The Book of Mark - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 3 Lesson 06 - Inside Out

Teachers Comments
Aug 03 - Aug 09

Key Texts: Mark 7:6–8, Mark 7:33–37

Study Focus: Mark 7

Introduction: During His ministry, Jesus exalted the Scriptures as revelation from God, often quoting from the Old Testament. Though the teachers of Israel knew the Hebrew Scriptures well, human tradition was, for most of them, more preeminent than biblical instruction. With this context in mind, our study will review selected discussions between Jesus and the Pharisees.

Lesson Themes: This week’s study includes three components, as delineated in Mark 7:6–8. (The third component deals with the topic of Creation, as revealed in the narrative of the healing of the deaf man.) The three components are as follows:

  1. The first component examines the Old Testament context for Mark 7:6–8 and looks at the reference to Isaiah 29:13, as quoted in Mark.

2. The second component considers traditions. In light of Mark 7:6–8, we will compare and contrast the tradition of the elders with God’s instructions in the Scriptures.

  1. The third component, as previously noted, concerns the narrative of the healing of a deaf man. We will consider the ways in which certain elements of the Creation motif are implicitly referred to in this particular healing.

Part II: Commentary

The Old Testament Context of Mark 7:6–8

God’s people in the seventh century bc faced a critical moment in their religious experience. This experience is described vividly in Isaiah 1: “They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him” (Isa. 1:4, NASB). Therefore the Lord asked them, “ ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ ” (Isa. 1:11, NKJV). It makes no sense to approach, and “to worship,” God under a mask of formality. Thus the Lord speaks through His prophet to His people, and the prophet records the words in these verses of poetry:

“ ‘Do not go on bringing your worthless offerings, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the proclamation of an assembly—I cannot endure wrongdoing and the festive assembly’ ” (Isa. 1:13, NASB).

Are these verses saying that the Lord is against the sacrificial system, as stipulated through Moses to the Israelite community? Of course not. What the Lord is against is superficial religion, full of appearances and devoid of the true fear of the Lord (compare with Isa. 1:16, 17). The religious context of Isaiah 29:13, which Mark alludes to in chapter 7, is eerily similar. A close look at Isaiah 29:13 reveals an interesting chiasmus. Below is the author’s translation:

A. People draw near with their mouths and lips B. To honor Me C. But their hearts are far from Me B1. Their reverence for Me A1. Is like commandments repeated by rote.

What problem did the Israelite worshipers have, as indicated by this verse? Their problem was not their liturgical words, per se; rather, their words were relegated to a round of mere formal repetition. What was the reason for their condition? Their hearts (their conscious minds) were far from a real devotion to the Lord. Therefore, their words were meaningless.

It may be instructive to quote J. Alec Motyer here. He says, “As the Sovereign reviews their worship, all he sees is conformity to human rules. It is not that the Lord belittles the use of words; but words without the heart are meaningless; and worship is not worship (Mark 7:6–8) unless it is based on and responds to what God has revealed.”—Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, vol. 20 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 215, 216.

In summary, the people of Israel, God’s own people, lived out a religious dichotomy. They kept a ritualistic and liturgical formality, but they did not live according to the scriptural principles that had been taught to them and which were repeated so often among them. Worship, including all its elements, is meaningless without obedience. God was not against a proper cultic celebration; His indignation came as a consequence of the heavy formalism that characterized their worship. (See Teófilo Correa, “El contexto veterotestamentario de Marcos 7:6–7,” in Marcos: El Evangelista del “tiempo cumplido.” Leyendo el evangelio de Marcos: su mensaje en el pasado y en la actualidad, ed. Merling Alomía, Joel Leiva, Juan Millanao [Lima: Ediciones Theologika, 2003], p. 129.)

Traditions in Light of Mark 7:6–8

Mark, in his allusion to Isaiah, follows the text of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Because Mark’s audience is composed of Gentiles, the Greek version would be more familiar to them. Mark, in keeping with the Septuagint, refers to the topic of vain worship, with an emphasis on the notion of the precepts of men. The NASB translates Mark 7:6, 7 as follows: “ ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. And in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

The verses themselves provide the context for the narrative in Mark 7. The narrative highlights a confrontation between the Pharisees and the scribes; the topic under dispute regarded handwashing. Mark himself provides narrative detail to this effect in Mark 7:3, 4. “The Pharisees and all the other Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thereby holding firmly to the tradition of the elders” (NASB). It seems that instructions on handwashing pertaining to the priest in the sanctuary service had been imposed by the elders on all the people. Thus, the people were required to abide by that tradition. Thus, as C. S. Mann mentions: “What is here under discussion is not the Law of Moses, but oral or written tradition received from antiquity and honored because of its antiquity.”—Mann, Mark: A New Translation and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, vol. 27 (New York/London: Doubleday, 1986), p. 312.

