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Was Jesus being a bigot when he called the Caananite woman a dog? August 15, 2005

Posted by roopster in Bible, Christianity, Jesus, Religion, Theology.

In my days of viewing the Bible as the authoratative Word of God, void of flaws, there were a few passages of scriptures that were very troubling to me. Here’s one of those passages:

Matthew 15:22-28 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Many people, including myself, think that it was offensive for Jesus to call this Canaanite woman a dog. However, there are many Christian apologists that have explanations to excuse Jesus’ apparent insensitivity. I looked up some of these explanation on the Christian Apologist sites including christian-thinktank.com.

Here is one of their explanations:

The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of supper-time, with little kids at the table, and their pet “puppies” (the Greek word for ‘dog’ here is not the standard, ‘outside’ dog–which MIGHT BE an insult–, but is the diminutive word, meaning ‘household pets, little dogs’…) at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master (cf. 2 Sam 12.3f: but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.), were to be fed AFTER the children (notice: not DENIED food–there was no “NO” in Jesus image–only “WAIT”). But the temporal order is clear–Jesus must take care of His disciples FIRST, and if meeting her need involved interrupting their rest and GOING SOMEWHERE, then it was going to have to wait.

If this is the case, then the woman’s reaction would be unmerited when she responded “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She must have misunderstood Jesus’ “image of endearment.” To me it’s clear that the woman took this statement to be offensive even if she did not respond in like manner but accepted her position in society. Also, why was this considered “great faith”?

I would love to hear other alternative explanations for this.



1. doc - February 15, 2007

Although dogs are supposedly man’s best friend, and are usually fed under the table during a meal or on the scraps after the meal, I think there is an underlying principle revealed in both the Scriptural reference and the Apologetic explanation, and this principle is also revealed throughout Scripture.

It is the principle of starting at the center and working outwards as it pertains to learning, growing, living, and teaching.

It is the principle that says we must first learn ourselves before teaching those of our house and before teaching those in our community, or as Luke 24:47 says, “Teach the Good News beginning in Jerusalem”, which was the center of Israel.

IOW, the principle is that of moving outward from the center, much as a seed grows, how the universe came to be, and how knowledge is dispersed, for example.

So in a manner of speaking, it wasn’t right that a non-Jew should gain something before the Jews, who were ‘next in line’, received it.

In addition, I believe Jesus also went through a spiritual growth process before He became to know that He was One with God, and I imagine He had quite a few social prejudicies and fears to overcome on His journey as well.

But starting with the self and then working outwards is the underlying principle of those types of verses, this being a principle that underscores life itself.


2. .sola - February 15, 2007

In my fundiest of days I used to sometimes pray for understanding as to why Jesus came across as a sarcastic, mean-spirited git.

3. intheory - February 15, 2007

Paul, Paul, Paul…don’t you UNDERSTAND that Jesus was TESTING the woman’s faith…sigh…if you read the verses BEFORE and AFTER these ones, you would see the following (verse right before) “Jesus was getting ready to SHOW the Israelites that he was going to TEST the faith of a Canaanite woman, and by it SHOW the Israelites that they needed more faith…” (verse right after)”then He said to her, “I was just kidding-you’re a great person, and have A LOT more faith than these stupid people that are following me-cheer up!”

There, that’s called CONTEXT, my friend…

4. BruceA - February 23, 2007

Probably the most provocative explanation I’ve heard is that the Canaanite woman taught Jesus a lesson here. Humbled by her reply, he admitted that her faith was greater than what was expected of a “dog,” and granted her request.

On the other hand, Matthew 18:17 indicates that Jesus still hadn’t completely learned the lesson.

5. roopster - March 5, 2007

Here’s a comment Dave L. Rattigan made in his article “Even Fundies Don’t come in Black-and-White”

Jesus told a story about a Samaritan. (What’s that, you heard this one already?) The real surprise for Jesus’ listeners was that the one person who stopped to help the guy on was a good-for-nothing Samaritan. They were the lowest of the low, scum of the earth. Even Jesus apparently let his tongue slip once when he called a Samaritan woman a ‘dog’. That was just the way things were in those days. Labelling and stereotypes were commonplace. Indeed, it was the accepted way of identifying and relating to other people. (emphasis mine).

6. doc - March 5, 2007

As I was reading through Dave’s article, another “piece of the puzzle” clicked into place for me when I came upon the following statement:

“Even Jesus apparently let his tongue slip once when he called a Samaritan woman a ‘dog’.”

In my view, Jesus never slipped up, nor did He ever contradict His own teachings. However, sometimes we just don’t understand what was going on, and we will often interpret such things as a slip up or as a contradiction.

Case and point: Jesus called the samaritan woman a dog.

To many, it may appear as if Jesus actually thought the woman was scum, as Dave’s post seems to indicate.

But how can a being who purportedly loves everyone think such thoughts about someone else?

Could it be that Jesus was merely stating what the woman thought of herself?

