Sunday, August 22, 2021

Ethical Hermeneutics and Hermeneutical Ethics

Mark 7: 1-23


Below is my rough translation and notes for the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel Reading for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. 

An interpretive question that faces the exegete with this passage – with huge implications for how we regard and interpret the Scriptures – has to do with what Mark calls “the received traditions of the elders” One frequently hears these “traditions” referred to as just ‘latterly add-ons’ that some uptight works-righteousness folk layered on top of the true Word of God. However, some of these “received traditions” are rooted squarely in the Scriptures themselves. Take, for example the ritual cleansing of Exodus 30:17-21. It specifies ritual washing, even mentioning the “brazen vessel” that Mark describes below in v. 4 as part of the ‘received tradition.’ 

This confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees and some of the scribes is often described as a matter of a “get back to the Bible’s true word of God and not your added-on traditions.” However, the “received traditions” under discussion are not simply made up add-ons. Many of them are either rooted in or come directly out of the Scriptures themselves. That is to say, this argument implies that the Scriptures themselves contain both the ‘teachings of God’ and ‘the received traditions of human.’ 

Therefore, I find this to be a “here is the heart of the Scriptures” kind of argument. Jesus is arguing for a way of reading the Scriptures that locates the deliberations of the heart as the place where purity or defilement happens, rather than that focusing on what goes into a person from the outside. In doing so, Jesus is preferring some ways of reading the Scriptures over other ways. It is a matter of faithfulness via faithful hermeneutics, not faithfulness via ‘Bible v. Tradition.’

[I would argue that the “You have heard it was said … but I say to you” pattern in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount does the same thing. Some of the things they “had heard” were directly out of the Scriptures themselves. Jesus’ point is that they were the wrong Scriptures to use as one’s interpretive lens.] 

Biblical scholars often speak of the “canon within the canon,” as the question of what Scriptures we embrace as having priority in how we interpret other Scriptures. I think that is the point in this text. But, it is not simply a matter of ‘my preference v. your preference.’ At least according to this confrontation, there are hermeneutical choices that are hypocritical, because they emphasize the humanly-rooted portions of Scripture over the God-given teachings there. 


Καὶ συνάγονται πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καί τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐλθόντες ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων 

And the Pharisees and some of the scribes who came from Jerusalem are being gathered to him. 

συνάγονται: PPI 3p, συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather

ἐλθόντες: AAPart npm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning

1. “Are being gathered”: This verb συνάγονται is in the present passive voice. 

2. I think the identification that these folks came from Jerusalem is significant. In Mark, Jesus’ ministry is in Galilee, where he is enormously popular. The antagonists come from Jerusalem (in Judea) and Jesus only goes to Jerusalem during the last week of his life – to die. After the resurrection, Jesus instructs the disciples to meet him in Galilee. I agree with Richard Horsley’s contention that Jesus was trying to begin a grassroots movement in Galilee, not a Jerusalem-based or temple-based movement. See more under v.3. 


καὶ ἰδόντες τινὰς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ὅτι κοιναῖς χερσίν, τοῦτ' ἔστιν ἀνίπτοις, ἐσθίουσιν τοὺς ἄρτους 

And having seen some of his disciples with defiled hands – that is unwashed – eating the bread  

ἰδόντες: AAPart npm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 

ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

ἐσθίουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing  2a) to take food, eat a meal  3) metaph. to devour, consume

1. “Defiled”: The word κοιναῖς also means “common.” It can mean “unclean” but is different from the term signifying “unclean spirits.” I am following the lead of other translations and going with “defiled” because that works better with vv. 15 and 23 below. 2. This story declares hands that are not washed according to ceremony ‘clean.’ In v.19 the narrator says “Thus he declared all foods clean.” In the story of the Syrophoenician woman, one could say that Jesus ultimately declares all persons clean. So, the matter of ‘defiled’ v. ‘clean’ is very important here and throughout.  

3. “That is, unwashed”: This explanatory comment – along with other features that I will point out along the way – suggests that Mark’s audience may not be familiar with Judean customs. It may also indicate that the issue of washing properly is a difference between Judean and Galilean piety. 

