Matthew

15:21-28

8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:23

vi] The faith of a Canaanite woman

Synopsis

Moving into the region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus is confronted by a Canaanite woman who asks him to heal her daughter. After being pressed, Jesus tells the woman that his ministry is primarily to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." She persists and so, due to her faith-response, her daughter is healed instantly. Jesus continues his healing ministry in the hill country of Galilee, possibly in a Gentile region (the phrase "they praised the God of Israel", v31, would not be expected from the mouth of a Jew).

 
Teaching

The good news of the coming kingdom / the gospel achieves its divine purpose irrespective of whether a person is ceremonially clean or unclean, a Jew or a Gentile.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 13:53-58. The healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter is found in the 3rd. narrative section of Matthew's gospel which examines at the gospel at work.

 

ii] Structure: This narrative, A woman's faith, presents as a four part dialogue:

Setting, v21:

Dialogue, v22-28:

The woman's request, v22-23a;

"have mercy on me!"

The disciples' request, v23b-24;

"send her away."

"I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel."

The woman repeats her request, v25-26;

"Lord help me"

"it is not right to take the children's bread ....."

The woman's response, v27-28.

"even the dogs eat the crumbs ...."

"Woman, you have great faith .."

 

iii] Interpretation:

It was the quality of the woman's faith that released Jesus' saving power / grace, not her religious credentials.

As we saw in the previous episode, the Tradition of the Elders, 15:1-20, the Pharisees, representing the historic people of God, are defective in their understanding of scripture. So, let those with eyes to see give heed to the gospel, the good news of the coming kingdom, and ignore the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees. In an example of "antithetical continuity", Anderson, Matthew, Gender and Reading, we are shown that the pathway to salvation through ritual purity, as proposed by the Pharisees, is false, whereas the pathway illustrated in the healing of the Gentile woman's daughter, is true. She is a woman who fully represents an unclean pagan world, yet, the distinction between ceremonially clean and unclean does not apply for her. What applies is her faith in the saving power of Christ - she asks for grace, and receives it with no strings attached.

This narrative serves as a paradigm for the gospel at work: irrespective of a person's religious purity, we are saved by grace through faith.

 

This episode, and the one following, the feeding of the four thousand, may herald a change in God's purpose for the kingdom of God - the beginning of a move from God's historic people to the Gentile world at large. The story has certainly been taken to address the issue of the Gentiles in salvation-history, but this approach is open to some debate.

 

iv] Synoptics:

Matthew and Mark align in context, and to a degree, in content. The main thrust of the episode is found in both Matthew and Mark, although Matthew's account emphasizes the gulf between the House of Israel and the unclean pagan world. This is drawn out in the part of the account peculiar to Matthew, v22-25: eg., she is a "Canaanite woman", not just a "Greek", as in Mark; Jesus was sent "to the lost sheep of Israel", not to unclean pagans; the woman exelqousa, "comes out", to Jesus, whereas in Mark Jesus enters a house in pagan territory so making himself ritually unclean; Jesus ignores her.

 

v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 15:21

The Canaanite woman: i] A transitional geographic note, v21. Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus withdraws from the crowds and increasingly ministers to his disciples. The crowds are obviously stirred-up by his miracles and some people have even tried to make him their king. This news, no doubt, got Herod going, as well as further enraging the religious establishment. So, Jesus moves North into pagan territory, out of harm's way.

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "leaving [that place]" - [and having gone out [from there]. The participle is adverbial, treated either as temporal, "then Jesus went away", or modal, "going away from there, Jesus withdrew ....", Moffatt. The phrase serves to indicate a step in the narrative.

anecwrhsen (anacwrew) aor. "withdrew" - [jesus] departed, went back, withdraw. Possibly carrying the sense of "take refuge." Jesus could have left either the growing danger, or the crush of the crowds, but possibly just, "leaving Galilee, Jesus went to the boarder district of Tyre and Sidon."

ta merh (oV) "the region" - [into] the parts = region. Probably simply making the point that Jesus crossed the boarder, so "boarder district."

turou (oV) gen. "of Tyre [and Sidon]" - The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / locative; "the coastal region / boarder district where Tyre and Sidon are located."

