Matthew xv.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. The Pharisees observed a rigid and simple mode life, disdaining all luxurious delicacies. They scrupulously followed the dicta of reason, and paid the greatest veneration and implicit obedience to the opinions and traditions of their seniors. All contingencies they ascribe to fate, but not to the exclusion of free-will. The immortality of the soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments, were favourite tenets with them, and their fame for wisdom, temperance, and integrity was proverbial. (Josephus, Antiq. Book xviii, chap. ii.)

Ver. 2. Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition. The Pharisees had various traditions delivered down from their ancestors, called deuterseis, of which some were works of supererogation, others were contrary to the law. (Estius) — It is a great proof of malice in the Pharisees, and of irreproachable character in our Lord, that they should be reduce to notice triffles, no ways connected with either piety or religion. … They moreover betrayed their superstition, by insisting on the observance of these outward ceremonies, as essential parts of piety, which were not commanded by any law, (were certainly of no divine origin) and which, at most, were duties of civility, or emblems of interior purity. (Jansenius) — The tradition of the ancients? They do not say the written law, which did not prescribe these washings of hands, cups, pots, beds, &c. These traditions came only from the doctors of their law, who are called elders, which is a name of dignity, as was that of senator among the Romans, and so, in English, are the names of major, alderman, &c. See Acts v.[xv.?] 6. &c. (Witham)

Ver. 3. Why do you also. The Jews understanding the saying of the prophets, “wash yourselves and be clean,” in a carnal manner, they made a precept of not eating without first washing their hands. (Ven. Bede) — The traditions here alluded to, and which they call the oral law, were respected equally with the written law, by all the Jews, except the sect of Caraites; they were collected in seventy-two books, and composed the cabbala, and were kept by Gamaliel and other heads of the sanhedrim, till the destruction of Jerusalem. About 120 years after this, Rabbi Judas composed a book of them, called Mishna, or second law; afterwards two supplements and explanations were given, viz. the Talmud of Jerusalem, and the Talmud of Babylon. By these the Jews are still governed in ecclesiastical matters.

Ver. 5. The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee.[1] This gift is called Corban, Mark vii. 11. Now, as to the sense of this obscure place, I shall mention two expositions that seem preferable to others. The first is, as if a son said to his father or mother, Whatsoever was mine, (with which indeed I might have assisted you, my parents) I have given, i.e. promised to give to the temple: and being to keep this promise, I need not, or I cannot now assist you. The second interpretation is, as if the son said to his father or mother, Whatsoever gift I have made to God will be profitable to you, as well as to me; or, let it be profitable to you, (which is more according to the Greek text, both here and in St. Mark) and therefore I am no further obliged to assist you. (Witham) — That is, the offering that I shall make to God, shall be instead of that which should be expended for thy profit. This tradition of the Pharisees was calculated to enrich themselves, by exempting children from giving any further assistance to their parents, if they once offered to the temple and the priests that which should have been the support of their parents. But this was a violation of the law of God, and of nature, which our Saviour here condemns. (Challoner) — They committed a double crime. They neither offered the gift to God, nor succoured their parents in their distress. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lii.)

Ver. 6. And he shall not honour; that is, assist his father or his mother. It is doubtful whether these may not be the words of the Pharisees; but they rather seem the words of our Saviour Christ, especially seeing that in St. Mark, Christ himself adds: And, farther, you suffer him not to do any thing for his father or mother, making void the word of God by your tradition. (Witham)

