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Matthew 15:6

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.
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.

Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 83

Even the students in the universities were deceived by the false representations of the monks and induced to join their orders. Many afterward repented this step, seeing that they had blighted their own lives and had brought sorrow upon their parents; but once fast in the snare it was impossible for them to obtain their freedom. Many parents, fearing the influence of the monks, refused to send their sons to the universities. There was a marked falling off in the number of students in attendance at the great centers of learning. The schools languished, and ignorance prevailed. GC 83.1

The pope had bestowed on these monks the power to hear confessions and to grant pardon. This became a source of great evil. Bent on enhancing their gains, the friars were so ready to grant absolution that criminals of all descriptions resorted to them, and, as a result, the worst vices rapidly increased. The sick and the poor were left to suffer, while the gifts that should have relieved their wants went to the monks, who with threats demanded the alms of the people, denouncing the impiety of those who should withhold gifts from their orders. Notwithstanding their profession of poverty, the wealth of the friars was constantly increasing, and their magnificent edifices and luxurious tables made more apparent the growing poverty of the nation. And while spending their time in luxury and pleasure, they sent out in their stead ignorant men, who could only recount marvelous tales, legends, and jests to amuse the people and make them still more completely the dupes of the monks. Yet the friars continued to maintain their hold on the superstitious multitudes and led them to believe that all religious duty was comprised in acknowledging the supremacy of the pope, adoring the saints, and making gifts to the monks, and that this was sufficient to secure them a place in heaven. GC 83.2

Men of learning and piety had labored in vain to bring about a reform in these monastic orders; but Wycliffe, with clearer insight, struck at the root of the evil, declaring that the system itself was false and that it should be abolished. Discussion and inquiry were awakening. As the monks traversed the country, vending the pope's pardons, many were led to doubt the possibility of purchasing forgiveness with money, and they questioned whether they should not seek pardon from God rather than from the pontiff of Rome. (See Appendix note for page 59.) Not a few were alarmed at the rapacity of the friars, whose greed seemed never to be satisfied. “The monks and priests of Rome,” said they, “are eating us away like a cancer. God must deliver us, or the people will perish.”—D'Aubigne, b. 17, ch. 7. To cover their avarice, these begging monks claimed that they were following the Saviour's example, declaring that Jesus and His disciples had been supported by the charities of the people. This claim resulted in injury to their cause, for it led many to the Bible to learn the truth for themselves—a result which of all others was least desired by Rome. The minds of men were directed to the Source of truth, which it was her object to conceal. GC 84.1

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Ellen G. White
Faith and Works, 29.2

Sanctification is obtained only in obedience to the will of God. Many who are willfully trampling upon the law of Jehovah claim holiness of heart and sanctification of life. But they have not a saving knowledge of God or of His law. They are standing in the ranks of the great rebel. He is at war with the law of God, which is the foundation of the divine government in heaven and in the earth. These men are doing the same work as their master has done in seeking to make of none effect God's holy law. No commandment-breaker can be permitted to enter heaven; for he who was once a pure and exalted covering cherub was thrust out for rebelling against the government of God. FW 29.2

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Ellen G. White
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 309

Though the Jews had the Scriptures which testified of Christ, they were not able to discern Christ in the Scriptures; and although we have the Old and the New Testament, men wrest the Scriptures to evade their truths; and in their interpretations of the Scriptures, they teach, as did the Pharisees, the maxims and traditions of men for the commandments of God. In Christ's day the religious leaders had so long presented human ideas before the people, that the teaching of Christ was in every way opposed to their theories and practice. His sermon on the mount virtually contradicted the doctrines of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees. They had so misrepresented God that He was looked upon as a stern judge, incapable of compassion, mercy, and love. They presented to the people endless maxims and traditions as proceeding from God, when they had no “Thus saith the Lord” for their authority. Though they professed to know and to worship the true and living God, they wholly misrepresented Him; and the character of God, as represented by His Son, was as an original subject, a new gift to the world. Christ made every effort so to sweep away the misrepresentations of Satan, that the confidence of man in the love of God might be restored. He taught man to address the Supreme Ruler of the universe by the new name—“Our Father.” This name signifies His true relation to us, and when spoken in sincerity by human lips, it is music in the ears of God. Christ leads us to the throne of God by a new and living way, to present Him to us in His paternal love.—The Review and Herald, September 11, 1894. FE 309.1

Our minds have been much exercised day and night in regard to our schools. How shall they be conducted? And what shall be the education and training of the youth? Where shall our Australian Bible School be located? I was awakened this morning at one o'clock with a heavy burden upon my soul. The subject of education has been presented before me in different lines, in varied aspects, by many illustrations, and with direct specification, now upon one point, and again upon another. I feel, indeed, that we have much to learn. We are ignorant in regard to many things. FE 310.1

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Ellen G. White
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 238

