The teachers of the law and the Pharisees criticize the disciples for not washing before eating. Jesus sets them straight on the difference between tradition of the elders and the Word of God. It is what come out of the mouth, words—which are expressions of the heart—that defile a person. Jesus turns a Canaanite woman’s desperation into faith. Jesus then heals many. And he feeds four thousand men plus women and children.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Tradition of Elders or the Word of God (Matt. 15:1-20)
1 At that time the Pharisees and teachers of the law from Jerusalem came up to him, saying, 2 “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 In reply, Jesus said to them, “And why do you also transgress the command of God because of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor father and mother’ [Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16] and ‘anyone who curses father or mother must surely die’ [Exod. 21:17; Lev. 20:9] 5 But you say, ‘Anyone who tells his father or mother, “Whatever you might benefit from me is a gift to God!”’ 6 certainly will not honor his father and cancels the word of God because of your tradition.” 7 Hypocrites! Correctly has Isaiah prophesied about you, saying:
8 This people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is far, far from me.
9 To no purpose they worship me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. [Is. 29:13]
10 And he summoned the crowd and said to them, “Listen and understand! 11 What goes into the mouth does not defile the person, but what comes out of his or her mouth—this defiles the person!”
12 Then the disciples approached, saying to him, “Don’t you know that the Pharisees when they heard this teaching were scandalized?” 13 In reply, he said, “Every plant which my Father in heaven has not planted will be uprooted.” 14 Let them go. They are blind guides of the blind. If a blind person guides a blind person, both of them will fall into a pit!”
15 In reply, Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 But he said, “Even now you also are without understanding? 17 Don’t you have an insight that everything going into the mouth and then goes into the belly is expelled in the latrine? 18 But what comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart; those are the things that defile a person. 19 For from the heart comes out evil reasonings, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, bearing false witness, and slanders. 20 These are the things that defile the person, but not washing hands to eat does not defile a person.
The main points: The word of God as written, that is, moral law, takes priority over the traditions of men or the elders, piled sky-high on the Word. (2) Don’t prioritize superficial, external things over and above the deeper things of the heart. (3) Things coming into a person, like food, don’t actually defile a person, but the things inside coming out of him defile him, like bad thoughts and deeds.
But please do not believe that you are exempt from moral law. It was thoroughly imported into the NT from the OT
Now let’s go verse by verse.
“teachers of the law”: They are also called scribes.
You can learn about these two religious groups at this link:
Both the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (see Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
Evidently, these two groups came from Jerusalem, which indicates Jesus was achieving fame all the way to the capital. The authorities had to investigate. Osborne calls them a “semi-official delegation” (comment on 15:1).
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
The tradition of the elders were interpretations of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) which piled up, and at this time. It is likely that they were in the process of being written down and was completed in the document called the Mishnah in about 200 A.D.
Now the washing tradition, though not commanded in Scripture, was a good idea in preventing germs to spread, but this passage is not about germs (first-century people knew nothing about them). Instead, this is a confusion or a fusing together of ritual cleanness and moral cleanness. Somehow these two groups of religious leaders merged the two, and washing hands indicated obedience to the tradition of the elders, which then indicated obedience to God and proper behavior. To obey these small minutiae is to honor the law, and to honor the law is to obey God, and to obey God is to be righteous or moral.
France on the tradition of the elders:
But the phrase (a technical term for Pharisaic oral tradition, in contrast to the written Mosaic law) fits the rabbinic approach which focused on providing respectable pedigree for any ruling through quoting earlier rabbis in its favor, and no doubt within the Pharisaic movement there was already a sufficient tradition in favor of this particular provision, even if its origin was relatively recent. Such traditions at this stage would be oral; its written codification into the Mishnah came at the end of the second century (p. 579)
“elders”: You can learn about this group at this link:
Osborne on the oral traditions: “In Jesus’ time these rules for the conduct of daily lives were transmitted orally but later written in the Mishnah [about A.D. 200], with an entire tractate … filled with minute details on the washing of hands. They originally had a good purpose, to enable a people living in a culture far removed from seminomadic culture that existed at the time of the giving of the law to understand and keep the law. They called it ‘building a fence around the law,’ i.e. keeping common people from inadvertently breaking the law. But the number of details quickly turned it into a burdensome set of pedantic rules” (comment on 15:2).
However, one commentator, referenced by Osborne, says that only complete immersion could achieve ritual purity so the Pharisees and teachers of the law demanding handwashing was small and narrow.
