Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
See this passage explained in the notes at Mat. 15:1-20.
Came from Jerusalem - Probably to observe his conduct, and to find matter of accusation against him.
Defiled hands - The hands were considered defiled or polluted unless they were washed previous to every meal.
Except they wash their hands oft - Our word "oft" means frequently, often. The Greek wore translated oft has been rendered various ways. Some have said that it means "up to the wrist" - unless they wash their hands up to the wrist. Others have said up to the elbow." There is evidence that the Pharisees had some such foolish rule as this about washing, and it is likely that they practiced it faithfully. But the Greek Word πυγμή pugmē - means properly the "fist," and the meaning here is, "Unless they wash their hands (rubbing them) with the fist" - that is, not merely dipping the finger or hands in water as a sign of ablution, but rubbing the hands together as a ball or fist, in the usual Oriental manner when water is poured over them. Hence, the phrase comes to mean "diligently, carefully, sedulously." - Robinson, Lexicon. The idea is, unless they pay the utmost attention to it, and do it carefully and according to rule.
The tradition - What had been handed down; not what was delivered "by writing" in the law of Moses, but what had been communicated from father to son as being proper and binding.
The elders - The ancients; not the old men "then living," but those who had lived formerly.
Market - This word means either the place where provisions were sold, or the place where men were convened for any purpose. Here it probably means the former.
Except they wash - In the original, "Except they baptize." In this place it does not mean to immerse the whole body, but only the hands. There is no evidence that the Jews washed their "whole bodies" every time they came from market. It is probable that they often washed with the use of a very small quantity of water.
The washing of cups - In the Greek, "the baptism of cups."
Cups - drinking vessels. Those used at their meals.
Pots - Measures of "liquids." Vessels made of wood, used to hold wine, vinegar, etc.
brazen vessels - Vessels made of brass, used in cooking or otherwise. These, if much polluted, were commonly passed through the fire: if slightly polluted they were washed. Earthen vessels, if defiled, were usually broken.
Tables - This word means, in the original, "beds or couches." It refers not to the "tables" on which they ate, but to the "couches" on which they reclined at their meals. See the notes at Mat 23:6. These were supposed to be defiled when any unclean or polluted person had reclined on them, and they deemed it necessary to purify them with water. The word "baptism" is here used - in the original, "the baptism of tables;" but, since it cannot be supposed that "couches" were entirely "immersed" in water, the word "baptism" here must denote some other application of water, by sprinkling or otherwise, and shows that the term is used in the sense of washing in any way. If the word is used here, as is clear it is, to denote anything except entire immersion, it may be elsewhere, and baptism is lawfully performed, therefore, without immersing the whole body in water.
For doctrines - For commands of God binding on the conscience. Imposing "your" traditions as equal in authority to the laws of God.
Laying aside - Rejecting, or making, it give place to traditions; considering the traditions as superior in authority to the divine law. This was the uniform doctrine of the Pharisees. See the notes at Mat 15:1-9.
The tradition of men - What has been handed down by human beings, or what rests solely on their authority.
Full well - These words are capable of different interpretations. Some read them as a question: "Do ye do well in rejecting?" etc. Others suppose they mean "skillfully, cunningly." "You show great cunning or art, in laying aside God's commands and substituting in their place those of men." Others suppose them to be ironical. "How nobly you act! From conscientious attachment to your traditions you have made void the law of God;" meaning to intimate by it that they had acted wickedly and basely.
The parable - The "obscure" and difficult remarks which he had made in Mar 7:15. The word "parable," here, means "obscure" and "difficult saying." They could not understand it. They had probably imbibed many of the popular notions of the Pharisees, and they could not understand why a man was not defiled by external things. It was, moreover, a doctrine of the law that men were ceremonially polluted by contact with dead bodies, etc., and they could not understand how it could be otherwise.
Cannot defile him - Cannot render his "soul" polluted; cannot make him a "sinner" so as to need this purifying as a "religious" observance.
