Crumbs From the Master's Table

In Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30 we read the account of the Canaanite (Syrophoenician) woman who came to Yeshua (Jesus) and requested that He heal her demon possessed daughter.

As she repeatedly cries after Yeshua His disciples ask Him to send her away; upon which He makes this statement to them, “ I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (see also Matthew 10:6).

When the woman bows down at His feet, continuing to plead with Him for help, we find this most remarkable yet totally misunderstood statement from Yeshua to her: “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Did Yeshua just speak a derogatory slur to this woman? Let's find out!

If you will stick with me I would like to address this problematic scripture that when combined with the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:2 has caused untold antisemitism on countless millions of innocent Jews throughout the world; bringing hatred, and even murder upon them for almost 2000 years.

I have been previously taught that in ancient times Jews referred to gentiles as “dogs”. I was taught that this was the cultural norm during the time that Yeshua walked the earth as well as before and after. Supposedly, Jews called gentiles (and such was the woman mentioned above) dogs because they were unclean and impure and thus intimate or close association with gentiles was forbidden. Hence, Yeshua in this Scripture was only following the cultural norm when He spoke to this woman and called her a dog.

But is this really the truth?

Since most Christians have also been taught the above scenario, it led to the second problem and wrong scriptural interpretation. This second problem came about because of the Apostle Shaul's (Paul) words in Philippians 3:2.

“Look out for dogs, look out for the evil workers, look out for the mutilation!”

Since the Apostle Shaul here is speaking to non-Jews (gentiles) that have come to believe in Messiah Yeshua about not having to succumb to those who were trying to “force” circumcision for salvation upon them, and since most of the ones causing this trouble were the Messianic Jews, it is believed that here Paul is taking the old “slur” of Jews calling gentiles dogs and he is actually “dumping” it back on the heads of the Jews. In other words, so Christian commentaries say, the Apostle Paul is reversing this “slur” upon the heads of the Jews. The Apostle Paul, if you please, is now calling his fellow brethren, the Jews, “dogs”. OH my GOODNESS how we have SCRIPTURALLY erred!

This doctrinal “dogma” has caused untold problems for the Jewish people throughout the centuries and from the hands of Christians. How awful!

If you don't believe me then look it up in Christian commentaries. Also, in Hitler's Germany signs read:

“No Jews or Dogs Allowed”.

Now, let us address some of these things.

First, there is NO historical evidence to support that Jews in any era called non-Jews dogs just because they were not Hebrew! Period! There is no evidence from Scripture that Jews called gentiles dogs, nor (when taken in its proper context) from any ancient Jewish literature. The Talmud makes mention of people being like dogs but it does not call gentiles dogs just because they were gentiles. It may refer to a gentile as a dog because they act like one, but it would also refer to another Jew as “acting” like a dog. If Jews were to refer to a gentile as a dog it would only be because they were not able to distinguish clean from unclean and holy from unholy, hence the Scripture: “do not give that which is holy to the dogs”. This Scripture was most likely talking about the proper methods of sacrificial disposal. In addition, Matthew 7:6 is generally understood in the context that you do not share something of value with those who will not appreciate it, they cannot discern its value. This Scripture neither calls a gentile a dog nor makes reference to this effect. Jews have never had this policy, but on the other hand, Christians have historically referred to Jews as “dogs” simply because they were Jews and for no other reason. If there were any Scripture where a Jew called a non-Jew a dog it would be by Yeshua in the referenced Scripture above. This is the only occurrence (Matthew and Mark). If you keep reading you will discover that this was not a derogatory slur by Yeshua.

Second, let's talk about dogs for a moment. Dogs are mentioned numerous times throughout the Old Testament and in ancient Jewish and other Eastern writings. They are also mentioned several times in the New Testament other than the scriptures in our study. Dogs can have positive and negative qualities. They make good watchdogs to alert of danger for their human family, they helped to herd animals, they show loyalty, they can easily be trained for various types of skills that assist humans, they can be domesticated pets, etc. On the flip side: dogs are scavengers and will eat anything including human flesh (as noted in the Bible) and their own vomit, they run in destructive packs, they can be very aggressive as scavengers, etc. Anciently, dogs had various uses but whether or not they were domesticated changed with different cultures and societies. They are depicted in many ancient reliefs alongside man and in more noble ways. The modern day (Western culture) position of the domesticated dog cannot be applied to every ancient culture. The dog has come a long way.

Third, the ancient Israelites considered the dog to be an unclean animal. Some dogs were used as family watchdogs or to help herd the sheep but for the most part they were just half- wild scavengers who roamed the streets and helped to keep the city clean by eating the refuse. Elijah makes mention of this in I Kings 21:24. Because the dog was of “low” estate in the Hebrew culture, one can find that the word “dog” is used Scripturally to demean someone's enemy OR TO abase oneself. See 2 Samuel 9:8, Deuteronomy 23:18 (male temple prostitute), I Samuel 24:14, II Samuel 3:8, II Samuel 16:9, II Kings 8:13, Psalms 22:20 for examples. However, in none of the Scriptures does it refer to a non-Jew as a dog simply because they were not a Hebrew. When a person is referred to as a dog or if they refer to themselves as a dog, it meant that they were referring to one of the negative qualities and the uncleanliness or low estate of the dog. Servants would often refer to themselves as a dog.

Fourth, in the Apostle Paul reference in Philippians one has to dig very deep historically to discern exactly what he could have been referring too, but rest assured, it was not the aforementioned. Paul was a very educated man and his writings are very difficult to understand as the Apostle Peter himself witnesses to in II Peter 3:14-16. If Peter found them difficult to understand and admitted that people were already twisting them, then imagine how much they have been misunderstood and twisted by people for the past 2000 years. I will say that it is possible that Paul was referring to the “aggressive nature of the dog” that some of these people had who just happened to be Jews, although some of them were probably non-Jewish proselytes also. They had become like “scavenging dogs” aggressively following and attacking the Apostle Paul wherever he went spreading the gospel to the nations.