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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 15

 

 


Verse 1

1. Then came — Our Lord was probably at Capernaum. Were of Jerusalem — And probably from Jerusalem. Saying — They seem to have come with a quarrel in their mouths.


Verses 1-20

§ 66. — DEBATE WITH THE PHARISEES IN REGARD TO TRADITIONS, Matthew 15:1-20.

The scenes of love and faith closing the last chapter are now suddenly reversed. The third passover of our Lord’s ministry to which these vast multitudes were travelling, had now passed, but which, on account of the hostile dispositions of the ruling powers, he did not attend, but remained in the northern parts of Galilee. The Jews, not finding our Lord at the passover, seem to have sent a portion of their number to Capernaum to open a debate with him. They commenced it with a challenge in regard to the disrespect of his disciples toward the traditions of the elders, in not washing their hands before they ate. Our Lord firmly meets them by showing that their traditions both contradicted the law of God, and are founded upon a false and superstitious morality.


Verse 2

2. Tradition of the elders — That is, of the ancient commentators, the teachers of the Mosaic law. The written law of Moses is contained in the Old Testament. But besides, the Jews had oral law, which they pretended was handed down from Moses by verbal tradition. At the time of our Saviour this was not reduced to writing. But it was afterward compiled in The Talmud, now extant; of which the two parts are called the Mishna, or Text, and the Gemara, or Commentary.

Extravagant were the praises lavished by the Pharisees upon these Traditions. “The written word is water, said they; but the interpretation, and that which is added to it, is wine.” “If the scribes say the right is left, hear them.” Thus the foundations of morality were undermined. Wash not their hands — The Pharisees select for debate a point with which morality has very little to do, and the law of God nothing. But the washings here mentioned were very positively insisted upon by the Jewish doctors. The Talmud says: “He who eats bread with unwashen hands is as bad as if he were to commit fornication.” The Rabbi Akiba was once imprisoned, and only water sufficient to drink allowed him. But he chose rather to die of thirst than to eat anything with unwashen hands. How enormous, then, to their view, must have been this crime of our Lord’s disciples! They wash not their hands! They had better break any command in the decalogue. And though the Jews open this quarrel with the disciples, it is plain they intend a blow at the Master himself. A subject for a decisive issue is now laid open.


Verse 3

3. He answered and said — Jesus knows that a challenge is intended, but he does not shun to meet it. They come armed with the traditions of the elders; he meets them with the law of Jehovah. It is man’s authority opposed by the authority of God. Commandment of God — When God speaks, let man keep silence.


Verse 4

4. God commanded — There are some who deny the authority of the Old Testament, yet admit the New. Our Saviour here sets his seal to the divine mission of Moses, and declares that the decalogue is God’s law. Honour thy father — Our Saviour selects the precept where the law coincides with the plainest dictate of nature, and with the universal conscience and customs of mankind.


Verse 5

5. A gift — That is, a corban, or thing consecrated to God. If a thing were consecrated to God, that, by Jewish tradition, rendered it exempt from every other claim; even from the duty of supporting one’s parents. A form of this kind of vowing was: “Let what I may gain be devoted, so that my father, even, may eat nothing of it.” Thou — Our Lord gives the words as if addressed to the parents. The Jews held that if the child should say this thing even in a moment of anger, it was still binding. And Lightfoot is quoted by Alford as showing that the mere utterance of the word corban absolved the utterer, even though he made no consecration of his property.

The meaning of the address to the parent here given by our Lord, may be thus rendered: “My parent, that property of mine by which thou mightest be supported or benefitted, is a gift consecrated to God; thou canst therefore have no share of it.”


Verse 6

6. He shall be free — These words, let it be observed, are printed in italics. This means that they are not in the original Greek, but are inserted by the English translators on their own authority, in order to make sense. But it may be doubted whether they are properly inserted here. The whole sentence preceding this phrase may be thus rendered: “Whosoever shall say… It is a gift, etc., he may not honour his father or his mother.”

It is plain our Lord here holds that the fifth commandment requires of the child the duty, when needed, of providing a necessary support for the parent in his age. So the Jewish writer Philo says: “What the children have belongs to the parents.” So Solomon had declared before our Saviour.

Proverbs 28:24 : “Whoso robbeth or withdraweth from father or mother, is the companion of the destroyer.” When we think how liable the Jewish child might be in a fit of anger to utter this corban or vow to starve his parent, it can be realized how likely the custom was to destroy the dutiful conduct of children to the parent. And yet these men thought it a terrible offence to God to eat without washing the hands! This reminds one of the strictness with which Romish priests compel their followers to eat no meat on Friday, but indulge them with comparative ease in thefts, falsehoods, or intemperance. Indeed, the Romish trust in tradition, derived from the fathers of the dark and ignorant ages, in depreciation of the Scriptures, is precisely the same crime over again that was committed by the Jewish doctors of our Lord’s day.


