Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
See also Mar 7:1-9.
Then came to Jesus ... - Mark says that they saw the disciples of Jesus eating with unwashed hands.
Transgress the tradition of the elders - The world "elders" literally means "old men." Here it means the "ancients," or their "ancestors." The "tradition of the elders" meant something handed down from one to another by memory; some precept or custom not commanded in the written law, but which scribes and Pharisees held themselves bound to observe.
They supposed that when Moses was on Mount Sinai two sets of laws were delivered to him: one, they said, was recorded, and is that contained in the Old Testament; the other was handed down from father to son, and kept uncorrupted to their day. They believed that Moses, before he died, delivered this law to Joshua; he to the Judges; they to the prophets; so that it was kept pure until it was recorded in the Talmuds. In these books these pretended laws are now contained. They are exceedingly numerous and very trifling. They are, however, regarded by the Jews as more important than either Moses or the prophets.
One point in which the Pharisees differed from the Sadducees was in holding to these traditions. It seems, however, that in the particular traditions mentioned here, all the Jews were united; for Mark adds Mar 7:3 that "the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders." Mark has also added that this custom of washing extended not merely to their hands before eating, but in coming from the market; and also to cups, and pots, and brass vessels, and tables, Mar 7:3-4. They did this professedly for the sake of cleanliness. So far it was well. But they also made it a matter of superstition. They regarded external purity as of much more importance than the purity of the heart. They had many foolish rules about it respecting the quantity of water that was to be used, the way in which it should be applied, the number of times it should be changed, the number of those that might wash at a time, etc. Our Saviour did not think it proper to regard these rules, and this was the reason why they "found fault" with him.
But he answered ... - They accused him of violating their traditions, as though they were obligatory.
In his answer he implied that his disciples were not bound to obey their traditions - they were invented by human beings. He said, also, that those traditions could not be binding, as they violated the commandments of God. He proceeded to specify a case in which their tradition made void one of the plain laws of God; and if that was their character, then they could not blame him for not regarding them.
For God commanded ... - That is, in the fifth commandment Exo 20:12, and in Exo 21:17. To "honor" is to obey, to reverence, to speak kindly to, to speak and think well of. To "curse" is to disobey, to treat with irreverence, to swear at, to speak ill of, to think evil of in the heart, to meditate or do any evil to a parent. All this is included in the original word.
Let him die the death - This is a Hebrew phrase, the same as saying, "let him surely die." The Jewish law punished this crime with death. This duty of honoring and obeying a parent was what Christ said they had violated by their traditions. He proceeds to state the way in which it was done.
It is a gift - In Mark it is "corban." The word "corban" is a Hebrew word denoting a gift.
Here it means a thing dedicated to the service of God, and therefore not to be appropriated to any other use. The Jews were in the habit of making such dedications. They devoted their property to God for sacred uses, as they pleased. In doing this they used the word קרבן qaarbaan or κορβᾶν korban, or some similar word, saying, this thing is "corban," i. e., it is a gift to God, or is sacred to him. The law required that when a dedication of this kind was made it should be fulfilled. "Vow and pay unto the Lord your God," Psa 76:11. See Deu 23:21. The law of God required that a son should honor his parent; i. e., among other things, that he should provide for his needs when he was old and in distress. Yet the Jewish teachers said that it was more important for a man to dedicate his property to God than to provide for the needs of his parent.
