See also Mark 7:15-17.
And he called the multitude - In opposition to the doctrines of the Pharisees, the Saviour took occasion to show them that the great source of pollution was the heart. They supposed that external things chiefly defiled a man. On this all their doctrines about purification were founded. This opinion of the Jews it was of great importance to correct. The Saviour took occasion, therefore, to direct the people to the true source of defilement - their own hearts. He particularly directed them to it as of importance - "Hear and understand."
Not that which goeth into the mouth ... - The disciples were charged with being sinners for transgressing the tradition of the elders in eating with unwashed hands.
Christ replies that what they should eat could not render them sinners. The man, the moral agent, the soul, could not be polluted by anything that was eaten. What proceeds from the man himself, from his heart, would defile him.
Defileth - Pollutes, corrupts, or renders sinful.
The Pharisees were offended - They were so zealous of their traditions that they could not endure that their absurdities should be exposed.
Every plant ... - Religious doctrine is not inaptly compared to a plant. See I Corinthians 3:6-8. It is planted in the mind for the purpose of producing fruit in the life, or right conduct. Jesus here says that all those doctrines of which his Father was not the author must be rooted up or corrected. The false doctrines of the Pharisees, therefore, must be attacked, and it was no wonder if they were indignant. It could not be helped. It was his duty to attack them. He was not surprised that they were enraged; but, notwithstanding their opposition, their doctrine should be destroyed.
Let them alone - That is, do not be troubled at their rage.
Be not anxious about it. This result is to be expected. They are greatly attached to their traditions, and you are not to wonder that they are indignant. They lead, also, the blind. They have a vast influence over the multitude, and it is to be expected that they will be enraged at any doctrines that go to lessen their authority or influence. By commanding them "to let them alone," Christ does not mean that they were to be suffered to remain in error without any attempt to refute or correct them, for this he was doing then; but he meant to charge his disciples not to mind them or to regard their opposition - it was to be expected.
If the blind lead the blind ... - This was a plain proposition. A blind man, attempting to conduct blind men, would fall into every ditch that was in the way. So with religious teachers. If these Pharisees, themselves ignorant and blind, should be suffered to lead the ignorant multitude, both would be destroyed. This was another reason for confuting their errors, or for rooting up the plants which God had not planted. He wished, by doing it, to save the deluded multitude.
God often suffers one man to lead many to ruin. A rich and profligate man, an infidel, a man of learning, a politician, or a teacher, is allowed to sweep multitudes to ruin. This is not unjust, for those who are led are not compelled to follow such people. They are free in choosing such leaders, and they are answerable for being led to ruin.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Matthew 15:12:
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