And from here on to the end of this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH- koh-pea) or section of Scripture, Jesus is about to drive home the distinction between ritual cleanness and moral cleanness. Don’t confuse the two to the point that you overlook moral cleanness. Don’t believe that because you wash the outside (hands) that you are washing the inside (the soul) and are religiously and morally superior.
Jesus answers their question with a question, which says in effect: how can you legitimately accuse my disciples of transgressing your traditions of the elders, when you transgress the command of God himself?
Now let’s discuss this verbal sparring match between Jesus and these religious leaders.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus won the actual confrontation, and this victory opened the door to his verbal victory with religious leaders who were binding people up with traditions. The people needed to be loosed from the traditions. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back physically. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus! With anointed words!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive religious leaders.
Knowing the Torah (as we all should), Jesus quotes clear commands from Scripture, and one of them comes from the mighty Ten Commandments: Honor your father and your mother (the Fifth Commandment). (“Your” in Greek is missing), and I tend to be more literal in my translation. But don’t make a big deal of the missing possessive pronoun, as if we have to honor all mothers and fathers in the exact same way. The Fifth Commandment is designed to keep your personal family in harmony and respect.
So a man could help his parents with his resources, but instead tells them he is giving the resources as a gift to God, to the temple. More specifically, the man still has the gift in his possession, and he promises to give it to God at a later date. Now he finds that his parents are in need, and instead of giving it to his parents, he gives it to a religious institution. Apparently, according to Jewish tradition at this time, a man could not use a gift devoted to God to help his parents in genuine need (NET).
“Anything so dedicated was thus placed out of reach of other people who might otherwise have a claim on it, and the formula seems to have deliberately used for this purpose” (France, comment on 15:5-6a).
Osborne on the Corban practice (the word Corban is mentioned in the parallel passage in Mark 7:11-12): Corban was “property or money pledged to the temple, to be given after a person died. That money could no longer be used for outside things like caring for parents, but it was available for one’s use until death. … This tradition allowed children to escape their biblical obligation of taking care of their parents by dedicating their money as a gift of God upon their death” (comment on 15:4).
And Blomberg: “The Corban [see Mark 7:11-12] practice in view was that of pledging money or other material resources to the temple to be paid upon one’s death. These funds could therefore not be transferred to anyone else but could still be used for one’s own benefit while one was still alive (v. 5)” (comment on 15:3-6). He goes on to note another commentator who says that a certain devotion to God hurts God because it hurts people.
Here’s the scene in a modern context: An extra-devout Christian named Ralph likes often to say “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” He carries a big Bible or has it on his phone and likes to visibly click on it during lunch hour. He is very pious in his behavior, praying in the lunchroom. He goes to a mega-church. The pastor often preaches sermons about how people owe the church tithes from gross pay and additional offerings. The pastor often, unbeknownst even to the pastor himself, twists Scriptures and traditions to his advantage. He often fishes around in Scripture to increase his church’s income. He now lives in a big house that Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper could never afford. Ralph comes into some money. He hears that his parents have financial needs. But the pastor of his mega-church tells Ralph that he must lay his gift at the altar. He has to honor God first, and the only way to honor God is not to give money to his needy parents, but to give it to the church.
Here’s the parable broken down into smaller parts:
Manipulative mega-church pastor = the Pharisees and teachers of the law (and not every mega-church pastor is off. Many are fine men.)
Ralph = pious lay-Jew who is told to divert his money away from needy parents
Ralph’s Parents = parents in this passage who genuinely need money
The Pharisees and teachers of the law annul or cancel the word of God—the quoted commandments—by following the traditions of the elders, which “mysteriously” benefit the religious system, which in turn “mysteriously” benefit the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
“hypocrites”: originally it comes from the Greek play actor on the stage. They wore masks and played roles. There were stock characters, such as the buffoon, the bombastic soldier, or the old miser. The Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent and abbreviated LXX for the “seventy” scholars who worked on it) is a third to second century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It uses the term hypocrite to mean the godless. However, in Matthew’s Gospel (it is used only once in Mark 7:6 and three times in Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15), it is more nuanced. Hypocrites appeared one way, but in reality they were different. They appeared outwardly religious, but inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27). They wore religious masks. They actually did many things that the law required, but they failed to understand God’s view of righteousness. They were more self-deceived than deceivers, though in Matt. 23, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and experts in the law for teaching one thing but living another. They are religious show-offs who act out their righteousness to impress others but are out of touch with God’s mercy and love. Eccl. 7:16 says not to be overly righteous, but that is what they were and displayed it publicly.
“correctly”: it could be translated “well,” or even ironically “beautifully.” So it could read: “’Beautifully’ has Isaiah prophesied about you!” This is irony, even sarcasm.
