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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 15

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-39

XV 1-20 Legal Cleanness and Purity of Heart (Mark 7:1-23). 702a

XV 1-10 Attack and Counter-attack (Mark 7:1-13)—1-2. The quiet atmosphere of the last two chapters is now broken upon by the renewed attack of the Pharisees who meanwhile have not been idle. This time reinforcements for the local Pharisces have come from Jerusalem itselfin the person of Scribes. (The distinction is Mk’s; Mt is not concerned with this detail.) These complain that the disciples do not observe the prescribed ceremonial handwashings before, durin and after the meal (’when they eat bread ’—a Semitism).’ These prescriptions were carefully laid down not in the Law but in the oral tradition of the ’ancients’ (i.e. of the early Rabbis). Towards the end of the 2nd cent. a.d. they were codified in written form in the Mishnah (tract: Yadayim or. ’Hands,’). Such traditions were held in even higher esteem than the Law itself, SB 1, 692; for the minutiae of the handwashing ordinances, cf. SB 1, 689-705, Edersheim 2, 9-12. 3. Our Lord declines an aimless discussion of sophistries and sharply attacks the spirit that promptedthe objection. As once before (12:7 note he might have denounced explicitly the legal zeal that had suffocated charity. Instead, he fights them on their own ground and shows how this blind devotion to’ the tradition of the ancients’ had driven them to ’transgress’ (he uses their own word, 2) the law of God himself. He supports the accusation with one example.

4. The law of God on duties to parents was unequivocal (the citations are from Exodus 20:12, or Deuteronomy 5:16, and Exodus 21:17).

5. This, most certainly, God said; ’whereas you say that if anyone should utter this sentence to father or mother: "Any property of mine from which you might draw benefit is Qorban", then he will not (need to) honour his father’. Mt obscures the already involved sentence by translating the technical term ’Qorban’ (’offering, gift’ consecrated, i.e. to God); Mk keeps the Aramaic term and explains it. The use of this word’ Qorban’, though not implying that the property in question would be actually given to the temple, had the effect of a sacred oath isolating that property from any claims. That these claims included those even of filial duty was the opinion of at least some of the Rabbis in our Lord’s time (cf. Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim, 3, 2; cf. also Edersheim 2, 21; Bonsirven 2, 163, note 7). Later reforms may have been due to criticism such as our Lord’s in the present passage. To sustain the validity of such a vow, therefore, was in effect (though the Pharisees would not deduce this conclusion in so many words) to relax the divine command always to honour father and mother, 4a; indeed such an oath is equivalent to a curse, 4b. It declares null (a+???+??: DV ’made void’) the divine law.

7-9. Again sacred history repeats itself (13:14f. note). Isaias, 29:13, had also been confronted with hypocrites and his denunciation applied equally to this Messianic age. The quotation, practically identical with Mark 7:6 f., is from LXX, slightly adjusted though not abbreviated. It is given a slightly different turn. The prophet (cf. HT) had complained or the Law observed from human motives; the evangelists complain of the Law unobserved through human ’traditions’. On the lips the word ’Qorban’ has a pious sound but, as our Lord’s example shows, it may hide the heart’s contempt for the express will of God.

XV 10-20 The True Perspective (Mark 7:14-23)—We observe three grades of teaching adapted to three classes of listeners. The malevolent have their charge rebutted, and no more, 3-9; the ordinary folk, now gathered together by our Lord, receive positive, though prudently veiled, instruction with an invitation to reflect upon it,

10-11. To the disciples, interested enough to ask, Jesus explains himself more fully, 15-2010-11. It seems odd that our Lord should summon the crowd to hear this one sentence. It is possible, therefore, that Mt and Mk have selected it from a longer discourse. The dictum of 11 would remain obscure for the multitude who, it seems, were.unaware of the circumstances, 1-2, that prompted it. Moreover, for those imbued with the food-distinctions of the Law (Lev 11 etc.) the implications of 11b would be unthinkable. The startling implications are there nevertheless, as Mark 7:19 observes. But the immediate application of our Lord’s saying is determined by the context. The unwashed hand, thought the Pharisces, communicates its uncleanness to the food and so to the cater. There is no suggestion, 2, that the food itself was illegal and consequently our Lord’s retort to the crowds does not explicitly touch the Mosaic distinction of foods but only the superstitious precautions of the ’tradition of the ancients’. He affirms that to eat with clean or unclean hands can have no moral significance because the very food handled has none. He will explain later, 18-19, what he means by ’what cometh out of the mouth’.

