Why Does Jesus Refuse to Heal the Daughter of the Syrophoenician Woman in Matthew 15:21-28?

When the Syrophoenician woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus initially refuses (Matthew 15:23-25). In fact, Jesus does not even say a word to the woman. This is surprising to a modern, Western reader since we tend to think of Jesus as the compassionate teacher who was kind to people outside of his social class. But outside of a western worldview, it is incredibly audacious for a woman to approach a man directly with a request.  In addition to being a Gentile woman and a Canaanite from Jezebel’s hometown), it is likely the woman did not have a husband (or he would approach Jesus). Having a demon possessed child makes her even more “untouchable” from the perspective of Jewish purity.

Syrophoenician woman

After Jesus does not answer her, she goes after his disciples. His disciples begged Jesus to send her away, she is “crying after us.” In Matthew 14:15 the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowd away, now they want to send this woman away. The woman is calling (present tense) behind the disciples. The reason Jesus is silent is the awkward social audacity of this Gentile woman approaching a Jewish holy man and healer directly.

He tells his disciples to send her away since he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus instructed his disciples to go nowhere among the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but to go only to the list sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 10:5-6). Is Jesus testing his disciples? Or does he really mean that he is not going to help the demon oppressed child?

The Syrophoenician woman knelt before him and said, “Lord help me.” Her posture is important: she kneels (προσκυνέω) before Jesus. The verb expresses an “attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure” (BDAG). In Matthew, the wise men from the east seek out Jesus to worship him (2:2, 8); when they find the child the fall down before him and worship (2:11). A leper (8:2) and a centurion (9:18) both kneel before Jesus to request healing (as does a debtor begging forgiveness in a parable in 20:20). the disciples worship Jesus in the boat (14:33) and again after the resurrection (28:9, 17). The only other person to kneel before Jesus is James and John’s mother when she asks Jesus to allow her sons to sit on his left and right side in the kingdom (18:26).

Jesus’s response seems very rude: it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs! The “children” in this context the “house of Israel” and the dogs are the Gentiles. More specifically, the noun (κυνάριον) is a little dog, a “a house-dog or lap-dog in contrast to a dog of the street or farm” (BDAG). He is calling her daughter a little dog!

Is Jesus exclusivist? Many scholars have said so, John Nolland for example, “This is a harsh statement of Jewish privilege” (Matthew, 634). To salvage a loving and open Jesus, most pastors will look past what he says to what he will do for the women (he was testing her faith). Most modern, western readers do not like Jewish superiority, but the fact is everyone in the ancient world was exclusivist!

The Syrophoenician woman expresses faith by observing that even the dogs receive crumbs from the children’s table. As a result of this statement, Jesus immediately healed her child. Jesus said it is inappropriate to take bread (ἄρτος) from the children, but she asks for a table scrap. The word for scraps (ψιχίον, a diminutive of ψίξ, scrap) is a very small piece of something, so in the context of bread, she is asking for a few crumbs. The word is used only here and in the parallel in Mark 7:28. (It also appears as a variant in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, the poor man longed for some little table scraps from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21). The crumbs this woman asks for is healing for her child, a clear demonstration of Jesus’s power and authority. Ironically these demonstrations have been lost on most of the Jews, and even the disciples are still unsure what the feeding miracle meant

What is the point of this story? Is this the beginning of Jesus’s “Gentile mission”? On the contrary, the stories in this section are a stinging rebuke of the Jewish people who have had bread from Jesus’s own hand, yet they have refused to believe that he is in the Messiah.

This story is usually taken as evidence of a “gentile bias” in Matthew (see for example, K. W. Clark, “The Gentile Bias in Matthew,” in The Gentile Bias and Other Essays, Brill, 1980). Despite saying he was only sent to the house of Israel; Jesus does heal a centurion’s servant (8:5-13) and the child of this Syrophoenician woman.