The system of Jewish economy was the gospel in figure, a presentation of Christianity which was to be developed as fast as the minds of the people could comprehend spiritual light. Satan ever seeks to make obscure the truths that are plain, and Christ ever seeks to open the mind to comprehend every essential truth concerning the salvation of fallen man. To this day there are still aspects of truth which are dimly seen, connections that are not understood, and far-reaching depths in the law of God that are uncomprehended. There is immeasurable breadth, dignity, and glory in the law of God; and yet the religious world has set aside this law, as did the Jews, to exalt the traditions and commandments of men. Before the days of Christ, men asked in vain, “What is truth?” Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. Even Judea was shrouded in gloom, although the voice of God spoke to them in His oracles. The truth of God had been silenced by the superstition and traditions of its professed interpreters, and contention, jealousy, and prejudice divided the professed children of God. Then was a Teacher sent from God, even Him who was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus presented to view the pure, rich truth of heaven to shine amid the moral darkness and gloom of earth. God had said, “Let there be spiritual light,” and the light of the glory of God was revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. FE 238.1

Christ was manifested as the Saviour of men. The people were not to trust in their own works, in their own righteousness, or in themselves in any way, but in the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. In Him the Advocate with the Father was revealed. Through Him the invitation was given, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” This invitation comes sounding down along the lines to us today. Let not pride, or self-esteem, or self-righteousness keep any one from confessing his sins, that he may claim the promise: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Keep nothing back from God, and neglect not the confession of your faults to the brethren when they have a connection with them. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” Many a sin is left unconfessed, to be confronted in the day of final accounts; better far to see your sins now, to confess them, and put them away, while the atoning Sacrifice pleads in your behalf. Do not dislike to learn the will of God on this subject. The health of your soul, the unity of your brethren, may depend upon the course you pursue in these things. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, “casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” FE 239.1

It is a lamentable fact that the erring heart is unwilling to be criticised, or to subject itself to humiliation by the confession of sin. Some see their faults, but thinking confession will detract from their dignity, they excuse their wrong, and shield themselves from the discipline that confession would give to the soul. The thought of their manifest error will remain to embitter their enjoyments and embarrass their movements; for in passing out of the path of confession, they fail to be faithful examples to the people. They see the errors of others; but how can they have courage to give the advice, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed,” when they have failed to follow this instruction in their own lives? How much will ministers or people learn of a truth which they thrust aside, and forget if possible, because it is not agreeable; because it does not flatter their pride, but reproves and pains? Ministers and people, if saved at all, must be saved day by day, hour by hour. They must hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ, the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Church members,—those placed in positions of trust,—must be baptized with the Spirit of God, or they will not be qualified for the positions they accept. FE 239.2

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 395-7

This chapter is based on Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23.

The scribes and Pharisees, expecting to see Jesus at the Passover, had laid a trap for Him. But Jesus, knowing their purpose, had absented Himself from this gathering. “Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes.” As He did not go to them, they came to Him. For a time it had seemed that the people of Galilee would receive Jesus as the Messiah, and that the power of the hierarchy in that region would be broken. The mission of the twelve, indicating the extension of Christ's work, and bringing the disciples more directly into conflict with the rabbis, had excited anew the jealousy of the leaders at Jerusalem. The spies they sent to Capernaum in the early part of His ministry, who had tried to fix on Him the charge of Sabbathbreaking, had been put to confusion; but the rabbis were bent on carrying out their purpose. Now another deputation was sent to watch His movements, and find some accusation against Him. DA 395.1

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Ellen G. White
Education, 75

As they ceased to recognize the Divine, they ceased to regard the human. Truth, honor, integrity, confidence, compassion, were departing from the earth. Relentless greed and absorbing ambition gave birth to universal distrust. The idea of duty, of the obligation of strength to weakness, of human dignity and human rights, was cast aside as a dream or a fable. The common people were regarded as beasts of burden or as the tools and the steppingstones for ambition. Wealth and power, ease and self-indulgence, were sought as the highest good. Physical degeneracy, mental stupor, spiritual death, characterized the age. Ed 75.1

As the evil passions and purposes of men banished God from their thoughts, so forgetfulness of Him inclined them more strongly to evil. The heart in love with sin clothed Him with its own attributes, and this conception strengthened the power of sin. Bent on self-pleasing, men came to regard God as such a one as themselves—a Being whose aim was self-glory, whose requirements were suited to His own pleasure; a Being by whom men were lifted up or cast down according as they helped or hindered His selfish purpose. The lower classes regarded the Supreme Being as one scarcely differing from their oppressors, save by exceeding them in power. By these ideas every form of religion was molded. Each was a system of exaction. By gifts and ceremonies, the worshipers sought to propitiate the Deity in order to secure His favor for their own ends. Such religion, having no power upon the heart or the conscience, could be but a round of forms, of which men wearied, and from which, except for such gain as it might offer, they longed to be free. So evil, unrestrained, grew stronger, while the appreciation and desire for good diminished. Men lost the image of God and received the impress of the demoniacal power by which they were controlled. The whole world was becoming a sink of corruption. Ed 75.2

There was but one hope for the human race—that into this mass of discordant and corrupting elements might be cast a new leaven; that there might be brought to mankind the power of a new life; that the knowledge of God might be restored to the world. Ed 76.1

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