Verse 7

7. Ye hypocrites — For fabricating a religion without morality. Prophesy of you — Isaiah, by inspiration, describing such characters as yours beforehand. The class and the race are indeed foreseen by God as recurring, and are so predescribed once for all.


Verse 8

8. Lips… heart — With their lips they utter the pious corban or consecration. With their hearts they mean to break the decalogue, and rob a parent.


Verse 9

9. In vain they do worship me — Their very prayers offered in that spirit are a mockery and abomination to God.


Verse 10

10. Called the multitude — The Pharisees, who had come all the way from Jerusalem to open the debate in such fierce style, now sink into the background, and the Lord turns to the people.


Verse 11

11. Not that which goeth into the mouth… cometh out — That is, not the material food that enters the man’s stomach. This is set in contrast to that which goeth out of man; that is, the moral action, that goeth forth from the man’s will and intention. A man’s intentional words defile the soul. And so do his actions, and even his thoughts, for they all alike go forth from himself.

Intemperance in food or drink may indeed morally defile a man. But even here the defilement proceeds not from the material contact received, but from the forthgoing will and act by which those foods are taken. Indeed, the whole force of our Lord’s maxim is, that not physical touch but moral action makes a man truly impure before God.


Verse 12

12. Then came his disciples — Both the doctors and the multitude are now gone, and the talk is with the disciples. Knowest thou — The disciples meantime have been where they had chance to learn that the Pharisees were offended. They have been perhaps talking with the Pharisees themselves. They will bring intelligence of it to their Master. How liable the disciples’ minds were to be influenced by converse with Christ’s opposers!

Pharisees were offended — Very likely; they came to beat, not to be beaten. They were going to strike the disciples, and thereby hit their Lord with the traditions of the elders. Our Lord beat them down with a piece of the decalogue. This saying — Both the saying to the Pharisees and its explanation to the multitude.


Verse 13

13. Every plant — Every doctrine. These traditions are a plant not planted by God, but by men, and they will be rooted up. Tradition can never stand as God’s word, much less against God’s word.


Verse 14

14. Let them alone — Leave them to their own inveterate folly. Their will is determined, and their purpose is fixed to ignore the truth and to deceive the people. Blind lead… fall into the ditch — A proverbial expression. Both seducer and seduced shall perish.


Verse 15

15. Declare — Explain or make clear. Parable — Or simile, by which the nature of moral impurity is illustrated.


Verse 16

16. Are ye — My own disciples. Also — That is, as well as the Pharisees. Yet — After all my example and instruction. Without understanding — Of the difference between physical uncleanness and moral defilement. The disciples have plainly been permitted by our Lord to neglect these washings. They have been doubtless many a time told that washing the body does not wash the soul. Still, when the precept in its avowed power is brought into direct collision with the doctrines of the teachers, they become a little confused, and need to have it stated outright and in full terms by the Master.


Verse 17

17. Entereth in… mouth… draught — The food passes the stomach and goes to the draught or privy without touching the soul to defile it.


Verse 18

18. Proceed out of the mouth — Our words particularly. From the heart — They proceed from the inward intention. Thereby not merely our words but our actions, and all that go from the heart, are included. A man is a voluntary cause, and is responsible for all his voluntary and intentional effects.


Verse 19

19. Out of the heart — The fountain of the moral intention and the moral action. Sinful action flows forth from a sinful nature. There lies back of the bad action a permanent badness of the disposition. The heart is therefore depraved. Evil thoughts — The word thoughts here refers to these internal reasonings and weighing for and against yielding to sin which precede its commission. The heart parleys with crime and fluctuates before it gives forth the act. Hence the phrase evil thoughts designates the springs from which proceed the whole catalogue of sins enumerated in the verse. This catalogue follows nearly the order of the second table of the decalogue, beginning with the sixth commandment. False witness — This phrase includes false testimony, or lying of every kind. Blasphemies — Injurious expressions against God or man.


Verse 20

20. These are the things — Not all the things, but plentiful specimens of them. There is a strong analogy between physical and moral defilement, which forms the basis of much of the emblems and types of the Scripture system. But it is the pushing this analogy to a superstitious extent which produced the tradition about unwashen hands which our Lord here so forcibly condemns.


Verse 21

§ 67. — HEALING OF THE SYROPHENICIAN WOMAN’S DAUGHTER — OTHER MIRACLES, Matthew 15:21-32.