As Samuel Sandmel notes, the references to Gentiles in Jesus ministry are not the norm, but exceptions. Gentiles are not replacing Israel, but rather some Gentiles may join Israel (Judaism and Christian Beginnings, 362). That Gentiles would come into the kingdom was an expected part of the Kingdom of God, so it not unusual that some Gentiles might come into the kingdom via Jesus’ ministry. If these stories are conversion stories, that is.  It is entirely possible that the Gentiles that experience miracles in this section are no more converted to Jesus’s mission than the Jews in the previous chapters of Mark’s Gospel. It is highly unlikely they would convert to Judaism at this point.

Has Jesus “gone over to the Gentiles” after being rejected by the Pharisees? Matthew writes as many as forty years after Jesus and he knows Paul’s gentile mission was successful. In Matthew’s day, there was no need to “comfort and encourage” Gentiles since they already dominated the Christian church.

Who is the Syrophoenician Woman in Matthew 15:21-22?

After his conflict with the Pharisees in 15:10-20, Jesus withdraws from Galilee into the region of Tyre and Sidon. There he meets a Syrophoenician woman who asks him to heal her demon possessed daughter. Matthew calls her a Canaanite, the only occurrence of Χαναναῖος in the New Testament; Mark 7:29 calls her a Syrophoenician woman.

Syrophoenician woman

Jesus has withdrawn from Israel before in Matthew. In Matthew 2:14 Joseph withdrew to Egypt to protect Jesus. When Pharisees began to conspire to destroy him, he withdrew (12:15). After Herod Antipas executed John the Baptist Jesus withdrew into the wilderness (14:13). In each case Matthew uses a verb (ἀναχωρέω) which has the sense of taking refuge (BDAG). It can refer to an army which “beat a retreat” (BrillDAG).

In Mark 7:24 indicates Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Matthew omits this explanation. It is certain Jesus was staying with a Jewish family. The context makes it clear enough he would not be visiting a Gentile family.

Why does Jesus withdraw to Tyre and Sidon? By mentioning both cities together, Matthew may be alluding to Jezebel, the quintessential Canaanite Baal worshipper who promoted Canaanite religion in the Northern kingdom. The two cities were associated with Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians in the days of Elijah.

Sidon was the firstborn son of Canaan (Gen 10:15). Hiram of Tyre built David’s palace (2 Sam 5:11) and Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 5:1). Elijah left Israel when Jezebel sought his life and lived in “Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon” (1 Kings 17:9). The situation is similar, Pharisees are seeking to destroy Jesus, so he withdraws to the same area Elijah fled when Canaanite woman sought him.

Although the two Phoenician cities were about twenty-five miles apart, they are regularly paired together in the prophets: Isaiah 23, an oracle against Tyre and Sidon although the two are not paired in the text. Since Tyre and Sidon are regularly condemn by the prophets, Jesus uses them in Matthew 11:21: if the people of Tyre and Sidon saw miracles he did among the villages of Galilee, they would have repented!

This Syrophoenician woman is therefore presented as a pagan Gentile in the tradition of the worst of all Baal worshipers in the Old Testament.

Matthew makes the connection clear by calling her Canaanite rather than a Syrophoenician woman. From the perspective of a Second Temple period Jewish male teacher and healer like Jesus, this woman is extremely low socially. Yet her she is wanting to witness another miracle and giving Jesus the worship and adoration which the house of Israel as so far failed to give to their messiah. It is remarkable this woman would approach Jesus, and his response is even more surprising: Jesus refuses to even talk with this woman!

Dean Pinter, Acts (Story of God)

Pinter, Dean. Acts. Story of God Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 656 pp. Hb; $49.99.   Link to Zondervan

Dean Pinter (PhD in New Testament from Durham University) serves as rector of St. Aidan Anglican Church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He contributed to Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (InterVarsity, 2013) and Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan, 2018). This Story of God commentary combines clear exposition of the text with insightful reflections on the meaning of Acts in a contemporary context.

Dean Pinter, Acts, Story of God CommentaryIn his eleven-page introduction to the book of Acts, Pinter offers for “bits of wisdom for reading Acts.” First, any reading of Acts needs to keep an eye on the gospel of Luke because there are overlapping and complementary themes. Second, read Acts as a story. Try to focus on large chunks of narrative without breaking the book up into chapters and verses. Third, both Luke and Acts are full of drama spanning a long period of time. Pay attention to the places where Luke slows the story down, such as 20:17-23:35 (only a few days). Fourth, pay attention to foreshadowing. Luke tends to introduce characters (Barnabas, Saul, John Mark), drop them and then pick them up again later.

