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15. Clean and Unclean
1Then there come to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying, 2Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3And he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4For God said, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death. 5But ye say, whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is given to God; 6he shall not honor his father. And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition. 7Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
8This people honoreth me with their lips;
But their heart is far from me.
9But in vain do they worship me,
Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.
10And he called to him the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: 11Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man. 12Then came the disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, when they heard this saying? 13But he answered and said, Every plant which my heavenly Father planted not, shall be rooted up. 14Let them alone: they are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both shall fall into a pit. 15And Peter answered and said unto him, Declare unto us the parable. 16And he said, Are ye also even yet without understanding? 17Perceive ye not, that whatsoever goeth into the mouth passeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18But the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man. 19For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings: 20these are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man.
21And Jesus went out thence, and withdrew into the parts of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanitish woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon. 23But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24But he answered and said, I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25But she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26And he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs. 27But she said, Yea, Lord: for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. 28Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was healed from that hour.
29And Jesus departed thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and he went up into the mountain, and sat there. 30And there came unto him great multitudes, having with them the lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and they cast them down at this feet; and he healed them: 31insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, and lame walking, and the blind seeing: and they glorified the God of Israel.
32And Jesus called unto him his disciples, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days and have nothing to eat: and I would not send them away fasting, lest haply they faint on the way. 33And the disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so many loaves in a desert place as to fill so great a multitude? 34And Jesus said unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few small fishes. 35And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground; 36and he took the seven loaves and the fishes; and he gave thanks and brake, and gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. 37And they all ate, and were filled: and they took up that which remained over of the broken pieces, seven baskets full. 38And they that did eat were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39And he sent away the multitudes, and entered into the boat, and came into the borders of Magadan.
Matthew 15:1. Then scribes and Pharisees. As the fault that is here corrected is not only common but highly dangerous, the passage is particularly worthy of our attention. We see the extraordinary insolence that is displayed by men as to the form and manner of worshipping God; for they are perpetually contriving new modes of worship, and when any one wishes to be thought wiser than others, he displays his ingenuity on this subject. I speak not of foreigners, but of the very domestics of the Church, on whom God has conferred the peculiar honor of declaring with their lips the rule of godliness. God has laid down the manner in which he wishes that we should worship him, and has included in his law the perfection of holiness. Yet a vast number of men, as if it were a light and trivial matter to obey God and to keep what he enjoins, collect for themselves, on every hand, many additions. Those who occupy places of authority bring forward their inventions for this purpose, as if they were in possession of something more perfect than the word of the Lord. This is followed by the slow growth of tyranny; for, when men have once assumed to themselves the right to issue commands, they demand a rigid adherence to their laws, and do not allow the smallest iota to be left out, either through contempt or through forgetfulness. The world cannot endure lawful authority, and most violently rebels against enduring the Lord’s yoke, and yet easily and willingly becomes entangled in the snares of vain traditions; nay, such bondage appears to be, in the case of many, an object of desire. Meanwhile, the worship of God is corrupted, of which the first and leading principle is obedience. The authority of men is preferred to the command of God. Sternly, and therefore tyrannically, are the common people compelled to give their whole attention to trifles. This passage teaches us, first, that all modes of worship invented by men are displeasing to God, because he chooses that he alone shall be heard, in order to train and instruct us in true godliness according to his own pleasure; secondly, that those who are not satisfied with the only law of God, and weary themselves by attending to the traditions of men, are uselessly employed; thirdly, that an outrage is committed against God, when the inventions of men are so highly extolled, that the majesty of his law is almost lowered, or at least the reverence for it is abated.
Scribes who had come from Jerusalem. With what design those scribes came to Jesus is not stated; but I think it probable that their attention was excited by his fame, and that they came with the desire of receiving instruction, provided that they should approve of him as a competent teacher; 391391 “En cas qu’ils l’eussent trouve bon maistre a leur gre;” — “provided that they should find him to be a good master to their liking.” though it is possible that they were sent to spy. However that may be, as they had brought their haughty disdain along with them, they are easily provoked by the slightest offense to bite or snarl at Christ. Hence we see with what difficulty those who are influenced by ambition and the lust of power are brought to submit to sound doctrine. Those especially whose attachment to ceremonies has been strengthened by long practice cannot endure any novelty, but loudly condemn every thing to which they have not been accustomed. In short, any thing more haughty or more disdainful than this class of men cannot be imagined.
Both Evangelists mention that they were scribes and Pharisees; but Matthew puts the scribes first, and Mark puts them second. They convey the same meaning, that the scribes belonged to various sects, but that the Pharisees were the leaders, because they occupied an honorable station, and at that time held the government. That the Pharisees should be the first to take offense at disregard of the laws of which they were authors ought not to excite surprise; for, as we have said, though they boasted that they were expounders of the law, and though their name was derived from that circumstance, 392392 See Harmony, vol. 1, p. 281. they had corrupted by their inventions the purity of the word of God. All the traditions that then existed among the Jews had come out of their workshop; 393393 “Elles avoyent este forgees en leur boutique;” — “they had been manufactured in their workshop.” and this was the reason why they displayed more than ordinary zeal and bitterness in defending them.