 
v22

ii] Jesus responds to a Canaanite Woman's request, v22-28. a) Jesus' meeting with the Syrophoenician Greek woman and her request, v22-23a. Matthew sets the direction of the episode by giving this Syrophoenician woman her ancient ancestry. She comes from a nation set for destruction by God under the hand of Israel, a nation bitterly opposed to the people of Israel and their God. Yet, she knowingly comes to Israel's messiah for blessing, very aware of Jesus' messianic credentials. For her, Jesus is the "Son of David." She also recognizes Jesus' capacity to heal, for demon possession is the most difficult of healings since it requires one greater than Satan.

apo + gen. "from [that vicinity]" - [and behold a canaanite woman] from [the parts there]. Expressing source / origin; "from the boarder region."

exelqousa (exercomai) aor. part. "came to him" - having come out, gone out. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "was crying out." Possibly she lived in the boarder region and came out of her home to meet Jesus, or just "a woman of Canaan came out of those parts", Moffatt.

ekrazen (krazw) imperf. "crying out" - was crying, shouting out. The imperfect expresses durative (ongoing) action, although there is an aorist variant which seems rather strange given that the woman's actions are clearly ongoing (the disciples can't shut her up). "Wailing", Moffatt; "shouting", CEV; "crying at the top of her voice", Phillips.

legousa (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of her approach; somewhat redundant / pleonastic.

uiJoV Dauid "Son of David" - [have mercy on me lord], son of david. The genitive "of David" is adjectival, relational. This is a messianic title and is surely used by the woman to convey this sense, rather than just as an offhand complement, or even just meaning "Jew".

elehson (eleew) aor. imp. "have mercy" - have mercy, take pity, show mercy. "Please be kind and help me", "take pity on me", Morris.

kakwV adv. "suffering terribly" - [the daughter of me is] badly, severely [demon possessed]. Here the adverb intensifies the verb: "Cruelly demon-possessed", NASB; "tormented by a demon", NAB. Morris suggests that the word conveys the evil of her situation, "wickedly demon-possessed." No indication is given as to what sort of possession it is, psychological, physical, .... "Very ill", Barclay.

 
v23

b) Jesus maintains his silence and the disciples ask that she be sent away, v23b-24. Jesus doesn't respond to the woman and so the disciples, obviously aggravated by her persistence, ask Jesus to deal with her request so that they can be on their way. Jesus then explains that his mission (under the authority of God) is to call out the faithful remnant of Israel. This doesn't deny a future mission to the Gentiles, only that for the present, "salvation is from the Jews", Jn.4:23-26.

auth/ dat. pers. pro. "[Jesus did not answer] her [a word]" - [but he did not say] to her [a word]. Dative of indirect object. The NIV translates the clause literally, but the sense is more like "Jesus ignored her", Peterson.

proselqonteV (prosercomai) aor. part. "came" - [and the disciples of him] having come, approached. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "were asking"; "came and besought him", AV. Possibly consecutive, "so as a result", as NIV, although why is the disciples' action a result of Jesus ignoring the woman?

hrwtoun (erwtaw) imperf. "urged him" - were asking [him]. The imperfect expresses continuation, so "kept asking", NASB, or better, "pleaded with", NJB.

legonteV (legw) aor. part. "-" - saying. Pleonastic / redundant attendant circumstance participle.

apoluson (apoluw) aor. imp. "send (her) away" - release = send away [her]. It is possible the disciples are asking Jesus to send her away with her request granted, but then they may just be asking that Jesus get rid of her. So either, "give her what she wants", NJB, or "get rid of her", NAB. "Would you please take care of her? She's driving us crazy", Peterson.

oJti "for" - because [she cries out after us]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Jesus should send her away, namely, because of her constant shouting.

 
v24

It does seem likely that Jesus is addressing the disciples, rather than the woman, in which case he is responding to their request.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, here indicating a step in the dialogue, but it can be expressed as an adversative; "but he answered and said."

