Mark seven records three events or actions: a controversy about observing the tradition of the elders initiated by the Pharisees and scribes; the Syncrophoecian woman who asks for a demon to be cast out of her daughter; and the healing of a deaf man. The Pharisees notice that Jesus' disciples are eating without first having washed their hands, and they ask Jesus why they are not observing the tradition of the elders. Jesus calls them hypocrites, telling them that they abandon God while holding on to human tradition. He tells them that nothing outside a person going in can defile but only what is inside coming out defiles.
The Syrophoenician woman is Greek and Gentile; this begins the movement of Jesus from Galilee into the north and into Gentile territory. Though recognizing herself Greek and understanding Jesus' mission to the Jews, this woman, nonetheless, asks for healing for her daughter, which Jesus performs at a distance.
Jesus is in Decapolis when he heals the deaf man; this is the area where the man indwelt by many demons had witnessed to the authority of Jesus, recognizing him as the Son of God, the place called the region of the Gerasenes. Decapolis consisted of ten cities, mostly Gentile. Jesus addresses this deaf man in Aramaic, indicating he is probably Jewish even though in a Gentile region.
Chapter seven opens with the Pharisee s accusing Jesus and the disciples of disregarding the purity rituals of washing their hands before eating; Jesus is said to answer with Scripture (Isaiah29:13) with harsh words that suggests the Pharisees honor God with their lips while their hearts remain far away, that they worship in vain and use human precepts (6-7). What follows has led some to question whether Jesus as a Jew would have uttered these words. Historicity scholars suggest a heavy handed redaction in this chapter; Michael Turton, on whom I have relied heavily in much of my work, has provided a theological emphasis:
Two important motifs in Mark, bread and eating, appear together here. These two ideas wind through Mark all the way back to Mark 2, where we encounter the loaves that David ate (or didn't eat), and Jesus eating with sinners. In this pericope the disciples are eating the magic bread created by Jesus in the last feeding miracle. Another important Markan theme is highlighted by the dispute over purity: who is inside, and who is outside.
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NISB Notes identifies this portion of Mark as laying out the second major speech of Jesus (1-23), the first being 4:1-34; here it says the "basic point is about purity coming from within"; it also identifies three diatribes:
Against Pharisees (1-13)--having the appearance of piety; preferring oral tradition over Torah
To the crowds (14-16)--nothing going in defiles but what comes out.
Privately to the Disciples (17-23)--reinterprets food as coming into the stomach and going out by bowel elimination and into the sewer; one can not but note the "physicality" of this remark.
To the disciples, Jesus then declares "all foods clean" (19). What follows next is a list of moral vices, all evil intentions from the heart (the seat of life, will, and intellect).
The story of the Syrophoenician Woman and the exorcism at a distance expands the mission of Jesus to non-Jews, the woman spurring this by her response to being slurred by Jesus, who has responded to her need by saying, "Let the children be fed first , for it is not fair to take the children's food and feed it to the dogs," dogs here used for non-Jews. NISB Notes also points out that the woman is the only character in Mark who wins an argument against Jesus. Turton provides the historical background to support this:
v27: "dogs." Dogs were unclean in ancient Judaism and were ordinarily not permitted in Jewish homes, unlike Gentiles. "Since Jewish law considered both dogs and gentiles to be unclean," Joan Mitchell (2001, p110) observes, "dog made a ready name for gentiles." In virtually all theological interpretations this pericope is taken to be from the period of the expansion of Christianity out of its Judaic cradle and into the gentile world.
He also notes that in the two feeding stories, Jews were fed before Gentiles and points out an affinity between women and dogs maintained in Greek philologically:
The affinity between dogs and women in Greek is abetted philologically. The verb for carrying and being pregnant, kyo, is related to kyon, dog. Also in the group are kyneo, "kiss," and proskyneo, which means to drop down before something as if to kiss its feet. Forms of proskyneo appear in the LXX to indicate worship involving bodily prostration in the eastern fashion; Greeks for their part would think it unmanly to assume such a doglike foot-licking posture, even for a god.
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The next healing occurs in a predominately Gentile area, not surprising since the Syrophoenician woman's counter has triggered this outward sweep to the mission. That the story occurs in Mark--and not in the other Gospels--attests to the nature interpreting the works of Jesus theologically.