If he had once devoted his property once said it was "corban," or a gift to God - it could not be appropriated even to the support of a parent. If a parent was needy and poor, and if he should apply to a son for assistance, and the son should reply, though in anger, "It is devoted to God; this property which you need, and by which you might be profited by me, is "corban" - I have given it to God;" the Jews said the property could not be recalled, and the son was not under obligation to aid a parent with it. He had done a more important thing in giving it to God. The son was free. He could not be required to do anything for his father after that. Thus, he might, in a moment, free himself from the obligation to obey his father or mother. In a sense somewhat similar to this, the chiefs and priests of the Sandwich Islands had the power of devoting anything to the service of the gods by saying that it was "taboo," or "tabooed;" that is, it became consecrated to the service of religion; and, no matter who had been the owner, it could then be appropriated for no other use. In this way they had complete power over all the possessions of the people, and could appropriate them for their own use under the pretence of devoting them to religion. Thus, they deprived the people of their property under the plea that it was consecrated to the gods. The Jewish son deprived his parents of a support under the plea that the property was devoted to the service of religion. The principle was the same, and both systems were equally a violation of the rights of others.
Besides, the law said that a man should die who cursed his father, i. e., that refused to obey him, or to provide for him, or spoke in anger to him. Yet the Jews said that, though in anger, and in real spite and hatred, a son said to his father, "All that I have which could profit you I have given to God," he should be free from blame. Thus, the whole law was made void, or of no use, by what appeared to have the appearance of piety. "No man, according to their views, was bound to obey the fifth commandment and support an aged and needy parent, if, either from superstition or spite, he chose to give his property to God, that is, to devote it to some religious use."
Our Saviour did not mean to condemn the practice of giving to God, or to religious and charitable objects. The law and the gospel equally required this. Jesus commended even a poor widow that gave all her living, Mar 12:44, but he condemned the practice of giving to God where it interfered with our duty to parents and relations; where it was done to get rid of the duty of aiding them; and where it was done out of a malignant and rebellious spirit, with the semblance of piety, to get clear of doing to earthly parents what God required.
Ye hypocrites! - See the notes at Mat 7:5. Hypocrisy is the concealment of some base principle under the pretence of religion. Never was there a clearer instance of it than this an attempt to get rid of the duty of providing for needy parents under an appearance of piety toward God.
Esaias - That is, Isaiah. This prophecy is found in Isa 29:13.
Prophesy of you - That is, he spoke of the people of his day of the Jews, as Jews - in terms that apply to the whole people. He properly characterized the nation in calling them hypocrites. The words are applicable to the nation at all times, and they apply, therefore, to you. He did not mean particularly to speak of the nation in the time of Christ, but he spoke of them as having a national character of hypocrisy. Compare the notes at Mat 1:22-23.
Draweth nigh unto me with their mouth ... - That is, they are regular in the forms of worship; they are strict in ceremonial observances, and keep the law outwardly; but God requires the heart, and that they have not rendered.
In vain do they worship me - That is, their attempts to worship are "vain," or are not real worship - they are mere "forms."
Teaching for doctrines ... - The word "doctrines," here, means the requirements of religion - things to be believed and practiced in religion.
God only has a right to declare what shall be done in his service; but they held their traditions to be superior to the written word of God, and taught them as doctrines binding the conscience. See the notes at Isa 29:13.
See also Mar 7:15-17.
And he called the multitude - In opposition to the doctrines of the Pharisees, the Saviour took occasion to show them that the great source of pollution was the heart. They supposed that external things chiefly defiled a man. On this all their doctrines about purification were founded. This opinion of the Jews it was of great importance to correct. The Saviour took occasion, therefore, to direct the people to the true source of defilement - their own hearts. He particularly directed them to it as of importance - "Hear and understand."
Not that which goeth into the mouth ... - The disciples were charged with being sinners for transgressing the tradition of the elders in eating with unwashed hands.
Christ replies that what they should eat could not render them sinners. The man, the moral agent, the soul, could not be polluted by anything that was eaten. What proceeds from the man himself, from his heart, would defile him.
Defileth - Pollutes, corrupts, or renders sinful.
The Pharisees were offended - They were so zealous of their traditions that they could not endure that their absurdities should be exposed.
