Crumbs From The Table - A New Kind Of Perfection

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Gospels present the radical idea that, in Jesus, God is revealed in human form. For the Greco-Roman mindset this was a scandalous idea. Humans were thought to be impure, and so the idea that God could have a body was offensive and shocking. Understanding this goes a long way to understanding why the theological debates of the first church councils revolved around the humanity of Jesus, and the pull to see Jesus either as only divine or as only human. Against these tendencies the early church stressed that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.

In general, the tendency to think of God as detached from the corruption of human affairs is a Greek idea, while seeing God in more emotional human terms reflects Hebrew thinking. We get the idea of God as the "unmoved mover" from Plato, while the Hebrew prophets paint a picture of God -- to borrow a phrase from the late Clark Pinnock -- as the most moved mover

Because subsequent Christian theology has been so deeply shaped by Greek thinking, the image of God found in the Gospels in the person of Jesus still can come as a shock to our thinking. We have a tendency to want to sanitize the picture we find. 

One example of this that I explore in Disarming Scripture is how Jesus is seen by the Gospel writers as being sinless, but is nevertheless presented as being accused of being a sinner by the religious authorities of his day. A typical response to this, employed by many a Greek-thinking Bible commentator, is to deny that Jesus actually broke any laws. But that is not what the Gospels actually say. By their account, Jesus did break commandments, and in fact did so in clear defiance of the religious authorities. So the picture we have from the Gospels is that the way Jesus was sinless involved breaking certain commandments in the name of compassion. In other words, faithfulness to the ultimate aim of the Law required breaking the Law.

In this post, I'd like to focus on a passage that is perhaps even more challenging to our Greek-thinking bias. The Gospel of Mark (Mk 7:24-30) tells the story of a Syrophoenician woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus tells her that "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." and she replies, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table." Jesus is so impressed by her retort that he changes his mind, in effect repenting, and heals her daughter.

To my knowledge, this is the only time recorded in the Gospels where Jesus loses a verbal exchange, where Jesus is "bested" by someone else, where they get the punchline. Typically, Jesus is able to reply to every challenge of the Scribes and Pharisees with some brilliant zinger, like "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mk 12:17) or "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (Jn 8:7). If the Gospels were a sitcom, you'd hear the studio audience laughing after every line Jesus says, and it's highly likely that the crowds hearing his brilliant retorts did laugh. Today we would say "Oh, snap!"

But this time was different. This time it is the woman who wins, and it is Jesus who repents.

This is hard to take. The implication is that Jesus is not only being rude in calling her a "dog," but also racist in saying that one ethnicity (his people, the Jews) are more deserving of God's care than outsider Gentiles are. Perhaps to underline this, in Matthew's account (Mt 15), the ethnicity of the woman is said to be a Canaanite, the long-standing enemies of the Jews. In essence, an "unclean" person comes to Jesus, asking for mercy, and Jesus initially refuses. But she persists, and Jesus agrees.

Again, many commentators attempt to soften things. One of my favorites is to claim that the Greek word Jesus used really means "little puppy" as if Jesus were saying something adorable rather than insulting. For example, in the notes to the NET Bible we read

"The diminutive form originally referred to puppies or little dogs, then to house pets. In some Hellenistic uses κυνάριον (kunarion) simply means “dog.”

The term dogs does not refer to wild dogs (scavenging animals roaming around the countryside) in this context, but to small dogs taken in as house pets. It is thus not a derogatory term per se, but is instead intended by Jesus to indicate the privileged position of the Jews (especially his disciples) as the initial recipients of Jesus’ ministry."

I have to say I find this explanation really a stretch. Even if Jesus is indeed softening the Jewish habit at the time of referring to Gentiles as "mongrels," and instead is calling them simply house pets, it still implies an acceptance of the idea that people of her race (Gentiles) have less value in the eyes of God than people of his race (Jews), just as a house pet has less value than a child.

