Hank Hanegraaff, host of the "Bible Answer Man" podcast, has tackled a challenging Bible passage posed by a listener who questioned why Jesus initially ignored the mother of a demon-possessed daughter, and even called her a "dog" in the book of Matthew.
In Matthew 15:21–28, a Canaanite woman pleads with Jesus to show mercy on her and her daughter, but He initially does not reply. When the disciples urge Jesus to leave, the woman kneels before Him and asks for help again.
"It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs," Jesus replies.
When the woman persists and says that "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table," Jesus hails her faith, and heals her daughter.
A listener to Monday's podcast, a man named Lucas, asked Hanegraaff if he can shed light on Jesus' attitude, and why at first He seemed to ignore the woman and even referred to her as a "dog."
Hanegraaff, a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church and president of the Christian Research Institute, said the passage is actually one of the "most clever" ones in all of Scripture.
"The absolute erudition and wisdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," he expressed, pointing out that Jesus was "borrowing" from the mindset of the day, namely that Gentiles and the Samaritans in particular are "dogs."
"So here you have a Gentile woman, and she is thought of as a dog. Remember when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, they killed or exiled everyone. They did leave some alive, they intermarried and became the Samaritans. They became the 'dogs' in the view of the Jewish people," he said.
"So Jesus is now taking that particular mindset, and exposing it for what it is. And He does a very clever thing here," Hanegraaff continued, stating that Jesus was framing that dogs "have more faith than their supposed master."
"So here you have Jesus turning the tables, and the Gentile woman is used as an example to show the Jews that the dog has more acumen that the master. So again, it's a classic turning of the tables, but it's right along with what Jesus has always taught. We shouldn't call someone a 'dog' and someone else a 'human being.' For all are created in the image and likeness of God," he said.
Hanegraaff argued that Jesus was exposing the "prejudice" of the time period, and seeking to show that the Gospel is meant to be spread to the ends of the Earth.
"The Gospel is for the Jew, the Gentile, and what was considered at the time to be a dog — the Samaritan," he said.
When Lucas asked why Jesus ignored the woman in the first place, the Bible Answer Man suggested that Jesus was "allowing someone to be persistent in order to drive home the point."
"This happens many, many times with Jesus. There is a persistence that is necessary — and it adds to the story, it adds to the power of what is going on."
Some Christian bloggers, such as Diane Castro, have noted that the passage is a tricky one in light of "modern psychology," which would suggest that Jesus "needs lessons in how to interact with people without damaging their self-esteem."
She said in a blog for The Christian Post in 2013 that in the New Testament, people's encounters with Jesus are "tailor-made."
"I picture the Syrophoenician woman, a desperate mom, coming to Jesus with an urgent plea for Him to save her daughter, and leaving with a heart soaring with gratitude," Castro wrote.
"Not only has her little girl been healed, but the woman herself has had a remarkable close encounter with the Lord. She has connected with Him in an exceptionally personal and special way, and her life has been transformed by His touch."