4. The sentence that begins here is a bit convoluted and requires patience. It seems to run from v.2 – 5, with vv.3,4 as an explanation of the observation begun in v.2. However, v.2 does not have a main verb; it only has a preposition that goes with the subject (Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem). V.5 picks up the thought begun in v.2 and finally gets to the action of the Pharisees/scribes, which is to challenge Jesus with a question. 


οἱ γὰρ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐὰν μὴ πυγμῇ νίψωνται τὰς χεῖρας οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν,κρατοῦντες τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων,

for the Pharisees and all the Judeans do not eat unless the hands were washed up to the elbows, holding to the received tradition of the elders, 

νίψωνται: AMS 3p, νίπτω, 1) to wash  2) to wash one's self

ἐσθίουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat 

κρατοῦντες: PAPart npm, κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule  2) to get possession of … 3c) to hold. 

1. Again, the explanation in vv.3-4 does not assume that Mark’s readers know the customs of the Pharisees or all the Judeans. 

2. Again following Horsley, I translate Ἰουδαῖοι as “Judeans,” and not as “Jews.” First of all, it sounds more like Judeans, but more importantly Horsley argues that Mark is writing from a context where Galilean piety and Judean piety had grown in very different directions, with Judean piety being more closely aligned with the temple and temple purity practices. See Horsley, Hearing the Whole Story.

3. For "received tradition" see v.5, n.1 below. 


καὶ ἀπ' ἀγορᾶς ἐὰν μὴ βαπτίσωνται οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἄλλα πολλά ἐστιν

ἃ παρέλαβον κρατεῖν, βαπτισμοὺς ποτηρίων καὶ ξεστῶν καὶ χαλκίων [καὶ κλινῶν] 

And do not eat from a market unless cleansed, and to hold to many other things that are received tradition, cleansed cups, pots, brazen vessels [and couches] 

βαπτίσωνται: AMS 3p, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)  2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean  with water, to wash one's self, bathe 

ἐσθίουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat 

ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

κρατεῖν: PAInf κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule  2) to get possession of … 3c) to hold. 

1. “Cleansed”: The word is literally ‘baptized’ βαπτίζω, but that would be a misleading translation. It helps to remind us, though, that the word “baptize” is not a ‘religious’ term. It was the common term for ‘washing’ or ‘cleansing.’

2. I had originally followed many translations (NRSV, etc.) in inserting the word "tradition" into this verse from the last verse, to accompany the substantive adjective "other." I have modified it to the awkward, "many other things they received to hold," to be a little more literal. I'm still not quite sure how to translate the ἔστιν, the common verb 'to be.' It may well be a way that Mark points back to the "tradition" from the previous verse and I'm just not sharp enough to understand how that works grammatically. At any rate, the word for "tradition" παράδοσιν returns in the next verse, so I think the other translations are making a fair call on keeping the term alive in this verse and I address it more there. 


καὶ ἐπερωτῶσιν αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς, Διὰ τί οὐ περιπατοῦσιν οἱ μαθηταί σου κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, ἀλλὰ κοιναῖς χερσὶν ἐσθίουσιν τὸν ἄρτον; 

And the Pharisees and the scribes challenge him, “On what account do your disciples not walk according to the received tradition of the elders, but eat the bread with defiled hands?” 

ἐπερωτῶσιν: PAI 3p, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an inquiry, put a question to, inquire of, ask, interrogate

περιπατοῦσιν: PAI 3p, περιπατέω, 1) to walk  …  1b2) to conduct one's self 

ἐσθίουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat 

1. “Received tradition”: This verb παράδοσιν literally means to “hand over.” It is a form of the verb παραδίδωμι, which Mark uses to describes Judas’ betrayal in handing Jesus over. Through time it meant a teaching or a precept that was handed over, from one generation to another. I am trying to keep both the literal and connotative meanings available via the phrase “received tradition.” 

