Did the Canaanite woman teach Jesus not to be racist in Matt 15?

The episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in the lectionary reading for Trinity 11 in Year A from Matt 15.21–28 (or Syrophoenician woman as she is called in the parallel Mark 7.24–30) often brings readers up short, containing as it does what appears to be a rather shocking insult. Jesus is seeking to withdraw from public attention, needing some time for rest and recuperation, but, as has happened in the episode of the feeding of the 5,000, he is unable to keep his presence secret. A woman approaches him to ask for deliverance for her daughter and (Matthew having emphasised her pagan gentile credentials), Jesus appears to insult her with a racial slur by calling her a ‘dog’. Yet her stubborn faith persists, and her clever response to Jesus’ ‘insult’ persuades him to act, so her daughter is delivered and healed.

There seems to be quite a strong trend in ‘progressive’ readings of this text to draw a particular point from this episode: Jesus was in fact fallible and racist; the woman taught him something by her response; he changed and moved on from his narrow, exclusive view; and so we should be willing to do the same. Here is one example, which sees mainstream readings of this texts as ‘workarounds’ which are avoiding the awkward reality that we find in the text:

It’s one of the most unsettling passages in the New Testament. This isn’t the Jesus Christians like to think about.  This is Jesus apparently insulting and dehumanizing a desperate woman seeking the health of her family. This is Jesus writing Gentiles off as second-tier citizens…Jesus’ statement was full of prejudice and ethnocentrism.

This story calls us to confront Jesus’ humanity. Being human means being embedded in a culture. It means growing up with a certain worldview. It means inheriting traditions and language and biases—biases that can be wrongheaded and hurtful and alienating. Biases like the exclusion of Gentiles from the community of faith and the circle of those deserving compassion…

You see, Jesus doesn’t cling to his prejudice. He listens…Jesus listens. And he changes his mind…The hero of this story is not Jesus, but the Syrophoenician woman…Jesus had prejudices from his community that were magnified by his insulation from those who could challenge his views, but he listens when those views are challenged. He concedes his erroneous ethnocentrism and turns divine compassion toward all people everywhere. Jesus shows us in this story that inheriting bias is inevitable, but holding onto it is a choice.

There is no end to the wonderful ironies in this reading, not least that it is actually Matthew, the writer of the gospel, who is the real hero, since he can see more clearly than Jesus did at the time the importance of this lesson. In an age of resurgent antisemitism, we need to pause to recognise which ‘ethnocentric’ and racist community Jesus belongs to here, whose ingrained prejudices he inherits. And it is not too difficult to read the agenda of this commentator: conservative Christians are like the ignorant, prejudiced Jesus at the beginning of the story, but progressive Christians like me are like the enlightened Jesus at the end of the story. The goal here is less for us to be like Jesus and more to be like the commentator. We can perhaps forgive this approach, knowing that the author is a third-year undergraduate in law (not theology) at Harvard. But others take a similar line:

Jesus uttered an ethnic slur. To dismiss a desperate woman with a seriously sick child…Jesus holds all the power in this exchange. The woman doesn’t approach with arrogance or a sense of entitlement associated with wealth or privilege. Rather she comes to him in the most human way possible, desperate and pleading for her daughter. And he responds by dehumanizing her with ethnic prejudice, if not bigotry. In our modern terms, we know that power plus prejudice equals racism…

Rather than being part of the solution to ethnic prejudice, Jesus seems to be very much part of the problem, according to this story. When confronted with the gentile pagan in this story, he explains that his message and ministry are for Israelites only, a comment of ethnic exclusion and prejudice that calls to mind a similar refrain from a more modern time – whites only – that reverberated throughout the South not too long ago.

This, I think, is the great lesson of the Syrophoenician woman. It teaches us the dynamics of power and prejudice, of how even the best of humanity — the Incarnation himself — can get caught up in systems of oppression, in a culture of supremacy. Like many of us today, Jesus would have been reared into a prejudiced worldview.

So don’t tell me you aren’t prejudiced or don’t exercise your position of power through the lens of your prejudice. Even Jesus did that.

(Note: the author clearly got some feedback, and so has deleted the post, but you can find it at the web archive here. In an earlier version, he described Jesus as a white racist, but had to change that as a result of protests that Jesus wasn’t white.)

The more I think about it, the more alarming this reading is. Apart from its extraordinary historical ignorance (Jewish culture was in a position of power and dominance over against Graeco-Roman pagan culture—really?!), the writer appears entirely unaware of his dangerous characterisation of Jewish first-century culture as racist, effectively likening Jesus the Jew to a member of the Ku Klux Klan. An editorial note at the end of the piece suggests that writer (ordained in the Episcopal Church in the US) is aware of some of the difficulties here. But he doesn’t seem aware of his assumption that Jesus’ humanity implies Jesus’ prejudice and sin, or that that might have been debated by the early church, or that it contradicts some explicit claims of the NT about Jesus (‘tempted like us, but without sin’ Heb 4.15), or that knowing that Jesus lived within a particular time and culture need not imply that Jesus was trapped in that time and culture.

A rather witty post from a Catholic priest picks up some of the problems here:

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

I heard some theologian or other say that in the Gospel a few weeks ago the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter ended up teaching Jesus to be more tolerant. Is this possible that Jesus was a narrow-minded bigot who had to learn a thing or two from a Lebanese lady? Please help!

Kay Nanite [see Matt 15.22]

Dear Kay,

I wouldn’t worry too much. Whoever said this must be just a pop theologian. They come and go like the fins on a sixties’ Buick. If he’s Fr. WOW! today, he’ll probably be Fr. Who? tomorrow… I don’t mean to sound fussy, but the reason I call the fellow a pop theologian is that he can’t be much of scholar. He hasn’t read the text. Pop theologians always assume that their opinion is unquestionable, so they never question it themselves…

Jesus left the throne He shared with His Father, taking off the prerogatives of divinity like a garment which He left on the heavenly throne. He humbled himself for love of His Father and for love of us. He never ceased to be God, the Son of God. He never ceased to be the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity. He never ceased to be perfect, since the perfection of the God is sacrificial love. In his humanity, Jesus certainly learned. The creator of the world learned carpentry from St. Joseph and Jesus, the Word of God learned Aramaic on His Blessed Mother’s lap. But he did not learn to be less racist from a Canaanite woman. He did not learn moral truth from anyone. He was and is moral truth.  The only instruction that Jesus needed was the Father’s voice, and this He always heard clearly, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

This final comment is perhaps jumping too quickly from text to theology, so let’s spend a few moments with the text itself. First, as just about every commentator notes, this passage is indeed challenging—so much so that it is ‘nearly impossible’ (Ben Witherington) to imagine that the story was invented either by Matthew or within his community. In other words, this passage helps to address a challenge from a previous generation, that the gospel stories are unreliable historically and largely a creation of the early Christian community.

Secondly, this episode has much in common with the earlier encounter with the centurion in Matt 8.5–13. Both supplicants are gentiles; both are asking on behalf of another; both are met with an initial show of reluctance; both are in the end commended more highly than any Jew. The woman here receives a more negative initial response, but the pattern is very similar.

And in the midst of that encounter, Jesus expresses a global, multiracial vision of the kingdom when he declares that ‘many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham’ (Matt 8.11). He goes on to contrast this with the rejection of the ‘subjects of the kingdom’ who will be ‘thrown outside into the darkness’. This is particularly striking, given that the verses preceding our reading in Matt 15 depict an encounter with just such ‘subjects of the kingdom’ who are in fact ‘blind guides’. Jesus’ articulation of reversal in chapter 8 is enacted in this pair of narratives in chapter 15.

But this highlights the dynamic of Matthew’s gospel in its overall approach to ‘nationalism’. In this most Jewish of gospels, Jesus more than once emphasises that he has come ‘to the lost sheep of the [house of] Israel’ (Matt 15.24, compare Matt 10.5–6). And yet the inclusion of Gentiles runs as a counter-theme threaded all through the narrative. Non-Jews are woven into the genealogy in Matt 1.3–6; one of the major distinctives of Matthew’s birth narrative is the prominent presence of ‘magi from the East’ in Matt 2.1–12; the start of Jesus’ ministry is hailed as the dawning of light to ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matt 4.15) and his early ministry has included people from ‘Syria’, this very region, as well as the largely Gentile Decapolis (Matt 4.24–25). And of course Jesus has already delivered two demon-possessed men from these Gentile regions in the north (Matt 8.28–34). If the woman is teaching Jesus something about traversing ethnic boundaries, it appears that neither Jesus nor the woman (nor apparently Matthew) has read the previous 14 chapters of the gospel. Or perhaps it is just the ‘progressive’ commentators who have forgotten to do so…

Matthew’s account differs from Mark 7.24–30 in some key details. Jesus ‘withdraws’ to this region to escape confrontation and threat, just as he has previously tried to do in Matt 14.13, and as Joseph did both to Egypt and to Nazareth at the beginning of the gospel (Matt 2.14, 22).

The fact that the woman is an ethnic Canaanite (and not just someone from the region as Mark has it), emphasises the historic enmity with Israel. That Jesus finally grants her request has all the more rhetorical and theological force. It is striking that, in Matthew’s account, she recognises his Jewish identity and credentials; as with other supplicants in this gospel, she addresses him as ‘Son of David’; she knows from the beginning that she is asking for something that is not her right.

And Matthew includes here another striking detail; it is the disciples who would send her away; if anyone in the narrative has not yet understood Jesus’ wider vision for the inclusion of the Gentiles, it is them, not Jesus. Historically, it is the followers of Jesus who have been reluctant to enact Jesus’ broad ministry of healing and restoration.

Mark does soften Jesus’ abrupt challenging, by having Jesus demand that the children are fed first, before the dogs. But in Matthew’s account, she is not offered even this crumb of comfort, as the objection is expressed in absolute terms. (I can see why Luke, directing his account most clearly towards Gentiles, does not include this episode at all!)

Jesus’ use of the term ‘dogs’ deploys the standard Jewish derogatory term for Gentiles. He does use a diminutive term, which might denote a domestic animal rather than a street cur—but this hardly lessens the offence. But here is the narrative and theological challenge: can we imagine Jesus saying something provocative? Can we imagine him testing this woman with a challenge—raising the stakes to see where her faith will take her? As one commenter on a previous blog noted:

To me it seems that in this passage Jesus uses a similar pedagogical method to Jahweh allowing/challenging Abraham (Gen 18:22-33) and Moses (Ex 32:7-14; Num 14:5-20) to be “obnoxious” and persistent intercessors. It seems at first reading that their patience and mercy is greater than God’s, and yet it is God stretching and shaping them to stand in the gap between himself and his people.

