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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Matthew 15

 

 

Verse 1

Matthew 15:1. τότε connects naturally with immediately preceding narrative concerning the people of Gennesaret with unbounded faith in Jesus seeking healing by mere touch of His garment. Probably the one scene led to the other: growing popular enthusiasm deepening Pharisaic hostility.— προσέρχονται ( οἱ) . . If οἱ be omitted, the sense is that certain persons came to Jesus from Jerusalem. If it be retained, the sense is: certain persons belonging to Jerusalem came from it, the preposition ἐν being changed into ἀπὸ by attraction of the verb.— φαρ. καὶ γρ., usually named in inverse order, as in T.R. Our evangelist makes the whole party come from Jerusalem; Mk., with more probability, the scribes only. The guardians of tradition in the Capital have their evil eye on Jesus and co-operate with the provincial rigorists.


Verses 1-20

Matthew 15:1-20. Washing of hands (Mark 7:1-23).


Verse 2

Matthew 15:2. διατί οἱ μαθ. σου παραβ.: no instance of offence specified in this case, as in Matthew 9:10 and Matthew 12:1. The zealots must have been making inquiries or playing the spy into the private habits of the disciple circle, seeking for grounds of fault-finding (cf. Mark 7:2).— παραβαίνουσι: strong word (Mk.’s milder), putting breach of Rabbinical rules on a level with breaking the greatest moral laws, as if the former were of equal importance with the latter. That they were, was deliberately maintained by the scribes (vide Lightfoot).— τὴν παράδοσιν τ. π.: not merely the opinion, dogma, placitum, of the elders (Grotius), but opinion expressed ex cathedra, custom originated with authority by the ancients. The “elders” here are not the living rulers of the people, but the past bearers of religious authority, the more remote the more venerable. The “tradition” was unwritten ( ἄγραφος διδασκαλία, Hesych.), the “law upon the lip” reaching back, like the written law (so it was pretended), to Moses. Baseless assertion, but believed; therefore to attack the παράδοσις is a Herculean, dangerous task. The assailants regard the act imputed as an unheard-of monstrous impiety. That is why they make a general charge before specifying the particular form under which the offence is committed, so giving the latter as serious an aspect as possible.— οὐ γὰρ νίπτονται, etc.: granting the fact it did not necessarily mean deliberate disregard of the tradition. It might be an occasional carelessness on the part of some of the disciples ( τινὰς, Mark 7:2) which even the offenders would not care to defend. A time-server might easily have evaded discussion by putting the matter on this ground. The Pharisees eagerly put the worst construction on the act, and Jesus was incapable of time-serving insincerity; thus conflict was inevitable.— νίπτεσθαι, the proper word before meat, ἀπονίπτεσθαι, after, Elsner, citing Athenaeus, lib. ix., cap. 18.— ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν, Hebrew idiom for taking food. The neglect charged was not that of ordinary cleanliness, but of the technical rules for securing ceremonial cleanness. These were innumerable and ridiculously minute. Lightfoot, referring to certain Rabbinical tracts, says: “lege, si vacat, et si per taedium et nauseam potes”.


Verse 3

Matthew 15:3. καὶ ὑμεῖς: the retort, if justifiable, the best defence possible of neglect charged = “we transgress the tradition because we want to keep the commands of God: choice lies between these; you make the wrong choice”. Grave issue raised; no compromise possible here.— διὰ τ. π. ὑμῶν: not rules made by the parties addressed (Weiss-Meyer), but the tradition which ye idolise, your precious paradosis.


Verses 3-6

Matthew 15:3-6. Christ’s reply; consists of a counter charge and a prophetic citation (Matthew 15:7-9) in the inverse order to that of Mk.


Verse 4

Matthew 15:4. γὰρ θεὸς: counter charge substantiated. The question being the validity of the tradition and its value, its evil tendency might be illustrated at will in connection with any moral interest. It might have been illustrated directly in connection with moral purity versus ceremonial. The actual selection characteristic of Jesus as humane, and felicitous as exceptionally clear.— τίμʼτελευτάτω: fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), with its penal sanction (Exodus 21:17).