2. It seems significant to me that the Judean representatives are the ones who name their expectations the “according to the received tradition of the elders” as opposed to “according to the law.” What this seems to signify is that they know that the expectations by which they are critiquing the disciples are extraneous to the law, or at least a particularized interpretation of the law.  


6ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσεν Ἠσαΐας περὶ ὑμῶν τῶν ὑποκριτῶν, ὡς γέγραπται [ὅτι] Οὗτος ὁ λαὸς τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ' ἐμοῦ: 

Yet he said to them, “Isaiah prophesied well about you hypocrites, where it has been written, ‘This people honors me with the lips, but their heart holds back far from me;  

εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

ἐπροφήτευσεν: AAI 3s, 

γέγραπται: PPI 3s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters  1a) to delineate (or form) letters on a tablet, parchment,  paper, or other material

τιμᾷ: PAI 3s, τιμάω, 1) to estimate, fix the value  1a) for the value of something belonging to one's self  2) to honour, to have in honour, to revere, venerate 

ἀπέχει: PAI 3s, ἀπέχω, 1) have  1a) to hold back, keep off, prevent 

1. Hypocrites: The word ὑποκριτῶν has a curious history, from what I can gather in Kittel’s TDNT. It seems that, originally, it meant to interpret or to explain. In the Greek tradition, it took on the meaning of an actor, who either interpreted the meaning of a poet or whose words made a myth intelligible. In several passages in the LXX, the hypo-crite was posited as the opposite of one who fears God. Hence, it took on a pejorative sense. In the NT, the term often refers to actions that are contradictory to what one professes. My sense is that the NT meaning combines the negative connotation from the LXX and the appearance motif of ‘acting.’ 


7μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με, διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων. 

yet in vain do they revere me, teaching teachings commands of humans.’ 

σέβονταί: PMI 3p, σέβομαι, 1) to revere, to worship 

διδάσκοντες: PAPart npm, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them,  deliver didactic discourses

1. The quote is from Isaiah 29:13 - The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote. 

2. The last phrase, “teaching teachings commands of humans” is literal, but quite wooden. Most translations add an ‘as’ to make it more meaningful, something like: “teaching human commands as [God’s] teachings” or “teaching human teachings as [God’s] commands.”  


ἀφέντες τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ κρατεῖτε τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

Having abandoned the law of God you hold to the received tradition of humans. 

ἀφέντες: AAPart npm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  …  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife  1b) to send forth, yield up, to expire  1c) to let go, let alone, let be  1c1) to disregard  … 1c3) to omit, neglect  1d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit  1e) to give up, keep no longer

κρατεῖτε: PAI 2p, κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule  2) to get possession of … 3c) to hold.

1. The problem – as I am reading it – is not that the Pharisees, etc. have a received tradition of human origin, but that they are abandoning the law of God in lieu of that received tradition. That is, they are holding up the tradition as if it originates in God and not in humanity. 

I offer this example, with which you may take exception. Think of the popular notion, “God helps those who help themselves,” a saying that many people are convinced is found somewhere in the Scriptures. Not only is it not found in the Scriptures, it abrogates some of the more powerful expressions of grace in the NT. Thus, it champions a meritocratic vision of human life that is grounded in American culture, as if it were the Word of God. 


9Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Καλῶς ἀθετεῖτε  τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν στήσητε.

And was saying to them, “You disregard the law of God well, in order that you may uphold your received tradition.” 

ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

ἀθετεῖτε: PAI 2p, ἀθετέω, 1) to do away with, to set aside, disregard  2) to thwart the efficacy of anything, nullify, make void, frustrate  3) to reject, to refuse, to slight

στήσητε: AASubj 2p, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set

1. Several translations (NIV, ESV, NRSV) have something snarky like, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God” in order to pick up on the obvious double entendre of Καλῶς or “well.” Jesus is using the term to signify how ably they disregard the law, not how good it is that they do so. So, it seems that we’re witnessing 1st century sarcasm of a sort, hence the translators’ snark.

2. The accusation here is basically a repetition of what Jesus just said in v.8, but this begins a new line of argument, leading to v.10-13. 


