A Major Break Part 1, Matthew 15:1-9

This section of Matthew gives us a glimpse of the sharp theological conflicts that Jesus will later face in Jerusalem. Jerusalem cast its shadow over Galilee by sending a group of religious leaders to create problems for Jesus. The resulting clash was extremely sharp, though our Gentile outlook and lack of exposure to regulations invented by the Pharisees make us blind to the gravity of the disagreement.

Sometimes it is hard to grasp the first signs of a major conflict. On the morning of December 7, 1941, an Army radar operator on the north shore the Hawaiian island of Oahu showed his superior officer a radar echo that stretched from one side of the radar screen to the other. But they decided not to report the echo to headquarters because they thought that the radar set must need adjustment. That echo was the first wave of the inbound Japanese strike force sent to attack Pearl Harbor!

To our eyes this disagreement between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders seems like just-one-more. But it proved to be a point of no return between those leaders and Jesus.

Matthew 15:1-9

1 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 dont 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 and Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. 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.


Remember that Matthew alternates between narrative sequences (with action) and discourses (with speeches or parables for crowds). Matthew 15 stands within one of the narrative sections. In a previous one, Jesus had a major conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, who accused him of performing his miracles by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:22-32). With opposition against Jesus hardening, he will soon strike a blow against one of the pillars of Jewish religion — its purity rules. We might also express this conflict with the term defilement. The key question is this: what does it take to defile someone in the eyes of God?

The main problem you will have in understanding the issues between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders is that they involve ancient laws and customs that are not part of our common experience. I will help you bridge that gap.

Hired Guns Shooting Blanks

Perhaps Jesus had so overwhelmed the Pharisees and scribes of Galilee that they had summoned help. But, whatever the reason, a new team came to Galilee from Jerusalem, and they promptly tried to undermine Jesus in the eyes of the people (verses 1-2). First, they tried exaggeration by saying that Jesus disciples were breaking the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before eating (verse 2).

The Law of Moses required only that priests wash before doing their duties (Exodus 30:18-21) or eating their share of the food offered in sacrifice (Leviticus 22:4-7). In other words, ordinary Jews had no legal requirement to wash. The scribes had tried to broaden such requirements to all Jews and all eating, and the Pharisees had adopted this tradition.[1] Now they are acting like this tradition is an ancient requirement from God through Moses!

Without missing a beat, Jesus counters with a higher level charge that the scribes and Pharisees are breaking the command of God for the sake of your tradition (verse 3). Here, command is being contrasted to tradition, and the Jewish religious leaders are being contrasted with God in terms of primacy! Having made the general charge, Jesus follows with the specifics.

The commands Jesus cites in verses 3-4 are taken from Exodus 20:12 (for verse 3) and Exodus 21:17 (for verse 4). These commands are what God said on Mount Sinai. So, as part of the Ten Commandments, God commanded that every Jew honor their father and mother, and a subsequent command from God made violation of the commandment a capital offense. Jesus says that the Jewish religious leaders have committed and encouraged capital offenses. In verses 5-6, he provides the details.

An Unusual Custom

Jesus is showing that a certain Pharisaic tradition called korban (Greek) could be used to circumvent obeying the Fifth Commandment to honor your parents. Korban (also spelled corban) consisted of pledging money or other material resources to the temple to be paid when you died. You had full use of these funds or resources during your lifetime, with the one exception that you could not give them to anyone else — such as your needy parents — because they were pledged to God.[1] Jesus accuses the religious leaders of using their tradition of korban to nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition (verse 6).

The korban tradition allows a person to cover their lack of love and obedience with a cloak of spirituality. Jesus calls those who teach such ideas hypocrites, a term which means that they are not so much deceivers as disastrously self-deceived, failing to see things as God sees them.[2] But, he goes farther by applying to them the prophecy of Isaiah 29:13, where God says: 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.

We too are capable of hiding behind ritual by doing certain carefully selected church activities but avoiding those designed to meet the material or spiritual needs of those living in poverty and darkness.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Material originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 577.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 238.

[3] France, Matthew, 237.


Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Accountability to Christ alone

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Ben Witherington has an excellent summary of what Paul is trying to do in chapter 4:

Paul is seeking to do for the Corinthians what Plutarch [a Roman biographer] advises in another context: It is your duty to reduce this man’s swollen pride and restore him to conformity with his best interests . . . . So Paul’s point is to change the overinflated rhetoric and self-congratulation in Corinth by holding up the example of a suffering sage [Paul] and his coworker [Apollos] so that the Corinthians will come to their senses and see what is truly to their benefit.[1]

Beyond question, some Christians in Corinth have been critical of Paul in relation to both his message (foolish) and his style of leadership (weak). Since Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, it is not surprising — except to the Corinthians — that Paul teaches the exact type of leadership within the church that Jesus commanded in Mark 10:42-45, where Jesus said whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. He has just been discussing that idea by calling himself and Apollos servants (1 Cor. 3:5) and co-workers (1 Cor. 3:9) who belong to the church (1 Cor. 3:22).

David Garland says that Paul’s leadership model is radically different from the world’s perception of leaders as free, high-status dons bestowing benevolences on those of lesser status.[2] That belief was certainly held in Roman Corinth, where so many aspired to fame and honor.