Isaiah teaches us that our hearts have to be right or morally clean.
“men”: it could be translated as “people” as in “people-centered precepts” or “people sourced precepts.” These precepts did not come from God. See v. 11 for more comments.
Matthew is careful to distinguish between his disciples, the crowds, and religious leaders. The religious leaders walk away, shamed. Now he calls the crowds to him and speaks in a brief parable or illustration.
Food going into the mouth does not make a person defiled. This pronouncement disagrees with Lev. 11, which lists all sorts of animals that are permitted to be eaten or not.
Please see my post about these food laws and how the New Testament authors handled this issue.
The NT argues for liberation from the food laws, and in passages like this one, Jesus launches the move towards liberty.
The concept is clear enough: Food goes into the mouth, but words, which are expressions of thoughts, and thoughts flow from the heart, come out of the mouth. Food going in does not defile—not in any moral sense. Words that come out can defile a person morally. Don’t confuse the two.
“person”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “person.”
Now Matthew has Jesus dismissing, as it were, the crowds, and his disciples approach and mildly challenge him and ask for clarity. Verse 12 implies that the Pharisees have left, as well, probably in defeat. So Jesus leaves the crowds to fend for themselves in sorting out the short parable and focuses on his disciples (see my comments on Matt. 13:10-17, for why he spoke parables to the crowds). Once again, Matthew is careful to distinguish between the crowds and disciples. These are surely the twelve, and not any larger number of disciples. But since the number is not specified, let’s not push too hard on it.
They ask, “Don’t you know?” That’s presumptuous, because of course he knew his remarks were offensive. He wanted them to be. Maybe the disciples were hoping other religious leaders would join Jesus to overthrow the Romans. Yet he is offending them and chasing them off. The disciples were shortsighted and baffled.
“scandalized”: it does come from the Greek verb skandalizō (pronounced skan-dah-lee-zoh), and in this context it means “take offense” “get angry” “shock.”
Instead of calling back the Pharisees and teachers of the law and apologizing, Jesus delivers a strong word and prediction. His heavenly Father did not plant these Pharisees and teachers of the law. They set themselves us as spokespersons for God. Their whole system will be doomed, because—let’s anticipate Matt. 24—God will send his judgment on Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70, through the Romans. Then the sacrificial system will cease (and the temple system did), but these religious men will go so far and so deep into their religious system that the tradition of the leaders will be written down in Talmudic literature, which stretches out to many volumes. God has moved on, however (John 4:20-24).
But this is anti-Semitic! No, it’s not. God loves people, and Jews are people; therefore, God loves Jews. But he is not enamored with their religious system which keeps them blinded to their true Messiah. Incidentally, God does not love any other and piled-up religious systems that keep people away from the clarity and simplicity of Scripture. Catholics have to be careful that they don’t make their canons and council equal to Scripture and go way beyond Scripture.
How can I know and make this evaluation about any or all Bible based religions? Isn’t it arrogant? No, it’s simple. I declare it from long passages like this one, vv. 1-20.
Let the blind guide lead the blind person (singular in Greek).
Now Peter steps forward and speaks for the other disciples. I like Peter. He is bold and curious. In Matt. 13:51, in the chapter of nothing but parables, Jesus asked them if they understood these things, and they replied that they did. Here they miss the point. The disciples are inconsistent. Jesus has to spend more time with them and eventually fill them with his Spirit at Pentecost, and then the Spirit will have to lead them into clearer and newer truths, like Gentiles are also candidates for salvation and are not unclean (Acts 10). It makes me wonder how many clear and new truths I miss. Probably many.
The concept is clear: food goes into the mouth, and the waste goes out. What comes out of people’s mouths—their words, which are expressions of thoughts of the heart, can potentially defile a person.
“person”: see v. 11 for more comments.
In v. 20, we have a vice list, and these lists appear often in Scripture (e.g. Rom. 1:29-31; Gal. 5:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:3-4). “Slanders” could be translated as “blasphemies” if it is directed at God. I’ll let those admirable editors at biblehub.com explain the detailed meanings of these individual vices in their word studies.
Instead, I’d like to make a general observation about the teachers in the church. I don’t hear preachers who have big budgets and can appear on TV every single day talking about these vices, but maybe some do, like the once-a-week teachers, and I just haven’t tuned in to every one of them. If some of the every-day-TV-teachers do, then so much the better for them and the people they lead. But the ones who don’t teach, even in passing, avoiding the vices are withholding life lessons from God’s people. Jas. 3:1 (one of my life verses) says not to let there be many teachers, for they shall incur a stricter judgment. And Heb. 13:17 (another of my life verses) says that leaders will have to render an account for what they did. Be warned, teachers and pastors!