Every plant ... - Religious doctrine is not inaptly compared to a plant. See Co1 3:6-8. It is planted in the mind for the purpose of producing fruit in the life, or right conduct. Jesus here says that all those doctrines of which his Father was not the author must be rooted up or corrected. The false doctrines of the Pharisees, therefore, must be attacked, and it was no wonder if they were indignant. It could not be helped. It was his duty to attack them. He was not surprised that they were enraged; but, notwithstanding their opposition, their doctrine should be destroyed.
Let them alone - That is, do not be troubled at their rage.
Be not anxious about it. This result is to be expected. They are greatly attached to their traditions, and you are not to wonder that they are indignant. They lead, also, the blind. They have a vast influence over the multitude, and it is to be expected that they will be enraged at any doctrines that go to lessen their authority or influence. By commanding them "to let them alone," Christ does not mean that they were to be suffered to remain in error without any attempt to refute or correct them, for this he was doing then; but he meant to charge his disciples not to mind them or to regard their opposition - it was to be expected.
If the blind lead the blind ... - This was a plain proposition. A blind man, attempting to conduct blind men, would fall into every ditch that was in the way. So with religious teachers. If these Pharisees, themselves ignorant and blind, should be suffered to lead the ignorant multitude, both would be destroyed. This was another reason for confuting their errors, or for rooting up the plants which God had not planted. He wished, by doing it, to save the deluded multitude.
God often suffers one man to lead many to ruin. A rich and profligate man, an infidel, a man of learning, a politician, or a teacher, is allowed to sweep multitudes to ruin. This is not unjust, for those who are led are not compelled to follow such people. They are free in choosing such leaders, and they are answerable for being led to ruin.
See also Mar 7:17-23.
Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable - See the notes at Mat 13:3. The word "parable" sometimes means a dark or obscure saying, Psa 78:2. Peter meant, "Explain to us more fully this obscure and novel doctrine." To us, now, it is plain; to the disciples, just coming out of Judaism, the doctrine of Jesus was obscure. Mark says that the disciples asked him. There is no contradiction. The question was put by Peter in the name of the disciples; or several of them put the question, though Matthew has mentioned only one. An omission is not a contradiction.
Are ye also yet without understanding? - Jesus appeals, in explaining this, to their common sense; and he wonders that they had not yet learned to judge the foolish traditions of the Jews by the decisions of common sense and by his own instructions.
Do ye not understand ... - The meaning of this may be thus expressed: The food which is eaten does not affect the mind, and therefore cannot pollute it.
The doctrine of the Pharisees, that neglect of washing and of similar observances defiles a man, cannot be true. Those things pertain to the body as much as food does, and they cannot affect the soul. That must be purified by something else than external washing, and it is polluted by other things than a neglect of mere outward ceremonies. The seat of corruption is within - it is the heart itself; and if people would be made pure, this must be cleansed. If that is corrupt, the whole man is corrupt.
Christ proceeds to state what does defile the man, or render him a sinner:
1. "Evil thoughts" These are the first things - these are the fountains of all others. Thought precedes action. Thought, or purpose, or motive, gives its character to conduct. All evil thoughts are here intended. Though we labor to suppress them, yet they defile us. They leave pollution behind them.
2. "Murders." Taking the life of others with malice. The malice has its seat in the heart, and the murder therefore proceeds from the heart, Jo1 3:15.
3. "Adulteries, fornication." See Mat 5:28.
4. "Thefts." Theft is the taking and carrying away the goods of others without their knowledge or consent. Thefts are caused by coveting the property of others. They proceed, therefore, from the heart, and violate at the same time two commandments - the tenth commandment in thought and the eighth commandment in act.
5. "False witness." Giving wrong testimony. Concealing the truth, or stating what we know to be false - a violation of the ninth commandment. It proceeds from a desire to injure others, to take away their character or property, or to do them injustice. It proceeds thus from the heart.