Ver. 9. In vain they worship, or think they worship God, who neglect the divine commandments to observe the commands of men. We must not here suppose that Christ censures the commands of the Church, or the tradition of the apostles, because these are in nowise contrary to the divine law, but rather serve to enforce it, and reduce it to practice; nor are they so much the commands of men, as of God, delivered to us by his ambassadors. Christ censures such as are merely human, such as those mentioned here, which are vain and futile, as the superstitious washing of hands; or erroneous, as that the soul is defiled by meat; or openly contrary to natural and divine law, as the defrauding parents of their just support. (Tirinus) — It is evidently erroneous to argue from this text against apostolic traditions. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians, to stand fast, and hold the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word of mouth or by epistles. (2 Thessalonians ii. 14.) — Commandments of men. The doctrines and commandments here reprehended, are such as are either contrary to the law of God, (as that of neglecting parents, under pretence of giving to God) or at least are frivolous, unprofitable, and no ways conducing to true piety, as that of often washing hands, &c. without regard to the purity of the heart. But as to the rules and ordinances of the holy Church, touching fasts, festivals, &c. these are no ways repugnant to, but highly agreeable to God’s holy word, and all Christian piety; neither are they to be counted among the doctrines and commandments of men, because they proceed not from mere human authority, but from that which Christ has established in his Church; whose pastors he has commanded us to hear and obey, even as himself. (Luke x. 16.; Matthew xviii. 17) (Challoner)

Ver. 11. Not that which goeth into the mouth, &c. We must heartily pity and pray to God for those who blindly pretend from hence, that to eat any kind of meats, or as often as a man pleaseth on fasting-days, can defile no man. (Witham) — No uncleaness in meat, nor any dirt contracted by eating it with unwashed hands, can defile the soul; but sin alone, or a disobedience of the heart to the ordinance and will of God. And thus, when Adam took the forbidden fruit, it was not the apple which entered into his mouth, but the disobedience to the law of God, which defiled him. The same is to be said if a Jew, in the time of the old law, had eaten swine’s flesh; or a Christian convert, in the days of the apostles, contrary to their ordinance, had eaten blood; or if any of the faithful, at present, should transgress the ordinance of God’s Church, by breaking the fasts: for in all these cases the soul would be defiled, not indeed by that which goeth into the mouth, but by the disobedience of the heart, in wilfully transgressing the ordinance of God, or of those who have their authority from him. (Challoner) — Jesus Christ by no means prohibits fasting and abstinence from certain food, and at certain times, or he would have been immediately accused of contradicting the law; he only says, that meat which they esteem unclean does not of itself, and by its own nature, defile the soul; which is what the Pharisees (and before them Pythagoras, and after them the Manicheans) maintained, and which St. Paul warmly confutes. (1 Timothy iv. 4) (Tirinus) — If a man gets intoxicated, adducing this same plea, that what entereth by the mouth, &c. is not the answer obvious; that it is not the wine, but the intemperance, contrary to the law of God, which defileth him: for drunkards shall not possess the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians vi. 10)

Ver. 12. Scandalized. When the Pharisees had received our Lord’s answer, they had nothing to reply. His disciples perceiving their indignation, came and asked Jesus if he observed they were scandalized, i.e. offended. It is probable the disciples were also a little hurt, or afraid lest his words were contrary to the law of Moses or the tradition of the ancients, and took this occasion of having their scruples removed. St. Hilary, St. Chrysostom and Theophylactus understand this answer, Every plant, &c. to signify that every doctrine not proceeding from God, consequently the traditions of the Pharisees here in question, were to be eradicated by the promulgation of the gospel truths, which were not to remain unpublished on account of the scandal some interested or prejudiced persons might choose to take therefrom. (Jansenius) — It must be here observed, that Christ was not the direct cause of scandal to the Jews, for such scandal would not be allowable; he only caused it indirectly, because it was his doctrine, at which, through their own perversity, they took scandal. (Denis the Carthusian)

Ver. 14. Let them alone. It must not be hence inferred, that he desired not the conversion of the Scribes and Pharisees. He only says: if, through their own perversity, they choose to take scandal, let them do it; we must not neglect to teach the truth, though it displease men. (St. Jerome) — When, says St. Gregory, we see scandal arise from our preaching truth, we must rather suffer it to take place than desert the truth. Our Lord says they are blind, let us leave them. For the land which has often been watered with the dews of heaven, and still continues barren is deserted. Behold your house shall be left desolate. (Luke xiii. 35) And Isaias (v. 6.) says, It shall not be pruned, and it shall not be digged, but briers and thorns shall come upon it; and I will command the clouds to rain no more rain upon it. For, although God never refuses man grace sufficient to enable him to rise, if he pleases, yet he sometimes denies such assistance as would render his rise easy. The state of a sinner is then desperate indeed, when Christ tells his disciples to leave him. For as the Sodomites were destroyed, so soon as Lot, who was just and good in the sight of God, had departed from them, and as Jerusalem was laid waste when Jesus went out of it, (for he suffered without the gates) so the sinner is in a very dangerous state, when he is left by the ministers of religion as one infected with a mortal distemper. (Paulus de Palacio)

Ver. 19. For out of the heart. We must here observe, that our divine Redeemer mentions offences against our neighbour, to shew us that he is even more desirous we should love our neighbour than worship himself. (Idem.)