Pinter links the purpose of the book of Acts to its style of literature. If, for example, Acts as a novel, then the purpose would be to entertain (Pervo). Pinter follows Mark Allan Powell and lists six suggested purposes for the book. First, F.C. Bauer suggested the book of Acts provides a peaceful solution for emerging Catholic Christianity. Second, Charles Talbert suggested the book is a polemic confronting heretical Christianity. Third, many commentators consider the book of Acts to be an apologetic, whether for Christianity as a whole or a more specific defense brief for Paul’s trial in Rome. Fourth, many commentaries suggest in evangelistic purpose: the book focuses on non-Christians in the world. Theophilus represents an example of a gentile pagan being confronted with the gospel. Fifth, for many, Luke has a pastoral focus. He is offering strength and comfort to a gentile church. Sixth, many commentaries suggest Luke wrote the book because of theological issues facing the early church. Citing I. Howard Marshall with approval, Luke wrote Acts “to give confidence that the Christian message which they have believed and accepted is valid and true.” Pinter concludes “no one purpose can account for all the rich complexity that exists in Acts” (27).

Pinter highlights four key theological themes for the book. First, Jesus is not alone in his work. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit are active in the expansion of the Gospel. Second, although the phrase Kingdom of God does not occur in Acts as often as in Luke, Pinter sees this as a major theme. The ongoing expansion of the Kingdom is the story of Acts. Third, “witness” is the primary emphasis for the followers of Jesus. Jesus called the original disciples in Jerusalem to be witnesses to what they have seen and heard, and the book concludes with the statement that nothing can hinder the witness of the gospel. Fourth, he highlights the providence of God as a key theme. Beginning with the gift of the Holy Spirit or filling prophecy, to the inclusion of the gentiles later in the book.

The introduction concludes with a helpful page and a half summary of the resources for preaching and teaching the book of acts. He offers two or three brief overviews of the book of Acts, resources for geographical and historical context (Zondervan Atlas of the Bible and the five-volume The Book of Acts in Its First-Century Setting (Eerdmans, 1993-98), several “go-to commentaries for sermon preparation” (Alexander, Dunn, Gaventa, and Wright), critical commentaries (Barrett, Keener, Peterson), and insightful monographs (for example, Kavin Rowe, World Upside Down). A glance at the index of authors shows Pinter cites Dunn, Alexander, Gaventa and Bruce Longenecker most often in the commentary.

As with the other volumes of the Story of God series, the commentary is broken up into a series of chapters which do not follow the chapters Acts. Pinter divides each unit into three sections. First, “Listen to the Story” prints the text of the NIV along with suggested cross references in the Old and New Testaments. Second, “Explain the Story” is a traditional exposition of the unit. He proceeds paragraph-by-paragraph commenting on the English text (only light interaction with the Greek text always appearing in transliteration). There are only a few footnotes to exegetical details or secondary literature. Third, “Live the Story” is a series of brief reflections based on the section. Pinter illustrates these meditations with citations from church history (Augustine, Chrysostom), but also modern Christian writers (Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Frederick Buechner, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis).

Conclusion. In a world where Acts commentaries are often more than a thousand pages (or four thousand for Craig Keener), it is refreshing to read a commentary on Acts that is brief and to the point. Pinter’s style makes this a readable commentary for both laypeople and scholars. Many will find his “Live the Story” sections to be useful in personal devotions accompanied by Bible reading; pastors will discover pointers toward a deeper engagement with the book of Acts in their own teaching and preaching.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in the Story of God series:

 

NB: Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

Michael B. Shepherd, A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve (Kregel Exegetical Library)

Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2018. 523 pp. Hb; $38.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

Michael Shepherd is associate professor of biblical studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009) and The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011).

