Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 15:10-20; Mark 7:14-23; Luke 6:39
10. And having called the multitudes to him, he said to them, Hear and understand. 11. What entereth into the mouth polluteth not the man, but what goes out of the mouth polluteth the man. 12. Then his disciples approaching said to him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended when they heard that saying? 13. But he answering, said, Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. 14. Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if a blind man shall lead a blind man, both will fall into the ditch. 15. And Peter answering said to him, Explain to us that parable. 16. And Jesus said, Are you also still void of understanding? 17. Do you not yet understand that whatever entereth into the mouth passeth into the belly, and is thrown into the sink? 18. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart itself, and they pollute the man. 19. For our of the heart proceed wicked thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, calumnies. 20. These are the things which pollute the man. But to take food with unwashed hands polluteth not the man.
14. And when he had called to him the whole multitude, he said to them, Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15. There is nothing from without a man which, entering into him, can pollute him; but those things which come out of a man are the things which pollute a man. 16. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 17. And when he had entered into the house, and withdrawn from the multitude, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18. And he saith to them, Are you also void of understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatsoever entereth into a man from without cannot pollute him? 19. Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the sink, purifying all the food? 20. And he said, It is what goeth out of a man that polluteth him. 21. For from within, out of the heart of man proceed wicked thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22. Thefts, evil desires, frauds, deceit, wantonness, an evil eye, calumnies, pride, foolishness: 23. All these evil things proceed from within, and pollute the man.
39. And he spoke a parable to them, 403 Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will not both fall into the ditch?
Matthew 15:10. And having called the multitudes to him. Here Christ turns 404 to those who are ready to receive instruction, and explains more fully the truth at which he had formerly glanced, that the kingdom of God does not consist in meat and drink, as Paul also teaches us, (Ro 14:17;) for, since outward things are by nature pure, the use of them is free and pure, and uncleanness is not contracted from the good creatures of God. It is therefore a general statement, that pollution does not come from without into a man, but that the fountain is concealed within him. Now when he says that all the evil actions which any man performs come out of the mouth of man, he employs a synecdoche; 405 for he says so by way of allusion to the subject in hand, and conveys this instruction, that we do not draw uncleanness into our mouth along with meat and drink, but that every kind of defilement proceeds from ourselves.
Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended? As the scribes were presumptuous and rebellious, Christ did not take great pains to pacify them, but satisfied himself with repelling their hypocrisy and pride. The offense which they had formerly taken up was doubled, when they perceived that—not through oversight, but seemingly on purpose—Christ despised their washings as trifles. Now when Christ did not hesitate to inflame still more, by keen provocation, wicked and malicious persons, let us learn from his example, that we ought not to be exceedingly solicitous to please every one by what we say and do. His disciples, however—as is usually the case with ignorant and unlearned people—no sooner perceive the result to be unfavorable, than they conclude that Christ’s reply had been unseasonable and improper. 406 For the object of their advice was, to persuade Christ to soothe the rage of the Pharisees by softening the harsh expression which he had employed. 407
It almost always happens with weak persons, that they form an unfavorable judgment about a doctrine, as soon as they find that it is regarded with doubt or meets with opposition. And certainly it were to be wished, that it should give no offense, but receive the calm approbation of all; but, as the minds of many are blinded, and even their hearts are kindled into rage, by Satan, and as many souls are held under the benumbing influence of brutal stupidity, it is impossible that all should relish the true doctrine of salvation. Above all, we ought not to be surprised to behold the rage of those who inwardly nourish the venom of malice and obstinacy. Yet we ought to take care that, so far as may be in our power, our manner of teaching shall give no offense; but it would be the height of madness to think of exercising greater moderation than we have been taught to do by our heavenly Master. We see how his discourse was made an occasion of offense by wicked and obstinate men; and we see at the same time, how that kind of offense which arose from malignity was treated by him with contempt.
13. Every plant. As the indifferent success of the doctrine had wounded their weak minds, Christ intended to remedy this evil. Now the remedy which he proposes is, that good men ought not to be distressed, or entertain less reverence for the doctrine, though to many it be an occasion of death. It is a mistaken view of this passage which some have adopted, that all the inventions of men, and every thing that has not proceeded from the mouth of God, must be rooted up and perish; for it was rather to men that Christ referred, and the meaning is, that there is no reason to wonder if the doctrine of salvation shall prove deadly to the reprobate, because they are always carried headlong to the destruction to which they are doomed.
