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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 15

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Matthew 15:0


The Tradition of the EldersDefilement Comes From WithinTraditions of the EldersThe Teaching of the AncestorsThe Traditions of the Pharisees
Matthew 15:1-9Matthew 15:1-20Matthew 15:1-9Matthew 15:1-2; Matthew 15:3-9Matthew 15:1-9
(8-9) (8-9)
The Things that Make a Person UncleanOn Clean and Unclean
Matthew 15:10-20 Matthew 15:10-20Matthew 15:10-11Matthew 15:10-11
Matthew 15:12Matthew 15:12-14
Matthew 15:13-14
Matthew 15:15Matthew 15:15-20
Matthew 15:16-20
The Canaanite Woman's FaithA Gentile Shows Her FaithThe Canaanite WomanA Woman's FaithThe Daughter of the Canaanite Woman Healed
Matthew 15:21-28Matthew 15:21-28Matthew 15:21-28Matthew 15:21-22Matthew 15:21-28
Matthew 15:23
Matthew 15:24
Matthew 15:25
Matthew 15:26
Matthew 15:27
Matthew 15:28
The Healing of Many PeopleJesus Heals Great MultitudesHealingsJesus Heals Many PeopleCures near the Lake
Matthew 15:29-31Matthew 15:29-31Matthew 15:29-31Matthew 15:29-31Matthew 15:29-31
The Feeding of the Four ThousandFeeding the Four ThousandFour Thousand FedJesus Feeds the Four ThousandSecond Miracle of the Loaves
Matthew 15:32-39Matthew 15:32-39Matthew 15:32-39Matthew 15:32Matthew 15:32-39
Matthew 15:33
Matthew 15:34a
Matthew 15:34b
Matthew 15:35-38
Matthew 15:39

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did the Pharisees and scribes travel to Galilee to see Jesus?

2. How can tradition be a dangerous thing?

3. Is it possible to be religious and not know God?

4. How do we balance our freedom as Christians with our responsibilities?

5. Why are Matthew's and Mark's lists in verse Matthew 15:19 different?

6. Why did Jesus not readily want to help this lady? Why was He reluctant or, was He reluctant?

7. How can children have demons?

Verses 1-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:1-11 1Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2"Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." 3And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,'and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.'5But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,'6he is not to honor his father or mother." And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 9But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 10After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. 11It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."

Matthew 15:1 "Pharisees" They were the most outwardly religious sect within first century Judaism. They had developed during the Maccabean period. The name may have meant "separated ones." Jesus did not condemn all Pharisees but only those who were outwardly legalistic without inner righteousness (Isaiah 29:13). They emphasized absolute conformity to the oral tradition which was later codified into the Talmud. For a full discussion of the origin and theology of the Pharisees see Special Topic at Matthew 22:15.

"scribes" This was a professional group of religious lawyers, trained in the written law and oral tradition, who were contacted to make rulings on points of Jewish regulations related to daily life. See Special Topic at Matthew 12:38.

"from Jerusalem" Jesus was in Galilee at this time so these men traveled a long way to hear Him. They were, if you please, a delegation from headquarters!

Matthew 15:2 "your disciples" The disciples were from Galilee, where Judaism was not as strict as in the Jerusalem area.

"the tradition of the elders" This was a reference to the large body of oral traditions called the Mishnah, which interpreted the Law of Moses and helped apply it to everyday life. The Mishnah was codified most completely by Rabbi Judah in A.D. 200 and later became part of the Talmud. It was believed by the rabbis to be as authoritative as the Torah (Gen.-Deut.), for it, too, was believed to have been given orally to Moses by God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:14).

"they do not wash their hands when they eat" Handwashing was not for hygienic purposes but for ceremonial cleanliness. The OT did not require washing before every meal, but tradition grew (1) from Exodus 30:19 where the priests were to wash and (2) Leviticus 15:0, where those who touched something unclean were to wash. By Jesus' time washing before meals had become a major part of Jewish religious life. One early rabbi was excommunicated for not washing properly! Not only was washing before meals commanded, but washing after and even between the individual courses was also considered a religious ceremonial duty.

