Mark 6:53-7:23 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What were Jesus’ disciples doing that the Pharisees found to be objectionable? See Mark 7:1-2 (printed below)

Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. (2) They had seen that some of his disciples ate their food with “unclean,”—that is, ceremonially unwashed—hands. (Mark 7:1-2)

The Pharisees had observed that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their food with “unclean” hands. That is to say, they did not perform the ceremonial hand washing that was handed down from the elders and diligently practiced by the Pharisees.

2. What do you think was the purpose of the Pharisees’ ceremonial hand washing and bathing? Note Mark 7:3-4 (printed below)

(Now the Pharisees, and all the Jews, observing the tradition of the elders, do not eat unless they have first performed a ceremonial hand washing. (4) And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat until they have first bathed themselves. There are also many other traditions that they have received and that they observe, such as the ceremonial washing of cups and pots and brass kettles.) (Mark 7:3-4)

Mark tells us the Pharisees fastidiously washed their hands or bathed themselves before they ate. By doing these things the Pharisees were attempting to wash away the moral pollution they may have contracted by virtue of coming into contact with the Gentile sinners. In their view, sin was a “disease” that a righteous man could contract by coming into physical contact with a sinful person.

3. What does Jesus say is the real source of moral pollution? See Mark 7:14-23 (printed below)

Then he called the crowd to himself once again, and said to them, Listen to me, all of you, and understand. (15) Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him; on the contrary, the things which come out of the man are the things that defile the man. (16) If any man has ears to hear, let him hear. (17) When he had entered the house and was away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about the parable. (18) He said to them, Are you also so lacking in understanding? Do you not realize that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him; (19) because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and then it passes out of his body? (In saying this he made all foods clean.) (20) And he said, What comes out of the man, that is what defiles the man. (21) From within men, out of the heart of men, come forth evil thoughts, such as fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, (22) all types of greed and malice, deceit, wantonness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly. (23) All these evil things come from within the man and defile him. (Mark 7:14-23)

Jesus teaches that the real source of moral pollution is the human heart. He tells the crowd that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of the man. Out of the human heart come forth all kinds of evil thoughts and desires that lead to evil actions. As Jesus says, “All these evil things come from within the man and defile him.”

4. When the Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples do not observe the traditions of the elders, how does He reply? See Mark 7:5-8 (printed below)

So the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, Why do your disciples not observe the tradition of the elders, but eat their food with “unclean” hands? (6) And he said to them, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, “This nation honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (7) They worship me in vain; teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.” (8) You let go the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men. (Mark 7:5-8)

Jesus accuses them of being hypocrites. He maintains that the prophet Isaiah was referring to them when, speaking on behalf of God, he said, “This nation honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Jesus explains that they are guilty of ignoring the commandment of God in favor of cherishing their religious traditions invented by men.

5. What example does Jesus give to prove His point? See Mark 7:9-13 (printed below)

Furthermore, he said to them, You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, so that you may keep your tradition. (10) Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother;” and, “Whoever curses his father or mother, let him be put to death.” (11) But you say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That by which you might have received financial assistance from me is Corban, (that is to say, Given to God); (12) you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother; (13) thereby making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down from past generations. And you do many similar things. (Mark 7:9-13)

Jesus refers to their practice of “Corban.” For example, if a Jew declared that a piece of property was “Corban” (dedicated to God), that property could no longer be sold and the proceeds used to support his aged parents. However, it appears that the owner could still profit from the produce of the land until which time he actually deeded it over to the temple. By means of this tradition known as “Corban,” the divine commandment to “Honor your father and mother” was by-passed and violated.