Matthew Chapter 15

Gospel of MatthewWelcome to day 15.  It’s rewarding to read God’s word each day with you.  Today we read about a discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees about what makes a person clean or unclean, the faith of a Canaanite woman and Jesus feeding the 4000.



Another delegation came from Jerusalem to investigate this new rabbi who was causing such a stir throughout the country. Again the Pharisees and teachers of the law (also called “scribes”), Jesus’ main opponents, brought the complaint. In 9:14, the Pharisees had attacked Jesus through John’s disciples by claiming that Jesus and his disciples had been wrong not to fast (breaking the religious leaders’ additions to God’s law). In 12:1-2, they had claimed that the disciples were wrong to pluck heads of grain and eat them on the Sabbath (again, only breaking one of their additions to God’s law). In 12:24, such a delegation had incorrectly concluded that Jesus was casting out demons because he himself was demon-possessed. In this section, another delegation arrived, ready to debate Jesus about his disciples’ disregard of the oral traditions and rituals.

15:1-2 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”NIV A delegation came from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish authority, and was made up of Pharisees (who advocated detailed obedience to the Jewish law and traditions) and teachers of the law (professional interpreters of the law who especially emphasized the traditions). Over the centuries since the Jews’ return from Babylonian captivity, hundreds of religious traditions had been added to God’s laws. The Pharisees and teachers of the law considered them all equally important. They believed that these oral traditions (commentaries and exhortation that were memorized and passed on from generation to generation) went all the way back to Moses. As these religious leaders scrutinized Jesus and his disciples, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating without first washing their hands. This referred not to washing for cleanliness, but to a particular kind of washing that made a person “ceremonially clean” before eating. This ceremonial washing cleansed a person from any defilement he or she may have contacted without knowing it.

The origin of this ceremonial washing is seen in the laver of the tabernacle, where the priests washed their hands and feet prior to performing their sacred duties (Exodus 30:17-21). That was part of God’s law. Oral tradition extended this law to all Jews to be performed before formal prayers and then before eating. Thus, before each meal, devout Jews would perform a short ceremony, washing their hands and arms in a specific way. This ceremonial washing was not part of God’s law; instead, it was part of the rules and regulations added later. “The tradition of the elders” refers to the oral interpretation of God’s laws, interpretations that affected every aspect of Jewish daily life. The elders of earlier generations (members chosen from the older people to be part of the Sanhedrin, the most powerful religious and political body of the Jewish nation) passed along this oral tradition until, in the third century b.c., it was collected and written down, eventually forming the foundation of the Jewish Talmud. As such, the tradition of the elders consisted of oral laws given by Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees and teachers of the law considered these religious traditions to be as binding and as unbreakable as God’s law itself. Their assumption was wrong, as Jesus would point out.


The Pharisees were very concerned about traditions. Traditions have great significance for us also. In your next meeting with friends from church, ask the group for help in understanding the role of tradition in the life of your church. Here are some specific questions:

l What rules have developed over time (and are no longer questioned) concerning proper behavior with respect to the use of alcoholic beverages, playing cards, motion pictures, and dancing?

l Who originated those rules? Who enforces them today?

l How do such rules help spiritual growth or hinder it?

l Why are such “secondary rules” important to your church? How do you keep them from assuming the same importance as biblical rules?

Having noticed that Jesus’ disciples were eating with defiled hands, the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus why they hadn’t washed their hands. Notice that the Pharisees realized that this was a “tradition of the elders,” but they believed that this tradition had the same authority as God’s law. Their underlying statement was, “If you are really a rabbi, as holy, righteous, and versed in the law as we are, then you should know that we don’t eat without first ceremonially washing our hands. We won’t attack you personally, but since your disciples aren’t washing, you obviously haven’t taught them about what is important. Maybe you don’t even know this law. That makes you no better than a common sinner, certainly not a rabbi whom all these people should be following!” Many religious traditions are good and can add richness and meaning to life. But just because our traditions have been practiced for years, we must not elevate them to a sacred standing. God’s principles never change, and his law doesn’t need additions. Traditions should help us understand God’s laws better, not become laws themselves.

