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Matthew 15:9


Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

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.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-9

See also Mark 7:1-9.

Then came to Jesus … - Mark says that they saw the disciples of Jesus eating with unwashed hands.

Matthew 15:2

Transgress the tradition of the elders - The world “elders” literally means “old men.” Here it means the “ancients,” or their “ancestors.” The “tradition of the elders” meant something handed down from one to another by memory; some precept or custom not commanded in the written law, but which scribes and Pharisees held themselves bound to observe.

They supposed that when Moses was on Mount Sinai two sets of laws were delivered to him: one, they said, was recorded, and is that contained in the Old Testament; the other was handed down from father to son, and kept uncorrupted to their day. They believed that Moses, before he died, delivered this law to Joshua; he to the Judges; they to the prophets; so that it was kept pure until it was recorded in the Talmuds. In these books these pretended laws are now contained. They are exceedingly numerous and very trifling. They are, however, regarded by the Jews as more important than either Moses or the prophets.

One point in which the Pharisees differed from the Sadducees was in holding to these traditions. It seems, however, that in the particular traditions mentioned here, all the Jews were united; for Mark adds Mark 7:3 that “the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.” Mark has also added that this custom of washing extended not merely to their hands before eating, but in coming from the market; and also to cups, and pots, and brass vessels, and tables, Mark 7:3-4. They did this professedly for the sake of cleanliness. So far it was well. But they also made it a matter of superstition. They regarded external purity as of much more importance than the purity of the heart. They had many foolish rules about it respecting the quantity of water that was to be used, the way in which it should be applied, the number of times it should be changed, the number of those that might wash at a time, etc. Our Saviour did not think it proper to regard these rules, and this was the reason why they “found fault” with him.

Matthew 15:3

But he answered … - They accused him of violating their traditions, as though they were obligatory.

In his answer he implied that his disciples were not bound to obey their traditions - they were invented by human beings. He said, also, that those traditions could not be binding, as they violated the commandments of God. He proceeded to specify a case in which their tradition made void one of the plain laws of God; and if that was their character, then they could not blame him for not regarding them.

Matthew 15:4

For God commanded … - That is, in the fifth commandment Exodus 20:12, and in Exodus 21:17. To “honor” is to obey, to reverence, to speak kindly to, to speak and think well of. To “curse” is to disobey, to treat with irreverence, to swear at, to speak ill of, to think evil of in the heart, to meditate or do any evil to a parent. All this is included in the original word.

Let him die the death - This is a Hebrew phrase, the same as saying, “let him surely die.” The Jewish law punished this crime with death. This duty of honoring and obeying a parent was what Christ said they had violated by their traditions. He proceeds to state the way in which it was done.

Matthew 15:5

It is a gift - In Mark it is “corban.” The word “corban” is a Hebrew word denoting a gift.

Here it means a thing dedicated to the service of God, and therefore not to be appropriated to any other use. The Jews were in the habit of making such dedications. They devoted their property to God for sacred uses, as they pleased. In doing this they used the word קרבן qaarbaanor κορβᾶν korbanor some similar word, saying, this thing is “corban,” i. e., it is a gift to God, or is sacred to him. The law required that when a dedication of this kind was made it should be fulfilled. “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God,” Psalm 76:11. See Deuteronomy 23:21. The law of God required that a son should honor his parent; i. e., among other things, that he should provide for his needs when he was old and in distress. Yet the Jewish teachers said that it was more important for a man to dedicate his property to God than to provide for the needs of his parent.