 10 Μωϋσῆς γὰρ εἶπενΤίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα σου, καί, Ὁ κακολογῶνπατέρα ἢ μητέρα θανάτῳ τελευτάτω:

For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother end in death.’ 

εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

Τίμα: PAImpv 2s, τιμάω, 1) to estimate, fix the value  1a) for the value of something belonging to one's self  2) to honor, to have in honor, to revere, venerate. 

κακολογῶν: PAPart nsm, κακολογέω, 1) to speak evil of, revile, abuse, one 2) to curse 

τελευτάτω: PAImpv 3s, τελευτάω, 1) to finish, bring to and end, close  2) to have an end or close, come to an end 

1. This is every teenager’s least favorite verse. 

2. τελευτάω is a curious verb. It means more to end something than to kill, but paired with the word θανάτῳ, or ‘death,’ it is tempting to hear it as “execute.” But, it is not necessarily a kill order; it could point to how something invariably, or divinely, ends in death. 

3. Jesus is quoting Exodus 21:15 (sim. Lev. 20:9), which in the NRSV, is translated, “Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.” Actually Exodus 21:12-27 contains all kinds of laws that would be very, very hard to imagine as non-contextual and eternally binding. So, while I get Jesus’ specific point that he’s making in the following verses (I think), I also need to push back a little to the idea that Exodus 21:15 is the irrevocable law and to speak otherwise is unjust. (The Sermon on the Mount demonstrates Jesus doing what I want to do with Ex. 21:12-27: “You have heard it was a said, “..” but I say to you, “..”)


11ὑμεῖς δὲ λέγετεἘὰν εἴπῃ ἄνθρωπος τῷ πατρὶ ἢ τῇ μητρί, Κορβᾶν, ὅ ἐστιν, Δῶρον, ὃ ἐὰν ἐξ ἐμοῦ ὠφεληθῇς,

But you say, “If a man says to father or mother, ‘That is Korban,’ (which is ‘a gift’) which might be profited out of me,”  

λέγετε: PAI 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

εἴπῃ: AASubj 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 

ὠφεληθῇς: APSubj 2s, ὠφελέω, 1) to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit

1. Why in the world did someone split this sentence apart so awkwardly? 

2. This is a bit of a bear to translate, not the word for word stuff, but the order and trying to capture the meaning. I interpret the reference of a “gift” – which some translations make into ‘a gift to God’ – as another example of Mark’s community not knowing Jewish traditions. 

3. The last phrase, “which might be profited out of me” is where the wooden translation is genuinely difficult. The verb ὠφεληθῇς is a passive subjunctive, hence ‘might be profited’ and the preposition ἐξ, which is commonly ‘out’ combined here with the genitive pronoun ἐμοῦ , so ‘out of me.’ 

4. I suppose the idea is that the means of honoring one’s parents – in terms of financially supporting them – is what ‘that which might be profited out of me’ refers to. So, it seems to indicate, “Sorry Mom and Dad, but the religious leaders tell me that the portion of my income that is my obligation for supporting you should go to them instead.” It sounds like the preincarnation of Robert Tilton.

5. To explain the red script for the ἐὰν repetition, see v.12, n.2. 


 12οὐκέτι ἀφίετε αὐτὸν οὐδὲν ποιῆσαι τῷ πατρὶ ἢ τῇ μητρί,

you no longer permit him to do anything to the father or the mother, 

ἀφίετε: PAI 2p, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away, 1c1) to disregard, 1c3) to omit, neglect 

ποιῆσαι: AAInf, ποιέω, 1) to make  … 1d) to produce, bear, shoot forth

1. The point: The law manifestly commands honoring parents and the human tradition sanctifies just the opposite. 

2. The NIV, NRSV, and ESV begin this verse with “then,” making it the conclusion of an “if … then” clause from v. 11 (But you say, “If …). Greek often shows this relationship with an ἐὰν … ἐὰν clause. We do have that clause here, but both instances of ἐὰν are found in v.11, as opposed to the second in v.12. That’s part of the translation confusion for me. 