Jesus condemns this priestly imposition upon the people. For that reason, He calls the Pharisees and the scribes hypocrites (Mark 7:6). However, Mark, in his narrative, goes beyond a simple rejection of a human tradition: Jesus reproves the teachers of Israel with the charge that their traditions have brought a shadow upon the Written Word of God. Jesus rebukes the religious teachers because, as Jesus charges them, “ ‘Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men’ ” (Mark 7:8, NASB). Then Jesus reprimands them even further: “ ‘You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition’ ” (Mark 7:9, NASB). In Mark 7:13, Jesus bemoans this wrong practice that is a direct result of the work of the teachers of Israel. Thus, Jesus lays against them this charge: you have “thereby invalidat[ed] the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down_” (NASB, _emphasis added).

In summary, both in Isaiah’s generation in the seventh century B.C. and in Mark’s generation in the first century ad, the worship of God’s people is in vain because of their wrong emphasis and the hypocritical attitude of their hearts. In some sense, the Pharisees and the scribes are responsible for this condition because, as leaders, they use their considerable influence with the people to uphold human traditions over divine revelation and elevate human regulations over God’s commandments. Here, in an implicit manner, Christ invites His people to come back to the Scriptures and to its path of justice and mercy. Christ also proclaims spirituality that transcends mere external and formal religiosity. Instead, Christ advocates a spiritual experience that is anchored in a conscious and devoted decision to serve God with a sincere heart in light of what God has revealed.

The Work of Healing a Deaf Man

Biblical authors often allude to other portions of Scripture in the composition of their writings. These allusions could include explicit quotations, as in the case of Mark 1:2, 3, where Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3, or as in the case of Mark 7:6, 7, where he quotes Isaiah 29:13. It is apparent that Mark has a special interest in Isaiah’s writings. In addition to the citation of direct quotations, biblical writers also allude to (without quoting) other writings. In other cases, it is possible for the reader to infer certain influences (on a thematic level) from an earlier source. Thus, we can argue that there is a certain allusion to the Creation theme that can be seen in the narrative of the healing the deaf man in Mark 7:31–37.

To explore this idea further, let’s consider Genesis 2:7, which states, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person” (NASB; compare with Isa. 43:7).

Genesis describes the creation of the first man on our planet. The word “formed” comes from the Hebrew verb yṣr, which also means “fashion, create, shape.” (See David J. A. Clines, ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, vol. 4 [Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998], p. 269.) The author of Genesis uses this verb to describe the work of a Creator who forms, or a Potter who shapes, His creation. The tactile image of One who puts His hands on matter in order to shape from it the first human being is undeniable in Genesis. In addition, the following sentence in Genesis 2:7 describes the part in the process that renders the inert materials into living, conscious matter. The Lord imparts the breath of life into the clay. That is, He “breathed into his nostrils.”

Similarly, in Mark 7, we have an allusion to the making of Adam. In the case of the deaf man, who speaks with difficulty (Mark 7:32), Jesus intervenes by using His own hands and mouth as a vehicle of healing. In this way, Jesus seeks to “reshape,” as it were, His creation, which He does by putting His fingers into the man’s ears. Then, He spits and touches the man’s tongue with His saliva, and at the command of His word, the man is re-created. In that instant, the man is a new person. “And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly” (Mark 7:35, NASB).

However, the descriptions above are not the only reasons we may infer a connection between Jesus’ act of healing the deaf man and the Creation theme. Further supporting evidence comes from Mark 7:37. People are astonished at Jesus because “ ‘He has done all things well; He makes even those who are deaf hear, and those who are unable to talk, speak’ ” (NASB). In this single verse, Mark uses twice the Greek verb poieō, which can be rendered “to create, to make.” Interestingly, it is the same verb that the Septuagint uses to render the Hebrew verb bara, or “to create,” from Genesis 1.

Thus, the Creator of the universe has come to earth to restore the creation, which Satan has ruined. According to Mark, Jesus has come to start His work of re-creation in doing “all things well.” There is no doubt, such work is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, once again from Isaiah.

“Say to those with anxious heart,

‘Take courage, fear not.

Behold, your God will come with vengeance;

The retribution of God will come,

But He will save you.’

Then the eyes of those who are blind will be opened,

_And the ears of those who are deaf will be unstopped._

Then those who limp will leap like a deer,

_And the tongue of those who cannot speak will shout for joy_”

(Isa. 35:4–6, NASB; _emphasis added_).

Part III: Life Application

1. Why did Jesus ask certain individuals whom He healed not to tell anyone about His work or His healing ministry? “He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36, NASB). Compare Mark 7:36 with Mark 8:30, Mark 5:43, and Mark 1:44, 45. Why do you think the people did the opposite of what Jesus asked?

2. In relation to human tradition, can you identify any “tradition” that takes the place of the Holy Scriptures in your community? Are the Holy Scriptures still our guide as we lead our community of faith in the present time? What does the text “their heart is far away from Me” (Mark 7:6, NASB) mean?