By the persons that have been planted by the hand of God we are to understand those who, by his free adoption, have been ingrafted into the tree of life, as Isaiah also, when speaking of the Church renewed by the grace of God, calls it a branch planted by the Lord, (Isa 60:21.) Now as salvation depends solely on the election of God, the reprobate must perish, in whatever way this may be effected; not that they are innocent, and free from all blame, when God destroys them, but because, by their own malice, they turn to their destruction all that is offered to them, however salutary it may be. To those who willingly perish the Gospel thus becomes, as Paul assures us, the savor of death unto death, (2Co 2:16;) for, though it is offered to all for salvation, it does not yield this fruit in any but the elect. It belongs to a faithful and honest teacher to regulate every thing which he brings forward by a regard to the advantage of all; but whenever the result is different, let us take comfort from Christ’s reply. It is beautifully expressed by the parable, that the cause of perdition does not lie in the doctrine, but that the reprobate who have no root in God, when the doctrine is presented to them, throw out their hidden venom, and thus accelerate that death to which they were already doomed.
Which my heavenly Father hath not planted. Hypocrites, who appear for a time to have been planted like good trees, are particularly described by Christ; for Epicureans, who are noted for open and shameful contempt of God, cannot properly be said to resemble trees, but the description must be intended to apply to those who have acquired celebrity by some vain appearance of godliness. Such were the scribes, who towered in the Church of God like the cedars in Lebanon, and whose revolt might on that account appear the more strange. Christ might have said that it is right that those should perish who disdainfully reject salvation; but he rises higher, and asserts that no man will remain steadfast, unless his salvation be secured by the election of God. By these words he expressly declares, that the first origin of our salvation flows from that grace by which God elected us to be his children before we were created.
14. Let them alone. He sets them aside as unworthy of notice, and concludes that the offense which they take ought not to give us much uneasiness. Hence has arisen the distinction, of which we hear so much, about avoiding offenses, that we ought to beware of offending the weak, but if any obstinate and malicious person take offense, we ought not to be uneasy; for, if we determined to satisfy all obstinate people, we must bury Christ, who is the stone of offense, (1Pe 2:8.) Weak persons, who are offended through ignorance, and afterwards return to just views, must be distinguished from haughty and disdainful men who are themselves the authors of offenses. It is of importance to attend to this distinction, in order that no one who is weak may be distressed through our fault. But when wicked men dash themselves through their obstinacy, let us walk on unmoved in the midst of offenses; for he who spares not weak brethren tramples, as it were, under foot those to whom we are commanded to stretch out the hand. It would be idle to attend to others, whom we cannot avoid offending, if we wish to keep the right path; and when, under the pretext of taking offense, they happen to fall off and revolt from Christ, we must let them alone, that they may not drag us along with them. 408
They are blind leaders of the blind. Christ means that all who allow themselves to be driven hither and thither at the disposal of those men will miserably perish; for when they stumble on a plain road, it is evident that they are willfully blind. Why then should any one allow himself to be directed by them, except that he might fall into the same ditch? Now Christ, who has risen upon us as the Sun of righteousness, (Mal 4:2,) and not only points out the road to us by the torch of his Gospel, but desires that we should keep it before us, justly calls on his disciples to shake off that slothfulness, and not to wander, as it were, in the dark, for the sake of gratifying the blind. 409 Hence also we infer that all who, under the pretense of simplicity or modesty, give themselves up to be deceived or ensnared by errors, are without excuse.
Luke 6:39. And he spake to them a parable. Luke relates this saying without mentioning any occurrence, but states generally, that Christ made use of this parable; as in recording many of Christ’s discourses he says nothing as to the occasion on which they were delivered. It is no doubt possible that Christ may have spoken this parable more than once; but, as no place more appropriate was to be found, I have not hesitated to insert here what Luke relates without fixing the time.
