Mark Chapter 7:1-13


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

And some (lit = the) Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together to him, having come from Jerusalem.

It seems the point of this is to tell us that important people in the Capital had taken notice of Jesus, and were curious enough to make the trek out into the hinterlands of Galilee. So this sort of fits in with what Mark tells us about the vast crowds that followed Jesus everywhere.

1 Et conveniunt ad eum pharisaei et quidam de scribis venientes ab Hierosolymis;

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

And seeing some of his disciples that with common hands, which is to say ‘unwashed’, they (the disciples) ate bread.

The Greek: << κοιναῖς >> is ‘common’, as in ‘common cold’, or ‘common language’.  It’s also the word used to describe Greek as it became the universal ( = ‘common’) language of the Eastern Mediterranean: κοινη = koine Greek. (final e has e long a sound). Here, though, the idea of ‘common’ is more along the British ‘common’, as in ‘low-born’, or not sophisticated enough to wash their hands before eating like any civilised Jew would do.

2 et cum vidissent quosdam ex discipulis eius communibus manibus, id est non lotis, manducare panes

3 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 Jews, unless they diligently wash their hands, do not eat, holding the traditions of their forebears/elders.

This is telling: Mark feels the need to explain Jewish practice; this is excellent evidence to show that he was not writing for Jews, but for Gentiles.

3 — pharisaei enim et omnes Iudaei, nisi pugillo lavent manus, non manducant, tenentes traditionem seniorum;

4 καὶ ἀπ’ ἀγορᾶς ἐὰν μὴ βαπτίσωνται οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἄλλα πολλά ἐστιν ἃ παρέλαβον κρατεῖν, βαπτισμοὺς ποτηρίων καὶ ξεστῶν καὶ χαλκίων[καὶ κλινῶν]

And (coming) from the market, unless they baptize (= bathe) they do not eat, and there are many other things which receiving they maintain, baptism ( = washing) of cups and pots and bronze (utensils, or cookware) [ and tables ].

The Greek: this is interesting: ‘baptism’ is sort of, more or less, the standard word for ‘wash’ or ‘bathe’, here even including the notion of washing off tables. I was not aware of this.

This is a big deal.

It would seem that the base or root meaning of ‘baptize’, per Liddell and Scott, is ‘to dip’ or ‘to plunge’. In the passive, it can mean ‘to drown’. The common (here meaning ‘ordinary’, or ‘one most encountered’) came to be something like ‘to be soaked’. Here, the meaning seems to be closer to just plain ‘wash’, as in, ‘washing the dishes’. But given ‘soaked, we can see where The Baptizer came from, but we need to step back from that implication for a moment.

We are so accustomed to thinking of ‘baptism’ as a special thing, set aside from ‘washing’, that it’s good to realize that the word did not necessarily have this implication. In fact, we hear ‘baptism’ and we think ‘ritual’; it’s an automatic association. We imported the word whole into English, simply changing the letters to the Latin alphabet. We did not translate it; we transliterated it. Given our associations, we have to remember that, for the person in the ancient world, hearing ‘baptise’ would have been the same as ‘wash’. Think: “John the Washer”, or “John the Dunker”. Has something of a different implication, doesn’t it?

It’s on a par with ‘sacred breath’.

In fact, I simply assumed (bad idea!) that ‘baptizo’ had a special meaning in Greek as well. Wrong!

Once again, we are given a very sharp lesson in how what ‘everyone knows’ has accumulated and stratified over the past 2,000 years. Which is the motivation and the point of this  entire exercise.

4 et a foro nisi baptizentur, non comedunt; et alia multa sunt, quae acceperunt servanda: baptismata calicum et urceorum et aeramentorum et lectorum —

5 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 asked him, “Because of what do your disciples walking around, against the traditions of the elders/forebears, but with common hands eat the bread?” (= Why do your disciples not wash their hands after going out? Instead of following our customs, why do they eat with unwashed hands?)

5 et interrogant eum pharisaei et scribae: “ Quare discipuli tui non ambulant iuxta traditionem seniorum, sed communibus manibus manducant panem? ”.

