Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Notes on Chapter 15
Verse 1. The scribes and Pharisees-of Jerusalem— Our Lord was now in Galilee, Matthew 14:34.
Verse 2. Elders— Rulers and magistrates among the Jews. For they wash not their hands— What frivolous nonsense! These Pharisees had nothing which their malice could fasten on in the conduct or doctrine of our blessed Lord and his disciples, and therefore they must dispute about washing of hands! All sorts of Pharisees are troublesome people in religious society; and the reason is, they take more pleasure in blaming others than in amending themselves.
The tradition of the elders— The word paradosiv, tradition, has occupied a most distinguished place, both in the Jewish and Christian Church. Man is ever fond of mending the work of his Maker; and hence he has been led to put his finishing hand even to Divine revelation! This supplementary matter has been called paradosiv, from paradidomai, to deliver from hand to hand-to transmit; and hence the Latin term, tradition, from trado, to deliver, especially from one to another;-to hand down. Among the Jews TRADITION signifies what is also called the oral law, which they distinguish from the written law: this last contains the Mosaic precepts, as found in the Pentateuch: the former, the traditions of the elders, i.e. traditions, or doctrines, that had been successively handed down from Moses through every generation, but not committed to writing. The Jews feign that, when GOD gave Moses the written law, he gave him also the oral law, which is the interpretation of the former. This law, Moses at first delivered to Aaron then to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar; and, after these to the seventy-two elders, who were six of the most eminent men chosen out of each of the twelve tribes. These seventy-two, with Moses and Aaron, delivered it again to all the heads of the people, and afterwards to the congregation at large. They say also that, before Moses died, he delivered this oral law, or system of traditions, to JOSHUA, and Joshua to the ELDERS which succeeded him-THEY to the Prophets, and the PROPHETS to each other, till it came to JEREMIAH, who delivered it to BARUCH his scribe, who repeated it to EZRA, who delivered it to the men of the great synagogue, the last of whom was SIMON the Just. By Simon the Just it was delivered to ANTIGONUS of Socho; by him to JOSE the son of Jochanan; by him to JOSE, the son of Joezer; by him to NATHAN the Arbelite, and Joshua the son of Perachiah; and by them to JUDAH the son of Tabbai, and Simeon, the son of Shatah; and by them to SHEMAIAH and ABTALION; and by them to HILLEL; and by Hillel to SIMEON his son, the same who took Christ in his arms when brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord: by SIMEON it was delivered to GAMALIEL his son, the preceptor of St. Paul, who delivered it to SIMEON his son, and he to Rab. JUDAH HAKKODESH his son, who compiled and digested it into the book which is called the MISHNA; to explain which the two Talmuds, called the Jerusalem and Babylyonish Talmuds, were compiled, which are also called the Gemera or complement, because by these the oral law or Mishnah is fully explained. The Jerusalem Talmud was completed about A. D. 300; and the Babylonish Talmud about the beginning of the sixth century. This Talmud was printed at Amsterdam in 12 vols. folio. These contain the whole of the traditions of the elders, and have so explained, or rather frittered away, the words of God, that our Lord might well say, Ye have made the word of God of no effect by your traditions. In what estimation these are held by the Jews, the following examples will prove: “The words of the scribes are lovely beyond the words of the law: for the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the scribes are all weighty.” Hierus. Berac. fol. 3.
“He that shall say, There are no phylacteries, though he thus transgress the words of the law, he is not guilty; but he that shall say, There are five Totaphot, thus adding to the words of the scribes, he is guilty.”
“A prophet and an elder, to what are they likened! To a king sending two of his servants into a province; of one he writes thus: Unless he show you my seal, believe him not; for thus it is written of the prophet: He shall show thee a sign; but of the elders thus: According to the law which they shall teach thee, for I will confirm their words.”-See Prideaux. Con. vol. ii. p. 465, and Lightfoot’s Hor. Talmud.
They wash not their hands— On washing of hands, before and after meat, the Jews laid great stress: they considered eating with unwashed hands to be no ordinary crime; and therefore, to induce men to do it, they feigned that an evil spirit, called Shibta atbyç, who sits on the hands by night,
has a right to sit on the food of him who eats without washing his hands, and make it hurtful to him! They consider the person who undervalues this rite to be no better than a heathen, and consequently excommunicate him. See many examples of this doctrine in Schoettgen and Lightfoot.
Verse 3. Why do ye-transgress the commandment— Ye accuse my disciples of transgressing the traditions of the elders-I accuse you of transgressing the commands of God, and that too in favor of your own tradition; thus preferring the inventions of men to the positive precepts of God. Pretenders to zeal often prefer superstitious usages to the Divine law, and human inventions to the positive duties of Christianity.