Everyone now knows (or should know) Jesus’s bottom-line point. Matt. 15:16-20 answers 15:11. We must avoid the vices, because they make us morally unclean. Food does not. Don’t confuse your priorities.
In any case, let there not be any confusion about Jesus being so loving that he overlooked people’s vices. No. He told everyone that the basic message of the kingdom is “Repent!” (Mark 1:15). His list is the vices that he can purge from us, on our repentance.
In v. 20 I wrote “person”: see v. 11 for more comments.
In the vice list, the vices are prohibited mostly in the second table of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2-17; Deut. 5:6-21). “Jesus’s ethic stresses internal intention (cf. Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28), perhaps focusing on the tenth commandment (Exod. 20:17; Deut. 5:21). This clashes not with the law of Moses but with the whole Pharisees’ oral tradition, which stresses external behavior” (Turner, comment on 15:15-20).
GrowApp for Matt. 15:1-20
A.. It’s time to do a Moral Heart Checkup. The vice list in v. 19 is strong. Do any of these vices dominate your heart? If they do, how do you clean them out? How have you been victorious over them, if they no longer do?
B.. How do you honor your father and mother? Does honor mean always to “love” and “obey”?
Jesus Turns Canaanite Woman’s Desperation into Faith (Matt. 15:21-28)
21 Then Jesus went out from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And look! A Canaanite woman from the vicinity came out and cried, saying, “Have mercy on me, son of David! My daughter is badly demonized!” 23 But he did not answer her with a word. His disciples approached and requested of him, saying, “Dismiss her! Because she is calling after us!” 24 In reply, he said to her, “I have not been sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and bowed before him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 But in reply he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the pet dogs.” 27 Then she said, “Yes, Lord, for even the pet dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!” 28 So in reply, Jesus said to her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you want!” And her daughter was healed at that very moment.
This is a true story about raising a woman’s faith by first reminding her of an ethnic barrier between her and him and then momentarily denying her request, because she was not part of his mission to his fellow Jews. But he must have seen something in this mother to throw down the gauntlet. He must have seen that she would rise to the challenge and overcome.
Tyre and Sidon is the far north, on the Mediterranean coast (Lebanon today). Apparently a Jewish community lived up there. On the other hand, Jesus is moving beyond the borders of Israel. He is leading his disciples to look beyond what he said back in Matt. 10:6, namely, the apostles should not go beyond the lost sheep if Israel. But his mission is shifting now, gradually.
He had strategically withdrawn from conflict in 2:12-14, 22; 4:12; 12:15; 14:13. They journey to Tyre and Sidon is less than fifty miles (80.4 km).
Now a Canaanite woman, of a pagan religion, in her desperation, broke down the social barriers. Matthew uses the word Canaanite to conjure the false religion of old. Now the miracle and mercy of Jesus will be even more clear.
She may not have known that his mission was to the lost sheep of Israel, not to those outside the covenant. But if she did know, then she didn’t care about it. Her daughter was demonized.
“demonized”: the one verb is translated simply. Here Matthew uses the modifier “badly,” so the attack must have been visible to onlookers. Osborne translates it as “terribly ill, having a demon,” so he sees illness and demonization in this case only, but not to be overgeneralized to every case.
There are two main ways in the Greek NT to express demonic attacks to varying degrees, from full possession to just attacks: “have a demon” and “demonized.” The latter term is used often in Matthew: 4:24; 8:16, 28, 35; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22, but only once in Luke (8:36), and Mark four times (1:32; 5:15, 16, 18). John uses the term once (10:21). In Luke 8:26-39, Luke uses both “have a demon” and “demonized,” so he sees the terms synonymously. “Demonized” comes from the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-mo-nee-zo-my), which just adds the suffix –izo to the noun daimōn (pronounced dy-moan). It is a very convenient quality about Greek (English has this ability too: modern to modernize). Just add this prefix to a noun, and it turns into a verb. So it looks like “have a demon” and “be demonized” are synonyms. The context determines how severe the possession was. In this verse it is used generally, without precision as to the depth of possession.
Whatever the case, the answer was the same: deliverance by the power and authority of Jesus.
Son of David was a popular Messianic title; it reflects the future age when the eyes of the blind would be opened and the ears of the deaf would be unstopped and the lame would leap like a deer (Is. 35:5:5-6). Later in his ministry he will correct the popular view and say that if the Messiah really was David’s son, then why does David call him Lord (Matt. 22:41-46)?
