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Bible Commentaries

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Matthew 15

Verses 1-20

1 20. ] DISCOURSE CONCERING EATING WITH UNWASHED HANDS. Mark 7:1-23 . From Mark it appears that these Scribes and Pharisees had come expressly from Jerusalem to watch our Lord: most probably after that Passover which was nigh at the time of feeding the five thousand, John 6:4 .

Verse 2

2. ] The Jews attached more importance to the traditionary exposition than to the Scripture text itself. They compared the written word to water; the traditionary exposition to the wine which must be mingled with it.

The duty of washing before meat is not inculcated in the law, but only in the traditions of the Scribes. So rigidly did the Jews observe it, that Rabbi Akiba, being imprisoned, and having water scarcely sufficient to sustain life given him, preferred dying of thirst to eating without washing his hands.

πρεσβύτεροι are not the elders , but the ancients. See ref. Heb.

Verse 3

3. καὶ ὑμ . ] The καί implies that there was a παράβασις also on their part acknowledging that on the part of the disciples.

τὴν ἐντ . τ . θ . ] A remarkable testimony from our Lord to the divine origin of the Mosaic law: not merely of the Decalogue, as such, for the second command quoted is not in the Decalogue, and it is to be observed that where the text has θεὸς ἐνετείλατο , Mark ( Mar 7:10 ) has Μ ωυσῆς εἶπεν .

Verse 4

4. ] θανάτῳ τελ . is a Hebraism, מוֹת יוּמָת : see reff. LXX.

Verse 5

5. ] Lightfoot on this verse shews that the expression cited by our Lord did not always bind the utterer to consecrate his property to religious uses, but was by its mere utterance sufficient to absolve him from the duty of caring for his parents: see further on the word Corban in Mark 7:11 . The construction of this and the following ver. is: But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, That from which thou mightest have been benefited by me, is an offering (consecrated to God; see above).… (understand, is free ). [ And ] such an one will certainly not honour his father [ or his mother ]. So [138] Mark, οὐκέτι ἀφίετε κ . τ . λ .

[138] When, in the Gospels, and in the Evangelic statement, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 , the sign (║) occurs in a reference, it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in the other Gospels, which will always be found indicated at the head of the note on the paragraph. When the sign (║) is qualified , thus, ‘║ Mk.,’ or ‘║ Mt. Mk.,’ &c., it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in that Gospel or Gospels, but not in the other or others .

The joining of [ καὶ ] οὐ μὴ κ . τ . λ . to the ὃς ἄν above, and making the aposiopesis after μητ . αὐτοῦ , is inconsistent with the usage of οὐ μή , which contains in itself an apodosis, being an elliptical construction for οὐ δέος μή or the like; see Hartung, Partikellehre, ii. p. 155 ff. The future ind . after οὐ μή makes the certainty more apparent: so καὶ τοῦτο γὰρ εὖ εἰδέναι χρὴ ὅτι οὐ μὴ δυνήσεται Κῦρος εὑρεῖν .… Xen. Cyr. viii. 1. 5. See more examples in Hartung, ib. Of course the apodosis is our Lord’s saying, not that of the Pharisees.

Verse 8

8. ] The portion of Isaiah from which this citation is made (ch. 24 35) sets forth, in alternate threatenings and promises, the punishment of the mere nominal Israel, and the salvation of the true Israel of God. And, as so often in the prophetic word, its threats and promises are for all times of the Church; the particular event then foretold being but one fulfilment of those deeper and more general declarations of God, which shall be ever having their successive illustrations in His dealings with men.

The prophecy is nearly according to the LXX, which compare. The citation in Mark is (if the spurious words in the rec [139] . here be cancelled) verbatim the same with that in the text. Stier however maintains (vol. ii. p. 142) that the words in question ought to be supplied in Mark, because ἐγγίζει is wanted to oppose to πόῤῥω ἀπέχει , and στόματι to connect with στόμα in Matthew 15:11 .

[139] The Textus Receptus or received text of the Greek Testament. Used in this Edition when elz and Steph agree

Verse 9

9. ] LXX, ἐντάλματα ἀνθ . καὶ διδασκαλίας . The two are here in apposition, as in E. V.

