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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 15

 

 

Verse 1

Matthew 15:1. From Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes. Not ‘scribes and Pharisees,’ but representatives of the party of the Pharisees, including ‘scribes.’ Possibly a formal deputation from the Sanhedrin (‘from Jerusalem’. They came apparently with a definite and hostile purpose (comp. Mark 7:1), probably to aid the Galilean Pharisees, or, as is less likely, in consequence of the conduct of the disciples of our Lord at the recent Passover feast in Jerusalem. (See Matthew 15:2.)


Verses 1-20

Only Matthew and Mark narrate the events recorded in this chapter. The discourse at Capernaum (John 6:22-71), respecting the manna from heaven, followed the feeding of the five thousand. The Passover, which was nigh at hand (John 6:4), was not attended by our Lord (John 7:1). This chapter begins the story of the last year of our Lord’s ministry, which covers half the Gospel (chaps, 14-28.). The history of ‘the year of conflict’ begins with an account of a covert attack on our Lord. The Pharisees from Jerusalem (Mark 3:22) began their open opposition some time before (chap. Mark 13:24.). Then they expressed a blasphemously hostile opinion respecting the miracles of our Lord; now they remonstrate against the conduct of His disciples. The opposition now, though apparently less bitter, was really more dangerous. The interview with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-9) shows that it is characteristic of sticklers for the external customs and ceremonies of religion (Pharisees in all ages) to be intolerant about little and belittling questions, to be inconsistent, unrighteous (even according to their own standard), and hypocritical. This ever recurring mistake of making religion consist in ‘meat and drink,’ is further rebuked in the saying to the multitude (Matthew 15:10-11), while the offence taken by the Pharisees (Matthew 15:12) forms the basis of a declaration that Pharisaism is not of God’s planting and is to be destroyed, defeating itself (Matthew 15:13-14). The exposition of the ‘parable’ shows the nature of real defilement. Moral purity or impurity is from the heart, not from the food, still less from the observance or neglect of the ceremonial ‘washing’ of the hands before eating bread. On this point the Lord’s words (Matthew 15:16) are still applicable: ‘Even yet are ye also without understanding.’


Verse 2

Matthew 15:2. Why do thy disciples transgress? They had seen them thus ‘transgress,’ either at Jerusalem (Lange), or, as is more probable, in Galilee (comp. Mark 7:2). In reality a cautious and artful attack upon Christ Himself.

The tradition of the elders. Certain rules handed down by word of mouth from Moses and the fathers of the nation (comp. Galatians 1:14). ‘Elders’ refers to the authors, not the upholders, of these traditional customs. ‘The Jews attached greater value to tradition than even to the written law, appealing in support of it to Deuteronomy 4:14; Deuteronomy 17:10. More especially did they pay respect to the traditionary injunction of washing the hands before meals, to which it was thought Leviticus 15:11 referred’ (Meyer).

For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. Comp, the explanation in Mark 7:3-4. The washing referred to was not an act of cleanliness, but a ceremonial washing, performed with scrupulous care. ‘Rabbi Akiba, being imprisoned, and having water scarcely sufficient to sustain life given him, preferred dying of thirst to eating without washing his hands’ (Alford). The Pharisees assumed the authority of this tradition. Our Lord opposes, not the custom, but the principle they assumed. Notice the belittling influence of legalism.


Verse 3

Matthew 15:3. Why do ye also transgress? The neglect is acknowledged, but the tradition attacked.

For the take of your tradition, i.e., you break God’s law, in order that you may keep your (human) tradition. Comp. Mark 7:9. The direct command of God was set aside for tradition by those who claimed to be the strictest observers of the written law of God.


Verse 4

Matthew 15:4. For God said (comp. Mark 7:10), in the law of Moses. Our Lord assumes that God spoke through this law. The precepts cited are apt, since the Pharisees upheld tradition as delivered by the ‘fathers.’

He that revileth, etc. Exodus 21:17. Our Lord quotes, not the promise in the Decalogue, but the penalty given elsewhere. ‘Revileth,’ lit., ‘speaketh evil of,’ comp. Mark 9:39, which shows that ‘curseth’ is too strong a term.

