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Matthew 15:1-39

Last Updated 9/9/00


Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth 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. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them: Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, 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. And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude? And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full. And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children. And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.

2  Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

The story in this chapter one that has consistently been misused to teach that the Messiah did away with the Levitical food commandments (kosher laws). The text plainly shows that this is not the subject at hand, yet many ignore this in order to teach against Torah. (See comments on verse 14 below).

The context of the discussion, is stated clearly in this verse (and at the end of the topic, in verse 20). The subject is not the kosher laws, but that of "washing of hands." There is more to this tradition than what the scripture tells however. (Hence the advantage of knowing the Hebrew background to the discussion.)

There were varying mystical beliefs among some Jews of Yeshua's day, not all firmly grounded in Torah. Some of these ideas had to do with how a person could become spiritually "clean" or "unclean." (A concept, that is of course, quite biblical.) One such teaching was that during the night, evil spirits could come into a man's body. These spirits would exit the body through the hands (more precisely, the fingertips). The body would become spiritually "clean" again, in the morning, with the exception of the fingertips/hands. It was taught that the hands had to be washed in order to remove any defilement that would cause anything touched (i.e., food) to become unclean.

Yeshua is showing that this hand-washing tradition that was not based in Torah, was in fact nullifying Torah, as they were calling unclean, foods that God Himself had declared clean, simply by eating with unwashed hands. He also chastises the teachers for breaking true Torah commandments (while laying these unnecessary burdens on the people) by citing their own lack of properly following the commandment of honoring father and mother. This is the lesson of verses 2-20.

Another scripture cited in the same incorrect fashion is Peter's vision of the unclean animals in Acts chapter 10. Here too, the context and explanation are ignored in order to support false doctrine. Dreams in scripture commonly use specific items and themes to represent certain people, places, things and teachings. In the case of Peter's dream in Acts 10, he clearly explains this vision several times throughout the book of Acts. Not once does Peter say that God showed him that the laws of kashrut are done away with. Rather, in every case, he explains the meaning of the dream as being that gentiles were not to be considered as "unclean," and could directly come to faith through Yeshua -- something that God had not provided for before Yeshua's death. (See comments to verse 24 below.)

3 Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

Here is a second statement about the problem at hand -- Yeshua is not telling them the kosher laws (given by God) are suspended (in violation of His own words in Matthew 5:17-18), but clearly says they are breaking God's Torah by this particular man-made (not God-given) tradition.

It should be noted that Yeshua is not against tradition, including many of the traditions of the Pharisaic Judaism, (which He himself followed, i.e., celebration of Chanukkah, called the "Festival of Dedication" in the gospel of John). Such tradition is the way in which we "walk out" our faith (called halakha). As we will see in the next chapter, Yeshua even gave the power to set such "tradition" to His disciples.

What Yeshua is opposed to is any tradition not founded in Torah that places itself above Torah.

9  teaching for doctrines the commandments of men

He repeats His criticism. They are elevating the doctrines of men over the commandments of the Torah. The kosher laws are from God, they are not traditions of men. In fact, teaching that the kosher laws (or any part of Torah) is done away with, would be what God would consider "commandments of men" and goes against His Word (Matthew 5:17-18).

11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth

This is the verse that is commonly pulled out of its context to support the idea that the kosher laws have been done away with. Yeshua is teaching that we don't make clean foods unclean by failing to ceremonially wash our hands before we eat. Non-kosher food is not part of this discussion as the surrounding verses show.

13  Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.

With allusions to the sower parables in Matthew chapter 13.

14  blind leaders of the blind

Despite "popular opinion," the situation is the same today. The vast majority of people who say they believe in the God of the Bible, follow teachers who tell them that they are "free" from what they call "the Law," (an inaccurate translation of "Torah," which is God's revelation/instruction on how to live, for all who claim to be His people.) The examples given above (Matthew 5:17-21; 15:2-20, Acts 10, etc.), show how people ignore what is explained in the text of the Bible, in favor of following man's anti-Torah doctrines. This is not dissimilar to what many of the religious leaders of Yeshua's day did. Then, as now, men reject the truth of God's Torah.

This is NOT to say that we must first learn and follow the Torah to be saved. That has never been the case, as men and women have always been saved by trusting God (faith) which is a free gift from Him. No one can merit entry into heaven based on works. What is being said (throughout all the studies on the YashaNet web site), is that once anyone "comes to know of God," and His salvation in Yeshua, His Son, there is a path for them to "walk," and this is to learn of, and begin doing God's Torah (Romans 2:13; James 1:22-25).

