclean, but they were not declared so until the apostle Paul made his declaration through the Holy Spirit in I Timothy 4:4-5. The Lord did not make them all clean here. This is just a failure to understand what was going on at this time.

20. And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.

This is the bottom line of His teaching. It was the rebellious and stubborn attitude of these Pharisees and scribes that was defiling them.

21. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

The Lord begins to list the things that proceed out of the heart of men and defile them. Evil thoughts are an appropriate way to begin such a list, for often it is the evil thought about a thing that leads one to do the thing in the first place. Then adultery, which is sex by a married person with someone besides that person’s marriage partner. Fornication is any sort of sex outside of a covenantal, marriage union. Then murder.

22. “Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.

Thefts also proceed from wicked hearts. Covetousness is desiring something that belongs to someone else and that you have to right to have. The word is actually plural here, “covetousnesses,” as are the previous five words, and the next word is likewise plural, “wickednesses.” The last six words are singular. Deceit is the same as guile, and is misleading someone for one’s own gain. Lewdness is gratifying oneself in an inappropriate way at the expense of others. An evil eye speaks of envy. Blasphemy is evil speaking in general, or putting evil thoughts into words. Pride is haughtiness, an unjustifiably high opinion of oneself. Foolishness is moral deficiency, not mental deficiency, as we use the word today.

23. “All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

The Lord gave this list as examples of things that come from within a man and defile him. Many of these characteristics were to be found in the ungodly Pharisees and scribes! Many of these terrible things we can confidently assert that we have never done. Most of us have never murdered anyone, and many have not committed adultery or fornication. However, regarding some of these we cannot assert our innocence so confidently, and they may rather leave us ashamed. Evil thoughts? Pride? Covetousness? Deceit? How many of us have not been defiled by these things a time or two in our lives? Thank God that we have been washed clean of all sin and its defilement by the blood of Jesus Christ!