Mark 7:24-30 – Crumbs From Your Table

This story in Mark 7:24-30 (cf. Matt 15:22-28) stands in contrast to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  They have seen the miracles of Jesus and remain unconvinced, despite being the religious leaders of Israel.  They are the ones that ought to have understood that Jesus was the Messiah.  This is a surprise to the reader, that the good Jewish religious people (disciples and Pharisees) miss out on who Jesus is claiming to be, yet the Gentiles and demons seem to have no trouble in understanding he is Messiah, son of God, even God himself!

Why is Jesus staying in Tyre?  He instructed his disciples who avoid Gentile cities, yet here he is in Tyre.  It is possible that he is traveling alone, seeking a place where he can have some privacy from the crowds.  I doubt he is staying with Gentiles, rather, Jesus has entered the home of a supporting Jew with the hope of privately teaching his disciples, perhaps hearing their reports from their own mission in Galilee.

A woman approaches Jesus boldly and requests that Jesus heal her daughter of an evil spirit. This crosses several cultural boundaries:  man/woman, Jew/Gentile.  For a Gentile woman to approach a Jewish teacher and healer is incredibly bold!   We are told that the woman is Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.

There are some rather harsh comments by Jesus that it is not right to take the bread from the children (the Jews) and give it to the dogs (Gentiles)!  It is the usual practice of preachers to approach this passage by saying that Jesus isn’t really as harsh as he sounds.  The word for dog, for example, is a diminutive – a puppy.  Jesus is testing the woman’s faith, not telling her to get lost!

The fact is that the words are harsh and exclusivist.  Jesus calls her a gentile dog.  This is not a cute puppy begging table scraps, but rather a filthy scavenger.  The diminutive is not used to make the dog a “cute” puppy, but rather a little rat-like dog that steals the scraps from the garbage.  Jesus is also using a diminutive (“little dogs”) to refer to the woman’s child.  Jesus essentially says that it is unethical to take food away from the true child and give it to the dogs.

Jesus does not deny that the dogs will get their food, but it is after the true children have eaten their fill that the dogs will receive their crumbs. This condition is deleted from the Matthew version of the story.  Many take this to mean that Gentiles will experience salvation, but the gospel goes first to the Jews, then to the gentiles (not unlike Paul in Romans 1:16-17).

Does this story indicate that Jesus’ ministry is being broadened to include Gentiles at this point? The thrust of this series of stories (including the blind man and the feeding of the 4000, the near-context in Mark) is often described as an indication that the message of Jesus’ gospel was inclusive of the Gentiles, or at the very least was looking forward to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God.  Many commentators will often link these stories with the later Gentile mission.  There is some merit to this, since the Lord associates food laws with Gentile ministry in Acts 10 in Peter’s Vision in the rooftop.  If Peter is the source behind Mark, then there is certainly cause to think that he is reflecting on his own involvement in some kind of Gentile ministry.

This may not be the case, however.  As Samuel Sandmel notes, the references to Gentiles in Jesus ministry are not the norm, but exceptions.  Gentiles are not replacing Israel, but rather some Gentiles may join Israel.  That the Gentiles would come into the kingdom was an expected part of the Kingdom of God, so it not unusual that some Gentiles might come into the kingdom via Jesus’ ministry. If these stories are conversion stories, that is.  It is entirely possible that the Gentiles that experience miracles in this section are no more converted to Jesus mission than the Jews in the previous sections.  It is highly unlikely that they convert to Judaism at this point!.  However, it is possible that there are “seeds planted” in the ministry outside of Galilee that will be a harvest later when Paul preaches a gospel apart form the law.

The point of Mark’s narrative is not that Jesus has “gone over to the Gentiles” after being rejected by the Pharisees.  Tyre and Sidon have benefited from Jesus’ ministry already (see 3:8).  Mark is writing about 40 years after these events, well into a period of Gentile ministry (quite possibly after Paul’s death!)  There is no need to “comfort and encourage” gentiles, they are the dominate element in the Roman church by the time Mark writes.

These stories of Gentile ministry serve as an ironic contrast to the lack of faith in Israel, and as such stand along side the testimony of the demons as to the true identity of Jesus.  He came to his own (Israel) but his own did not know him.  Are there other indications that Mark is intentionally contrasting the unbelieving Jews with believing Gentiles?