The only other path is the "false torah" of the flesh and of the world (i.e., Romans 7:23). Picking and choosing commandment from the Torah is not an acceptable position with God (James 2:10), nor is "straddling the fence," (i.e., Revelation 3:15-16).

Those commandments that we are able to keep are the ones we should strive to learn of and follow, in order to be conformed to the image of God -- which is a main purpose of the Torah. We cannot keep all of God's commandments perfectly, because there is no Temple or priesthood (and also because most of us are living outside the land of Israel).

Because the Torah has been rejected by followers of the Messiah for such a long time, we need to diligently re-learn the Torah precept by precept. The Holy Spirit is our guide, but this does not alleviate us of our responsibility of diligently studying God's word:

2 Timothy 2:15 - Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Acts 17:11 - These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

The Holy Spirit will never contradict Torah, as it is God's word. If someone believes the "spirit" is telling them that it is permissible to go against any Torah command (correctly understood in context), then that person is being led by some other spirit.

One question to ask is, "If someone tells a person they are a sinner and need to repent (i.e., as in most "salvation messages" given today), how does that person know what 'sin' is?" Scripture tells us that sin is violation of God's Torah (including all the teachings of the Tenakh/"Old Testament").

Torah was the ONLY standard used by Yeshua and his disciples. Paul and the others only taught Yeshua and salvation out of the Tenakh as there was no "New Testament" around at the time. Neither Yeshua (Matthew 5:17-21), or Paul (Romans 3:31), or any of the other disciples, did away with any part of the faith of Israel. The original believers continued in this faith, only now with knowledge of the promised Messiah.

The "New Testament" is of course, inspired of God, but it was never meant to be read outside of the context of the Torah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is done today, with churches giving their own meaning to the teachings of the "New Testament." They then use this to explain the "Old Testament." This is "putting the cart in front of the horse." (i.e., the common practice of handing out "New Testaments" to people, rather than complete Bibles.)

Gentiles who came to faith in Yeshua, did not become "Christians," as there was no such separation from Judaism ("the faith of Israel") until much later. Gentiles who came to faith, came into the faith of Israel with its Torah (Ephesians 2:10-13) and began to learn more of the Torah as they were taught within the faith of Israel (Acts 15:21). This subject matter is dealt with extensively in our Romans study, and in our article, Not Subject to the Law of God?

20  but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Yeshua wraps up the discussion by making it clear what the subject has been since verse 2 -- eating with unwashed hands -- not doing away with the Torah commandment of eating only clean foods.

24  I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

As Paul also stated the following:

Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

It should be noted that the Gospel was not sent out to the gentiles until after Yeshua's death and resurrection. Up to that time, both Yeshua and His disciples went only to the Jews. Something very mysterious happenend with His death -- gentiles could now come to the God of Israel in a more direct fashion -- by placing their faith in the Messiah of Israel.

Why is this? The basic explanation is that Yeshua was/is the Torah ("Word") in the flesh (i.e., John chapter 1). Just as the Torah is the revelation of the invisible God - Yeshua is also the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Coming to trust in Yeshua, is coming to trust in God (as much as we mere mortals can know Him, which is revealed in His Torah). Yeshua is the door to this relationship. Torah is the path beyond this door - for all who wish to put their trust in Him. Sadly, most will not end up on the right path, even after learning of Him (Matthew 7:12-21).

Most people who come to know of the God of the Bible are soon taught that He changed His mind about His Torah two thousand years ago, that it was somehow done away with by Yeshua. This is taught despite the fact that Yeshua is the Torah in the flesh, (the "goal" of the Torah - Romans 10:4), who said Himself in no uncertain terms that none of the Torah was done away with by His arrival (Matthew 5:17-21).

After Yeshua's death, the practice (evangelisic method) of the disciples was to go to the Jew first. For instance, in every town Paul went to, he first visited the local synagogue. (Paul skipped over some very large cities in his travels that lacked a signficant Jewish presence.) In each case, the Gospel was preached to the Jews first. In every location, there would be some Jews that accepted his message and others that rejected it. Once "Israel" had made its "decision" (in each town), then, and only then, would the message be given to the local gentile population. This subject will be addressed in more detail in our Romans study.

31 they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see:

As mentioned earlier, these were signs of the gospel (Jubilee) message as prophesied in the Tenakh.