15:3-4 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.'”NRSV Jesus didn’t answer their question until 15:10-11. Instead, he dealt with the issue of authority—your tradition versus what God said. The disciples may have transgressed the tradition of the elders, but Jesus would show that the religious leaders, who had supposedly devoted their lives to protecting the law, had broken God’s law for the sake of their tradition. They had become so zealous for the traditions that they had lost their perspective and had missed the point of God’s law entirely. Jesus did not reject all the traditions (the position of the Sadducees), but he would explain that traditions should never take the place of God’s law.

Jesus first quoted Moses, an especially relevant choice because the teachers of the law traced the oral law back to him (see Deuteronomy 4:14). He chose an example about people’s duty toward their parents. One of the Ten Commandments, Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16), states that people are to respect their parents, honoring them for who they are and what they have done. The commandment did not apply just to young children but to anyone whose parents were living. “Honor” includes speaking respectfully and showing care and consideration.

The same law is written negatively in Exodus 21:17, Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die (see also Leviticus 20:9). “Speaking evil” (also translated “cursing”) of one’s parents is the opposite of honoring them. It means to criticize, to ridicule, to abuse verbally. The natural result of such behavior is that the person will not honor his parents for who they are, will not speak respectfully, and will certainly show no care or consideration to them. Such action carried a severe penalty—a person who cursed his parents could be put to death.

The religious leaders knew Moses’ words backward and forward, but Jesus pointed out how they were actually breaking them (see 15:5-6).

15:5-6 “But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God.'”NRSV Jesus then went on to explain how some of the Pharisees had found a way to completely sidestep God’s command to honor parents. This may seem like an example unrelated to the previous discussion, but Jesus was explaining that to break the oral tradition in one place is to invalidate it completely. The words “but you say” demonstrated how their behavior opposed what Moses had written. In their devotion to the law and tradition, their procedural regulations obscured the true intent of God’s Word. As Christians today we must beware of the same error. Are we so devoted to our ministries, methods, and programs that we neglect the true intent of the gospel? We must take this challenge to heart and constantly evaluate our own traditions.

The practice of the tradition of “Corban” (literally, “offering”) meant that a person could dedicate money or property for God’s exclusive use. When this happened, the money would be reserved for sacred use and withdrawn from use by anyone else. But the benefits could be used by the donor, much like an irrevocable trust works today. This vow was grossly misused. A man could use an article vowed to God indefinitely but could not transfer it to anyone else. Unscrupulous people would even use this vow to keep from paying debts. Others, as Jesus noted, used it to circumvent their responsibility to their parents. Their devotion to God had stripped them of their compassion for people.

The Pharisees had allowed men to dedicate money to God’s temple that otherwise would have gone to support their parents (based on Deuteronomy 23:21-23 and Numbers 30:1-16). The legal code of the day was strict, and the family was highly honored. People were expected to care for aging parents. Some found a way to keep from doing so and still use their money or property as they chose. Thus, a man could simply take the vow of Corban, saying that all his money was dedicated to God. Although the action— dedicating money to God—seemed worthy and no doubt conferred prestige on the giver, these religious leaders were ignoring God’s clear command to honor parents. Even worse, this was an irrevocable vow. If a son were to later decide that he needed to help his parents, the Pharisees would not permit it. Jesus rightly described the Pharisees as going to great pains to make void the word of God by directly violating the fifth commandment. They had elevated their tradition above God’s revealed law through Moses and thus had nullified it. They had obeyed what they thought was God’s will so scrupulously that they had actually violated what God really intended.


