The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:18-19 (Mark 7:18-19)

Our Lord had already, in his sermon on the mount, taught his disciples fully wherein purity or impurity of heart consists, and he might, therefore, with good reason, ask them how it was that they, even they who had been so favored by being constantly with him, had forgotten or misunderstood him. Our Lord's illustration is physically accurate. The portion carried off is that which by its removal purifies what remains. The part which is available for nourishment is, in its passage through the system, converted into chyle, the matter from which the blood is formed. What is not available for nourishment passes away into the ἀφεδρών , or draught, Purging all meats . The most approved reading here is undoubtedly the masculine ( καθαρἰζων ), and not the neuter ( καθαρίζον ) . This change of reading compels a somewhat different construction. Accepting, therefore, the masculine as the true reading, the only possible rendering is that which makes this last clause a comment by the evangelist upon our Lord's previous words, in which he indicates to the reader that our Lord intended by this illustration to show that no food, of whatever kind, when received with thanksgiving, can make a man unclean. The clause must, therefore, be connected with the preceding words, by the introduction of the words, in italics, "This he said , making all meats clean." The passage, thus rendered, becomes a very significant exposition of what has gone before. It is well worthy of notice that this explanation is to be found in St. Chrysostom (Homily on St. Matthew 15:1-39 .): ὁ δὲ ΄άρκος φησὶν ὅτι καθαρίζων τὰ βρώματα ταῦτα ἔλεγεν : "But Mark affirms that he said these things, making the meats clean." It may be added that this explanation agrees finely with the words in Acts 10:15 , "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:1-23 (Mark 7:1-23)

Ceremonialism and spirituality.

The teaching of our Lord Jesus was often in opposition to that of the religious leaders of his age and nation. The Pharisees and scribes were most religious, but their religion was of a bad type. They themselves practiced, and they inculcated upon the people, the observance of religious forms and ceremonies; whilst, generally speaking, they were negligent of the weightier matters of the Law. They laid great stress upon the outward, but they were careless of the spiritual. Our Lord's teaching, on the contrary, exalted the spiritual, and insisted upon the supreme importance of a true, a pure, a reverent heart. The contrast between ceremonialism and spirituality is exhibited in this passage in several particulars.

I. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES WASHING WITH WATER FOR PURITY OF HEART . Ablutions occupied an important place in the system of ritual. In addition to the washings and sprinklings required by the Law, many others were invented by the superstitious. It was a religious duty to wash the hands before eating and upon returning from market; to sprinkle and cleanse ceremonially cups and pots, vessels and furniture. In contradistinction from all these ritual purifications, our Lord laid stress upon the true baptism, the washing and purifying of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

II. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES THE TRADITIONS OF THE ELDERS FOR THE COMMANDS OF GOD . The Jews were a nation highly conservative in character and habit. They cherished their history, they revered the memory of their heroes, they treasured and superstitiously honored their sacred books, and any doctrines or practices which came down from antiquity were, by that fact, commended to their respect. Their fault here was in magnifying the precepts of men rather than the commands of God. Human interpretations, human additions, human corruptions of the Word, were put in the place of the Word itself. The Lord Jesus came not to destroy, but to fulfill the Law; yet with mere tradition he would have no truce.

III. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES THE WORSHIP OF THE LIPS FOR THE WORSHIP OF THE HEART . This was an old error and fault. The prophet Isaiah had seen reason to complain of its prevalence among the Hebrews of his time; and, as it is the product of sinful human nature, it need not surprise us if we meet with instances of the working of the principle of formality in any nation and in any age. Our Lord Jesus had frequent occasion to censure the vain repetitions, the prayers in the market-places, which he knew were in many cases the proof, not of a devout but of a hypocritical nature. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

IV. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES A SUBTLE EVASION FOR FILIAL DUTY . Natural piety concurs with the revealed commandment, in requiring of children honor and reverence towards their parents. To support them when in old age and poverty has ever been deemed a plain duty and, indeed, a true privilege. The way in which the unrighteous but religious Jews evaded this obligation is characteristic. Whatever a parent needed, the son declared to be dedicated to God, and therefore not applicable to the relief of the parent's wants. Such a device was hateful in the eyes of the holy and affectionate Saviour, who not only condemned unfilial conduct, but still more the mean hypocrisy which could use religion for its cloak.

V. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES AVOIDANCE OF UNCLEAN FOOD FOR AVOIDANCE OF IMPURE AND MALICIOUS THOUGHTS . Even Christ's disciples found it difficult to understand their Master's position with regard to clean and unclean food. The distinction was in itself recognized by the Law, but additions were made by human ingenuity, and the distinction itself was exaggerated, so as to imply more than was divinely intended. In the exercise of his authority, he "made all meats clean." He taught that sin works not from without inwardly, but from within outwardly; that the heart of man needs to be guarded against sinful thoughts and desires, in order that the life may be just, peaceful, and pure.