Entereth not into his heart - Does not reach or affect the "mind," the "soul," and consequently cannot pollute it. Even if it should affect the "body," yet it cannot the "soul," and consequently cannot need to be cleansed by a religious ordinance. The notions of the Pharisees, therefore, are not founded in reason, but are mere "superstition."
The draught - The sink, the vault. "Purging all meats." The word "purging," here, means to purify, to cleanse. What is thrown out of the body is the innutritious part of the food taken into the stomach, and leaving only that which is proper for the support of life; and it cannot, therefore, defile the soul.
All meals - All food; all that is taken into the body to support life. The meaning is, that the economy or process by which life is supported "purifies" or "renders nutritious" all kinds of food. The unwholesome or innutritious parts are separated, and the wholesome only are taken into the system. This agrees with all that has since been discovered of the process of digestion and of the support of life. The food taken into the stomach is by the gastric juice converted into a thick pulp called chyme. The nutritious part of this is conveyed into small vessels, and changed into a milky substance called "chyle." This is poured by the thoracic duct into the left subclavian vein and mingles with the blood, and conveys nutriment and support to all parts of the system. The useless parts of the food are thrown off.
Hat which cometh out of the man - His words; the expression of his thoughts and feelings; his conduct, as the development of inward malice, anger, covetousness, lust, etc.
Defileth the man - Makes him really polluted or offensive in the sight of God. This renders the soul corrupt and abominable in his sight. See Mat 15:18-20.
See this miracle explained in the notes at Mat 15:21-28.
Would have no man know it - To avoid the designs of the Pharisees he wished to be retired.
A Greek - The Jews called all persons "Greeks" who were not of their nation. Compare Rom 1:14. The whole world was considered as divided into Jews and Greeks. Though she might not have been strictly a "Greek," yet she came under this general appellation as a foreigner.
Departing from the coasts - The country or regions of Tyre.
Came unto the sea of Galilee - The Sea of Tiberias. See the notes at Mat 4:18.
Decapolis - See the notes at Mat 4:25. He did not go immediately into Capernaum, or any city where he was known, but into the retired regions around the Sea of Galilee. This was done to avoid the designs of the Pharisees, who sought his life.
They bring - That is, his friends brought, or the people brought.
One that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech - Not entirely mute, but who spoke indistinctly or with difficulty. His deafness might not have been of long standing, and his speech, therefore, not entirely ruined.
To put his hand upon him - That is, to cure him. Blessings were commonly imparted by laying on the hands.
And he took him aside from the multitude - Why this was done we have no means of information. It might have been to conceal from the multitude everything respecting the "manner" of cure, in order that none might attempt to cure in a similar way.
And he put his fingers into his ears ... - Why this was done it has been found exceedingly difficult to explain. Jesus had power at once to open his ears and loose his tongue, but for some cause he chose to accompany it with a sign. This was intended, probably, simply to denote that the power of healing came from him; to satisfy the man by the touch that he had this power, and that it could come from no other quarter. Our Saviour often used signs in this way to denote his power to heal. See Mar 8:23; Joh 9:6.
Looked up to heaven - To lift up the eyes to heaven is an act imploring aid from God, and is an attitude of prayer, Psa 121:1-2; Mar 6:41; Joh 11:41.
He sighed - Pitying the sufferings of the man who stood before him.
Ephphatha - This word is "Syriac," the language which our Lord used in addressing the man, and means "Be opened."
The string of his tongue was loosed - The difficulty in his speaking was removed.
Tell no man - Do not noise it abroad. He was not ambitious of being known, and he knew that if much was said of his cures, it would excite the jealousy of the Pharisees and endanger his life.
Beyond measure - Exceedingly; very much. In the Greek, "Very abundantly."
He hath done all things well - All things in a remarkable manner; or, he has perfectly effected the cure of this deaf-mute.