Jesus blasted the Pharisees for being hypocrites. The trouble with religious phonies is that God is never fooled, though lots of people are. If in your heart you are greedy, sensual, power-hungry, and happy with it, then you are a phony. For your own sake and for the rest of us, please do one of the following: (1) Give up the church. Better to be a full-fledged pagan than a pagan in a religious suit. God isn’t fooled anyhow, and fewer people will be discouraged by your hypocrisy. Or, the better decision, (2) give up your hypocrisy and give your life to Jesus. Let his Spirit renew you from the inside out. Be real about faith, starting today.

15:7-9 “You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'”NRSV Jesus blasted these self-righteous leaders with one word; he called them hypocrites. They must have been enraged to be addressed that way by such a person. The Greek word originally meant “actor.” The Pharisees were hiding behind actors’ masks (see 6:2). The Pharisees pretended to be holy and close to God, thus judging all other people as sinners. But what they pretended on the outside was not true on the inside.

Jesus answered not their spoken question but their underlying one, by quoting the Scripture that they claimed to know so well. The Greek word translated “rightly” means “beautifully, excellently.” The great prophet Isaiah had written beautifully correct words describing these religious leaders: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. The Pharisees and scribes also knew this Scripture by memory, but evidently they never had applied it to themselves. The prophet Isaiah criticized hypocrites (Isaiah 29:13), and Jesus applied Isaiah’s words to these religious leaders. “This people” begins the quotation from Isaiah 29:13, resembling more closely the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. It is not exactly the same as the Hebrew text of Isaiah, though the substance is the same. The religious leaders might say all the right words and give lip service to God, but their hearts were far from God. The problem: The authority for their teaching was human. They taught their human-made rules as though they were given by God. Isaiah explained that their worship was “in vain.” They worshiped for appearances, not out of love for God. When we claim to honor God while our hearts are far from him, our worship means nothing. It is not enough to act religious. Our actions and our attitudes must be sincere. If they are not, Isaiah’s words also describe us. The Pharisees knew a lot about God, but they didn’t know God. It is not enough to study about religion or even to study the Bible. We must respond to God himself.

15:10-11 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”NRSV The crowd had listened to Jesus’ stinging accusation of the religious leaders. Next, they heard him tell them to listen and understand, for he would sum up his teaching. The Pharisees thought that to eat with defiled hands meant to be defiled (15:1-2). Jesus explained that the Pharisees were wrong in thinking they were acceptable to God just because they were “clean” on the outside. Defilement is not an external matter (keeping food laws, washing ceremonially, keeping Sabbath requirements), but an internal one.

The phrase, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” refers directly to the Pharisees’ question about the disciples eating with “defiled” hands.

A person does not become morally defiled by eating with hands that have not been ceremonially washed. Instead, the opposite is true: It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. That is, the condition of a person’s heart will be revealed by his or her words and actions. Sin begins in the heart, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said hundreds of years

True Christian preaching is extremely rare in today’s church. Thoughtful young people in many countries are asking for it, but cannot find it. The major reason is a lack of conviction about its importance.

John R. W. Stott

before: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 nrsv).

As believing Jews and students of Scripture, the Pharisees should have known this. Many times in the Old Testament God had told his people that he valued mercy and obedience based on love above mere observation of rules and rituals (see 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalms 40:6-8; 51:16-19; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8). Jesus explained his words more fully to his disciples in 15:16-20.

15:12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”NRSV The concept that people were not defiled by “what goes into the mouth” was revolutionary to the Jews—and especially to the Pharisees, who had built a whole set of rules governing such matters. Mark added the parenthesis that by saying this Jesus had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). Thus, Jesus radically reinterpreted the dietary laws and made them defunct. By so doing, he was establishing himself as the right interpreter of Scripture. Leviticus 11 contains many of the Jewish dietary laws, including a list of foods considered “clean” and “unclean.” Over the years, however, the laws had become more important than the reasons for them and the meanings behind them. As the Jews interpreted the dietary laws, they believed that they could be clean before God because of what they had refused to eat. But Jesus explained that sin and defilement do not come from eating the forbidden foods. Rather, they come from the disobedience that begins in the heart. No wonder the Pharisees took offense at what Jesus said!

