Mark 7
Pulpit Commentary
Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
Verses 1, 2. - These verses, according to the Greek construction, should run thus: And there are gathered together unto the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. The word (ἐμέμψαντο) translated in the Authorized Version, "they found fault," does not appear in the best authorities. It seems to have been interpolated to help the construction. St. Mark explains the meaning of the word κοιναῖς (literally, common), by the word (ἀνίπτοις) "unwashen." The disciples, doubtless, washed their hands, but they abstained from the multiplied ceremonial washings of the Pharisees, which they had received by tradition and punctiliously observed. The scribes and Pharisees, who had come from Jerusalem, were doubtless sent as spies, to watch and to report in no friendly spirit the proceedings of the great Prophet of Nazareth.
And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
Verse 3. - Except they wash their hands oft. The Greek word here rendered "oft" is πυγμῇ: literally, with the fist, i.e. with the closed hand, rubbing one against the other. This word has caused a vast amount of criticism; and the difficulty of explaining it seems to have led to the adoption of a conjectural reading (πυκνῷς or πυκνῇ) rendered "oft;" crebro in the Vulgate. But the Syriac Peshito Version renders the Greek word by a word which means "diligently," and it is interesting and helpful, as a matter of exegesis, to know that it also renders the Greek word (ἐπιμελῶς) in Luke 15:8 by the same Syriac synonym, "diligently." The "clenched fist" implies vigor and resolution, and points to "diligence," and there are very high authorities in favor of this rendering, as, Epiphanius, Isaac Casaubon, and Cornelius a Lapide, to say nothing of our best modern expositors. It is also adopted in the Revised Version. Holding the tradition of the elders. The Pharisees pretended that this tradition had been orally delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and then transmitted orally down to their time. These oral precepts were afterwards embodied in the Talmud.
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
Verse 4. - And when they come from the market (ἀπὸ ἀγορᾶς); literally, and from the market-place; there is no verb in the principal manuscripts, although the Cambridge Codex has ὅταν ἔλθωσιν, and the old Latin gives redeuntes. In the market-place there would be every kind of men and things, clean and unclean, by contact with which they feared that they might be polluted; and so they considered that they had need to cleanse themselves from this impurity by a more careful and complete ablution. Another Greek word is used here, namely, βαπτίσωνται. In the former verse the word is νίψωνται, a more partial and superficial kind of washing than that implied in βαπτίζω. It should, however, be added that two of the great uncials, Vatican and Sinaitic, have ῤαντίσωνται, "sprinkle themselves," instead of βαπτίσωνται ( an authority sufficient to justify the Revisers of 1881 in putting it into the margin. The washing of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels, and of tables. The words (καὶ κλινῶν) wrongly rendered, "and of tables" - because they could only mean "couches" - have not sufficient authority to be retained in the text. "Cups" (ποτηρίων) mean "drinking vessels." The "pot" (ξεστὴς) is a Roman word, sextarius, a small liquid measure, the sixth part of a congius, corresponding nearly to the English gallon, so that ξεστὴς would be rather more than a pint measure. Brasen vessels. These would probably be copper vessels, such as are still used in Syria for cooking purposes. These are particularly mentioned. Earthenware vessels would be broken. Which they have received to hold (α} παρέλαβον κρατεῖν); literally, which they received to hold: observe the aorist.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?