Verse 4. Honor thy father and mother— This word was taken in great latitude of meaning among the Jews: it not only meant respect and submission, but also to take care of a person, to nourish and support him, to enrich. See Numbers 22:17; Judges 13:17; 1 Timothy 5:17. And that this was the sense of the law, as it respected parents, see Deuteronomy 27:16, and see the note on Exodus 20:12.
Verse 5. It is a gift— brq korban, Mark 7:11, an offering of approach; something consecrated to the service of God in the temple, by which a man had the privilege of approaching his Maker. This conduct was similar to the custom of certain persons who bequeath the inheritance of their children to Churches or religious uses; either through terror of conscience, thus striving to purchase the kingdom of glory; or through the persuasion of interested hireling priests. It was in this way that, in the days of popish influence, the principal lands in the nation had fallen into the hands of the Church. In those charters, multitudes of which have passed through my hands, a common form was, pro salute meae, et pro salute antecessorum meorum, et pro salute successorum meorum, et pro solute uxoris meae, etc., etc., do, et concedo Deo et Ecclesiae, etc. “For my salvation, and for the salvation of my predecessors, and for the salvation of my successors, and for the salvation of my wife, etc., etc., I give and bequeath to God and his Church, etc.”
Though a world of literature was destroyed, and fine buildings ruined, by the suppression of the monasteries in England, yet this step, with the Stat. 23 Hen. VIII. c. 10, together with the Stat. 9 Geo. II. c. 36, ware the means of checking an evil that had arrived at a pitch of unparalleled magnitude; an evil that was supplanting the atonement made by the blood of the covenant, and putting death-bed grants of land, etc., in the place of Jesus Christ, and throwing the whole secular power of the kingdom into the hands of the pope and the priests. No wonder then that they cried out, when the monasteries were suppressed! It is sacrilege to dedicate that to God which is taken away from the necessities of our parents and children; and the good that this pretends to will doubtless be found in the catalogue of that unnatural man’s crimes, in the judgment of the great day, who has thus deprived his own family of its due. To assist our poor relatives, is our first duty; and this is a work infinitely preferable to all pious legacies and endowments.
Verse 7. Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you— In every place where the proper names of the Old Testament occur, in the New, the same mode of orthography should be followed: I therefore write Isaiah with the Hebrew, not Esaias, with the Greek. This prophecy is found Isaiah 29:13. Our blessed Lord unmasks these hypocrites; and we may observe that, when a hypocrite is found out, he should be exposed to all; this may lead to his salvation: if he be permitted to retain his falsely acquired character, how can he escape perdition!
Verse 8. Their heart is far from me.— The true worship of God consists in the union of the heart to him-where this exists not, a particle of the spirit of devotion cannot be found.
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth— This clause, which is taken from Isaiah 29:13, is omitted by several excellent MSS., and by several versions and fathers. Erasmus, Mill, Drusius, and Bengel, approve of the omission, and Griesbach has left it out of the text; but as I find it in the prophet, the place from which it is quoted, I dare not omit it, howsoever respectable the above authorities may appear.
Verse 9. In vain they do worship me, etc.— By the traditions of the elders, not only the word of God was perverted, but his worship also was greatly corrupted. But the Jews were not the only people who have acted thus: whole Christian Churches, as well as sects and parties, have acted in the same way. Men must not mould the worship of God according to their fancy-it is not what they think will do-is proper, innocent, etc., but what God himself has prescribed, that he will acknowledge as his worship. However sincere a man may be in a worship of his own invention, or of man’s commandment, yet it profits him nothing. Christ himself says it is in vain. To condemn such, may appear to some illiberal; but whatever may be said in behalf of sincere heathens, and others who have not had the advantages of Divine Revelation, there is no excuse for the man who has the BIBLE before him.
Verse 10. Hear and understand— A most important command. Hear-make it a point of conscience to attend to the ministry of the word. Understand-be not satisfied with attending places of public worship merely; see that the teaching be of God, and that you lay it to heart.
Verse 11. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth— This is an answer to the carping question of the Pharisees, mentioned Matthew 15:2, Why do thy disciples eat with unwashed hands? To which our Lord here replies, That what goes into the mouth defiles not the man; i.e. that if, in eating with unwashed hands, any particles of dust, etc., cleaving to the hands, might happen to be taken into the mouth with the food, this did not defile, did not constitute a man a sinner; for it is on this alone the question hinges: thy disciples eat with unwashed hands; therefore they are sinners; for they transgress the tradition of the elders, i.e. the oral law, which they considered equal in authority to the written law; and, indeed, often preferred the former to the latter, so as to make it of none effect, totally to destroy its nature and design, as we have often seen in the preceding notes.
