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Christ and the Canaanite Woman - Pinacoteca di Brera

After the miracle of walking across the water, Jesus crossed over with the disciples and landed at Gennesaret. When people recognized him, word spread throughout the surrounding country. People brought all of their sick to Jesus and begged him to let them merely touch the edge of his cloak. When the did, they were healed.

Jesus and the Pharisees - Unknown artistSome Pharisees came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? Why don’t they wash their hands before they eat?”

Jesus replied,

“Why do you break the commands of God for the sake of your tradition? God said, Honor your father and mother and anyone who curses their father or mother should be put to death. But you say that if anyone declares that if what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God’, they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You are hypocrites. Isaiah was right when he prophesized about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain, their teachings are merely human rules.”

Jesus called the crowd over and said,

“Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them but what comes out of the mouth, that is what defiles them.”

The hem of his garment - Unknown artistThen the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

Jesus replied,

“Every plant that my Father has not planted will be pulled up by its roots. Leave them, they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter asked, “Explain the parable to us.”

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“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked.

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and defile them. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person, not eating with unwashed hands.”

What the story means to us today

Two lessons – overriding God’s commandments and defilement of our spirit

A woman healed by touching the garment of Jesus - Alexandre BidaThis story presents two important lessons. When the Pharisees ask Jesus why the disciples ignore Jewish tradition and do not wash their hands before eating, Jesus turns their question upon them by pointing out that the tradition the Pharisees mention was a manmade tradition while the Pharisees break true “traditions” created by God. As an example, Jesus points out how they ignore God’s command to honor the father and mother (the Fifth Commandment) by introducing their own exclusion to the rule – you don’t have to honor your father and mother if something you use to honor them is “devoted to God”.

The second lesson came when the disciples asked Jesus to explain what appeared to be a clear lesson. Jesus responds by asking them incredulously, “Do you still not understand?” (or the slightly humorous translation, “Are you still so dull?”) Jesus goes on to explain that handwashing is not a concern for spiritual cleanliness. What you put into your mouth goes in and comes right back out through waste. We should be more concerned with what comes out of a person’s mouth. What comes from the mouth comes from the heart. Our deepest beliefs, what and who we truly are, are revealed by our thoughts, statements, and actions and if these are sinful, we have in essence, defiled our spirit.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The Pharisees from Jerusalem

Woman touches Jesus' cloak - Unknown artistThe verses say, “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!’” Pharisees hailing from Jerusalem would be highly esteemed, very important, likely leaders of the church with indirect political influence. That they showed up to question Jesus is another early indicator that they were attempting to find fault with Jesus in order to stop his ministry. Jesus’ response, teaching the crowd the error in the Pharisee’s logic, further inflames them.

Faith heals

Jesus was well known by this time as evidenced by the throngs of people who approached him. The people asked to simply touch his cloak, maintaining belief that a simple touch would be all that was needed to be healed. Scriptures tell us that anyone who touched the edge of his cloak was indeed healed. The key to their healing was faith.

Hand washing as a tradition

The Pharisees handwashing ritual had less to do with cleanliness and more to do with tradition. Matthew does not explain the Pharisees comment about handwashing but Luke tells us that all Jews did not eat until they had given their hands a ceremonial washing. The washing seems to relate to spiritual cleanliness. This wasn’t commanded in the Bible but rather, a traditional constructed introduced by Jewish leaders. As such, it did not merit concern from Jesus.

Jewish codification of religious rules – rules made by man, not God

Christ healing a bleeding woman - Catacombs of Marcellinus and PeterJewish rules were one of the major problems Jesus had with the Pharisees. They formally codified religious rules which in some instances, superseded the rules provided by God. Handwashing rules are an excellent example of Hebrew religious constructs that go too far. Handwashing rules were codified about 100 years after Jesus’ death. The rules even specified how much water must be used for ceremonial cleansing. For instance, “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean; but if over both hands with a single rinsing, it is unclean.” These bizarrely detailed religious and ceremonial rules were part of what Jesus fought against. The foundation of our moral framework comes from God, not manmade rules of conduct and behavior.