Verse 5. - The Law of Moses prohibited contact with many things deemed to be unclean; and if any one had touched them he was counted unclean, so that he might not approach the temple until he had cleansed himself by the washing prescribed in the Law; the design being that by means of these ceremonial and bodily washings the Jews might be awakened to the necessity of spiritual cleansing. Hence the Jews, and especially the Pharisees, who wished to be esteemed more righteous than others, placing their whole religion in these external ceremonies, frequently washed themselves before their meals, and even at their meals. At the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee we read that there were placed "six waterpots of stone (λίθιναι ῦδρίαι)" for these purifying purposes; so that if any Jew had by accident come into contact with any unclean thing, and so had contracted any ceremonial impurity, he might remove it. This, however, was only a custom, and not a thing of legal obligation until it was exalted into a law by the Pharisees. Now, this punctilious observance of traditions by the Pharisees and other Jews yielded little or no religious profit; for it occupied their time with external purifications, and so drew away their attention from the duty of far greater moment - the cleansing of the soul from sin. They made clean "the outside of the cup and platter," but neglected the inward cleansing of the heart. Therefore our blessed Lord, who came to put an end to the old ceremonial law, and to these vain and frivolous traditions which now overlaid it, and who wished to direct all the care of his disciples to the making of the heart clean, cared not to enforce these external washings upon his disciples, although he did not say this in so many words to the Pharisees, lest he should provoke their envy and their malice. He therefore meets their question in another way.
He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Verses 6, 7. - Our Lord quotes against them a prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13), This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. The prophet here gives the cause of the blindness of the Jews, because they honored God with their lips, while their heart was far from him; and their worship of him (for that is the meaning of "their fear") was the commandment of men, which they had been taught; that is, they worshipped God, not according to that spiritual worship which he had commanded, but after the traditions of men and of their own scribes, partly futile, partly perverse, and contrary to God's Law. So he says, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you. The word is καλῶς, "excellently - beautifully - did he prophesy concerning you (τῶν ὑποκριτῶν), the hypocrites." Not that the prophet had the hypocrites of our Saviour's time in his mind when he uttered these words, but that the Spirit of God which was within him enabled him to describe accurately the character of those who seven centuries afterwards would be doing the same things as their forefathers. And observe how they were punished. For as they gave a lip-service only to God, praising him with their mouth indeed, but giving their heart to vanity and the world; so God on his part would give them the words only - the shell, so to speak, the letter which killeth; but take away from them the kernel the spirit and the life, so that they might not lay hold of it nor taste it.
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Verse 9. - Here the word καλῶς is repeated. Full well (kalw = ) do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. It is as though our Lord said, "Your traditions are not instituted by God, or by his servants the prophets, but they are modern inventions, which you desire to defend, not out of love or reverence for them, but because you are the successors of those who invented them, and arrogate to yourselves the power of adding to them and making similar new traditions.
For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
Verse 10. - Our Lord now gives an example of one of these human traditions. Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; - that is, obey and love them, and succor them, if they need it; for here "honor" means not only reverence and love, but support, as is clear from Ver. 12 - and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death; that is, let him "surely die," without any hope of pardon. Our Lord means this: "That if he who by words only speaks evil of his father or his mother is, by law, guilty of death, how much more is he guilty of death who wrongs them by deed, and deprives them of that support which he owes them by the law of nature; and not only so, but teaches others so from Moses' seat, as you scribes and Pharisees do when you say, 'It is Corban.'"