Bibliography:  Gene R. Smillie “‘Even The Dogs’: Gentiles In The Gospel Of Matthew,”  JETS 45:1 (March 2002): 73-97.

11 thoughts on “Mark 7:24-30 – Crumbs From Your Table

  1. Jesus says in Luke 19:10 that He came to seek and save the lost. I believe this is why Jesus does go to the Gentiles. They are the ones that were supposed to be lost. He tested them and saw that their faith was great so he healed them. The ones that were supposed to not need Him, the religious leaders and Jews, were the ones that ended up needing him the most. They did were lost, doing the religious acts without any heart behind it. I think Mark is showing this contrast between the Jew and Gentiles because he is showing that it’s not about the acts, it’s about the faith. Jesus said that, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners,” (Mark 2:17).

  2. Gentiles and demons want to see in Christ Jesus the God they want to adhere like they had many gods in the heathen world. But Jesus told them he could not do the miracles without his Father who is greater than him.

    “Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NIV)

    “”You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 NIV)

    “Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NIV)

    “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” {Deut. 6:13}” (Matthew 4:10 NIV)

    “Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”” (John 20:17 NIV)

    “5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NIV)

    We should be thankful that the man Jesus wanted to die for our sins and that God accepted his offering and made him as the mediator between Him and us.

  3. I found this post very challenging to comprehend; I find it difficult to see Jesus saying this to the syrophoenician woman, even though she is a gentile. His harshness of words puzzles me; maybe this is derived from the fact that I am myself a gentile. We have been told in the church that Jesus came to save us from our sins, no matter whether Jew or Gentile. Perhaps I do not have the understanding of Jesus mission, but I want to ask a question. What would have happened if the Jews would have wholeheartedly accepted Jesus as the Messiah? Would the Gentiles stay the mutts scrounging the trash for bits and pieces of food? (My study bible states, (not the ESV) that when Jesus referred to dog he simply meant household pet.) Would the only good that came to us, fall of the Jews table? I think that Jesus might have been testing the woman, to see if she had faith. When Jesus told the woman that he should not give the children’s food to the dogs, it seems like he almost states that because he knows what her response will be. He replies, “’Good answer!’ he said. ‘Now go home for the demon has left your daughter.’” (Mark 8:29 NLT) Jesus had a purpose for everything he said, and he ultimately did come for the Jews, to fulfill his covenant with them. One thing to ponder is if God hardened the hearts of the Jews. Did God plan for the Jews to reject Jesus so that the gentiles would have opportunity to gain eternal life? I’m still unsure of what the exact implications of Jesus words are, and I don’t believe that anyone can know for sure while we still live on this earth, and are limited in knowledge. Please feel free to address any of the questions I have brought up.

    • Scott, great thoughts. I am with you on this one. It is odd to see Jesus’ harsh words towards the Gentiles. We are told in Church that Jesus loves us and came to save us from our sins. But the Jesus recorded in Scripture seems to be rather harsh with the Gentiles. Being a Gentile, it almost begs the question, does Jesus see me as a dog? Its almost as if the Jesus taught in Church and the Jesus of Scripture are two very different people. I think the best way to see this event is that Mark was contrasting the Jews with the Gentiles. As the P Long said, “These stories of Gentile ministry serve as an ironic contrast to the lack of faith in Israel, and as such stand along side the testimony of the demons as to the true identity of Jesus. He came to his own (Israel) but his own did not know him.” This is intentionally contrasting the unbelieving Jews with believing Gentiles. It would have had tremendous impact on his disciples. A Gentile woman, a rat dog scrounging for scraps from the children, had the audacity to request that Jesus heal her daughter. It was her faith that is the focus and turning point of this story. This is a lesson of faith and a strong contrast to the faith of Israel.