12-14. (Mt only but cf.Luke 6:39). The disciples are perturbed; the recognized religious leaders, evidently present in the crowd, have taken serious offence at ’this word’ of 11. Perhaps they saw more clearly than the simple folk that our Lord’s words touched not only the ’tradition’ but—in their logical conclusion—the Law itself. What they could not see was the possibility that certain elements of the Law might be transient and ill-suited to the fullness of time. Such incomprehension was excusable and the Apostles long shared it; cf.Acts 10:9-15. Not blindness only but refusal to see was the sin of the Pharisees, John 9:41. They would not lower themselves by humbly asking explanations. But their whole regime, being not of God, would pass and our Lord warns the disciples against setting any store by hostility even on the part of those who were the accepted guides. Only the blind would mistake those for guides who are blind themselves. Jesus, therefore, opens his disciples’ eyes to the blindness of the Pharisees and urges them to have nothing to do with them (a+?+´Fete a?+?t??+´?, i.e. ’leave them to their own devices’).

15-16. It is Peter who speaks up answering’, in the Aramaic sense) and asks an explanation of the ’parable’ (here, as sometimes in OT, enigmatic saying) of 11. He speaks for the disciples. Our Lord reproaches them: At this stage (a+??µð+´?) are even you uncomprehending?

17. With unusual energy and realism (Lagrange) our Lord declares that food, of itself, is an object indifferent to the spiritual soul; it is matter only for the digestive process.

18. Of no spiritual import, therefore, what goes into the mouth but what proceeds from it. For the mouth is the overflow of the inmost heart, 12:34, and the heart, in Semitic idiom, is the factory of evil or good intent.

19. Having reached this point in the reasoning there is no further need for the opposition (into the mouth; out of the mouth) of 17-18. The sins mentioned in 19 are therefore not confined to sins of the tongue. They are embraced by the term ’wicked purposes’ (WV; DV ’evil thoughts’) and include four sins of act and two (false witness; blasphemies) of the tongue.

20. Our Lord (in Mt, not Mk) rounds off the whole controversy with a concluding reference to its starting-point, 2—the Semitic literary phenomenon known as ’inclusion’ (cf. Lagrange, Mt, lxxxi).

XV 21-28 The Canaanite Woman (Mark 7:24-30)—21. This incident, one of the most touching in the gospel and treated with a delicate realism unusual in Mt, takes place in the pagan district of Tyre and Sidon; cf. 11:21 note. This Phoenician territory borders Galilee on the north. It is possible that our Lord leaves Israelitic ground to give his disciples the respite which they had been recently’ denied, 14:13 note.

22. Mt uses the term ’Canaanite’ (Mk ’Syrophoenician’) to underline the significance of a miracle worked for one who belonged to the hereditary enemies of Israel. The term is not inaccurate: this district, colonized by Canaanites, Genesis 10:15, was still basically Canaanite. The woman salutes our Lord with the Messianic title ’Son of David’; see on 1:1; 9:27. The phrase must have spread with his reputation beyond the confines of Israel, 4:24 note. 23. (Mt only). The realistic reference to the disciples’ intervention is strangely absent from Mk. Mt’s Greek translator is evidently independent of Mk here. Since it is not his habit to enter into detail of this kind, it is clear that the detail is not invented ’to heighten the effect’ (*Allen, 169) but rather that the translator has under his eye ’ a second and longer account (than Mk’s)’. Yet even here the lifelike quality of the incident is due as much to what is implied as to what is expressed. Our Lord’s silence (we gather) naturally drives the poor mother to the disciples. These are more concerned to rid themselves of the annoyance but, as our Lord’s reply in 24 hints, they suggest that the only way to do so is to dismiss her with the request granted.

24. Our Lord’s personal concern (like that of the Apostles on their first mission; 10:6 note) is with Israel. His remark recalls that made to his mother at Cana, John 20:4, where, evidently, the tone was sufficiently kindly to encourage.

25. In any case, the woman’s quick eyes have seen him a last open his mouth. She seizes the slight advantaget and falls at his feet with a cry for pity.