Ver. 21. Confines of Tyre. It perhaps may be asked, why Jesus went among the Gentiles, when he had commanded his apostles to avoid those countries? One reason may be, that our Saviour was not subject to the same rules he gave his disciples; another reason may be brought, that he did not go then to preach; hence St. Matthew observes that he kept himself retired. (St. Chrysostom) — Tyre and Sidon were both situated on the Mediterranean sea, about 20 miles distant from each other, and the adjoining country to the west and north of Galilee was called the coast or territories of Tyre and Sidon. The old inhabitants of this tract were descendants of Chanaan, (for Sidon was his eldest son) and continued in possession of it much longer than they did of any other part of the country. The Greeks called it Phœnicia; and when, by right of conquest, it became a province of Syria, it took the name of Syrophœnicia; hence the woman, whom St. Matthew calls a Chanaanite, St. Mark calls a Syrophœnician and Gentile; as being both by religion and language a Greek.

Ver. 22. It is probable that woman first cried out before the door, and assembled a crowd, and then went into the house. Have mercy on me. The great faith of the Chanaanĉan woman is justly extolled. She believed him to be God, whom she calls her Lord, and him a man, whom she styles the Son of David. She lays no stress upon her own merits, but supplicates for the mercy of God; neither does she say, have mercy on my daughter, but have mercy on me. … To move him to compassion, she lays all her grief and sorrow before him in these afflicting words: my daughter is grievously afflicted by a devil. (Glossa.)

Ver. 23. He answered her not. It must not be supposed that our Saviour refused to hear the woman through any contempt, but only to shew that his mission was in the first instance to the Jews; or to induce her to ask with greater earnestness, so as to deserve more ample assistance. (Denis the Carthusian)

Ver. 26-27. And to cast it to the dogs; i.e. to Gentiles, sometimes so called by the Jews. (Witham) — The diminutive word Kunarios, or whelp, is used in both these verses in the Septuagint. Our Lord crosses the wishes of the Chanaanĉan, not that he intended to reject her, but that he might bring to light the hidden and secret treasure of her virtue. Let us admire not only the greatness of her faith, but likewise the profoundness of her humility; for when our Saviour called the Jews children, so far from being envious of another’s praise, she readily answers, and gives them the title of lords; and when Christ likened her to a dog, she presently acknowledges the meanness of her condition. (St. Chrysostom, hom. liii.) He refused at first to listen to her petition, says the same saint, to instruct us with what faith, humility, and perseverance we ought to pray. To make his servants more sensible of his mercy, and more eager to obtain it, he often appears to pay no attention to their prayers, till he had exercised them in the virtues of humility and patience. Ask, and you shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened to you. (Haydock)

Ver. 28. Be it done. In the beginning God said, Let there be light, and there was light; here Jesus Christ says, let it be done, &c. and her daughter was healed from that hour. So powerful with God is earnest and fervent prayer. (St. Chrysostom, hom. liii.)

Ver. 30. And he healed them. The Chanaanĉan was long in obtaining her request, and only prevailed by her importunity; whereas the Jews were cured on declaring their infirmities. Thus were they left without excuse, seeing how much greater was the faith of this poor Gentile woman, than that of the descendants of Abraham. (St. Chrysostom, hom. liii.)