Verse 5

Matthew 15:5 shows how that great law is compromised.— ὑμεῖς δὲ λέγ.: the emphatic antithesis of ὑμεῖς to θεὸς a pointed rebuke of their presumption. he scribes rivals to the Almighty in legislation. “Ye say”: the words following give not the ipsissima verba of scribe-teaching or what they would acknowledge to be the drift of their teaching, but that drift as Jesus Himself understood it = “This is what it comes to.”—“ δῶρον” = let it be a gift or offering devoted to God, to the temple, to religious purposes, i.e., a Corban (Mark 7:11); magic word releasing from obligation to show honour to parents in the practical way of contributing to their support. Of evil omen even when the “gift” was bonâ fide, as involving an artificial divorce between religion and morality; easily sliding into disingenuous pretexts of vows to evade filial responsibilities; reaching the lowest depth of immorality when lawmakers and unfilial sons were in league for common pecuniary profit from the nefarious transaction. Were the faultfinders in this case chargeable with receiving a commission for trafficking in iniquitous legislation, letting sons off for a percentage on what they would have to give their parents? Origen, Jerome, Theophy., Lutteroth favour this view, but there is nothing in the text to justify it. Christ’s charge is based on the practice specified even at its best: honest pleading of previous obligation to God as a ground for neglecting duty to parents. Lightfoot (Hor. Heb.) understands the law as meaning that the word Corban, even though profanely and heartlessly spoken, bound not to help parents, but did not bind really to give the property to sacred uses. “Addicanda sua in sacros usus per haec verba nullatenus tenebatur, ad non juvandum patrem tenebatur inviolabiliter.”— οὐ μὴ τιμήσει, he shall not honour = he is exempt from obligation to: such the rule in effect, if not in words, of the scribes in the case. The future here has the force of the imperative as often in the Sept(89) (vide Burton, M. and T., § 67). If the imperative meaning be denied, then οὐ μὴ τ. must be taken as a comment of Christ’s. Ye say, “whosoever,” etc.; in these circumstances of course he will not, etc. As the passage stands in T.R. the clause καὶ οὐ μὴ τιμήσῃ, etc., belongs to the protasis, and the apodosis remains unexpressed = he shall be free, or guiltless, as in A. V(90)


Verse 6

Matthew 15:6. ἠκυρώσατε, ye invalidated, by making such a rule, the aorist pointing to the time when the rule was made. Or it may be a gnomic aorist: so ye are wont to, etc. The verb ἀκυρόω belongs to later Greek, though Elsner calls the phrase “bene Graeca”.— διὰὑμῶν: an account of your tradition, again to mark it as their idol, and as theirs alone, God having no part in it, though the Rabbis taught that it was given orally by God to Moses.


Verse 7

Matthew 15:7. ὑποκριταί: no thought of conciliation; open war at all hazards. “Actors,” in their zeal for God, as illustrated in the case previously cited. God first, parents second, yet God not in all their thoughts.— καλῶς, appositely, to the purpose. Isaiah might not be thinking of the Pharisees, but certainly the quotation is very felicitous in reference to them, exactly describing their religious character. Mt. follows Mk. in quoting; neither follows closely the Sept(91) (Isaiah 29:13).


Verse 8

Matthew 15:8. δὲ καρδία, etc.: at this point the citation is particularly apposite. They were far from the true God in their thoughts who imagined that He could be pleased with gifts made at the expense of filial piety. Christ’s God abhorred such homage, still more the hypocritical pretence of it.


Verse 10-11

Matthew 15:10-11. Appeal to the people: a mortal offence to the Pharisees and scribes, but made inevitable by publicity of attack, the multitude being in the background and overhearing all.— ἀκόυετε καὶ συνίετε: abrupt, laconic address; a fearless, resolute tone audible.