More to the point however is that the story does not end here, but continues to present a picture of Jesus losing a moral argument and repenting. This is of course difficult because the Gospels tell us that Jesus is the picture of moral perfection. So how can it be that the Gospels present Jesus as being morally in the wrong here?

There are a number of approaches to understanding this. There is the fundamentalist option of seeking to justify the actions of Jesus, claiming that God has in the past restricted salvation to only the Jews, but that in Jesus this had changed and salvation was made available to Jews and Gentiles alike. This is the least plausible of all the options. Are we really to believe that God had ordained this change in dispensation, apparently beginning at the precise moment the woman made her retort, and taking Jesus a little off guard? 

Then there is the secular-liberal option of claiming that Jesus was simply a fallible human, and thus subject to being immoral like all of us. While more plausible than the fundamentalist option above, this is the least attractive of all the options. It seems to miss the whole message of the Gospels, saying "Sorry, nothing to see here, just move along." It's depressing and has little to offer other than disillusionment.

Finally, there is the option that you might call "nice Evangelical" which is an option that folks like me tend to gravitate towards. It seeks to explain how what Jesus said, while seeming insulting, really wasn't. The idea is that Jesus was only pretending to be prejudiced in order to draw out the conflict and build a bridge, crossing the ethnic divide.

This is indeed plausible, and attractive, and if you wanted to go with that, I wouldn't want to stand in your way.

But I'd like to propose something different, because I find it more challenging, and I want to allow the message the Gospels present of Jesus to challenge me, and resist the urge to sanitize it.

Jesus is supposed to be our model of moral perfection. That's an idea we get from the Gospels. So how can it be that Jesus is "corrected" by this woman in the Gospels? How can it be that we have in the Gospels a story where Jesus is presented as being in the wrong morally? We know that the Gospel writers did edit the stories of Jesus, so if their aim was to present Jesus as morally perfect, why did they include this story that a modern PR firm surely would have edited out?

What if the picture of moral perfection that the Gospels give us is not one of never being wrong, but presents us with a model of being open and able to grow? What if true goodness involves the ability to listen and learn and adapt, and even to... repent? What if this Gospel pericope were not an embarrassment that we need to seek to cover up or explain away, but a good example of what moral maturity looks like that the Gospel writers have purposely included to illustrate this idea for us?

I know that is challenging, but I think those are some crumbs worth chewing on.

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At 9:26 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Some further food for thought: Exodus 32 Moses pleads with God not to destroy Israel "Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people" (Ex 32:12). The Hebrew word here translated as "turn" is shubh which significantly is same word the prophets repeatedly use in their appeals to backsliding Israel. We then read how God "repents" "And the LORD repented of the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people" (v 14).

So this idea of repenting is not simply something we find in the humanity of Jesus in the NT, but also an aspect of God find throughout the OT as well.

At 10:50 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Like this story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, several stories about Jesus are interesting because of what's left unsaid or unexplained. Another is Jesus healing the one lame man at the Pool of Bethesda and then just walking away and leaving all the other lame people there to continue suffering. Why?

At 10:53 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

I appreciate the thoughtful efforts here, Derek, but I'm not convinced. The Gospels depict Jesus as repeatedly crossing the lines of bigotry and prejudice in His culture and busting the rabbinical rules for the sake of the salvation of tax gatherers like Matthew and Zaccheus, of sinners like the disreputable woman who anointed His feet in the home of Simon the Leper and the Samaritan woman at the well, affirming the faith of the Gentile Centurion in glowing terms exalting it above that of all Israel, and similarly highly commending the faith of this humble Canaanite mother. He angrily drove the money changers out of the "Temple" because they were in fact profaning *the court of the Gentiles*--the area in the Temple precincts designated for Gentiles to pray to Israel's God--by turning it into a marketplace! The fact that Jesus, the rabbi (most likely a member of the sect of the Pharisees Himself) as a matter of habit freely engaged with women and non-Jews (even Samaritans) is a scandal to 1st century Jewish piety in itself. This is the same Jesus who told the Parables of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and of the Publican and the Pharisee. It's not hard for me to see Jesus was in the business of turning pious Jewish separatist conventions and merely human notions of justice on their head and if He seems to reinforce them at some point, we need to look deeper than a surface explanation.