As R T France sums up:

A good teacher may sometimes aim to draw out a pupil’s best insight by a deliberate challenge which does not necessarily represent the teacher’s own view—even if the phrase ‘devil’s advocate’ may not be quite appropriate to this context! (NICNT p 591)

France also notes the correct way to understand the woman’s response to Jesus’ provocation—which has in fact shaped the TNIV translation, in contrast to some older ones. When Jesus suggests ‘It is not right to take the bread…’ she pushes back with ‘Yes [it is]’. Her ‘yes’ is not in agreement with Jesus, but disagreement—as we can see from the grammar of her following comment, ‘for even’ (rather then ‘yet even’) ‘the dogs must be fed’. The fascinating relationship between the children and dogs in her saying—the children should be fed, but so must the ‘dogs’—actually articulates the dynamics of the gospel elsewhere in the NT. Jesus is the Jewish messiah, and it is out of the overflow of God’s grace from Israel to the Gentiles that we are saved. Gentiles do not displace Jews in God’s economy of salvation, but in fact get to share the same ‘bread’ of Jesus and his provision (see the previous episode of the feeding of the 5,000!), even though some of the Jews themselves refuse to eat of it.

Jesus recognises the woman’s wisdom, insight and faith; this is the only time that faith is described as ‘great’—something of a contrast to the ‘little faith’ of Peter when he gets out of the boat!

It is worth noting here that the core issue—that of the nature of the gospel including both Jew and Gentile—remains as forceful as ever, but without having to mangle the text and turn Jesus into a bigoted racist to make the point. It turns out that Matthew is a rather more compelling interpreter of Jesus’ ministry than a number of 21st-century readers. And in this careful reading, it is neither Jesus nor the woman who are the ‘hero’ in contrast to the failure and obstinacy of the other, but both who are important and rounded characters in the narrative. Jesus’ encounters with individuals are never a zero-sum game.

Some similar points are made in a much more detailed narrative-critical study of the parallel account in Mark’s gospel by David Rhoads (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Summer, 1994), pp. 343-375):

The episode of the Syrophoenician woman fits tightly into the overall story, particularly in relation to the presentation of the Kingdom of God. The establishment of God’s rule over the world is the force which drives the whole plot of the narrative. Here are four ways in which this episode relates to the kingdom of God in Mark.

Rhoads highlights the way in which the woman’s response is a mirrored foil to Jesus, cleverly continuing the riddle that he offers her.

In her response, the Syrophoenician woman extends Jesus’ riddle. She does not oppose what Jesus has said. Rather, she develops the scenario of Jesus’ allegory so that she and her daughter have a place in it…Thus, in her response, the Syrophoenician woman not only stays within the Jewish perspective of Jesus’ riddle; she even refers to the Jewish children with a term of endearment.

It is perhaps worth noting how this pattern of ‘to the Jew first, then to the Gentile’ (Romans 1.16) might have been critically important if Mark’s gospel was written in the context of Rome, where relations between Jew and gentile Christian might have been tense.

When we interpret the episode in light of the themes of the whole story, we are also able to see more clearly the rhetorical impact this story may have had on an ancient audience as a boundary-crossing narrative.

It is, perhaps, worth asking why the ‘progressive’ readings of the story are so popular, given that they don’t actually pay attention to the details of the text, and given that they raise such serious theological problems in the understanding of the humanity of Jesus? Perhaps they are simply the manifestation of ignorance—of lack of awareness of or lack of willingness to engage with scholars like R T France. Again, there is an irony writ large in commentating on a passage like this about boundary crossing if commentators are not willing to cross a few boundaries themselves. But such views are broadcast very effectively by social media, and take root in shallow soil where the reading of good commentaries by church leaders is less and less common.

But there is perhaps also a more explicit agenda—to challenge ‘orthodox’ understandings of who Jesus is, by taking the ‘risky’ step of thinking that the Jesus we find in the New Testament isn’t actually a model for us, but is frail, ignorant and sinful too. This then means that the teaching of the New Testament is not binding on us, but is part of the ‘trajectory’ of development which continues through history, so that we, now, represent the pinnacle of revelation, and our own understandings reveal the true wisdom of God. Sadly, this ‘gospel’ doesn’t actually turn out to be very persuasive. As one comment expressed it on the second blog quoted:

If I didn’t already have nothing but utter contempt for Christ, the Bible and Christianity this exposure of Christ’s racism and bigotry surely would have rocked my world view.

If we are going to draw the crowds, perhaps we need to pay more attention to the real Jesus of the gospels.

I no longer allow anonymous comments. If you want to comment pseudonymously, please contact me.

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

147 thoughts on “Did the Canaanite woman teach Jesus not to be racist in Matt 15?”

  1. Two comments :

    1. It’s not always what you, but how you say it. When Jesus directed an apparently derogatory statement to the woman, He might have injected a tone of humour into it.

    2. All’s well that that ends well. Jesus elicited from the woman the right responses and mentality that made the miracle possible.

      • I think the use of humour here is the key. In his mission to extend the Kingdom beyond respectable Jewish society, Jesus often engaged empathetically with people like this Canaanite woman, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, and despised tax collectors such as Zaccheus and – indeed – Matthew himself. In these engagements (which often led to the conversion an redemption of those concerned) he often seemed to have a twinkle in his eye – a touch of humour – as he broke through accepted norms by welcoming them. The use of humour in the case of the Canaanite woman is reinforced by RT France’s suggestion that a hardline treatment of her as a dog was not in fact Jesus’s own position. ‘Surely you know I’m not supposed to give bread to dogs like you!’ says Jesus with a twinkle in his eye. And she engages in the humorous banter in similar vein. ‘True, but even the dogs eat up the crumbs dropped by great people such as you!’

        • Is Greek construction more …. “beloved puppy dog/pet”rather than “snarling wild beast” …. also seen in the gospels in thd addition of the I so … beloved servant, beloved little flock …

  2. Thanks for this wonderful exposition, Ian. I was recently grappling with this text in a one-to-one discipleship conversation with a new believer, who was previously almost completely unfamiliar with the Bible story. Naturally, when we read the episode the first time, he had trouble understanding it. So, thinking on the hoof, I offered a slightly ‘modern retelling,’ in which I asked us to imagine Jesus saying something like ‘Surely it is the case that charity begins at home?,’ with the woman responding ‘Yes, Lord, but surely it also doesn’t *end* there either?’

    Framed with familiar parlance, it became more obvious that Jesus’ words are a challenge to the woman to draw out her faithful response.

    • “I asked us to imagine Jesus saying something like ‘Surely it is the case that charity begins at home?,’ with the woman responding ‘Yes, Lord, but surely it also doesn’t *end* there either?’”

      Thanks, that’s really helpful.

      I’m preaching on this tomorrow and have just re-read the last two sermons I did on the passage; both times I was glad of this this resource (in fact, both times I quoted commentators rather than Ian’s own piece — which is only to say that Psephizo attracts some good replies).

      So I think I’m going with persistence and priorities. Persistence: keep asking, keep knocking, keep interceding (but n.b. let your words be few — lots of short prayers over a long period of time rather than long prayers.) Priorities: saying “no” (to this or him) in order to be able to say “yes” (to that or her). Putting God first: remember the Two Greatest Commandments (“love God” + “love your neighbour”) are ranked 1st and 2nd — they are not equal.

      Now I just need a third and final “P” to be a true evangelical, ha ha.

  3. I had this happen in the middle of an online conference for deacons once, with Ann Morisy. I admire her work but when she came out with this twaddle, which we were meant to consider in small groups, I challenged it. She moved on hastily.

  4. It can be stated in a sentence, once we revert to Mark which Matt is using:

    The 5000-feeding and 4000-feeding which (6.52, 8.19-21) are the chief point of the *second* of Mark’s *4* sections are to show the Jew-then-Gentile trajectory which is itself the chief point of the *second* of the *4* servant-songs (Isa 49.6): this then requires a point or points in between the 2 feedings where this shift can be shown to have taken place.

      • (1) Matthew as a self-contained unit without outside reference (like Joel Green treats Luke) is probably not totally what you mean (though some do). But it does not work because by far the main thing about much of Matt’s content is its derivation from Mark. Together with that we have also Matt’s faithfulness to Mark.
        (2) If Matt’s whole intention was a second edition of Mark, as may have been the case, then the answer is no.

          • I think you mean ‘Why bother with Matt?’.
            However I did not say that Matt is intended as Mark’s 2nd edition, only that it may be.
            From the looks of it, it may well be.
            The gospel writers at the point of writing will not necessarily have thought in terms of lots of complementary gospels. It is more likely that Matt had the mentality of making Mark more serviceable than it had previously been there will have been perceived defects such as the ending).
            Luke however does seem to have the complementary mentality, not least because of the complementary OT templates.
            Also we see that Matt became dominant because it was more comprehensive so that even if Matt did not intend to replace Mark, it still did so in practice, not least because it is designed in such a way as to make that possible.
            Historical Jesus scholars would do as you suggest and look mainly to Mark rather than to the ways Matt alters Mark.

  5. The thing that struck me today about this passage was that, if Jesus displayed the failings you highlight such as prejudice, then he cannot be God. I also noted that this follows on from the series of parables about the Kingdom and, for me, it draws my attention to my prejudices about who should be in the Kingdom. Also another reminder about seeing God in Other. I found the Socio-Rhetorical commentary of Craig Keener helpful

  6. Whilst I have found this very helpful it is also worth noting that God’s mind does change – at least according to scripture. Indeed the very basis of a lot of prayer is importuning God to have a change of mind.

      • Indeed God is that way. Is that incompatible with having a change of mind?
        Exodus 32:14
        Amos 7:3
        Book of Jonah
        2 Sam 24
        …and other places….
        Maybe it simply shows that it is dangerous to assume that God has a mind and it is impossible to express in human language what was going on in these episodes.

        • Andrew,
          As you know books have been written on this topic. The idea that God changes his mind seems to largely come from Process Theology, Open Theology.
          I have some resourses, but not to hand, and if they were cited, it is probable that you would dismiss them out of hand.

