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From Jerusalem (απο Ιεροσολυμων). Jerusalem is the headquarters of the conspiracy against Jesus with the Pharisees as the leaders in it. Already we have seen the Herodians combining with the Pharisees in the purpose to put Jesus to death (Mark 3:6; Matthew 12:14; Luke 6:11). Soon Jesus will warn the disciples against the Sadducees also (Matthew 16:6). Unusual order here, "Pharisees and scribes." "The guardians of tradition in the capital have their evil eye on Jesus and co-operate with the provincial rigorists" (Bruce), if the Pharisees were not all from Jerusalem.
The tradition of the elders (την παραδοσιν των πρεσβυτερων). This was the oral law, handed down by the elders of the past in ex cathedra fashion and later codified in the Mishna. Handwashing before meals is not a requirement of the Old Testament. It is, we know, a good thing for sanitary reasons, but the rabbis made it a mark of righteousness for others at any rate. This item was magnified at great length in the oral teaching. The washing (νιπτοντα, middle voice, note) of the hands called for minute regulations. It was commanded to wash the hands before meals, it was one's duty to do it after eating. The more rigorous did it between the courses. The hands must be immersed. Then the water itself must be "clean" and the cups or pots used must be ceremonially "clean." Vessels were kept full of clean water ready for use (John 2:6-8). So it went on ad infinitum. Thus a real issue is raised between Jesus and the rabbis. It was far more than a point of etiquette or of hygienics. The rabbis held it to be a mortal sin. The incident may have happened in a Pharisee's house.
Ye also (κα υμεις). Jesus admits that the disciples had transgressed the rabbinical traditions. Jesus treats it as a matter of no great importance in itself save as they had put the tradition of the elders in the place of the commandment of God. When the two clashed, as was often the case, the rabbis transgress the commandment of God "because of your tradition" (δια την παραδοσιν υμων). The accusative with δια means that, not "by means of." Tradition is not good or bad in itself. It is merely what is handed on from one to another. Custom tended to make these traditions binding like law. The Talmud is a monument of their struggle with tradition. There could be no compromise on this subject and Jesus accepts the issue. He stands for real righteousness and spiritual freedom, not for bondage to mere ceremonialism and tradition. The rabbis placed tradition (the oral law) above the law of God.
But ye say (υμεις δε λεγετε). In sharp contrast to the command of God. Jesus had quoted the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12; Exodus 20:16) with the penalty "die the death" (θανατω τελευτατω), "go on to his end by death," in imitation of the Hebrew idiom. They dodged this command of God about the penalty for dishonouring one's father or mother by the use "Corban" (κορβαν) as Mark calls it (Mark 7:11). All one had to do to evade one's duty to father or mother was to say "Corban" or "Gift" (Δωρον) with the idea of using the money for God. By an angry oath of refusal to help one's parents, the oath or vow was binding. By this magic word one set himself free (ου μη τιμησε, he shall not honour) from obedience to the fifth commandment. Sometimes unfilial sons paid graft to the rabbinical legalists for such dodges. Were some of these very faultfinders guilty?
Ye have made void the word of God (εκυρωσατε τον λογον του θεου). It was a stinging indictment that laid bare the hollow pretence of their quibbles about handwashing. Κυρος means force or authority, ακυρος is without authority, null and void. It is a late verb, ακυροω but in the LXX, Galatians 3:17; and in the papyri Adjective, verb, and substantive occur in legal phraseology like cancelling a will, etc. The moral force of God's law is annulled by their hairsplitting technicalities and immoral conduct.
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you (καλως επροφητευσεν περ υμων Εσαιας). There is sarcasm in this pointed application of Isaiah's words (Isaiah 29:13) to these rabbis. He "beautifully pictured" them. The portrait was to the very life, "teaching as their doctrines the commandments of men." They were indeed far from God if they imagined that God would be pleased with such gifts at the expense of duty to one's parents.
This defileth the man (τουτο κοινο τον ανθρωπον). This word is from κοινος which is used in two senses, either what is "common" to all and general like the Koine Greek, or what is unclean and "common" either ceremonially or in reality. The ceremonial "commonness" disturbed Peter on the housetop in Joppa (Acts 10:14). See also Acts 21:28; Hebrews 9:13. One who is thus religiously common or unclean is cut off from doing his religious acts. "Defilement" was a grave issue with the rabbinical ceremonialists. Jesus appeals to the crowd here:
Hear and understand (ακουετε κα συνιετε). He has a profound distinction to draw. Moral uncleanness is what makes a man common, defiles him. That is what is to be dreaded, not to be glossed over. "This goes beyond the tradition of the elders and virtually abrogates the Levitical distinctions between clean and unclean" (Bruce). One can see the pettifogging pretenders shrivel up under these withering words.
Were offended (εσκανδαλισθησαν). First aorist passive. "Were caused to stumble," "have taken offence" (Moffatt), "have turned against you" (Weymouth), "were shocked" (Goodspeed), "War ill-pleased" (Braid Scots). They took umbrage at the public rebuke and at such a scorpion sting in it all. It cut to the quick because it was true. It showed in the glowering countenances of the Pharisees so plainly that the disciples were uneasy. See on Matthew 5:29.