Surely die. In the original Hebrew: ‘dying he shall die;’ in the original Greek of this passage: ‘let him end with death,’ both equivalent to: ‘he shall surely die; ‘this penalty is to be inflicted upon him.


Verse 5

Matthew 15:5. But ye say. God said one thing, ‘ye say’ another, and though you quote tradition, it has only your own authority.

It is a gift to God, all that, etc. ‘That from which thou mightest have been benefited by me, is an offering to God.’ The Rabbins taught that by saying ‘corban’ of his possessions (Mark 7:11), a man was absolved from the duty of caring for his parents, yet the brief expression was not considered sufficient to bind the party to devote his property to religious uses.


Verse 6

Matthew 15:6. He shall not honor his father. The best authorities omit, ‘and.’ ‘Ye say; whosoever shall say, etc., he shall not honor his father.’ The Pharisees directly deny the validity of the fifth commandment. There are two other views, both of them requiring the insertion of ‘and.’ One, that of the common version: ‘Whosoever shall say, etc., and (in consequence) honor not, he shall be free.’ The other makes the last clause the judgment of our Lord: ‘Ye say, whosoever shall say, etc., he is not bound, etc., and (I say that in consequence) he shall not honor his father.’ The parallel passage in Mark favors the last view; both views avoid the difficulty of putting so direct a denial in the mouth of the Pharisees; but the true reading and grammatical usage compel the adoption of the first view.—The words ‘or his mother’ are also to be omitted.

And ye have made void. Not merely transgressed, but rejected, the word of God. Some ancient authorities read ‘law,’ others ‘commandment,’ but ‘word’ is better sustained, and is more forcible.’ What God says is of itself a command, never to be rejected.

For the sake of your tradition (see Matthew 15:3). Modern Pharisaism does the same. Church tradition leads to dogmas which deny God’s direct commands. Its upholders persecute not only for infractions of their interpretations of God’s laws, but for disregard of precepts of their own making. Or at least, they constantly break Christ’s law of love, through zeal for external things about which Christ gave no express command.


Verse 7

Matthew 15:7. Ye hypocrites. This word had not quite so strong a sense then as now. It includes those self-deceived.

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you. (Isaiah 29:13.) ‘Well,’ i.e., aptly. Our Lord assumes that the prophecy properly referred to the Jewish people then, while He does not imply that this was its exclusive or even original application.


Verse 8

Matthew 15:8. This people, etc. The briefer form is now the established reading. Early copyists inserted the full form.

Their heart is far from me. In the Hebrew: ‘Their heart they have removed far from me.’ Applicable first to the contemporaries of Isaiah, but descriptive of the unbelieving Jews in all ages, and, as our Lord declares, peculiarly ‘apt ‘at that time.


Verse 9

Matthew 15:9. In vain. This phrase (only implied in the original passage in Isaiah) refers to the emptiness of such worship. It is both groundless (without true principle) and fruitless (without proper results). The Hebrew means literally: ‘their fearing of me has become a precept of men, a thing taught.’ A rebuke of religion, resting only on human authority, but as applied to the Pharisees in this case, showing that such religion becomes positively false, contrary to Goa’s commandments.—Alford: ‘The portion of Isaiah from which this citation is made (Isaiah 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.’


Verse 10

Matthew 15:10. Then he called to him the multitude. Without answering the question about ‘washing of hands,’ He turns to the people, as if to say, these hypocrites, though the zealous expounders of the law, cannot understand its real sense.


Verse 11

Matthew 15:11. Entereth. In this verse, and Matthew 15:17-19, a number of verbs of motion are used, the exact force of which we seek to preserve in the corrections of the common version.

Defileth the man, i.e., makes him common, impure or profane. The Mosaic law, by a variety of regulations, kept up the distinction between pure and impure, to teach the importance of moral purity. This purpose had been lost sight of, and the external regulation not only made the main matter, but extended and exalted, so that ceremonial impurity was considered worse than moral impurity. Our Lord opposes only this perversion of the Mosaic law. Lange: ‘What is here said concerning the going into and coming out of the mouth, applies to the whole series of Levitical and moral injunctions concerning purity. The statement was, in the first place, indeed intended as a justification of His disciples on the charge brought against them by the Pharisees. But the inference was obvious, that all these injunctions required to be fulfilled in a higher sense (although this did not imply that the Lord denied their validity as Levitical ordinances). As a matter of course, when the symbol would be completely fulfilled, its outward representation must fall to the ground.’ Pharisees in all ages have exalted the mere sign and symbol above the reality. Some people make their whole religion consist in not allowing certain meats and drinks to enter ‘into the mouth.’