A review of Michael F. Bird's Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission describes Bird as contradicting scholarship that suggests Jesus has only general expectations for the saving of Gentiles by countering that Jesus' intention was "to renew and restore Israel" so that it could extend salvation to the world, this already anticipated in
Bird is challenging the prominent position put forward by Joachim Jeremias, and contributing to work done by the likes of G. B. Caird, N. T. Wright, and Eckhard Schnabel. The standard view, which Bird convincingly improves upon, holds that Jesus exhibited no hope for the Gentiles beyond a general expectation that they would be saved at the eschaton. Against this, Bird argues that “Jesus’ intention was to renew and restore Israel, so that a restored Israel would extend God’s salvation to the world” (3). Because Jesus understood himself and his followers as replacing the temple and taking on the role of being a light to the nations, “a Gentile mission is implied in the aims and intentions of Jesus and was pursued in a transformed context by members of the early Christian movement” (3).
Bird advances his case in Chapter 2 by showing that Jesus’ understanding of Jewish restoration eschatology saw the Gentiles being saved as a sequel to the restoration of Israel. Chapter 3 then explains that neither the negative remarks Jesus makes about Gentiles (calling them “dogs”) nor Jesus’ restriction of his ministry to Israel are in conflict with this understanding of how and when the Gentiles would be included. Chapters 4 and 5 advance the argument by presenting “sayings material” and “narrative traditions” that lead to Bird’s understanding. Chapter 6 concludes the argument by contending that the disciples appropriate the role of Israel and the temple as “light to the nations.” Bird thus helpfully establishes that the mission of the early church flows naturally out of Jesus’ own mission prior to the resurrection.
That the work of Jesus originates with the Jews and expands to the Gentiles has already been addressed in the introduction to this work:
A Deuteronomic insistence is that God shows no partiality:
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe,
Pasted from <http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/deuteronomy/10.html>
The point is that in Deuteronomy, a people have been chosen, they have been asked to obey (chapter 8) and not to rebel (9), and they carry God's presence with them (10); the testing humbles them and prepares them for "end purposes" which are ultimately good. With this in mind, we can move to Acts and a reinterpretation of this tradition. Peter takes up the issue of partiality, extending acceptability to God's presence to all nations:
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
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Readers should not be surprised to discover that the next chapter follows Jesus into Gentile territory:
Summary In Gentile territory, in the region of Decapolis, southeast of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus imparts bread to four thousand. Although Jesus has been up to this time manifesting authority in many ways, the Pharisees demand a sign from heaven. Jesus refuses. Jesus next speaks metaphorically about leaven ( yeast) bread to his disciples, who misunderstand. Jesus becomes vexed at his disciples for their worry about a lack of bread. And finally, Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida, not completely the first time, but only after laying his hands a second time upon him. Following this, Jesus' journey seriously turned from the north to Jerusalem. In spite of Peter's protest, Jesus now begins to teach his disciples about his true Messiahship and the cost of discipleship.
Concerning the "Jewishness" of Galilee, research has suggested that much of gentile presence was a phenomenon after 120CE and that even the cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias were not especially populated by gentiles, although Bethsaida yields evidence of pagan practices :
In conclusion, the available evidence suggests that Galilee in the time of Jesus was a mostly Jewish region. While gentiles were present there (as in all areas of Palestine), nothing suggests that they were especially numerous. They are practically invisible in the archaeological record, and they are not prominent in literary discussions of Galilee, either. Most of our evidence for gentiles dates not to the first century but to the second century and later, after the arrival of large numbers of Roman troops in 120 CE. If we are to understand Jesus in his Galilean context, we must always keep in mind the Jewishness of that context.
Obviously, many of the cities adjacent to Galilee were predominantly gentile, such as Scythopolis, located just to the southwest; other cities of the Decapolis, several of which were located to the east of the Sea of Galilee; Caesarea Philippi, to the northeast; Tyre and Sidon, to the northwest. On and just beyond the northern fringes of Upper Galilee, there were indisputably pagan settlements, such as the settlement at Tel Anafa and the village of Kedesh (a Tyrian community). Even further to the north, at Jebel Balat, stood a temple.