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Did Jesus Call a Woman a Dog in Matthew 15:21-28?

Did Jesus Call a Woman a Dog in Matthew 15:21-28?

In Matthew 15:21-28 a woman asked Jesus for help. He said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (Matthew 15:26). Did Jesus call a woman a dog? Read on for the answer.

An interesting – and possibly confusing – account took place between Jesus and a woman He called a “little dog”:

Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

Matthew 15:21-22

The woman is a Canaanite, which makes her one of the Jews’ ancient enemies and a surprising person to seek Jesus’ help. When Israel entered the Promised Land they were supposed to destroy these people, because of their wickedness.

But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”
But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew 15:23-24

Why Did Jesus Call the Woman a Dog?

  • God told Abraham, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Primarily this referred to the Messiah coming from Israel, but it also referred to Israel being the witness nation. The Jews would receive the Gospel first and spread it to the surrounding world.
  • Romans 1:16 says, “the gospel is…for the Jew first.”
  • When Jesus sent out the Twelve, He said, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5a-6). Jesus didn’t forbid the disciples from preaching to Gentiles if they encountered them along the way, but they were to go first to Israel.

Jesus told the Canaanite woman the Jews had to have the first opportunity to accept Him:

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

Matthew 15:25-26

The “children” are the Jews, and the “bread” is the spiritual food or Gospel.

The Greek word for “dog” is kyōn, and it is a derogatory term the Jews used for Gentiles. The word Jesus used for “little dogs” is kynarion, and it’s not derogatory or cruel. It can be used affectionately, even of a family pet. Look at her response:

And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Matthew 15:27-28

The Canaanite Woman Was Humble and Persistent

She couldn’t stop the Gospel from going to the Jews first, and she couldn’t change her ethnicity. But she could be persistent and demonstrate her faith. She even says, “I’m not asking for the portion that belongs to the Jews. I just want some of the crumbs.”

Jesus rewarded the woman. The irony is many Jews would miss out on God’s salvation, because they didn’t have this woman’s faith, persistence, or humility. Many Gentiles would find salvation. They received the crumbs the Gentiles rejected, or that “fell from the table.”

Consider the progression:

  1. Jesus ignores her in verse 23.
  2. Jesus tells her, “No,” in verse 24.
  3. She asks again in verse 25.
  4. Jesus says, “No,” again in verse 26.
  5. She asks again in verse 27.
  6. Jesus helps her in verse 28.

This is a great illustration of the persistence needed in prayer.

Dear friend, possibly someone has whispered in your ear, ‘Suppose you are not one of the elect.’ Well, that was very much what our Lord’s expression meant to her. She was not one of the chosen people, and she had heard Christ say, ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ Notice that this woman does not battle with that truth at all, she does not raise any question about it; she wisely waives it, and she just goes on praying, ‘Lord, help me! Lord, have mercy upon me!’ I invite you, dear friend, to do just the same.

C. H. Spurgeon

6 Responses

  1. I tried very hard to get past this verse but I couldn’t. I don’t care how you try to spin this, it was clearly derogatory and insulting no matter her tribe, whether He said dog or little dog. I tried to find any translation that could clarify this for me but couldn’t. I have always had faith in Christ and this is devastating to me. To choose one race over another is racist. What place do Jews have to call others dogs if they are lost sheep? I’d rather have no religion than to follow one with a race of people thinking i’m less than them.

    1. Hello,
      Thanks for sharing your concerns. I understand many people are troubled by this account, and in particular, the way Jesus addressed this woman. You wrote that it is racist to choose one race over another. God does choose and he makes no apologies for it. Election is common throughout the Old and New Testaments. God chose Israel in the Old Testament, and believers are said to be chosen in the New Testament; hence, saints are called chosen and elect. But just because God chose one race for a purpose, does not mean that race is superior and others are inferior. The problem is that you have inserted your thoughts into the text and come to a wrong conclusion, because God’s word is also clear that all people are equal.

    2. I have problems with this passage too. It not only seems totally out of Jesus’ character, but the snide dismissal of the disciples is shocking as well. Everyone seems downright annoyed that this gentile even dared approach them.
      I have read dozens of wildly different explanations and rationalizations for this passage and NONE of them are convincing. Including this one.
      I’m suspicious of this passage and wonder if it’s accurate … or perhaps Christianity is, as many are starting to claim, just an elaborate Jewish deception.

      1. Hello Delaney,
        There are definitely challenging passages in Scripture, like this one. But if we trust the Lord, then we trust the Bible. There could be confusion on our parts or God wants us to take the passage by faith.

        Regarding Christianity being an elaborate Jewish deception is pretty ridiculous. The Jews saw Jesus and by extension Christianity as the greatest threat to Judaism. Why would they propagate that threat? And if they were going to make a deception, why would they make one that makes them look bad in so many respects? In particular, rejecting and murdering their own Messiah.

    3. You have selective reading because you focus on the section where Jesus compares the woman to a house puppy while ignoring the part where he heals her daughter and praises her in the highest form by saying her faith is GREAT. In contrast, Jesus was continuously chastising and rebuking the Jews, even his own disciples, for having no or little faith. The point is, that Christ did not worry about bloodlines or races since he considers those who believe and follow him to be his brothers and sisters. Remember faith and not race saves and matters. Moreover, Christ used much harsher language to describe the Jews with whom he struggled, comparing them to vipers and even calling them devil’s children.

      Acts 10:34 states: “God is no respecter of persons.”  

      The statement “God is no respecter of persons” means that God does not show favoritism or partiality.

      And in Romans 3:29, it’s said, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of Gentiles also.” Since there is only one true God, he’s the God of all humans.
      Please read John 1:13-14 “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of blood, nor of the desire or will of man, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.…”

      As a Gentile Christian, you are a valued and beloved child of the living God because of your faith in Christ.

      Thus there’s no reason to be upset just because Christ compared a gentile woman to a puppy. He was testing the woman’s faith who believed in Baal and other Gods and teaching his disciples a lesson. Besides, his apostles tried to sent away Israelite children who came to Christ for blessings because they did not want him to be bothered by any annoying children. However, Christ intervened and urged them to allow the youngsters approach him, where he hugged and blessed them. 

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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