Ver. 32. They continue with me now three days, eager to hear his divine instructions, and to witness the greatness of his miracles. The disciples, as if not remembering what Jesus had done on a similar emergency, (see Matthew, xiv. 16,) expressed their solicitude and uneasiness for the hungered multitude. (Haydock)

Ver. 36. He gave thanks to his heavenly Father, for that providential care with which he supplies our wants, even miraculously, when necessary for us. Everywhere his goodness and attention to the wants of his children are manifested, but not more so in the manna of the desert, than in the fertility of the holy land. (Haydock)

Ver. 37. Seven baskets full remained, to intimate that God remunerates with a liberal hand all alms given for his sake. Various are the circumstances attending the present multiplication of the loaves with that in the preceding chapter. In the former, there were five loaves and two fishes; here there are seven loaves and a few little fishes: In the former, 5,000 men were filled, here 4,000: in the former case, 12 baskets full of fragments remained, here seven. (Tirinus) — All which sufficiently prove that these were two distinct miracles, to both of which Jesus Christ refers in chap. xvi, ver. 9. and 10. (Haydock)

Ver. 39. Magedan. Some copies read Magdalan, others Magadan, or Magedan: this last is found in the Vulgate, and in the best manuscript copies. (Mat. Polus, T. iv, p. 409.)


[1] Ver. 5. Mark vii. 11. Quodcunque ex me, tibi profuerit. In the Greek, both in St. Matthew and St. Mark, doron, o ean ex emou, ophelethes, tibi prosit.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

Christ reproves the Scribes. He cures the daughter of the woman of Chanaan: and many others: and feeds four thousand with seven loaves.

1 Then *came to him from Jerusalem Scribes and Pharisees, saying:

2 *Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the ancients? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

3 But he answering said to them: Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for your tradition? For God said:

4 *Honour thy father and mother: **And he that shall curse father or mother, let him die the death.

5 But you say: Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee.

6 And he shall not honour his father or his mother: and you have made void the commandment of God for your tradition.

7 Ye hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying:

8 *This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me.

9 And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.

10 And having called together the multitudes unto him, he said to them: Hear ye and understand.

11 Not that which goeth into the mouth, defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

12 Then came his disciples, and said to him: Dost thou know that the Pharisees, when they heard this word, were scandalized?

13 But he answering said: *Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.

14 Let them alone: *they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit.

15 *And Peter answering, said to him: Explain to us this parable.

16 But he said: Are you also yet without understanding?

17 Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy?

18 But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man.

19 For from the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies.

20 These are the things that defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands doth not defile a man.

21 *And Jesus went from thence, and retired into the parts of Tyre and Sidon.

22 And behold a woman of Chanaan, who came out of those parts, crying out, said to him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David, my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.

23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us:

24 And he answering, said: I was not sent *but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.

25 But she came and worshipped him, saying: Lord, help me.

26 But he answered, and said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs.

27 But she said: Yea, Lord: for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.

28 Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt. And her daughter was cured from that hour.

29 And when Jesus had departed from thence, he came nigh the sea of Galilee: and going up into a mountain, he sat there.

30 *And there came to him great multitudes, having with them the dumb, the blind, the lame, the maimed, and many others: and they cast them down at his feet, and he healed them:

31 So that the multitudes marvelled, seeing the dumb speak, the lame walk, and the blind see: and they glorified the God of Israel.

32 *Then Jesus called together his disciples, and said: I have compassion on the multitudes, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.

33 And the disciples say unto him: Whence then should we have so many loaves in the desert, as to fill so great a multitude?

34 And Jesus said to them: How many loaves have you? But they said: Seven, and a few little fishes.

35 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

36 And taking the seven loaves and the fishes, and giving thanks, he brake, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples gave to the people.

37 And they did all eat, and had their fill. And they took up seven baskets full, of what remained of the fragments.

38 And they that did eat, were four thousand men, besides children and women.

39 And having dismissed the multitude, he went up into a boat, and came into the coasts of Magedan.



1: about the year A.D. 32.; Mark vii. 1.

2: Mark vii. 5.

4: Exodus xx. 12.; Deuteronomy v. 16.; Ephesians vi. 2. — ** Exodus xxi. 17.; Leviticus xx. 9.; Proverbs xx. 20.

8: Isaias xxix. 13.; Mark vii. 6.

13: John xv. 2.

14: Luke vi. 39.

15: Mark vii. 17.

21: Mark vii. 24.

24: Matthew x. 6.; John x. 3.

30: Isaias xxxv. 5.

32: Mark viii. 1.