        • If God has a real (fundamental) change of mind, that means that God’s knowledge of the future or His will is not settled.
          The fact that you and I may change our minds shows that our knowledge is incomplete or our wills are not perfect.
          Do you wish to ascribe these creaturely shortcomings to Almighty God?
          Or is not better to follow the Church Fathers and Anglican theology and recognise that Scripture’s language about the spiritual eternal God is often anthropomorphic and pictorial (e.g. talk of God’s hand, arm, back etc), accommodations to our creaturliness: as Calvin said, the Holy Spirit sometimes “lisps” to us, as mother speaks to her child. The same may be said of phenomenal language (e.g. ‘The sun rose at 7 am), which is true as far as it goes, i.e. describing our subjective experience, not the reality of celestial mechanics, which not even the best of astrophysicists could exhaustively describe.

          • “Or is not better to follow the Church Fathers and Anglican theology and recognise that Scripture’s language about the spiritual eternal God is often anthropomorphic and pictorial (e.g. talk of God’s hand, arm, back etc)”

            I agree wholeheartedly here James, and I have made these points many many times in comments here. I think much scriptural language is anthropomorphic and, as the Fathers put it, helpful to us rather than descriptive of God.
            It does leave us, however, with those clear scriptural statements that suggest God was doing to do one thing and then went on to do another.

          • Andrew writes: “I think much scriptural language is anthropomorphic and, as the Fathers put it, helpful to us rather than descriptive of God.”

            I would want to add that anthropomorphic language may be “helpful to us” only insofar as it is also true (albeit non-materially) about God. For example, when we say ‘God said to X’ we do not mean there was a physical mouth articulating sounds and expelling air; nevertheless, there was an actual communication from God which was perceived in terms of human language. Perhaps it is inevitable that material human beings will use picture language – even very sophisticated picture language in describing our experiences. All the same, we must not fall into the reductionist fallacy of thinking that a word is nothing other than certain energy frequencies in the air. A word also has non-material referentiality, and our use of language points to our creation in the image of God (visible, material representations of the invisible, spiritual Creator).

          • “I would want to add that anthropomorphic language may be “helpful to us” only insofar as it is also true”

            I would certianly want to affirm that as well, and think your example is helpful.

      • I don’t think, Ian, that it is possible to discuss this fruitfully without a closer look at the notion of time. Augustine of Hippo understood that time is something God created (City of God XI.6), and in the last 100 years we have come to understand that, since space and time are interlinked (Einstein’s theory of relativity) and God created space (which grew from the big Bang), so did time begin at the Big Bang. Asking what happened before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole. (That’s a pretty good analogy if you understand Riemannian geometry.) This viewpoint immediately resolves the regress problem of who created God, if God created the universe: the question is premised on an ordering with respect to time, which is not a valid premise outside the creation.

        My own view of the immediate problem about whether God changes his mind is Trinitarian: I reckon that God the Father lives outside time and God the Son, ever since the creation, lives in it and responds to our pleas. In fact I suspect that all pardoxes in Christianity can be reduced, with sufficient thought, to the ‘irreducible’ paradoxes of the Trinity and of Christ as fully divine and fully human.

        I’ve not found this in the mainstream Christian schoools of philosophy. Is it?

        • Anton – probably a bit heretical, but nowhere near the Inspector General’s spectrum of autotheology.
          The relationship of God and time is one that I have done my best to avoid thinking about, but you will know that W L Craig has put his oar into these waters (‘God and Time: Four Views etc).
          Please tell us when you know the answer.

          • If by ‘heretical’ you mean “not the mainstream answer to the problem, although no farther from scripture” then I plead guilty.

            I think well of William Lane Craig – the man who knows how to take on Dawkins in real time – but I haven’t studied his views about time.

        • Anton –

          Sir Isaac Newton Newton and Joseph Priestly were Unitarian Christians. Do you think this fact seriously effected their Scientific endeavours ?

          You’re right about the post-New Testament, Trinity idea being a paradox, though – especially when it completely nullifies Christ’s clear words in John 17:1-3. What Augustine tried to do in disgracefully changing the text of John 17:3 (“Homilies on John”, Tractate CV, ch. 17), proves the aphorism, commonly attributed to Einstein :

          ” If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”

          • John,

            I *am* a Trinitarian, although I’ll leave others to argue it here.

            You ask me: “Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestly were Unitarian Christians. Do you think this fact seriously effected their Scientific endeavours ?” No I don’t, and nor does anything I said impinge on it! Many of the best scientists have been Jews.

            I believe it is not a coincidence that science was born in a culture in which it was generally believed that the universe was created by a God who puts order in his creation and in whose image man is made.

          • Anton –

            Sorry, Anton. I thought you might have been implying that a personal belief in the ‘Trinity’ may potentially give scientists greater insight into scientific reality. I’m glad you’ve clarified that point.

            I take your point that monotheistic cultures are more conducive to scientific endeavours – as with Islam in the 8th-13th centuries.

          • Islam did little to advance science; mainly it preserved the Greek foundation and made some minor advances. These advances have been amplified by the woke.

          • @ Anton

            No, because we have a God who has revealed Himself to us and His plan for us.

            HJ was being diplomatic – you are separating the Godhead and dividing Son within Himself.

            There is only one “person” in Christ, and that person is God. A Divine person cannot change into a “divine-human” mix. Jesus Christ has two natures, one human and one Divine subsisting within one person. Two natures – one person.

            Because Christ has two natures, He could give two answers to the question “What are you?” – nature decides what a person is. And He had two distinct principles/sources of action. By the one nature He could do all that goes with being God. By the other He could do all that goes with being man.

            Every single action of Christ was the action of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and this includes every action done by Him in His human nature. It is always the person who speaks and acts, and in His human nature there was but one single person, and that person was God. There was no “human person” and a “Divine person” — that would have made him two people, each with his own distinct nature. His human nature was complete, but it was united to a Divine person, not a human person.

            The Second Person of the Trinity was born into human nature, but as God He already existed in His Divine nature. God died upon the cross. In death it is always someone who dies. It was God the Son who died – not in His Divine nature, but in the human nature. In His human nature God the Son rose from the death that in His human nature.

            In the Gospels every word uttered and every action performed by Christ is uttered and performed by God the Son. The one person said “I”, in the Divine nature and in the human nature; in an infinite nature and a finite nature.

            And this truth holds now He has returned to His Father.

          • Happy Jack :

            You say :

            “There is only one person in Christ, and that one person is God”.

            This is the doctrine known as anhypostasis, whereby, Jesus becomes not “a man” as Peter, Paul, and Jesus Himself, clearly said that he was – but instead, “God” who merely envelopes himself in impersonal human nature.

            There is no post-new Testament, pre-5th century “creed” that says what Scripture clearly and repeated does – that Jesus was “a man”. Paul and Peter thereby become ‘heretics’ by the standards of later, so called, “orthodoxy” (cf. John 8:40; Acts 2:22; Acts 17:31 (CEB – anarthrous Greek “andri”); 1Tim. 2:5 –

            “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind –
            a man (anarthrous Greek : “anthropos”), Messiah Jesus.”

            Compare ‘The Emphasised Bible” (1 Tim. 2:5); and :

            “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God through miracles, wonders and signs which God did through him..”

            Acts 2:22.

        • @ Anton

          Not sure …. ? You appear to be dividing the Son from the Father as if the Incarnation changed God and His Being.

          Scripture teaches that God possesses His existence of or from Himself and is the foundation of all derivative existence. All that comes into existence is through God’s thought and Word. Since God is also simple and immutable, His intelligence, will, and power are unified in the Godhead.

          All that comes from God is both conceived and decreed in one single “act” of His will and intelligence. Being immutable and perfect in power, and given there is no separation between God’s power and His will, such an act cannot be changed “in time.” What he decrees necessarily will happen – we can only differentiate between the decree of God and its execution.

          From His vantage point in eternity, outside of time, God is aware of all the free-will decisions that are made by creatures in time – including intercessory prayer. To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore He establishes His eternal plan of predestination – which created this world from all possible worlds – He included in it His foreknowledge of each person’s free response to his grace – and their prayers.

          So we’re not “changing God’s mind” when we pray, as He’s already taken into account our response to His offer of salvation and our prayers!

          When we pray, we know that God will hear our prayers. He will answer them in accord with His Divine will. As St. Augustine taught, our prayers do not determine His answer or change it, but instead help us to place our complete trust in Him and accept His answer as the best one for us. “Thy will be done.”

          • @ PC 1

            Short answer:

            When we say God is immutable, we are speaking of His Divine nature, which is incapable of change (Mal. 3:6). “Changeableness” would imply the capacity for an increase or decrease of perfection, which would necessarily imply limitation and imperfection. As God, Jesus is infinitely perfect and not subject to internal change.

            At the same time, in taking on a human nature, which could be perfected (Heb. 2:10-11; 5:7-10), Jesus can experience changes relative to his humanity and yet not as a Divine person.

          • Go down that line and you end up with Deism, Jack.

            You appear to be dividing the Son from the Father as if the Incarnation changed God and His Being.

            “appear… as if…” Say something unambiguous and I’ll respond.

        • @ PC1

          Well, it actually does!

          As HJ wrote:
          From His vantage point in eternity, outside of time, God is aware of all the free-will decisions that are made by creatures in time – including intercessory prayer. To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore He establishes His eternal plan of predestination – which created this world from all possible worlds – He included in it His foreknowledge of each person’s free response to his grace – and their prayers.

          • In which case why does scripture very clearly say otherwise? I don’t consider “it’s an anthropomorphism” to be an adequate reply. That’s why I prefer my opinion that, ever since the creation of the universe (not the incarnation), the second person of the Trinity has chosen to live in time.

            This will always be a paradox, and differences of opinion are legitimate over matters not stated in scripture or directly derivable from it. What I object to is any insistence that your view *must* be right (deriving obviously from the fact that it is the Catholic church’s opinion). The whole thing is another example of energy-wasting over vain philosophy.

          • @ Anton

            So you’re saying the Second Person of the Trinity can “change His mind”, although the Father cannot? Don’t you see the contradiction?

            God is changeless is the simplest way to define the doctrine of Divine Immutability. This is non-controversial across Trinitarian Christians and has been affirmed by Christians for two thousand years.

          • Jack, you focus on the problems in my view while ignoring the problems in yours. This is a paradox so there isn’t a resolution one way or the other. Argue like an adult and acknowledge that fact.

          • @ Anton

            Jesus is God.
            God is changeless.
            Jesus is changeless.

            Malachi 3:6: “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

            1 Samuel 15:29: “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”

            Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

            James 1:17: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

            Hebrews 1:12: “And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.”

