Mark 7: 1-8; 14-15; 21-23
Below is my rough translation and notes for the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel Reading for the 15thSunday 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.
Send your wood and gasoline to me and I’ll go ahead and burn myself at the stake for reading this text in such a heretical manner!
1 Καὶ συνάγονταιπρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καί τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐλθόντεςἀπὸ 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.
2 καὶ ἰδόντεςτινὰς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ὅτι κοιναῖς χερσίν, τοῦτ' ἔστινἀνίπτοις, ἐσθίουσιντοὺς 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.
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.
4 καὶ ἀπ' ἀγορᾶς ἐὰν μὴ βαπτίσωνταιοὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἄλλα πολλά ἐστιν
ἃ παρέλαβονκρατεῖν, 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.’
5 καὶ ἐπερωτῶσιναὐτὸν οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς, Διὰ τί οὐ περιπατοῦσινοἱ μαθηταί σου κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, ἀλλὰ κοιναῖς χερσὶν ἐσθίουσιντὸν 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 common 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 is extraneous to the law, or at least a particularized interpretation of the law.
6ὁ δὲ εἶπεναὐτοῖς, Καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσενἨσαΐας περὶ ὑμῶν τῶν ὑποκριτῶν, ὡς γέγραπται[ὅτι] Οὗτος ὁ λαὸς τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχειἀπ' 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 σέβονταίμε, διδάσκοντεςδιδασκαλίας 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.”
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. havea 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 originate 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.
The lectionary skips vv. 9-13
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 2ndperson 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.”
15οὐδέν ἐστινἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰσπορευόμενονεἰς αὐτὸν ὃ δύναταικοινῶσαιαὐτόν:ἀλλὰτὰἐκτοῦἀνθρώπουἐκπορευόμενάἐστιντὰκοινοῦντατὸνἄνθρωπον.
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.
The lectionary skips vv. 16-20
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.
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.