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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 15

Verses 1-99

Ch. 15: 1 20 . The True Religion and the False. A Discourse to the Pharisees, the People, and the Disciples

Mark 7:1-23

These twenty verses sum up the great controversy of the N. T., that between the religion of the letter and external observances and the religion of the heart, between what St Paul calls “the righteousness which is of the law and the righteousness which is of God by (or grounded upon) faith,” Philippians 3:9 .

1 . scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem ] Probably a deputation from the Sanhedrin, such as was commissioned to question John the Baptist. Cp. John 1:19 .

2 . the tradition of the elders ] The elders, or presbyters, were the Jewish teachers, or scribes, such as Hillel and Shammai. The traditions were the rules or observances of the unwritten law, which they enjoined on their disciples. Many of these were frivolous; some actually subversive of God’s law; and yet one Rabbinical saying was, “The words of the law are weighty and light, but all the words of the scribes are weighty.”

when ] Rather, whenever .

4 . For God commanded ] “For Moses said” (Mark).

5 . It is a gift ] Rather, Let it be a gift , or “devoted to sacred uses,” which the Jews expressed by the word corban , found in Mark 7:11 . The scribes held that these words, even when pronounced in spite and anger against parents who needed succour, excused the son from his natural duty; and, on the other hand, did not oblige him really to devote the sum to the service of God or of the temple.

6 . he shall be free ] These words do not occur in the original, either here or in the parallel passage in Mark. It is as if the indignation of Jesus did not allow him to utter the words of acquittal. The silence is more eloquent than the utterance.

7 . well did Esaias prophesy ] A common Jewish formula for quoting a saying of the prophets.

8, 9 . Isaiah 29:13 . The quotation does not follow precisely either the LXX. version or the Hebrew text.

10 . he called the multitude ] The moment our Lord turns to the people, His teaching is by parables.

This appeal to the multitude as worthier than the Pharisees to receive the divine truths is significant of the popular character of the Kingdom of heaven.

11 . defileth ] Literally, maketh common ; cp. “common or unclean,” Acts 10:14 . “The Pharisees esteemed ‘defiled’ men for ‘ common and vulgar’ men; on the contrary, a religious man among men is ‘a singular man.’ ” Lightfoot ad loc .

12 . the Pharisees were offended ] A proof of the influence of the Pharisees. The disciples believed that Christ would be concerned to have offended those who stood so high in popular favour.

13 . Every plant ] Not a wild flower, but a cultivated plant or tree; the word occurs here only in N. T.; in LXX. version of O. T. it is used of the vine, the most carefully cultivated plant; 2 Kings 19:29 ; Ezekiel 17:7 ; Micah 1:6 ; and in one other passage, Genesis 21:33 , of the tamarisk. Here the plant cultivated by human hands the vine that is not the true vine of Israel is the doctrine of the Pharisees.

14 . blind leaders of the blind ] The proverb which follows is quoted in a different connection, Luke 6:39 ; cp. also ch. 23:16.

fall into the ditch ] Palestine abounded in dangers of this kind, from unguarded wells, quarries, and pitfalls; it abounded also in persons afflicted with blindness. See note ch. 9:27.

16 . without understanding ] Cp. the “spiritual understanding,” Colossians 1:9 , and “knowledge in the mystery of Christ,” Ephesians 3:4 .

19 . For out of the heart proceed ] The enumeration follows the order of the Commandments. Evil thoughts harmful reasonings form a class under which the rest fall, indicating, too, that the transgression of the Commandments is often in thought, by Christ’s law, not in deed only. For “blasphemies,” which may be thought to sum up the first table, St Mark, whose order differs slightly, has “covetousness,” thus completing the decalogue, and adds to the list in the text “wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, pride, foolishness.”

The plurals “murders, adulteries,” &c., as Meyer points out, denote the different instances and kinds of murder and adultery. Murder includes far more than the act of bloodshed.

21 28 . The Daughter of a Canaanite Woman is cured

Mark 7:24-30

This narrative of faith without external observance or knowledge of the Law affords a suggestive contrast to the preceding discourse.

21 . the coasts ] The neighbourhood, district, not the sea-shore, as might be thought.