Verse 11

Matthew 15:11. imple direct appeal to the moral sense of mankind; one of those emancipating words which sweep away the cobwebs of artificial systems; better than elaborate argument. It is called a parable in Matthew 15:15, but it is not a parable in the strict sense here whatever it may be in Mk. (vide notes there). Parables are used to illustrate the ethical by the natural. This saying is itself ethical: τὸ ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκ τοῦ στόματος refers to words as expressing thoughts and desires (Matthew 15:19).— οὐ τὸ εἰσερ. εἰς τὸ στόμα: refers to food of all sorts; clean God taken with unclean hands, and food in itself unclean. The drift of the saying therefore is: ceremonial uncleanness, however caused, a small matter, moral uncleanness the one thing to be dreaded. This goes beyond the tradition of the elders, and virtually abrogates the Levitical distinctions between clean and unclean. A sentiment worthy of Jesus and suitable to an occasion when He was compelled to emphasise the supreme importance of the ethical in the law—the ethical emphatically the law of God ( τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew 15:3).


Verse 12

Matthew 15:12. ἐσκανδαλίσθησαν: double offence—(1) appealing to the people at all; (2) uttering such a word, revolutionary in character.


Verses 12-14

Matthew 15:12-14. Disciples report impression made on Pharisees by the word spoken to the people. Not in Mark.


Verse 13

Matthew 15:13. δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς, etc.: the disciples were afraid, but Jesus was indignant, and took up high ground.— φυτεία for φύτευμα, a plant, “not a wild flower but a cultivated plant” (Camb. G. T.), refers to the Rabbinical tradition; natural figure for doctrine, and so used both by Jesus and Greeks (vide Schöttgen and Kypke). Kypke remarks: “pertinet huc parabola περὶ τοῦ σπείροντος”.— πατήρ μου: the statement in the relative clause is really the main point, that the tradition in question was a thing with which God as Jesus conceived Him had nothing to do. This is an important text for Christ’s doctrine of the Fatherhood as taught by discriminating use of the term πατήρ. The idea of God implied in the Corban tradition was that His interest was antagonistic to that of humanity. In Christ’s idea of God the two interests are coincident. This text should be set beside Matthew 12:50, which might easily be misunderstood as teaching an opposite view.— ἐκριζωθήσεται. This is what will be, and what Jesus wishes and works for: uprooting, destruction, root and branch, no compromise, the thing wholly evil. The response of the traditionalists was crucifixion.


Verse 14

Matthew 15:14. ἄφετε: the case hopeless, no reform possible; on the road to ruin.— τυφλοί εἰσιν ὁδηγοί: the reading in (92) is very laconic = blind men are the leaders, the suggestion being: we know what happens in that case. The point is the inevitableness of ruin. What follows expresses what has been already hinted.— τυφλὸς δὲ τ. . ὁδ.: if blind blind lead; ὁδηγῇ, subjunctive, with ἐὰν as usual in a present general supposition.— ἀμφότεροι, both: Rabbis or scribes and their disciples. Christ despaired of the teachers, but He tried to rescue the people; hence Matthew 15:10-11.


Verse 15

Matthew 15:15. πέτρος, spokesman as usual ( θερμὸς καὶ πανταχοῦ προφθάνων, Chrys., Hom. li.).— παραβολήν, here at least, whatever may be the case in Mk., can mean only a dark saying, σκοτεινὸς λόγος (Theophy. in Mk.), “oratio obscura” (Suicer). The saying, Matthew 15:11, was above the understanding of the disciples, or rather in advance of their religious attainments; for men often deem thoughts difficult when, though easy to understand, they are hard to receive. The Twelve had been a little scandalised by the saying as well as the Pharisees, though they did not like to say so ( καὶ αὐτοὶ ἠρέμα θορυβούμενοι, Chrys.).


Verses 15-20

Matthew 15:15-20. Interpretation of saying in Matthew 15:11.