15:13-14 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”NRSV The Pharisees may have been offended (15:12), but Jesus explained that they were being rejected as leaders of God’s people. They claimed to be God’s true people, but like a weed growing in a flowerbed, they would be uprooted. In Isaiah, God describes Israel as his “planting” (Isaiah 60:21; 61:3 nkjv), but these Pharisees did not belong to him and they would be torn out by the roots. Their teaching, which they so piously elevated, would be discarded. “Let them alone” means that Jesus’ followers were not to follow, listen to, or regard the hypocritical Pharisees. In our day, there are religious teachers and preachers who draw large followings. But time may reveal that their hearts were insincere. Once we know that their true intent is not God’s glory, then we should not listen to them.

The Pharisees claimed to be leaders of the people (see Romans 2:19), but Jesus turned this around to show that they themselves were blind guides—blind to the true meaning of God’s law. They were very proud of their wisdom and enlightenment, so Jesus’ indictment would have stung. Their failure to understand God and his desires for people would prove to be disastrous for them and for those who followed them. “Both will fall into a pit” is probably a picture of judgment (see Isaiah 24:18; Jeremiah 48:44).

15:15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”NRSV Peter often would act as spokesman for the disciples, so he asked Jesus to explain the parable (15:10-11). Later Peter would be faced with the issue of clean and unclean food (see Acts 10:9-15). Then he would learn that nothing should be a barrier to proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Even more, he would learn that everything created by God is good.


Jesus told his disciples to leave the Pharisees alone because the Pharisees were blind to God’s truth. Thus, anyone who listened to their teaching would risk spiritual harm. Not all religious leaders clearly see God’s truth. Religion can lead you into a pit if you follow teachers who are blind to the truth. All teachers who fail to recognize the supreme authority of Jesus, as Savior and chief interpreter of the Scriptures, are heading that way. Follow them, and you’ll fall in too. But if you follow teachers who follow Jesus, the daffy ideas of a thousand crackpot religions won’t confuse or bother you. Choose your mentors carefully! Make sure that those you listen to and learn from are those who teach and follow the principles of Scripture.

15:16-17 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?”NRSV Jesus knew the crowd didn’t understand, but he may have been saddened again that his disciples had also failed to comprehend. In the miracle stories, the disciples didn’t realize Jesus’ identity; in this situation, they didn’t understand his teaching. The words “still without understanding” emphasize discipleship as a process of growth. Although they knew much about Jesus, they still had more to learn.

Jesus explained that what goes into a person cannot make that person unclean. Thus, to eat food with hands that may have touched a “defiled” person or article did not mean that the person was ingesting defilement. Logically, as Jesus explained, food goes in the mouth, down into the stomach, and then out into the sewer. It has no effect whatever on the moral condition of the heart. Moral defilement has nothing to do with food. Sin in a person’s heart is what defiles that person, not the lack of ceremonial cleansing or the type of food eaten.

15:18-20 “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”NRSV Defilement occurs because of sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Sin begins in a person’s heart, and what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. In Jewish culture, parts of the body stood for parts of human personality. The “heart” stood for the center of a person’s affections and desires. In Romans 6-8, Paul explains how the Holy Spirit needs to control our sinful human desires.

“Defile” means to corrupt or contaminate the purity of something. Jews who were defiled were ceremonially unclean, meaning that they were forbidden to participate in certain acts of worship until the uncleanness was dealt with or removed. Sinful words and actions defile the person speaking or acting as well as the object of the act. Jesus’ words contain a certain ambiguity. Our first impulse is to believe that the source of the action is defiled, but the text leaves open the possibility that the target of evil words and actions is also defiled. That is, we genuinely hurt people by words and actions that spring from evil motives or intentions.