But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
Verses 11-13. - 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 - these words, "that is to say, Given to God," are St. Mark's explanation of "corban" - ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered. Now, this the scribes and Pharisees did for their own covetous ends. For most of them were priests, who received offerings made to God as his ministers, and then converted them to their own uses. In this they greatly erred; because the obligation of piety by which children are bound to support their parents when they need it, is a part of the law of nature, to which every vow, every oblation, ought to yield. Thus, if any one had devoted his goods to God, and his father or his mother became needy, those goods ought to be given to his parents and not to the temple. The word "corban" is a Hebrew word, meaning "that which is brought near," "a gift or offering to God." Hence, figuratively, the place where these offerings were deposited was called the "corbanas," or, "sacred treasury" (see Matthew 27:6, κορβανᾶν). Hence to say of anything, "It is Corban," was to say that it had a prior and more sacred destination. And when it was something that a parent might need, to say, "It is Corban," i.e. it is already appropriated to another purpose, was simply to refuse his request and to deny him assistance, and so to break one of the first of the Divine commandments. Thus the son, by crying "Corban" to his needy parents, shut their mouths, by opposing to them a scruple of conscience, and suggesting to them a superstitious fear. It was as much as to say, "That which you ask of me is a sacred thing which I have devoted to God. Beware, therefore, lest you, by asking this of me, commit sacrilege by converting it to your own uses." Thus the parents would be silenced and alarmed, choosing rather to perish of hunger than to rob God. To such extremities did these covetous scribes and Pharisees drive their victims, compelling a son to abstain from any kind offices for his father or his mother. St. Ambrose says, "God does not seek a gift wrung out of the necessities of parents." Making void (ἀκυροῦντες); literally, depriving it of its authority, annulling. In Galatians 3:17 the same word is rendered "disannul." By your traditions; the traditions, that is, by which they taught children to say "Corban" to their parents. Observe the words, "your tradition" (τῇ παρδόσει ὑμῶν); your tradition, as opposed to those Divine traditions which God has sanctified, and his Church has handed down from the beginning. And many such like things ye do. This is added by St. Mark to fill up the outline, and to show that this was only a sample of the many ways in which the commandment of God was twisted, distorted, and annulled by these rabbinical traditions.
And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand:
Verses 14, 15. - In the Authorized Version the beginning of this verse runs thus: "And when he had called all the people unto him, he said." But according to the best authorities, the adverb πάλιν should be inserted, and the words will run as follows: - And he called to him the multitude again. It is probable that he had waved them from him while he held this discourse with the scribes from Jerusalem. But now he calls the people near to him again, that all might hear that which concerned all alike. It is probable, indeed, that this discussion with the scribes may have taken place in the house, into which he again returned after having made this authoritative declaration to the multitude. The words are given with more emphasis here than as recorded by St. Matthew. Every one was solemnly invited to hearken and understand, while he announced a principle of the highest importance. Our Lord did not intend to disparage the difference between clean and unclean meats as it had been laid down in the Levitical Law. His object rather was to clear that teaching from the obscurities in which it had been involved by the scribes and Pharisees, who laid stress only on external acts. His object was to show that all impurity springs from the heart; and that, unless the heart is cleansed, all external washings are in vain. It is as though he said, "The scribes teach you that it is not lawful to eat with unwashen hands because unwashen hands make the food clean, and unclean food defiles the soul. But in this they err; because not that which enters from without into the mouth, but that which proceeds from within through the mouth, and so from the heart, if it be impure, - this defiles the man;" as he more fully explains at ver. 21.
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.
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
Verse 16. - This verse has some good authority, but not sufficient to be retained in the text. The Revisers of 1881 have placed it in the margin.
And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.
Verse 17. - Our Lord, having proclaimed this great principle to the multitude in the presence of their teachers, the scribes and Pharisees, returned into the house (the true reading is here εἰς οϊκον, without the article). It means, of course, the house where he was lodging. And then his disciples asked of him the parable. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:15) says that the question was put to him by St. Peter speaking in the name of the other disciples - another instance of the reserve main-rained in this Gospel with reference to this apostle.
And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
Verses 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.): Ὁ δὲ Μάρκος 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."
Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?
And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
Verses 20-23. - From within, out of the heart of men; that is, from the reason and the will, of which the heart is the symbol and the labouratory. For the heart ministers the vital fore to the intellect to enable it to understand, and to the will to enable it to live, although the seat of the intellect is in the brain. St. Mark's enumeration of evil things is in a somewhat different order from that of St. Matthew; and he adds to St. Matthew's list (ἀφροσύνη), foolishness, showing how all evil terminates in the loss of all moral and intellectual illumination. All these evil things proceed from within: and defile the man. Dr. Morison, in his admirable commentary on St. Mark, well observes here that "these things have an inward origin, and are vomited forth from the crater of the heart or soul;" and further on he says, "In a little sphere of things, and as regards acts, though not as regards substances or essences, men may be spoken of as creators. Men, that is to say, are the efficient causes of their own choices. If they were not, they would not be really free. If it was not so, there would be no real responsibility." St. Matthew (Matthew 15:20) adds here, "But to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man." This is the end and scope of the parable, which is to show that unwashen hands and unclean meats defile not a man, but only an impure and depraved will. It seems almost needless to observe that our Lord does not condemn the washing of the hands before meats as a thing in itself in any way wrong. All nations approve of ablutions as tending to cleanliness and health.