The Gospels consistently witness to Christ as the God-Man in perfect communion with His Father, so I cannot see how He could not have but shared His Father's perfect love for the whole world and to have known intuitively from earliest awareness the value of every human being created by Him in His own image. So, it seems to me to be true to our real-world 3-D human relational experience, we must be able to grant that if Jesus appears in a particular narrative to be saying something completely out of character with what is revealed overall in the Gospels and the NT about His character and nature as God, we should suspect that there is more to the story--just like we would with a friend or family member we know well if they say or do something that on the face of it, without more context, looks out of character. In this real world of our human personal relationships, we always know in situations like this there must be more to the story than what meets the eye, but then we go back to 2-D flat literalism when we read the Scriptures. It just seems to me this misses the mark of the real nature of the accounts in the Scriptures and of human interactions in general.

As to God "repenting" in the OT--one word, "anthropomorphism," explains how this is to be understood (again according to classical Christian interpretation). God doesn't "change" His mind (James 1:17), but He accommodates His language to our human nature and subjective experience of Him. (Perhaps that is partly what you are trying to call our attention to here?) That is, God is said to "repent" in the same way the sun is said to "rise" and "set" (though, in actuality the sun doesn't move at all in reference to us--we do the moving!) God *always* speaks and acts for purposes of our salvation--this is what does not change. Even His judgments are for our salvation. With the unrepentant this unchanging purpose looks one way (warnings, temporal judgments), and with the repentant it looks another way (eventual deliverance, blessing and increasing intimacy with Him). God always acts in ways consistent with His nature/will (which is unchanging by classical Christian definition and interpretation of Scripture), and according to our real spiritual needs and the state of our hearts (which are always changing). I hardly think He would be worthy of the HIs Name, if this is not, in fact, the case! But I suspect this is what you believe as well.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Andy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Andy said...

If there were more to the story, then the author would have included it. The gospels aren't notes simply recording Jesus's activities. Rather, each gospel communicates the author's overall message by using (and excluding) particular stories about Jesus. The authors knew how the story about this woman would read, and it appears both authors deliberately left out further explanation (the "more to the story"). The only logical explanations for that are that Jesus was simply a falliable human or that he was a model of spiritual openess and growth, as Derek describes. Other explanations read into both versions of the story ideas that are not presented, i.e. wishful thinking in my opinion.

At 12:54 AM, Anonymous Mark Sherring said...

Thanks again for yet another thought-provoking post, Derek. Here is my thought about a possibility:
What if Christ's intention (shall we say) was instead to simply test her faith ?
A kind of rhetorical approach deliberately designed to bring out how far she was willing to go. In this way, the cultural reference to 'dogs' fits the context quite well, with norequirement to make Christ 'fallible' (aka 'repent' in this context) and needs no hermeneutical stretch at all.

At 1:33 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Again, let me stress that I have no problem with a reading that makes sense of this. However, what I am trying to do is to stretch myself a bit here, to allow the text to be taken for what it says, and to let that challenge me to see a bit deeper. I invite you to stretch here with me if you are willing.

I'm taking a cue here from a key concept of Textural Criticism known in Latin as Lectio difficilior potior which means "the more difficult reading is the stronger." A similar idea from the historical study of Jesus is known as "the criteria of embarrassment."

As is the case with both of the above, the idea is not that this gives us the sure-fire "authentic" urtext, but rather that it helps us to stretch outside of our comfort zone. Don't be afraid to stretch a little friends. It's good for you.

At 1:41 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm somewhat with what Mark said above with a possible "rest of the story".