Shepherd, exegetical commentary on the Book of the TwelveThe introduction to this to this volume of the Kregel exegetical commentary series presents an argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve, which is the motivation for the whole commentary. Shepherd previously published an article on the “Compositional Analysis of the Twelve” (ZAW 120 (2008): 184–193). He acknowledges the work of Paul House, The Unity of the Twelve (Sheffield: Almond, 1990) and two monographs by James D. Nogalski, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217; de Gruyter, 1993) and Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218; deGruyter, 1993) and his Smyth & Helwys commentary on the Book of the Twelve.

What sets Shepherd’s approach to the Book of the Twelve apart from other similar studies is that he is not interested in the redaction of the twelve minor prophets, but the compositional strategy of a single author drawing together various prophetic books into a single Book of the Twelve. He never refers to this person as an editor; for Shepherd, he is an author or a composer. The best analogy for his approach to the Book of the Twelve is the Book of Psalms. The book is a collection of individual psalms, but it clearly has an overall literary unity with clear theological themes connecting the parts, including superscriptions and seams.

Besides an analogy to the book of Psalms, Shepherd points to Sirach 49:10 as the earliest reference to the twelve minor prophets as a unit. Acts 13:40 and 15:15 also cite texts from minor prophets as simply “the prophets.” All early Jewish and Christian canonical lists count the Twelve as one book. Perhaps most compelling, the Masoretic text does not mark the center verse in the minor prophets, but one appears at Micah 3:12 as the middle verse of the Book of the Twelve.

Because of his interest in the unity of the Book of the Twelve, he is not interested in biographical details or the lives of the prophets. He makes no attempt to reconstruct the ministry of any individual prophet, and he does not spend much time at all setting the prophet into a particular historical context. For Shepherd, it is not a matter of a book’s historicity, but of the books “unique and revelatory depiction of things.”

For Shepherd, Hosea 3:4-5 is a programmatic statement for the entire Book of the Twelve: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” He identifies two themes: God’s judgment of Israel and a future messianic salvation. He argues Israel cannot be restricted to just the northern Kingdom in Hosea 3:4-5. Only the original Israel was united under their “Lord and God” and “David their king.” he considers this verse be dependent on Jeremiah 30: 8-9 (23). This is intriguing, but there are differences. For example, Hosea anticipates Israel will “return and seek the Lord” (יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבִקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֔ם) whereas Jeremiah has “serve the Lord” (וְעָ֣בְד֔וּ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם). The two verses use distinctly different verbs, although the phrase “the Lord their God and David their king” is the same. Even in English, this is not a quotation. I would be happier if he employed language like “this alludes to Jeremiah.” usually studies of intertextuality would question the direction of the illusion. Perhaps Hosea used Jeremiah, or Jeremiah used Hosea depending on when the books were written. Shepherd does not discuss these issues because it doesn’t matter. The author of the Book of the Twelve composed the book after all the prophetic books were written. It doesn’t matter whether Hosea predates Jeremiah because the author of the Book of the Twelve had all of this material available to him and he inserted the programmatic verse into Hosea 3:4-5.

Another question I have about this programmatic verse is its placement three chapters into the Book of the Twelve. For Shepherd, the eschatological context of Hosea 3 created the “perfect opportunity for the composer” to introduce his program from Jeremiah 30:9. Hosea 3:4-5 looks beyond any return of the northern Kingdom of Israel from Assyria or even the return of Judah from Babylon. For Shepherd, the verse looks forward to the restoration of Israel’s lost blessings in the land at a future time when the people will seek both the Lord and David as their king. This cannot be historical David or a resurrected David, but a Davidic king who will build the temple and reign over an everlasting kingdom (53).

Shepherd suggests three criteria for identifying the activity of the final composer of the Book the Twelve. First, he identifies seams which connect the end of one book to the next. Second, in these seams he finds development of a programmatic text for the Book of the Twelve, Hosea 3: 4-5. Third, when the first two criteria are both present, there is some evidence of dependence on the book of Jeremiah. Shepherd provides a list of each of the seams with a brief demonstration using the three criteria (34-36, with additional details in the exegetical commentary). Several examples will suffice for this review.