Verse 10

10. ] ἐκείνους μὲν ἐπιστομίσας καὶ καταισχύνας ἀφῆκεν ὡς ἀνιάτους · τρέπει δὲ τὸν λόγον πρὸς τὸν ὄχλον ὡς ἀξιολογώτερον . Euthym [140]

[140] Euthymius Zigabenus, 1116

Verse 12

12. ] This took place after our Lord had entered the house and was apart from the multitude: see Mark 7:17 .

τὸν λόγον ] the saying addressed to the multitude in Matthew 15:11 .

Verse 13

13. ] The plant is the teaching of the Pharisees, altogether of human, and not of divine planting. That this is so, is clear by ἄφετε αὐτούς following, and by the analogy of our Lord’s parabolic symbolism, in which seed, plant , &c., are compared to doctrine , which however in its growth becomes identified with, and impersonated by, its recipients and disseminators. See this illustrated in notes on the parable of the sower, ch. 13 ‘ φυτόν , naturâ: φυτεία , curâ.’ Bengel. On this verse see John 15:1-2 .

Verse 15

15. ] The saying in Matthew 15:11 , which is clearly the subject of the question, was not strictly a παραβολή , but a plain declaration; so that either Peter took it for a parable, or παραβ . must be taken in its wider sense of ‘an hard saying.’ Stier thinks that their questioning as to the meaning of parables in ch. 13 had habituated them to asking for explanations in this form.

Verse 16

16. ] The saying in Mat 15:11 was spoken for the multitude, who were exhorted ἀκούετε κ . συνίετε : much more then ought the disciples to have understood it.

ἀκμήν = adhuc is a later Greek word: Phrynichus (p. 123, ed. Lobeck) says that Xenophon uses it once (ref.): but this is not in the sense of ἔτι , but ἄρτι , ‘ even now ,’ ‘ in articulo ;’ see Lobeck’s note, where he gives more examples.

Verse 17

17. ] στόματι , δι ʼ οὗ γίνεται θνητῶν μέν , ὡς ἔφη Πλάτων , εἴσοδος , ἔξοδος δὲ ἀφθάρτων .

ἐπεισέρχεται μὲν γὰρ αὐτῷ σιτία καὶ ποτά , φθαρτοῦ σώματος φθαρταὶ τροφαί . λόγοι δὲ ἐξίασιν , ἀθανάτου ψυχῆς ἀθάνατοι νόμοι , δι ʼ ὧνλογικὸς βίος κυβερνᾶται . Philo de Opif. Mundi, 40, vol. i. p. 29.

Verses 21-28

21 28. ] THE CANAANITISH WOMAN. Mark 7:24-30 ; omitted by Luke. It is not quite clear whether our Lord actually passed the frontier into the land of the heathen, or merely was on the frontier. The usage of εἰς τὰ μέρη in Matthew favours the former supposition: see ch. Matthew 2:22 ; Matthew 16:13 ; also for ὅρια , ch. Matthew 2:16 ; Matthew 4:13 ; Matthew 8:34 .Exodus 16:35; Exodus 16:35 , εἰς μέρος τῆς Φοινίκης , ‘to the borders of Canaan,’ has been quoted as supporting the other view; but the usage of our Evangelist himself seems to carry greater weight. And the question is not one of importance; for our Lord did not go to teach or to heal, but, as it would appear, to avoid the present indignation of the Pharisees. Mark’s account certainly implies that the woman was in the same place where our Lord was wishing to be hid, and could not.

Verse 22

22. ] ἀπὸ τ . ὁρ . ἐκ does not belong to ἐξελθ ., but means of or from those parts.

ἐξελθ . ] coming out (they were going by the way, see Mat 15:23 ): i.e. from her house, or town, or village.