2. Why do thy disciples transgress? When we speak of human traditions, this question has no reference to political laws, the use and object of which are widely different from enjoining the manner in which we ought to worship God. But as there are various kinds of human traditions, we must make some distinction among them. Some are manifestly wicked, for they inculcate acts of worship which are wicked and diametrically opposed to the word of God. Others of them mingle profane trifles with the worship of God, and corrupt its purity. Others, which are more plausible, and are not chargeable with any remarkable fault, are condemned on this ground., that they are imagined to be necessary to the worship of God; and thus there is a departure from sincere obedience to God alone, and a snare is laid for the conscience.
To this last description the present passage unquestionably relates; for the washing of hands, on which the Pharisees insisted, could not in itself be charged with wicked superstition; otherwise Christ would not have permitted the water-pots to be used at the marriage, (John 2:6,) if it had not been an allowable ceremony; but the fault lay in this, that they did not think that God could be properly worshipped in any other way. It was not without a specious pretext that the practice of washings was first introduced. We know how rigidly the Law of God demands outward cleanness; not that the Lord intended that this should occupy the whole attention of his servants, but that they might be more careful to guard against every spiritual defilement. But in washings the Law preserved some moderation. Next came teachers, who thought that they would not be reckoned sufficiently acute, if they did not make some appendage to the word of God; 394394 “Sinon qu’ils adioustassent a la parole de Dieu quelques repetasseries de leur invention;” — “if they did not add to the word of God some patches of their own invention.” and hence arose washings of which no mention was made in the Law. The legislators themselves did not give out that they delivered any thing new, 395395 “Les premiers autheurs de ces loix ne disoyent pas qu’ils voulussent commander rien de nouveau;” — “the first authors of these laws did not say that they intended to issue any new command.” but only that they administered cautions, which would be of service to assist in keeping the Law of God. But this was immediately followed by great abuse, when ceremonies introduced by men began to be regarded as a part of divine worship; and again, when in matters that were free and voluntary uniformity was absolutely enjoined. For it was always the will of God, as we have already said, that he should be worshipped according to the rule laid down in his word, and therefore no addition to his Law can be endured. Now as he permits believers to have outward ceremonies, by means of which they may perform the exercises of godliness, so he does not suffer them to mix up those ceremonies with his own word, as if religion consisted in them. 396396 “Qu’elles soyent meslees avec sa Parole, et mises en mesme rang, comme si quelque partie du service de Dieu gisoit en icelles;” — “that they should be mixed with his Word, and put in the same rank, as if any part of the worship of God lay in them.”
For they wash not their hands. The ground of offense is explained more fully by Mark; but the substance of his explanation is, that many things were practiced by the scribes, which they had voluntarily undertaken to keep. They were secondary laws invented by the curiosity of men, as if the plain command of God were not enough. God commanded that those who had contracted any defilement should wash themselves, (Leviticus 11:25,28;) and this extended to cups, and pots, and raiment, and other articles of household furniture, (Leviticus 11:32,) that they might not touch any thing that was polluted or unclean. But to invent other ablutions was idle and useless. 397397 “C’a este un amusement de gens oisifs, et qui ne scavoyent que faire;” — “it was an amusement of persons that were idles and did not know what to do.” They were not destitute of plausibility, as Paul tells us that the inventions of men have an appearance of wisdom, (Colossians 2:23;) but if they had rested in the Law of God alone, that modesty would have been more agreeable to Him than solicitude about small matters.
They were desirous to warn a person not to take food while he was unclean, through want of consideration; but the Lord reckoned it enough to wash away those defilements of which they were aware. Besides, no end or limit could be set to such cautions; for they could scarcely move a finger without contracting some new spot or stain. But a far worse abuse lay in this, that the consciences of men were tormented with scruples which led them to regard every person as chargeable with pollution, who did not on every occasion wash his body with water. In persons who belonged to a private rank they would perhaps have overlooked the neglect of this ceremony; but as they had expected from Christ and his disciples something uncommon and extraordinary, they reckoned it unbecoming that ceremonies, which were traditions of the elders, and the practice of which was held sacred by the scribes, should not be observed by the disciples of a master who undertook to reform the existing state of things.
It is a great mistake to compare the sprinkling of the water of purification, or, as the Papists call it, blessed water, with the Jewish washing; for, by repeating so frequently the one baptism, 398398 “Le Baptesme, qui suffit une fois receu;” — “Baptism, which is enough when once received.” Papists do all that is in their power to efface it. Besides, this absurd sprinkling is used for exorcising. 399399 “En apres, ceste badinerie d’eau beniste est appliquee a faire exorcismes et coniurations, et ils croyent fermement qu’elle a vertu d’effacer les pechez;” — “Besides, this foolery of blessed water is applied to exorcising and conjuring, and they firmly believe that it has power to blot out sins.” But if it were lawful in itself, and were not accompanied by so many abuses, still we must always condemn the urgency with which they demand it as if it were indispensable.