We know that Jesus could see the hearts (attitudes/motives) of those around Him. Maybe it wasn't HER faith that was being tested, but somebody else who was looking on that Jesus was "teaching". Perhaps Jesus did the whole "Well, He just said what everybody's THINKING." Perhaps somebody (or several somebodies) had the attitude that Jesus expressed, and He KNEW what she would say back. One of Jesus' "themes" throughout His ministry was that the Jews did not do what they were SUPPOSED to do, which was to be a spiritual blessing to the rest of the nations. Perhaps Jesus was showing that even the "Gentiles" knew that they were "worthy" of God's blessings, even if the Jews were "the Chosen People".

So, Jesus was proving a point to somebody that is not recorded as part of the story (and maybe the disciples did not know about either). We know Jesus used hyperbole and sarcasm at other times. I think this was another case of that. To the DISCIPLES (who didn't know exactly what was going on -- not REALLY a stretch, given their track record) Jesus appeared to "repent". In actuality maybe Jesus was teaching somebody else to repent (change their mind) about the Gentiles.

Just an idea.

At 4:24 AM, Blogger kent said...

My thoughts, no matter how we choose to interpret things in the bible, is this, "if god is love, then the means to the end have to be love". Love cannot be communicated by using unloving (or what appears to be unloving) means.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Here's another piece to consider: Hebrews 5:7-9 says "During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him"

Note the part "Son though he was, he learned obedience." That does not say he came on the scene with full moral perfection, but that he learned it. That conflicts with what we expect from our Greek assumptions, but again, there it is. It says he was "made perfect" not that he came into the world perfect. We need to balence that with what we read in John 1 (Jesus is the logos) to get the full picture. We can't just project what we think ought to be there into the text.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Andy said...

In what other instances did Jesus test someone's faith before helping them? I can't think of any, can you? If there are no other examples then I think that explanation is very unlikely.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger theFlakes said...

I like this line of thought, thank you. What I've so far learned, not easily, in my own journey is that the ability to question is many times more important than the ability to find the "right" answer. Fitting everything into a nice epistemological box isn't really the final goal.

I think embracing questions/uncertainty opens us up to opportunities for greater compassion and understanding. Not always best to run straight for the answers when there is much to learn from living in the questions.

Good question and thoughts, thank you.

At 11:00 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Andy, I agree with your thoughts about how the Gospels were intentionally shaped by their authors for a particular purpose. That said, there is nothing in the Gospels or the Scriptures themselves that suggests that all information for the explanation of a given passage or saying of Jesus is *explicitly* given in the immediate text, nor that the proper interpretation is necessarily what appears upon the surface of that narrative or saying to an unenlightened hearer or reader, and there are many Scriptures (and Fathers) that teach the contrary of this.

You wrote with regard to the way the particular narrative in question was written: "The only logical explanations for that are that Jesus was simply a falliable human or that he was a model of spiritual openess and growth, as Derek describes. Other explanations read into both versions of the story ideas that are not presented, i.e. wishful thinking in my opinion."

Why must these be the only options? Forgive me, but as I have just now skimmed Matthew Chapters 8 - 15 to refresh my memory, I believe if you pay careful attention to Matthew's choice of stories and themes even just in these chapters (knowing Matthew's Gospel was written especially for a Jewish audience), including many explicit statements that make it clear for such an audience Jesus is *not* a fallible human being, but rather the Messiah sent from God, and if you recognize this story of the Canaanite woman as the culmination of a number of prejudice-busting insights Matthew is trying to get his Jewish hearers to realize, you may see that there is another possible explanation that (for me at least) is literally screaming from this narrative!