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "he answered" - having answered [he said]. The participle is attendant on the verb "said". A common semi-redundant Semitic construction.

ei mh "only" - [i was not sent] except, save. Introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception.

eiV + acc. "to" - Here used to express interest, advantage, where we may have expected a dative.

ta apolwlota (apollumi) perf. part. "the lost [sheep]" - the ones ceasing to exist / facing destruction = lost [sheep]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "sheep". The base meaning "destroy" takes the sense "lost / perishing", when used in a religious / spiritual context.

oikou (oV) gen. "[of Israel]" - of the house [of israel]. The genitive "of house" is adjectival, possibly partitive, although Olmstead suggests it is epexegetic / appositional, specifying the sheep, "the lost sheep, namely / that is, the house of Israel." So, Jesus was sent either to a particular group of Jews who had gone astray like lost sheep, or to Israel itself that had gone astray like lost sheep. The second option is to be preferred, "the lost sheep who are the house of Israel", Carson; "I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep", CEV. Jesus' "activities were circumscribed ..... by the specific part that he had been called to play during his earthly life", Tasker, such that this Gentile woman did not have "the right to enjoy the benefits covenanted to the Jews", Carson.

Israhl gen. "of Israel" - This proper genitive is adjectival, epexegetic, specifying "the house" in mind.

 
v25

c) The woman persists, asking for Jesus' help, v25-26. The woman cries to Jesus for her child as only a mother can. Although Jesus' reply seems terribly harsh, it is not as strong as it seems at first sight. The word "puppies" carries the thought better than "dogs". Still, Jesus is making the point that, for the present, God's blessings are for his covenant people Israel.

de "-" - but/and. Again indicating a step in the narrative / transitional, and so left untranslated, although the AV will often express movement in a narrative by "then".

hJ "the woman" - the. The article = "she", nominative subject of the verb "to worship."

elqousa (ercomai) aor. part. "came" - having come. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "was worshiping"; "she came and worshiped him."

prosekunei (proskunew) imperf. "knelt before" - was worshiping, doing obeisance, adoring. The word carries the sense of adoration, therefore possibly "knelt", although no particular bodily movement is mentioned other than the Gk. "having come" indicating a movement toward Jesus; "the woman came closer", CEV. "Did him homage", NAB, but note Turner, MHT III, who suggests that the imperfect takes the sense "asked", "requested", while Olmstead suggests that it is used to convey an internal process..

autw/ dat. pro. "him" - him [saying]. Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to bow down before."

bohqei (bohqew) pres. imp. "help" - come to the aid of, come to the rescue of, come to the help of. The imperfect is expressing an excited request for help.

moi dat. pro. "me" - Dative of direct object after the verb bohqei which takes a dative of persons.

 
v26

Jesus explains the inappropriateness of her request with a dinner-time illustration.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "he replied" - having answered [he said]. Attendant circumstance participle, somewhat redundant.

kalon adj. "right" - [it is not] good. This predicate adjective serves as a substantive. Here in the sense of ethically good, therefore "fair", "proper", Barclay.

labein (lambanw) aor. inf. "to take" - The infinitive introduces an noun clause, subject of the negated verb to-be; "to take the bread of children and throw it to dogs is not right." "To take" in the sense of "deprive".

twn teknwn (on) gen. "the children's [bread]" - [the bread] of the children. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "the bread that rightly belongs to the children."

balein (ballw) aor. inf. "toss it" - to throw it. The infinitive as with "to take." "Fling", Barclay.

toiV kunarioiV (on) dat. "to the dogs" - Dative of indirect object / destination, recipient. Probably a house dog in contrast to a street dog; "house-dog", JB, "pet dogs", or even with a diminutive meaning, "puppies". There is a strong possibility that the imagery here is of "children" = Jews, and "dogs" = Gentiles. Note how Mark's more detailed record of the tradition produces a softer result, although the message is slightly different, ie., the children are fed first. So, it is more than likely that the image is framing the ordinary while establishing the principle that, at least at this point in salvation-history, the standing of Jews and Gentiles under God is different. It is though true that the Jews often viewed Gentiles as "dogs". One wonders if Jesus would adopt such imagery, although he is not adverse to testing the strength of a person's faith with a harsh hurdle. If this is the case here, then maybe Beare in his commentary is right to suggest the reply is "brutal"; "scavenging dogs", Klotz.