6. "Blasphemies." See the notes at Mat 9:3. Blasphemy proceeds from opposition to God, hatred of his character Rom 8:7, and from a desire that there should be no God. It proceeds from the heart. See Psa 14:1. Mark adds several things to those enumerated by Matthew:
(a) "Covetousness." The unlawful desire of what others possess, this always proceeds from the heart.
(b) "Wickedness." The original here means malice, or a desire of injuring others, Rom 1:29.
(c) "Deceit," i. e., fraud, concealment, cheating in trade. This proceeds from a desire to benefit ourselves by doing injustice to others, and this proceeds from the heart.
(d) Lasciviousness. Lust, obscenity, unbridled passion - a strong, evil desire of the heart.
(e) "An evil eye." That is, an eye that is sour, malignant, proud; or an eye of lust and passion. See Mat 5:28; Mat 20:15; Pe2 2:14, "Having eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin."
(f) "Pride." An improper estimate of our own importance; thinking that we are of much more consequence than we really are. This is always the work of an evil heart.
(g) "Foolishness." Not a lack of intellect - man is not to blame for that - but a moral folly, consisting in choosing evil ends and the bad means of gaining them; or, in other words, sin and wickedness. All sin is folly. It is foolish for a man to disobey God, and foolish for anyone to go to hell.
These are the things which defile a man - These are the true sources of pollution in man.
These are what corrupt and degrade. It is not the neglect of washing the body which defiles; it is the deep, inward corruption of the heart. And what a fountain of pollution is the human soul! What an array of crimes to proceed from the heart of man! What a proof of guilt! What strictness is there in the law of God! How universal is depravity!
This narrative is also found in Mar 7:24-30.
The coasts of Tyre and Sidon - These cities were on the seacoast or shore of the Mediterranean. See the notes at Mat 11:21. Jesus went there for the purpose of concealment Mar 7:24, perhaps still to avoid Herod.
A woman of Canaan - This woman is called, also, a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, Mar 7:26
In ancient times, the whole land, including Tyre and Sidon, was in the possession of the Canaanites, and called Canaan. The Phoenicians were descended from the Canaanites. The country, including Tyre and Sidon, was called Phoenicia, or Syro-Phoenicia. That country was taken by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and those cities, in the time of Christ, were Greek cities. This woman was therefore a Gentile, living under the Greek government, and probably speaking the Greek language. She was by birth a Syro-Phoenician, born in that country, and descended, therefore, from the ancient Canaanites. All these names might, with propriety, be given to her.
Coasts - Regions or countries.
Thou son of David - Descendant of David. See the notes at Mat 1:1. The phrase here means the Messiah.
Is grievously vexed with a devil - See the notes at Mat 4:24. The woman showed great earnestness. She cried unto him, and fell at his feet, Mar 7:25.
But he answered her not a word - This was done to test her faith, and that there might be exhibited to the apostles an example of the effect of persevering supplication.
The result shows that it was not unwillingness to aid her, or neglect of her. It was proper that the strength of her faith should be fully tried.
But he answered and said, I am not sent ... - This answer was made to the woman, not to the disciples.
The "lost sheep of the house of Israel" were the Jews. He came first to them. He came as their expected Messiah. He came to preach the gospel himself to the Jews only. Afterward it was preached to the Gentiles, but the ministry of Jesus was confined almost entirely to the Jews.
She came and worshipped - That is, bowed down to him or did him reverence.
See the notes at Mat 8:2.
Lord, help me! - A proper cry for a poor sinner, who needs the help of the Lord Jesus.
But he answered and said, It is not meet ... - That is, it is not appropriate or proper.
Children's bread - The Jews considered themselves as the special children of God.