Verse 12

Matthew 15:12. Then came the disciples. After He went into the house (Mark 7:17).

The Pharisees when they heard the saying, took offence. Probably the saying in Matthew 15:11, which seemed to be in opposition to the Levitical law. They were ready to take offence from the effect of the previous discourse (Matthew 15:3-9). The disciples, hearing their disparaging and hostile remarks in the crowd, warn their Master, as their opponents were important personages.


Verse 13

Matthew 15:13. Every plant. This refers to the teaching and traditions of the Pharisees, although the persons became identified with their false doctrine.

Which my heavenly father planted not. The Pharisees claimed Divine authority for their teaching; our Lord declares by implication that it was wholly human and as such should be rooted up, taken away and destroyed, to make room for a plant of His planting, the purer doctrine of the kingdom. It was a declaration of a purpose to oppose the Pharisees. To us it is a promise, with a terrible side indeed, but bidding us take courage when we see false and corrupt religion flourishing; it ‘shall be rooted up.’


Verse 14

Matthew 15:14. Let them alone. His disciples are not to begin an attack upon the Pharisees. Error, if let alone, defeats and destroys itself. Let it work out its self-destructive results!

They are blind guides. They profess to be teachers, but have themselves no spiritual sight. If then the blind guide the blind, those who follow such are of course blind also.

Beth shall fall into the pit, which lies in their path; from the nature of the case a pit of destruction. Here the effect on the persons is spoken oil Discussions and controversies are to be instituted by Christians with the sole purpose of saving men, the defeat of false doctrine being left to its own self-destructive tendency.

As Luke (Luke 6:39) in his report of the Sermon on the Mount, gives the same figure in a different connection, we may infer that it became proverbial in our Lord’s teachings. The general principle is obvious, but it admitted of various applications. Here it is used to enforce a lesson of patience; in Luke it is connected with instruction about harsh judgments.


Verse 15

Matthew 15:15. Peter. He again acts as the spokesman, hence ‘unto us.’

Declare, i.e., ‘expound’

The parable. That of Matthew 15:11 (comp. Mark 7:17). The declaration in Matthew 15:11, was a ‘hard saying ‘to those who were born Jews, and hence Peter might have called it a ‘parable,’ especially as our Lord had so often taught the deeper truths in that form. Or the disciples, with their Jewish education, might have thought: this saying to which the Pharisees so much object is not to be taken literally, it must be a parable. The censure of the next verse favors this explanation.


Verse 16

Matthew 15:16. Even yet. After all the instruction received.

Are ye also. As well as the multitude (Matthew 15:10).

Without understanding, literally ‘unintelligent.’


Verse 17

Matthew 15:17. Perceive ye not? The truth affirmed was one easy to be perceived by the spiritually minded

Into the draught, i.e., ‘drain, sink, or privy.’ The thought of the verse (especially when further explained by the words in Mark 7:19 : ‘because it entereth not into his heart,’) is that food affects the body not the heart, that the moral and spiritual state of man is not dependent on the food or drink he uses, much less on certain ceremonial observances in regard to these things. This verse indirectly opposes modern materialism.


Verse 18

Matthew 15:18. Expresses in another form the same thought, indicating plainly that the heart is unaffected by what goes into the mouth, while what comes out of the mouth indicates what is in the heart.


Verse 19

Matthew 15:19. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, i.e., reasonings, purposes, not mere notions. The criminality of acts proceeds from the purpose; for these acts man is responsible. The plural form indicates that these sins are common and notorious. Mark adds a number of others.


Verse 20

Matthew 15:20. These are the things which defile the man. Ceremonial impurity is insignificant compared with moral impurity. Yet Christians now are as slow to learn this as the disciples were.


Verse 21

Matthew 15:21. And Jesus withdrew. Partly in consequence of the hostility of the Pharisees; partly to seek retirement (Mark 7:24); He designed also, to signify, through the incident which was to follow, the future admission of the Gentiles into His kingdom.

