A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

Mark 7:1-23 - The Gospel of Mark

Bible study


Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

Mark 7:1-23

In the early half of Jesus’ ministry, crowds followed Him. They were particularly concerned about obtaining healing for themselves or their loved ones, and they were very glad to be fed on loaves and fish. We will see how the crowds become smaller as time goes by and people realize that being a follower or disciple of Christ is not easy. Jesus was certainly not trying to gain popularity; He was doing the will of His Father no matter the cost. His teaching would not go down well with many, especially those who were self-righteous.

In this study, Jesus teaches what is clean and what is unclean.

cup and saucer

Verses 1 & 2 The Pharisees and some teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with “unclean”—that is , ceremonially unwashed—hands.

It would appear that these Pharisees had come to the area to spy on Jesus and His men. They were often doing it. Anything they could accuse Him with was seen as useful. As they were so zealous about the law, they would want to criticize from that standpoint.

Verses 3 & 4 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not wash unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

This shows how these Jews lived. Always thinking about rules and regulations and feeling good about themselves because they felt so right about everything. People like this are quick to criticize others who don’t do the same.

Verse 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ”Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

Intent on finding something to accuse Jesus of, these men resorted to a nit-picking approach, quoting something that didn’t carry importance when applied to everyone.
Probably many people were not strict in practising this.

Verses 6-8 Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain: their teachings are but rules made by men.’ You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’

Jesus here exposes the shallowness of the law-keeping of these people. What they thought of as important was not important. The truly important things they neglected. Tradition passed down through the generations was central in their lives and it made their devotion to God look very suspect. Indeed, Jesus said it was empty.

Verses 9-13 And He said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said ‘Honour your father and mother, and, ‘Anyone who curse his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the Word of God by your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’

Jesus gives to them an example of how their traditions get in the way of God’s Word. He reminds them of the obligation men have toward their parents. Then he shows that men easily get away with doing nothing for their parents (who will most likely need help as they age) by saying that they have given what they have to God as an offering. It was just an excuse for not helping their parents to whom they owe so much. So tradition wins and the Word of God loses.

Verses 14 & 15 Again Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, ’Listen to me everyone and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’

This is a message to correct the wrong view the critics had. Jesus is going to point out that uncleanness is an internal thing. Not actual physical dirt, but moral and spiritual impurity.
This is so much more important than mere cleanliness of the body.

Verses 17-19 After He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples asked Him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” He asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)

The critics had pointed out their unwashed hands as they ate. But Jesus is saying that whatever goes inside a person while eating doesn’t affect what that person is or change their state. Uncleanness is of a different nature. It is to do with the state of the heart not the state of the stomach. It is this kind of truth that was so hard for the Pharisees to grasp hold of.

Verses 20-23 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

Now Jesus brings out into the open the truly significant ways in which people are defiled. This is a startling catalogue of the sins and evil tendencies that are common among us. They come from within; they are not imposed from outside. These are the things that are the ruin of the race and the reason why Jesus came to earth. He came to deal with them, not simply by teaching about them but by identifying with them as He died in our place. He carried our sins on the cross of Calvary. No doubt the disciples had a good deal to think about after this.


We all have a good deal to think about if we listen to what Jesus is saying. We see this list of ugly things and while we think about how others are sinners like this, we should carefully realize that we too are guilty. We can’t stand to one side and say it is all about someone else. It is about us. It’s not even enough to say that we are nowhere near as bad as others. If we are ‘unclean’ in God’s eyes, we surely need forgiveness and cleansing. Thank God all is available through Christ. 1 John 1:7 says ‘…the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.’ If we have never asked for this in all sincerity, we should without delay.

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