First, at the end of Joel, the “Lord dwells in Zion” (Joel 3:16 ET) and the Amos begins with “the Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). Shepherd then suggests this seam alludes to Jeremiah 25:30, “The Lord roars from on high.” In addition, Jeremiah 25:15-26 is a judgment oracle on the nations (including Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, Ammon, five of the six nations mentioned in Amos 1:3-2:3).

Second, Amos 9:11-15 describes the restoration of the fallen tent of David. The future remnant will “possess Edom” (9:12). The book of Obadiah is entirely concerned with judgment on Edom. Amos’s restoration of the tent of David picks up on the programmatic statement from Hosea and includes both judgment and (future) salvation. Obadiah itself relies heavily on Jeremiah 49:7-22. This is a well-known literary dependence; Obadiah has a longer version, suggesting “the direction of dependence was from Jeremiah to Obadiah” (28). This means Amos 9:11-15 was added by the final author of the Book of the Twelve in order to connect the end of Amos to the beginning of Obadiah and to underscore his theology of judgment and future restoration. Shepherd says Amos 9:11-15 is “a prophecy of restoration unparalleled anywhere in the book of Amos” (200), and the phrase “restore the fortunes” is common in Jeremiah 29:14; 30:3; 31:23; 32:34; 33:7 (201).

One place where Shepherd’s theory for the unity of the twelve minor prophets may be helpful is an explaining the origins of Zechariah 9-11, 12-14, and the book of Malachi. As is well known, each of these sections begins with the phrase “The oracle (מַשָּׂא) of the word of the Lord.” scholars often suggest that these three units circulated separately and were edited into the Book of the Twelve at a later date. Shepherd himself says “the book of Malachi is the third section to Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14” (480).

The body of the exegetical commentary shows his method throughout. Since he is interested in the final form of the Book of the Twelve, there is no formal introduction for each book. There is no effort to set the book into an original historical context or offer any sort of “life of the prophet.” Each book is broken into individual units, usually full chapters. Sections begin with a new translation, with alternative translations in brackets citing the Targumim, Septuagint, Syriac, and Dead Sea Scrolls. Additional footnotes discuss syntactical or lexical issues. Shepherd’s exegetical commentary is a clear explanation of the Hebrew text, with no transliteration. Footnotes point to secondary literature, additional lexical or syntactical issues. Although this is a single volume on all twelve minor prophets, Shepherd’s exegesis is detailed. Occasionally, his commentary on individual book ends with a conclusion, or a section entitled “teaching and preaching” the book.

The final pages of the commentary are entitled “final thoughts on teaching and preaching the twelve.” As expected, he recommends that anyone preaching or teaching a series on the Book of the Twelve should focus on the compositional strategy of the entire twelve minor prophets. He observes “arbitrary obsession with application has become so out of hand that all the genres of the Bible have been flattened into one: that of a manual or a handbook for life” (512). He suggests “the drive to make scripture practical causes the reader to miss the vision of the book of the Twelve for Christ in his Kingdom Rather than giving our church is the full tour of the biblical text” (512).

Conclusion. Most scholars who study the minor prophets will be interested in Shepherd’s method for detecting seams between the books and his argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve. Although I expressed some questions and reservations above, his argument for a final author who drew the twelve minor prophets together is intriguing and convincing, although I am more incline to use the word editor. Since Shepherd covers all twelve minor prophets in a single volume, the depth of this exegetical commentary should not be compared with recent NICOT commentaries (for example, Mark Boda’s 935 pages on Zechariah or Mignon Jacobs’s 377 pages on Haggai and Malachi). But this Kregel Exegetical Commentary is more detailed than the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (for example, Daniel Timmer’s 229 pages on Obadiah, Jonah and Micah).

 

Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

 

 

What Comes Out of the Heart Defiles a Person – Matthew 15:10-20

After calling the Pharisees hypocrites because they declare certain people unclean based on ritual purity or food traditions, Jesus describes what really defiles a person (Matthew 15:10-20). It is not external things life food that make a person unclean, but what comes out of their heart.