          • Yes but Jesus changed his mind, didn’t he? What is meant when scripture says he is the same yesterday today and forever is that his personality is unchanging; he doesn’t have moods. You might as well argue that he isn’t the same because he moved from one place to another and had more experience under his belt afterwards than before.

            As I said, down your route lies Deism. Yes, you have a critique of my position, but I have one of yours and we can go round in circles because it’s a paradox. I’ve better things to do.

            There’s no point

          • @ Anton

            Did Jesus “change His mind”?

            Off the top of his head, HJ can think of three occasions where this appears so.

            At Canna when He rebukes His mother. (John 2: 4)
            When He rebukes the Canaanite woman three times as she comes to beg Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. (Matthew 15:22-28)

            These first two seem to be a refusal on the surface but are actually a refusal “with a purpose in mind.” (See Fr. William Leonard, A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, p. 984)

            Jesus performs His first miracle, brings the apostles to faith, and launches his ministry, due to Mary’s intercession. Jesus’ initial refusals to His mother and the Canaanite woman serve to underscore the essential nature of faith and intercession. The woman’s daughter is healed, but not until she has persisted in her intercession. She shows faith in Him, as does Mary. Both Mary and the Canaanite woman taught the apostles a lesson too. Each also exemplify the truth that it pleases God to involve our cooperation in his work of salvation.

            In Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39) and (Luke 22:42), when He prays to have His Passion removed. As a man, Jesus is like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15). And so He experienced the tremendous fear and anguish of His Passion that began in the Garden of Gethsemane. So humanly – and very understandably – Jesus wanted to avoid His Passion, including his crucifixion.

            And yet, because He is the eternal Son of God, His human will is in perfect harmony with his Divine will, and so He fully embraces the Father’s plan of salvation, including fully experiencing on a human level the great anguish associated with His Paschal Sacrifice.(Matt. 27:46)

            Here we see the profound Divine mystery (not paradox) of the Incarnation of Jesus humanly experiencing all of the horrific suffering associated with His Passion, yet always remaining perfectly united with the Father as the eternal Son of God. (Luke 23:46)

          • If you are going to say that words have different meaning when used in the Bible from outside then this discussion can serve no purpose.

          • @ Anton

            We were not present when Christ made those “rebukes”, so we cannot judge His tone or body language when using the words “woman” and “dogs”. We assess His meaning by His subsequent actions. In both “rebukes” the outcome was a lesson to His disciples. Do you seriously think Jesus could be pressured into acting against His Father’s will? We have to ask: what is Jesus teaching us?

        • I’m making a general point, not discussing the ‘dogs’ issue. Again you fail to engage with it. You have been taught the Catholic book of openings but seem to be stranded once open play is reached.

      • Also, in the context of this example of the woman, what if she had not responded in the way that she did – would Jesus have acted differently, that is, not healed her daughter?

        He said clearly “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

        Was Jesus defying God’s will, by granting her request? If it was ‘not right’ why did he do it? Or was he, as on other occasions, surprised by a Gentile’s faith compared to quite a few Jews’?

        I get the sense he acquiesced due to her nagging!


    • @ Andrew G

      God does not “change His mind” in response to our prayers or our actions. Scripture sometimes speaks as if He does, but this language is figurative, not literal. If He did change his mind, that would mean that God had imperfect knowledge.

      Jesus made the point that prayer is not about giving God information: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”(Matt. 6:8) The reason God wants us to pray is that it keeps us from closing in on ourselves. He wants us to have a relationship with Him – to think about Him, to care about pleasing Him, to love Him.

      Jesus told us to ask for what we need (Mk 11:24, Lk 18:1). He obviously wanted those people to express their confidence in His power and love. It is not a matter of trying to change God’s mind. God may very well intend to answer prayers contingent on being asked.

      Because God already knows what we need, praying is not something that helps Him. It helps us. God is outside of time and changeless. He is omnipresent and omnipotent. He foreknows the prayers that we offer to Him at particular moments in time.

      “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17).

      • Happy Jack;

        Amen !

        Furthermore, I wish to congratulate the Roman Catholic New Jerusalem in dismissing the common variant reading of John 1:18, and choosing instead “the Only Son” reading as being probably the original.

  7. “He never ceased to be God, the Son of God. He never ceased to be the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity.”

    We all have our blind spots. How can God be the son of anyone? How can a ‘son’ be eternal? Does not ‘son’, if the word has any meaning, require that he has a beginning? This sort of unscriptural irrationality is on a par with ‘Mary, the mother of God’ and needs to be called out.

      • 1. Which scripture, please? I used the term ‘unscriptural’ advisedly.
        2. And what would the metaphor be a metaphor of?
        3. And where would be the scriptural authority for taking what appears to be a factual statement as merely a metaphor for something else? In a case like this, any such metaphor would contradict what ostensibly is a literal statement. One does not say that ‘son of David’ or ‘son of Jesse’ is a metaphor, for instance.

    • You show the errors of materialist thinking as well as Arianism.
      God did not become a Trinity: He is Trinity – on God in three hypostases – from all eternity.
      The Son and the Holy Spirit did not begin to exist and the Father has always been the Father.

      • James;

        Is your ‘spirit’ a separate and distinct person (‘hypostasis’), other than you, James, yourself” ? (cf. the analogy that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 2:9-11).

        Is the “Spirit of the Father” that spoke through Christ’s followers, a distinct, separate, “hypostasis”, other than the Father, Himself?

        The Spirit of Yahweh (Isa. 40:13) is Yahweh (= the Father; Isa. 63:16 NJB; 64:8 NJB; Mal. 2:10); or, as Paul and the LXX translators put it, God’s mind (Rom. 11:34; Isa. 40:13, LXX).

        • When I was doing some systematic theology, the doctrine of the Trinity was the most mind bending part of it. That is only appropriate. How can we mere mortals grasp the nature of the divine? So, all thoughts in this area should recognise our limitations.

          Our tutor made the the very good point that you cannot proof-text the Trinity. Rather, he said, the Bible makes various statements which cannot be true if the underlying nature of the Godhead is, well, trinitarian.

          One such statement is that from Jesus recorded in John 14:16-17, which clearly relates the distinction between Jesus/Son, the Father and the Spirit, but the likeness (“another paraclete”) between the Son and the Spirit.

          I also recall something about the difference between God and ourselves as creatures. For us, the hypostatis follows and is dependent upon the ousia. But for God, the suggestion is that it is the hypostates which come first, and the ousia emerges. To put it (too) crudely, “God” is in the relationships between the three members of the Trinity.

          I also asked him once, “what does begotten mean.” He replied, “it means ‘not made’.” How does one resolve the apparent tension between Col 1:15 where Christ is prototokos of all creation, and Col 1:16, where we read “for by him all things were created,… all things were created through him and for him.” We have to consider that there is a ‘being born’ which is not a creative act.

          • @ David B W

            In attempting to “explain” the Triune nature of God we express the relationship of Father to Son within God; we say that the Son is “begotten” of the Father. This is the way that Scripture refers to this Divine relationship. (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18)

            When did this take place? Before creation, since, as John notes, the world was made through the Word [the Son]. Such an “action” on the part of God takes place outside of his Creation, outside of time. It is not an “event” closed by time, but a way of Being within God Himself. That is why we say that the Son is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

            What does this term mean?. Is it synonymous with “to be born”? It means “to cause to be”. Even though the Son is “eternally existent”, the Father “causes him to be.” God is the cause of His own existence. So “begotten” here is not the same as “being born” or “being created”. That is why the Church, in the Nicene Creed, says: “[The Son is] begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”

            In summary:

            Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father. There never was a time when the Son was not. As St. Athanasius said “It is proper for men to beget in time, because of the imperfections of their nature; but the offspring of God is eternal because God’s nature is ever perfect.”

            The Son is caused to be by the Father, that is why we say he is begotten. However, that is not the same as being born in time. The Father is his own cause of being and he did not come to exist but rather eternally exists. In the same way, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. (See: https://www.catholic.com/qa/how-can-jesus-be-eternal-if-he-is-begotten)

          • indeed. If all things were created through him and for him, then by definition he must have existed prior to ‘all things’ being created!

        • @ John B

          Scripture is teaching us about God’s innermost nature – the mystery of His Being – the coequal and coeternal Father, Son and Spirit.

          How can you compare this to man?

        • To David B. Wilson;

          Thanks for your comments, David.

          There’s quite a lot to unpack there.

          As regards the paraclete of John 14-16. The exegetical key is probably John 16:25, where Jesus admits he has been talking allegorically and figuratively. Scholars such as George Johnson in “The Spirit-Paraclete in the Gospel of John”, think that the paraclete is a reference to Jesus himself, returning to his disciples in post-exaltation, spiritual form (cf. 2 Cor. 3:17-18; 1 john 2:1). Therefore, the Paraclete is Jesus. This explains why the holy Spirit in the Bible is never worshipped or prayed to, nor sends any greetings in Paul’s epistles – all activities which would be expected if the holy Spirit were in reality, a distinct divine hypostasis.

          Furthermore, the terms ‘ousia’ and ‘hypostasis’ are New Testament words, but no N.T. author ever thought of using them to explain any new “Christian Triune conception of God” – not even Paul to Greek philosophers (Acts 17:15-34).

          The problem with ‘prototokos’ in Col. 1:15 is that it can either mean ‘first in time’, or ‘first in rank’ (‘pre-eminent’). The meaning therefore could be that Christ Jesus is :

          “supreme over all creation” (CJB, GNT, et al)

          Also, the Greek word “en” in “en auto” (in Col. 1:16), could be causal, thus meaning : ” because of him”, “for his sake”, “with him in view”, “with him in intention”. Nigel Turner in his ‘Grammar of New Testament Greek’, Vol. 3, p. 253, states with reference to Col. 1:16 :

          “We must render [en] ‘because of’; in Col. 1:16”.

          “di’ [dia] in Col. 1:16, can also mean :

          “on account of”.

          Col. 1:15-16 may therefore mean :

          ” He [Christ Jesus] is the image of the Invisible God, pre-eminent over all creation. because for his sake, all things were created [by God, our Father] in heaven and on earth…all things have been created on account of him [Christ Jesus], and for him [as the Divinely foreseen Messianic lord; cf. Psalm 2:1-4; 110:1; 1 Peter 1:20; cf. Rev. 13:8, KJV.]

          Some eminent Pauline scholars such as James D.G. Dunn, and Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, did not believe that the apostle Paul held to a literal pre-existence view of Jesus. The Roman Catholic Christologist Raymond E. Brown thought that the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke also did not take a literal pre-existence view of Jesus, with Jesus, the Son of God, only literally coming into existence at his birth, via Mary. Brown called this “Conception Christology”.