APPLICATION . It is possible to be, in a sense, religious, and yet, in a deeper sense, sinful, and out of harmony with the mind and will of God. It is a temptation from which none is wholly free, to substitute the external, the formal, the apparent, for what God requires—the faith, love, and loyalty of the heart. Hence the need of a good heart, which must be a new heart—the gift and the creation of God by his Spirit. The religion of the New Testament both enjoins this and provides for its acquirement. He who is " in Christ" is a new creation; and having the fountain cleansed, sends forth pure and purifying streams.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:1-23 (Mark 7:1-23)

Externalism versus righteousness.

In Mark 7:3 , Mark 7:4 of this chapter we are furnished with an interesting piece of antiquarianism. The daily life of the devout Jew is set before us in its ceremonial aspect; not as Moses had originally ordered it, but as custom and human casuistry had gradually transformed it. The light thrown upon several questions is very searching and full of revelation, viz. the various senses in which baptism seems to have been understood by the contemporaries of Christ, and the punctilio, vigor, and detail with which ceremonial purifications were carried out. It is only as we realize the background of daily Jewish life, against which the life to which Jesus called his disciples stood out so prominently, that we are in a position to appreciate the current force of the objections raised by Pharisee and scribe. We have here—


( Mark 7:1-5 .) The exaggerated form the latter assumed brought out the more strikingly the peculiarity and essential character of Christ's teaching.

1 . It was an age in which Jewish ceremonalism had reached its highest. The doctrine of Pharisaism had penetrated the common life of the people. They might be said to have fallen in love with it. The distinctions are artificial and super-refined, e.g. between "common," "profane," or " defiled " hands, and hands ceremonially clean. They washed " diligently " (a paraphrase of the original substituted by our revisers for "oft" of the Authorized Version, and apparently the best rendering of the difficult word in the original), "carefully," or the "many other Amongst the respectable Jews ceremonial strictness and nicety held a place very similar to what "good manners," or polite behavior and refinement, occupy with ourselves, having, of course, an additional supernatural sanction from association with the Law. Thus to-day the customs and observances of nations amongst whom civilization has long existed might equally serve as a foil for the Christian moralist; and all casuistries or secondary, customary moralities.

2 . The objectors were the leaders and representatives of the religious life of the time. "Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which had come from Jerusalem." They were the leaders and teachers of metropolitan fanatical ritualism. It is well when Christianity is judged that such men appear on the bench; there can then be no question as to the representative and authoritative character of the criticism. It would be a splendid thing if the representatives of modern political, social, and ecclesiastical life could be convened for such a purpose.

3 . What , then , is the objection thus raised ? It concerned an observance of daily life. Christians are now judged on the same arena. In small things as in large the difference will reveal itself. I t depended upon an abstract distinction : the hand might be actually clean when it was not ceremonially so. It was, in the eyes of those who made it, the worst accusation they had it in their power to make. The moral life of the disciples was irreproachable; they "had wronged no man, corrupted no man, taken advantage of no man." The Christians of to-day ought to emulate this blamelessness; infidels can then fire only blank cartridge.

II. THE TABLES TURNED . ( Mark 7:6-23 .) The critics are themselves reviewed. Trifling captiousness must be summarily dealt with, especially when it wears the garb of authority. The character of the objectors is of the first consequence in judging of Christ's tone. Grave issues were at stake. The ground of the fault-finding was superficial and untrustworthy, and a truer criterion must be discovered. "Deceivers may be denounced, that the deceived may be delivered" (Godwin). The essential nature of rectitude—the grand moral foundations must be laid bare.

1 . Christ begins with an appeal to Scripture. He is careful to show that the distinction between righteousness and ritualism is a scriptural one, and not of his own invention. At the same time, he gives the reference a satirical or ironical turn by making a prophetic identification ! We don't know how much is lost in ignoring the written Word of God. It is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness."

2 . He next pointed out the opposition that existed between their traditions and the Law. The instance selected is a crucial one, viz. that of the fifth commandment—"the first commandment with promise." Others might have been given, but that would be sufficient. Family obligations are the inner circle in which religion most intensely operates; if a man is wrong there, he is not likely to be very righteous elsewhere. To prove their opposition to the Law was to strip them of all pretense to religion.