If he had once devoted his property once said it was “corban,” or a gift to God - it could not be appropriated even to the support of a parent. If a parent was needy and poor, and if he should apply to a son for assistance, and the son should reply, though in anger, “It is devoted to God; this property which you need, and by which you might be profited by me, is “corban” - I have given it to God;” the Jews said the property could not be recalled, and the son was not under obligation to aid a parent with it. He had done a more important thing in giving it to God. The son was free. He could not be required to do anything for his father after that. Thus, he might, in a moment, free himself from the obligation to obey his father or mother. In a sense somewhat similar to this, the chiefs and priests of the Sandwich Islands had the power of devoting anything to the service of the gods by saying that it was “taboo,” or “tabooed;” that is, it became consecrated to the service of religion; and, no matter who had been the owner, it could then be appropriated for no other use. In this way they had complete power over all the possessions of the people, and could appropriate them for their own use under the pretence of devoting them to religion. Thus, they deprived the people of their property under the plea that it was consecrated to the gods. The Jewish son deprived his parents of a support under the plea that the property was devoted to the service of religion. The principle was the same, and both systems were equally a violation of the rights of others.

Besides, the law said that a man should die who cursed his father, i. e., that refused to obey him, or to provide for him, or spoke in anger to him. Yet the Jews said that, though in anger, and in real spite and hatred, a son said to his father, “All that I have which could profit you I have given to God,” he should be free from blame. Thus, the whole law was made void, or of no use, by what appeared to have the appearance of piety. “No man, according to their views, was bound to obey the fifth commandment and support an aged and needy parent, if, either from superstition or spite, he chose to give his property to God, that is, to devote it to some religious use.”

Our Saviour did not mean to condemn the practice of giving to God, or to religious and charitable objects. The law and the gospel equally required this. Jesus commended even a poor widow that gave all her living, Mark 12:44, but he condemned the practice of giving to God where it interfered with our duty to parents and relations; where it was done to get rid of the duty of aiding them; and where it was done out of a malignant and rebellious spirit, with the semblance of piety, to get clear of doing to earthly parents what God required.

Matthew 15:7

Ye hypocrites! - See the notes at Matthew 7:5. Hypocrisy is the concealment of some base principle under the pretence of religion. Never was there a clearer instance of it than this an attempt to get rid of the duty of providing for needy parents under an appearance of piety toward God.

Esaias - That is, Isaiah. This prophecy is found in Isaiah 29:13.

Prophesy of you - That is, he spoke of the people of his day of the Jews, as Jews - in terms that apply to the whole people. He properly characterized the nation in calling them hypocrites. The words are applicable to the nation at all times, and they apply, therefore, to you. He did not mean particularly to speak of the nation in the time of Christ, but he spoke of them as having a national character of hypocrisy. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:22-23.

Matthew 15:8

Draweth nigh unto me with their mouth … - That is, they are regular in the forms of worship; they are strict in ceremonial observances, and keep the law outwardly; but God requires the heart, and that they have not rendered.

Matthew 15:9

In vain do they worship me - That is, their attempts to worship are “vain,” or are not real worship - they are mere “forms.”

Teaching for doctrines … - The word “doctrines,” here, means the requirements of religion - things to be believed and practiced in religion.

God only has a right to declare what shall be done in his service; but they held their traditions to be superior to the written word of God, and taught them as doctrines binding the conscience. See the notes at Isaiah 29:13.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Additions to God's laws reflect upon his wisdom, as if he had left out something which was needed, and which man could supply; in one way or other they always lead men to disobey God. How thankful ought we to be for the written word of God! Never let us think that the religion of the Bible can be improved by any human addition, either in doctrine or practice. Our blessed Lord spoke of their traditions as inventions of their own, and pointed out one instance in which this was very clear, that of their transgressing the fifth commandment. When a parent's wants called for assistance, they pleaded, that they had devoted to the temple all they could spare, even though they did not part with it, and therefore their parents must expect nothing from them. This was making the command of God of no effect. The doom of hypocrites is put in a little compass; "In vain do they worship me." It will neither please God, nor profit themselves; they trust in vanity, and vanity will be their recompence.
Ellen G. White
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 438

Of the Lord Jesus Christ in His youth, the divine testimony is given, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” After the visit to Jerusalem in His boyhood, He returned with His parents, “and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.... And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” FE 438.1

