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B.W. Johnson Commentary on St. Matthew 15:1-20, 16:5-12

From The People's New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891

Matthew Chapter 15

Christ and the Pharisees

SUMMARY.--Eating with Unwashen Hands. Keeping the Traditions of Men. What Defileth a Man. The Blind Leaders of the Blind.

1. Scribes and Pharisees . . . of Jerusalem. Representatives of these bodies, sent, no doubt to counteract the influence of Christ. Compare Mark 7:1-13. These were always bitter opposers of Jesus.

2. Why do thy disciples transgress? Not the law of Moses, but the tradition of the elders, which had as much authority with the Pharisees as the written law. The tradition of the elders. Purported to be precepts never written in the Scriptures, but handed down from the times of Moses and the elders by oral means. These precepts were spoken of the "law upon the lip," and have been embodied in the Talmud. They were additions to the written word. See Gal. 1:14. For they wash not their hands. The orthodox Jews insisted on washing the hands before eating, not to remove the filth, but lest they might have touched something ceremonially unclean. This commandment was purely traditional, but so rigidly did they insist upon observing it that the Rabbi Akiba, imprisoned by the Romans and with scarcely water to sustain life, preferred to use all provided for his ceremonial ablutions, and to die of thirst.

3. Why do ye also transgress? The Lord does not deny their charge, but strikes at the evil by showing that their human traditions led them to break God's written law.

4. For God said. Exod. 21:17. He that speaketh evil, etc. The Ten Commandments promised long life to those who honored father and mother. Here the Lord quotes the punishment of dishonoring them. On nothing did Moses insist more than respect for parents. [87]

5. Ye say. Following tradition, you say one thing while God says in the law just the opposite. The scribes taught that a Jew by calling his possessions "Corban" (a gift to God, Mark 7:11) was absolved from the duty of caring for his parents, even though he did not afterward devote his property to sacred uses. Thus by an artifice the law with respect to parents could be set aside. The Talmud furnishes a curious illustration of this perversion of the command. The Mishna says: "He that curses his father or his mother is not guilty, unless he curses them with an express mention of the name of Jehovah."

6. Ye have void the word of God by your tradition. Modern Pharisaism does the same. Church tradition leads to dogmas that set aside God's commands. The corruption of the simplicity of early Christianity is due to following human tradition.

7. Ye hypocrites. The word so rendered might mean one self-deceived as well as a deceiver, but was always a rebuke. Well did Isaiah prophesy of you. See Isaiah 29:13.

8. This people. The Jews. Verses 8 and 9 are the quotation from Isaiah. Their heart is far from me. The essential of true worship is that the heart be wholly given to God. Even the forms commanded by God are worthless unless they are obeyed from the heart.

9. In vain do they worship me. This worship is all idle, empty, and without profit, because they teach as doctrines the commandments of men. This rebuke to the Pharisees, who had added to the law of Moses many traditional human precepts, applies equally to all modern religionists who have modified or added to the Christianity of Christ and the apostles. Whatever one cannot find in the New Testament is of such a character; observance of saints' days, of Christmas, of Lent, the removal of the cup in the Lord's Supper from the laity, infant sprinkling, party creeds and party shibboleths, are all of men and not of God. The devout worshiper should go right to the New Testament for his religion, and reject every ordinance or precept that is not to be found there.

10, 11. He called the multitude. In order to show them that the Pharisaical expounders of the law did not understand its real sense. Not that which goeth into a man defileth. The Mosaic law forbade Jews to eat what was ceremonially unclean, in order to teach the need of moral purity. The Rabbins added stringent precepts to prevent the slightest contact with ceremonial uncleanness, but were careless about moral purity. Christ shows that a pure heart is far more important than clean food, in the ceremonial sense, in the stomach. Pharisees in all ages have paid more attention to the letter than to the spirit, to the symbol than to that which is signified. That which cometh out of a man. The impure words that indicate an impure heart. What one eats does not render him defiled before God, but what he says. See verses 18-23.

12. The Pharisees were offended. Found fault. They would insist that he set aside the law, whereas it was tradition that he rejected. [88]

13. Every plant. A general truth, but here refers to the doctrines not of God, like "the tradition of the elders."

14. Let them alone. The Pharisees. His disciples were troubled by their opposition. They be blind leaders of the blind. They pretend to be spiritual guides of the people, while spiritually blind themselves. The blind are unsafe guides of the blind.

15. Declare unto us the parable. The figure was used in verse 11.

16, 17. Is cast out. What is eaten passes through the body and passes away. It does not defile the soul.

18, 19. Out of the heart. The emotional nature; the mind. Evil deeds are begotten of evil thoughts; evil words are the expression of these evil thoughts. These indicate a sinful heart and make a man sinful, or defiled.

Matthew Chapter 16

The Foundation of the Church.

SUMMARY. The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

5. The disciples were come to the other side. They crossed over the sea to the eastern shore. Had forgotten to take bread. They had started on a journey to Cęsarea Philippi, partly through a wilderness country, and would need a supply. Mark says that they had one loaf. Compare Mark 8:14-21.

6. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, etc. The teaching and influence which spreads like leaven. See verse 12. The figure of the leaven was suggested by their need of bread. Mark, instead of Sadducees, says, "of Herod." Herod and his followers were Sadducees.

7, 8, 9, 10, 11. It is because we took no bread. The thoughts of the disciples were so fixed upon their failure to supply bread that they thought the remark about leaven contained a rebuke. The Lord reminds them of his creative power, and how it has been put forth. [92]

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