Apart from the fact we need to read this particular account in light of what has preceded it (and in light of the whole of this Gospel), we also need to read that Gospel tradition in light of the whole NT and the early Christian community that produced it and passed it down. I find nowhere in that community where someone who suggested Jesus was fallible was not roundly rebuked or corrected in this error, and certainly there were none who taught Jesus needed to grow spiritually and morally in order to be a model of spiritual openness and growth for us. In fact, in my understanding this sort of notion was explicitly or at least implicitly refuted repeatedly in the Conciliar resolutions of the bishops of the Church addressing the various Christological controversies that kept cropping up in response to the Church's teaching, from the early fourth century on.

On the other hand, modeling spiritual openness and growth is certainly compatible with the patristic explanation for this passage where Jesus purposely says what he does, not because he wishes to validate this belief, but because giving voice to what his audience believes and speaking as if he is bound to this, too, is the only way to expose the depth of the Canaanite woman's humility and faith for all to see, i.e., he is about to dramatically shake up the cultural prejudices and conventions (yet again)! It's not as Matthew hasn't already told us (e.g., when he heals the servant of the Roman Centurion in Chapter 8) Jesus is in the business of giving "bread" (i.e., Himself) to everybody, including the Gentile "dogs"--even to the point of highly honoring the humble and faithful of those most rejected and despised by polite Jewish society! And, it's not as if he hasn't already explicitly explained that in Jesus' eyes spiritual commitments are more binding than those even of blood or race (Matthew 12:50).

At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


You're not dealing with Hebrews 5:7-9. Here's what Chrysostom writes

"He learned," he says, to obey God. Here again he shows how great is the gain of sufferings. "And having been made perfect," he says, "He became the Author of salvation to them that obey Him." But if He, being the Son, gained obedience from His sufferings, much more shall we. Do you see how many things he discourses about obedience, that they might be persuaded to it? For it seems to me that they would not be restrained. "From the things," he says, "which He suffered He" continually "learned" to obey God . And being "made perfect" through sufferings. This then is perfection, and by this means must we arrive at perfection. (Homily on Hebrews)

This then is perfection. Amen.

Now Gregory of Nyssa seems to contradict this idea, "If any assert that He was made perfect by works... let him be anathema" although he adds "For that which has a beginning or a progress or is made perfect, is not God, although the expressions may be used of His gradual manifestation." (Letters I, Ep ci). So maybe he allows for the possibility after all.

However, in the end of the day, the NT trumps Greg.

Note that Hebrews 5 does not say Jesus was sinful. He begins with the assumption that Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:15), but chapter 5-6 is about growing in maturity. He begins with the example of Jesus who was "made perfect" and then moves to speak of how we too need to move away from milk to solid food.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

The Flakes,

Yes, I think you nailed it. "Living the questions." I hope we can shed fear and dare to live the questions... with the goal of growing deeper into Jesus-shaped love.

I sometimes feel we get paralyzed, unable to go deeper, because of a fear of getting it wrong. To do theology, as with art, you need to be allowed to color outside of the lines.

So my goal here is not to convince everyone that I am right, but to get folks to think with me outside of the box. In this particular case that means letting go of our presuppositions of what the NT ought to say, and letting the NT speak for itself.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Hi Derek,

I had something in the works on the Hebrews passage, but hadn't had the chance to finish it yet. I had written:

As far as Jesus "learning obedience" through the things which he suffered, the Scriptures give us every reason to believe Jesus in his humanity had to contend with all the natural (as opposed to sinful) desires and responses of his humanity in order to follow through to do what He knew was the Father's will (his passion in the Garden of Gethsemene is a case in point) and, as a result, he personally experienced and knew what our obedience to God in a fallen world costs us (in spiritual, physical and emotional suffering). This shows us, for instance, certain negative emotions are a perfectly appropriate response to sin (anger, grief, disappointment, exasperation with others even), and that these may even be analogous to God's response to sin in some way. Experiencing and expressing these negative responses to evil or suffering are not sins in and of themselves.

