Mark 6.45-8.26: The Gentile Mission

Return to Index, or  Mark and the Triennial Lectionary or Mark 6.45-8.26 in parallel with Joshua or Mark Exegetical Notes

This interpolation into Ur-Mark (i.e., Mark's first edition), often referred to prior to 1969 as 'the Lukan greater omission', since Matthew includes it and Luke does not, has been shown by C. T. Ruddick, Jr, ('Behold, I Send My Messenger'. JBL,Dec. 1969) to disrupt the lectionary sequence he detected.  Hence, it may better be called the Marcan greater interpolation.  (I.e., Luke worked from Ur-Mark, while Matthew worked from the later edition of Mark.)  The material is largely concerned with aspects of the Gentile mission, as can be seen below.

A.    6.45-52:  Jesus forces (ἠνάγκασεν ) the disciples (the only time he ever does) to head for Bethsaida in a boat (walking on water, wind stilled, disciples' hardened hearts fail to understand from loaves who Jesus is).
B.    6.53-56:  At Gennesaret (Jewish territory) the 'unclean Jews' seek to touch the fringe of his garment.
C.    7.1-23: 
1)  'traditions of men (ἄνθρωποι ) pitted against 'commandments of God';
2)  'undefiled hands' not necessary for eating (vv. 5 ff.);
3)  'all food are clean' (v. 19);
4)  on basis of (2) and (3), Jews may eat with Gentiles;
5)  All evil comes from within man, nothing from outside him (vv. 18-23) - i.e., this combats Hellenistic dualism and clearly indicates that it is man, not the good creation, that needs to be changed.
D.    7.24-30:  The Syro-Phoenician woman: comes to Jesus by mercy (as a Gentile), not by right as do the Jews (who are the children of the table).01
E.    7.31-37:  Healing of deaf-mute with spit at Saida (= Bethsaida = 'House of the Provider/Fisher/Hunter' - cf. 1.17: 'fishers of men').  Jesus provides for disciples' obedient hearing: one can only obey by God's grace that comes through Jesus.
F.    8.1-10:  Feeding of about 4,000 mixed Jews and Gentiles in Decapolis; disciples 'hear' without any commands being given.
G.    8.11-12:  Sign-seeking by Pharisees.
H.    8.13-21:  Disciples, in boat, with loaf, still fail to understand the signs of the Feedings; they fail to perceive Jesus.
I.    8.22-26:   Healing of blind man with spit at Bethsaida in two stages:  Jesus provides for disciples' seeing that they may follow him in the way of the cross and understand.  (E. and H. are closely parallel stories - cf. V. Taylor, St Mark, pp. 368-370.)

        Note the only two miracles involving spitting: deaf-mute (7.31-7) and blind man (8.22-26).  These healings are concerned with the 'hearing' that includes obedience ('heeding') and the 'seeing' that includes going in the way of the cross.02  
        This can be seen by noting that the incident with the deaf-mute (7.31-37) who then hears and speaks 'correctly' (ὀρθῶς , 7.35) falls between the two Feedings (5,000 Jews: 6.30-44; 4,000 mixed Jews & Gentiles: 8.1-10).  In the first feeding the disciples want to get rid of the problem ('Send them away!') and Jesus has to use three imperatives to get them to begin to act: 'You give them ...!; 'Go!  See!' (6.37 f.).  In the second feeding Jesus only has to say, 'I have compassion on the crowd' (8.2; the disciples confess their impotence: 'How can one feed ...?' (8.4), but they are prepared to answer unhesitatingly Jesus' question about how many loaves they have (8.50).  That is, the disciples can now 'hear' in the sense of obeying Jesus' will (by the grace of God, be it noted).  Since the disciples were 'deaf' to Jesus' will in the Feeding of the 5,000 (6.30-44), this explains why in 6.45 Jesus, for the only time in Mark's gospel, 'forces' them to do something: they could not hear to obey.
     The blind man (8.22-26) is healed in two stages: first seeing men like trees walking (see Judges 9, Jotham's parable: Cedars of Lebanon looking for a king, the only OT Passage in which trees travel), then seeing clearly.  Peter's confession at Caesarea Phillip immediately follows (8.27 ff.).  But Peter gets no further than confessing Jesus as the Christ (8.29), for as soon as Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer (8.31), Peter stops short and objects (8.32 f.).  But as Jesus goes up to Jerusalem we have the healing of blind Bartimaeus (10.45-52).  Bartimaeus hails Jesus with the Messianic title, 'Son of David' (10.48), that is, he starts out from where Peter left off (but he uses 'Son of David' which is associated with mercy rather than 'Christ' which is associated with triumphant glory).  Then the blind man, having called for mercy (10.48), i.e., knowing that he needs God's grace, springs up and comes to Jesus (unaided - 10.50).  And when he has received his sight, he follows Jesus 'in the way' (10.52) to the Cross.
        Mark's message is this: If you would know Jesus as the unique Son of God, you must go with him in the way of the Cross.  There is no other way.

1In Mark the woman replies in the same vein, speaking of the children's (παιδίων ) crumbs, but  in Matthew's re-write the woman speaks of the crumbs that fall from their  masters' (κυρίων ) table Matt (15.26).  In Matthew it is clearly concerned to maintain the Jewish Christians' leadership, most likely in the teaching role.  This concern is also evident in Rom 3.2, where Paul stresses first and foremost  (πρῶτον), i.e. above all, since he never goes on to a second point,  that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God, i.e., the scriptural witness and its interpretation.  It may be that Mark, in a slightly gentler manner, is making the same point.
        But Mark's version is not all that gentle.  The woman, when faced with her being likened to a  κυναρίοιν , 'little dog', accepts the status in her reply.  There have been attempts by some exegetes to soften this designation to something like a 'lap dog',  but, as I heard in an address at the Fourth International Congress on New Testament Studies, Oxford, in 1969 (the speaker escapes me),  a Hellenistic woman, like a woman of today,  would not be one whit mollified if, instead of being called a 'bitch' she was called a 'little bitch'.   Back to text
2To use spit for healings was apparently considered to be a particularly potent thing to do, so that Jesus' use of spit may perhaps be meant as an indication of how difficult it is to make men really 'hear' and 'see' .  But this is speculation.  Back to text