          • @ John Bradley

            >>Could be this ,,, could be that …. <<

            Paul is instructing the Colossians and restating for them the truth about the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ, as beginning and end of all creation. He is the true creator, conserver and redeemer, for He is the Son of God.

            That is to say, He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities-all things were created through him and in him all things hold together. he is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he ought to be pre-eminent.” (Col1:15-18)

            This text speaks of the activity of the Son prior to His appearance on earth. Paul particularly stresses the pre-existence of the Word, thanks to which all things were created by Him; and this pre-existence is based on the fact that He is God, co-eternal with the Father. The “beloved Son” of Colossians 1:13 is now described as “the first-born of all creation,” an expression which, given the context, must be taken in a comparative sense: that is, He is before all creation or, which is the same thing, He exists from all eternity.

            It is very far from Paul’s thinking to present the Son of God as the first among creatures – Arius’ error through misinterpreting this text. Paul, on the contrary, describes Jesus Christ as the Creator in the widest and fullest sense of that word, which is proper to God alone. Thus, he calls him “the image of the invisible God”, to underline His complete identity of nature with God, concluding that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9); Divinity and humanity are united in Jesus Christ in His own person, which is Divine, the same way the soul is the form of the body and with the body constitutes one single principle of operation.

          • Hi, HJ;

            Unlike NT Pauline scholars such as the Roman Catholics Jerome Murphy O’Connor; James Mackey, Karl-Joseph Kuschel, and Wilhelm Thusing, you, HJ, appear to know very little N.T. Greek, and appear ignorant of the details of the Colossians hymn (Col. 1:15-20), within its first century historical context, and within its theological context of what is known as “Wisdom Christology”. All of the above scholars deny on biblical, scholastic grounds that Paul ever taught that that the apostle Paul held to a literal pre-existence of Christ – not to mention of course, eminent Protestant Pauline scholars.

            God bless you, HJ, and your future biblical studies.

        • Unitarians deny mistakenly deny the central mystery of the Christian faith—the Trinity. Both the personhood as well as the Divinity of the Holy Spirit are rejected by these groups. The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a “force,” or as “power” emanating from God; rather than as God himself.

          Scripture tells us different.

          John 14:26 says: ”But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

          “The Counselor” is ho paracleto – masculine, not neuter.
          When the text says He will teach you all things the demonstrative pronoun (Gr. ekeinos) is used in the masculine singular. This is significant because the inspired author could have used the neuter ekeino, but he did not. If the Holy Spirit were an impersonal force, the inspired author would not refer to “it” as a “he.”

          Notice what the Holy Spirit does. Jesus says He will both teach and remind us “all that [he has] said to [us].” Action follows being. One cannot “teach” and “remind” if one does not have the intellectual powers unique to rational persons that enable one to do so. The Holy Spirit is here clearly revealed to be a person.

          Indeed, the Holy Spirit is referred to in personal terms by our Lord throughout the New Testament. If we only consider John chapters 14, 15 and 16, the evidence is overwhelming. This is not to mention the abundance of examples we could cite throughout the Scriptures, both Old (in seed form) and New Testaments.

          Here’s another example:

          In John 16:7-13, Jesus makes it very plain: ”Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

          The Holy Spirit is clearly personal. He “convinces of sin,” “teaches” the truth, “speaks,” “declares things that are to come,” etc. There is no doubt as to the person of the Holy Spirit in these texts.

          But not only a person. There is one key phrase revealing the truth that the Holy Spirit is not only a person, but Divine – God Himself. Verse 13 tells us that the Holy Spirit “will guide [us] into all truth.” We have a hint here of what we see even more plainly in texts like I Corinthians 2:11: ”No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. For who among men knows the concerns of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the concerns of God except the Spirit of God.”.

          Scripture indicates the Holy Spirit is omniscient, a quality that God alone possesses or even has the capability to possess. The reason “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” is because it would require infinite power to be able to comprehend the thoughts of God which are infinite. Romans 11:33-34 tells us: ”O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

          The fact that the Holy Spirit of God fully comprehends the thoughts of God proves beyond a reasonable doubt that He is, in fact, God.

          • HJ;

            I forgive your usual mis-generalisations and straw man arguments.

            1. If you read John 14:16-17 in the Roman Catholic ‘New American Bible (Rev), you see a demonstration of Daniel B. Wallace’s important point that ‘pnenma’ (neuter gender) always grammatically, takes impersonal pronouns, and that ‘ekeinos’ (masculine pronoun) always refers to ‘parakletos’ (masculine noun). Parakletos allegorically (John 16:25) refers to Jesus Himself – Who is of course, masculine and personal. Jesus and the Father dwell within us, through God’s power (John 14:23). This explains why the holy Spirit, per se, is never worshipped or prayed to in the Bible, nor never sends greetings in Paul’s Epistles.

            2. Any quality Bible Dictionary will inform you that in the O.T. the terms ‘Spirit of God’, ‘Spirit of Yahweh’ and ‘holy Spirit’ are synonyms, and refer either to our Father, Yahweh God’s personal presence (e.g. Psalm 51:10-11); and/or, His power (cf. Luke 1:35). Otherwise, the holy Spirit would be the “Father” of Jesus.

            God bless, HJ.

      • I’m not convinced that name-calling is the right way to disagree theologically, nor a sign of the Holy Spirit in action. So you also cannot answer my three questions. Like HJ (who refers to himself in the third person as if he were a Duality), you assume the trinity from eccliastical dogma and from there imply that everyone else is a heretic, but the test of heresy is whether one denies that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 2:22f). Clearly John is talking about the reality, not some undefined metaphor.

        To my observation, Christians who think of themselves as thinking Christians won’t answer the questions, because it is embarrassing to articulate the actual reasoning. “Jesus is God, and God is eternal. Therefore Jesus is eternal.” Jesus, being God, is the son of himself. It’s complete nonsense.

        I did not go through what David Pawson would have called a normal Christian birth, so the Holy Spirit came to be me gradually and for most of my life I had no thought-through understanding of the Trinity. I just knew that I now had a God-informed conscience, a desire to do what pleased him and a sense that I could address him in the second person. I did not really think in depth about the doctrine until forty years later, when God charged me with the task of explaining Revelation, which is a prophecy for our time. One does not need to have correct theology to receive the Spirit.

        The dogma of the Trinity says that the Spirit is a separate person. Were that true, when I received the Spirit it would have been the Spirit making his home in me, not ‘we’ the Father and the Son (John 14:23, Rev 3:20). In his letter John says that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son (I John 1:3). A few verses later he says that the Paraclete is not some third person but Jesus Christ (I John 2:1). This is the John who gives us the test of what is heretical and of the Antichrist. Paul says the same.

        So when I received the Holy Spirit, I got to know the Father and the Son – I did not get to know a different person called, impersonally, ‘the Holy Spirit.’

        Having received the Spirit, I am a new creation, a son of God, and one day – when I rise – I will be like Jesus (I John 3:2). Having been born again of imperishable seed, I am now a son of God in fact, not in some elusive metaphorical sense. This is of the essence of the gospel. Those who deny the sonship of Jesus, and thereby the sonship of those who receive him, are undermining the gospel.

        • @ Steven R

          >>Christians who think of themselves as thinking Christians won’t answer the questions, because it is embarrassing to articulate the actual reasoning. “Jesus is God, and God is eternal. Therefore Jesus is eternal.” Jesus, being God, is the son of himself. It’s complete nonsense.<<

          Not embarrassing at all …. and not nonsense.

          In attempting to “explain” the Triune nature of God we express the relationship of Father to Son within God; we say that the Son is “begotten” of the Father.

          Such an “action” on the part of God takes place outside of his Creation, outside of time. It is not an “event” closed by time, but a way of Being within God Himself. That is why we say that the Son is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

          What does this term mean?. Is it synonymous with “to be born”? It means “to cause to be”. Even though the Son is “eternally existent”, the Father “causes him to be.” God is the cause of His own existence. So “begotten” here is not the same as “being born” or “being created”. That is why the Church, in the Nicene Creed, says: “[The Son is] begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”

          • As Anglican Canon, Anthony E. Harvey, Anglican Patristics Expert, Professor Maurice F. Wiles, and the Vatican persecuted, Roman Catholic scholar, Hans Kung, et al, have noted :

            Biblical, New Testament Christianity underwent a complete paradigm change as it moved into an alien, Gentile, Greek Philosophically saturated environment.

          • Happy Humpty,

            Would you like to compare your creeds with 1 Tim. 2:5 ?

            No wonder Paul said : ” They will turn away from hearing the Truth, and wander off into mythology” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:4).

          • John,

            Maurice Wiles was the father of Andrew Wiles who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem.

            Without getting involved in this particular subthread, I entirely agree that “Biblical, New Testament Christianity underwent a complete paradigm change as it moved into an alien, Gentile, Greek Philosophically saturated environment.”

          • @ Anton

            Are there “paradigm shifts” in the Church?

            In his book Christianity: Essence, History and Future, Hans Küng divides the history of Christianity into six “paradigm shifts”. The first, the “early Jewish Christianity paradigm” that preceded and birthed the New Testament. The earliest tradition was an Aramaic Jewish church free from Hellenization.

            Küng argues that Islam is a preservation of this early Jewish Christian paradigm and Islam represent a lost early Jewish Christian rejection of the “Hellenistic Christian paradigm” that followed it. Küng identifies James and the Jerusalem delegates (in conflict with Paul) as representatives of this early Christianity.

            Hmmm ….

            We have biblical evidence for a paradigm shift” in the first chapter of the Letter to the Galatians, where St. Paul describes how he came to grasp an astonishing truth: that the salvation promised to the People of Israel in the covenants with Abraham and Moses had been extended to the Gentiles.

            Some might find another “paradigm shift” in the first chapter of John’s gospel, in which Jesus of Nazareth is identified as the “Word” who “was in the beginning with God.”

            These are matters of Divine revelation. The evolution of the Church’s understanding of the Gospel over the centuries is not a matter of “paradigm shifts,” or ruptures, or radical breaks and new beginnings; it’s a question of the development of doctrine. Authentic doctrinal development is organic and in continuity with “the faith once… delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1.3).

            Küng ends his book with an analysis of our current “contemporary ecumenical paradigm” (postmodern) that recognises Christianity does not have supremacy in faith – all roads lead to God. It’s a time of ecumanical (spelling intended) dialogue, and recognising the truth in all faiths and humanity.