 
v27

vii] The woman disagrees with Jesus' claim that it is not right ..... and responds by providing her own version of the dinner-time illustration, v27-28. The woman's response is a little unclear, but it is likely that she argues against what Jesus has just said. In his dinner-time story, Jesus says "it is not right to take the children's bread and feed it to the household pets." In response she says, "Yes it is, because even the pets get to eat the scraps that fall from the master's table." She doesn't claim that justice demands that she has as much right as Israel to God's covenant mercies. She doesn't argue that God's sovereign will, his divine election of Israel, is unfair. She simply expresses her confidence that "even if she is not entitled to sit down as a guest at Messiah's table, ..... yet at least she may be allowed to receive a crumb of the uncovenanted mercies of God", Tasker. The actual words of Jesus' reply in the original Greek demonstrate emotional force, "O woman". The point is simple enough, "the faith that simply seeks mercy is honored", Carson.

nai "yes" - [but/and she replied], 'yes' [lord]. In direct speech this particle is used to express strong agreement with what someone has just said, but the NIV translates the verse by taking the particle as a contradiction of Jesus' negative statement, his ouk, "it is not right", cf. D&A, vol.II, p.555. Jesus has said it is not right to give ......, whereas she is cheekily saying "yes it is." This is most likely the intended sense, although many translations treat the particle as an affirmation of Jesus' assertion that "it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs", cf., ESV, NRSV. The problem with such a translation is that gar must then be treated as an adversative / contrastive, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat ...." - somewhat irregular.

gar "but [even]" - for [even the dogs eat]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why what Jesus has just said is "not right"; "because house dogs do actually get to eat the scraps ...." The woman disagrees with what Jesus has said, making the point that the dogs ("puppies") do get to eat from the master's table, albeit only the scraps. "It is not right to take the children's bread ......." "Yes it is", she said, "for even the puppies rightly get the leftovers."

apo + gen. "-" - from. Here serving instead of a partitive genitive; "the dogs eat of the crumbs."

twn yiciwn (on) "the crumbs" - the smallest of pieces. The woman is making a good point. She is not asking that any of the messianic blessings be taken away from the people of Israel and given to her, rather that her daughter's healing be one the overflowing blessings that inevitably go with the dawning of the kingdom; "even the dogs eat the leftovers ...", TEV.

twn piptontwn (piptw) pres. part. "that fall" - the ones falling. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "crumbs", as NIV; "the crumbs which fall."

apo + gen. "from [the table of the master of them]" - Expressing separation; "away from."

 
v28

Jesus acclaims the woman's faith.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb used to indicate a step in the dialogue: "at that", Barclay.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Jesus] said" - having answered [jesus said]. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant.

auth/ dat. pro. "to her" - Dative of indirect object.

w| "[Woman]" - o [woman]. This interjection with the vocative "woman" expresses high emotion.

megalh (megaV) adj. "great" - great [is the faith of you]. The position of this predicate adjective in the Gk. is emphatic, serving to underline the quality of her faith, "what faith you have", REB, better than quantity, "you really do have a lot of faith", CEV. The quality of a person's faith lies with its object and intention; "the faith that simply seeks mercy is honored", Carson.

genhqhtw (ginomai) aor. pas. imp. "your request is granted" - let it be done [for you as you desire]. The 3rd person imperative is not easily rendered in English; "let your wish be granted", Barclay. Probably a future tense is best, "your request will be granted", "you shall have what you want", Goodspeed. Of course, we must again be reminded that a description is not a prescription. The overflowing of messianic signs in Jesus' ministry does not provide us with the authority to repeat such signs today. Miracles do happen and "greater things" abound, but in the end, our authority is for gospel proclamation. As for signs, for us, the dawning kingdom is evidenced in the love we have one for another, a love that respects others for who they are, forgiving them all their failings. When, in the ministry of Jesus, we see the blessing of messianic signs overflowing to Gentiles, then we know that the kingdom of God is close at hand.

soi "-" - to you. Dative of interest, advantage; "for you."

wJV "-" - as [you will]. Comparative expressed in the manner of.

apo + gen. "from [that very hour]" - [and] from [the hour of that the daughter of her was healed]. Adverbial use of the preposition, temporal, forming the adverbial phrase "at that very moment"; "instantly", NRSV.

 

Matthew Introduction

Exposition

 

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