“For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”NRSV To emphasize how all evil comes from within, Jesus listed several examples of sin. The first, “evil intentions,” is probably a category under which the others are found. The remaining six follow the order of the sixth through ninth commandments.

Evil intentions begin in the heart. Jesus made it clear why people sin—it’s a matter of the heart. Our hearts have been inclined toward sin from the time we were born. While many people work hard to keep their outward appearance attractive, what is in their heart is even more important. When people become Christians, God makes them different on the inside. He will continue the process of change inside them if they only ask. God wants us to seek healthy thoughts and motives, not just healthy food and exercise.

These actions and attitudes begin in a person’s heart, and these are what defile a person:

  • Murder—Killing a person, taking his or her God-given life
  • Adultery—Having sex with someone other than one’s spouse
  • Fornication—Engaging in various kinds of extramarital sexual activity
  • Theft—Taking something that belongs to someone else
  • False witness—Tricking or misleading by lying
  • Slander—Destroying another’s good reputation through half-truths and lies


15:21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.NIV Jesus traveled about thirty miles to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These were port cities on the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel. Both cities had flourishing trade and were very wealthy. They were proud, historic Canaanite cities. Jesus withdrew to Gentile territory to evade the opposition of the Pharisees. In David’s day, Tyre had been on friendly terms with Israel (2 Samuel 5:11), but soon afterward the city had become known for its wickedness. Its king even had claimed to be a god (Ezekiel 28:1ff.). Tyre had rejoiced when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 b.c. because without Israel’s competition, Tyre’s trade and profits would increase.

15:22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”NRSV Apparently, a woman had heard about Jesus’ miracle-working power and how he could cast out demons, so she wasn’t going to miss a chance to see him. Mark records that she “fell at his feet” (Mark 7:25; see below 15:25).

Matthew called her a Canaanite; Mark described her as a Gentile, a Syrophoenician. Both descriptions are correct. Mark’s designation refers to her political background. His Roman audience would easily identify her by the part of the Empire that was her home. Matthew’s description was designed for his Jewish audience; they remembered the Canaanites as bitter enemies when Israel was settling the Promised Land.

Ministry in Phoenicia

After preaching again in Capernaum, Jesus left Galilee for Phoenicia, where he preached in Tyre and Sidon. On his return, he traveled through the region of the Decapolis (Ten Cities), fed the 4,000 beside the sea, and then crossed to Magadan.

Matthew’s Jewish audience would have immediately understood the significance of Jesus helping this woman. Some Bible translations identify her as a Greek. This is also correct because she was a Greek-speaking native of the Phoenician area which had been converted to Greek language and culture after the conquest by Alexander the Great in the fourth century b.c.

The woman called Jesus, Lord, Son of David, showing her acceptance of Jesus’ identity as the Jewish Messiah. She may have been a Greek proselyte. Sometimes Gentiles would convert to Judaism, drawn by the strong moral qualities. This woman came to Jesus on behalf of her daughter, who was tormented by a demon. Obviously this woman was greatly distressed over her daughter’s suffering.

15:23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”NRSV Jesus’ silence seems difficult to understand until we read the lesson of faith that he taught both the woman and his disciples (15:24-28). The woman continued to follow after them, and she continued to shout. Finally, the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. This may have meant to get rid of the woman because she was bothering them with her nagging persistence. Or it may have been a request for Jesus to do as she requested, so she would go away and leave them alone. Jesus, always compassionate, would heal the woman’s daughter, but not just to make her stop following them. He had a lesson about faith that he needed to teach this woman. In so doing, he would teach the disciples a lesson as well.

It is possible to become so occupied with spiritual matters that we miss real needs right around us, especially if we are prejudiced against needy people or if they cause us inconvenience. Instead of being bothered, be aware of the opportunities that surround you. Be open to the beauty of God’s message for all people, and make an effort not to shut out those who are different from you.