To all other nations they were accustomed to apply terms of contempt, of which dogs was the most common. The Muslims still apply the term "dogs" to Christians, and Christians and Jews to each other. The term is designed as an expression of the highest contempt. The Saviour means to say that he was sent to the Jews. The woman was a Gentile. He meant merely using a term in common use, and designed to test her faith in the strongest manner - that it did not comport with the design of his personal ministry to apply benefits intended for the Jews to others. Evidently he cannot be understood as intending to justify or sanction the use of such terms, or calling names. He meant to try her faith. As if he had said, "You are a Gentile; I am a Jew. The Jews call themselves children of God. You they vilify and abuse, calling you a dog. Are you willing to receive of a Jew, then, a favor? Are you willing to submit to these appellations to receive a favor of one of that nation, and to acknowledge your dependence on a people that so despise you?" It was, therefore, a trial of her faith, and was not a lending of his sanction to the propriety of the abusive term. He regarded her with a different feeling.
And she said, Truth, Lord ... - What you say is true.
Let it be that the best food should be given to the children - let the Jews have the chief benefit of thy ministry; but the dogs beneath the table eat the crumbs. So let me be regarded as a dog, a pagan, as unworthy of everything. Yet grant one exertion of that almighty power displayed so signally among the Jews, and heal the despised daughter of a despised heathen mother."
Great is thy faith - That is, thy trust, confidence.
The word here seems to include, also, the humility and perseverance manifested in pressing her suit. The daughter was healed then. Going home, she found her well and composed, Mar 7:30.
Sea of Galilee - That is, the Lake of Gennesaret. For an account of the principal diseases mentioned here, see the notes at Mat 4:24.
Maimed - Those to whom a hand or foot was wanting. See Mat 18:8. To cure them - that is, to restore a hand or foot - was a direct act of creative power. It is no wonder, therefore, that the people wondered.
And they glorified the God of Israel - To glorify here means to praise; to acknowledge his power and goodness. The God of Israel was the God that the Israelites or Jews worshipped.
The miracle recorded here - the feeding of the four thousand - took place on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee. The same account is recorded in Mar 8:1-10. The circumstances of the miracle are so similar to the one recorded in Mat 14:14-21, as to need little additional explanation.
Three days, and have nothing to eat - This is not, perhaps, to be taken literally, but only that during that time they had been deprived of their ordinary or regular food.
They had had only a very scanty supply, and on the third day even that began to fail.
Coasts of Magdala - Mark says, "The parts of Dalmanutha." Magdala was probably the same place which was formerly called Migdol, Jos 19:38. It is now called Mejdel, and is situated a few miles north of the city of Tiberias, in the land of Gennesaret, on the western side of the Sea of Tiberias, and directly east of Cana of Galilee. "It is a wretched hamlet of a dozen low huts huddled into one, and the whole ready to tumble into a dismal heap of black basaltic rubbish." - The Land and the Book (Thomson), vol. ii. p. 108. This was the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Saviour cast seven devils, Mar 16:9. Dalmanutha was probably a small village near to Magdala, of which no remains have been discovered. There is no contradiction in the statements of the two evangelists here, for they do not say that Jesus went to either of these towns, but only to the coasts or parts where they were situated.
Remarks On Matthew 15
We learn from this chapter:
1. That people are often far more attached to traditions and the commandments of human beings than to the Law of God, Mat 15:1-6.
2. That people are strongly disposed to explain away the law of God, if possible. It is too strict for them, and too spiritual. They dare not often attack it directly, but they will explain it and dilute it so as to make it mean nothing. Wicked people do not love God's law, Mat 15:4-6.
3. People are prone to introduce foolish rites into religion. They do not love what God has commanded, and they attempt to compensate for not loving his doctrines by being great sticklers for their own, Mat 15:2; Mar 7:3-4.
4. All addition to the law of God is evil, Mat 15:3. All ceremonies in religion which are not authorized by the New Testament are wrong. Man has no right to ordain rites to bind the conscience where God has commanded none, Col 2:23. People come the nearest to that which is right when they live nearest to just what God has commanded in the Bible.