In the days of Christ, the educators of the youth were formalists. During His ministry, Jesus declared to the rabbis, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” And He charged them with “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Tradition was dwelt upon, amplified, and reverenced far above the Scriptures. The sayings of men, and an endless round of ceremonies, occupied so large a share of the student's life, that the education which imparts a knowledge of God was neglected. The great teachers were continually enlarging upon little things, specifying every detail to be observed in the ceremonies of religion, and making its observance a matter of highest obligation. They paid “tithe of mint and anise and cummin,” while they “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” Thus there was brought in a mass of rubbish that hid from the view of the youth the great essentials of the service of God. FE 438.2

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1094-5

52. Old and New Testaments Inseparable—[Matthew 13:52 quoted.] In this parable, Jesus presented before His disciples the responsibility of those whose work it is to give to the world the light which they have received from Him. The Old Testament was all the Scripture then in existence; but it was not written merely for the ancients; it was for all ages and for all people. Jesus would have the teachers of His doctrine diligently search the Old Testament for that light which establishes His identity as the Messiah foretold in prophecy, and reveals the nature of His mission to the world. The Old and the New Testament are inseparable, for both are the teachings of Christ. The doctrine of the Jews, who accept only the Old Testament, is not unto salvation, since they reject the Saviour whose life and ministry was a fulfillment of the law and the prophecies. And the doctrine of those who discard the Old Testament is not unto salvation, because it rejects that which is direct testimony of Christ. Skeptics begin with discounting upon the Old Testament, and it takes but another step to deny the validity of the New, and thus both are rejected. 5BC 1094.1

The Jews have little influence over the Christian world in showing them the importance of the commandments, including the binding law of the Sabbath, because in bringing forth the old treasures of truth, they throw aside the new ones in the personal teachings of Jesus. On the other hand, the strongest reason why Christians fail to influence the Jews to accept the teachings of Christ as the language of divine wisdom, is because, in bringing forth the treasures of His Word, they treat with contempt the riches of the Old Testament, which are the earlier teachings of the Son of God, through Moses. They reject the law proclaimed from Sinai, and the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, instituted in the Garden of Eden. But the minister of the gospel, who follows the teachings of Christ, will gain a thorough knowledge of both the Old and New Testament, that he may present them in their true light to the people an inseparable whole—the one depending upon and illuminating the other. Thus, as Jesus instructed His disciples, they will bring forth from their treasure “things new and old” (The Spirit of Prophecy 2:254, 255). 5BC 1094.2

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Ellen G. White
Evangelism, 589-90

Error Draws Its Life From Truth—Satan has wrought with deceiving power, bringing in a multiplicity of errors that obscure the truth. Error cannot stand alone, and would soon become extinct if it did not fasten itself like a parasite upon the tree of truth. Error draws its life from the truth of God. The traditions of men, like floating germs, attach themselves to the truth of God, and men regard them as a part of the truth. Through false doctrines, Satan gains a foothold, and captivates the minds of men, causing them to hold theories that have no foundation in truth. Men boldly teach for doctrines the commandments of men; and as traditions pass on, from age to age, they acquire a power over human mind. But age does not make error truth, neither does its burdensome weight cause the plant of truth to become a parasite. The tree of truth bears its own genuine fruit, showing its true origin and nature. The parasite of error also bears its own fruit, and makes manifest that its character is diverse from the plant of heavenly origin. Ev 589.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, 120

There will be a sharp conflict between those who are loyal to God and those who cast scorn upon His law. Reverence for God's law has been subverted. The religious leaders are teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. As it was in the days of ancient Israel, so it is in this age of the world. But because of the prevalence of disloyalty and transgression, will those who have reverenced the law of God now cherish less respect for it? Will they unite with the powers of earth to make it void? The loyal will not be carried away by the current of evil. They will not throw contempt on that which God has set apart as holy. They will not follow Israel's example of forgetfulness; they will call to remembrance God's dealings with His people in all ages, and will walk in the way of His commandments. 8T 120.1

The test comes to everyone. There are only two sides. On which side are you? 8T 120.2

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