OTOH, I believe it is contrary to the witness of the Scriptures and is a misinterpretation of Hebrews to teach that because of this, Jesus held convictions or actually felt, thought or did things that were unloving or immoral and contrary to the perfect moral will of God and had to grow out of this. Is this what you are saying?--Jesus sometimes sinned (even if only in ignorance), and had to "learn" not to?
(This is what it seemed to me you were implying from the account of Jesus apparent "repentance" with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.)

Now, that I have your comment here with St. John's sermon, it seems to me our understanding of this may not be that far apart, but you see how I was asking for clarification of what you meant by Jesus modeling spiritual openness and growth.

It's hard to know without reading both of the quotes you give in your comment in their full contexts, but it appears to me in the first, St. John is upholding Jesus's voluntary submission of his natural human desires to the Father, despite the suffering it caused to his human nature (which Jesus necessarily would have discovered in its depth only over time and the normal progression of his dev't and interaction with the Father) as a model of obedience for all believers. Whereas in the St. Gregory quote, it appears St. Gregory is making an apologetic for the full deity of the Son, contrary those who might say Jesus dev't as a human being means his godhood was acquired only when he became mature (like those with Gnostic ideas about Christ taught). Does that make sense to you as well?

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


What I am proposing is that the NT writers idea of being "without sin" did not exclude the idea that a person can grow and learn morally. Jesus "learned" and was "made perfect" not simply with the crucifixion, but as Chrysostom says, with all of the incarnation, with all of his life.

Sin has to do with transgression of the law. The law does say that Gentiles are excluded from salvation. So there is no transgression if one agrees with this. However if a person can grow and learn morally, this opens the possibility that Jesus' views developed through his experiences. So perhaps this was the beginning of Jesus moving towards seeing salvation as being open to Jews and Gentiles alike. That means Jesus is moving beyond the "letter" of the law, and going towards the intent of the law, the telos.

That might be what Jesus means when he says "your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees."

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Consider what the First Church Council (the Jerusalem Council) decided: The decided to include Gentiles. This was an idea that we see developing within the NT, and within the Gospels. As you pointed out, there are many examples of Jesus moving people in this direction, but it is a huge shift, and it was not self-evident to the Apostles that this was a given, even after hanging out with Jesus all those years. It was something they grew into, based on their experience with people and with the working of the Spirit. Peter's realization of this comes in Acts 15, some ten years after Jesus had risen. Similarly I do not think it is out of the question to see Jesus' views on this as something that developed from his experience with people and with the working of the Spirit. I don't see that as a bad thing, but as a very good thing.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Derek, could you give a reference for the Law teaching the Gentiles are "excluded from salvation?" How does that accord with the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed? (Genesis 12:4) I would very much like to see the context for your claim.

At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Gentiles who remained Gentiles were excluded from salvation, unless they converted to Judaism.

At the time of Jesus this included adhering to ritualistic identity markers such as being circumcised. Paul refers to a group within the early followers of Jesus who he calls "the circumcision" (Galations ch 5-6) who he is in conflict with.

Those of the New Perspective on Paul such as James Dunn argue that this is what Paul is referring to as "the works of the law" which Paul rejects, as opposed to good works of love which Paul affirms (contra Luther's reading of Paul). I'm inclined to agree.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Yes, I agree that Scripture teaches under the Jewish law the Gentiles needed to convert to Judaism and accept the terms of the Abrahamic covenant to receive all its benefits, and the Council in Acts 15 ratified what had been the apostolic policy from the point Cornelius and his household were rec'd by baptism into full communion with Jewish believers. This Council also added a couple of practical stipulations about abstaining from eating strangled meat and from the immorality associated with the pagan cults. My understanding is the full new covenant teaching in the apostolic churches all along, though initially the gospel was being preached only to the Jews, was that salvation for Jew and Gentile alike was through incorporation into Christ, not the nation of Israel. But we do know there were other Jews preaching Christ besides the Twelve and the Seventy appointed directly by Christ (as you mention), and many of these were of the party of the "judaisers" who taught otherwise and were creating dissension in the churches.