Jesus puts her off by remaining silent, the first time.
So she turns to the disciples and bothers them. She is shouting at them or calling out to them. One definition of the verb could be screaming. She is raising her voice and a ruckus. She won’t stop. “Help me! Oh, please help me!” she may be saying.
“disciples”: see v. 1 for more comment.
Jesus puts her off again. Jesus plainly spells out his mission. She shouldn’t distract him from it. She was a Canaanite woman.
Her prayer was simple and straightforward. “Lord, help me!”
Jesus puts her off for the third time. He speaks in a brief parable or illustration.
As we shall see in Blomberg’s comment, below, the Greek word is kunarion (pronounced koo-nah-ree-on), and it literally means “little dog” (or plural, as here, “little dogs”). It is contrasted with wild dogs that roamed the streets. However the diminutive “little’ Had lost its force in the Greek at this time, so if it is not a full insult, it does push her away. These puppies have access to the children’s table. Yet the term does draw a line between Jews and Gentiles. He said it to elicit from her hunger and desperation. Then she must go beyond those things and call out in faith.
“he said to her”: “to her” is not in the Greek, but the context warrants it. He could, however, have been talking to the disciples, and she overheard him. So she replied anyway. This shows her desperation and hunger. But does she have faith?
This is the third time she calls him “Lord.” She has insight, also calling him “son of David.” Now she answers ironically, which puzzles commentators. First, she acknowledges that his statement has a certain logic to it. “Yes, sir!” “Yes, lord!” But then her affirmation takes an ironic twist, as if she says, “But consider that crumbs slip through children’s little fingers and fall to the floor! Children don’t take the greatest care, do they, my lord? Did you think of that? All I’m asking for are the crumbs, not the whole loaf or a nicely sliced piece! You can feed both the children and a lap dog like me!”
Wow! Jesus must have smiled. He got it out of her! She demonstrated great faith by her riposte (retort) to his third denial. He really was a soft touch, must like a father who gives in to the pleading of his special child. “That girl has me wrapped around her little finger!”
It is possible to detect, by the Spirit, faith surging in someone. Paul saw faith in a man crippled from birth, and the crippled man was healed (Acts 14:9). I believe Jesus saw extraordinary faith in this woman and brought it out of her by momentarily challenging and ignoring her. Yet he knew all along that she would respond with faith.
The woman moved from desperation to faith. She conquered him with her faith. And her faith was demonstrated by her words. Never underestimate the power of spoken words to reveal your faith. Ask God out loud in your prayers.
Recall this expanded translation of Matt. 7:7: “Continually ask, and it will be given to you. Continually seek, and you will find. Continually knock on the door, and it will be opened to you.”
She got her answer to prayer that very moment.
“O woman!” This is not an insult. It is equivalent to ma’am or madam. However, I take it also to connote, “Wow, ma’am! You stun me! I’m taken aback!”
This story moves me. It seems that he went up north just for her, because no other miracle is recorded Tyre and Sidon, in Matthew’s Gospel at this time.
So why was Jesus apparently so harsh and standoffish? We cannot catch the scene fully when we read these words. We have to picture a lively dialogue.
Commentator France insightfully writes
Cold print does not allow us to detect a quizzical eyebrow or a tongue in the cheek, and it may be that Jesus’s demeanor already hinted that his discouraging reply was not to be his last word on the subject. Need we assume that when eventually the woman won the argument, Jesus was either dismayed or displeased? May this not rather have been the outcome he intended from the start? A good teacher may sometimes aim to draw out a pupil’s best insight by a deliberate challenge which does not necessarily represent the teacher’s own view—even if the phrase “devil’s advocate” may not be appropriate to the context! (p. 591)
In other words, Jesus was playing the role of “a wise teacher who allows, and indeed incites, his pupil to mount a victorious argument against the foil of his own reluctance” (France, 591, n. 13). We must not look at this text on the surface. Jesus was simply playing the role of a reluctant teacher to test the hunger of the woman in need, to incite more of her hunger that he saw in her words. She succeeded. The lesson for us: when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will be found by him (Jer. 29:13). After you demonstrate your hunger, he will give you his good purpose and plans (Jer. 29:11). Our relationship with God in heaven cannot be casual or complacent, so we get what we want by just snapping our fingers. No shortcuts with God, as if he is our cosmic butler. Seek him hard, everyone.