Into the parts. Mark 7:24 : ‘borders.’ He may not have passed much beyond the frontier.

Tyre and Sidon. Phoenicia, here named from its chief cities, was north of upper Galilee, and inhabited by Gentiles. The Jewish world was closing against our Lord; the Gentile world was not yet open. He sought seclusion near the border line, but ‘He could not be hid’ (Mark 7:24). The heathen mother found Him: she was a type of the longing, suffering Gentile world.


Verse 22

Matthew 15:22. A Canaanitish woman. Her race, not her country, is thus noted. Mark, ‘a Greek,’ i.e., a heathen by religion, ‘a Syro-Phoenician by nation.’ The Phoenicians were the descendants of the remnant of the old Canaanites.

Came out. Probably from a distance.

Son of David. She knew and probably shared in the Messianic hopes of the Jews. At least she had heard of our Lord, and believed that He could help her. Her request; Have mercy on me, exhibits her faith, far more than the title she used.

Grievously possessed with a demon, lit, ‘badly demonized.’ Such possessions were therefore not confined to the Jews.


Verse 23

Matthew 15:23. But he answered her not a word. (Matthew 15:23-25, peculiar to Matthew.) By this unwonted silence our Lord would try her faith; and prove it to His disciples. They were Jews, and must learn to intercede for a heathen woman, before they could carry the gospel to the Gentiles.

Dismiss her. They did not mean: refuse her request (see Matthew 15:24).

For she crieth after us. Arousing public attention which they knew the Lord would avoid. Their language was not selfish, but a recognition of the woman’s importunate earnestness, perhaps of her faith.


Verse 24

Matthew 15:24. I was not sent, etc. His personal mission was only to the Jews, as their previous mission had been (chap. Matthew 10:5-6). The exceptions all pointed to the future spiritual significance of the phrase: house of Israel. This answer might suggest to the disciples: ‘Is not such a one really a daughter of the spiritual Israel, though a woman of Canaan.’ It was not a refusal, but a postponement, to educate her faith and -train the disciples for their world-wide mission.


Verse 25

Matthew 15:25. But she came. Perhaps into the house (Mark 7:24), but more probably to where He waited for her in the way. Her faith was more manifest, as the Lord gave her opportunity.

Lord. Reverential address.

Help me. A touch of nature in the mothers prayer! Maternal love remains even in heathenism; often leading to Christ.


Verse 26

Matthew 15:26. It is not meet. The reply is not harsh, nor is it a refusal (Mark: ‘Let the children first be fed’). It calls forth the woman’s faith, and convinces the disciples that it is ‘proper’ to bless this heathen woman.

To take (lit., ‘to take away’) the children’s bread. All present understood this as referring to the blessings provided for the Jews.

To the dogs, lit., ‘little dogs.’ A reference to the large savage dogs so common in the East, would be very contemptuous; household dogs are meant; a sense the woman skilfully used.


Verse 27

Matthew 15:27. Yea, Lord. She accepts the Lord’s word and makes an argument of it.

For even, not ‘yet,’ the dogs. Not as one of the children; but as a humble dependent, she asks only what falls to such: the crumbs. Possibly a reference to the pieces of bread on which, according to the ancient usage, the hands were wiped; but the usual sense is more natural. ‘She was, as it were, under the edge of the table, close on the confines of Israel’s feast’. (Alford.)—The woman had been earnest in gaining a hearing at all. Her answer shows a quickness of mind, approaching wit, humility also, joined with true wisdom; in her persevering faith she saw the mind of Christ even in the seemingly repulsive figure.


Verse 28

Matthew 15:28. Great is thy faith. The greatest faith had been shown by Gentiles (comp. chap. Matthew 8:10); and of this woman’s characteristics, ‘faith’ was not only the crown, but the source.

And her daughter was healed from that hour. Mark (Mark 7:30) describes her return home. As in the case of the Gentile centurion, the cure was performed at a distance. The intermediate link in both cases was strong faith combined with affection for the person healed. A hint is thus given in regard to intercessory prayer.