Matthew 15:4 "God said" Mark 7:11 has "Moses said." This shows Jesus' view of the authority and inspiration of the OT (cf. Matthew 5:17-19).

▣ "Honor your father and mother" Jesus quoted one of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). "Honor" was a commercial term which meant "to give due weight to."

The second OT quote in Matthew 15:4 is from Exodus 21:17 or Leviticus 20:9. The stability of the society demanded swift and strong action against those who violated covenant requirements. The family was/is based to society.

"He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death."See Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:1.

Matthew 15:5

NASB, NRSV"has been given to God" NKJV"dedicated to the temple" TEV"belongs to God" NJB"dedicated to God"

The concept of vowing or dedicating unneeded resources to God was called corban (from Hebrew word for "gift," cf. Leviticus 1:2; Leviticus 22:27; Leviticus 23:14; Numbers 7:25) or "under the ban" (cf. Mark 7:11). This vow thereby made these resources legally unavailable to be used to help aging parents (though they might be used for other personal reasons).

Matthew 15:6

NASB"he is not to honor" NKJV"is released from honoring" TEV"they do not need to honor" NJB"he is rid of his duty"

Although it is not expressed in English this phrase is

1. a strong double negative

2. implies a question

3. a quote from the teachings (or implication of) the Pharisees/Scribes

NASB"invalidated" NKJV"no effect" NRSV"void" NJB"ineffective"

This is a strong Greek word used only here and the parallel in Mark 7:13 and in Galatians 3:17. By their motives and actions the intent of the Scriptures was compromised to human greed! These people looked religious, but the evidence of the Fall remained (i.e., more for me at any cost).

"for the sake of your tradition" This term (pardosis) is used in several senses.

1. in 1 Corinthians 11:2, 1 Corinthians 11:23 for gospel truths

2. in Matthew 15:6; Matthew 23:1ff; Mark 7:8; Galatians 1:14 of Jewish traditions

3. in Colossians 2:6-8 of gnostic speculations

4. Roman Catholics use this verse as a biblical proof-text for Scripture and tradition being equal in authority

However, in this context it refers to Apostolic truth, either spoken or written (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6)

Matthew 15:7 "you hypocrites" This was a theatrical term literally "to judge under" but in the sense of "to play a part behind a mask."

Matthew 15:8-9 "This people honor me with their lips" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Isaiah 29:13. This powerful verse shows that a person's personal faith is clearly revealed by their outward acts and words (cf. Romans 4:3-6; James 2:14-26).

Matthew 15:8 "far away" This phrase conveys the idea of holding something or someone at arm's length.

Matthew 15:10 "Jesus called the crowd to Him," Jesus publicly denounced these religious leaders from Jerusalem.

Matthew 15:11 "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man" This related primarily to the question of hand washing (cf. Matthew 15:18, Matthew 15:20), but Mark 7:19 adds a phrase that related the statement to all foods (cf. Acts 10:0). The purity is from within and it guides/directs outward activities.

Verses 12-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:12-14 12Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" 13But He answered and said, "Every plant which my heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

Matthew 15:12 "the Pharisees were offended" The disciples were shocked at Jesus' treatment of these religious leaders, His statement about the oral traditions, and by implication, His negation of the food laws of Leviticus 11:0.

Matthew 15:13 "Every plant which my heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted" This referred either to the Pharisees'teachings or to the Pharisees themselves. It showed that they were not of God (cf. Matthew 5:20; Matthew 16:6, Matthew 16:11). Religiosity can be a dangerous thing (cf. Romans 2:17-29). Peace at any price was not Jesus' way!

It is possible that Jesus is drawing this plant imagery from Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3. Israel was described in agricultural terms (cf. Isaiah 5:0; John 15:0). Israel was YHWH's chosen vine, chosen to reveal Himself to the nations! AS Israel failed, so too Pharisaic theology. The greatest sin besides unbelief is self-righteousness!

