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Bible: What Does Matthew 15 Teach Us About Law, Tradition, Spiritual Blindness and Great Faith?

Updated on September 8, 2016

The Law


Matthew 15: Jewish Spiritual Blindness and a Gentile's Great Faith/Jesus Feeds the "Four Thousand" on a Galilee Mountain

The Law vs. Tradition

The scribes and Pharisees also resume their attacks on the Lord through His disciples, this time over their want of ceremonial cleansing (vv. 1-2).

[Ryrie points out that the Law specified that only priests needed to wash in this way before eating (New Testament Study Bible, 33).]

Interestingly, not only does Jesus not answer His opponents’ complaint to their face, but He also delays His explanation, presenting it later to the multitudes in parable form (vv. 11,15) and to His disciples in a more detailed manner (vv. 16-20).

Instead, Christ goes on the offensive, emphasizing the Pharisees’ transgression of “the commandment of God” in contrast to His disciples’ transgressing “the tradition of the elders” (vv. 2-3).

He quotes both Moses’ fifth commandment (apodictic law; cf. Deut.5:16) and the principle that regards the cursing of parents a capital offense (casuistic law; cf. Ex.21:17) before stating their traditional interpretation—a view that dishonors parents under the guise of serving God (vv. 4-6).

The Blind Leading the Blind


Religious Tradition

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Spiritual Blindness

After labeling the Pharisees what they are (“Hypocrites!”), the Lord quotes still another Scripture as support for His contention: Isaiah 29:13 (vv. 7-9).

The context of this verse reveals that spiritual blindness had struck Israel's spiritual leaders, so that they did not understand Isaiah's vision (Is. 29: 9-11).

Yahweh therefore pronounced His judgment upon those who only did Him lip service; the “wisdom” of Judah's religious leaders will therefore perish (vv. 13-14).

God will confound them so that their wisdom becomes folly.

This same spiritual condition and religious tradition existed among Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day.

Contradicting Religious Tradition

Speaking to the multitude (apparently in the Pharisees’ hearing), Jesus directly contradicts the rabbinic teaching concerning ritualistic defilement, thereby offending this group (vv. 10-12).

With characteristic imagery, Christ identifies the Pharisees in two ways:

(1) as plants that the Father has not planted, destined for uprooting; and

(2) as blind leaders of the blind, destined to fall into a ditch.

Consequently, He instructs His disciples to “let them alone” (vv. 13-14).

In response to Peter’s inquiry into the parable’s meaning, Jesus expresses surprise that he also lacks spiritual understanding (vv. 15-17a).

[The spiritual obtuseness of believers must sorely try the Lord’s patience.]

Still, He calmly explains that the digestive system adequately handles any impurities found in food (v. 17b); spiritual and moral corruption resident in man’s heart (v. 18), however, finds its way to the outer world in many forms, and defiles the individual’s body and soul (v. 19).

Jesus summarizes a more comprehensive view of this issue in verse twenty.

A Gentile's Strong Faith

From Gennesaret, the Lord travels to the region of Tyre and Sidon—two Mediterranean coastal towns in Phoenicia (v. 21)—where He encounters a Canaanite woman whose cries for mercy on behalf of her demonized daughter He does not immediately answer (vv. 22-23a).

While the disciples show their Jewish prejudice by “ordering” Him to send away this Gentile woman (v. 23b), Jesus reiterates to them the sole focus of His mission: to find “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v. 24).

When the woman boldly approaches and falls prostrate before Him pleading for help, Christ tests her professed faith (“Lord” [vv. 22, 25], and “Son of David” [v. 22]), accommodating Himself to her cultural understanding by using the common lingo of the Jews (v 26).

[While interpreters may construe the term “little dogs” as disparaging to human beings, and offer it as evidence that Jesus, as a man of His time, also possessed current prejudices, they fail to acknowledge that the woman apparently recognized and accepted this designation as true (v. 27).

In other words, she believed that the Gentiles did occupy a lower position than the Jews in God’s economy; they were like little dogs in comparison to the Jews (the children).]

Her response, manifesting not only strong faith but also great humility, passes Jesus’ test, and He grants her request (v. 28).

[Like the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4), this Gentile woman receives a special visit from a Jewish man; the Lord Jesus faithfully keeps this divine appointment, finds another one of His elect, and then moves on to another region.]

Mountains of Galilee

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Blue hills.jpg

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Jesus Feeds the "Four Thousand"

The Lord climbs a prominent mountain near the Sea of Galilee (v. 29), and another multitude—similar in number, but not identical to the earlier one (v. 38; cf.14:21)—assembles, carrying their infirm to Him for healing (v. 30).

After witnessing these latest miracles, the astounded onlookers give praise to the God of Israel (v. 31).

Three days later, Christ announces His desire that they not go away hungry.

Strangely, the disciples act as if the previous provision of food had been a freakish occurrence or the result of an attack of the “guilts” (v. 33).

[Their question truly does boggle the mind in the light of what Jesus had accomplished just a few days earlier.

Does a reasonable explanation exist?

Either the disciples did not see the food multiply before their eyes, or they believed that every family merely took their lunches out of their knapsacks.

Both rationalizations leave one incredulous. How could they have been so dense?]

The same kind of miracle occurs as before; this time, however, the disciples gather only seven large baskets, not twelve, and only four thousand men dine, not five thousand (vv. 37-38; cf. 14:20-21).

After sending the people away, Jesus boards a boat (with His disciples this time) for Magadan (Magdala, NKJV) [v. 39].

© 2012 glynch1


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