21. Then Jesus went thence — So aggravated was the previous hostility of the Pharisees toward our Lord in consequence of his refutation just given, that he seems to have left Capernaum on account of their machinations. He was also at this time, since the death of John the Baptist, an object of notice by Herod Antipas. Unsafe, therefore, from the ruling powers of both Judea and Galilee, we suddenly find him on the margin of the Mediterranean. See note on Matthew 14:13. Tyre and Sidon — Lying upon the Mediterranean Sea, in the northwestern part of Judea.

Mark says that Jesus “entered into an house and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. For a certain woman,” etc. Yet it seems by Matthew’s account that Jesus and his disciples were out of doors, on their way. The for, therefore, of Mark only qualifies the last clause, and introduces an instance or illustration of the fact that Jesus could not maintain his concealment.


Verse 22

22. A woman of Canaan — She was a Gentile, but she had heard of and seems to have believed in the Jewish Messiah. She is called by Mark a Greek, that is, a heathen by religion, and also a Syrophenician by birth. Phenicia was the Greek name of that strip of country inhabited by the ancient Canaanites, lying between the Lebanon range and the Mediterranean. That part of it which was included in the Roman province of Syria was called Syrophenicia. Coasts — Territories. Thou Son of David — She calls him by his Jewish name and pedigree. She does this to gain his attention and good-will. At the same time it shows that she had become acquainted with Jewish ideas and probably believed in them. Daughter… devil — Horrible misfortune! disease and insanity are terrible; but what must be the mother’s feelings to find her child struggling under a demon’s grasp? No wonder that when she hears that a man possessing divine power to relieve approaches, she comes to him and with all the energy of desperate prayer pursues him with her outcries.


Verse 23

23. He answered her not a word — The order of his mission is limited to the house of Israel. There is indeed misery in plenty in heathendom; and though for them he will make atonement before he returns to his Father, yet his miracles and his preaching belong to Israel. Not a word — He said no unkind word. He did not repel her. He simply kept upon his way to pass her, as he must the great mass of the world lying in sin and misery. Send her away — They mean (though they are very careless in saying it) that he shall dismiss her by performing her request. But they would have our Lord merciful to her in order to get rid of her.

Crieth after us — Here in this foreign land, this woman is making us ridiculous by screaming at our heels! Besides, the disciples know that the very reason of being in that remote locality is to escape dangerous notoriety. Alas! how do men despise the excitement with which they do not sympathize! Many cannot endure the excitement of prayer, who are fond of the excitement of carousal.


Verse 24

24. He answered — To the disciples. The fact that our Lord gives this reason to the disciples shows that he is assigning the true cause of his actions. It is not, as some think, to draw out the woman’s faith, that he declines to hear her prayer; but because his immediate mission is not to Gentile, but to Jew. Sent — All his actions are under the control of Him from whom he has received his commission; and the tenor of that commission limits him to Israel. Lost sheep — Such is the character of which the whole house of Israel consists. They are all lost sheep, and to them is he sent.


Verse 25

25. Then came she — During the conversation with the disciples, our Lord seems to have stopped his walk a moment; and the woman, who was before running behind him, improves the opportunity to place herself before him, and flinging herself at his feet pants forth this desperate ejaculation: “Lord, help me.” “O dismiss these cold thoughts about thy mission; think of my misery; and have mercy, not so much on my daughter, as upon me in saving her.”


Verse 26

26. It is not meet — Not fitting. It is not in the order which God has established. Children’s bread… dogs — The original is little dogs; so that with the contempt, there is a tenderness in the epithet. Yet our Lord begins to recognize in her a Gentile that may prove an Israelite indeed if fully tested. He therefore puts her in a most humble place, to see if she has an humble, though a Gentile heart.


Verse 27

27. Truth, Lord — Desperation almost makes the woman witty. To take your opponent’s words and give them a turn against him is always a dexterous mode of mastering him. The woman admits the dismissing epithet, and proves that it entitles her to his mercy. “Dog is it I am? And the Jews my masters? Then, at least, let me have the crumb that mercy does not deny to the very dog.”


Verse 28

28. O woman — The Lord breaks forth in exclamation! He chooses to find himself overcome. Her faith takes her out as an exception to the whole Gentile world. She shall be as an Israelite. The very letter of her prayer shall be fulfilled. Mark says that when she returned home “she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.” Faith — Her faith is not only peculiar in its greatness, but peculiar in this, that it obtains a blessing not for herself but for another. Or, to express it more truly, she obtains her blessing for herself upon another. It is a case of successful intercession. For her sake and through her fervent effectual prayer did the blessing light upon her offspring. And so a blessed thing it may be to be the child of the praying parent. And encouraged may every praying parent be to persevere in fervent prayer, for even the most hopeless case of sin or suffering of a child.