Jewish law nullifies God’s law by changing God’s edict: Honor thy Father and Mother

Jesus told the Pharisees, “God said, Honor thy Father and Mother’ but you say, ‘If anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is devoted to God, they are not to honor their father or mother with it.’” Jewish persons in Jesus’ day would have considered honoring the father and mother one of the greatest commands. Jesus wasn’t saying the Pharisees did not teach honor for parents. Jesus was referring to the Jewish exemption to the law, which likely encouraged monies donated to the church.

Jewish law said that monies set aside to take care of parents could be retained if the child declared the money as “korban”, monies set aside to donate to the temple treasury. The point Jesus was making was not that children should honor their parents over God (God should always come first). The korban rule likely was a Pharisee’ act of greed. The Pharisees religious traditions purposely nullified God’s command to honor our parents by saying monies used to support parents could be given to the church instead. This is why Jesus disputed the Pharisee’s actions.

The blind leading the blind

Jesus says, “Every plant not planted by God will be pulled up by its roots. Leave them, they are blind leaders. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into pits.” Jesus is referring to the Pharisees whose teachings are wrong according to God. Washing of hands did not make the Pharisees spiritually clean. Jesus says, leave them alone, ignore what they are saying, they are blind to God’s way.

Isaiah 29:13

Woman touches hem of Christ's garment - Heidi Daynes DarleyJesus refers to Isaiah 29:13 which says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules that they have been taught.”

Jesus saw that the Pharisees had displaced God’s rules with teachings of their own. This was a continuation of what God criticized the Hebrews of in Isaiah 29:13.

The science and history behind the story

Gennesaret

The verses tell us that this incident occurred at Gennesaret. Also known as Kinneret, Chinnereth, Chinneroth, and Ginosar, Gennesaret was an ancient city northwest of the Sea of Galilee. The historian Josephus described the area in great detail. The remains have been excavated at a site called Tell el-Oreimeh (Tel Kinrot). It sits in an elevated position, overlooking the Plain of Ginosar from its northern end.

Notes on Biblical translation

“Are you still so dull?”

When the disciples seem to not understand Jesus’ parable, Jesus is shocked. Most translations render Jesus response as “Are you still so dull?” or “Even after all this, are you still so foolish?” The words seem harsh and indeed, Jesus’ shock may have come forth in what he said to the disciples. But the more accurate translations may be something along the lines of “Do you still not understand?” or “Are you still without understanding?” Nonetheless, it appears that Jesus is stunned that the disciples still fail to grasp his teachings – an alarming situation given how close the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry had come.

Bible Text

Jesus preaches in Galilee - Unknown artistNIV

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ r and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ s 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “ ‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

9 They worship me in vain;

their teachings are merely human rules.’ u”

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. y If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

14:34 After they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 14:35 When the people there recognized him, they sent word into all the surrounding area, and they brought all their sick to him. 14:36 They begged him if they could only touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

15:1 Then Pharisees and experts in the law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said, 15:2 “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.” 15:3 He answered them, “And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition? 15:4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 15:5 But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,” 15:6 he does not need to honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. 15:7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said,

15:8 ‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me,

15:9 and they worship me in vain,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

15:10 Then he called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 15:11 What defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.” 15:12 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that when the Pharisees heard this saying they were offended?” 15:13 And he replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. 15:14 Leave them! They are blind guides. If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15:15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 15:16 Jesus said, “Even after all this, are you still so foolish? 15:17 Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and then passes out into the sewer? 15:18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. 15:19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 15:20 These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

34 When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, 36 and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.

15 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,

And honor Me with their lips,

But their heart is far from Me.

9 And in vain they worship Me,

Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

15 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”

16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

36 On return, they beached the boat at Gennesaret. When the people got wind that he was back, they sent out word through the neighborhood and rounded up all the sick, who asked for permission to touch the edge of his coat. And whoever touched him was healed.

1–2 15 After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?”

3–9 But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,

but their heart isn’t in it.

They act like they’re worshiping me,

but they don’t mean it.

They just use me as a cover

for teaching whatever suits their fancy.”

10–11 He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.”

12 Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?”

13–14 Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”

15 Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

16–20 Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

34 And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; 36 And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.

15 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. 5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; 6 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. 7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: 11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. 12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? 13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. 15 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. 16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? 17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

 

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