15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”NIV Jesus’ words do not contradict the truth that God’s message is for all kinds of people (Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 28:19; Romans 15:9-12). After all, when Jesus said these words, he was in Gentile territory. He ministered to Gentiles on many other occasions also, but always in Jewish territory (4:24-25; 8:5-13). Jesus was simply telling the woman that Jews were to have the first opportunity to accept him as the Messiah because God wanted them to present the message of salvation to the rest of the world (see Genesis 12:3). While on earth, Jesus restricted his mission to Jewish people. In doing so, he was doing his Father’s will (11:27) and fulfilling the promise God made to Jews in the Old Testament. The restricted mission of Jesus and the disciples echoes the principle recorded in 10:5-6. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” does not mean Jesus came to the Jews alone; rather, it means that he would go to them first (Mark 7:27). “Sheep” was an affectionate term used often for God’s people in the Old Testament.

Jesus was not rejecting the Canaanite woman. Instead, he was explaining that his activities were limited (in his humanity); thus, he had to focus on his goal. Jesus had only a short time on earth. His mission focused on (but was not limited to) the Jews. Jesus tested (in the sense of “probed, challenged, encouraged”) this woman’s faith and used the situation to teach that faith is available to all people. Matthew alone recorded this interchange. His Jewish audience would have been very interested in Jesus’ miracle to help this Gentile woman.

15:25-26 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”NIV Undaunted by Jesus’ apparent unwillingness to respond to her request, the woman came and knelt before him, begging for help.

The answer comes in the language of a parable; therefore, we must not press the details too far. Jesus probably spoke Greek to this woman, for she would not have known Aramaic. He used the word kunarion, referring to a little dog, a household pet.

The simple parable meant that the children at the table should be fed before the pets; it would not be right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs. While it is true that in Jewish tradition Gentiles at times were referred to derogatorily as “dogs,” that probably does not apply here. The Greek word used as a derogatory nickname applied to wild dogs or scavenger dogs, not household pets. By these words, Jesus may have meant that his first priority was to spend time feeding his children (teaching his disciples), not to take food away from them and throw it to the pets.

He is not a mere teacher of the way, as some vainly imagine—a teacher of a system of morality, by the observance of which we may be saved. But Christ is truly the Way. He is Himself the Way. The soul is saved by Christ Himself.

Charles G. Finney

Jesus was not insulting the woman; instead, he was saying that she must not demand what God had ordained for the Jews. She should wait until God’s appointed time when the Gentiles would receive the Good News of the gospel. The point of Jesus’ parable is “precedence”—who gets fed first? The children do.

15:27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”NRSV Unlike many of the Jewish listeners, this Gentile woman understood Jesus’ parable. Her answer was wise, for she explained to Jesus, by extending his parable, that the children who love the pets often drop morsels of food to them. Not all the Jews accepted Jesus, while some Gentiles chose to follow him. Why couldn’t she have some of those crumbs that the Jews didn’t want? She adroitly pointed out that even the dogs ate with (not after) the children. She did not ask for the entire meal; she was perfectly willing to take second place behind the Jews. All she wanted right then was a few crumbs—or one “crumb” in particular—one miracle of healing for her daughter.

Ironically, many Jews would miss out on God’s spiritual healing because they rejected Jesus, while many Gentiles, whom the Jews rejected, would find salvation because they recognized Jesus.

15:28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.NKJV Jesus was delighted by the faith of the woman. He granted her request because of her humility and persistence. She had made her request in faith that Jesus could perform the healing. His words had been meant to challenge her to greater faith, and she had responded. She understood Christ’s lordship, and she understood the priorities of his mission. No wonder Jesus exclaimed, Great is your faith! On that basis, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter. With his words, her daughter was healed from that very hour. This miracle showed that Jesus’ power over demons was so great that he didn’t need to be present physically, or even to speak any word to the demon, in order to free someone. His power transcended distance.


One of the obstacles the Canaanite woman had to overcome was the dismissive attitude of the disciples. Likewise, seekers today are advised not to judge the gospel on their first impression of most church folk.