 13 ἀκυροῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ παραδόσει ὑμῶν ἧ παρεδώκατε: καὶ παρόμοια τοιαῦτα πολλὰ ποιεῖτε

nullifying the word of God in your received traditions which you rendered;  And you do many such things like that. 

ἀκυροῦντες: PAPart npm, ἀκυρόω, 1) to render void, deprive of force and authority

παρεδώκατε: AAI 2p, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another) 

ποιεῖτε: ποιέω, PAI2p, 1) to make  … 1d) to produce, bear, shoot forth

1. The verb ἀκυρόω ‘nullifying’ is the word for ‘confirming’ κυρόω with the prefix ἀ (not) attached to it. 

2. The last phrase also appears at the end of v.8 in the Textus Receptus, which is why it appears in older translations like the KJV and Young’s Literal Translation. 


14Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος πάλιν τὸν ὄχλον ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀκούσατέ μου πάντες καὶ σύνετε.

And again having called together the crowd he was saying to them, “Listen to me all of you and understand.” 

προσκαλεσάμενος: AMPart nsm, προσκαλέομαι, 1) to call to  2) to call to one's self  3) to bid to come to one's self

ἔλεγεν: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

Ἀκούσατέ: AAImpv 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear  2b) to attend to, consider what is or has been said

σύνετε: AAImpv 2p, συνίημι, 1) to set or bring together  1a) in a hostile sense, of combatants  2) to put (as it were) the perception with the thing perceived  2a) to set or join together in the mind  2a1) i.e. to understand:

1. Jesus changes the recipients of his words from a direct denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes to the crowd. 

2. “all of you”: The ‘all’ is given in πάντες; the ‘of you’ is implied in the verbs, where Jesus is using the 2nd person imperative.

3. Something really interesting is happening here. Jesus has just critiqued the Pharisees, etc., for their embrace of the received tradition of the elders- i.e. teachings of humans - as if they were the teachings of God. Here, Jesus is speaking of his own accord as an interpreter of the teachings of God. That is easy to swallow for Christians, who receive Jesus as the one sent from God. But, it certainly was contrary to the spirit of the times to imagine that a contemporary interpreter of the teachings of God could claim more authority than “the received tradition of the elders.” 

4. For συνίημι, see below v.18, n.1.  


15οὐδέν ἐστιν ἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς αὐτὸν ὃ δύναται κοινῶσαι αὐτόν:ἀλλὰ τὰ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενά ἐστιν τὰ κοινοῦντα τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

There is nothing outside of a person which going into him is able to defile him; but the things which go out of the person is the things which defile the person. 

ἐστιν (2x): PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

εἰσπορευόμενον: PMPart nsn, εἰσπορεύομαι, 1) to go into, enter

δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources, or of a state of mind, or through favorable  circumstances, or by permission of law or custom

κοινῶσαι: AAInf, κοινόω, 1) to make common  1a) to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane

ἐκπορευόμενά: PMPart npn, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart

κοινοῦντα: PAPart npn, κοινόω, 1) to make common  1a) to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane 

1. There is a discrepancy in moving from Greek to English between the plural subject “the things” (τὰ 2x) in the last half of this verse, which match the plural form of the participles involved (which go out, which defile) and the singular verb “is” (ἐστιν).  

2. This seems to be a dramatic shift in ethics regarding purity laws about cleanliness or defilement. Leviticus 11 is not just an add-on tradition that someone made up as a Midrash to the “canon” of Scripture. It is Scripture; yet the assumption behind Leviticus 11 is that some foods are unclean, some animals are so unclean that by touching them a person becomes unclean and needs time and washing in order to be rid of defilement. Jesus’ point here – summed up in v.19 “Thus he declared all foods clean” – is a different theological ethic than in Leviticus 11. Again, this argument is not “Scripture v. add-on”, but a genuine, faithful way of reading Scripture v. a hypocritical way of reading Scripture, which – even by strict adherence to certain portions of Scripture – in the end abandon the words of God in order to follow the teachings of humans. 