          • Jack,

            Hans Küng was a mixed bag – a Catholic liberal scholar who wrote a fine book against papal infallibility yet argued contra 1 Timothy 3 for the ordination of women.

            The phrase ‘paradigm shift’ was made popular by the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, a fine historian of physics but a lousy philosopher of it. An anti-inductivist, he was left with no way of comparing theories, because theory comparison is a large-scale example of comparative hypothesis testing, and you need probability theory – which IS inductive logic when both are understood correctly – in order to do that. For Kuhn, the better fit of relativity than Newtonian physics to the data ultimately counted for nothing, and theories come and go in science as arbitrarily as fashions in clothing. This is nonsense, obviously.

            The appropriate phrase for the leap of Christianity from a Jewish milieu to a Greek one is a cultural shift. It is an enormous difference, and one which has given undue prominence to the so-called Church Fathers because of their closeness to Christ in time. The church would have done well to heed Paul’s words about philosophy in 1 Corinthians 1. People are not converted by logical argument.

          • @ Anton

            Some might call the “cultural shift” God’s providence …

            “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

            He was born into an Israel occupied by Romans and infused with Greek ideas. The early Fathers used the terms of philosophers – and Christianised them – to explain the faith in the face of competing ‘gospels’. God alone knows what shape the Faith would be in today without them!

            Kung attempted to take the Church backwards – not forwards. He was his “pope” and is the darling of liberals in the Catholic Church.

    • @ Steven R

      “This sort of unscriptural irrationality … ”

      There it is!

      Finite, human creatures cannot start or end with what we understand about God. We need to let the infinite God reveal Himself to us. Those who wish to understand Scripture need to start with the view that God is ultimately He’s incomprehensible but reveals Himself to us “through a glass darkly.” 1 Corinthians 13:12. God doesn’t fit in with our expectations of “rationality”; we must be prepared to let our expectations be formed by what He says.

      Yours is the mistake of the Arians.

      Hilary says in De Trinitate:

      While I was thus engaged there came to light certain fallacies of rash and wicked men, hopeless for themselves and merciless towards others, who made their own feeble nature the measure of the might of God’s nature. They claimed, not that they had ascended to an infinite knowledge of infinite things, but that they had reduced all knowledge, undefined before, within the scope of ordinary reason, and fixed the limits of the faith. Whereas the true work of religion is a service of obedience; and these were men heedless of their own weakness, reckless of Divine realities, who undertook to improve upon the teaching of God.
      (De Trinitate I.15)

      And this from Athanasius:

      The Arians, being engrossed in themselves, and thinking with the Sadducees that there is nothing greater or beyond themselves, have met the inspired Scripture with human arguments. When they hear that the Son is the Wisdom, Radiance, and Word of the Father, they are accustomed to rejoin, “How can this be?”, as though nothing can be unless they understand it.
      (Epistle 2-3 to Serapion)

      (See: Evangelicals and disagreement: What can we learn from the Arians? @ https://phillsacre.me.uk/2014/08/evangelicals-and-disagreement-what-can-we-learn-from-the-arians/

      • Happy Jack;

        A message from “Happy Humpty” ?

        “Don’t worry about the Greek word ‘monon’ in John 17:1-3; meaning “only, alone, without a companion”, when Jesus said that the FATHER was :

        ” the ONLY true God”,

        because, continued Humpty,

        ” When I use a word it means just what I chose it to mean – neither more nor less.”


        • @ John B

          The whole of John 17 is demonstrates the coequality and coeternity of the Jesus Christ in the Godhead. It cannot legitimately be understood in a Socinian or an Arian sense.

          Your “objection” assumes that God can only be one person. Since Jesus affirms that He is God (John 8:58) and also affirms that He and the Father are not the same person (John 17:5), it follows that God exists as more than one person.

          Simples …

          The New Testament firmly teaches not just that Jesus is God, but that there is only one God. The early Church proclaimed this same truth.

          The very juxtaposition of the Father with Jesus Christ, and the knowledge of both (the only true God and Jesus Christ) being eternal life, is a proof by implication of the Godhead of the Jesus. The knowledge of God and a creature could not be eternal life, and the juxtaposition of the two would be inconceivable. Secondly, the (ὃν ἀπέστειλας, you sent, distinctly expresses the (ἐξελθεῖν), came from God (John 17:8), and implies the (ἡμεῖς ἕν), we are one. (John 17:22)

          It’s a plain proof of the co-equality of the Lord Jesus in the Godhead.

          In John 17: 5, (ἐγώ σε). before, and (με σύ) now. correlate. The same Person (ἐγώ ). who had with the Father glory before the world, also glorified the Father in the world, and prays to be again received into that glory. Again, proof of the unity of the Person of Christ in His three estates – eternal pre-existence in glory, humiliation in the flesh, and glorification in the Resurrection Body.

          Double simples …

          • Dear Jack;

            Some quick corrections to your verbiage :

            (1). Almighty God is never called ‘ego eimi’ in the New Testament, but ‘ho on’. Ego eimi in John 8:58 can also be translated as a past tense, as with Moffatt, et al. The NET Bible also claims that the phrase ‘ego eimi’ in John 8, can mean “I am the Messiah”.

            (2). In John 17:5-24, the very same glory that Jesus derived from the Father is also given now to believers (John 17:22), who were foreknown and glorified in God’s plans, before the foundation of the world. This is all the language of prolepsis.

            (3). When Jesus said that the FATHER is :

            “the ONLY true God”;

            then he is either telling the Truth or He is not.

            I believe He is indeed telling the Truth, and you don’t, do you Jack ?

            I look forward by your suspension of the laws logic and linguistics , and by your most eloquent of verbiage that a circle is a triangle, and 1 = 1 = 3, next time.

            Cordial regards,


          • @ John Bradley

            Was Jesus a “creature”, i.e., created by God from nothing, a creature not coequal with God and not coeternal, and, if so, when was He created?

          • Dear HJ;

            I know it may come as a shock to a typical Roman Catholic, but in looks as if the very first Christians, as documented in the Acts of the Epistles, believed that Jesus was a uniquely born, sinless man, Who was predestined to be God’s Anointed , Messianic lord (Heb. ‘adoni’; Psalm 110:1; Psalm 2:1-2.), and Who was exalted by God to become our reigning Messianic Lord (cf. Acts 2:36) – until the Lord Jesus hands over the Kingdom to God the Father, Who will then be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:20-28). Jesus thus fulfilled God’s original plan for humanity (Psalm 8:4-9).

            It looks also, as if Hans Kung may have also believed this, as he lays very great store on Acts 7:55-56 as elucidating the relationship between God the Father, His Son Jesus, and the holy Spirit – the latter being God’s power and love, within us. (“Christianity, Essence, History and Future.”)

          • @ John B

            >>Jesus was a uniquely born, sinless man, Who was predestined to be God’s Anointed , Messianic lord.<<

            So he was created and came into existence at his natural birth? He was a natural man who at some point was anointed by God.? When was that?

            And who were his parents?

            [Oh. and HJ has no regard – none – for Hans Kung and his syncretic new religion]

      • “Very little bible, and plenty of post-New Testament, Greek Philosophy”, said Humpty Dumpty –

        – “Just how I like it !” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3-4).

  8. But there is perhaps also a more explicit agenda—to challenge ‘orthodox’ understandings of who Jesus is, by taking the ‘risky’ step of thinking that the Jesus we find in the New Testament isn’t actually a model for us, but is frail, ignorant and sinful too. This then means that the teaching of the New Testament is not binding on us, but is part of the ‘trajectory’ of development which continues through history, so that we, now, represent the pinnacle of revelation, and our own understandings reveal the true wisdom of God.

    Oh, don’t stop there! I remember reading once some ultraliberal theologian (from memory a feminist one) saying something very much like “We wrote the scriptures so we can change them too” (‘we’ being the church).

    I have no objection to people who don’t call themselves Christians criticising Jesus, Christianity and holy scripture. The problem is when people who call themselves Christian do these things – and, worse, take a salary from the faithful while doing so. Fear of the Lord has vanished, and so has wisdom.

    • Anton –

      Scripture has always got to be given it’s proper due.

      We cannot nullify, contradict, and negate the Scriptures for the sake of post-New Testament. human traditions and, alleged, new, extra-biblical, ‘holy Spirit guided’, revelations and “insights”.

  9. It is interesting that Matthew terms the woman a Canaanite: Canaanite was / is a historic term a bit like us calling someone from Norway or Denmark a Viking. Canaanites were to be got rid of not included, yet Matthew tells us that Jesus treats her as a woman of great faith. There is a linguistic dissonance here, rather different from Mark’s geographic emphasis, where Phoenicia / Tyre / Sidon have OT links to places of wealth / arrogance and godlessness.

    • Peter Reiss: perhaps, as Hagner (Matthew 14-28, p. 441) cites a couple of Rabbinic passages where ‘Canaanites’ denotes non-Jews; but Morris p. 401 cites evidence that the term could be an alternative geographic descriptor for Phoenicia. Hard to tell as the word appears only here in the NT. Are there any other contemporary references?

      • Matthew could easily have described her as a Gentile. He chose to call her a Canaanite, which as you say is not a term which otherwise appears in the NT. Rahab, the Canaanite woman, appears in the genealogy in ch 1. I am inclined to think that Matthew wants us to see a theological acceptance of the historic enemy, not simply an extension of God’s welcome beyond the Jews. This is a profound change.
        It is a jarring description, deliberately chosen by Matthew – I don’t think it can be reduced to “just” denoting non-Jews or as an alternative geographic descriptor.

        • Peter: I don’t think Canaan simpliciter was “the historic enemy” as such; it was first of all a geographic term, as we read in Genesis 10.19 : ‘and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon towards Gerar as far as Gaza’; and Matt 15.21 tells us that Jesus and his disciples were indeed in ancient Canaan – but not a part that the ancient Israelites ever fought or subdued. Tyre and Sidon were actually allies of Israel in the days of David, Solomon and Hiram. The appearance of Rahab in the genealogy in 1.5 as the “mother” (long-distant ancestress?) of Boaz is striking, but Rahab was no enemy of the Israelites but their collaborator, and in Jewish tradition was married to Joshua: ‘and she lives among the Israelites to this day’ (Josh 6.25).
          So I wouldn’t want to build a big house on one word unless I knew that Matthew used other ethnonyms and toponyms in a theologically charged way. On the whole, Matthew doesn’t show a lot of interest in sharing the Kingdom message with non-Jews (compared to the universalism of Luke) during the ministry of Jesus, but significantly it ends with the Great Commission.
          I don’t have access to John Nolland’s Matthrw commentary (perhaps you do?), so I don’t know what, if anything, he says on this.