Matthew 15:14 This is a third class conditional sentence, which refers to potential action.

"blind" This is used metaphorically to describe the spiritual understanding of the Pharisees and their disciples (cf. Matthew 23:0, especially Matthew 15:16, Matthew 15:24).

Verses 15-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:15-20 15Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." 16Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, slanders. 20These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."

Matthew 15:15-20 This speaks of the need for spiritual balance between freedom in Christ and self-limiting responsibility out of love for Christ and others (cf. Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33; 1 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:15).

Matthew 15:16 "Are you still lacking in understanding also" This is a rare, emphatic Greek idiom. Even the disciples did not understand until after the resurrection (cf. Luke 24:45, see also Luke 24:16, Luke 24:31; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).

Matthew 15:18 What food one may or may not eat is not the issue but the person's heart (cf. Matthew 12:34; Mark 7:20). By these statements Jesus negated the food laws of Leviticus 11:0! Jesus is usually said to have rejected the oral tradition of the rabbis, but affirmed the OT. However, in this instance and His treatment of divorce (cf. Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:8-9) He changes OT Law. It is best to affirm Jesus' right and inspiration to reinterpret both the OT and rabbinical tradition without turning this into a hermeneutical principle. Modern interpreters are not inspired but illumined. We affirm Jesus' teachings, but dare not follow His hermeneutic technique!

"heart" See Special Topic at Matthew 5:8.

Matthew 15:19 "fornications" The English word " pornography" shares the same root word as this Greek term. It meant any inappropriate sexual activity: premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, and even a refusal of levirate responsibilities (a brother failing to sexually relate to the widow of a deceased brother in order to provide heirs).

In the OT there was a distinction between marital infidelity (adultery) and pre-marital promiscuity (fornication).

"thefts" The English word "kleptomania" is derived from the same Greek root.

"slanders" This whole list referred to the Ten Commandments. Blasphemy was to speak against God.


Verses 21-28

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:21-28 21Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." 23But He did not answer a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" 26And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters'table." 28Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.

Matthew 15:21 "Tyre and Sidon" These were Phoenician coastal cities. In most of the OT they are associated with Ba'al worship and wickedness, however (1) Solomon did procure artisans and material for the Temple from Hiram, King of Tyre (cf. 1 Kings 7:0); and (2) Elijah helped a widow from this area (cf. Luke 4:25-26.)

Matthew 15:22 "a Canaanite woman" This is the only use of this term in the NT, although a similar form is found in a name (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18). In Mark 7:26 she was called a Syro-Phoenician woman, who in the modern world would be a woman from southern Lebanon. She was obviously non-Jewish. This account, like Matthew 8:5-13, showed Jesus' care for Gentiles. The healings summarized in Matthew 15:29-31 took place in a predominately Gentile area (cf. Mark 7:31).

"began to cry out, saying" Obviously this was done loudly and repeatedly. This imperfect tense can mean (1) repeated action in past time or (2) the beginning of an act in past time.

"Have mercy on me" The mercy and compassion of Jesus towards the poor, sick, and possessed had been told far and wide. Even a non-Jewish woman felt He would act on her behalf (cf. Matthew 9:27; Matthew 17:15).

This aorist active imperative is used in the sense of a prayer request, not a command.

"Lord" This was either (1) a common use of "Sir" or (2) the theological use of "Master" and "Messiah" ; only context can tell. Because it is combined with a Messianic title here, the second option is best.

"Son of David" This was a Messianic title from 2 Samuel 7:0. She knew something about the Jewish faith and hope. See note at Matthew 9:27.

"my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed" Demon possession was and is a reality that can even affect children (cf. Matthew 17:14-18). There is so much we don't know about this area!