And Blomberg says in his comment on this verse:
Jews frequently insulted Gentiles by calling them “dogs,”—the wild, homeless scavengers that roamed freely in Palestine. But the diminutive form here (kynarion rather than kyōn) suggests a more affectionate term for domestic pets, particularly since these dogs eat under the children’s table. Even at best, Jesus’ remarks still strike the modern reader as condescending. Jesus apparently wants to demonstrate and stretch this woman’s faith. The “children” must then refer to Israel and the “bread” to the blessings of God on the Jews, particularly through Jesus’ healing ministry. The woman disputes none of Jesus’ terms but argues that, even granting his viewpoint, he should still help her (v. 27). The Gentiles should receive at least residual blessings from God’s favor on the Jews. In fact, the Old Testament from Gen 12:1–3 onwards promised far more than residue. The woman reveals a tenacious faith even as a Gentile (v. 28). Jesus explicitly commends this faith, closely paralleling the narrative of 8:5–13 (as does also his instantaneous healing from a distance).
This was a true story of how Jesus temporarily withheld an answer to a woman who was not part of his mission, just to draw out from her the faith that he must have perceived in her.
These verses are a good ending to this startling pericope:
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, (Jer. 29:12-14, ESV)
GrowApp for Matt. 15:21-28
A.. Have you ever been so desperate that you would not stop seeking God? How did you transition from desperation to faith? Tell your story.
Jesus Heals Many People (Matt. 13:29-31)
29 Jesus moved on from there and came to the Lake of Galilee and went up on to the mountain and was sitting there. 30 Then the numerous crowds came to him, having with them the crippled, blind, lame, mute, and many others, and they placed them at his feet, and he healed them. 31 The result was that the crowd was amazed seeing the mute speaking, the lame healthy and the crippled walking and the blind seeing. They were glorifying the God of Israel.
This pericope is another summary of his healing ministry.
“Lake of Galilee”: it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers, makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate.
Jesus is in Gentile territory, preparing the disciples for a more global outreach (Osborne on 15:29).
This is the second recorded time that he went up “the mountain” (14:23). No specific designation or location of the mountain is needed. The point is that he secluded himself. But not for long, because the crowds brought their sick with them and “tossed” (another translation of the Greek word “placed”) at his feet. They insisted, and he obliged them. He didn’t mind. The going up reminds me of Matt. 5:1, when Jesus went up a mountainside and taught. Once again, this seems like an indirect parallel with Moses going up on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19).
One sign of the Messianic Age was the healing of diseases and broken bodies. Is. 35 describes this age. After God comes with a vengeance to rescue his people, these things will happen:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6).
Is. 26:19 says of the Messianic Age: “But your dead will live, LORD, their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout with joy” (Is. 26:19, NIV).
The phrase “in that day” refers to the age that the Messiah ushers in: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll and out of gloom and darkness the eyes will see” (Is. 29:18, NIV).
The Lord’s Chosen Servant will do many things. Here are some: “I am the LORD: I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for my people, a light for the nations, to open they eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Is. 42:6-7, ESV). Is. 42:18 connects hearing and seeing with walking in God’s ways, and deafness and blindness with national judgment. As for leprosy, Jesus referred to the time when Elijah the prophet healed Namaan the Syrian of his skin disease, and the return of Elijah was a sign that the Messiah was here (Mal. 4:5-6; Luke 9:28-36).
Once again, Jesus seems to have a one hundred percent record of healing. However, sometimes Jesus did not heal everyone, like the many people gathered around the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-9). And in his hometown he did not heal everyone because of their condescending rejection of him and their unbelief in him (Matt. 13:53-58).
But here Jesus seems to have healed everyone. Many Renewalists who emphasize healing yearn for the day when everyone gets healed. They glorified God in Jesus’s day; let’s hope people today don’t glorify the healing evangelists.
The list of miracles is people-centered. Jesus did not perform miracles in the sky. He was interested in helping people. The list is scattered in Isaiah 35:5-6; 26:19; 29:18-19; 61:1. Healing points to the Messianic Age, ushered in by the Messiah himself. Jesus was not going to reform Judaism, like the Reformers intended to reform Christianity, though they did. No, Jesus was going higher and farther. He was ushering a New Age, but this New Age was going to take time and expand gradually. It was going to be as small as the mustard seed at first, but grow big enough for birds to light in its branches (Luke 13:18-19). He was no Messiah riding on a white horse with a sword in his hand, shouting, “I defeat the Romans with the sword of God!” as he stormed Jerusalem with a large army behind him. He intended, instead, to restore people’s minds and bodies and deliver them from evil spirits and teach them what life in the kingdom looked like.