Pharisees Question Jesus, James Tissot

The verb translated “defile” (κοινόω) refers to making something or someone ritually unclean. For example, it is used to described Peter’s attitude toward the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10:15; 11:9). Paul is accused of bringing an unclean Gentile into the Temple courts, “defiling this holy place” (Acts 21:28). The irony is the Pharisees tried to remain in a state of purity, yet by focusing on external purity the Pharisees do not understand what defiles a person.

Following John Nolland, both Jesus and the Pharisees are concerned with the purity of God’s people, but they were pushing in different directions (Matthew, 621). For the Pharisee, defilement could be avoided by closer attention to what renders a person ritually unclean, things in the external world that might be touched. For Jesus, he sees defilement as the things coming out of a person, their moral and ethical choices. Jesus is not challenging Torah purity laws (he is not advocating eating unclean foods), but by allowing his disciples to not practice hand washing according to the traditions of the elders, he is rejecting some of the practices of the Pharisees.

The disciples tell Jesus has offended the Pharisees (15:12-14). Some of the disciples approach Jesus and tell him the Pharisees were offended by this harsh condemnation, especially since Jesus publicly called them hypocrites. In Mark 7:17, this conversation takes place in private, back in the house, Matthew does not follow Mark here so that this speech happens in front of the crowd as well.

Jesus does not seem to care if he has offended the Pharisees (after all, they publicly called him an agent of Satan!) He predicts they will be “uprooted” when the kingdom comes and telling his disciples to “leave them, they are blind guides.” John the Baptist said a similar thing in Matthew 3:10, the axe is already at the root and every tree that is not bearing fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Jesus says evil thoughts come out of the heart (15:15-20). When Peter asks Jesus to explain the parable, Jesus says he is still “without understanding” (15:15-16). Mark 7:17 does not identify the speaker, Matthew has already included Peter’s attempt to walk on the water, so he is building up to Peter’s confession in 16:16.

The word translated “without understanding” in the ESV (ἀσύνετος) has the connotation of senseless, foolish, or as the NIV translates, “a dullard.” BrillDAG suggests “obtuse, stupid.” The word is sometimes translated “foolish” and is rare in the New Testament. Paul uses it the other three times it is used, twice in Romans 1 to describe the foolishness of mankind in rejecting the creator, and once in chapter 10 of Romans to describe the foolishness of the nation of Israel in rejecting God.

Perhaps Jesus is not saying “Are you a dullard?” but more like “haven’t you started getting with it spiritually yet?” The disciples do not understand a simple parable in context, something they ought to have understood by this point in the story. In 15:10 Jesus told his listeners to “hear and understand,” one would expect this closest disciple to understand. At this point Peter does not understand what defiles a person.

What goes into a body does not matter as much as what comes out (15:17-20). Food simply passes through the body, but “evil thoughts” start inside the body and come out in the form of offenses against God’s character. For reasons that are not clear to me, the ESV and NIV do not translate the Greek phrase εἰς ἀφεδρῶνα, into the latrine. The NRSV properly translates the phrase “and goes out into the sewer.”

The rest of the list is more or less the Ten Commandments (Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander). Jesus discussed murder and adultery in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-32). Matthew re-arranges and reduces Mark’s list, omitting acts of avarice, deceit, licentiousness, and evil eye, pride and folly. “Jesus sticks with matters which in Jewish terms would not only be immoral but also criminal…all his items relate to the Ten Commandments” (Nolland, Matthew, 627). Jesus referred to the fifth commandment in the previous paragraph, the fourth commandment in 12:1-14. True worship is the theme of the first three commandments, so potentially 15:7-9 covers the rest of the commandments.

In verse 20 Jesus states eating with unwashed hands does not defile anyone. This is different than Mark 7:19, the parenthetical comment (by this Jesus declared all foods clean). Virtually every translation takes these as words of Jesus, but it is possible these are Matthew’s conclusion to the matter, clarifying Mark’s interpretation of Jesus’s words.

Jesus makes a clear contrast between what defiles a person according to the Pharisees and what actually causes defilement. Jesus does not declare all foods clean here, nor does he allow his disciples to break the Law.