Verse 29

Matthew 15:29. Departed thence. (Mark 8:31 is fuller.) He probably made a circuit, passing southeastward, through the northern part of the Decapolis at the foot of the Lebanon range, reaching the mountainous (and solitary) district on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

And sat there. To obtain here the rest He had sought in ‘the parts of Tyre and Sidon.’


Verse 30

Matthew 15:30. Great multitudes. Even in this retired place He was not allowed to rest long. The crowds came having with them, i.e., bringing with them, a great variety of afflicted ones.

Dumb. Mark mentions one case in particular (Mark 7:32-35).

Maimed. The first mention of this class, i.e., those wounded or diseased in hand or foot; our word ‘maimed’ implies a loss of the member.

Cast them down. This may refer to the rudeness of these mountaineers, or to their haste, or to their confidence; probably the three explanations are to be combined.


Verse 31

Matthew 15:31. Wondered. Comp. Mark 7:37. The people had probably heard of, but never witnessed, His power.

The dumb speaking, etc. This is the form of the original.

They glorified the God of Israel. They were not heathen, but Jews. Yet living on the borders, they seem to have been affected by heathen nations, and half recognized other gods.


Verse 32

Matthew 15:32. And Jesus called unto him his disciples. Our Lord Himself takes the first step (comp. chap. Matthew 14:15). This case was more urgent; the crowd was not composed of those on the way to the Passover, and had been three days with Him.

Three days. The third day was passing; so they were hungry and destitute of provisions, but not yet in actual distress.

Faint in the way, i.e., because exhausted from the want of food on their way home in that mountainous region. The Lord’s compassion was called out by their physical want, which, however, resulted from their desire to be near Him.


Verses 32-38

Matthew 15:32-38. This miracle is not identical with that described in chap. Matthew 14:15-21. The circumstances vary in every possible respect: the number fed, the amount of provision present, the fragments gathered, even the kind of baskets used, a different word being found here, and also in the question of our Lord about the two miracles (chap. Matthew 16:9-10; Mark 8:19-20).


Verse 33

Matthew 15:33. Whence should we have so many loaves. The question may seem strange after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. But it was not so strange as their subsequent reasoning about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (chap. Matthew 16:6-12). Our own forgetfulness and unbelief should make us wonder less at the ‘little faith’ of the disciples. In the previous case the disciples emphasized the amount of bread needed (‘two hundred pennyworth’); in this, the fact that they are in a desert place.

Fill. The long fast called for plentiful provision. Comp. Mark 8:4, where the same word is translated ‘satisfy ‘in the common version.


Verse 34

Matthew 15:34. How many loaves have ye? In the other case a lad had the provisions; here the disciples themselves. The loaves were seven in this case, five in the other, the number of little fishes is not specified.


Verse 35

Matthew 15:35. And giving commandment. The correct reading joins this verse closely with Matthew 15:36. In the other case the disciples arranged the multitude (Luke 9:14; John 6:10).

On the ground, not ‘on the grass’ (chap. Matthew 14:19); they were ‘in a wilderness’(Matthew 15:33), a desolate region, in this case.


Verse 36-37

Matthew 15:36-37. The mode of distribution (and the miracle itself) was precisely the same.

That which remained of the broken pieces, seven baskets full. In the other case ‘twelve.’ The word rendered ‘baskets.’ is a different one (probably larger ones are meant), and the same difference is observed in Matthew 16:9-10.


Verse 38

Matthew 15:38. Four thousand, instead of ‘five thousand.’ In this case the material miracle seems not to have been so great, as respects the number fed and the fragments remaining. All these variations, which show no gradation between the miracles, and betray no special design, prove that the Evangelists give true accounts of two distinct miracles.


Verse 39

Matthew 15:39. Into the boat. Probably one awaiting Him.

Into the borders of Magadan, according to the best authorities. (‘Magdalan’ is also found.) Mark: ‘Into the parts of Dalmanutha.’ This was probably a village not far from Magadan. Our Lord, pursued by the hostility of the Jews and seeking retirement, landed at an obscure locality between the two places. The site of Magdala (Magadan), now called Madschel (‘Migdol,’ Joshua 19:38), is north of Tiberias and directly east of Cana, on the western shore of the lake, since the next voyage (chap. Matthew 16:5; Mark 8:13) was across the lake to the eastern side.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/matthew-15.html. 1879-90.

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