3. Why do you also transgress? There are here two answers that are given by Christ, the former of which is addressed, as we say, to the person; while the latter decides as to the fact and the question in hand. Mark inverts that order; for he first represents Christ as speaking on the whole subject, and afterwards adds the reproof which is directed against hypocrites. We shall follow the narrative of Matthew. When the Lord, in his turn, puts the question to the scribes why they break the Law of God on account of their traditions, he does not as yet pronounce a direct acquittal of his disciples from the crime charged against them; but only points out how improper and unwarrantable is this readiness to take offense. They are displeased when the commandments of men are not observed with exactness; and how much more criminal is it to spend the whole time in observing them, to the disregard of the law of God? It is manifest, therefore, that their wrath is kindled rather by ambition than by a proper kind of zeal, when they thus prefer men to God.
When he says that they transgress the commandments of God, the meaning of the expression is easily learned from the context. They did not openly or professedly set aside the law of God, so as to look upon any thing as lawful which the law had forbidden; but there was an indirect transgression of it, for they permitted duties which God had enjoined to be neglected with impunity. A plain and familiar instance is adduced by Christ. The commandment of God is, that children shall honor their parents, (Exodus 20:12.) Now as the sacred offerings yielded emolument to the priests, the observance of them was so rigidly enforced, that men were taught to regard it as a more heinous sin not to make a free-will offering than to defraud a parent of what was justly due to him. In short, what the Law of God declared to be voluntary was, in the estimation of the scribes, of higher value than one of the most important of the commandments of God. Whenever we are so eager to keep the laws of men as to bestow less care and attention on keeping the law of God itself, we are held as transgressing it. Shortly afterwards he says, that they had annulled the commandment of God on account of the traditions of men; for the scribes led the people to entertain so strong an attachment to their own injunctions, that they did not allow them leisure to attend to the word of God. Again, as they reckoned those persons to have discharged their duty well who obeyed these injunctions to the letter, hence arose a liberty to commit sin; for whenever holiness is made to consist in any thing else than in observing the Law of God, men are led to believe that the law may be violated without danger.
Let any man now consider whether this wickedness does not at present abound more among the Papists than it formerly did among the Jews. It is not indeed denied by the Pope, or by the whole of his filthy clergy, that we ought to obey God; but when we come to the point, we find that they consider the act of eating a morsel of flesh as nothing less than a capital crime, while theft or fornication is regarded as a venial fault, and thus, on account of their traditions, they overturn the Law of God; for it is utterly insufferable that the enactments of men shall withdraw any part of that obedience which is due to God alone. Besides, the honor which God commands to be yielded to parents extends to all the duties of filial piety. 400400 “Comprend tous devoirs d’obeissance, secours, et soulagement;” — “includes every duty of obedience, assistance, and relief.” The latter clause which Christ adds, that he who curseth father or mother deserves to be put to death, is intended to inform us, that it is no light or unimportant precept to honor parents, since the violation of it is so severely punished. And this is no small aggravation of the guilt of the scribes, that so severe a threatening does not terrify them from granting an extension of liberty to those who despised their parents.
5. But you say, etc. The mode of expression is defective, and is more fully exhibited by Mark, who adds, you suffer them not to do anything more to their father or to their mother The meaning is, that the scribes were altogether wrong in acquitting those persons who fail to perform their duties to their parents, provided that this deficiency be supplied, on their part, by a voluntary sacrifice, which might have been omitted without offending God. For we must not understand Christ’s words to bear that the scribes had forbidden men to render all proper obedience; 401401 “De faire aucune assistance au pere et a la mere;” — “to grant any relief to their father or mother.” but they were so eager to pursue their own gain, that children were allowed, in the meantime, to neglect their duties to their parents.
7. Well hath Isaiah prophesied concerning you. Our Lord now proceeds farther; for he decides on the question in hand, which he divides into two clauses. The first is, that they relied on outward ceremonies alone, and set no value on true holiness, which consists in sincere uprightness of heart; and the second is, that they worshipped God in a wrong way, according to their own fancy. Now though his reproof of pretended and hypocritical holiness appears hitherto to be restricted to persons, yet it includes the substance of this doctrine, from which the full conclusion was, first, that the worship of God is spiritual, and does not consist in the sprinkling of water, or in any other ceremony; and, secondly, that there is no reasonable worship of God but what is directed by the rule of his word. Although Isaiah (29:13) did not prophesy for futurity alone, but had regard to the men of his own age, yet Christ says that this prediction relates to the Pharisees and scribes, because they resemble those ancient hypocrites with whom the prophet had to contend. Christ does not quote that passage exactly as it stands; but the prophet expressly mentions two offenses by which the Jews provoked against themselves the divine vengeance. With their lips only, and by an outward profession, they made a pretense of godliness; and, next, they turned aside to modes of worship invented by men. First, then, it is wicked hypocrisy, when the honor which men render to God is only in outward appearance; for to approach to God with the mouth, and to honor him with the lips, would not be in itself evil, provided that the heart went before. The substance of what our Lord states on this subject is, that, since the worship of God is spiritual, and as nothing pleases him that is not accompanied by the inward sincerity of the heart, they who make holiness to consist in outward display are hypocrites.