3. As I have indicated earlier, I think this is a inner-Jewish contention between Galilean, synagogue-based piety v. a Judean, temple-based piety. Too often I think it is interpreted as a Christian v. Jewish contention. 



1. This verse does not appear in older manuscripts and shows evidence of having been worked over quite a bit by copyists. It does appear elsewhere and seems to have been added by an enthused copyist wanting to add an “Amen!” 


17 ὅτε εἰσῆλθεν εἰς οἶκον ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου, ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ τὴν παραβολήν. 

After he entered into a house from the crowd, his disciples interrogated him the parable. 
: AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 

ἐπηρώτων: IAI 3p, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of,  ask, interrogate  2) to address one with a request or demand  

1. I continue to argue that Mark disrupts every definition we try to paste on the word ‘parable.’ Jesus argument was a comparison, perhaps an argument from the general to the specific, but in no way a simile (YLT for παραβολήν) and certainly not a story-form ‘parable’ as we often use the term. I don’t want to get off track here, but this is in no wise an “earthly story with heavenly meaning” or even an “earthy story with heavy meaning.” I don’t know what Mark means by it.

2. I like to use ‘interrogate’ for ἐπερωτάω (see the definitions above), because it almost always seems challenging or is followed by confrontational language. 


18καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀσύνετοί ἐστε; οὐ νοεῖτε ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἔξωθεν εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς τὸν ἄνθρωπον οὐ δύναται αὐτὸν κοινῶσαι

And he says to them, Are you also non-understanders? Do you not know that anything outside entering into the man is not able to defile him,

λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

ἐστε: PAI 2p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

νοεῖτε: PAI 2p, νοέω, 1) to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding  2) to think upon, heed, ponder, consider 

εἰσπορευόμενον: PMPart nsn, εἰσπορεύομαι, to go into, to enter; to pass into (with the idea of being conveyed or compelled).

δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources, or of a state of mind, or through favorable  circumstances, or by permission of law or custom

κοινῶσαι: AAinf, κοινόω, 1) to make common  1a) to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane  1b) to declare or count unclean

1. The word ἀ/σύνετοί  is a plural noun, not a verb. So, it’s not properly “do you not understand?” The verb is “are.” σύνετοί is the nominal form of the verb συνίημι which is in v.15 above and 6:52 when the twelve did not understand the meaning of the loaves. With the prefix σύν it implies the ability, or inability when the other prefix ἀ is attached, to make synthetic connections. This is a very difficult place for the disciples, especially in light of what Jesus says about parables in Mark 4:10-20, including the enigmatic quote from Isaiah,  ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that “they may indeed look, but not perceive and may indeed listen, but not understand (συνίημι); so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’

Mar 4:12

...hear, and not understand; lest at any...

...καὶ μὴ συνίωσιν μή ποτε...

Mar 6:52

For they considered not the miracle...

οὐ γὰρ συνῆκαν ἐπὶ τοῖς...

Mar 7:14

...of you, and understand:

...πάντες καὶ σύνετε

Mar 8:17

...not yet, neither understand? have ye your...

...νοεῖτε οὐδὲ συνίετε πεπωρωμένην ἔχετε...



19ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἀλλ' εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν, καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεταικαθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα. 

because is not entering him in the heart but into the gullet, and into the sewer exiting purging all foods?” 

εἰσπορεύεται: PMI 3s, εἰσπορεύομαι, to go into, to enter; to pass into (with the idea of being conveyed or compelled).

ἐκπορεύεται: PMI 3s, ἐκπορεύομαι, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart

καθαρίζων: PAPart nsm, καθαρίζω, 1. to make clean, to cleanse

1. I realize that the last sentence here is a fragment. Talk to Mark about it. 

2. The word κοιλίαν “gullet” is the word for ‘womb’ in the birth stories. 

3. I love how Thayer’s Lexicon says that ἀφεδρῶνα (sewer) is “the place into which the alvine discharges are voided; a privy, sink.”