6 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσενἨσαΐας περὶ ὑμῶν τῶν ὑποκριτῶν, ὡς γέγραπται [ὅτι] Οὗτος ὁ λαὸς τοῖς χείλεσίνμε τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ:

He said to them, “Well (lit = ‘beautifully) did Isaiah prophecy about your hypocrisy, as it is  written [that]:

             This people honors me with the lips, / but their heart is far from me

This last bit of the stanza is interesting. The verb << ἀπέχει >> literally means ‘to hold’, but with the prefix, it is more specifically ‘to hold away (from)’. In English, it would be something like ‘the heart is held’, but the verb here in Greek is active. “Heart” is the subject of the sentence, so more literally in Greek it’s something like “The heart holds away from me”. That does get the sense across, IMO, but it’s rather an oblique usage. In contrast, “the lips” is in the dative (of instrument) in the first part, with “this people” doing the honoring. Nothing that really alters the meaning, but it’s kind of interesting to see how the subject changes in the middle of the sentence, and that it’s the heart that’s doing the ‘holding away (from)’.

For simplicity, I just copied what my crib translations pretty much all say. Again, this has become a convention, even though it’s not exactly true to the original. But it doesn’t really change the meaning significantly.

6 At ille dixit eis: “ Bene prophetavit Isaias de vobis hypocritis, sicut scriptum est:

                 “Populus hic labiis me honorat, / cor autem eorum longe est a me;

7 μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με, διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων.

               In vain they worship me / teaching the teachings (and) commandments of men

7 in vanum autem me colunt / docentes doctrinas praecepta hominum”.

8 ἀφέντες τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ κρατεῖτε τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

               Giving up the commandments of God / you hold the traditions of men

Just kind of interesting to note how the person of the subject changed; in V-6 & 7, it’s third person; in V-8, it’s second.

8 Relinquentes mandatum Dei tenetis traditionem hominum ”.

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

And he said to them, “Well do you reject the command of God, so that you may maintain (lit = stand) your own traditions.” 

Here we have pretty well the first instance where Jesus is doing a Paul and challenging the Jews on their conception and/or practice and/or interpretation of the Law, and what it may mean to be an observant Jew. The word we would expect in Paul would be ‘justification’, but it is not to be found.

Jesus does not necessarily contradict Paul; we had several stories in Chapters 5 and 6 in which faith was rather the sine qua non of being saved. But we discussed how ‘saved’ in the Greek use of the word, meant ‘save a life’; there is no truly real, really concrete evidence to indicate that ‘saving’ had anything to do  with eternal life. So faith is important for Jesus, but he does not really, specifically say how or why, beyond a preservation of the body. At least, he has not said anything yet.

So the point here, IMO, is that Jesus is contrasting his view of Judaism with that of the Pharisees and Scribes. This does not seem to be connected to the idea of faith. Rather, Jesus contends that they follow the precepts and traditions of men, not of God. This means that what they do is not legitimate, or is liable to being superseded by the ‘true’ method, which is actually to follow God’s law. This is not how Paul makes the distinction; his solution is to invalidate the Law–at least, in a sense. Jesus is doing the same thing, but with a different emphasis, or from a different approach. In both cases, we start from the point that the God of the Jews is the One True Living God; the purpose, for both Paul and Jesus, is to prove that the way Judaism was practiced, or the way it was preached, was not the ‘correct’ way. For Paul, this meant to replace the strictures and prohibitions of the Law with Faith in The Christ; For Jesus here, this meant to show that the Pharisees and Scribes did not follow the Law of God, but the traditions of men.

Which of these positions is the more radical? The idea of faith over ritual, IMO. Much ancient religion was concerned with ritual process and procedure. That we are, to some degree, stepping back from Paul’s more extreme position indicates, IMO, that Paul’s position may have been too radical.

Is this why we have two–at least slightly–different approaches? This, I think, is the more useful question. Remember: Paul came first. That needs to be stressed, frequently, because it is too often forgotten in the ‘primacy of the gospels’ attitude. Why didn’t the notion of Faith over the Law catch on? Because it really didn’t, until Martin Luther made this the centerpiece of his new interpretation of the NT. Instead, we got the tenet that the Pharisees misrepresented Judaism, thereby failing to recognize the Messiah when he was in their midst.