That which cometh out of the mouth— That is, what springs from a corrupt unregenerate heart-a perverse will and impure passions- these defile, i.e. make him a sinner.
Verse 12. The Pharisees were offended— None so liable to take offense as formalists and hypocrites, when you attempt to take away the false props from the one, and question the sincerity of the other. Besides, a Pharisee must never be suspected of ignorance, for they are the men, and wisdom must die with them!
Verse 13. Every plant— Every plantation. So I render futeia, and so it is translated in the Itala version which accompanies the Greek text in the Codex Bezae, omnis plantatio, and so the word is rendered by Suidas. This gives a different turn to the text. The Pharisees, as a religious body, were now a plantation of trees, which God did not plant, water, nor own: therefore, they should be rooted up, not left to wither and die, but the fellers, and those who root up, (the Roman armies,) should come against and destroy them, and the Christian Church was to be planted in their place. Since the general dispersion of the Jews, this sect, I believe, has ceased to exist as a separate body, among the descendants of Jacob. The first of the apostolical constitutions begins thus: qeou futeia h kaqolikh ekklhsia, kai ampelwn autou eklektov. The Catholic Church is the plantation of God, and his chosen vineyard.
Verse 14. Let them alone— afete autouv, give them up, or leave them. These words have been sadly misunderstood. Some have quoted them to prove that blind and deceitful teachers should not be pointed out to the people, nor the people warned against them; and that men should abide in the communion of a corrupt Church, because that Church had once been the Church of God, and in it they had been brought up; and to prove this they bring Scripture, for, in our present translation, the words are rendered, let them alone: but the whole connection of the place evidently proves that our blessed Lord meant, give them up, have no kind of religious connection with them, and the strong reason for which he immediately adds, because they are blind leaders. This passage does not at all mean that blind leaders should not be pointed out to the people, that they may avoid being deceived by them; for this our Lord does frequently, and warns his disciples, and the people in general, against all such false teachers as the scribes and Pharisees were; and though he bids men do that they heard those say, while they sat in the chair of Moses, yet he certainly meant no more than that they should be observant of the moral law when read to them out of the sacred book: yet neither does he tell them to do all these false teachers said; for he testifies in Matthew 15:6, that they had put such false glosses on the law, that, if followed, would endanger the salvation of their souls. The Codex Bezae, for afete autouv, has afete touv tuflouv, give up these blind men. Amen! A literal attention to these words of our Lord produced the Reformation.
Probably the words may be understood as a sort of proverbial expression for-Don’t mind them: pay no regard to them.-“They are altogether unworthy of notice.”
And if the blind lead the blind— This was so self-evident a case that an apter parallel could nut be found-if the blind lead the blind, both must fall into the ditch. Alas, for the blind teachers, who not only destroy their own souls, but those also of their flocks! Like priest, like people. If the minister be ignorant, he cannot teach what he does not know; and the people cannot become wise unto salvation under such a ministry-he is ignorant and wicked, and they are profligate. They who even wish such God speed; are partakers of their evil deeds. But shall not the poor deceived people escape? No: both shall fall into the pit of perdition together; for they should have searched the Scriptures, and not trusted to the ignorant sayings of corrupt men, no matter of what sect or party. He who has the Bible in his hand, or within his reach, and can read it, has no excuse.
Verse 15. Declare unto us this parable.— Is it not strange to hear the disciples asking for the explanation of such a parable as this! The true knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel is a thing more uncommon than we imagine, among the generality of Christians, and even of the learned.
Verse 16. Are ye also yet without understanding?— The word akmh, which we translate yet, should be here rendered still: Are ye still void of understanding? and the word is used in this sense by several Greek writers. The authorities which have induced me to prefer this translation may be seen in Kypke.
Verse 17. Cast out into the draught— eiv afedwna, [AS]. And beeth into the forthgoing a sent-what is not fit for nourishment is evacuated; is thrown into the sink. This I believe to be the meaning of this difficult and variously translated word, afedrwn. Diodati translates it properly, nella latrina, into the privy. And the Persian translator has given a good paraphrase, and appears to have collected the general meaning [P] her teche der dehen ander ayeed, az nusheeb beeroon rood, we ber zemeen aftad: “Whatsoever enters into the mouth goes downward, and falls upon the ground.” Michaelis, and his annotator, Dr. Marsh, have been much perplexed with this perplexing passage. See Michaelis’s Introduction, vol. i. note 35. p. 458.