Matthew 15:15. And Peter answering said. As the disciples betray excessive ignorance, Christ justly reproves and upbraids them for being still void of understanding, and yet does not fail to act as their teacher. What Matthew ascribes in a peculiar manner to Peter is related by Mark, in the same sense, as a question put by them all; and this is evident from Christ’s reply, in which he reproves the ignorance, not of Peter only, but of all of them alike. The general meaning is, that men are not polluted by food, but that they have within themselves the pollution of sins, which afterwards shows itself in the outward actions. Is it objected that intemperance in eating is defilement? The solution is easy. Christ speaks only of the proper and lawful use of those things which God has put in our power. To eat and drink are things in their own nature free and indifferent: if any corruption be added, it proceeds from the man himself, and therefore must be regarded not as external, but internal. 410
19. For out of the heart proceed wicked thoughts Hence we infer that the word mouth, as I have mentioned, was used by Christ in a former verse by way of allusion to the context; for now he makes no mention of the mouth, but merely says that out of the heart of man proceeds all that is sinful and that corrupts by its pollution. Mark differs from Matthew in this respect, that he gives a larger catalogue of sins, such as lusts, or irregular desires. The Greek word (πλεονεξίαι) is by some rendered covetousness; but I have preferred to take it in a general acceptation. Next come fraud and intemperance, and those which immediately follow. Though the mode of expression be figurative, it is enough to understand Christ’s meaning to be, that all sins proceed from the wicked and corrupt affections of the heart. To say that an evil eye proceeds from the heart is not strictly accurate, but it involves nothing that is absurd or ambiguous; for it means, that an unholy heart pollutes the eyes by making them the ministers, or organs, of wicked desires. And yet Christ does not speak as if every thing that is evil in man were confined to open sins; but, in order to show more clearly that the heart of man is the abode of all evils, 411 he says that the proofs and results appear in the sins themselves.
And pollute the man. Instead of the verb pollute, the Greek term is κοινοῖ, make common; as Mark, a little before, (Mr 7:2,) used the phrase, κοιναῖς χερσὶ, with common hands, for with unclean hands. 412 It is a Hebrew phrase; 413 for, since God had set apart the Jews on the condition that they should separate themselves from all the pollutions of the Gentiles, everything that was inconsistent with this holiness was called common, that is, profane.
“Pareillement il leur disoit une similitude;” — “in like manner he spoke to them a parable.”
“Christ laissant la ces orgueilleux, se retourne vers les dociles;” — “Christ, leaving there these proud men, turns towards the teachable.”
“Au reste, quand il dit que les maux qu’un chacun fait procedent de la bouche, c’est autant comme s’il disoit qu’ils procedent de la personne mesme; et c’est une figure et maniere de parler qu’on appelle Synecdoche, quand on prend une partie pour le tout;” — “besides, when he says that the evils which any man does proceed out of the mouth, it is as much as if he said that they proceed from the person himself; and it is a figure and way of speaking that is called Synecdoche, when a part is taken for the whole.”
“Voyans que le propos n’avoit pas este bien prins, il leur semble avis que Christ a respondu peu autrement qu’il ne faloit;” — “perceiving that the discourse was not well taken, they conclude that Christ had replied somewhat differently from what he ought to have done.”
“En redressant ce qu’il avoit dit un peu trop asprement, comme il leur sembloit;” — “by correcting what he had said a little too harshly, as they imagined.”
“De peur qu’ils nous tirent en perdition avec eux;” — “lest they draw us to perdition along with them.”
“A bon droict retire ses disciples de ceste nonchalance et stupidite de suyvre les aveugles, et pour leur faire plaisir d’aller tastonnant en tenebres comme eux;” — “properly withdraws his disciples from that indifference and stupidity in following the blind, and—for the sake of gratifying them—in groping in the dark like them.”
“Et pourtant le vice est tousiours interieur, et ne vient point d’ailleurs;” — “and therefore sin is always internal, and does not come from without.”
“Que le coeur de l’homme est le siege et la source de tous maux;” — “that the heart of man is the seat and the source of all evils.”
“Les mains communes pour souillees et non lavees;” — “common hands for polluted and not washed.”
“C’est une facon de parler propre aux Hebrieux;” — “it is a mode of speaking peculiar to the Hebrews.”