Mark 7 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of Mark 7)
3. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.

[Except they wash their hands oft.] The fist. When they washed their hands, they washed the fist unto the joining of the arm. The hands are polluted, and made clean unto the joining of the arm. "The Rabbins deliver: The washing of hands as to common things (or common food) was unto the joining of the arm. And the cleansing of hands and feet in the Temple was to the joint." The joining, saith the Aruch, is where the arm is distinguished from the hand. So, also, where the foot is distinguished from the leg.

"The second waters cleanse whatsoever parts of the hands the first waters had washed. But if the first waters had gone above the juncture of the arm, the second waters do not cleanse, because they do not cleanse beyond the juncture. If, therefore, the waters which went above the juncture return upon the hands again, they are unclean."

4. 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, brazen vessels, and of tables.

[And when they come from the market, except they wash.] The Jews used the washing of the hands, and the plunging of the hands. And the word wash, in our evangelist seems to answer to the former, and baptize to the latter.

I. That the plunging of the whole body is not understood here, may be sufficiently proved hence; that such plunging is not used but when pollution is contracted from the more principal causes of uncleanness. "A man and vessels contract not uncleanness, but from the father of uncleanness: such as uncleanness from a creeping thing, from the seed in the unclean act, from him that is polluted by the dead, from a leper, from the water of purification, from him that lies with a menstruous woman, from the flux of him that hath the gonorrhea, from his spittle, from his urine, from the blood of a menstruous woman, from a profluvious man," &c. By these a man was so polluted, that it was a day's washing; and he must plunge his whole body. But for smaller uncleannesses it was enough to cleanse the hands.

II. Much less is it to be understood of the things bought; as if they, when they were bought for the market, were to be washed (in which sense some interpreters render the words, "And what they buy out of the market, unless they wash it, they eat it not"), when there were some things which would not endure water, some things which, when bought, were not presently eaten; and the traditional canons distinguish between those things which were lawful as soon as they came from the market, and those which were not.

III. The phrase, therefore, seems to be meant of the immersion, or plunging of the hands only; and the word fist, is here to be understood also in common. Those that remain at home eat not unless they wash the fist. But those that come from the market eat not, unless they plunge their fist into the water, being ignorant and uncertain what uncleanness they came near unto in the market.

"The washing of the hands, and the plunging of the hands, were from the scribes. The hands which had need of plunging, they dipped not but in a fit place; that is, where there was a confluence of forty seahs of water. For in the place where any dipped vessels, it was lawful to dip the hands. But the hands which have need of washing only, if they dip them in the confluence of waters, they are clean; whether they dip them in waters that are drawn, or in vessels, or in the pavement. They do not cleanse the hands [as to washing], until waters are poured upon the hands out of a vessel: for they do not wash the hands but out of a vessel."

[Pots.] It is doubtful whether this word be derived from a sextary (a certain measure), or from vessels planed or engraven. To take it as speaking of sextaries is, indeed, very agreeable to the word, and not much different from the matter. And so also it is, if you derive it from vessels planed or turned, that is, of wood. And perhaps those vessels which are called by the Rabbins flat, and are opposed to such as may contain something within them, are expressed by this word. Of that sort were knives, tables, seats, &c. Concerning which, as capable of pollution, see Maimonides, and the Talmudic Tract Kelim: where are reckoned up, 1. The very table at which they ate. 2. The little table, or the wooden side-table, where wine and fruits were set, that were presently to be brought to table. 3. A seat. 4. The footstool for the feet under the seat.

[Of beds.] Beds contracted uncleanness...One can hardly put these into good English without a paraphrase. [One] was a bed, on which a profluvious man or woman, or a menstruous woman, or a woman in childbirth, or a leper, had either sat or stood, or lain, or leaned, or hung. [The other] was a bed, which any thing had touched, that had been touched before by any of these.

The word, therefore, washings, applied to all these, properly and strictly is not to be taken of dipping or plunging, but, in respect of some things, of washing only, and, in respect of others, of sprinkling only.

11. 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.

[Corban (that is, 'a gift').] The word a gift, was known and common among the Talmudists: Rabba saith, A burnt sacrifice is 'a gift.' Where the Gloss writes thus; "A burnt sacrifice is not offered to expiate for any deed: but after repentance hath expiated the deed, the burnt sacrifice comes that the man may be received with favour. As when any hath sinned against the king, and hath appeased him by a paraclete [an advocate], and comes to implore his favour, he brings a gift.

Egypt shall bring 'a gift,' to the Messiah.

19. Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

[The draught.] The house of the secret seat.