"Dant famuli manibus lymphas, Cereremque canistris
Expediunt, tousisque ferunt mantelia villis."

(Virgil, 'Aeneid,' 1:701, 702.) It was thought sordid and mean to sit down to meals with unwashen hands. Whence not the clergy only, but the people, washed their hands before prayer. The moral of all is this, how carefully is the heart to be guarded, instructed, and adorned, seeing that it is the instrument and labouratory of all evil and all good, of all vice and all virtue! "Keep thy heart with all diligent," so that nothing may enter therein and nothing go out therefore and you not be conscious of it, and your reason may not approve; "for out of it are the issues of life."
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.
Verse 24. - Our Lord now passes out of Galilee into a heathen country, Syro-phoenicia, into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, that he might begin to impart his miracles and his doctrine, which the scribes and Pharisees had rejected, to the Gentiles. There is not sufficient authority for omitting "Sidon" from the text. Both these cities were renowned for their extensive commerce and for their wealth. It is probable that the true reading in Ver. 31, which will be noticed presently, may have led to the omission by some authorities of "Sidon" here. But there is really no inconsistency in retaining the words "and Sidon" here; and accepting the reading" through Sidon" there. Tyro, which was the capital of Phoenicia, lay to the south, bordering on Judaea; Sidon to the north: and multitudes flocked to Christ from these parts. He entered into a house, and would have no man know it: and he could not be hid. He would have no man know it, partly for the sake of quiet, and partly lest he should rouse the Jews more bitterly against him, and give them occasion to cavil that he was not the Messiah promised to the Jews, because, having left them, he had turned to the Gentiles. St. Mark (Mark 3:8) has already informed us that his fame had spread to those about Tyro and Sidon.
For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
Verses 25-27. - The construction of this verse is Hebraistic (see Acts 15:17). Instead of ἀκούσασα γὰρ, the approved reading is ἀλλ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα: But straightway a woman, whose young daughter literally, little daughter; St. Mark is fond of diminutives - had an unclean spirit. All ages were liable to this incursion of unclean spirits. The woman seems to have come from a distance. She was a Greek - that is, a Gentile - a Syro-phoenician by race, as distinguished from the Libyan Phoenicians, of Carthage. She was a descendant from those seven nations of Canaan which had been driven out by God's command. They were called in their own language "Canaanites," And she besought him (ἠρώτα); literally, asked him. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:22) says that "she cried (ἐκραύγασεν), have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David." Aristotle says that "parents love their children more than their children love them; because love descends, and because parents desire that their children should survive them, that they may live on in their children, as it were, after death; that they become, so to speak, immortal through their children, and possess that eternity, which they cannot have in themselves, in their children and their children's children." St. Matthew (Matthew 15:23) tells us that at first "he answered her not a word," and he does not record the remarkable saying, Let the children first be filled, which in St. Mark precedes the words, it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs. Dogs abound in Palestine and the surrounding districts, but they are not cared for. They go about in packs, with no particular masters and no particular homes. They seem to be chiefly useful as scavengers. Nevertheless, the dog of the East is amenable to kindness shown him by man, and there, as in England, children and young dogs soon become friendly. It is of (κυνάρια) "little dogs" that our Lord here speaks. Our Lord here speaks after the manner of the Jews, who called the Gentiles dogs, as distinguished from themselves, the children of the kingdom. Let the children first be filled. Suffer me first to heal all the Jews who need my help. Our Lord makes at first as though he would refuse her request; and yet it is not an absolute denial. There might be hope for her when the children were filled. Thus Christ oftentimes deals with holy souls, namely, by humbling and mortifying them when they desire anything at his hands, in order that with yet greater importunity and humility they may seek and obtain it. St. Chrysostom says, "Whether we obtain that which we seek for, or whether we obtain it not, let us ever persevere in prayer. And let us give thanks, not only if we obtain, but even if we fail to obtain. For when God denies us anything, it is no less a favor than if he had granted it; for we know not as he does what is most expedient for us."