Even in the OT, it seems to me the reality was a little more nuanced than only the Jews could be "saved" (a la modern fundamentalist dispensationalist understanding). I have read the rabbinic commentaries taught Gentiles could be saved under the Covenant with Noah, too. Perhaps that is why 1st century Jews recognized a category of righteous Gentiles known as "God fearers" as worshippers of Yahweh, though these were not proselytes (Cornelius was one such Gentile), and respected them and why there was an outer court in the Temple precincts where such Gentiles could worship. My take is that in context the full biblical teaching consistent between OT and NT is that "salvation is FROM the Jews, but FOR all people who forsake their idols and worship Yahweh." Only in the NT, with the full revelation in Christ does it become clear in what exactly that salvation consists (i.e., full bodily resurrection and incorporation into the communion of the Trinity through union with Christ).

I believe the New Perspective on Paul is far closer to the mark, yes. From an Orthodox perspective as well, the Lutheran view is an anachronistic imposition onto the Pauline text of Reformation polemics contra Papal abuses foreign to the NT.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous David McKay said...

I am convinced that the Gospel of Mark was written as catechism: as teaching materials for new recruits (i.e. baptismal candidates) and as such Mark was more than willing to take pokes that sacred cows if it will help him get his teaching point across. He is for example more than willing to make the disciples — the apostles — look like buffoons when it serves his purposes.

This story follows on the heels of the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. He did not ask the crowds for citizenship cards before handing out the bread and the fishes. Jesus is presented as exhausted, hemmed in on all sides by people wanting fresh miracles. He is exasperated the constant call for healing. And into this mess, a non-Jewish is willing to humiliate herself before him in order to get the healing her child needs. She reminds him of who he is and why he is there. And in doing so reminds us the readership of who he is and also why we are here.

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


I think it's fair to say that the majority of scholars see the dispute as one internal to the Apostles, and in particular, between James (and his group) and Paul (and his group). It's worth noting that this is not the same as saying that the book of James disagrees with Paul's understanding of grace and works or visa versa.

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

David, that's a great way of putting it!

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I rarely disagree with you Derek but I do here.
ofgrace - good post.
What if a putative/hypothetical reading of the situation is wrong Derek, what basis have we then to construct anything meaningful?

At 3:05 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

I've heard that explanation (with reference to Peter, not James). From what you know, is it primarily based on texts such as Acts 15? Do you know of any article or book summarizing current scholarship on this issue you could refer me to?

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

It's more of a thought experiment, so don't worry if you disagree. Heck, I might decide I disagree with myself here. :)

What I do find interesting is that the synoptic Gospels tend to paint Jesus in a much more "human" way than John's Gospel does. I'm just attempting to let that challenge me.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


Yes, and also the "incident and Antioch" reported by Paul in Gal 2. Scholars also reference certain patristic writings that refer to a dispute between James and Paul. You can read a decent summary of the whole thing here

Perhaps more significant however is the widespread view among scholars that Jesus at first restricted his ministry to only his fellow Jews, and then at some point this shifted to being extended to Gentiles as well. It's honestly hard to find links academic articles online unless you have special access to them (via institutional logins). But I did manage to find this JETS article that might be helpful.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

In an interesting thought, but I agree with some of the others that see Jesus confronting the racism of his day and challenging the status quo.

Jews don't associste - speak to Samaritans, the woman answered Jesus. John records. It seems really a big stretch to say, Jesus, who was really smart, staying close to the Father, expressing mercy and compassion contually, had a stupid moment. An ungracious, a bigoted, a moral blunder. Seems a big stretch.

If he was going to slip you might expect it more in driving the moneychangers out. Dude Jesus your getting carried away. Sorry Matthew the zeal for my Fathers house consumed me for a minute there. Matthew is like, I know Jesus, for a minute there I thought you were going to go all Phineas on them and spear them.