Verse 19. Out of the heart— In the heart of an unregenerate man, the principles and seeds of all sin are found. And iniquity is always conceived in the heart before it be spoken or acted. Is there any hope that a man can abstain from outward sin till his heart, that abominable fountain of corruption, be thoroughly cleansed? I trow not.
Evil thoughts— dialogismoi ponhroi, wicked dialogues-for in all evil surmisings the heart holds a conversation, or dialogue, with itself. For fonoi, murders, two MSS. have fqonoi, envyings, and three others have both. Envy and murder are nearly allied: the former has often led to the latter.
Blasphemies— I have already observed, Matthew 9:3, that the verb blasfhmew, when applied to men, signifies to speak INJURIOUSLY of their persons, characters, etc., and, when applied to God, it means to speak IMPIOUSLY of his nature, works, etc.
Verse 20. These-defile a man— Our Lord’s argument is very plain. What goes into the mouth descends into the stomach and other intestines;-part is retained for the nourishment of the body, and part is ejected, as being improper to afford nourishment. Nothing of this kind defiles the soul, because it does not enter into it; but the evil principles that are in it, producing evil thoughts, murders, etc., these defile the soul, because they have their seat and operation in it.
Verse 21. Departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.— eiv ta merh,
towards the coasts or confines. It is not clear that our Lord ever left the land of the Hebrews; he was, as the apostle observes, Romans 15:8, the minister of the circumcision according to the truth of God. Tyre and Sidon are usually joined together, principally because they are but a few miles distant from each other.
Verse 22. A woman of Canaan— Matthew gives her this name because of the people from whom she sprung-the descendants of Canaan, Judges 1:31, 32; but Mark calls her a Syrophenician, because of the country where she dwelt. The Canaanites and Phoenicians have been often confounded. This is frequently the case in the Septuagint. Compare Genesis 46:10, with Exodus 6:15, where the same person is called a Phoenician in the one place, and a Canaanite in the other. See also the same version in Exodus 16:35; Joshua 5:12.
The state of this woman is a proper emblem of the state of a sinner, deeply conscious of the misery of his soul.
Have mercy an me, etc.— How proper is this prayer for a penitent! There are many excellencies contained in it; 1. It is short; 2. humble; 3. full of faith; 4. fervent; 5. modest; 6. respectful; 7. rational; 8. relying only on the mercy of God; 9. persevering. Can one who sees himself a slave of the devil, beg with too much earnestness to be delivered from his thraldom?
Son of David— An essential character of the true Messiah.
Verse 23. He answered her not a word.— Seemed to take time to consider her request, and to give her the opportunity of exercising her faith, and manifesting her fervor.
Verse 24. I am not sent but unto the lost sheep— By the Divine appointment, I am come to preach the Gospel to the Jews only. There are certain preachers who should learn a lesson of important instruction from this part of our Lord’s conduct. As soon as they hear of a lost sheep being found by other ministers, they give all diligence to get that one into their fold: but display little earnestness in seeking in the wilderness for those that are lost. This conduct, perhaps, proceeds from a consciousness of their inability to perform the work of an evangelist; and leads them to sit down in the labors of others, rather than submit to the reproach of presiding over empty chapels. Such persons should either dig or beg immediately, as they are a reproach to the pastoral office; for, not being sent of God, they cannot profit the people.
The wilderness of this world is sufficiently wide and uncultivated. Sinners abound every where; and there is ample room for all truly religious people, who have zeal for God, and love for their perishing follow creatures, to put forth all their strength, employ all their time, and exercise all their talents, in proclaiming the Gospel of God; not only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but to a lost WORLD. Nor can such exertions be unsuccessful. There the pure truth of God is preached, many will be converted. Where that truth is preached, though with a mixture of error, some will be converted, for God will bless his own truth. But where nothing but false doctrine is preached, no soul is converted: for God will never sanction error by a miracle of his mercy.
Verse 25. Lord, help me.— Let me also share in the deliverance afforded to Israel.
Verse 26. The children’s bread— The salvation provided for the Jews, who were termed the children of the kingdom. And cast it to the kunarioiv, little dogs-to the curs; such the Gentiles were reputed by the Jewish people, and our Lord uses that form of speech which was common among his countrymen. What terrible repulses! and yet she still perseveres!
Verse 27. Truth, Lord— nai kurie, Yes, Lord. This appears to be not so much an assent, as a bold reply to our Lord’s reason for apparently rejecting her suit.
The little dogs share with the children, for they eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. I do not desire what is provided for these highly favored children, only what they leave: a single exertion of thy almighty power, in the healing of my afflicted daughter, is all that I wish for; and this the highly favored Jews can well spare, without lessening the provision made for themselves. Is not this the sense of this noble woman’s reply?