3 . Lastly , common sense and conscience were appealed to as regarded rites and ceremonies. The "multitude" is here addressed; it is a point which the common man is supposed able to decide. There are many weapons that may thus be supplied to the evangelical armoury. If philosophy was rescued from barrenness by this method in the hands of a Socrates or a Reid, may we not hope for greater things with regard to a common-sense religion? The great foundation of all religious definitions and obligations is the true nature of man. The essential being of man is spiritual; the body is only the garment or case in which he dwells. Purity or its opposite must therefore be judged of from that standpoint. If the soul, will, spirit, inner thought of a man is pure, he is wholly pure. Spiritual and ceremonial cleanness must not be confounded. Religion is not a matter of forms, ceremonies, or anything merely outside; but of the heart. Yet the thought and will must influence the outward action, habit, and life. The spiritual is the only eternal religion ( John 4:23 , John 4:24 ). The private question of the disciples is worthy of notice. A "parable" seems to have been their common name for a difficult saying of Christ's. Their incapacity was not intellectual but spiritual. Professed Christians themselves often require to be more fully instructed. The progressive life of the true Christian will itself solve many problems. "Had our Saviour been speaking as a physiologist, he would have admitted and contended that many things from without , if allowed to enter within, will corrupt the functions of physical life, and carry disorder and detriment into the whole fabric of the frame. But he was speaking as a moralist, and hence the antithetic statement of the next clause" (Morison).—M.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:1-23 (Mark 7:1-23)

The ritual and the reality of purification.

I. THE MOST NATURAL ACT MAY BE PERVERTED INTO A RITUAL SIN . The disciples were seen eating with unholy hands, that is, unwashed! How this came about we are not told; probably it was a case of necessity: there was no water to be had. Probably it was a choice between going without food and being ritually correct, or being ritually incorrect and supplying the wants of nature.

II. THE MEANING AND USE OF RITUAL IS CONSTANTLY LOST SIGHT OF BY SMALL MINDS . "The Pharisees and all the Judaeans, unless for a pygmy's length they wash the hands and arms, do not eat." The Talmud (Lightfoot) directs that the hands be washed to the elbow—a rule like that here hinted at; "pygmy" denoting the arm and hand. The custom went beyond what the original ritual required. And so the associations or the market-place were thought peculiarly profane. They carried the rule out in application to cups, jugs, copper vessels, and couches; things which cannot feel, which are not spiritual, and which therefore are no subjects of " baptism. " The root of the error was:

1 . Blind respect for custom. Custom commands our respect; but a blind respect defeats its end and meaning.

2 . The reversal of the spiritual order. That order is: first the spiritual, then the material; the body for the soul. The Pharisaic order was: first the material, and the spiritual through the material.

3 . The postponement of the present to the past. What tradition of the fathers can make it a duty to neglect the welfare of the sons? The rules of the past conserved the privileges of the present; if they block the way and tend to hurt human life, they must give way. We must study the perspective of duties if we do not desire to become narrow in intelligence, and defeat the spirit of law.

III. ATTACHMENT TO RITUAL MAY ACTUALLY OBSCURE THE VIEW OF RELIGIOUS DUTY . Religion begins in the heart. Unless we love our God and our fellow-man, we shall miserably blunder in our construction of duties. Great teachers have always placed us at this moral center; face to face with God, in immediate relation to his universal imperative.

1 . Isaiah ( Isaiah 29:13 ). He taught that the lips might readily be made to do duty for the heart; and that invented obediences might distract from the genuine, natural obedience of the right and loving heart.

2 . Moses. To go back further in the stream of sacred tradition: no name more honored than that of the great lawgiver of the desert. He distinctly enunciated the duty of filial reverence, founded on the instincts of the heart. How were the Pharisees carrying this out? The way in which Christ refers to this is keenly ironical.

3 . Christ himself. The Pharisees can and do actually evade the great command of filial piety under the show of obedience to the ceremonial Law. "By a general consecration to the temple of whatever might be useful to parents, it was made sacrilege to give anything to them, because whatever was given to them was included in the vow." A miserable trickery, cheating God of his due while seeming to obey him! Tradition may be so followed as to subvert its very essence; for there is no tradition respectable which does not enshrine Divine commands.


1 . Impurity is not from without but from within. The external defilement may be cleansed away. It is not part of the man. The moral impurity is. It is only what the imagination conceives and the will affirms that is real for us. "In morals and in religion the conscious mind is everything" (Godwin).

2 . This true view may require an effort to attain. Strange! the disciples "could not quite see it!" "And he said to them, Are you also so inconsiderate?" And Christ must explain to them the lesson as to a class of tyros. Want of thoughtfulness in the mind is like want of stirring and raking to the garden-ground. The weeds and mosses soon creep. The man's thought is soon overrun by the trash of opinion and empty practice, if he will not think for himself.

3 . The human source of evil. It lies in the thought, the fancy, or imagination. Lust "conceives "a thought of pleasure, clashing with the thought of right. The conception germinates, and brings forth a deed. But a splash of mud that we receive on our garments in crossing the street has no effect on our conscience. And generally, what we do not adopt as part of ourselves, cannot be imputed to us as sin. "What does not affect the moral character, cannot affect the relation of man to God" (Godwin).—J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:1-23 (Mark 7:1-23)

The tradition of men in competition with the commandments of God.