GrowApp for Matt. 15:29-31
A.. How has God healed your soul or body? Tell your story.
Jesus Feeds Four Thousand Men Plus Women and Children (Matt. 15:32-39)
32 Jesus, summoning his disciples, said, “I am moved with compassion for the crowd because it is already three days that they have remained with me and they do not have anything they might eat. I do not want to dismiss them hungry, in case they faint on the road.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where do we get so much bread in a deserted place so that such a crowd may be satisfied?” 34 Then Jesus said to them, “How much bread do you have?” They said, “Seven loaves and a little fish.” 35 Instructing the crowd to sit on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and fish, and after giving thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples and the disciples to the crowd. 37 Then everyone ate and was satisfied. And the overflow of fragments was seven baskets full. 38 The ones who ate were four thousand men, apart from the women and children. 39 And after he dismissed the crowd, he got in a boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.
This is done in Gentile territory, so many scholars say the the miraculous feeding of the five thousand was done for the Jews (14:13-21), while this miraculous feeding for the four thousand was done for Gentiles, though Jews were certainly in the crowd. Jesus is gradually moving outwardly from his original mission to go to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:23).
“moved with compassion”: In 14:13-21, at the feeding of the five thousand (plus women and children), Jesus was also moved with compassion (14:14). The verb could be translated as “felt compassion,” but this attribute which God shares with us cannot remain static or unexpressed. It has to be active, or else it cannot be compassion.
Let’s explore the verb and the related noun more deeply. The verb is splanchnizomai (pronounced splan-khnee-zoh-my) and is used 12 times, exclusively in the Gospels. “It describes the compassion Jesus had for those he saw in difficulty” (Mounce, New Expository Dictionary, p. 128). BDAG defines the verb simply: “have pity, feel sympathy.”
BDAG further says the noun splanchnon (pronounced splankh-non) is related to the inward part of the body, especially the viscera, inward parts, entrails. But some update their translation with the noun as “heart.” So the verb is also related to the inward parts of a person. It could be translated as “Jesus felt compassion in the depths of his heart.”
As an important side note, in Hebrew the verb raḥam (pronounced rakh-am, and used 47 times) means “to have compassion on, show mercy, take pity on and show love.” The noun raḥamim (39 times) (pronounced rach’meem) means “compassion, mercy, pity.” Both words are related to the word for “womb,” when a woman feels close to and love for the human life growing there. It’s deep in God, too.
Three days was quite a teaching session. I can see why some Christians get together at a “camp meeting” for several days. Jesus didn’t want them to faint or collapse along the road home, so he had to feed them.
“disciples”: see v. 1 for more comments
His disciples were once again skeptical. Where would they get so much food to feed such a large crowd? They had forgotten their recent lesson of feeding five thousand (plus women and children). The children of Israel walking through the desert also forgot God’s mighty power of deliverance. He gave them manna and then wondered later on, going through a tough time, whether God would provide.
Skeptics question whether the disciples would forget such a powerful lesson—never mind that skeptics don’t even believe the multiplication of loaves and fish even happened. Would the disciples have forgotten such a stupendous miracle in such a short time? Carson: (1) The disciples may have realized the first miracle anticipated the messianic banquet, but not this one, so they were not sure Jesus even wanted to perform another miraculous feeding. (2) In John 6:26, Jesus rebuked the crowd for wanting food, so would Jesus perform another miracle seemingly on demand? (3) We all struggle with unbelief, so would the disciples expect another similar miracle? What if the first one was a one-time offer only (p. 358)?
Blomberg says that Jesus may have expected the twelve to feed the people miraculously: “Most likely the disciples think that Jesus’ remarks in v. 32 imply that they should miraculously provide food for the crowd, and they are not convinced they can do it. This makes their question much more understandable, though, in any event, Matthew does not present the disciples in a particularly positive light” (comment on 15:32-34)
But as far as I’m concerned, skeptics don’t have a voice. I have heard too many stories of soup kitchens have food multiply to doubt it. I hope soup kitchen workers pray, when a surge of homeless people unexpectedly show up. Miracles of the Bible can happen again.
Jesus asked a simple question. Not everything he did was activated by the gift of the word of knowledge. He did not say, “I know already by my super-powers how many loaves and fish you have!” No. He asked. Remember his divine attribute of omniscience (all-knowing) was imported with him at his birth, but it was surrendered to his Father. His Father and himself, together, activated this attribute. Jesus did not activate this knowledge attribute by himself, but it was also operated by his Father’s will.
His disciples answered his straightforward question. Seven loaves and small fishes (plural).