If you are seeking help from Jesus, don’t be put off by the airs and attitudes of some people who claim to know him. Christians are not perfect. “Get rid of her,” said the disciples. And so today in many different ways people in need of Jesus are put off by the “righteous.”

If you’re looking for Jesus, don’t stop until you find him. And when you find him, try your best to be as generous and loving to others as he is.


15:29 After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down.NRSV Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre, and went through Sidon, and came down to the Sea of Galilee. He did not go into Jewish regions, however, but traveled to the northeastern shore of the lake instead, into the region of the Decapolis (Ten Cities, see Mark 7:31), a primarily Gentile area.

15:30-31 Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.NRSV A great crowd surrounded Jesus. They wanted to be healed, and he healed them all:

The lame could walk, the maimed were made whole, the blind were given sight, the mute could speak. This list of healings would have reminded Matthew’s readers of Isaiah 35:5-6, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for oy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (niv). Matthew was showing his Jewish readers that the Gentiles would share with the Jews in the blessings of their Messiah.

Faith is a disposition of the heart, without which God’s most glorious blessing is offered to us in vain; but by which, on the other hand, all the fullness of God’s grace can be most certainly received and enjoyed.

Andrew Murray

The phrase “and they praised the God of Israel” indicates that this was a Gentile crowd. While Jesus came to the lost sheep of Israel (15:24), he did not restrict his ministry to the Jews alone. Other Gentiles had received Jesus’ healing touch (the centurion who had come on behalf of his servant, 8:13; the demon-possessed men who lived in this same region, 8:33). This scene mirrors the events in Capernaum: “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons” (Mark 1:32-34 niv).


Great crowds came to Jesus to be healed. Jesus still heals broken lives, and we can bring suffering people to him. Whom do you know that needs Christ’s healing touch? Bring them to Jesus through prayer or through explaining to them the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Then let Christ do the healing.


Differences in details distinguish this miracle from the feeding of the five thousand described in chapter 14. At that time, those fed were mostly Jews. At this second feeding, Jesus ministered to a mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles in the predominantly Gentile region of the Decapolis. Also, Jesus began with different quantities of bread and fish, and he did not require his disciples to admit their own inability to solve the problem.

15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”NRSVJesus was ministering in the region of the Decapolis where he had healed many people (15:30-31), causing his popularity to spread throughout the area. It should come as no surprise, then, that many people were following him. This story sounds very much like the feeding of the five thousand recorded in 14:13-21, but it is a separate event. Both Matthew and Mark include both miracles. Jesus himself referred back to each incident separately when he asked the disciples, “Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand . . . or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” (16:9-10NRSV).

In the previous episode, Jesus and the disciples had desired rest, but the crowd had interrupted that rest. Out of compassion, Jesus had taught them. Jesus’ compassion means that he was deeply moved by the extreme needs of the people. Jesus exhibited God’s compassion for his sheep (see Ezekiel 34), not merely human pity for hungry people. (For more on Jesus’ compassion, see 9:36; 14:14; 20:34.) The disciples had to come to Jesus, suggesting that the crowd would be getting hungry and that he should send them away to get their own food. In this episode, the crowd had been following Jesus for three days, listening to his teaching and observing his miracles. Jesus took the initiative in his concern for their need for food, and he shared his concern with the disciples. The wording probably does not mean that the people hadn’t eaten for three days. Instead, whatever supplies they had brought along were depleted, so most of them had nothing left to eat. Thus, Jesus was concerned not to send them away hungry. Finally, after the feeding of the five thousand, the people wanted to make him a king. There was no such movement by the people in this episode.

15:33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”NIV Although the disciples had seen Jesus feed five thousand people, they had no idea what he would do in this situation. Perhaps they didn’t expect Jesus to perform the same miracle when the crowd was Gentile and not Jewish (thus revealing their spiritual blindness). This miracle again revealed Jesus’ divine power. The crowd was in a remote place, and the disciples asked the obvious question: “Where could we get enough bread . . . to feed such a crowd?”