Pharisees and scribes of Jerusalem had detected some of the disciples of Jesus eating bread "with defiled, that is, with unwashen, hands." "Holding the tradition of the elders" with great tenacity themselves, they demand of the new Teacher a reason for his disciples' departure from the old paths. It was a favorable opportunity for exposing the error of substituting human for Divine precepts, and for placing the external in its right relation to the internal and spiritual. Christ here appears as the authoritative Interpreter of the Divine commands; and, as a true Teacher, discriminating between the "commandment of God" and "the tradition of men." Of old time it was well said, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart." Here the men who "sit on Moses' seat," alike in what they "bid" and in what they "do," lay great stress on the "washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels," and of hands. Truly great matters! But the searching eye Divine discerns the hidden " heart " that is "far from" God, and whose many evils send forth a thick stream of pollution in unholy practices, defiling not merely the hands but the whole life. Jesus rebuts their accusation against his disciples, first by a justly merited rebuke, and then by readjusting the relative authority of the commandment of God and the tradition of men, which, in the practice of these accusers, through their selfish, grasping covetousness, had been so greatly distorted. He teaches once and for ever that no commandment of men, no tradition of elders, must be allowed to make "void the Word of God." Thus Jesus, who is so often erroneously spoken of as despising "mere commands," redeems the very "word," and pays his utmost tribute to the letter of the command. In the conflict between the Church and the sacred relationships of common life, to the latter must be assigned the pre-eminence. The necessities of the temple, of its services or its servants, must not be met at the expense of filial faithfulness. The sin of the Pharisees and scribes was—





- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:14-23 (Mark 7:14-23)

The real and the imaginary defilement.

The question of "the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes which had come from Jerusalem," yet remains to be answered, Jesus having turned aside to weaken the force of "the tradition of men." The answer is given in the ears of "the multitude." It is simple. "There is nothing from without the man that can defile him:" defilement is of that which proceeds "from within out of the heart of man." The man's heart is the fountain of evil; it is his heart, not his hands, that needs washing. No wonder that "the Pharisees were offended, when they heard this saying." Then, having "entered into the house from the multitude," the disciples "asked of him" what is to them as yet "the parable;" for so are they "without understanding also." In few words he distinguishes the true nature and source of defilement from the untrue, leaving for all time these lessons hidden in his words—

I. ALL POLLUTION IS MORAL POLLUTION . From this all mere ceremonial defilement must be distinguished. Such uncleanness is not moral impurity, nor is ceremonial correctness to be regarded as the testimony of moral purity. The stainless externalist may harbour " within " all " evil things." The perversion of a wise teaching on the necessity for personal cleanliness and of instructive ceremonials had led to the foolish supposition that a touch of the dead, or the diseased, or the decaying matter, conveyed moral impurity. This is once for all contradicted. Whatsoever is " without the man" conveys not the defilement. It is a moral condition. The heart can defile all things. As that which is from without the man cannot defile, so let it be known "there is nothing from without the man that going into him can" cleanse "him."

II. THE SOURCE OF ALL IMPURITY IS NOT IN GOD 'S WORKS , BUT IN MAN 'S HEART . "All these evil things proceed from within." Thus Jesus, with his just judgment, traces evil to its hidden source. The heart, not the flesh, is the seat of defilement. This is the fountain which can corrupt God's good and pure gifts. How marked a contrast does he make between a possible ceremonial uncleanness—a very trifle at most (as to moral uncleanness it is nil)—and the greatness, the multiplicity, and the foulness of the "evil things which proceed from within"! Material things cannot in themselves convey moral impurity. Even the excess in the use of the food, which destroys life, comes from within. That the good things of God may be turned into occasions of evil all know, but it is only the heart that can so turn them. Whatsoever is "without the man cannot defile him, because it goeth merely into his body, not into his heart; "and the heart, not the body, is "the man," the true man, the very man.

III. FROM THE THRALDOM OF A FALSE CEREMONIALISM CHRIST REDEEMS HIS DISCIPLES , " MAKING ALL MEATS CLEAN ." How needful not only to say what is sin, but to say also what is not sin! From many a yoke which the fathers were not able to bear Christ sets his people free! From child's play to serious work he calls them. From a mere adjustment of articles of dress and of furniture; from punctilios of ritual observance having in themselves no moral significance, and liable to withdraw men from great works and great truths, he turns them aside. He exposes the true evilness in the long catalogue of "evil things" of which the heart, not the flesh, is capable; and be, without many words of exhortation, directs men to seek the cleansing of their unholy hearts, that their lives, their whole man, may be clean also.—G.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 7:1-23 (Mark 7:1-23)

Parallel passage: Matthew 15:1-20 .—

Exposure of Pharisaism: its errors and evils.


