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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament
Matthew 15



Verse 1

From Jerusalem (απο Ιεροσολυμωνapo Ierosolumōn). 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.

Verse 2

The tradition of the elders (την παραδοσιν των πρεσβυτερωνtēn paradosin tōn presbuterōn). 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 (νιπτονταιniptontai 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.

Verse 3

Ye also (και μειςkai hūmeis). 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 μωνdia tēn paradosin hūmōn). The accusative with διαdia 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.

Verse 5

But ye say (μεις δε λεγετεhūmeis de legete). 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” (τανατωι τελευτατωthanatōi teleutatō), “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” (κορβανkorban) 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” (ΔωρονDōron) 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 τιμησειou mē timēsei 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?

Verse 6

Ye have made void the word of God (εκυρωσατε τον λογον του τεουekurōsate ton logon tou theou). It was a stinging indictment that laid bare the hollow pretence of their quibbles about handwashing. ΚυροςKuros means force or authority, ακυροςakuros is without authority, null and void. It is a late verb, ακυροωakuroō 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.

Verse 7

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you (καλως επροπητευσεν περι μων Εσαιαςkalōs eprophēteusen peri hūmōn Esaias). 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.

Verse 11

This defileth the man (τουτο κοινοι τον αντρωπονtouto koinoi ton anthrōpon). This word is from κοινοςkoinos which is used in two senses, either what is “common” to all and general like the Koiné 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 και συνιετεakouete kai suniete). 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.

Verse 12

Were offended (εσκανδαλιστησανeskandalisthēsan). 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 note on Matthew 5:29.

Verse 14

They are blind guides (τυπλοι εισιν οδηγοιtuphloi eisin hodēgoi). 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.

Verse 15

Declare unto us the parable (πρασον μιν την παραβοληνphrason hūmin tēn parabolēn). Explain the parable (pithy saying) in Matthew 15:11, not in 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 Matthew 15:11.

Verse 16

Are ye also even yet without understanding? (Ακμην και μεις ασυνετοι εστεAkmēn kai hūmeis asunetoi este). ΑκμηνAkmēn is an adverbial accusative (classic αιχμηaichmē point (of a weapon)=ακμην χρονουakmēn chronou at this point of time, just now=ετιeti 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).

Verse 17

Perceive ye not? (ου νοειτεou noeite). Christ expects us to make use of our νουςnous 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.

Verse 18

Out of the mouth (εκ του στοματοςek tou stomatos). Spoken words come out of the heart and so are a true index of character. By “heart” (καρδιαςkardias) Jesus means not just the emotional nature, but the entire man, the inward life of “evil thoughts” (διαλογισμοι πονηροιdialogismoi ponēroi) 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.

Verse 22

A Canaanitish woman (γυνη Χαναναιαgunē Chananaia). 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 μεeleēson me). She made her daughter‘s case her own, “badly demonized.”

Verse 23

For she crieth after us (οτι κραζει οπιστεν ημωνhoti krazei opisthen hēmōn). 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?

Verse 24

I was not sent (ουκ απεσταληνouk apestalēn). Second aorist passive indicative of αποστελλωapostellō 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.

Verse 27

Even the dogs (και τα κυναριαkai ta kunaria). 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 (κυναριαkunaria) and deftly turned it to her own advantage, for the little dogs eat of the crumbs (πσιχιωνpsichiōn little morsels, diminutive again) that fall from the table of their masters (κυριωνkuriōn), the children.

Verse 28

As thou wilt (ως τελειςhōs theleis). Her great faith and her keen rejoinder won her case.

Verse 29

And sat there (εκατητο εκειekathēto ekei). “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.

Verse 30

And they cast them down at his feet (και εριπσαν αυτους παρα τους ποδας αυτουkai eripsan autous para tous podas autou). 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.”

Verse 32

Three days (ημεραι τρειςhēmerai treis). A parenthetic nominative (Robertson, Grammar, p. 460).

What to eat (τι παγωσινti phagōsin). 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 (σπλαγχνιζομαιsplagchnizomai in both instances). So he is unwilling (ου τελωou thelō) to send them away hungry.

Faint (εκλυτωσινekluthōsin). Unloosed, (εκλυωekluō) exhausted.

Verse 33

And the disciples say to him (και λεγουσιν αυτωι οι ματηταιkai legousin autōi hoi mathētai). 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 (ΤραχονιτιςTrachonitis).

Verse 34

A few small fishes (ολιγα ιχτυδιαoliga ichthudia diminutive again).

Verse 35

On the ground (επι την γηνepi tēn gēn). No mention of “grass” as in Matthew 14:19 for this time, midsummer, the grass would be parched and gone.

Verse 36

Gave thanks (ευχαριστησαςeucharistēsas). In Matthew 14:19 the word used for “grace” or “blessing” is ευλογησενeulogēsen 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.

Verse 39

The borders of Magadan (εις τα ορια Μαγαδανeis ta horia Magadan). 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.


Copyright Statement
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)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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