  4. “When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “Matthew 8:10-12
    Clearly, the kingdom was offered universally and “fellowship with God is no longer exclusive to Israel and priests or the religious elite” (Strauss 478). Here in Mark’s narrative it is definitely highlighting the contrast of the nation of Israel with the gentiles and their relationship with God. You are correct when saying that he is not implying that the dogs don’t get fed, but perhaps rather that the children of the house would be taken care of before the animals. I don’t see a problem in viewing it as the gospel first being for the Jews and then for the Gentiles, and think that may be a part of the narrative. But a more important part of the narrative is seeing that a child plays with their food, chews it up, spits it out, isn’t always grateful, and demands their favorite food and might not even eat if they don’t like what they are given while a dog is begging for attention, food, and care and will do anything for any type of nourishment. Jews can be seen as the picky and ungrateful child not noticing or taking part in the food right in front of it and throwing it on the floor while the gentiles may be seen as the dog, looking for any scrap of light or hope at all costs. The Jews didn’t embrace what was right in front of them (Jesus) because they were too busy picking everything they were about apart.
    That Mark is intentionally contrasting the belief and unbelief of the gentiles and Jews, I would say yes, but perhaps not as much as I did with my explanation here. I was also going to reference Mark 2:17 “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” And though the Jews didn’t think they were sick, they were and needed the Gospel just as much as the gentiles did. The difference is that the Gentiles realized their sickness, but the Israel was too busy with their work to see the doctor in front of them or even their need for a doctor. Luke 18:9-14 is also a different example of this ignorance, even though their devotion to the Lord was admirable, they missed a huge point… the biggest one.

  5. I wonder what the gentiles whom Jesus helped during his ministry did years after Jesus went back to heaven. What powerful testimonies! The Syrophoenician women (Mark 7:24-30) the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). Years later I imagine they would testify about the “miracle worker” named Jesus. These people would tell others about the things Jesus had done for them. Indeed the gentiles and the demons knew Jesus but the Pharisees and others just would not accept him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Indeed the ministry of Jesus was solely to the Jews but as a demonstration of his love Jesus would show compassion on these people and to demonstrate to Jews their lack of faith in him and that indeed there was another “people” would openly recognize who they heard he was, accept it by faith, and boldly approach him and ask him for his help. I do find it interesting that Jesus would tell the women “for it is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to their dogs” but, he said nothing of the sort to the Roman Centurion. Just a thought.

  6. I think that Mark is in fact intentionally contrasting the Jews to the Gentiles. I think it is making a great point to those who are looking in on the situation or reading about it later. Because how the Jews react in contrast to how the Gentiles react. I think that if someone was watching the situation of the gentile woman and her daughter, and they saw how Jesus reacted and helped but how the Jews reacted; it was showing Jesus’ gospel in a completely different way. I think there is stories all throughout the Gospels about how the unbelieving Jews did not have faith, yet those that were considered “dogs” were the ones with the most faith.
    I think Jesus was such a shock to many Jews, that it must have been hard to handle this new teacher coming in and not following rules and teaching this new gospel that ended up spreading hope and love to not only Jews but to the Gentiles and other people throughout Israel! He must have been a huge shock and that would create more of an appeal to those who were not as high up on the social chain as the Jews. But it would also bring the Jews into a new light that they were not used too. Just a thought I had that I decided to voice.

  7. I think that is passage has a lot of different foreshadowing elements in it. At that point it’s clear to see that Jesus’ ministry was still focused on the Jews. He had told his disciples to avoid gentile towns. But even still there were gentiles of great faith, like this women whom had her demon possessed daughter healed. The relationship is quite similar to the way it was an the Old Testament with the Jews as the focus but the occasional gentile would be brought in a also follow God. An example would be Rahab, she was spared after helping the Jewish spies. So at this point the Jews are still the focus however as the women says, “Yes, Lord; Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Verse 28) There would come a point though where the gentiles would be exposed the the gospel just as openly as the Jews. This time was coming and I think that this occurrence foretells this a little bit by the women having here request granted.

  8. As Furno mentioned in his post, “At that point it’s clear to see that Jesus’ ministry was still focused on the Jews. He had told his disciples to avoid gentile towns.” Many times, throughout his ministry, he would instruct his disciples to exclusively give the messages/sermons to the Jews. Not that he thought that the gentiles weren’t worth saving, but I think that he gave his own people a little more importance due to the urgency in the matter. If he wasn’t able to help his own people, why would anyone think that he could save them? If I was offered a way out of somewhere, but that person couldn’t save his own family, why would I trust him over anyone else? I feel like Jesus does this a lot throughout his ministry. I don’t think, however, that he plays favorites at all, but rather, he times the messages/sermons and who hears them extremely well for the listeners to be completely ready to receive it.

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