          • Hi James, I think I will push back on your comments if you don’t mind.
            Deut 7 (and other passages too) is clear that the Canaanites are to be destroyed. It is therefore remarkable that Joshua does not destroy Rahab and her family and is not punished for failing to do so (unlike Saul and Amalek). Canaan is a geographic designator but by the time of Matthew archaic.
            Of course you don’t build a huge theological edifice on one word, but there is something more disruptive in the Canaanite woman than just a geographic marker, and something distinctive about why Matthew has chosen to give her a different adjective to Mark. Matthew tells us she is from a people group that should have been destroyed and was beyond incorporation into the people of God, and yet was incorporated. [Hence my parallel with Rahab, another astute female theologian.]
            Matthew is intensely interested in the inclusion of the gentiles, from genealogy, through the Magi, the Roman centurion, the Gadarene demoniac, this woman, and so to the Great Commission, even if he is clear that the primary focus of Jesus ministry was to the Jews.

          • Peter,

            The Israelites were not told to kill all the Canaanites. They were told to drive the Canaanites out and kill any who refused to flee. This difference resolves your problem ragarding Joshua and Rahab.

          • Peter: no, I don’t see you interacting with the points I made, viz:
            1. Tyre and Sidon (Phoenicia) were anciently and historically part of Canaan (Genesis 10.19) but never part of the Promised Land;
            2. Phoenicia was never an enemy of Israel but often an ally, in the days of David and Solomon (and, I would add, also the source of timber for the Second Temple, Ezra 3.7);
            3. Rahab was already recognised as a convert to Israel and Israel’s God and not an enemy (Joshua 6.25) – but it’s a bit of a stretch to call her a “theologian”! Her preservation isn’t that “remarkable” because the spies gave their word and she was ‘saved by faith’, as Hebrews 11.31 reminds us. (A cynic might observe that Kim Philby won the Order of Lenin and many other medals!)
            4. However you understand the chilling words of Deuteronomy 7 – and ever since I taught on the OTC Level 3 Deuteronomy course I’ve understood it as rhetorical exaggeration or ‘overkill'(!) to make a point – it should be clear that:
            a. historically, the herem didn’t really happen (Jebusites and others existed long after the (very partial) ‘conquest’;
            b. Gibeonites, Hivites and others were incorporated into Israel, albeit in a subordinate role (Joshua 9).
            c. Even people with Philistine (Ebed-edom), Hittite (Uriah) and Moabite (Ruth) descent could end up as prominent Israelites.
            5. Jesus met a good few Gentiles, including Roman soldiers (of unknown ethnicity) and Hellenised pagans in the Decapolis, but they are never called ‘Canaanites’, which inclines me to think the use in Matt 15.22 is an (accurate if archaic) ethnonym for this particular Hellenised woman.
            I agree that Matthew’s “Jewish” Gospel does show Jesus inviting Gentiles into the Kingdom (though not as much as Luke), and I would add that Matt 4.25 mentions preaching to the Hellenised people of the Decapolis. This is particularly interesting because it suggests that at times Jesus preached in Greek – and the paronomasia in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3-12) supports this suggestion.

  10. “Oh, don’t stop there!”
    Don’t worry, they won’t. Liberal or ‘progressive’ theology is often constructed on Hegelian principles, the Weltgeist realising itself through the historical process which cannot come to an end (unless or until the world destroys itself).
    Some souls are not quite brave enough to follow Richard Holloway, John Spong and Daphne Hampson right up to the front lines but that’s the direction they want to go.

  11. Lucy Fur, BBC correspondent for religious affairs, reports from Israel:

    “A man alleging to be God’s prophet, today used a racial slur towards a non-Israeli woman. The so-called ‘Son of David’ invaded a Palestinian neighbourhood, accompanied by his all male followers, and called the inhabitants ‘dogs’. The Jewish rabbi humiliated this Palestinian woman asking for help for her daughter.”

    • HJ,
      Is truly, properly woke, that is awake, vigalent, like a watchman on the walls of the City of God.
      It is a heads-up to be wary of the reliaility of anything Lucy Fur writes or says about Christianity.
      There are two contributors to comments on this site who are BBC alumni. Just saying.

  12. I contend that we do not live in an age of resurgent antisemitism. The Arab/Muslim stance on Jews and the modern secular state of Israel is codified in the Quran and spelt out in Constitutional documents. If their loyally popular position is gaining sympathy then I’d rather we were specific and not generalise. Who are the anti semites and how are they resurgent?

  13. Why are the the “progressive” readings of the story so popular? Another answer is because there are people today who have been on the receiving end of exclusion on the basis of their race or gender, who have no power in the situation, and who have been told by the powerful that they are wrong to challenge the status quo.

    If that has been your experience, then I imagine that it is easy to read the Canaanite woman’s experience as echoing your own.

    I fully agree with you about the difficulties of the portrayal of Jesus in the “progressive view”, but I don’t think you make enough of the point that the “punchline” of the story (explicitly in Matthew, but not so directly in Mark) is Jesus’s commendation of the woman’s faith. Faith that makes a fuss – that answers back, that isn’t prepared to just sit quietly and accept what your betters tell you – is commended by Jesus as “great faith”.

    There are many stories about people who are without power, but whose Christian faith has been the thing that has strengthened them to refuse to keep quiet in the face of systematic injustice. This story tells us that Jesus commends them. It is a fruit of the gospel that we are attuned to hear their voice and see the echo in the story; and we need to affirm that insight, while denying the implication that Jesus is the same as those who today are blinkered by their inherited prejudice.

  14. 1. Isn’t the comparison and contrast to be made between this passage and the earlier one in Matthew 15:1-19, where Jesus offended the Pharisees over what is and isn’t clean and unclean (Matthew 15:7-12)? And”unclean” is false teaching, which comes from the heart, Matthew 15:18-20.

    2. Now in vs 21-29 the unclean Canaanite woman, recognizes Jesus with a heart cry, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession!” Matthew 15:22

    3. Tyre and Sidon were pagan territories. Sidon had been the home of Jezebel (1Kings: 16:31). Yet within that same generation prophet Elijah had miraculously provided food and healing for the child of a woman and the woman became a full believer in Israel’s God (2 Kings 17:8-24)

    4. Acknowledging Jesus as Son of David was also an acknowledgement of the right of the kingdom of David, (who had also accepted some non-Jews as allies.)

    5. Jesus’s response to her does not preclude a later mission to the gentiles. The servant of Isaiah (53:6-8) (cf Isaiah 40;11;56:11) suffered on behalf of the lost sheep of Israel, but ultimately it was to reconcile all nations to God. (Isaiah 42:11; 56:11)

    6. In the OT, there are pagan women who laid their need before a prophet and wouldn’t take no for an answer:
    6.1 the Sidonian woman to whom Elijah came (1 Kings 17:18-19)
    6.2 the Shunammite woman and Elisha (2 Kings 4:28)

    7. On recognizing, with a (public) proclamation, confession of who Jesus is, with a heart cry need and plea for mercy, he answered with emotion and the woman’s daughter was healed, “from that very hour”.
    “A faith that simply seeks mercy is honoured” D. A. Carson

    Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament
    D.A Carson in Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2:New Testament

  15. If the Holy spirit descended and ‘remained’ on Jesus then I assume they worked together as a pair. Jesus knew that His mission was ‘to the Jew first’ but at some point the Spirit directed him towards the Cannanite woman. The Spirit in communion with the Father informs Jesus’ mind.

    I sill keep wanting to point out that it is easier to understand the dynamic of the Trinity by reading the story of Abrahan and Isaac sending the Chief Steward to get a wife for Isaac. This episode has all the personal, emotional, content to extrapolate an understanding of the Trinity in action.
    Never forget that Jesus AND the Spirit AND the Father all work together, at once, all the time. The human face of the plurality of GOD is only ever Jesus.
    Without the Spirit Jesus was able to know and act in broadbrush. This story of the Cannanite encounter shows how Jesus needed special instruction to chooses between good and better.
    From this I understand that I need to be aware of the Spirit and only assume general trajectory. Willing to make course corrections when asked.

  16. It’s been a while since I last commented on anything, I’ve been exceptionally busy the last couple months, but thank you for the article, as ever.

    Is this is a revision of a previous article addressing this passage, as I’m sure you’ve posted on this before? It certainly feels familiar.

    Good to see the comments haven’t really changed much. 😉

    • Yes it is. The lectionary passage come around every three years…and so do my commentaries!

      In this cycle we are adding the video discussions (added value!) but not during the summer hols.

      I’ve missed your contributions!

      • The video discussions are very good by the way! I wasn’t a fan of them at first, simply because I preferred the blog/article format, but they’ve grown on me and I now usually enjoy both. The video formats often play in my car on the drive to work, much like a podcast.

        I should be around in comments a bit more from September onward, once my long vacation submissions are in.

        Also, sign me up for festival of Theology ’24 if one’s happening. 😉

    • It’s a slight revision of an article that appeared in 2018.
      Do you remember 2018?
      That was pre-covid, pre-lockdowns, pre-Ukraine, pre-BLM (sort of), pre-migrant boats, pre-several PMs, pre-Starmer, pre-trans madness in schools, pre-drag queens in church.
      Almost another world.
      So thank you, Ian, for maintaining a link with the past!

  17. The final message of this passage (the importance of faith, and salvation for the world not just the Jewish people) is a straightforward one we hear in many other parts of the Bible. It that sense it’s not too difficult. What is a challenge is the story of how we get to that. But is it the story that’s a challenge, or is it the image of Jesus we hold in our heads. Much like “Jesus meek and mild” is hard to square with the Jesus who clears the moneylenders out of the Temple in Matthew 21, the portrayal of Jesus in Matthew 15 is a real challenge if you think of him as a cold and serious sage doling out stern teachings (because what is said to the woman is so harsh and insulting and there’s no direct correction to the disciples).

    The best insight to this passage I ever heard was it demonstrates Jesus’ humanity by showing his use of humour, albeit with the caveat that humour is easily lost in translation across languages and time. What isn’t actually said in the passage is that Jesus changed his mind (i.e. there’s nothing like “Jesus was amazed at her answer”). What happens is quite quick – with parry and riposte – and it makes much more sense if you think Jesus gives a wink before speaking, echoes the insults being thrown around in order that they be torn down, in effect setting up a teachable moment for the disciples.