26. The words of Jesus are not as harsh as they read and they seem deliberately to invite a riposte. That they are a little parable turned into allegory only by the situation lessens the shock of the words. (On parable and allegory cf. notes to ch 13.) Moreover, the term ’dogs’ (???a+´??a not ??+´?e? would be better rendered ’little dogs’, ’pet dogs’; it serves to bring out the importance of priority for the children yet eliminates the absolute idea of contempt.

27. Nevertheless the remark would have checked one with a vestige of pride (contrast Naaman, 4 Kg 5:11-12) as our Lord well knows. But the woman’s simple humility rises to her occasion and there is wit in her reply: ’How true’ (or : ’Please!’ cf.Philippians 4:3; Phm 20; Benoit) ’Lord! for the little dogs also get their meal—from the crumbs that fall’. The woman quaintly turns the parable to her own advantage: it is true, she implies, as far as it goes, but it has not been taken far enough. As a mother she knows that she would not thus rob her children of bread, but she also knows their tablemanners and how the floor is kept clean. 28. The Sacred Heart is won by a faith that stood so sharp a test. When the woman got home she found her child well again (Mk).

XV 29-31 Cures at the Lakeside (cf.Mark 7:31-37)— Jesus with his disciples leaves the district of Tyre and Sidon for the Lake of Galilee; for this journey cf. Mark 7:31. The scene of the miracles appears to be the NE. side of the Lake where the hills fall to the plain. The sick were laid down at his feet (not ’cast down the Semitic verbs for ’to throw’—e.g. Aramaic remah —are often used in the sense of’ to put, place’; Joüon, 101). In 31, ’the maimed healed’ should be read (Merk etc.) though omitted by Vg, DV, WV. From the fact that the crowds praise the God of Israel’ it would be bold to argue that they were pagans; cf. Luke 1:68; Acts 13:7.

XV 32-39 Second Multiplication of Loaves (Mark 8:1-10) —The evangelists plainly record the multiplications as two separate miracles. Each narrates them in close succession (Mt chh 14-15; Mk chh 6 and 8) and subsequently refers to them as two separate events, Matthew 16:9-10; Mark 8:19-20. If the unexpectant attitude of the disciples on this second occasion seem surprising, we should remember the months that had elapsed since the former miracle, the occasions on which the disciples must have since gone hungry without a miracle being worked, their very proper diffidence in asking for a miracle, 23.

32. The disciples therefore leave it to our Lord to comment on the hunger of the crowds. He does so. Their provisions are exhausted after three days with him, far from their homes (Mk). Jesus proposes a dilemma: they have no food here yet he will not send them elsewhere. He is clearly inviting the disciples to ask for a solution like the previous one, 14:19. So far, the text does not exclude (rather it suggests) a previous multiplication of loaves. 33-34. The disciples’ remark is cautious, perhaps even a sly suggestion: Whence should we [emphatic] have . . . ? They express their own helplessness, not necessarily his. Moreover, their answer to our Lord’s question: How many loaves? is not the helpless one of 14:17 (’ only five’) but simply ’Seven’, as if in this case the information was not regarded as useless.

35-37. The multitude (4,000 here, 5,000 in ch 14) sat on the ground— there was no ’green grass’ as on the previous occasion, Mark 6:39; it was summer. The number of hampers (WV; see on 14:20) corresponds, not to the number of the Apostles (unlike 14:20) but to the original number of loaves, thus more directly signalizing the abundance of the miracle.

39. It appears that our Lord sets sail for the western bank of the Lake since it is on this bank that he would be most likely to meet the Pharisees, 16:1, and since it is to the eastern side that he later sails, 16:5, to go to Caesarea Philippi, 16:13, via Bethsaida Julias, Mark 8:22. But the point of arrival, Magadan, (’Dalmanutha’ in Mk) is unknown. It is probable however (Abel 2, 373) that the form, certainly authentic, represents ’Magdala’ (cf. 27:55 note) just as the ’Migdal ’ of Joshua 15:37 is transcribed ’Magada’ in the Vatican Codex. (Mk’s ’ coasts—i.e. district—of Dalmanutha’ may’ represent an Aramaic original: liglîla’ dilme’ona?eh or ’to the place of his abode’; cf. RB 53 ( 1946) 373-84 and Mark 8:10.)

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 15". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-15.html. 1951.
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