By Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg and Rev. Jim Stowe

Two Gospels record a meeting between Judean Jesus and a Greek woman (Mk.7:24-29; Matt.15:21-28). Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon (allotment territory of the tribe of Asher that was never fully taken over by Israelite). There he meets a desperate mother willing to do anything for her suffering child: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon.” (Mat. 15:21-22)

As we continue reading we see that Jesus first gave her the silent treatment. Then, when his Jewish disciples demanded he answer her, he responded: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” However, the woman was relentless. “She came, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, help me!” He answered her: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mat. 15:23-26)

The most offensive statement, of course, has to do with Jesus’ comparison of Greek Gentiles to dogs. The key to understanding this text is found in realization that only in the modern Western world dogs are thought to be part of the family. Dogs (often) live inside and not outside of the family home, but it was not so in the ancient times in the East. In other words, the comparison to dogs was not meant to dehumanize the Greek woman but to emphasize that Jesus’ primary mission was to Israel – to those inside of God’s family, not outside of it.

Understood this way, we see that there was nothing dehumanizing in Jesus’ response.  It is no different from what Apostle Paul would later write: “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” In spite of some misunderstood statements about his seeming disregard for the physical family, Jesus here says – family first!

But what made Jesus act different towards her now? Clearly it was her response: “Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus replied to her, “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.” (Matthew 15:27-28)

This Sidonian woman displayed the true faith of Israel exemplified in the Torah by both Abraham and Moses. Just like them, she was willing to argue with God, believing with unwavering faith that He is just, good, and merciful.

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380 COMMENTS

  1. Yes. The point of comparison in the metaphor of gentiles being dogs is very important. I also think that you hit the nail on the head.

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    • Also this woman called Him “kyrios” (Lord) three times besides saying he was her master (at the table). I once heard that Jewish people aren’t supposed to persuade someone into belief but challenge the person to see where their heart is (think Naomi and Ruth). Because the faith is not an easy road. Would this have something to do with that too?

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    • Wow! I didn’t know Gentiles are referred by the Lord as dogs!! In the Old Testament, the strangers among the Hebrews are allowed by God to worship just as the Hebrews as long as they abide by their ways. In the New Testament, I feel at odd about healing & blessing non believers even among who have not received the Holy Spirit because of living bread is for the children. But we are supposed to that they know the kingdom of God has come upon them. It’s salvation for their souls. I figure, I am obligated so I do.

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    • Perhaps I'm not seeing this so clearly...
      The mention of dogs not in the house in commentary
      The word has the crumbs being eaten on the floor of the masters table....outside the house?

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  2. Dear Eli Besides what you wrote, there is in the Tanach some mention about animals not to be living inside... I once read it but do not remembre where in the Law is it mentioned... Thanks
  3. In the light of the disciples' displeasure at the woman's plea, a fair case can be made that when Jesus did speak, he voices a thought typical of his disciples' opinion -- "taking the children's bread and giving it to the dogs". Their opinion, not his, their voice, not his ... then we can go a step further and see Jesus is being ironic. The disciples' opinion is not his own. Dogs are of course outside of the household, not household pets; scavengers, eating trash wherever they find it. But does Jesus express own opinion, or the disciples'?
    • I agree it is possible to think in this direction,although I think it may unfairly portray disciples and all Jews in negative light at the expense of our discomfort and missunderstanding :-).

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    • The dogs ate from the masters table! It was inside not outside! Gentiles were unclean and not to be socialized with the Jew! Read Acts 10 where Peter is shown unclean beast to "rise and eat"! no so sayeth Peter I have never touche anything common or unclean and this is what Jesus is revealing here with this woman!
    • I agree and had seen this story the same way. It was a reaching moment for the disciples showing them that He wasn’t just the Savior of Israel but of everyone.
  4. I thought that the dogs common at that time were Saluki type hounds which are sight hounds. We are to walk by faith not sight and her response was most appropriate in that case. You have given me another angle from which to view this passage. Thank you.
  5. A Jewish hero is Caleb, Joshua's second-in-command, whose name means "dog" in Hebrew. Just as a point of interest. Obviously the name was given to a male child to wish upon the child the unparalleled loyalty and fearlessness of a dog, not because the dog was a loathsome animal. Maybe Jesus had this in mind as well. And clearly people in the first century let dogs in their houses or the dogs would not have been eating crumbs from under the table.
    • The name for dog translates to all heart, I think, which is what they exhibit in terms of utter loyalty even if abused.

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    • Hebrew word for dog is CELEB, not CALEB. You have to notice that the first vowel is different. CALEB is pronounced in Hebrew as COLEV which actually means "whole hearted".
      It doesn’t mean dog or lion at all.
    • Hi Johana, I would like to appreciate your knowledge about the Bible. And I would like to thank you for your wonderful information. I am an animal lover. And I love Dogs for their certain qualities which I believe that even Man should cultivate in himself. God Bless You.
  6. The woman's statement in response to Jesus was also an indication of the fact that we (Jews and Gentiles alike) all have one Master; that is God, the Head of the Family (Jewish and Christian believers). It reminds me that God, in his mercy, 'makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust [Matt 5:45].
  7. Hello. Do you disagree with Morris in the Pillar NTC..(Matthew) and the New Amer Comm - Matthew (Blomberg) and others, regarding the use of 'kynarion' vs 'kyon' here? Per Morris "clearly house pets"; with a footnote p404 "that such dogs were kept ...is clear from the Mishnah." Eating from the table assumes they are already inside the house. Thoughts? At any rate the "children" had just been promoted up from wayward livestock in v24, so Jesus may been seen as an equal opportunity offender.
  8. Judges 1:7 speaks, Adonaibezek ( Lord of lightning) thinks to highly of himself, God re-affirms HIS covenant, after Joshiwa dies Judah is sent to go forward, God's mantle of authority! Instead of Adonaibezek's boasting in subjugating the 70 Kings, like little dog's under his table (he) is humbled and made to live and beg like a little dog until death. This woman could very well be from the dispersion after Babylon, her descendants refused for lack of documentation, and yet a child of Promise. Scattered seed of Abraham! Matthew 15:24, child of Israel!
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