The inhabitants of these parts are called Canaanites, Numbers 13:29 ; Judges 1:30 ; Judges 1:32-33 ; and Phœnicians, Exodus 6:15 (LXX): Joshua 5:1 (LXX). Mark calls her Ἑλληνίς , i.e. a heathen by religion, and Σύρα Φοινίκισσα τῷ γένει : and describes her only as having come to our Lord in the house . But by the account in our text, she had been crying after the Lord and the disciples by the way previously; and Mark’s account must be understood to begin at our Matthew 15:25 . From Mark 3:8 , Luke 6:17 , we learn that the fame of our Lord had been spread in these parts, and multitudes from thence had come to Him for healing. It was not this woman’s dwelling-place, but her descent , which placed the bar between her and our Lord’s ministrations.

The expression υἱὸς Δαυείδ shews her acquaintance with Jewish expressions and expectations; but the whole narrative is against De Wette’s supposition, that she may have been a proselyte of the gate.

Verse 23

23. ] The reason alleged by the disciples must be coupled with our Lord’s unwillingness to be known, stated by Mark ( Mar 7:24 ), and means, ‘ she will draw the attention of all upon us .’ The word ἀπόλυσον does not necessarily imply granting her request, nor the contrary; but simply dismiss her, leaving the method to our Lord Himself.

Verse 24

24. ] See ch. Matthew 10:5 . Such was the purpose of our Lord’s personal ministry; yet even this was occasionally broken by such incidents as this. The ‘fountain sealed’ sometimes broke its banks, in token of the rich flood of grace which should follow. See Romans 15:8 .

Verse 25

25. ] ἐλθοῦσα , i.e. into the house where our Lord was. See Mark 7:24 .

Verse 26

26. κυναρίοις ] No further contempt is indicated by the diminutive , still less any allusion to the daughter of the woman: the word is commonly used of tame dogs, as diminutives frequently express familiarity. So in Xen. Cyr. viii. 4. 20, εἰ δὲ μεγάλην γαμεῖς , ἤν ποτε βούλαὐτὴν ὀρθὴν φιλῆσαι , προσάλλεσθαί σε δεήσει ὡς τὰ κυνάρια .

Verse 27

27. ] The sense of καὶ γάρ is not given by ‘ yet ’ in the E. V. The woman, in her humility, accepts the appellation which our Lord gives her, and grounds her plea upon an inference from it . Her words also have a reference to ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα , expressed by Mark 7:27 . The Vulgate has rightly, ‘Etiam Domine: nam et catelli edunt.’ Yea, Lord: for even the dogs eat: or, for the dogs too eat Our Lord in the use of the familiar diminutive, has expressed not the uncleanness of the dog so much, as his attachment to and dependence on the human family: she lays hold on this favourable point and makes it her own, ‘if we are dogs, then may we fare as such; be fed with the crumbs of Thy mercy.’ She was, as it were, under the edge of the table close on the confines of Israel’s feast.

Some say that the ψίχια are the pieces of bread on which the hands were wiped, εἰςτὰς χεῖρας ἀποματτόμενοι εἶτα κυσὶν ἔβαλλον (Eustathius, cited by Trench on Mir. p. 342); but the πιπτόντων looks more like accidental falling, and the ψίχια like minute crumbs.

Verse 28

28. ] In Mark, διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον , ὕπαγε . The greatness of the woman’s faith consisted in this, that in spite of all discouragements she continued her plea; and not only so, but accepting and laying to her account all adverse circumstances, she out of them made reasons for urging her request. St. Mark gives the additional circumstance, that on returning to her house she found the devil gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.

Verse 29

29. ] τὸ ὄρος is the high land on the coast of the lake, not any particular mountain. From this account it is uncertain to which side of the lake our Lord came; from Mar 7:31 we learn that it was to the eastern side, ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ὁρίων Δεκαπόλεως .

Verses 29-39

29 39. ] HEALING BY THE SEA OF GALILEE. Peculiar to Matthew (see Mar 7:31-37 ). FEEDING OF THE FOUR THOUSAND. Mark 8:1-10 .

Verse 30

30. ] κυλλοί are persons maimed in the hands; see Jerome in var. readd. (But it is also used of the feet, τί δεῦρο πόδα σὺ κυλλὸν ἀνὰ κύκλον κυκλεῖς ; Aristoph. Av. 1379.) The meaning need not be, that a wanting member was supplied to these persons; but that a debility, such as that arising from paralysis or wound, was healed.

