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Matthew 15


The Tradition of the Elders Defilement Comes From Within Traditions of the Elders The Teaching of the Ancestors The Traditions of the Pharisees
15:1-9 15:1-20 15:1-9 15:1-2
 (8-9)        (8-9)
      The Things that Make a Person Unclean On Clean and Unclean
15:10-20   15:10-20 15:10-11 15:10-11
      15:12 15:12-14
      15:15 15:15-20
The Canaanite Woman's Faith A Gentile Shows Her Faith The Canaanite Woman A Woman's Faith The Daughter of the Canaanite Woman Healed
15:21-28 15:21-28 15:21-28 15:21-22 15:21-28
The Healing of Many People Jesus Heals Great Multitudes Healings Jesus Heals Many People Cures near the Lake
15:29-31 15:29-31 15:29-31 15:29-31 15:29-31
The Feeding of the Four Thousand Feeding the Four Thousand Four Thousand Fed Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand Second Miracle of the Loaves
15:32-39 15:32-39 15:32-39 15:32 15:32-39

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



 1Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2"Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." 3And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,'and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.'5But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,'6he is not to honor his father or mother." And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:
 8This people honors Me with their lips,
  But their heart is far away from Me.
  9But in vain do they worship Me,
  Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'
 10After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. 11It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."

15:1 "Pharisees" They were the most outwardly religious sect within first century Judaism. They had developed during the Maccabean period. The name may have meant "separated ones." Jesus did not condemn all Pharisees but only those who were outwardly legalistic without inner righteousness (Isa. 29:13). They emphasized absolute conformity to the oral tradition which was later codified into the Talmud. For a full discussion of the origin and theology of the Pharisees see Special Topic at Matt. 22:15.

▣ "scribes" This was a professional group of religious lawyers, trained in the written law and oral tradition, who were contacted to make rulings on points of Jewish regulations related to daily life. See Special Topic at Matt. 12:38.

▣ "from Jerusalem" Jesus was in Galilee at this time so these men traveled a long way to hear Him. They were, if you please, a delegation from headquarters!

15:2 "your disciples" The disciples were from Galilee, where Judaism was not as strict as in the Jerusalem area.

▣ "the tradition of the elders" This was a reference to the large body of oral traditions called the Mishnah, which interpreted the Law of Moses and helped apply it to everyday life. The Mishnah was codified most completely by Rabbi Judah in a.d. 200 and later became part of the Talmud. It was believed by the rabbis to be as authoritative as the Torah (Gen.-Deut.), for it, too, was believed to have been given orally to Moses by God (cf. Deut. 4:14).

▣ "they do not wash their hands when they eat" Handwashing was not for hygienic purposes but for ceremonial cleanliness. The OT did not require washing before every meal, but tradition grew (1) from Exod. 30:19 where the priests were to wash and (2) Leviticus 15, where those who touched something unclean were to wash. By Jesus' time washing before meals had become a major part of Jewish religious life. One early rabbi was excommunicated for not washing properly! Not only was washing before meals commanded, but washing after and even between the individual courses was also considered a religious ceremonial duty.

15:4 "God said" Mark 7:11 has "Moses said." This shows Jesus' view of the authority and inspiration of the OT (cf. Matt. 5:17-19).

▣ "Honor your father and mother" Jesus quoted one of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). "Honor" was a commercial term which meant "to give due weight to."

The second OT quote in Matt. 15:4 is from Exod. 21:17 or Lev. 20:9. The stability of the society demanded swift and strong action against those who violated covenant requirements. The family was/is based to society.

▣ "He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death."See Exod. 21:17 and Lev. 20:1.


NASB, NRSV"has been given to God"
NKJV"dedicated to the temple"
TEV"belongs to God"
NJB"dedicated to God"

The concept of vowing or dedicating unneeded resources to God was called corban (from Hebrew word for "gift," cf. Lev. 1:2; 22:27; 23:14; Num. 7:25) or "under the ban" (cf. Mark 7:11). This vow thereby made these resources legally unavailable to be used to help aging parents (though they might be used for other personal reasons).


NASB"he is not to honor"
NKJV"is released from honoring"
TEV"they do not need to honor"
NJB"he is rid of his duty"

Although it is not expressed in English this phrase is

1. a strong double negative

2. implies a question

3. a quote from the teachings (or implication of) the Pharisees/Scribes


NKJV"no effect"

This is a strong Greek word used only here and the parallel in Mark 7:13 and in Gal. 3:17. By their motives and actions the intent of the Scriptures was compromised to human greed! These people looked religious, but the evidence of the Fall remained (i.e., more for me at any cost).

▣ "for the sake of your tradition" This term (pardosis) is used in several senses.

