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Matthew 15:18

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 15-20

See also Mark 7:17-23.

Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3. The word “parable” sometimes means a dark or obscure saying, Psalm 78:2. Peter meant, “Explain to us more fully this obscure and novel doctrine.” To us, now, it is plain; to the disciples, just coming out of Judaism, the doctrine of Jesus was obscure. Mark says that the disciples asked him. There is no contradiction. The question was put by Peter in the name of the disciples; or several of them put the question, though Matthew has mentioned only one. An omission is not a contradiction.

Matthew 15:16

Are ye also yet without understanding? - Jesus appeals, in explaining this, to their common sense; and he wonders that they had not yet learned to judge the foolish traditions of the Jews by the decisions of common sense and by his own instructions.

Matthew 15:17

Do ye not understand … - The meaning of this may be thus expressed: The food which is eaten does not affect the mind, and therefore cannot pollute it.

The doctrine of the Pharisees, that neglect of washing and of similar observances defiles a man, cannot be true. Those things pertain to the body as much as food does, and they cannot affect the soul. That must be purified by something else than external washing, and it is polluted by other things than a neglect of mere outward ceremonies. The seat of corruption is within - it is the heart itself; and if people would be made pure, this must be cleansed. If that is corrupt, the whole man is corrupt.

Matthew 15:18-20

Christ proceeds to state what does defile the man, or render him a sinner:

1. “Evil thoughts” These are the first things - these are the fountains of all others. Thought precedes action. Thought, or purpose, or motive, gives its character to conduct. All evil thoughts are here intended. Though we labor to suppress them, yet they defile us. They leave pollution behind them.

2. “Murders.” Taking the life of others with malice. The malice has its seat in the heart, and the murder therefore proceeds from the heart, 1 John 3:15.

3. “Adulteries, fornication.” See Matthew 5:28.

4. “Thefts.” Theft is the taking and carrying away the goods of others without their knowledge or consent. Thefts are caused by coveting the property of others. They proceed, therefore, from the heart, and violate at the same time two commandments - the tenth commandment in thought and the eighth commandment in act.

5. “False witness.” Giving wrong testimony. Concealing the truth, or stating what we know to be false - a violation of the ninth commandment. It proceeds from a desire to injure others, to take away their character or property, or to do them injustice. It proceeds thus from the heart.

6. “Blasphemies.” See the notes at Matthew 9:3. Blasphemy proceeds from opposition to God, hatred of his character Romans 8:7, and from a desire that there should be no God. It proceeds from the heart. See Psalm 14:1. Mark adds several things to those enumerated by Matthew:

(a) “Covetousness.” The unlawful desire of what others possess, this always proceeds from the heart.

(b) “Wickedness.” The original here means malice, or a desire of injuring others, Romans 1:29.

(c) “Deceit,” i. e., fraud, concealment, cheating in trade. This proceeds from a desire to benefit ourselves by doing injustice to others, and this proceeds from the heart.

(d) Lasciviousness. Lust, obscenity, unbridled passion - a strong, evil desire of the heart.

(e) “An evil eye.” That is, an eye that is sour, malignant, proud; or an eye of lust and passion. See Matthew 5:28; Matthew 20:15; 2 Peter 2:14, “Having eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin.”

(f) “Pride.” An improper estimate of our own importance; thinking that we are of much more consequence than we really are. This is always the work of an evil heart.

(g) “Foolishness.” Not a lack of intellect - man is not to blame for that - but a moral folly, consisting in choosing evil ends and the bad means of gaining them; or, in other words, sin and wickedness. All sin is folly. It is foolish for a man to disobey God, and foolish for anyone to go to hell.

Matthew 15:20

These are the things which defile a man - These are the true sources of pollution in man.

These are what corrupt and degrade. It is not the neglect of washing the body which defiles; it is the deep, inward corruption of the heart. And what a fountain of pollution is the human soul! What an array of crimes to proceed from the heart of man! What a proof of guilt! What strictness is there in the law of God! How universal is depravity!

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Christ shows that the defilement they ought to fear, was not from what entered their mouths as food, but from what came out of their mouths, which showed the wickedness of their hearts. Nothing will last in the soul but the regenerating graces of the Holy Spirit; and nothing should be admitted into the church but what is from above; therefore, whoever is offended by a plain, seasonable declaration of the truth, we should not be troubled at it. The disciples ask to be better taught as to this matter. Where a weak head doubts concerning any word of Christ, an upright heart and a willing mind seek for instruction. It is the heart that is desperately wicked, Jer 17:9, for there is no sin in word or deed, which was not first in the heart. They all come out of the man, and are fruits of that wickedness which is in the heart, and is wrought there. When Christ teaches, he will show men the deceitfulness and wickedness of their own hearts; he will teach them to humble themselves, and to seek to be cleansed in the Fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 397-8

Never, by word or deed, did Jesus lessen man's obligation to present gifts and offerings to God. It was Christ who gave all the directions of the law in regard to tithes and offerings. When on earth He commended the poor woman who gave her all to the temple treasury. But the apparent zeal for God on the part of the priests and rabbis was a pretense to cover their desire for self-aggrandizement. The people were deceived by them. They were bearing heavy burdens which God had not imposed. Even the disciples of Christ were not wholly free from the yoke that had been bound upon them by inherited prejudice and rabbinical authority. Now, by revealing the true spirit of the rabbis, Jesus sought to free from the bondage of tradition all who were really desirous of serving God. DA 397.1

“Ye hypocrites,” He said, addressing the wily spies, “well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The words of Christ were an arraignment of the whole system of Pharisaism. He declared that by placing their requirements above the divine precepts the rabbis were setting themselves above God. DA 397.2

The deputies from Jerusalem were filled with rage. They could not accuse Christ as a violator of the law given from Sinai, for He spoke as its defender against their traditions. The great precepts of the law, which He had presented, appeared in striking contrast to the petty rules that men had devised. DA 397.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 409

Oh, how many things have developed since he became so full of hatred against God because his dangers and wrongs were brought before him! He has allowed wicked thoughts to strengthen and prevail because, day by day, he has not eaten of the flesh and drunk of the blood of the Son of God, because he has not become a partaker of the divine nature. The things which come from within defile the man. How corrupt then must be the source from which these evils have taken their rise! TM 409.1

Unsanctified ministers are arraying themselves against God. They are praising Christ and the god of this world in the same breath. While professedly they receive Christ, they embrace Barabbas, and by their actions say, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Let all who read these lines, take heed. Satan has made his boast of what he can do. He thinks to dissolve the unity which Christ prayed might exist in His church. He says, “I will go forth and be a lying spirit to deceive those that I can, to criticize, and condemn, and falsify.” Let the son of deceit and false witness be entertained by a church that has had great light, great evidence, and that church will discard the message the Lord has sent, and receive the most unreasonable assertions and false suppositions and false theories. Satan laughs at their folly, for he knows what truth is. TM 409.2

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