Verse 29

29. Departed… thence… unto the sea of Galilee — From the northwest to the northeastern part of Galilee. The probable reason of these sudden movements is given in note on Matthew 15:21. Our Lord seems to pass by Capernaum without a visit, as he had lately abruptly left there after the altercation with the Pharisees who came from Jerusalem to assault him. Went up into a mountain — A mountain range on the east side of Lake Gennesaret: It was in the dominions of Herod Philip. See note on Matthew 14:13. Sat down there — He seated himself like a rabbi to teach on the slope of the mountain.


Verse 30

30. Great multitudes — This was a region which he had before visited, and the people are all alive to avail themselves, even from great distances, of his power of healing. Maimed — Whose limbs were deformed from misfortunes at birth. Cast them down — Expressive of the humility of their submission.


Verse 31

31. Glorified the God of Israel — The same God who had performed such wonders for ancient Israel in the days of the Old Testament. They were feeling as if the days of wonders from his hand were now returning.


Verse 32

32. Compassion on the multitude — Some faith had they shown in attending his word and works. The tenderness of our Lord suggests all the pitiableness of their case. What they would have thought of had they framed a prayer for succour, he has thought of before them. So does our merciful Lord know what we need before we ask him; and we have need to ask him only in order to make ourselves in the right position to receive the spiritual blessings he would confer.


Verse 33

33. Whence should we have… bread — The wavering reply of the apostles evinces a recollection of the former miracle. They have not indeed the boldness to call for a miracle, as his mother Mary did at the wedding of Cana; and mother though she was, she received a check from her son and Lord. They do not say, If we are to feed this multitude your miraculous power must meet the expense. They only put a modest but suggestive Whence? Their eyes then watch every movement, we may suppose, of his lip and hand.


Verses 33-39

§ 69. — THE MIRACLE OF FEEDING THE FOUR THOUSAND, Matthew 15:33-39.

Skeptical critics have maintained that this narrative is a traditional repetition, by mistake, of the miracle of feeding the five thousand. That there was no oversight, however, on the part of the author of this Gospel is plain from Matthew 16:9-10, where both accounts are alluded to in connection. But there is a minute but convincing argument for the genuineness of the two accounts thus given by Mr. Alford: “It is, that whereas the baskets in which the fragments were collected on the other occasion are called by all four evangelists κοφινοι, cophini, those used for that purpose after this miracle are, in both Matthew and Mark, σπυριδες, spurides. 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.”

But besides the differences in detail, such as the different number of the fed, and of the loaves and fishes, there are differences important in character. The first miraculous feeding was performed for the inhabitants who followed Jesus, and anticipated his debarkation from the western side of the lake. They meet Jesus in intense excitement at the shore, and the miracle takes place upon the plain of Butaiha, near the village of Bethsaida.

This second feeding takes place when Jesus is secreting himself from Herod Antipas. He rapidly and quietly passes to the coast northeast of the lake, out of the dominion of Herod; and it is in the country, probably, of the Decapolis that the miracle takes place. It is probably the multitudes from the eastern side who are sharers of the product of this miracle. And we cannot help thinking that there is some truth in the ancient opinion that they were mostly Gentiles; and thus an intimation is given that since the Jews have had their banquet at the table of God, the Gentiles too shall have a share. After the former miracle, the Lord sends forward his disciples by ship at night, and overtakes them before morning dawn by walking upon the sea. After the present miracle our Lord leaves the multitudes in their own regions, and departs to Magdala.


Verse 34

34. How many loaves…? — What is your present stock? God has in his ordinary providence furnished thus much; and these shall be a germ or basis for a special supply of enough for all. So God has given man the natural powers of reason and conscience, which serve as a basis for his gracious super-additions.

Twice, then, in the same general region of country, and under the same general necessity, did the Saviour supply “bread in the wilderness” to the needy multitudes who, far from their homes, stayed to listen to his word. This multitude thought not of making him a king; and he quietly departs with his disciples, crossing the Gennesaret.


Verse 39

39. Magdala — At present a poor village on the western side of the lake, a little north of Tiberias. Tracing his own course northward along the lake shore, Dr. Olin says: “We left Tiberias a few minutes before twelve o’clock. After one hour and twenty minutes a plain opened before us, extending several miles to the north and west. A miserable looking village of thirty or forty huts stands in the entrance; and we stopped to make some inquiries of the pale, sickly-looking inhabitants. This poor village, however, possesses a special historical interest. The people of whom we inquired its name called it Mejdal; and it is evident from the name, as well as from its position here, that it is the Magdala of the New Testament, and the Migdol of the Old.”

It was the place from which Mary Magdalene received her appellation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-15.html. 1874-1909.

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