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs.
Verse 28. - In this verse there is a slight change of reading, causing a change of rendering; namely, thus: Yea, Lord: even - καὶ instead of καὶ γὰρ the dogs τὰ κυνάρια the little dogs - under the table eat of the children's crumbs. Observe the antithesis: "the children" (the little daughter) sitting at the table; the "little dogs" under the table. It is as though she said, "Give me, most gracious Lord, only a crumb (a small mercy compared with thy greater mercies), the healing of my little daughter, which may fall as it were obiter from thee upon us Canaanites and Gentiles, and be gratefully picked up as one of thy lesser benefits." Cornelius a Lapide enlarges beautifully upon this: "Feed me, then, as a little dog. To me, a poor Gentile, let a crumb of thy grace and mercy be vouchsafed; but let the full board, the plentiful bread of grace and righteousness, be reserved for the Jewish children. I cannot leave the table of my Lord, whose little dog I am. No; if you spurn me away with your foot, or with a blow, I will go away; but I will come back again, like a little dog, through another door. I will not be driven away by blows. I will not let thee go until thou hast given me what I ask of thee.' For this Canaanite constrains Christ, arguing her case from his own words, prudently, modestly, forcibly, and with a humble faith which perceives that he is not unwilling to be overcome by petition and by reason. Indeed, she entangles him in the meshes of his own words. So great is the plenteousness of his table, that it shall abundantly suffice for her if she may but partake of the crumbs which fall from the table of his children."
And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
Verse 29. - St. Matthew says here (Matthew 15:28), "O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was healed from that hour." If we suppose St. Mark's words to come in after St. Matthew's words "be it done unto thee even as thou wilt," the two narratives are perfectly consistent. Our Lord could no longer restrain himself, or resist these wonderful appeals of faith. Overcome by the skillful reasoning and importunity of the Canaanite, he gives her that which she asks, and more. He heals her daughter, and he sets a crown of gold upon her head. It is here obvious to remark that this child vexed by the unclean spirit represents the soul tempted by Satan and polluted by sin. In such a condition we must distrust our own strength, and rely only on Christ, and call upon him with humility and repentance; acknowledging ourselves to be but as dogs in his sight; that is, miserable sinners; yet not such as that we should despair of pardon, but rather that we should hope for the mercy of Christ the greater we feel our misery to be. For it is worthy of a great Saviour to cleanse and save great sinners. Again, this Gentile daughter represents the Church of the Gentiles, which, shut out from salvation by the justice of God, enters the kingdom of heaven through the door of mercy. Here was a great conversion indeed; for now the Jews through their unbelief change places with the Gentiles, and, like them, can only be admitted through the same gate of Divine mercy.
And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
Verse 30. - There is an inversion in the order of the clauses in this verse, according to the best authorities. The words should run thus: And she went away unto her house, and found the child (τὸ παιδίον) laid upon the bed, and the devil gone out. She found her little daughter set free from the possession, but exhausted by the convulsions which he caused in departing from her; weary with the violence of the struggle, but restful and composed. So the sinful soul, set free from sin by the absolution of Christ, rests upon the couch of a conscience pacified by the blood of Christ, and at peace with God.
And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.
