Did the Lord Jesus repent of using a racial slur? That’s the contention of a certain progressive theologian. In a recent Tik Tok video, a progressive activist and self designated theologian, claimed that the Lord Jesus repented of using a racial slur. He was speaking of the story of a Canaanite woman, in the area of Tyre and Sidon (Syro-Phoenicia) who begged the Lord Jesus to heal her demonized daughter. The story is found in Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28. The Lord Jesus told her that He needed to minister to the people of Israel before serving the Gentiles. Then He gave the illustration that one does not give the children’s bread to the dogs before feeding the children. She persisted, saying even dogs receive crumbs. In response, the Lord Jesus delivered her daughter.
According to this activist, the Lord’s use of the word “dog” in His illustration amounted to a racial slur. He went on to say that the woman spoke truth to power, so the Lord repented of His racism, and then healed the woman’s daughter. According to this activist, this affirms that Jesus “was human. He had prejudices and biases and when confronted with it, He was willing to do his work.”
To accuse the Lord Jesus of the sin of racism and use Him as a role model of someone who was willing to repent when confronted by His sin, does no service to the faith. A most foundational biblical teaching is that the Lord Jesus could be our Redeemer because He never sinned. Isaiah predicted that the future Messiah would do no violence or speak deceitfully (Isa 53:9). The author of Hebrews described Jesus as our Great High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses because He was “tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). He goes on to say the Lord is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Heb 7:26). According to Hebrews, the perfection of the Lord Jesus is the reason He did not need to offer sacrifices every day as Levitical priests did (Heb 7:27). Additionally, Paul calls Jesus “the One who did not know sin” which made it possible for Him to be a sin offering for us (2 Cor 5:21). One of the clearest teachings of the Bible is that Jesus the Messiah was the pure and spotless lamb (1 Pet 1:19), who takes away the sin of those who trust in Him. To say Jesus repented of any sin, strikes at the heart of this essential teaching of the gospel.
Still, at first glance, it does seem rude to compare this woman to a dog. Jesus’ response may appear harsh to us but it is actually gentle. The Greek word used in this passage is kunarion which is a diminutive term. It’s meaning is much more like “a little dog, doggie, or house pet.” He doesn’t use the word kuon, a Greek word, commonly translated “dog” but used for “wild, dog packs.” Paul uses this harsh term, saying “Beware of the dogs” (Phil 3:2), when warning the Philippians about false teachers.
So what can be said to help us understand this interaction between the Messiah Jesus and the Canaanite woman? First, the Lord Jesus was merely expressing God’s divine priority, not racism or bigotry. As the Messiah of Israel, Jesus needed to present Himself to the Jewish people first. This is why He told the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Similarly, Paul told the Jewish people of Pisidian Antioch “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first” (Acts 13:46) and declared the gospel to be “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). All this means is that the message of Messiah was founded in Israel and promised to the Jewish people. The gospel is an especially Jewish message and it’s essential for the Jewish Messiah to be presented to the Jewish people as a priority.
Second, in order to explain the divine program, the Lord Jesus was merely offering a loving illustration to help this woman understand. His point was that just as a parent has a priority for caring for children before a beloved pet, so the Lord Jesus needed to minister to the Jewish people before caring for a dear Canaanite woman.
Third, the Canaanite woman did not take offense but rather accepted God’s divine priority. Still she persisted, using the Lord’s illustration to ask for “breadcrumbs,” thereby expressing her great faith in the mercy of the Messiah Jesus. She did this humbly, not asserting truth to power.
Finally, when the woman persisted, the Lord Jesus commended the woman’s faith (“O woman, your faith is great,” Matt 15:28) and healed her daughter. This demonstrated that the Messiah Jesus would respond to the humble faith of any person, Jewish or Gentile.
We have to beware of agenda driven biblical interpretation. Too often we humans want to proclaim our own political agendas and then read them into Scripture to give them force. Our responsibility is not to speak into the Bible and make it say what we want it to say. Rather, we’re to read and obey the Scriptures and let it speak truth to the power of sin in our lives.