IOW, could it be that Jesus is/was so attuned with the hearts and minds of others, that He brings to light that which others think about themselves, this being the first step towards the healing and unity that self-recognition brings?

I know as we read what is written, we often put our own emphasis on what we read. Resultantly, we may come to understand what we read it in a way that aligns with how we think, instead of how the writer in question really thought.

So it is that we often come to our own conclusion, based upon how we think and feel.

Take the following written question, for example.

“Are you still here?”

Now, we could take this as an affront, as a compliment, as a question of bonafide concern, or even as a joke, all depending upon how we ourselves think and believe, and depending upon where we place the emphasis within the wording.

Read that sentence several times, but place a greater emphasis, as well as a different mood, upon a different word each time you read it.

Do you see how that alters the meaning? And do you see how we might gain several dozen meanings from a single written sentence? Yet the writer may have only intended a single meaning.

And so like the verse where Jesus called a Samaritan woman a dog, we need to listen for what the writer actually meant, rather than altering what was meant via our own prejudicial perceptions. And this is true if we read a single word, a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole book.

I happen to believe Jesus was always consistent with His Teachings. So I am more inclined to think He was always in the process of helping others come to understand themselves so they were better able to align themselves with the greater good and become healed.

And sometines He even confirms that we are right where we should be.

“You’re faith has made you whole.”

In addition, I think Jesus knew exactly how this woman would respond. And so maybe He used that particular situation in a way that would allow others to come to a greater realization, perhaps one whereby we can appreciate the goodness and mercy of God, while expressing an unwavering faith no matter the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.

Yet the point is that we often interpret the written word, no matter if it is written in a book or on a forum such as this, by how we think, feel, and believe, thus giving it our own meaning, as opposed to what the writer truly intended.

And this occurs because we cannot discern the same inflections and tone in a written statement, as opposed to a spoken statement with the many nuances of body language. But most of us already know this.

What I have been trying to do through the years, is to discern the many permutations that can be derived from a specific combination of written words, and then act upon the most loving, compassionate, and healing meaning of those words.

And I have found that by doing this while I read certain ‘Holy Books’, I have become more compassionate, more forgiving, and better able to deepen and express my own faith and belief in a way that results in more love, more compassion, and more unity between God, others, and myself.

Sorry for the length of this post, but I had to write all this down while it was still fresh in my mind…

doc 😉

7. Dustan - October 24, 2007

The best explanation I have ever heard came from well known Christian author Don Richardson. He studies anthropology as well as speaks multiple language. A few of his books include , Peach Child, Lords of the Earth, and Eternity in Their Hearts. Check em out.

On explaining this scripture he got into how ancient literature is very absent of body language. The older the lit, the less it is mentions. Then he went on to discuss how he had been healing and traveling all over including among Samaritans and others. It would be inconsistent for him to suddenly decide that he wouldn’t help this one woman.

As he continued a light went off in my head. The key was that when she first came to Jesus, the bible records that he said nothing. Then his disciples tried to have her sent away then he answered them with the famous, i was sent only tot he lost sheep of Israel.

This is baffling, until you see that she approaches, it called a dog, yet she continues. You see in those days a woman would not have pressed the issue unless there were some hint that it was allowable. Then it seems he suddenly changed his mind, which is another inconsistency with the biblical Jesus.

The explanation was that this transaction had a lot less to do with the woman than with the intolerant Jewish disciples. It is commonly believed that Jesus employed sarcasm here to teach his disciples yet another lesson on loving those outside of the Jewish family tree. We would use a wink and a smile to accomplish it nowadays. He was teaching his disciples that he wasn’t that kind a man. He loved the woman, no matter what their prejudices were.

I probably butchered this explanation. But it is historically and consistant with the Jesus we all know. the one who talked to a woman at a well, restored a prostitute, and flipped tables over in the gentile area of the temple.

8. Carlton Figg - March 19, 2008

There is little room for doubt when one observes that Jesus viewed the Gentiles with a great deal of aloofness. I can quote para and verse, but I believe you all know what I am talking about. Referring to that woman as a “dog” was just one incident. Remember when He gave his disciples their duties and sent them out to Spread the Word ? He instructed then to go “nowhere near the homes of he Gentiles”, but to go only to the lost seep of Israel. At another time he cautioned them against “Praying as the Gentiles do”. He said the Gentiles thought that “by their many words” they would be heard by God. I’m not drawing any conclusions — just taking facts from the Bible. But think about it — are you a Gentile ?

9. Charles Edmond - July 4, 2008

The Canaanite woman has no chance at salvation for she is genetic offspring of the serpent, a tare if you will. Genesis 3:15, examination of this verse reveals the the enmity which Jesus had towards the woman. This situation is not to be taken lightly. Jesus did not come for the woman just as he said, she was not one of his lost sheep. All the people on the earth do not share in the kingdom. God put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Just as Jesus spoke this way to the woman he also told a Pharisee that he knew his father and he was the father of lies. Satan is the father of lies and the tares are sowed among the wheat. The Bible is very clear, please do not read into what isn’t there. The tares set snares!

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