These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 15:1-20 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

I. Tradition and Commandments (1-14)
II. The Heart of Man (15-20)

I. Tradition and Commandments (1-14)

Discussion Questions

What was the Pharisees goal in pointing out that the disciples did not wash their hands first?
Should they have?
Why do you think Jesus didn’t answer their question directly?
What problem in their own attitudes did He strive to point out?
Which of their own traditions did they place a higher priority on than God’s command?

Assignment: Ask the group to break up in to two or three small groups. Each group should write down a list of as many traditions as they can think of which they, their church, or their fellowship practice which are not commanded by Scripture. Return to the large group and discuss.

Why do we have these traditions? Are they good or bad? Why? How should we view other believers who do not hold to these traditions? Are there any traditions mentioned which should be changed?

What can we learn from verses 8-9?
How can we keep our hearts close to Jesus? How can we be careful that our following Jesus does not become an external ritual?
What is the meaning of Jesus’ statement in verses 10-11? How does this statement apply to you?
How did the Pharisees respond to this statement?
And then how did Jesus respond? What is the plant which He refers to? Who are the blind guides? How  can we ensure that we don’t follow or become a blind guide?


1 Peter 1:18 – You are not redeemed through the empty things handed down by your ancestors.

Titus 1:14 – Don’t pay attention to merely human commands.

Deuteronomy 5:16 – Honor your father and mother.

Proverbs 30:17 – The eye that scorns an aged mother will be pecked out by ravens.

Jeremiah 8:8 – How can you say we are wise when the lying pen of the scribes have handled your word falsely?

1 Timothy 4:3-5 – Men who forbid marriage and abstain from certain foods.

Psalm 92:13 – Those planted in the house of the Lord will flourish.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. The pharisees challenge Jesus – These were not people who were looking to learn. They were looking to criticize and judge. We need to be careful that we do not become overly critical of others. When you go to church or Bible study, go with a heart to learn what you can and apply it to your lives. Do not pick out things which you disagree with and focus on those things.
  2. They do not wash their hands when they eat bread. – There is no command anywhere in the Old Testament that a person should or must wash their hands before eating. The Pharisees had added many of their own traditions to the Old Testament commands. Here is just one example. It is not that washing hands is bad. In fact, we know that it has many health benefits. But they demanded it as a requirement for a religious person. They equated man made traditions like these with the Scriptures. It was their way to try to earn favor with God. Washing of hands is still very prevalent in Judaism. It is called netilat yadayim. Apparently there are at least nine different types of hand washing including when one one wakes up, before prayer, when one leaves a grave, before eating, after eating, and before blessing people. For two of these it is required to use a vessel to pour water over your own hands. And the rules state that it must be enough water to at least cover one’s middle knuckles. Of all of these washing, the one before eating bread is considered the most important. It is so important that disobeying it can bring about ex-communication.
  3. Traditions vs commandments – The Pharisees and most Jews at the time of Jesus were following a mostly man-made religion. Thousands of rules which had been passed down over generations and slowly added to were governing religious life. People were very religious. People were very careful to follow rules. They followed rules. But they did not follow God. The making and following of man made rules was so out of control that at times they even took precedence over clear biblical rules. These burdened the people with such a load that they could never stand up under it. Application: We need to have a discerning eye to distinguish between traditions and biblical commands. Many of the things which believers practice as routine are in fact simply traditions, not commands from the Scripture. Do the assignment listed above under discussion questions. Conclusion: Traditions can be a helpful way for us to remember God (for example we may write down blessings we are thankful for at Thanksgiving), but we must be careful that we remember these are only traditions. And we must be careful that we first emphasize obedience to the word. And we should not be afraid to set aside traditions which become mere rote habit or even worse, which cause disunity or distract us from our true mission of following God and making His name known.
  4. Verses 4-6 – Here Jesus gives a specific example of a clear biblical command they had thrown aside for the sake of their own tradition. Their tradition sounded very spiritual and upright. But it did not please God. God had made it clear that He wanted His people to respect and take care of their own parents. Neglecting ones parents for the sake of “serving God” is not acceptable. In a similar way, a parent who neglect his children (or a husband who rejects his wife) for the sake of ministry is not pleasing God. Someone once told me “I listen to God, not people” when I offered some counsel from the Bible. It sounded spiritual, yes. But she was forsaking a clear biblical command to listen to counsel.
  5. Verses 7-9 – Isaiah wrote about these type of people. They lived in his time. But they also lived during the time of Jesus. And they still live now. These verses describe people who are very religious. They go to church. They follow the rules. They dress up on Sundays. They say religious sounding words like “thank God” or “Amen!” But their hearts are far from God. I met a lady who came to China as a teacher. She told me about her “church” back in the States. She told me about so many rules. One such rule was that ladies could not wear pants. The other family from her church who served as teachers here became very angry with her and would not associate with her because she wore pants. Other rules included using only the KJV of the Bible (which btw, is not actually the most accurate English translation anyway). And there were many others. This lady was struggling under the weight of all these rules. She was confused. Certainly she was not experiencing the love of Christ from this family or this church. Traditions were imposed and sounded good and spiritual. But the people were far from God. They showed nothing of the compassion and love which Jesus showed. They “taught as doctrines the precepts of men.” Application: Are you following the Lord from your heart? Do you really love Him? Do you go to church because you are excited to learn more about Him or because it is a habit? We must be careful that our belief is internal, not external.
  6. What proceeds out of the mouth defiles the man – Jesus is telling the people that following God is not about what you eat. Food laws were extremely important to the Jews. But you cannot become a good person or please God through avoiding certain foods. A person’s words show what kind of person he is (or isn’t), not the food he eats. The Pharisees showed clearly what kind of people they were through the words that they spoke, words were hateful and vengeful and lacked compassion and love. Application: What do your words show about your heart? Do you gossip about or judge brothers or sisters who don’t hold to the same traditions you do? Do your words show a heart that is focused on worldly things? Are your words angry and loud? Or do your words show your love for and thankfulness to God? Are your words filled with compassion and grace? Ephesians 4:29.
  7. Pharisees are blind guides and a weed that will be uprooted – Jesus’ statement about them being a plant that the Father did not plant reminds us of the parable of the weeds and tares. The Pharisees are weeds who will be uprooted and judged at the right time. In addition, they are blind guides. We must be careful not to fall for the smooth tongues of false teachers, or in fact anyone who preaches adherence to his own traditions. We do this by studying the Scriptures for ourselves and comparing everything we hear with what we actually see in the Bible text.

II. The Heart of Man (15-20)

Discussion Questions

What did Peter do when he didn’t understand? Was he right or wrong to do so?
Is Jesus saying the food you eat is not important? Explain.
If you are very careful, can you disguise what is in your heart by being careful what you say? How long do you think a person can keep up the act?
What is the best way to ensure that your words are the good kind and not the defiling kind?

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. Jesus explains the parable – The meaning is simple. A person’s heart is more important than what he eats or than in washing hands. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. If you want to please God, you must have a clean and transformed heart. Following a list of rules or showing up at church every week on Sunday is not in an of itself going to please God. Someone with a corrupted heart may do the same thing. Also, we may try to filter the words we speak and be very careful to only say words which are fitting for a believer. However, no matter how hard you try to filter your words, sooner or later the real you will show through. The only way to ensure gracious and pure words is to make sure the real you is gracious and pure. And the only way to ensure that is to confess your sins and ask God to transform your heart, because you can’t do it through following of rules. We need to come before the Lord regularly in prayer and ask Him to work in our hearts. Then we need to renew our hearts with the truth of Scripture. Isn’t it funny, that the final application for many long Bible studies is “read the Bible and pray more?” Following Christ is simple, but not easy. The basic things are the most important.