I’ve always been a bit unsettled by Jesus’ reference to the Canaanite woman as a “dog.” I’ve heard all the explanations given and none of them seemed all that satisfactory. They seemed like an attempt to get around the very offensive thing that Jesus said to this woman. But I noticed something a few nights ago when our associate pastor was teaching on this passage. I’d never noticed this thread before and I think it’s actually the key to understanding the passage.
First, to understand why Jesus called the Canaanite woman a dog, you need to know a little about Tyre and Messianic expectations.
Consider these words from the extra-biblical Psalms of Solomon:
Cleanse Jerusalem from the nations that trample it in destruction, to expel sinners from the inheritance in wisdom, in righteousness, to rub out the arrogance of the sinner like a potter’s vessel, to crush all their support with an iron rod; 27 to destroy lawless nations by the word of his mouth, for Gentiles to flee from his face at his threat, and to reprove sinners by the word of their heart. (Pss. Sol. 17:25-27)
This was an expectation of the Messiah. When he comes he is going to go into places like Tyre—the very embodiment of paganism—and destroy them. You expect a Messiah to go to such a wicked place, call them all dogs, and leave—maybe lighting a match on his way out.
But the Gospel of Mark is painting a different picture of the Messiah. He’s just spoke to the Pharisees about what defiles a person. It’s not what is on the outside but it’s the stuff of the inside. That kind of talk would lead a Messiah into Tyre to provide redemption instead of wrathful rebuke.
But then when Jesus gets into Tyre he sounds more like the Messiah of the Psalms of Solomon than the type of Messiah of the Gospel of Mark. What gives?