5. Hypocrites should be unmasked and detected, Mat 15:7. He does a great service to people who detects their hypocrisy. That close and faithful preaching which lays open the heart, and shows people what they are, is that which comes nearest to the example of Christ. It may pain them, but the wounds of a friend are faithful Pro 27:6; and we should honor and love the man that, by the grace of God, can show us our own hearts. We always honor most the physician of the body that is most skilled in detecting and curing disease, and so should we the physician of the soul.
6. We should be exceedingly cautious in avoiding formality in worship, Mat 15:8-9. It is hypocrisy. God requires the heart. To render to him only the service of the lips is to mock him. Nothing can be acceptable but true piety, genuine love, and hearty obedience; nothing more hateful than an appearance of worshipping God, while the heart is in sin and the world.
7. The duty of honoring parents, Mat 15:4-6. Nothing can explain away this duty. It is binding on all. Parents should be obeyed, loved, respected. God requires it and we cannot be free from the duty. Under age, a child is bound always to obey a parent where the parent does not command anything contrary to the Bible; but when the parent commands anything contrary to the Bible, the child is not bound to obey, Act 5:29. After the child is of age, he is to respect, love, and honor the parent; and, if poor and needy, to provide for his wants until he dies. It is certainly proper that we should do all that we can to comfort those in old age who did so much for us in childhood. A child can never repay a parent for his kindness to him.
8. We are not at liberty to give to anything else not even to religious uses - what is necessary to render our parents comfortable, Mat 15:4-6. They have the first claim on us. And though it is our duty to do much in the cause of benevolence, yet our first duty should be to see that our parents do not suffer.
9. People easily take offence when they are faithfully reproved, and especially when their hypocrisy is exposed; and especially if this exposure is about some small matter on which they have greatly set their hearts some ceremony in worship or some foolish rite, Mat 15:12.
10. Every false doctrine is to be opposed and should be rooted up, Mat 15:13. It is to be opposed by arguments and candid investigation, and not by abuse and misrepresentation. Christ never misrepresented any man's doctrine. He always stated it just as it was - just as they held it; and then, by argument and the word of God, he showed it was wrong. This is the proper way to manage all controversies.
11. It is of great importance to search the heart, Mat 15:19-20. It is a fountain of evil. It is the source of all crime. External conduct is comparatively of little importance. In the sight of God, the heart is of more importance; and if that were pure, all would be well.
12. The doctrine of man's depravity is true, Mat 15:19. If the heart produces those things which are specified by the Saviour it cannot be pure. And yet who is there from whose heart, at some time, these things have not proceeded? Alas, the world is full of instances that prove that the human heart may produce all these things.
13. In our distress, and the distress of our children and friends, we should go to Jesus. We should, indeed, use all proper means to restore our friends when they are sick; but we should feel that God only can grant returning health and life, Mat 15:22.
14. We should not be discouraged that our prayers are not immediately answered. God knows the proper time to answer them, and it may be of great importance to us that the answer should be deferred, Mat 15:23.
15. We should still persevere, Mat 15:24-27. We should not be discouraged. We should not be disheartened even by the appearance of neglect or unkind treatment.
16. Our prayers will be answered if we persevere, Mat 15:28. They that seek shall find. In due time - in the best and most proper time - a gracious God will lend an ear to our request, and grant the thing we need.
17. We should come with humility and faith, Mat 15:27. We can never think too little of ourselves, or too much of the mercy and faithfulness of Christ. Prayers of humility and faith only are answered.
18. Christ will take care of his poor and needy followers. We may be assured that he has power to give us all we need, and that in times of necessity he will supply our wants, Mat 15:32-38.
19. The great number of poor in the world is no reason why he should not supply them, Mat 15:38. He daily supplies the wants of nine hundred millions of human beings, besides countless numbers of the beasts of the field, of the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea. It is a small thing to supply the needs of the few poor people on the earth, and He who feeds the world will take care of us in the time of need.
20. We should be grateful to God for our daily food. We should render to him proper thanksgiving, Mat 15:36.