20 ἔλεγεν δὲ ὅτι Τὸ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκεῖνο κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον: 

Yet he was saying, “That which exits out of the man this defiles the man.” 

ἔλεγεν: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

ἐκπορευόμενον: PMPart nsn, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart

κοινοῖ: PAI 3s, κοινόω, 1) to make common  1a) to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane  1b) to declare or count unclean



21ἔσωθεν γὰρ ἐκ τῆς καρδίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων οἱ διαλογισμοὶ οἱ κακοὶ ἐκπορεύονται, πορνεῖαι,κλοπαί, φόνοι, 22μοιχεῖαι, πλεονεξίαι, πονηρίαι, δόλος, ἀσέλγεια, ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός,βλασφημία, ὑπερηφανία, ἀφροσύνη:

For from within, out of the heart of persons the evil deliberations go out – fornications, thefts, murders, 22adulteries, avarices, wickedness, deceits, licentiousness, envy, slanders, pride, follies. 

ἐκπορεύονται: PMI 3p, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart

1. I am taking these two verses together to keep the list intact. 

2. One may quarrel with how each of these vices ought to be translated. I simply took this list from the NRSV, but I made them plural whenever the word allowed it because the list is certainly plural in the Greek. The first three are roughly parallel to three of the 10 Commands, but only roughly. 

3. “Deliberations”: The word διαλογισμοὶ is comprised of a prefix δια and the root λογισ, which is related to the verb “say” (λέγω) and the noun “word” (λογοσ) and is manifestly the origin of the word “dialogue.” In Socratic philosophy, truth was often arrived at via interlocution, made famous in Plato’s renditions of Socrates’ dialogues. When the context is the individual’s heart, as opposed to the conversation between two persons, I think the word ‘deliberation’ captures the meaning better than simply ‘thoughts’ or ‘intents.’ Here, the evil actions that Jesus names stem from the “evil deliberations” of the heart. While there is a healthy debate within the discipline of ethics over whether one’s intentions or the effects of one actions have moral priority, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and their piety here. As such, this may be a challenge to some of the “received traditions” of the Hebrew Bible, such at the guilt of “unintentional sins” in Leviticus 5:14-19. 


23πάντα ταῦτα τὰ πονηρὰ ἔσωθεν ἐκπορεύεται καὶ κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

All of these evil things go out from within and defile the person. 

ἐκπορεύεται: PMI 3s, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart

κοινοῖ: PAI 3s, κοινόω, 1) to make common  1a) to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane 

1. Again the verb is singular although the subject is a collective plural. 




  1. I love your material. Even more, I resonate with what I perceive to be a long and sometimes painful history with the Church. But, again, perhaps like me, I can't seem to tear myself away. Prisoner of hope stuff.

    Anyway, thanks for what you are doing.

  2. Dang. I meant to say, "perhaps like me, YOU can't seem to tear yourself away...."


  3. Jon,
    I love the church, warts and all. What is comforting to me in reading the gospels is that all of our worst tendencies as the church have been present all along. We're just the latest incarnation of the same thing.
    Thanks for your comments,

    1. Sin of pride in Presbyterian tradition: Total depravity. We KNOW we're all screwed up! So deal with it!

  4. Hey Mark-- just wondering if you've covered Acts already.. Did I miss it?-- and if so-- when did you do it?



    Tom Blair

  5. Tom, I've been focusing solely on the Gospel lessons each week. (It's been a joy, but also a challenge, since I've been off lectionary all summer. But, I like the discipline of exegeting the lectionary gospel reading, so I've kept at it). To be honest, I've not looked much beyond the gospel readings at all this summer. Sorry.

  6. Thanks, Mark.

    I really do appreciate your insights... guess I'll have to go back to by commentary by Ben Witherington on Acts... oh well...