They are blind guides (τυφλο εισιν οδηγο). Graphic picture. Once in Cincinnati a blind man introduced me to his blind friend. He said that he was showing him the city. Jesus is not afraid of the Pharisees. Let them alone to do their worst. Blind leaders and blind victims will land in the ditch. A proverbial expression in the O.T.
Declare unto us the parable (φρασον υμιν την παραβολην). Explain the parable (pithy saying) in verse Matthew 15:11, not in verse Matthew 15:14. As a matter of fact, the disciples had been upset by Christ's powerful exposure of the "Corban" duplicity and the words about "defilement" in verse Matthew 15:11.
Are ye also even yet without understanding? (Ακμην κα υμεις ασυνετο εστε). Ακμην is an adverbial accusative (classic αιχμη, point (of a weapon)=ακμην χρονου at this point of time, just now=ετ. It occurs in papyri and inscriptions, though condemned by the old grammarians. "In spite of all my teaching, are ye also like the Pharisees without spiritual insight and grasp?" One must never forget that the disciples lived in a Pharisaic environment. Their religious world-outlook was Pharisaic. They were lacking in spiritual intelligence or sense, "totally ignorant" (Moffatt).
Perceive ye not? (ου νοειτε). Christ expects us to make use of our νους, intellect, not for pride, but for insight. The mind does not work infallibly, but we should use it for its God-given purpose. Intellectual laziness or flabbiness is no credit to a devout soul.
Out of the mouth (εκ του στοματος). Spoken words come out of the heart and so are a true index of character. By "heart" (καρδιας) Jesus means not just the emotional nature, but the entire man, the inward life of "evil thoughts" (διαλογισμο πονηρο) that issue in words and deeds. "These defile the man," not "eating with unwashed hands." The captious quibblings of the Pharisees, for instance, had come out of evil hearts.
A Canaanitish woman (γυνη Χαναναια). The Phoenicians were descended from the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of Palestine. They were of Semitic race, therefore, though pagan.
Have pity on me (ελεησον με). She made her daughter's case her own, "badly demonized."
For she crieth after us (οτ κραζε οπισθεν ημων). The disciples greatly disliked this form of public attention, a strange woman crying after them. They disliked a sensation. Did they wish the woman sent away with her daughter healed or unhealed?
I was not sent (ουκ απεσταλην). Second aorist passive indicative of αποστελλω. Jesus takes a new turn with this woman in Phoenicia. He makes a test case of her request. In a way she represented the problem of the Gentile world. He calls the Jews "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" in spite of the conduct of the Pharisees.
Even the dogs (κα τα κυναρια). She took no offence at the implication of being a Gentile dog. The rather she with quick wit took Christ's very word for little dogs (κυναρια) and deftly turned it to her own advantage, for the little dogs eat of the crumbs (ψιχιων, little morsels, diminutive again) that fall from the table of their masters (κυριων), the children.
As thou wilt (ως θελεις). Her great faith and her keen rejoinder won her case.
And sat there (εκαθητο εκε). "Was sitting there" on the mountain side near the sea of Galilee, possibly to rest and to enjoy the view or more likely to teach.
And they cast them down at his feet (κα εριψαν αυτους παρα τους ποδας αυτου). A very strong word, flung them down, "not carelessly, but in haste, because so many were coming on the same errand" (Vincent). It was a great day for "they glorified the God of Israel."
Three days (ημερα τρεις). A parenthetic nominative (Robertson, Grammar, p. 460).
What to eat (τ φαγωσιν). Indirect question with the deliberative subjunctive retained. In the feeding of the five thousand Jesus took compassion on the people and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14). Here the hunger of the multitude moves him to compassion (σπλαγχνιζομα, in both instances). So he is unwilling (ου θελω) to send them away hungry.
Faint (εκλυθωσιν). Unloosed, (εκλυω) exhausted.
And the disciples say to him (κα λεγουσιν αυτω ο μαθητα). It seems strange that they should so soon have forgotten the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21), but they did. Soon Jesus will remind them of both these demonstrations of his power (Matthew 16:9; Matthew 16:10). They forgot both of them, not just one. Some scholars scout the idea of two miracles so similar as the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand, though both are narrated in detail by both Mark and Matthew and both are later mentioned by Jesus. Jesus repeated his sayings and wrought multitudes of healings. There is no reason in itself why Jesus should not on occasion repeat a nature miracle like this elsewhere. He is in the region of Decapolis, not in the country of Philip (Τραχονιτις).
A few small fishes (ολιγα ιχθυδια, diminutive again).
On the ground (επ την γην). No mention of "grass" as in Matthew 14:19 for this time, midsummer, the grass would be parched and gone.
Gave thanks (ευχαριστησας). In Matthew 14:19 the word used for "grace" or "blessing" is ευλογησεν. Vincent notes that the Jewish custom was for the head of the house to say the blessing only if he shared the meal unless the guests were his own household. But we need not think of Jesus as bound by the peccadilloes of Jewish customs.
The borders of Magadan (εις τα ορια Μαγαδαν). On the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and so in Galilee again. Mark terms it Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10). Perhaps after all the same place as Magdala, as most manuscripts have it.
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 15". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany