24Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He tried to keep it secret that he was there, but he couldn’t. As usual, the news of his arrival spread fast. 25Right away a woman came to him whose little girl was possessed by an evil spirit. She had heard about Jesus, and now she came and fell at his feet. 26She begged him to release her child from the demon’s control.
Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27Jesus told her, “First I should help my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
28She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are given some crumbs from the children’s plates.”
29“Good answer!” he said. “And because you have answered so well, I have healed your daughter.” 30And when she arrived home, her little girl was lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone. (Mark 7:24-30, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
A few weeks ago I saw a Tik Tok video that was making the rounds on Twitter. It was posted by a Pastor from the San Diego area in which he said that Jesus was a racist because he used a racial slur when he called the Syrophoenician woman in this passage a DOG!
This pastor went on to say that the woman didn’t back down, but “spoke truth to power” and when she confronted Jesus with his racism, Jesus not only changed his mind, but “Jesus repents of his racism and extends healing to this woman’s daughter.”
That’s not all. This pastor said that he loves this story because it’s a reminder that “Jesus is human. He had prejudices and biases and when confronted with it he was willing to do his work.”
Are the claims being made by this pastor true? Did Jesus demonstrate racism and prejudice by calling the woman a dog? Is the point of this story to show us that Jesus is a human who had human flaws and prejudices like every human being does? Was this story told to be an example to us on how to repent when we are confronted with truth?
The short answer to all of these questions is an emphatic NO!
None of these “observations” and conclusions demonstrate the real point of the story.
Well then, what IS the point of the story?
If you know anything about the book of Mark, you know that most of the stories and accounts demonstrate Jesus’ teaching and miracles that He performed while in the presence of His disciples. Everything Jesus does is for the sake of the men who are following Him and learning from Him. Jesus is demonstrating to them WHO He is and what His ultimate mission is. At the mid-point of Mark, Jesus asks the all-important question of His disciples: Who do you say that I am? I wrote about that passage and their response to that question here.
Based on what you know about the Jewish mindset of that time, including the disciples, what do you think was their view of non-Jews?
The prevailing mindset of Jewish people, from the religious leaders to Jesus’ own disciples was that non-Jews were unclean. They were “dogs”. In fact, merely being in their presence could make one unclean.
We see this Jewish nationalism throughout the New Testament. In fact, Peter needs a vision from the Lord himself in Acts 10 to finally realize that Gentiles are not unclean and that salvation is not reserved only for the Jew.
In addition, a council was convened in Acts 15 to address this very issue: do Gentiles need to become culturally Jewish in order to be saved? I wrote about that Council and the context surrounding it here.
So why does Jesus compare this woman to a dog?
Jesus is using an illustration to explain to the woman that the priority of His ministry and His message regarding the kingdom of God was FIRST to his own family, the Jewish people. He is not saying that Gentiles can never receive the message, He’s merely saying that He’s not prepared to share His message and ministry to Gentiles YET.
In this illustration, Jesus uses the Greek word “kunarion” which means “pet dog”. The Greek word that was usually used to describe an unclean dog was the word “kuon” which meant “wild dog.”
Most Jews viewed Gentiles as “wild dogs”, unclean animals that were not worthy of salvation and were excluded from the promises and blessings of God.
Jesus, however, gives an illustration in which Gentiles are compared not to wild dogs but to the family pet. He does this to show his disciples that their view of Gentiles and their worthiness to experience the blessings of God is wrong. They are not unclean, mangy animals roaming the streets, pilfering through the garbage. They are a part of the family and they are loved.
Regarding the other observations made by this pastor, it’s clear that his conclusions are an example of importing current cultural views and concepts into the biblical narrative while ignoring observations that might contradict his views.
This pastor paints a picture of a bold woman standing up to a misogynistic, bigoted Jesus, but the text paints a much different picture. The text states that she heard about Jesus and came and knelt before Him. The picture the pastor paints could not be more opposite of what the text actually says.
Secondly, the woman says nothing in response to Jesus that would indicate she is confronting Him or rebuking Him. Instead, her response shows that she understands the ministry priority Jesus has shared and yet she requests consideration from Him anyways.
Jesus is impressed with her response and her resolve and in Matthew’s version of this same story, Jesus speaks of her “great faith” (see Matthew 15:28).
This pastor completely overlooks the faith of the woman and Jesus’ praise of her response and opts instead for an explanation based more on his current cultural views than the plain theological meaning of the text.
Phrases like “speak truth to power” and “Jesus did his work” are rather recent phrases that represent a progressive ideology and agenda. There is nothing in the passage or the context that suggests that the woman “confronted” Jesus regarding racism or that she spoke “truth to power”.
Neither is there any indication that Jesus changed his mind or repented of some egregious sin.
Furthermore, this pastor’s views are an example of false teaching regarding the nature and work of Jesus. I wrote about the importance of one’s view of Jesus here, when evaluating an early church heresy that John wrote about in the letter of 1 John.
Think about the implications of what this pastor is saying.
First, how could the woman speak truth to power when Jesus himself IS the truth (John 14:6)?
Secondly, Jesus is God in human flesh. He lived a sinless life and and His death pays the penalty for the sins of the world.
If Jesus used a racial slur and thus sinned, how could He secure salvation for the sins of mankind? Even if He repented, as this pastor suggests, Jesus would not be qualified to pay for the sins of humanity if He Himself was a sinner. His sin would disqualify Him from being the Savior of the world.
So the point of this story is NOT that Jesus is racist just like we probably are and He gives us an example of how to “do the work” and “repent” when confronted with truth.
The point of this story is to demonstrate that Jesus’ ministry and message was to go to the Jews FIRST but that Gentiles were also a part of God’s plan. Jesus did this in a way that explained His priority to the woman, revealed to His disciples that their prejudicial view of Gentiles did not line up with God’s heart, or His kingdom purposes, and praised the woman’s response as being one of “great faith”!
One final reminder I would make is the importance of “doing the work” of understanding what God’s word says in its context instead of taking the word of someone who calls themself a pastor but is merely importing their own modern day bias and preconception into the biblical narrative.
As John revealed in the 1 John 4 devotional, there are many people promoting false views of Jesus. John labeled those preachers as “false prophets” and those who promote false views of Jesus today should be labeled the same way.
If someone were to use this story to make a claim that Jesus was racist, how would you respond? What parts of the text would you use to demonstrate that Jesus was not racist?
What specific parts of the text prove that the woman was NOT rebuking Jesus?
What specific parts of the text demonstrate that Jesus in no way repented of some kind of wrong-doing?
One of the lessons of this text is the “great faith” of the woman. In what ways did she demonstrate faith? In what ways can we emulate that kind of faith?
What is a current issue you are dealing with in which you need Jesus to intervene? What are some ways you can demonstrate faith toward God in your circumstances?