  7. I was just personally struck after 5 weeks of Lectionary readings in John with Jesus' claim to be the Bread of Life and telling folks they must eat his flesh to now read in Mark about folks being criticized as too 'defiled' to eat bread. It points out to me once again the big difference in Jesus' interpretation of scripture as well as provoking thought and questions about whether what we put in us cannot make us unclean, it comes from within. Can what we put in us (Christ-likeness) change us from the inside out? I'd say yes. He offers his very essence of self to all of us before we 'purify' ourselves. Very interesting how the gospels provide tension this way. Or maybe it's just my brain going off on a tangent again.

  8. I was just personally struck after 5 weeks of Lectionary readings in John with Jesus' claim to be the Bread of Life and telling folks they must eat his flesh to now read in Mark about folks being criticized as too 'defiled' to eat bread. It points out to me once again the big difference in Jesus' interpretation of scripture as well as provoking thought and questions about whether what we put in us cannot make us unclean, it comes from within. Can what we put in us (Christ-likeness) change us from the inside out? I'd say yes. He offers his very essence of self to all of us before we 'purify' ourselves. Very interesting how the gospels provide tension this way. Or maybe it's just my brain going off on a tangent again.

  9. Once again, a seed for a sermon has been found/ or fostered in your blog. Thank you for your weekly posts and effort. I really appreciate the unvarnished manner of laying out the troubling areas.

  10. Great and so helpful for preaching. This passage resonates so well in a time of COVID doesn't it?
    I so much appreaciate what you doevery week and your ability to tell it like it is. Thanks, so much. Roberta

  11. A very interesting and important passage! Can I suggest that eating with 'common hands' is best understood literally? Knives and forks were not used - people ate with their hands and dipped into bowls and so shared the food with 'common hands'. Hands were washed, then, not like my mum would tell me to wash my hands before a meal, but as a ritual expression of koinonia. By that logic, I guess that eating as a koinonia (the main point of all eating) with koinais hands ritually created another kind of koinonia - the koinonia Jesus understood as he ate with 'common' hands (did he?). And as he died with 'common' law-breakers. Were these 'some' of Jesus' disciples doing something more than just breaking with the tradition of the elders?

    1. Rick, I like your koinonia interpretation of washing hands! Could we explain masks and vaccines to Christians in those terms?

  12. You have once again teased the threads well! Two points come to mind. First, I think the gospel of Mark is a subtle Galilean polemic against the (self) established group in Jerusalem. Every time the listed disciples (those in Jerusalem) are mentioned, it makes clear that they don't get Jesus. Second, I love how you have opened up the last section with the explanation of "dialog". I think to a modern person, we get concerned about our thoughts and how we think we must control them, that we are our thoughts. Yet no one can point where they come from nor can we turn them on or off nor direct them. They just flow on and on. And it seems that Jesus is saying that when you start dialoging with them, then the trouble starts. I like that shaded nuance. Cheers.

  13. Thanks Rick and Scott. BTW, I have expanded my comments to cover all of vv.1-23 now, including the parts that the lectionary omits. FYI.

  14. I really appreciate your commentary which I look at weekly when teaching from the Gospel selection of the lectionary. And I agree with the hermeneutical approach in your introduction. But I would offer a word of caution in regard to your words in red. In the history of race "relations" from Reconstruction through Jim Crow, there were over 4500 documented instances of lynching, most of which involved the murder, mutilation and burning of black Americans, most of whom were Christians and none of whom were expressing heretical exegesis of Mark. Additionally, many of the early church fathers were indeed burned at the stake for standing up for much more than your profession on these pages. I would encourage you to rethink your somewhat glib use of the English language, especially when you strive for precision on the remainder of the post.

    1. For some reason this post did not capture my name and that was not my intention--Mark

    2. Thanks. Your point is well taken. I was not using the language of lynching as much as the more medieval language of burning at the stake, but even so it is a cruel and barbaric matter and I'll change it.

  15. So we're currently in a struggle about 'clean' and 'unclean' over vaccines and masks. ISTM that it can lend itself to either a concern for compassion (becoming vaccinated as an act of charity) or sense of coercion (get vaccinated or get fired). FWIW I'm ready to fire folk who refuse vaccination without a valid medical or religious reason - they still need to mask and social distance. But it does bring home 'unclean' and 'clean' to me in a different way.


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