9 Et dicebat illis: “ Bene irritum facitis praeceptum Dei, ut traditionem vestram servetis.

10 Μωϋσῆς γὰρ εἶπεν, Τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα σου, καί, Ὁ κακολογῶν πατέρα ἢ μητέρα θανάτῳ τελευτάτω:

“For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘the one cursing his father or mother, let him end in death’.”

10 Moyses enim dixit: “Honora patrem tuum et matrem tuam” et: “Qui maledixerit patri aut matri, morte moriatur”;

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

“For you say, ‘if a man might say to his father or to his mother, “Korban”, which is “(it is a) gift”, which is what you may profit from me. “

11 vos autem dicitis: “Si dixerit homo patri aut matri: Corban, quod est donum, quodcumque ex me tibi profuerit”,

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

“No longer do you let him do anything (lit = nothing) for his father and his mother.”

The Greek is kind of odd, and the thought is kind of odd, too. Basically, it seems to say that anyone who gives something as a gift to his parents, but doesn’t give it is not allowed to do anything else for his parents. But who the ‘you’ is that’s not allowing this double-dealer to do anything for his parents after that, is not entirely clear. My thought is that this simply doesn’t really make sense; I say this because the KJV, the NASB, the ESV, and the NIV all give fairly diverse translations for the two verses.

So, once again, it seems, we get a consensus translation. So far, we’ve been relatively free of these here in Mark.

And I’m not entirely sure, but it seems that ‘Korban’ is a Hebrew word. So, again, Mark feels the need to translate the word for a non-Jewish audience. At this point, we have to ask why he’s providing the original Hebrew (or Aramaic, which he has used elsewhere) at all. One supposes that it’s way of lending legitimacy to his story.


I came across the term “corban” in Eusebius. It is indeed a Hebrew word, and it refers to an offering that was made to the temple. Here is the explanation from Wikipedia.

…Jesus rebuked some of the Pharisees for their inappropriate position on Korban. Mark Chapter 7, also parallel Matthew Chapter 15. In these passages, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for “…making void the word of God by your tradition…” by violating the Fifth Commandment to <honor your father and mother>, when they rather followed their “traditions”. In the Gospel narrative, the Pharisees were keeping people obligated to their vow once something was set aside as Korban, prohibiting them to use it even in order to attend to the need of the parents. Many modern translations render Matthew 15:6 as if putting aside as Korban exempts people from their filial duty to the parents. Thus, it relieves people of any further responsibility to support their parents, whether it was actually turned over to the Temple treasury, being not important. This line of eisegesis interpretation is easily spotted in many Bible commentaries on this Gospel text….

 Sometimes one doesn’t know enough to realize just how clueless one is! But seriously, this is why history is best written by someone with some background into the time period.

12 ultra non permittitis ei facere quidquam patri aut matri

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

Having annulled the word of God by your tradition, which you have transmitted (= handed down) , and you have done many, many such other things. 

The Greek: << παρόμοια τοιαῦτα πολλὰ >> both mean ‘many’. So Jesus is really, really emphasizing that the Pharisees have gone wrong many, many times.

So again, Jewish practice has been relegated to the status of ‘rules of men’ and mere ‘tradition’ (stop thinking about Tevye…) It is no longer the right way to be justified by the One True Living God (OTLG.)

What is interesting is that, so far, Mark has not given us much instruction on what it to replace it. At least, not yet.

note: I do not mean to be facetious, let alone sacrilegious by abbreviating OTLG. We are not theologians here. Rather, we’re engaged in the history of theology, which is a very different thing. As such, OTLG became a formulation, a way of thinking about the various divine, or at least supernatural beings that Jews and Gentiles and (eventually) Christians fully believed were real. The concept of the OTLG drastically separated Jews and subsequent Christians from the huge mass of pagans, who constituted upwards of 98% of the population of the Roman world at the time. Serious Greeks, by Plato’s day, had evolved into a de facto monotheism, but it was still highly qualified.