Verse 16

Matthew 15:16. ἀκμὴν, accusative of ἀκμή, the point (of a weapon, etc.) = κατʼ ἀκμὴν χρόνου, at this point of time, still; late Greek, and condemned by Phryn., p. 123 ( ἀντὶ τοῦ ἔτι).— ἀσύνετοί ἐστε. Christ chides the Twelve for making a mystery of a plain matter (“quare parabolice dictum putet quod perspicue locutus est,” Jerome). Very simple and axiomatic to the Master, but was it ever quite clear to the disciples? In such matters all depends on possessing the requisite spiritual sense. Easy to see when you have eyes.


Verse 17

Matthew 15:17. ἀφεδρῶνα: here only, probably a Macedonian word = privy; a vulgar word and a vulgar subject which Jesus would gladly have avoided, but He forces Himself to speak of it for the sake of His disciples. The idea is: from food no moral defilement comes to the soul; such defilement as there is, purely physical, passing through the bowels into the place of discharge. Doubtless Jesus said this, otherwise no one would have put it into His mouth. Were the Twelve any the wiser? Probably the very rudeness of the speech led them to think.


Verse 18

Matthew 15:18. ἐκπορευόμενα: words representing thoughts and desires, morally defiling, or rather revealing defilement already existing in the heart, seat of thought and passion.


Verse 19

Matthew 15:19. φόνοι, etc.: breaches of Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Commandments in succession.


Verse 20

Matthew 15:20. mphatic final reassertion of the doctrine.


Verse 21

Matthew 15:21. ἀνεχώρησεν, cf. Matthew 12:15.— εἰς τὰ μέρη τ. καὶ σ.: towards or into? Opinion is much divided. De Wette cites in favour of the latter, Matthew 2:22; Matthew 16:13, and disposes of the argument against it based on ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων ἐκείνων (Matthew 15:22) by the remark that it has force only if ὅρια, contrary to the usage of the evangelist, be taken as = boundaries instead of territories. On the whole, the conclusion must be that the narrative leaves the point uncertain. On psychological grounds the presumption is in favour of the view that Jesus crossed the border into heathen territory. After that interview with sanctimonious Pharisees who thought the whole world outside Judea unclean, it would be a refreshment to Christ’s spirit to cross over the line and feel that He was still in God’s world, with blue sky overhead and the sea on this hand and mountains on that, all showing the glory of their Maker. He would breathe a freer, less stifling atmosphere there.


Verses 21-28

Matthew 15:21-28. Woman of Canaan (Mark 7:24-30). This excursion to the north is the result of a passionate longing to escape at once from the fever of popularity and from the odium theologicum of Pharisees, and to be alone for a while with the Twelve, with nature, and with God. One could wish that fuller details had been given as to its duration, extent, etc. From Mk. we infer that it had a wide sweep, lasted for a considerable time, and was not confined to Jewish territory. Vide notes there.


Verse 22

Matthew 15:22. χαναναία: the Phoenicians were descended from a colony of Canaanites, the original inhabitants of Palestine, Genesis 10:15 (vide Benzinger, Heb. Arch., p. 63). Vide notes on Mk.— ἐλ. με, pity me, the mother’s heart speaks.— υἱὲ δ. The title and the request imply some knowledge of Jesus. Whence got? Was she a proselyte? (De Wette.) Or had the fame of Jesus spread thus far, the report of a wonderful healer who passed among the Jews for a descendant of David? The latter every way likely, cf. Matthew 4:24. There would be some intercourse between the borderers, though doubtless also prejudices and enmities.


Verse 23

Matthew 15:23. δὲ οὐκ ἀπ.: a new style of behaviour on the part of Jesus. The rôle of indifference would cost Him an effort.— ἠρώτων ( ουν W. and H(93) as if contracted from ἐρωτέω), besought; in classics the verb means to inquire. In N. T. the two senses are combined after analogy of שָׁאַל. The disciples were probably surprised at their Master’s unusual behaviour; a reason for it would not occur to them. They change places with the Master here, the larger-hearted appearing by comparison the narrow-hearted.— ἀπόλυσον, get rid of her by granting her request.— ὅτι κράζει: they were moved not so much by pity as by dread of a sensation. There was far more sympathy (though hidden) in Christ’s heart than in theirs. Deep natures are often misjudged, and shallow men praised at their expense.