1. in 1 Cor. 11:2,23 for gospel truths

2. in Matt. 15:6; 23:1ff; Mark 7:8; Gal. 1:14 of Jewish traditions

3. in Col. 2:6-8 of gnostic speculations

4. Roman Catholics use this verse as a biblical proof-text for Scripture and tradition being equal in authority

However, in this context it refers to Apostolic truth, either spoken or written (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6)

15:7 "you hypocrites" This was a theatrical term literally "to judge under" but in the sense of "to play a part behind a mask."

15:8-9 "This people honor me with their lips" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Isa. 29:13. This powerful verse shows that a person's personal faith is clearly revealed by their outward acts and words (cf. Rom. 4:3-6; James 2:14-26).

15:8 "far away" This phrase conveys the idea of holding something or someone at arm's length.

15:10 "Jesus called the crowd to Him," Jesus publicly denounced these religious leaders from Jerusalem.

15:11 "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man" This related primarily to the question of hand washing (cf. Matt. 15:18,20), but Mark 7:19 adds a phrase that related the statement to all foods (cf. Acts 10). The purity is from within and it guides/directs outward activities.

 12Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" 13But He answered and said, "Every plant which my heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

15:12 "the Pharisees were offended" The disciples were shocked at Jesus' treatment of these religious leaders, His statement about the oral traditions, and by implication, His negation of the food laws of Lev. 11.

15:13 "Every plant which my heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted" This referred either to the Pharisees'teachings or to the Pharisees themselves. It showed that they were not of God (cf. Matt. 5:20; 16:6,11). Religiosity can be a dangerous thing (cf. Rom. 2:17-29). Peace at any price was not Jesus' way!

It is possible that Jesus is drawing this plant imagery from Isa. 60:21; 61:3. Israel was described in agricultural terms (cf. Isaiah 5; John 15). Israel was YHWH's chosen vine, chosen to reveal Himself to the nations! AS Israel failed, so too Pharisaic theology. The greatest sin besides unbelief is self-righteousness!

15:14 This is a third class conditional sentence, which refers to potential action.

▣ "blind" This is used metaphorically to describe the spiritual understanding of the Pharisees and their disciples (cf. Matthew 23, especially Matt. 15:16,24).

 15Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." 16Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, slanders. 20These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."

15:15-20 This speaks of the need for spiritual balance between freedom in Christ and self-limiting responsibility out of love for Christ and others (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; 1 Cor. 8; 10:23-33; 1 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:15).

15:16 "Are you still lacking in understanding also" This is a rare, emphatic Greek idiom. Even the disciples did not understand until after the resurrection (cf. Luke 24:45, see also Luke 24:16,31; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).

15:18 What food one may or may not eat is not the issue but the person's heart (cf. Matt. 12:34; Mark 7:20). By these statements Jesus negated the food laws of Leviticus 11! Jesus is usually said to have rejected the oral tradition of the rabbis, but affirmed the OT. However, in this instance and His treatment of divorce (cf. Matt. 5:31-32; 19:8-9) He changes OT Law. It is best to affirm Jesus' right and inspiration to reinterpret both the OT and rabbinical tradition without turning this into a hermeneutical principle. Modern interpreters are not inspired but illumined. We affirm Jesus' teachings, but dare not follow His hermeneutic technique!

▣ "heart" See Special Topic at Matt. 5:8.

15:19 "fornications" The English word " pornography" shares the same root word as this Greek term. It meant any inappropriate sexual activity: premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, and even a refusal of levirate responsibilities (a brother failing to sexually relate to the widow of a deceased brother in order to provide heirs).

In the OT there was a distinction between marital infidelity (adultery) and pre-marital promiscuity (fornication).

▣ "thefts" The English word "kleptomania" is derived from the same Greek root.

▣ "slanders" This whole list referred to the Ten Commandments. Blasphemy was to speak against God.


 21Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." 23But He did not answer a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" 26And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters'table." 28Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.

15:21 "Tyre and Sidon" These were Phoenician coastal cities. In most of the OT they are associated with Ba'al worship and wickedness, however (1) Solomon did procure artisans and material for the Temple from Hiram, King of Tyre (cf. 1 Kgs. 7); and (2) Elijah helped a widow from this area (cf. Luke 4:25-26.)

15:22 "a Canaanite woman" This is the only use of this term in the NT, although a similar form is found in a name (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18). In Mark 7:26 she was called a Syro-Phoenician woman, who in the modern world would be a woman from southern Lebanon. She was obviously non-Jewish. This account, like 8:5-13, showed Jesus' care for Gentiles. The healings summarized in Matt. 15:29-31 took place in a predominately Gentile area (cf. Mark 7:31).

▣ "began to cry out, saying" Obviously this was done loudly and repeatedly. This imperfect tense can mean (1) repeated action in past time or (2) the beginning of an act in past time.

▣ "Have mercy on me" The mercy and compassion of Jesus towards the poor, sick, and possessed had been told far and wide. Even a non-Jewish woman felt He would act on her behalf (cf. Matt. 9:27; 17:15).