1 . Contents of this chapter. This chapter contains three principal sections. The first section treats of defilement ; the second gives an account of a demon being expelled from the daughter of a Syro-phoenician woman; and the third narrates the cure of a deaf mute. The first section, again, contains the following:—The charge of defilement which the Pharisees preferred against the disciples; the evangelist's digression for the purpose of explaining to his Gentile readers the Jewish notions and usages in this matter; Christ's applying to the Jews of his day a description of their fathers by Isaiah; the reason of this application in the displacement by them of God's Law to make room for the traditionary teachings of man; a much graver delinquency in nullifying the Law of God not merely with respect to ceremonial washings, but in regard to moral duties; a specific example of this in a glaring and most culpable neglect of filial obligation; our Lord's exposition, publicly in the presence of the assembled people and privately to the disciples, of the true nature of real, that is, moral defilement; and a reference to the distinction of clean and unclean in the matter of meats, which formed a main partition between Jews and Gentiles. The way was thus prepared for, and an easy transition made to, the subject of the second section, which narrates our Lord's only recorded visit to the Gentile world, and the miracle there wrought in the case of the Gentile maiden who was dispossessed under singularly interesting circumstances. The third section records a miracle which is only mentioned by St. Mark, and so peculiar to his Gospel. Our Lord, having just returned from the cities of Phoenicia, was making his way through the midst of the region of the Ten Cities, when he cured the dent' mute or dumb man of Decapolis in a very remarkable manner, and by a method of external application not employed hitherto in the miracles wrought by our Lord.

2. Linguistic peculiarities in the first section.

(a) oft , and in the margin

(b) diligently , which is adopted in the Revised Version. The former is supported by the Vulgate, which has crebro , and depends on the analogy of similar but not really related words, such as πυκνῇ or πυκνῶς ; while the marginal rendering has the support of the Peshito Syriac b ' tiloith. Some of the older interpreters understand it as

(c) a measure of length, and so Euthymius has μέχρι τοῦ ἀγκῶνος , "as far as the elbow;" and Theophylact similarly, adding that it is the space from the elbow to the knuckles; the water poured out into the hollow of the hand would thus, by the elevation of the same, flow down to the elbow. The more natural explanation seems to be that which takes it

(d) in the primary signification of the word, which is clenched hand or fist; not in the sense of the closed hand being raised so as to allow the water to flow down to the elbow; nor yet in the sense of rubbing the closed hand or fist with the hollow of the other hand, which, as Fritzsche suggests, would require the words to be τῇ παλαμῇ νίψωνται τὴν πυγμήν ; but in the sense of washing the hand with the fist, that is, by rubbing one hand with the other closed or clenched or with the fist, in the sense of vigorously. This explanation, which corresponds with that of Beza, amounts to the idea of diligence conveyed by the Syriac. This verb νίπτω , it may be observed in passing, generally refers to "washing the hands or feet," as πλύνω signifies to "wash clothes," and λούω to "wash," usually the body, and therefore in the middle voice "to bathe."

3. Additional baptisms. These washings, which the Pharisees and indeed all the Jews practiced, were not confined to their hands or whole persons; but, besides such personal ablutions, there were baptisms of cups and pots, of brazen vessels, and of couches. Of these domestic utensils the first are named from the use to which they are applied, namely, for drinking, as is expressed by its root; the second, corresponding to the Roman sextarius , from which, and not from ξέω , to polish, is the word derived, are named from their size , and contain a pint, or sixth part of a congius (somewhere about a gallon); the third are called from the material copper of which they are made; the fourth get their name like the first, from their use , to wit, of reclining on, either for the purpose of sleep or at meals.

4. The origin of these washings. Several chapters of Leviticus (12-15.) contain a tolerably full account of the ablutions enjoined in the Law, and employed for Levitical purifications. These purifications were resorted to for the purpose of ceremonial cleansing. They had generally respect to certain states or conditions of the body, symbolical of the defiling nature of sin. In some of these cases we read that the person to be cleansed "shall wash his clothes, bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean." But Pharisaism extended these washings far beyond the limits of the Law—applied them to cases neither contemplated by, nor comprehended in, the Law, and multiplied them to an absurd amount. Persons, before engaging in the commonest acts of domestic or social life, were compelled to a strict observance of such washings; nay, the very articles of household furniture, including those here enumerated, had to be subjected to them. God had, for good and wise purposes, instituted certain temporary means of ceremonial cleansing; but man perverts and pollutes, or, when he does not pollute, he perverts the wisest means to the worst ends. The perversions in the case before us, besides being excessively burdensome and extremely inconvenient from their multiplicity, were perfectly contemptible from their very puerility and triviality, and positively sinful from the seemingly magical efficacy with which they invested mere mechanical operations.