13 rescindentes verbum Dei per traditionem vestram, quam tradidistis; et similia huiusmodi multa facitis ”.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 24, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Could πυγμῇ (v3) be translated more graphically than just “diligently”? The use of πυγμῇ (literally “with the fist”) here is an enigma, causing some to substitute πυκνα (“often”) and others to speculate that “with the fist” means “vigorous hand washing”, perhaps using the clenched fist for greater force.

    Neither approach seems convincing to me. Rather, I think we may have an authentic snapshot of Jewish ablution practices of the time. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) explains that hand washing before meals in that era involved lifting up the hands and having water poured onto them from a jug; and that the hands could not be considered clean until the water had reached the wrist.

    This understanding of the meaning of πυγμῇ may also help us to choose between the alternatives βαπτίσωνται (wash, immerse) and ῥαντίσωνται (sprinkle, pour) that are to be found in different versions of this verse in the the Greek NT. I prefer ῥαντίσωνται, not just because it fits in with my suggested interpretation of πυγμῇ, but also because it has an altogether more ritualistic feel about it (used elsewhere in the NT to describe the sprinkling of sacrificial blood, etc). It seems to me that Mark may be alluding to more than just simply washing hands before a meal, but to a more complicated process, perhaps involving another person to pour or sprinkle, using specially prepared jugs or cups, basins and other paraphernalia.

    If this is the right context in which to understand the passage, then Jesus’ sharp outburst against the supercilious visitors from Jerusalem becomes all the more powerful and convincing. After all, washing one’s hands thoroughly before a meal is good practice on hygienic grounds: no one could reasonably object to that. But engaging in some form of water pouring ritual, that would no doubt leave the hands less clean than a good rubbing and scrubbing in water, is a different matter. Jesus attacks the Pharisees’ man-centered adherence to empty rituals, rules and traditions, in a way that would, I think, have seemed as true and honest to Mark’s Gentile (and lapsed Jewish) readers in the first century as it does to us today.


  2. Thank you for the comment, and the information.

    As always, nuance can be very important. It appears that I succumbed to “consensus-ism” here: sort of falling into line with what the general consensus translation is. I do appreciate your pointing this out, because this sort of consensusism (to coin a term?) is exactly what I am trying to avoid. So good catch, good call.

    Per Liddell & Scott, <> refers to the fist, especially as it relates to boxing. As such, it’s related to the English word ‘pugnacious’. As such, we could perhaps translate this as

    ‘they wash their hands pugnaciously’, or even perhaps ‘violently’, or perhaps, at least, ‘ferociously’

    I suggest the former to get across the literal sense of ‘with the fist’, which would indicate someone about to throw a punch like a boxer. The implication is that we have stepped over the line into violence. So the use of such a word seems a bit over the top? This would indicate, or at least imply, that we have perhaps crossed into something like irony or facetiousness, if we have not gone beyond them. As such, we could have something like:

    “They wash their hands pugnaciously in order to demonstrate their zeal for the ritual, more or less attacking lesser believers by the ferocity, or by the violence with which they pursue the act or ritual.”

    It would take a translation like this to get across the fuller implications of the single word <>.

    In which case, I believe this underscores your point about Jesus’ intent here. The idea is to make the Pharisees look a ridiculous. I think my reading takes a slightly different tack from what you suggest, but the intent is there. Per my reading, Jesus is calling them ‘show-offs’ or something similar. This would be in line with Luke’s story of the Pharisee and the Publican.

    But again, I appreciate the comment. Thanks for bringing it up.

    As for the second point about choosing ῥαντίσωνται over βαπτίσωνται, I tend to shy away from arguments about manuscript traditions. Frankly, I do not feel qualified to get into such a discussion. My days as a classicist taught me that these are highly technical, and they require a deep understanding of the text in question. Your point is good, and the contention is good, and it shows a deep understanding of the text, certainly one that is deeper than mine (Getting to a deeper understanding is why I undertook this venture).

    You also have to consider the motivation of the copyist/editor for changing the one word to the other. What was to be gained? How could substituting one be considered beneficial, or as clarifying the text? Or was the copyist just lazy, preferring the word more familiar to him? As such, I’m not sure if my opinion is worth much. However, I reserve the right to revisit the topic after giving it more and better consideration.