This aorist active imperative is used in the sense of a prayer request, not a command.

"Lord" This was either (1) a common use of "Sir" or (2) the theological use of "Master" and "Messiah" ; only context can tell. Because it is combined with a Messianic title here, the second option is best.

▣ "Son of David" This was a Messianic title from 2 Sam. 7. She knew something about the Jewish faith and hope. See note at Matt. 9:27.

▣ "my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed" Demon possession was and is a reality that can even affect children (cf. Matt. 17:14-18). There is so much we don't know about this area!

I have struggled in this area of demon possession. I believe and affirm the biblical worldview. However, it bothers me that (1) exorcism is not listed as one of the spiritual gifts; (2) it is never discussed in any of the NT letters; (3) I am not informed by an inspired author about how to perform this spiritual rite. I am left to affirm the reality, but not able to identify it or know how to address it or remove it! See special topics on the demonic at Matt. 10:1.

15:23 "disciples came and implored Him" The verb is also Imperfect tense. The disciples show their level of compassion in contrast to Jesus (cf. Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). Jesus' answer in Matt. 15:24 was addressed to them, not the woman. This phrase is left out in Mark because he was writing to Gentiles who would not have understood the disciples'reluctance in helping a Gentile.

15:24 "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" Remember Jesus helped other Gentiles, but within the geographical boundaries of the Promised Land. If Jesus had begun a healing ministry in a Gentile land, He would have been rejected by the Jewish populous in general because of their prejudices. The phrase "lost sheep of the house of Israel" shows the spiritual condition of the Jewish people (cf. Matt. 10:6; 9:36).

The "shepherding" imagery began in Num. 27:17 (cf. Zech. 10:2). Psalm 23; 78:52; Isa. 40:11; Jer. 31:10 depict YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel. This imagery becomes Messianic in Micah 5:2; Zech. 11:4-17; and John 10:1-10. The bad shepherds are contrasted with the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34.

Sheep needed constant care and protection. They were helpless, defenseless, and easily influenced animals! Calling God's people sheep is not a compliment, but a spiritual reality!

Could I make one more comment on the word "only" ! Jesus helped this needy Gentile, as He did several other Gentiles. These are foreshadowings of His world-wide goal (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8). The Messiah came for all humans made in God's image (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). Genesis 3:15 is not a promise to Israel, but to humans. The call of Abraham included a concern for Gentiles (cf. Gen. 12:3). The giving of the law on Mt. Sinai included God's concern for the world (cf. Exod. 19:5)!

15:26 "dogs" This is the only use of this term in the NT. Its harshness is diminished by the fact that it is diminutive in form, "puppies" (JB, "house-dogs"). The Jews called the Gentiles "dogs." This dialogue was intended to help the disciples overcome their prejudice against Gentiles. Jesus recognized and publicly affirmed that her faith was great (cf. Matt. 15:28)!

15:27 "crumbs" People often used bread to wipe their hands after eating.

15:28 "O woman, your faith is great" Jesus complimented Gentiles several times (cf. Matt. 8:10). This was to: (1) show His love for Gentiles, or (2) stimulate the disciples'global world view.

▣ "her daughter was healed at once" Notice that this lady did not require ritual magic or Jesus' physical presence (cf. Matt. 8:8-9). When He told her that her daughter was healed, she believed.

 29Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. 30And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. 31So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

15:30 "large crowds" These large crowds were made up of the curious, the committed, the religious leaders, and the sick.

▣ "He healed them" This was a Messianic sign (cf. Matt. 11:5) which showed the heart of God.

 32And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." 33The disciples said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?" 34And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." 35And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; 36and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 37And they all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. 38And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

15:33 "the disciples said" How could the disciples have forgotten the feeding of the 5,000 so quickly (cf. Matt. 14:13-21)? The difference in the number, setting, and type of baskets used show that there were two separate feedings of multitudes, not just one recorded twice.

Although Jesus' statements seemed to restrict His ministry to Jews, this feeding, like the healing of the Centurion's family in Matthew 8, healing of the Gentile woman's child in Matt. 15:21-28 and the summary statement of Matt. 15:29-30, all refer to Gentiles.

 39And sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan.

15:39 "the region of Magadan" This location is unknown. In the Markan parallel the text has "Dalmanatha" (Mark 8:10), but this site is also unknown. Some Greek manuscripts changed Magadan to Magdala which was a Semitic term for "tower."


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did the Pharisees and scribes travel to Galilee to see Jesus?

2. How can tradition be a dangerous thing?

3. Is it possible to be religious and not know God?

4. How do we balance our freedom as Christians with our responsibilities?

5. Why are Matthew's and Mark's lists in verse 19 different?

6. Why did Jesus not readily want to help this lady? Why was He reluctant or, was He reluctant?

7. How can children have demons?


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