    • I do not read into the passage that Jesus changed his mind. The OT scriptures, of which Jesus was aware, and which he fulfilled are a sufficient hermeneutic, it is suggested.
      Further, suggestion that the woman took any offence at all. So, it is even more bizzare that anyone today should on her behalf, vicariously so.
      Jesus, it could be said was merely testing her exculpatory confession of faith.
      What is also clear is that there is no evidence that she deserved, through works.
      The contrast is that the Pharisees are recorded as taking offence at Jesus and his teaching of what amounts to unclean, unrighteousness Matthew 15:18-20.
      It is little wonder, Jesus offends today, everyone: the Unitarians, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Deists, liberals, legalists, antinomians, open/ process theologists, revisionists, pluralists, humanists, sociologists, anti-supernaturalist, atheist universalist, revisionists, self-reliant-salvation- by -works,
      masters- of -our -own destiny amongst us. Our fallen prideful human nature ensures it and bristles with offence.

      • Futher thoughts.

        Mercy. In the context what does it mean? As a request from a Canaanite woman? And in the manner of miraculous answer it evidences that Jesus is God, Emmanuel, God with us, God as the Father of mercies.

        • Hmmmm. I’m somewhat wary of taking the miracles as evidence of Jesus’ divinity. It doesn’t seem that the disciples (who were stood right there after all) took that particular understanding from them.

        • Groan. There is no evidence at all that she took any offence at all!
          Yet the Pharisees did (a point overlooked in the comments here.)
          She does not argue that her needs make her an exception, or that she has a right to Israel’s covenanted mercies.
          It seems that she has a better theological understanding than many today in the church and of who Jesus is.
          Are you, AJB, taking offence, vicariously, on her behalf, centuries later. And in turn being offended yourself. It is more than just a bit bizarre. Do we take offence at what Jesus (as God) said to the Pharisees on behalf of them? For it is something that transcends – isn’t tethered to- that place and time.

          AJB, do you accept that Jesus is God? On what is your answer based?

          • Oh Geoff, I’m not taking offence and I’m not saying that she took offence. I’m saying Jesus took the insults being hurled around, and used them to form a teaching using humour. I’m saying that people get lost in this because they a very rigid, and somewhat inhuman, view of who Jesus is (i.e the meek and mild Jesus, or the cold and unemotional theological guru) which will always become problematic when you start getting deep into the Gospels because Jesus is both fully God and fully human so there’s a lot of real humanity to show, like anger in the Temple and humour in this exchange.

  18. This event raises a question for me; How does one*test* the veracity/truthfulness of a statement or expression of faith?
    Has the person just a faith in faith. or faith as an expression of ritual. Faith in one self or just a faith in the church?

  19. I think that Jesus did something really subtle here to both teach his disciples about the Jewish prejudice towards Gentiles and set her up to deliver the “punchline” that would precede his healing her daughter.

    He starts out acting the way every respectable Jewish man would do by ignoring her and then seemingly referring to her as a dog. His disciples are on board and want to send her away.

    His response to her about not feeding the children’s bread to the dogs conjures up an image of a family eating around the table with the little puppies sitting at the children’s feet. When the parents are not watching, a child’s hand slowly drops down and passes some bread to the pet dogs. The children know enough not to do this when their parents are watching because they will be scolded.

    Who knows whether Jesus passed along any visual clues that would prompt her to catch his meaning. She picks up on it and responds as she does, saying that the puppies get scraps from their master’s table. Her response allows Jesus to commend her for her great faith (Ian, I liked how you pointed out the contrast with Peter’s little faith) and heal her daughter.

    I think his initial response to her was a setup, i.e. an underhand pitch that she knocked out of the park. Commending her great faith, identifying the value in her as a person and responding to her need, chips away at the ingrained Jewish prejudices towards Gentiles (and women for that matter), and Jesus does so by initially seeming to start out in that camp.

    • Thanks, that’s interesting.

      But are you taking into account enough that Jesus used the word ‘puppy’ not dog? And are you happy using the language of ‘Jewish prejudice’ when this was in apparent obedience to God’s revelation?

      • There were many other ways Jesus could have rejected her request that would have shut down the conversation completely.

        I think the fact that Jesus used the word puppy instead of dog supports my description of what is going on. In phrasing his rejection the way he did, Jesus implied a situation where children’s bread made its way to puppies.

        We don’t know what else might have passed between the two of them. A man who would forgive his tormentors from a cross and who instructed his disciples love their enemies and to do good to those who hated them, would not have rejected a desperate woman who sought relief for her suffering child by coldly engaging in petty prejudice.

  20. It is actually simple. Either Jesus saw his main identity as suffering servant or he didn’t. If he did, then there will have to have been an Isaiah 49.6 juncture, where there is a transfer from an Israel-only ministry to a universal ministry.

  21. What does authentic faith look like? In this exchange I think the indication is thankfulness.
    Any dog in my experience is thankful of the smallest crumb falling from a table.
    Col 4:2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
    2 Corinthians 9:11 Being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God
    Ps 100:4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
    Heb 13:15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.

  22. Thank you Ian and thank you all the commenters,
    Although I’ve been a subscriber for some time I don’t often get around to reading your blog posts, but I’ve made a point of reading this one as I have the pleasure of preaching on this passage next Sunday. As a white Englishman preaching to a 90% black Caribbean congregation I need to be sensitive to some of the nuances in the story.

    While I find the notion of Jesus’ making his comment about the children’s bread with a twinkle in his eye attractive, I can’t help but feel it’s really special pleading to soften a text we have difficulty with as it stands – after all the text gives no indication of what manner Jesus spoke with, and it is the text as it stands we have to wrestle with. Personally I’m inclined to think that Jesus is challenging both the disciples’ racial prejudices and the woman’s faith. Indeed I wonder if it is legitimate to translate “I was not sent…” as a rhetorical question, “was I not sent…?” Perhaps you who are better Greek scholars than me could inform if that’s a legitimate rendering. My focus for my sermon on Sunday, btw, will I think be on the need to persevere…

    • You might find this helpful:

      First, Jesus doesn’t use the usual (pejorative) word for “dog.” The Jewish people often referred to Gentiles as “dogs.” The Babylonian Talmud states, “As the sacred food was intended for men, but not for the dogs, the Torah was intended to be given to the Chosen People, but not to the Gentiles” (Ḥagigah 13a). One rabbi stated, “Whoever eats with an idolater is like a man who eats with a dog” (Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 29).[1] However, Jesus doesn’t use the typical word for “dog.” Instead, he uses the term for a “pet dog” (kunaria). Lane writes, “There is no parallel to the use of the pet dogs of the household in this pejorative sense… It is therefore doubtful that Jesus intended a reference to the Gentiles or that the woman understood his statement in this sense.”[2] Lemke writes, “Greek kunaria, our word canine. The word is for ‘little, domesticated dog,’ such as would be common under the dinner table… Jesus used a diminutive form (‘pet dog’) [others translate it as 2puppy”] which is not used elsewhere in a pejorative sense. The diminutive form functions as a term of endearment in a household illustration.”[3]

      Second, Jesus didn’t call her a dog, but was making an illustration using dogs in it. His point is that children should be fed first—not second. The scraps go to the dogs—not the other way around. This might be similar to using the illustration that spreading the gospel is like “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” When we say this, we are not calling anyone homeless! It’s merely a way of explaining our spiritual poverty and humility. Mark emphasizes this, when he writes that the children should get their food “first” (Mk. 7:27). The point is this: Don’t cut in line. There is a priority in who gets served first.[4]

  23. Here is an interesting article. While not directly on on point so far as the scripture passage is concerned, it is not off point so far as Ian’s article, nor some of the comments, is concerned, as we seek unhesitatingly, unblushiingly, to speculate, judge, call to account, deconstruct and reconstruct, not only the scripture, but Jesus Himself, in our own fallen and finite, imagination and image.


  24. Geoff
    August 17, 2023 at 9:08 am
    Thankyou very much Geoff for the *Think* link. Very edifying.
    Also read some of their other comments with profit.Will return to it again. I often feel tha a lot of the deconstructionists are just robbing God of His Glory. Focusing on finding fernseeds and missing the eliphant staring them in the eyes.

  25. Your comments’ policy appears to be continuing to allow people to hide behind nicknames, and that really isn’t a step forward from allowing anonymity, Ian.

    • I don’t mind people being pseudonymous. People have reasons. I can see all the names.

      But the anonymous ones have gone, and coincidently the quality of exchange has actually improved I think.

  26. The “puppies” thing is worth looking at. Jesus is saying “Let’s feed the children before we feed the pets”. It’s about priorities. It could be argued that Jesus had to pace or ration himself and the woman has no claim on him (being neither ethnically nor geographically “Israel”). Jesus came to / for the Jews firstly. But the plan was always to extend God’s grace to all people (all things, the whole of creation).

    I think the point is that Jesus isn’t being either irritable (although he does get angry) nor racist (although at this stage of God’s plan Jesus has come to and for the Jews and may be making that point — after all we are told she is non-Jewish in three ways: Greek, Syrian, and living in Lebanon. Other gentiles that Jesus meets are either converts to Judaism or living in Israel and therefore under the aegis of Yahweh’s law / covenant.)

    It’s also reminder, perhaps, of how no one has any claim on God — and of his sublime ineffability. Jews (and Gentiles resident in Israel) have the most claim but even then God is no one’s debtor. Still, it’s an odd thing for Jesus to say and even odder that it was included (twice!) in the canon.

  27. Can anyone, a member of the Archbishops’ Council perhaps, explain to me why the first reading is Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 as it omits all of Paul’s argument and thus makes verses 29-32 impossible to understand on their own?

    (I am due to be reading these verses tomorrow in church and I am currently tempted to read all the verses in between verses 2 and 29 so that the congregation can understand Paul’s argument.)

  28. Great article. I am going to preach on this this Sunday.

    One observation that occurs to me is that while we may have an account of what Jesus says, what is not recorded is how he said it; tone of voice; did he say theses things with a smile?; what was his body language?

    When we are face to face with someone in conversation, these things matter. We are able to get signals from the speaker that indicate a different inference physically to what is actually being said, or how (kindly, agressive, questioningly etc.). Interpreting how the words are being said may be easier if one has some idea of what the person is actually like, if (a) one knows the person or the reputation of the person, or (b) one can pick up the signals in front of you when the are actually talking to you; something that does not necessarily come across on the page!


Leave a comment