I have struggled in this area of demon possession. I believe and affirm the biblical worldview. However, it bothers me that (1) exorcism is not listed as one of the spiritual gifts; (2) it is never discussed in any of the NT letters; (3) I am not informed by an inspired author about how to perform this spiritual rite. I am left to affirm the reality, but not able to identify it or know how to address it or remove it! See special topics on the demonic at Matthew 10:1.

Matthew 15:23 "disciples came and implored Him" The verb is also Imperfect tense. The disciples show their level of compassion in contrast to Jesus (cf. Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Matthew 15:32). Jesus' answer in Matthew 15:24 was addressed to them, not the woman. This phrase is left out in Mark because he was writing to Gentiles who would not have understood the disciples'reluctance in helping a Gentile.

Matthew 15:24 "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" Remember Jesus helped other Gentiles, but within the geographical boundaries of the Promised Land. If Jesus had begun a healing ministry in a Gentile land, He would have been rejected by the Jewish populous in general because of their prejudices. The phrase "lost sheep of the house of Israel" shows the spiritual condition of the Jewish people (cf. Matthew 10:6; Matthew 9:36).

The "shepherding" imagery began in Numbers 27:17 (cf. Zechariah 10:2). Psalms 23:0; Psalms 78:52; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10 depict YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel. This imagery becomes Messianic in Micah 5:2; Zechariah 11:4-17; and John 10:1-10. The bad shepherds are contrasted with the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34:0.

Sheep needed constant care and protection. They were helpless, defenseless, and easily influenced animals! Calling God's people sheep is not a compliment, but a spiritual reality!

Could I make one more comment on the word "only" ! Jesus helped this needy Gentile, as He did several other Gentiles. These are foreshadowings of His world-wide goal (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8). The Messiah came for all humans made in God's image (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Genesis 3:15 is not a promise to Israel, but to humans. The call of Abraham included a concern for Gentiles (cf. Genesis 12:3). The giving of the law on Mt. Sinai included God's concern for the world (cf. Exodus 19:5)!

Matthew 15:26 "dogs" This is the only use of this term in the NT. Its harshness is diminished by the fact that it is diminutive in form, "puppies" (JB, "house-dogs"). The Jews called the Gentiles "dogs." This dialogue was intended to help the disciples overcome their prejudice against Gentiles. Jesus recognized and publicly affirmed that her faith was great (cf. Matthew 15:28)!

Matthew 15:27 "crumbs" People often used bread to wipe their hands after eating.

Matthew 15:28 "O woman, your faith is great" Jesus complimented Gentiles several times (cf. Matthew 8:10). This was to: (1) show His love for Gentiles, or (2) stimulate the disciples'global world view.

"her daughter was healed at once" Notice that this lady did not require ritual magic or Jesus' physical presence (cf. Matthew 8:8-9). When He told her that her daughter was healed, she believed.

Verses 29-31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:29-31 29Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. 30And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. 31So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:30 "large crowds" These large crowds were made up of the curious, the committed, the religious leaders, and the sick.

"He healed them" This was a Messianic sign (cf. Matthew 11:5) which showed the heart of God.

Verses 32-38

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:32-38 32And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." 33The disciples said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?" 34And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." 35And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; 36and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 37And they all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. 38And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 15:33 "the disciples said" How could the disciples have forgotten the feeding of the 5,000 so quickly (cf. Matthew 14:13-21)? The difference in the number, setting, and type of baskets used show that there were two separate feedings of multitudes, not just one recorded twice.

Although Jesus' statements seemed to restrict His ministry to Jews, this feeding, like the healing of the Centurion's family in Matthew 8:0, healing of the Gentile woman's child in Matthew 15:21-28 and the summary statement of Matthew 15:29-30, all refer to Gentiles.

Verse 39

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 15:39 39And sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan.

Matthew 15:39 "the region of Magadan" This location is unknown. In the Markan parallel the text has "Dalmanatha" (Mark 8:10), but this site is also unknown. Some Greek manuscripts changed Magadan to Magdala which was a Semitic term for "tower."

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Matthew 15". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/matthew-15.html. 2021.
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