ἔῤῥιψαν , not in neglect, but from haste and rivalry.

Verse 31

31. ] Mark ( Mar 7:32-37 ) gives an instance of κωφοὺς λαλοῦντας .

τὸν θ . Ἰσραήλ ] Perhaps this last word is added as an expression of the joy of the disciples themselves, who contrasted the fulness and abundance of the acts of mercy now before them with the instance which they had just seen of the difficulty with which the faith of a Gentile had prevailed to obtain help.

Verse 32

32. ] The modern German interpreters assume the identity of this miracle with that narrated in ch. Matthew 14:14 ff. If this be so, then our Evangelists must have forged the speech attributed to our Lord in ch. Matthew 16:9-10 . But, as Ebrard justly remarks (Evangelienkritik, p. 532), every circumstance which could vary, does vary, in the two accounts. The situation in the wilderness, the kind of food at hand, the blessing and breaking, and distributing by means of the disciples, these are common to the two accounts , and were likely to be so: but here the matter is introduced by our Lord Himself with an expression of pity for the multitudes who had continued with Him three days: here also the provision is greater, the numbers are less than on the former occasion. But there is one small token of authenticity which marks these two accounts as referring to two distinct events, even had we not such direct testimony as that of ch. Matthew 16:9-10 . It is, that whereas the baskets in which the fragments were collected on the other occasion are called by all four Evangelists κόφινοι , those used for that purpose after this miracle are in both Matt. and Mark σπυρίδες . And when our Lord refers to the two miracles, the same distinction is observed; a particularity which could not have arisen except as pointing to a matter of fact, that, whatever the distinction be, which is uncertain, different kinds of baskets were used on the two occasions. Perhaps the strangest reason for supposing the two identical (given by De Wette, Schleiermacher, and others) is an imagined difficulty in the question of the disciples, πόθεν ἡμῖν κ . τ . λ ., so soon after the former miracle; as if the same slowness to believe and trust in divine power were not repeatedly found among men, and instanced in Scripture itself; compare Exo 16:13 with Numbers 11:21-22 ; and read in Exo 17:1-7 the murmurings of the Israelites immediately after their deliverance at the Red Sea. And even could we recognize this as a difficulty, it is not necessarily implied in the text. Our Lord puts the matter to them as a question, without the slightest intimation of His intention to supply the want supernaturally. They make answer in the same spirit, without venturing (as indeed it would have been most unbecoming in them to do, see Joh 2:3-4 ) to suggest the working of a miracle. De Wette’s assumption that the usage of κόφινοι and σπυρίδες shews two different traditional sources used by the author, would make it necessary to suppose that the forger of ch. Mat 16:9-10 has been skilful enough to preserve this distinction; an accuracy seldom found in interpolations of early Christian times.

On ἡμέρια τρεῖς see reff. and Winer, § 62. 2, note.

Verse 37

37. ] The σπυρίς (commonly derived from σπεῖρα , as being of woven work; or by some from πυρός , wheat, as being τὸ τῶν πυρῶν ἄγγος . Hesych [141] ) was large enough to contain a man’s body, as Paul was let down in one from the wall of Damascus, ref. Acts. Greswell (Diss. viii. pt. 4, vol. ii. p. 325) supposes that they may have been used to sleep in, during the stay in the desert.

[141] Hesychius of Jerusalem, cent y . vi.

Verse 39

39. ] Of Magadan nothing is known.

Lightfoot (Centurio Chorograph. Marco præmissa, p. 413) shews Magdala to have been only a sabbathday’s journey from Chamnath Gadara on the Jordan, and on the east side of the lake: but probably he is mistaken, for most travellers (see Winer, Realwörterbuch, in v.) place it about three miles from Tiberias, on the west side of the lake, where is now a village named Madschel. Dalmanutha , mentioned by Mark ( Mar 8:10 ), seems to have been a village in the neighbourhood.

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 15". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.