Jesus repeats his command when he fed the five thousand-plus. He had them sit down on the ground. This time it does not say grass, as it did in 14:19. So the season changed. It may have been the end of the summer, when the grass burned off, but we don’t know for sure.
Once again, he followed his previous way. He took the bread and fish and thanked his loving Father for the food and the multiplication of it. Doing this must have appeared outlandish to those watching. “He’s actually giving thanks for this little food? Is he going to eat it front of us? Really? This is crazy!” He divided or broke the bread and divided the fish somehow without making a mess, and he gave them to the disciples who gave them to the crowd. I would have been watching carefully at the logistics. How will this work? But the bread and fish never ran out. “Wow!” I would have said. “This truly is a miracle! God is with that man!”
This verse reveals the results. Everyone ate and was satisfied. And the leftovers were seven baskets full of fragments.
“overflow”: it comes from the Greek verb perisseuō (pronounced peh-rees-soo-oh), and it means “abound” or “abundance.”
“apart from”: this does not indicate that women and children ate apart from the men, but it means in this context “not counting” women and children.
One last theological point, as I noted in my comment on 14:13-21: Jesus indirectly shows himself to be the bread of heaven—indirectly because he does not announce it, as he did in John’s Gospel (6:35), after he fed the five thousand (6:1-14). This refers to the manna from heaven that fed the ancient Israelites going through the wilderness (Exod. 16). Jesus is our bread of heaven. He is our sustenance.
Then he goes off in a boat to another place called Magadan, a vicinity which has not been pinpointed on a map. It may be associated with Magdala on the west coast of the Lake of Galilee, not far from Tiberius (Osborne, p. 609). But maybe by now someone has found it exactly. Google it.
My focus is on Jesus’s ministry. He keeps going and going. He loves people.
A final theological note. Jesus “imported” his omnipotence with him, when he was a baby—yes, even when he was a baby. He did not lose his divine attributes or lay them aside. However, all his divine attributes were surrendered to the Father. As he grew, he became aware of his mission and aware of his attributes. So did he work this miracle by his omnipotence or by the power of the Spirit?
(1). He worked this multiplication miracle by his divine omnipotence and the will of the Father.
(2). He worked this miracle by the power of the Spirit and the will of the Father.
(3). He worked this miracle by his omnipotence, the power of the Spirit, and the will of the Father.
The dominant Scriptural testimony of his ministry is the second option (Acts 10:38), but I also like the third one. If it is the second option, then it opens the door for his followers today to work the same miracle by the will of the Father. Too many stories circulate about soup kitchens receiving an endless supply of food until the last homeless guy is fed.
One thing is certain: the will of the Father is the constant factor. No miracle is done without him.
And I note that he worked this miracle without the faith of the people or the disciples, but he certainly had faith. It carried all of the four thousand men plus women and men and the twelve disciples. He also had compassion on them. So his faithfulness (connected to faith) and his compassion led to the miracle.
Faith has to be present somewhere, even if it comes directly from the Father to one small child.
It is further interesting that he did not pray for them to receive supernatural strength to walk home without fainting or collapsing along the road. He fed them. God works miracles, true, but he also recognizes the human conditions and limitations. They may not have had faith to sustain their journey back home. They needed to be fed. It was a fitting solution to a long and happy three days of teaching and healing. They ate and were satisfied.
Why two miraculous feedings? Jesus was like Moses who had two miraculous feedings (Exod. 16; Num. 11), and so did Elisha 2 Kings 4:1-7, 38-44). See also Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-16 (Turner, p. 393).
GrowApp for Matt. 15:32-39
A.. Jesus once again provided for people practical things, like their daily bread. How has God provided for you? Tell your story.
Summary and Conclusion
This chapter is about clarity and faith. Clarity about the law is important. Food laws are no longer valid today (unless someone voluntarily chooses to keep kosher). All food is clean.
Jesus transformed the Canaanite woman’s desperation into faith. She was desperate to see her daughter delivered. She implored Jesus and the twelve, and they put her off because he wanted to find out how hungry she was. True, his mission was not to pagans, but her riposte (reply) won him over. She never gave up. He liked her feisty attitude that pushed in. She won him over. I really like this story. It moves me.
Jesus carried the four thousand men, plus women and children, on the wings of his faith. They didn’t have it, certainly not the disciples. He worked this miracle on his faith and by the will of the Father. He also had compassion on the people. Faith and compassion worked together and produced the miracle of multiplication.
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. They are excellent and I admire them. They humble me. But they are too technical for the laity, so I hope I have simplified things.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).