I think its more likely, a huge teachable moment like when they come to get taxes from Jesus. Simon who do the kings sons pay taxes to?

So you got woman begging for audience. Maybe Jesus will tell her come here like before with the guys yelling Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

Jesus doesn't say anything. Just like when the whatever was being poured on his feet and the prostitute was kissing his feet. He let's things happen.

I imagine Jesus is thinking, if I do nothing, what will my disciples do. They tried to get rid of the kids saying the master is too busy. They went to town and came back with food but no people in Samaria. They are not responding well.

Let's see what they do. Jesus send her away. Umm, not so good. Why didn't they speak up for her? Is it likely they saw her as a foreigner, more so than Samaritans? I dunno.

So she presses past them. Jesus thinks wow, go her! Then he says the thing that most likely made most sense to the disciples. He said the prevailing racist slogan of the day. Foreigners are unclean dogs to the Jews. Disciples are all watching. She presses past the stigma and past the fears of rejection because she looks into the eyes of Jesus and sees the sign: compassion offered here.

Jesus is blown away! She identifies herself as a dog and still asks for mercy. We are that woman, shut out from grace, and as we own our hurtful and destructive ways and come to Jesus in our rotteness we speak not on the basis of special privilege or of great effort to stay moral and follow the rules. We appeal to Jesus because we see the big sign that says grace can be found here.

How much God smiles when seeing that kind of faith in action. And you can bet the disciples learned somsthing that day too!

At 1:49 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks, Derek. That was helpful, and I can see better where you're coming from. The Scriptures do teach that Jesus grew in *wisdom,* in stature,and in favor with both God and man. I have to believe Jesus being perfect God and man united in one Person was always perfectly pure in heart and motivated by reverence for God and compassion for others in all things. But, this doesn't rule out a growth "from (lesser) glory to (greater) glory" in his human understanding of how to apply the morally upright, blameless and compassionate impulses of his heart in new situations as he gained new information from his encounters with others within the Father's providential oversight.

My understanding is the Pauline push-back against Judaizing influences in the Church extended well beyond the NT period and into at least the 4th century where St. John Chrysostem's seemingly "anti-semitic" statements (though it would be anachronistic to read the statements as truly anti-semitic) can be understood as referring to this unwanted creeping of Jewish legal demands back into the Church due to ongoing interaction between Christians and Jewish family members and neighbors. The temptation of this compromise of the gospel with Jewish religious requirements in the ancient world apparently continued far longer through Church history than most realize.

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


Thanks for hanging in there with me with this one. I think you sum it up excellently when you write "Jesus... was always perfectly pure in heart and motivated by reverence for God and compassion for others in all things. But, this doesn't rule out a growth "from (lesser) glory to (greater) glory" in his human understanding of how to apply the morally upright, blameless and compassionate impulses of his heart in new situations as he gained new information from his encounters with others within the Father's providential oversight."

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


Here's two things for you to chew on:

First, rather than thinking of it as a "stupid moment" as if Jesus is otherwise being really compassionate, and then here acts in a uncharacteristic way, instead it's possible that this was an episode from when Jesus was... say 19 years old, just beginning to interact with Gentiles in his ministry, and learning to from those experiences. That seems plausible to me because the events recorded in the Gospels are likely not told in chronological order. So this could be a very early story.

Second, It's very easy for us to project our own values back onto the Bible, but it's important to recognize that things that are morally obvious to us today were not obvious to people back then. with that in mind, I think it is unfair to say that Jesus here was being "ungracious and bigoted." There's a really funny video that brings that point home for me. Check it out.

So again, as I see it, what Jesus says to her is justifiable from a Torah perspective. It is upright and legit. But Jesus, reacting to her, goes even beyond that, stretching the boundaries of love, growing in grace. I think that's awesome.

The bottom line is, however we read this, we should agree that Jesus is super fantastic.


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