    However, when it comes to the inclusion of glosses or marginalia, as we’ll have in V-17 shortly, those are often obvious enough based on a simple knowledge of grammar or style. At least, I feel I can present a decent case for identifying such as an inclusion.

    But again, really appreciate your comment. Glad to know there are people reading this as closely as you are.

  3. Your reading / interpretation of πυγμῇ is certainly also entirely plausible! “Pugnaciously” is a good way of bridging the literal meaning to what I think we both feel was probably the underlying intention of the passage. I agree with you that it seems that ritualistic washing, however it is carried out, is being portrayed as something ostentatious, for the sake of appearances, and this is a focal point of Jesus’ attack.

    On the question of choosing between ῥαντίσωνται and βαπτίσωνται, you are in good company. Bruce Metzger comments on this verse:

    “Although it can be argued that the less familiar word (ῥαντίσωνται) was replaced by the more familiar one (βαπτίσωνται), it is far more likely that Alexandrian copyists, either wishing to keep βαπτίζειν for the Christian rite, or, more probably, taking ἀπ᾽ ἀγορᾶς as involving a partitive construction, introduced ῥαντίσωνται as more appropriate to express the meaning, “except they sprinkle [what is] from the market place, they do not eat [it].”

    I must confess the last part of this (from “or, more probably.. onwards”) baffles me somewhat, but his first point is clear enough, although it might also be noted that the Codex Sinaiaticus, which is an Alexandrian text type, has ῥαντίσωνται not βαπτίσωνται.

    One of the things I really like about Mark is that he comes up with these slightly quirky words and expressions (subsequently smoothed away by Matthew and Luke) which give us so much food for thought and discussion, and hopefully fruitful insights too.

    I would just like you to know that your commentaries are much appreciated. Keep up the good work!


  4. Alan, thank you for the kind words. Positive feedback is always welcome! But I’m glad you find this stimulating; it’s always good to find someone else who finds it stimulating as well.

    As for the <>, Liddell & Scott show this as exclusively a word found once in Numbers, once in Hebrews, and once in 1 Peter. As such, it becomes very difficult to compare contexts to get a better sense of the range of meanings of the word. It appears that it was, if not coined, then taken over by the Jewish/Christian continuum of writers, and that it refers exclusively to Jewish ritual practice.

    This, in turn, would lead me to believe that the Alexandrian copyist inserted <> over the more common word in order to make it clear that Jesus was referring specifically to a Jewish ritual practice. I say ‘ritual’ to distinguish between a cleansing done for ritual reasons vs a cleansing done for sanitary or ‘mundane’ reasons.

    But that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

    But either way, the point was, as you said, to make the Pharisees look ridiculous, or over-zealous, or something such. I don’t think that can be disputed (but I’ll always listen to an argument to the contrary). Given this, I think it would strengthen the case for <> being inserted. It’s something of a technical term, and Alexandria was a scholarly center. They would know–and use–the word.

    As for the ‘baffling’ part…what he means, IMO, is that only thing bought in the market (so only a part of the diet) would be so sprinkled.

    Hope this all makes sense.

    But again, good catch on the word. I had completely missed the whole thing: the meaning of <> and the different text traditions with <> vs <>. I very much appreciate you bringing these points up. You’ve added a level of clarity and understanding to the exercise.

  5. I wonder what vocabulary the Septuagint uses for purification rituals and whether the words change when different people do it, such as priest purification vs. adult male vs. female and whether it changes at different events or stages of life, such as during a bris, bar mitvah, while a juvenile, or for different holidays. How faithful is the Greek Septuagint is to the Hebrew Torah vs how faithful the NT vocabulary matches the Septuagint vocabulary or is it independent and connected directly to the Hebrew Torah, would be a research topic on it’s own.

  6. Yes, there is a lot of back-and-forth on these discussions. There are times when the LXX translates Hebrew words differently; but there are times I’ve translated Greek words differently, depending on the context. I’ve not read much of the LXX, but my sense from reading stuff from people who know what they’re talking about is that it is fairly consistent with the Greek of the NT. But that is, of course, ‘in general’. And yes, it is a research topic. Or probably a dozen (or more) of them.

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