22 . a woman of Canaan ] Called in Mark “a Greek, a Syrophœnician by nation.” The two expressions are identical, for the land of Canaan, literally, the low lands or netherlands , at first applicable to the whole of Palestine, was confined in later times to the maritime plain of Phœnicia. In Joshua 5:12 “the land of Canaan” appears in the LXX. version as the “land of the Phœnicians.” The important point is that this woman was a foreigner and a heathen a descendant of the worshippers of Baal. She may have heard and seen Jesus in earlier days. Cp. Mark 3:8 , “they about Tyre and Sidon … came unto him.”

out of the same coasts ] Literally, those coasts . Jesus did not himself pass beyond the borders of Galilee, but this instance of mercy extended to a Gentile points to the wide diffusion of the Gospel beyond the Jewish race.

Have mercy on me ] Identifying herself with her daughter. Cp. the prayer of the father of the lunatic child: “Have compassion on us and help us ,” Mark 9:22 .

Son of David ] A title that proves the expectation that the Messiah should spring from the house of David. It is the particular Messianic prophecy which would be most likely to reach foreign countries.

23 . answered her not a word ] Jesus, by this refusal, tries the woman’s faith, that he may purify and deepen it. Her request must be won by earnest prayer, “lest the light winning should make light the prize.”

Observe that Christ first refuses by silence, then by express words.

Send her away ] By granting what she asks, by yielding, like the unjust judge, to her importunity.

24 . I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel ] Jesus came to save all, but His personal ministry was confined, with few exceptions, to the Jews.

The thought of Israel as a flock of sheep lost on the mountains is beautifully drawn out, Ezekiel 34:0 ; “My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them,” ( v. 6.) Read the whole chapter.

26 . to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs ] The “children” are the Jews; the “dogs” are the Gentiles. This was the name applied by the Jews to all outside the chosen race, the dog being in the East a symbol of impurity. St Paul, regarding the Christian Church as the true Israel, terms the Judaizing teachers “dogs,” Philippians 3:2 . Christ’s words, as reported by St Mark (ch. 7:27), contain a gleam of hope, “Let the children first be filled.”

27 . yet the dogs eat of the crumbs ] “Yet,” of the E. V., is misleading. Translate “ for even; ” the woman takes Jesus at his word, accepts the name of reproach, and claims the little share that falls even to the dogs. No need to cast the children’s bread to the dogs, for even the dogs have crumbs from the Master’s hands.

the crumbs ] Probably as in E. V., not, as Trench suggests, the pieces of bread used by the guests to wipe their hands on and then thrown to the dogs.

their masters’ table ] The “Masters” must be interpreted to mean God, not, as by some, the Jewish people.

29 31 . Jesus returns to the high land of Galilee, and cures many Blind, Dumb, and Lame

Mark 7:31-37 , where, not content with the general statement, the Evangelist describes one special case of healing.

29 . a mountain ] Rather, the mountain country; the high land, as distinguished from the low land, which He had left.

32 38 . Four thousand Men, besides women and children, are miraculously fed

Mark 8:1-9

36 . gave to his disciples ] St Matthew uses the aorist, St Mark the more vivid imperfect “kept giving.”

37 . seven baskets ] Spurides , see note ch. 14:20, and Acts 9:25 , where St Paul is said to have been let down from the wall of Damascus in a spuris , probably a large basket made of rope-net, possibly a fisherman’s basket. Why the disciples brought different kinds of baskets on the two occasions we cannot determine.

the broken meat that was left ] See ch. 14:20. One side of the lesson is the lavishness of Providence. God gives even more than we require or ask for. But the leading thought is a protest against waste.

39 16:4 . Jesus at Magdala, or Magadan, is tempted to give a Sign. Mark 8:10-12 ; Luke 12:54-57

took ship ] Literally, went on board the ship .

the coasts of Magdala ] The MSS. vary between Magdala and Magadan. The latter reading, however, has by far the highest authority in its favour. It is probable that the familiar Magdala supplanted in the text the more obscure Magadan. Magdala or Migdol (a watch tower) is identified with the modern Mejdel , a collection of ruins and squalid huts at the S.E. corner of the plain of Gennesaret, opposite to K’hersa or Gergesa. This is the point where the lake is broadest. Prof. Rawlinson thinks that this Magdala may be the Magdolus of Herodotus, ii. 159; unless indeed by a confusion curiously similar to that in the text, Herodotus has mistaken Migdol for Megiddo. Magdala was probably the home of Mary Magdalene.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 15". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/matthew-15.html. 1896.