Paul has changed metaphors. Previously he was talking about the servant nature of their task under God, but starting in 1 Cor. 4:1 the metaphor changes to that of a household.[3] The phrase “those entrusted with” translates a Greek noun that denotes a steward (often a slave) who has been entrusted with managing a household.[4] The church is Christ’s household. Here is the point: even though Paul belongs to the Corinthians as Christ’s servant to them, he is not accountable to them. He must instead be faithful to the duties given him by Christ, and that is revealing the mystery of God, Christ crucified (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

Some forms of postmodernism in our day tend to make the individual the master of all meaning and opinion. Paul, however, discounts the opinion or judgment of the Corinthians, that of any human court or even his own opinion (1 Cor. 4:3). The only opinion that matters is the Lord’s (1 Cor. 4:4).

Paul goes so far as to command that no judgments about him and his ministry be considered final until Jesus returns (1 Cor. 4:5), because only then will secrets be brought to light and the motives of many hearts will be disclosed. The existence of secrets and hidden purposes are critical factors in rendering final human judgments suspect. But God will have everything before him in deciding what praise is awarded to each one by his grace.

Note that in 1 Cor. 5:12 and 6:5 the Corinthians will be responsible to make judgments about conduct within the church, but since Paul was sent by Christ, he is answerable only to Christ.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)136.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)126.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 159.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 159.

Exposition of Romans 5:18-19, Jesus used obedience to bring righteousness

We have said more than once that faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done. Since God has said a lot about what he expects of us, including many explicit commands, it is obvious that obedience plays a central role in Christian faith. Is that not what you would expect since Christ is both Lord of lords and King of kings?

After we trust in Jesus, we still have a lifetime of choices to make about how best to obey our Lord. How will we proceed?

Romans 5:18-19

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

The parallelism built into Romans 5:18 is pervasive, as shown below:

as one trespass [led to] condemnation for all men, } Adam

so one act of righteousness [leads to] justification and life for all men. } Christ

The square brackets [ ] indicate that the verb has been supplied to make literary English because the Greek sentence has no verbs. Different English translations have supplied different verbs:
NET (came), NLT (brings), HCSB (is), and NASB (resulted). Each of these choices is reasonable.

By dissecting 5:18 in this way, we can easily spot important points. First, each single act affected all men, a comprehensive expression. As to the scope of all, C.E.B. Cranfield says:

It will be wise to take it thoroughly seriously as really meaning all, to understand the implication to be that what Christ has done he has really done for all men, that [life-giving justification HCSB] is truly offered to all, and all are to be summoned urgently to accept the proffered gift, but at the same time to allow that this clause does not foreclose the question whether in the end all will actually come to share it.[1]

Of course, we have already discussed the gift-nature of the justification and life. The gift was explicitly mentioned three times in Rom. 5:15-17. Not all accept the gift by faith.

Using the interpretive principles of salvation history (see Introduction), we point out that Adams deed came first, to the undoing of humanity’s privileged position in Eden and much more. The act of Christ came later and contained such grace as to overwhelm the damage done by Adam. James Dunn says: “The inaugurating act of the new epoch [i.e. the Age To Come] is thus presented as a counter to and cancellation of the inaugurating act of the old [i.e. The Present Age], Christs right turn undoing Adams wrong turn.”[2] Wrong turn is just another term for disobedience.

(ESV) Romans 5:19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Once again, Romans 5:19 has strong parallelism, but this time with actual Greek verbs:

as by the one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, } Adam

so by the one mans obedience the many will be made righteous. } Christ

It is clear from the parallelism that the major difference between what Adam did and what Jesus did is the difference between disobedience by Adam and obedience by Christ.

Sin wears many masks in life and in Romans, and Paul used a variety of terms to refer to it. In 5:12 we have the Greek noun hamartia meaning “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness . . . sin.”[3] In 5:15, 17, and 18 he switched to paraptoma meaning “a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin.”[4] Here in 5:19 Paul switched to parakoemeaning “refusal to listen and so be disobedient, unwillingness to hear, disobedience.”[5]

We could say that hamartia means: violating a revealed standard of God. The term paraptoma is used figuratively of making a false step; think of hitting your bare toes against a chair leg and put that pain in the context of a false step in some moral situation. The word in 5:19 gives us the interesting insight that Adam failed to listen to God’s actual voice! God told him explicitly what must not be done (Gen. 2:17), and he did it anyway. Unfortunately, many people can identify!

Cranfield makes one clarification about 5:19 when he says, “The many have not been condemned for someone else’s transgression, for Adam’s sin, but because, as a result of Adam’s transgression, they have themselves been sinners.”[6]

But the good news outshines the bad news by far: Jesus obeyed to bring righteousness to all who put their faith in him! The author of Hebrews says about Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9, NET).

Following Jesus

Surely it is plain that to follow Jesus means we are obedient to the Father just as he was. As the old hymn says, “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” When you think about it, trusting and obeying are very similar because trusting is faith and obeying is faithfulness.

1. How many of us have heard God's voice about something, but, like Adam, we come to a point at which we do not listen? When have you made that error, and what did you learn from it?

2. What do you consider a difficult thing about obedience? How do you get around that obstacle?

It is no accident that Paul begins the letter to the Romans with the phrase obedience of faith (1:5) and ends the letter with the same phrase (16:26). There is no such thing as faith without obedience!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 290.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 297.

[3] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, paraptoma, offense, q.v.

[5] BDAG-3, parakoe, unwillingness to hear, q.v.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 290.