Jesus had already found the resources in a previous remote place for an even larger crowd, yet the disciples were completely perplexed as to how they should be expected to feed this crowd. People often give up when faced with difficult situations. Like the disciples, we often forget God’s provision for us in the past. When facing a difficult situation, remember what God has done for you and trust him to take care of you again.

15:34 Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.”NKJV In the Bible, the number seven often signifies perfection or completeness, as in the seven days of creation (Genesis 1) and forgiving seven times (Matthew 18:21). Yet the numbers seven and seventy were also associated with Gentiles. In Jewish tradition, Gentile nations numbered seventy (from Genesis 10:1-32), and Gentiles were sometimes said to be bound, not by the Israelite covenant, but by God’s covenant with Noah that was said to have seven commandments (Genesis 9:1-17). In Acts 6:1-7, seven leaders were chosen to minister to the Greek-speaking Christians. Thus, in this passage some have seen the number seven to have symbolic significance. It may hint at the worldwide scope of Jesus’ message. Probably the connection to the Gentiles is coincidental, but the church used that connection to enlarge the Gentile mission.

15:35-36 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.NRSV In the previous miracle, Jesus had told the disciples to order the people to sit in groups on the ground; here Jesus himself gave the order for everyone to sit down. Perhaps he took over, realizing that the disciples just did not understand. He then took the seven loaves and gave thanks to God for the provision he was about to give. In Greek, the term for “giving thanks” is connected with the Christian Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) as in 1 Corinthians 11:24. Later, in 14:22-25, Mark used the verb “to bless” (nrsv) to describe Jesus’ prayer over the bread, and the verb “to give thanks” (the same word as used here) to describe his prayer over the cup.

Next Jesus broke apart the loaves; then he allowed the disciples to pass them out as before. The verbs for Jesus giving the bread and the disciples’ distribution could read, “Jesus kept on giving bread to the disciples, and they kept on distributing it” to the crowd.

In addition to bread, the people received fish. In ancient days, that would form a fairly complete meal. Such a meal certainly would provide enough energy for the people’s trip back home. Like the bread, the fish was blessed and distributed until everyone had enough to eat.


Jews gave thanks before and after a meal. Many people think praying before meals is quaint, out-of-date, or perfunctory. But Jesus never forgot to thank God before a meal. Thanking God before meals reminds us that nourishment, satisfaction, good times—life itself—come from him. If you’ve become lax, start praying again at your next meal. If you’ve grown into a habit, keep it up with renewed gratitude.

15:37-38 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children.NIV As had happened before, each person in the crowd had eaten and was filled—no one went away hungry from this banquet. The seven loaves and few fish multiplied so that, again, even the leftovers were more than the food Jesus had started with.

In the previous feeding episode, Jesus had asked the disciples to divide the crowd into a specific arrangement; this time, he did not do so. The Greek word for “basketfuls” provides an interesting twist on this story. In the feeding of the five thousand, there were twelve baskets of leftovers, and the “baskets” were kophinos, large baskets. After the feeding of the four thousand, there were seven baskets of leftovers, and the “baskets” were different; these were spuris—baskets that were large enough to hold a person. (Paul was let down over the Damascus wall in a spuris—Acts 9:25). The abundance of leftovers in these seven baskets may have been more than the leftovers from the twelve baskets in the previous incident.

As before, the number of those who ate, four thousand, meant that there were four thousand men in addition to the women and children who were there.

15:39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.NIV Once Jesus knew the people had eaten their fill and would not faint from hunger on their journey home (15:32), he sent the crowd away. Jesus and the disciples once again got into the boat and sailed to the vicinity of Magadan (called Dalmanutha in Mark), a town located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. This meant a return back to Jewish territory. There Jesus would face further conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-4). Magadan was Mary Magdalene’s hometown (Luke 8:2-3).

Source:  Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.

About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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