5. Ceremonialism. Ceremonies of human invention, especially when multiplied and perverted from their legitimate or appointed use, like the ablutions referred to, instead of being helps, become hindrances to devotion. They promote irreligion at the same time that they foster pride. Their tendency is to put outward purifying in the place of inward purity, to substitute external cleansing for internal cleanness, to prefer clean hands to a clean heart, and to rest in "the righteousness which is of the Law" instead of "the righteousness which is of God by faith." True religion, under whatever dispensation, beans with the heart. Thus the psalmist prays so beautifully, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." The promise here is limited to such, as when it is said, "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart;" the prospect hereafter is for them, and for them alone; for it is only "the pure in heart" that shall "see God." No amount of outward observances or ceremonial ablutions could constitute real religion or supply its place, nor entitle the person that performed them to the privileges of a true child of God. The apostle insists on this when he says, "He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

6. Tradition. Tradition in general is that which is handed down from father to son, or from one generation to another. The word is sometimes used in a good sense, and signifies instructions, whether relating to doctrine or duty, faith or practice, and whether the delivery be oral or written; but, and this is the main thing, consisting of truths immediately delivered by inspired men. Such is its signification in 1 Corinthins Leviticus 11:2 , where the apostle commands or exhorts the Corinthians to "hold fast the traditions , even as I delivered them to you;" also in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 , "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle;" and again in the same Epistle ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ), "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." But it has another sense also in Scripture, and is employed to denote what is merely human and untrustworthy, as when St. Paul speaks of himself as he was in his original sinful, unconverted state, and says, "I profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers;" and again, when he warns the Colossians, saying, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." It is in this latter sense that it is used in verse 6 of the present chapter, when "the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders?" The Jewish theory of tradition was that, along with the written Law, Moses received at Sinai a second or oral law, and that this latter law was handed down through succeeding generations. This law, consisting of traditional interpretations and gradual additions, was at length embodied in the text of the Talmud, called "Mishna," or "second law." This oral law held a higher rank, and was more highly esteemed than the written Law. It not only supplemented the written Law by large additions, but was employed as the key to its interpretation. Thus in the end it was used in instances innumerable to supplant, or supersede, or set aside, the written Law at pleasure. We do not despise tradition in the proper and legitimate sense which, as we have seen, the word sometimes has, nor in its present ordinary sense of something handed down—ordinance or ceremony—pro-vided it be agreeable to the Divine Word; but we must not set up tradition side by side with the written Word of God, nor bring God's Word into conformity with tradition; on the contrary, whenever God's Word and human tradition clash, the latter must be corrected by the former. One example of this kind we have in relation to the Apostle John, about whom the saying went abroad that he should not die. Jesus had said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" This was in the first instance misinterpreted, then the misinterpretation spread from mouth to mouth as a regular tradition, till the apostle himself felt called upon to correct it by the specific statement, "Yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me."

7. Isaiah ' s prediction as applicable to the Pharisees as to their fathers. The statement of Isaiah, though not in the strict and specific sense a prediction concerning our Lord's contemporaries, was a description so all-embracing and so pregnant with meaning, that it exhibited with striking exactness the chief features of their religious life, or rather of their irreligious, soulless formality. Isaiah foretold it ( προεφήτευσεν aorist) in the past, but it stands written from then till now, and so our Lord, in this case, uses the perfect ( γέγραπται ) What was said then, so long before, was equally true in the Saviour's day; it was as true of the children, or remote descendants, as of their ancestors, as though the traits of character referred to had become stereotyped.

8. Practical remarks on the preceding. We cannot fail to notice

9. Moral obligation set aside through Pharisaism. Our Lord proceeds to expose the practical and pernicious effect of Pharisaic traditionalism in the domain of ethics. He had shown the hollowness of its teaching in cases of ceremonial cleansings; but he now advances from the ceremonial to the moral. For this purpose he selects the fifth commandment, and proves that the antagonism between the written Law, or Law of God, and the oral, or human law, in respect to this commandment, is complete. He quotes the prescriptive part of the commandment, and omits the promissory as not required by the object he has in view; instead of the promissory clause attached to obedience, he substitutes the punitive sentence pronounced on the person guilty of a breach of the commandment in question. "Moses said"—and here it will be observed that the commandment of God, who spake by Moses, is identified with the commandment of his inspired servant, so that what was really said by God is here attributed by our Lord to his servant Moses—"Honour thy father and thy mother." These words were graven by the finger of the Almighty on the stone tablet at Sinai, and the precept thus solemnly delivered at first was enforced by the awfully severe sanction which follows:—"Whoso curseth"—that is, speaketh ill of or revileth—"father or mother, let him die the death."

(a) as an instance of the figure aposioposis, by which our Lord, as if with inexpressible indignation at the thought of conduct so unnatural and reprehensible, breaks off without completing the sentence; while the supplied words of the English version express the acquittal conceded in the case by Pharisaic casuistry. Another way

(b) of evading the difficulty was suggested by Fritzsche, who supplies here the closing words of verse 10 with a negative—that is, μὴ θανάτῳ τελευτάτω —so that this verse would read as follows:—"But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatseover thou mightest be profited by me, let him not die the death. " The Revised Version,

(c) however, cuts the knot by adopting the reading which excludes καὶ from the beginning of verse 12; thus, "But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother."

