Jesus, Syro-Phoenicians and Dogs

ImageI just got in from walking my dog Roadie, and I’m sure that had some bearing on this topic leaping to my mind.

A few days ago, I made the apparently outrageous suggestion in the comments of a Facebook post that Jesus didn’t call people “dogs” in a prejudicial, insulting way in Matthew 7:6 or 15:25-27; rather that He was quoting a maxim of that era to illustrate the pervasiveness of judging others and how wrong it is.

I was immediately shut down with a chorus of “of-course-He-dids” and didn’t have time to defend my contention right then, and the moment passed. So I will now.

First of all, to call someone a “dog” who is of a different ethnicity is completely foreign to the nature of God, who created all men and all ethnicities. To say differently of Jesus — through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16) — is to declare that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were less bigoted than the Lord when they declared “all men are created equal.” Preposterous.

Secondly, it is not possible for Jesus to have been prejudicial. He could be judicial, because He knew men’s thoughts (Matthew 9:4; Luke 9:47), but not pre-judicial. He could call certain people “a brood of snakes” (Matthew 23:33) because they were children of the great serpent Satan when they were plotting to kill Him (John 8:39-47). It wasn’t like He didn’t know; He did. We don’t have that knowledge, and we are not equipped to judge. He was. But that wasn’t His purpose in coming (John 12:47); that is His purpose when the day set for it comes (Acts 17:37).

Third: “Dogs” was a term of derision in the first century. See Philippians 3:2 and 2 Peter 2:22 and Revelation 22:15. Don’t miss whom these verses talk about, and what they have done or are doing.

They are not about ethnicity. They are about sin.

“Dog” was an insult. In the centuries before, especially in the books titled “Samuel,” the term “dog” is a term of self-deprecation as well as an insult to others, and I believe it is always used as an insult about peoples outside of Israel. Several translators insist that Jesus even softened the term to “puppies” or “little dogs” when speaking to the Syro-Phoenician woman — perhaps lest she imagine real judgment in His tone.

In speaking to this woman and granting the miracle she desires, He refutes what He has said in Matthew 7: He gives a holy gift to someone He has called a “puppy.” How could this not be an object lesson to His entourage, to help prepare them for the idea of the total giving of Himself for all mankind?

Fourth: In Matthew 7:1-6, when Jesus — I believe — quotes this maxim about giving dogs what is holy and giving pearls to pigs, it immediately follows what He has just said about not judging people. If He is not quoting a common proverb as a bad example, then it follows (immediately!) that He was violating the principle He has just given them — how credible is that?

How can we escape the conclusion that prejudice and judging and insulting other people is not Christ-like, and is never something that His followers should participate in?

Finally: Let’s face it. It’s easy to create God in our own image — and doing the same to Jesus is no exception for us. We sometimes want to justify things we want to do by maintaining that He did them in this flesh, in this world. But that doesn’t mean He did them, or said them because it gets us off the hook for wanting to say or do them. We all judge, and we all should not judge. Using the excuse of being like Jesus is no excuse because we do not have all of the authority or capability of Jesus to do so.

Okay. It’s not a Q.E.D., but it is a simpler explanation to me than Jesus saying one thing and then immediately contradicting Himself, and if you respect Occam’s Razor as a sound principle of logic, then I think you’d agree that William would shave with it.

And it certainly is preferable to the theology of a God who called people dogs based on the ethnicity He gave them.

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3 thoughts on “Jesus, Syro-Phoenicians and Dogs

  1. Pingback: The Great Axiom of Domestic Pets « Christianity 201

  2. Keith we all need to learn to read the bible in context, the whole book not just a paragraph before and after . Look at the verse just before the one you quoted.
    Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
    Who is Paul refereing to here, as the firstborn of every creature ? God the Creator, not Jesus the son of the creator., the next vs. also by context refers to “The invisible God”, The Father.
    Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

    The same Paul wrote the following.
    1Cr 15:27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under [him, it is] manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
    1Cr 15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
    If as you say Jesus was the creator, and created only for himself, what on earth is Paul speaking of in 1Cr 15:27-28 ?

    I think it wise to take what Peter said to heart, when we study Paul’s writings.
    NIV – 2Pe 3:16 – He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

    I think we should be careful when we make “God ” less than “The Almighty”
    Isa 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I [am] the LORD; and [there is] none else.

  3. Oh by the way, what you think Jesus meant doesn’t matter, the woman standing before him thought she was being compared to those in the canine family.
    Mat 15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast [it] to dogs.
    Mat 15:27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

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