Verse 31. - According to the most approved authorities this verse should be read thus: And again he went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:29) simply says that he "departed thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee." But from the more full statement of St. Mark we learn that he made a circuit, going first northwards through Phoenicia, with Galilee on his right, as far as Sidon; and thence probably over the spurs of Libanus to Damascus, mentioned by Pliny as one of the cities of the Decapolis. This would bring him probably through Caesarea Philippi to the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Here, according to St. Matthew, he remained for a time in the mountainous district above the plain; choosing this position apparently for the sake of quiet and retirement, as also that, being conspicuous to all from the mountain, he might there await the multitude coming to him, whether for instruction or for healing.
And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.
Verse 32. - They bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech (πωφὸν καὶ μογιλάλον). The radical sense of κωφός (from κόπτω) is "blunt" or "dull;" and so it is used to represent both deafness and dumbness. But in St. Mark it means deafness as distinguished from dumbness (see Mark 9:95). This patient, however, was not ἄλαλος absolutely, but μογιλάλος, i.e. he spoke with difficulty. Long-continued deafness is apt to produce imperfect utterance.
And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;
Verse 33. - And he took him aside from the multitude privately. This was done, no doubt, to fix the attention of the afflicted man upon himself, and upon the fact that he was about to act upon his ears and his tongue. And he put (ἔβαλε) - literally, cast or thrust - his fingers into his ears. The action was very significant. It was as though he said, "I am about to open a passage for hearing through these ears." And he spat, and touched his tongue; that is, he touched his tongue with saliva from his own sacred lips. These symbolical actions must have had a great meaning for the afflicted man. They were a tableau vivant, an acted metaphor, teaching him what he might expect from the mercy of Christ. The analogy of the miracle recorded in St. John (John 9:6) should be noticed here. It is an interesting circumstance (noticed in the 'Speaker's Commentary') that, in the Latin Church, the officiating priest touches the nostrils and ears of those who are to be baptized, with saliva from his own mouth. We may be assured that, in the case before us, these signs used by our Lord were intended to awaken the afflicted man's faith, and to stir up in him the lively expectation of a blessing.
And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.
Verses 34, 35. - And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. He looked up to heaven, because from thence come all good things - words for the dumb, hearing for the deaf, healing for all infirmities; and thus he would teach the infirm man by a manifest sign to what quarter he was to look for the true source of his cure. he sighed (ἐστέναξε); literally, he groaned. Why did our Lord sigh at such a moment? We know indeed that he was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" but now we might almost have expected a momentary smile of loving joy when he was about to give back to this afflicted man the use of these valuable instruments of thought and action. But he sighed even then; for he was touched with the feeling of human infirmity, and no doubt his comprehensive eye would take in the vast amount of misery, both bodily and spiritual, which has come upon the world through sin; and this, too, immediately after having looked up to heaven, and thought of the realm of bliss which for a time he had left "for us men, and for our salvation." Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. This word is, of course, addressed to the man himself; and the evangelist has retained the original Syro-Chaldaic word, as he has retained "Talitha cumi" elsewhere: so that the actual word which passed through the Saviour's lips, and restored speech and hearing to the afflicted, might be handed on, as doubtless it will be, to the end of time. The word applies of course, primarily, though not exclusively, to the ear; for not only were his ears opened; but the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;
Verses 36, 37. - He charged them (διεστέλλετο). The word is a strong one: "he gave them clear and positive orders." The injunction seems to have been given, both to the deaf and dumb man, and to those who brought him. And it was given partly, no doubt, for his own sake, and for reasons connected with his gradual manifestation of himself to the world, and partly for the instruction of his disciples, and to show that he did not desire by his miracles to win the vain applause of men. St. Augustine says that "our Lord desired, by putting this restraint upon them, to teach how much more fervently they ought to preach him, whom he commissions to preach, when they who were forbidden could not be silent." He hath done all things well. He did nothing that the Pharisees, captious and envious as they were, could reasonably find fault with. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:30, 31) intimates that at this time our Lord exhibited a vast number of miracles, a bright galaxy of wonders, amongst which this shone out conspicuously, as a very prominent and instructive one. But, indeed, "he went about doing good." His whole life on earth was one connected, continued manifestation of loving kindness.

And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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