10. Farther development of our Lord ' s retort. The word "corban" meant anything brought near to the altar or to the God of the altar for presentation, and applied, like the cognate verb hikrib , to bring near, to any offerings, whether bloody or unbloody, animal or vegetable. The evangelist, as is his custom, explains it by a Greek word denoting a glint in general, but more particularly, according both to Homeric and Hellenistic usage, a gift to God, or a votive offering. It is thus a correct equivalent of the word which the evangelist explains by it. When, then, a Jewish child wished to discard, and entirely free himself from, filial obligation, he had only to pronounce this mystic word of potent meaning, and the traditional law of Pharisaism gave him a full release. whenever a man said of any part of his property or of his whole possessions, "It is Corban," that is," given to God," he was bound by his vow, and the property was devoted to the service or support of the altar or temple or national religion; it was made over for religious purposes, though the time of fulfilling such vow was left to his own option, and so its fulfillment because discretionary, or was evaded. To revile or curse father or mother was surely bad enough and wicked enough; but to refuse to supply the wants of a parent when reduced to poverty, or to support a parent in old age and when needing such support, or to withhold from an indigent parent the necessaries of life, on the plea that the means or resources out of which such could be supplied were devoted to religious uses, was a refinement of unnatural and inhuman wickedness almost incapable of being expressed in words. And thus, as the next verse informs us, they suffered him no longer to do anything for his parents, even if he would; or, if he would not, they suffered him to have his way, conniving at his sin and overlooking his shame, nay, putting words into his mouth to enable him to perpetrate in the name of religion such abominable villainy. If, from a spirit of greedy avarice, or miserable meanness, or detestable stinginess I or in a fit of spiteful passion; or under the influence of superstition, a wicked Jew pleased to say to either parent suffering from disease, or labouring under age and poverty," That whereby I might have helped, or relieved, or in any way benefited,, you, is devoted to the service of God and religion, and cannot now be withdrawn, the oral law of the Pharisee granted full liberty to do so , taught him its formula for that very purpose, and salved his conscience that he might withal feet at ease. Now, to those censorious Pharisees who watched our Lord and his disciples with such lynx-eyed vigilance and malign intent, and who had seen, not all the disciples, but some of them, partaking, not of a regular repast, but eating a morsel of bread with hands common, that is, in the ordinary or general state—clean, it may be, but not ritually cleansed—our Lord may be supposed to say , Ye blame my hungry disciples for snatching the fragment of a hurried meal without ceremonial ablution, and censure them for neglecting a silly ceremony enjoined no doubt, by your traditional law, which is only of human origin, and, in such a case as that just referred to, of most nefarious tendency; but ye teach your disciples to violate, not a trivial ceremonial observance for which only human authority can be pleaded, and from which no benefit can be derived, but a moral duty, based on closest human relationship, written by God's own finger, recorded in his written law, and enforced by the most solemn sanction! Is not this to establish man's law and set aside God's Law; to adhere punctiliously to the miserable tradition of miserable or wicked men, but to invalidate and even abrogate the Law of an infinitely pure and holy God—a Law, too, like its Author, holy and just and good! To wash the hands before a regular meal, or any meal, may be proper enough as a custom, or for cleanliness, or as a matter of delicacy, yet can never be exalted into a religious act or rite; but to trifle with or trample underfoot the law of natural affection, of filial piety, of common humanity—a law specially honored with a most gracious promise, and sternly hedged in with the severest sanction—must bring down the vengeance of Heaven on the guilty head of its transgressor. Thus our Lord left them to look at this picture and on that.


1 . Statement of a principle. After our Lord had put to silence and covered with confusion these intermeddling, faultfinding, censorious, and cavilling Pharisees, he proceeds to state a great and fundamental principle, which covered the whole ground and went to the very root of the matter. Before doing so, he requests the particular attention of the multitude. Whether they had withdrawn to a respectful distance during our Lord's interview with the Pharisees and triumphant answer to their objection, or whether, from indifference to their obtrusive questionings the malevolent intention of which was obvious, they had sunk into a state of listless inattention, does not appear. They required, from whatever cause, to have their attention stimulated. For this purpose he calls on all and each, not only to listen attentively, but to reflect, with intelligence wide awake and active, on the great principle he is about to enunciate. Having thus gained their intelligent attention and roused their powers of reflection, he states the important distinction that "there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man." After making this statement, he again appeals to them to give it their careful consideration.