Verse 24

Matthew 15:24. οὐκ ἀπεστάλην: Jesus is compelled to explain Himself, and His explanation is bonâ fide, and to be taken in earnest as meaning that He considered it His duty to restrict His ministry to Israel, to be a shepherd exclusively to the lost sheep of Israel ( τὰ πρόβατα τ. ., cf. Matthew 9:36), as He was wont to call them with affectionate pity. There was probably a mixture of feelings in Christ’s mind at this time; an aversion to recommence just then a healing ministry at all—a craving for rest and retirement; a disinclination to be drawn into a ministry among a heathen people, which would mar the unity of His career as a prophet of God to Israel (the drama of His life to serve its purpose must respect the limits of time and place); a secret inclination to do this woman a kindness if it could in any way be made exceptional; and last but not least, a feeling that her request was really not isolated but representative = the Gentile world in her inviting Him, a fugitive from His own land, to come over and help them, an omen of the transference of the kingdom from Jewish to Pagan soil.


Verse 25

Matthew 15:25. δὲ ἐλθοῦσα, etc. Probably the mother read conflict and irresolution in Christ’s face, and thence drew encouragement.


Verses 25-28

Matthew 15:25-28. Entreaty renewed at close quarters with success.


Verse 26

Matthew 15:26. οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν, etc.: seemingly a hard word, but not so hard as it seems. First, it is not a simple monosyllabic negative, leaving no room for parley, but an argument inviting further discussion. Next, it is playful, humorous, bantering in tone, a parable to be taken cum grano. Third, its harshest word, κυναρίοις, contains a loophole. κυνάρια does not compare Gentiles to the dogs without, in the street, but to the household dogs belonging to the family, which got their portion though not the children’s.


Verse 27

Matthew 15:27. ναί, κύριε· καὶ γὰρ, etc.: eager assent, not dissent, with a gleam in the eye on perceiving the advantage given by the comparison = Yes, indeed, Lord, for even, etc. Kypke cites an instance from Xenophon of the combination ναί καὶ γὰρ in the same sense.— ψιχίων, dimin. from ψίξ, a bit, crumb, found only in N. T. (here and Mark 7:28, Luke 16:21 T. R.), another diminutive answering to κυνάρια = the little pet dogs, eat of the minute morsels. Curiously felicitous combination of ready wit, humility and faith: wit in seizing on the playful κυνάρια and improving on it by adding ψιχία, humility in being content with the smallest crumbs, faith in conceiving of the healing asked as only such a crumb for Jesus to give.


Verse 28

Matthew 15:28. mmediate compliance with her request with intense delight in her faith, which may have recalled to mind that of another Gentile (Matthew 8:10). γύναι: exclamation in a tone enriched by the harmonies of manifold emotions. What a refreshment to Christ’s heart to pass from that dreary pestilential traditionalism to this utterance of a simple unsophisticated moral nature on Pagan soil! The transition from the one scene to the other unconsciously serves the purposes of consummate dramatic art.


Verse 29

Matthew 15:29. παρὰ τ. θ. τ. γαλ., to the neighbourhood of the Sea of Galilee; on which side? According to Mk., the eastern, approached by a circuitous journey through Sidon and Decapolis. Weiss contends that Mt. means the western shore. The truth seems to be that he leaves it vague. His account is a meagre colourless reproduction of Mk.’s. He takes no interest in the route, but only in the incidents at the two termini. He takes Jesus north to the borders of Tyre to meet the woman of Canaan, and back to Galilee to feed the multitude a second time.— εἰς τὸ ὄρος, as in Matthew 5:1, and apparently for the same purpose: ἐκάθητο ., sat down there to teach. This ascent of the hill bordering the lake is not in Mk.