Verse 28. O woman, great is thy faith— The hinderances thrown in this woman’s way only tended to increase her faith. Her faith resembles a river, which becomes enlarged by the dykes opposed to it, till at last it sweeps them entirely away with it,
Her daughter was made whole— Persevering faith and prayer are next to omnipotent. No person can thus pray and believe, without receiving all his soul requires. This is one of the finest lessons in the book of God for a penitent, or for a discouraged believer. Look to Jesus! As sure as God is in heaven, so surely will he hear and answer thee to the eternal salvation of thy soul! Be not discouraged at a little delay: when thou art properly prepared to receive the blessing, then thou shalt have it. Look up; thy salvation is at hand. Jesus admires this faith, to the end that we may admire and imitate it, and may reap the same fruits and advantages from it.
Verse 29. Went up into a mountain— to orov, THE mountain. “Meaning,” says Wakefield, “some particular mountain which he was accustomed to frequent; for, whenever it is spoken of at a time when Jesus is in Galilee, it is always discriminated by the article. Compare Matthew 4:18, with Matthew 5:1; and Matthew 13:54, with Matthew 14:23; and Matthew 28:16. I suppose it was mount Tabor.”
Verse 30. Those that were-maimed— kullouv. Wetstein has fully proved that those who had lost a hand, foot, etc., were termed kulloi by the Greeks. Kypke has shown, from Hippocrates, that the word was also used to signify those who had distorted or dislocated legs, knees, hands, etc. Mr. Wakefield is fully of opinion that it means here those who had lost a limb, and brings an incontestable proof from Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:43. “If thy hand cause thee to offend, CUT IT OFF; it is better for thee to enter into life (kullov) WITHOUT A LIMB, than, having thy TWO hands, to go away into hell.” What an astonishing manifestation of omnific and creative energy must the reproduction of a hand, foot, etc., be at the word or touch of Jesus! As this was a mere act of creative power, like that of multiplying the bread, those who allow that the above is the meaning of the word will hardly attempt to doubt the proper Divinity of Christ. Creation, in any sense of the word, i.e. causing something to exist that had no existence before, can belong only to God, because it is an effect of an unlimited power; to say that such power could be delegated to a person is to say that the person to whom it is delegated becomes, for the time being, the omnipotent God; and that God, who has thus clothed a creature with his omnipotence, ceases to be omnipotent himself; for there cannot be two omnipotents, nor can the Supreme Being delegate his omnipotence to another, and have it at the same time. I confess, then, that this is to me an unanswerable argument for the Divinity of our blessed Lord. Others may doubt; I can’t help believing.
Verse 31. The multitude wondered— And well they might, when they had such proofs of the miraculous power and love of God before their eyes. Blessed be God! the same miracles are continued in their spiritual reference. All the disorders of the soul are still cured by the power of Jesus.
Verse 32. I have compassion, etc.— See a similar transaction explained, Matthew 14:14-22.
Verse 33. Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, etc.— Human foresight, even in the followers of Christ, is very short. In a thousand instances, if we supply not its deficiency by faith, we shall be always embarrassed, and often miserable. This world is a desert, where nothing can be found to satisfy the soul of man, but the salvation which Christ has procured.
Verse 37. They did all eat, and were filled— ecortasqhsan-they were satisfied. The husks of worldly pleasures may fill the man, but cannot satisfy the soul. A man may eat, and not be satisfied: it is the interest therefore of every follower of Christ to follow him till he be fed, and to feed on him till he be satisfied.
Verse 38. Four thousand— Let the poor learn from these miracles to trust in God for support. Whatever his ordinary providence denies, his miraculous power will supply.
Verse 39. He sent away the multitude— But not before he had instructed their souls, and fed and healed their bodies.
The coasts of Magdala.— In the parallel place, Mark 8:10, this place is called Dalmanutha. Either Magdala was formed by a transposition of letters from Dalman, to which the Syriac termination atha had been added, or the one of these names refers to the country, and the other to a town in that neighborhood. Jesus went into the country, and proceeded till he came to the chief town or village in that district. Whitby says, “Magdala was a city and territory beyond Jordan, on the banks of Gadara. It readied to the bridge above Jordan, which joined it to the other side of Galilee, and contained within its precincts Dalmanutha.” The MSS. and VV. read the name variously-Magada, Madega, Magdala; and the Syriac has Magdu. In Mark, Dalmanutha is read by many MSS. Melagada, Madegada, Magada, Magidan, and Magedam. Magdala, variously pronounced, seems to have been the place or country; Dalmanutha, the chief town or capital.
In this chapter a number of interesting and instructive particulars are contained.