2. Important distinction. Our Lord, in the principle stated, distinguishes between the physical and spiritual natures of man, as also between ceremonial and moral defilements; between positive regulations and moral requirements; and thus between precepts given for a particular purpose and obligations for a limited time, and those laws that were unvarying in their nature and perpetual in their obligation. The principle in question our Lord propounds in the form of an antithetic paradox. The first part of it seemed to collide with the distinction between meats clean and unclean, which God himself had appointed and minutely specified; and, if taken in a ceremonial sense, so it did; but understood morally, as our Lord had intended, it pointed not obscurely to the purpose for which such distinctions had been instituted. That purpose was temporary in its duration, and for the segregation of the chosen people from the mass of mankind, as well as for the symbolic intimation of the difference that should exist between 'the holiness to which the people of God were! called, and the heathenism that prevailed around. Our Lord meant to correct an injurious error under which the people of the Jews in general then laboured. He had rebuked their superstitious punctiliousness about certain ceremonial washings, and their sinful regardlessness of moral obligations. This naturally leads him to expose the grave mistake they made when they foolishly supposed that meats of themselves exercised any moral efficacy or possessed any moral potency. That they defiled ceremonially, and exposed to disabilities of a ceremonial kind and entailing purification, was not doubted; but that they had any power of themselves either to cleanse or purify is here most positively denied. The cause of defilement was man's fallen nature; the source of it was within; the seat of it was the heart; the stagnant pool from which such polluted waters issued was deep down in the very depths of his being. Thence proceeded defilements of speech through the mouth, defilements of work in the conduct, defilements of thoughts in the character and conversation. The disciples had shared the errors and prejudices of their race to a very large extent, and not understanding the strange paradoxical statement, sought an explanation in private. After a gentle reprimand for their dulness of apprehension, they were favored by their Master with a full explanation.

3. Moral impurity. The belly is the stomach and viscera, or organs of digestion generally; the heart is used for both the intellect and affections—the whole soul. These are totally distinct; what enters the former does not and cannot reach the latter. There is no connection between these parts of man's nature, and no compatibility between the objects that affect them. Meats only enter the stomach and intestines, and minister to man's life and strength; even the exclusion, of their refuse tends to purification rather than defilement. But the things that do defile proceed out of the heart; and they are sins against God's Law, or dispositions that incline to those sins, and incentives that prompt to them. Those sins are against the commandments in the so-called second table of the Law. According to a rough classification that has been made, some are sins against the sixth commandment, as murders, wickedness, and an evil eye; some against the seventh, as fornication, adultery, and lasciviousness; some against the eighth, as theft and deceit; some against the ninth, as blasphemies, or evil-speaking, and false witness (in St. Matthew's enumeration); and some against the tenth, as covetousness, or, literally, "reachings after more." But of the evil dispositions that lead to overt acts of sins, the chief place is occupied by evil thoughts, whether the reference is to evil thoughts in general, or to such vicious reasonings as those in which the Pharisees were accustomed to indulge. While such inward thoughts or reasonings ( διαλογισμοὶ ) are the seminal principles from which sinful actions proceed—the bitter roots from which they shoot up and grow—a leading motive to sin is specified: it is pride ( ὑπερηφανία , a desire to appear above others), the wish for conspicuous elevation. In pride itself the predominant clement is selfishness—that selfishness that prompts men to seek the pre-eminence in all things, and to prefer self to all other persons or interests, in contrariety to the scriptural precept which directs us" in honor to prefer one another." Pride implies that overbearing demeanour and haughtiness of carriage that make men look down on others, supposing themselves so much superior. Pride centres all in self, disregarding others' interests whenever they seem to stand in the way; at the same time proud persons, male or female, "sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag." Pride is thus a most powerful motive to sin, to selfish indulgence, to self-aggrandizement, to supercilious speech in regard to others, and to self-interest, whatever form it may assume, and however much detriment may be done to the rights of others. Further, one characteristic of all sin, and a name frequently used in Scripture as synonymous with "sin," is "folly" ( ἀφροσύνη ). This senselessness denies God the glory that pertains to him, for "the fool has said in his heart, There is no God." While it thus robs God, it refuses to man his due. In the cud it ruins the individual himself. "This their way is their folly." Oh, the folly of sin! The enumeration of the things which defile a man, as given here by St. Mark, is fuller than that given by St. Matthew. The latter mentions only seven; while St. Mark specifies thirteen. The cause of this additional number by the latter may be found in the vices that commonly prevailed among the Romans, for whom in the first instance St. Mark wrote, as compared with those to which the Jews, whom St. Matthew more especially kept in view in his Gospel, were addicted. A comparison also of the catalogue of crimes, which St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, gives at the close of his first chapter, will probably confirm the same conclusion, that the cause of the difference in the enumeration is connected with the different classes of sins to which persons belonging to these different nationalities were respectively addicted. Judaism at its worst, if this theory be correct, had greatly the advantage of paganism; so the lowest type of Christianity is superior to heathenism.—J.J.G.

- The Pulpit Commentary