Verses 29-31

Matthew 15:29-31. Return to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31-37).


Verse 30

Matthew 15:30. χωλούς, etc.: the people wanted healing, not teaching, and so brought their sick and suffering to Jesus.— ἔρριψαν: they threw them at His feet either in care-free confidence, or in haste, because of the greatness of the number. Among those brought were certain classed as κυλλούς, which is usually interpreted “bent,” as with rheumatism. But in Matthew 18:8 it seems to mean “mutilated”. Euthy. takes κυλλοὶ = οἱ ἄχειρες, and Grotius argues for this sense, and infers that among Christ’s works of healing were restorations of lost limbs, though we do not read of such anywhere else. On this view ὑγιεῖς, Matthew 15:31, will mean ἀρτίους, integros.


Verse 31

Matthew 15:31. λαλοῦντας: this and the following participles are used substantively as objects of the verb βλέποντας, the action denoted by the participles being that which was seen.— ἐδόξασαν τ. θ. ἰσραήλ. The expression suggests a non-Israelite crowd and seems to hint that after all for our evangelist Jesus is on the east side and in heathen territory. But it may point back to Matthew 15:24 and mean the God who conferred such favours on Israel as distinct from the heathen (Weiss-Meyer).


Verse 32

Matthew 15:32. σπλαγχνίζομαι, with ἐπὶ as in Matthew 14:14, Mark 8:2, with περὶ in Matthew 9:36. In the first feeding Christ’s compassion is moved by the sickness among the multitude, here by their hunger.— ἡμέραι τρεῖς: that this is the true reading is guaranteed by the unusual construction, the accusative being what one expects. The reading of (94) adopted by Fritzsche, which inserts εἰσι καὶ after τρεῖς, though not to be accepted as the true reading, may be viewed as a solution of the problem presented by the true reading vide Winer, § 62, 2.— νήστεις, fasting ( νη, ἐσθίω similar to νήπιος from νη, ἔπος), here and in parallel text in Mk. only. The motive of the miracle is not the distance from supplies but the exhausted condition of the people after staying three days with Jesus with quite inadequate provision of food. Mk. states that some were far from home (Matthew 8:3), implying that most were not. But even those whose homes were near might faint ( ἐκλυθῶσι, Galatians 6:9) by the way through long fasting.


Verses 32-38

Matthew 15:32-38. Second feeding (Mark 8:1-9).


Verse 33

Matthew 15:33. τοσοῦτοι, ὥστε χορτάσαι. ὥστε with infinitive may be used to express a consequence involved in the essence or quality of an object or action, therefore after τοσοῦτος and similar words; vide Kühner, § 584, 2, aa.


Verse 34

Matthew 15:34. πόσους ἄρτους: the disciples have larger supplies this time than the first, after three days, and when the supplies of the multitude are exhausted: seven loaves and several small fishes.


Verse 36

Matthew 15:36. εὐχαριστήσας, a late Greek word (“does not occur before Polybius in the sense of gratias agere”—Camb. N. T.), condemned by Phryn., who enjoins χάριν εἰδέναι instead (Lobeck, p. 18). Elsner dissents from the judgment of the ancient grammarians, citing instances from Demosthenes, etc.


Verse 37

Matthew 15:37. ἑπτά σπυρίδας: baskets different in number and in name. Hesychius defines σπυρίς: τὸ τῶν πυρῶν ἄγγος = wheat-basket; perhaps connected with σπείρω, suggesting a basket made of rope-net; probably larger than κόφινος, for longer journeys (Grotius). Or does the different kind of basket point to different nationality; Gentiles? Hilary contends for Gentile recipients of the second blessing, with whom Westcott (Characteristics of Gospel Miracles, p. 13) agrees.


Verse 39

Matthew 15:39. ΄αγαδάν: the true reading, place wholly unknown, whence probably the variants.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/matthew-15.html. 1897-1910.

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