My Question: Cannan woman

Hi everyone,

Why was Jesus hard on the woman from cannan?? But he was polite to the Roman centurion. What was the reason behind His behaviour?


Hi David. The mission of Jesus was to reach out to the house of Israel and this woman was a gentile so her request took him away from his real mission. However, he acknowledged her FAITH in that she kept on asking (Matt 7) and granted her, her plea. His use of the word DOG in the verse is not derogatory but probably was meant as a pet.


Thank you Nucc. However didn’t Jesus come to save everyone (through the line of David). Or did He include the gentiles later?? This answer might be satisfying to a believer but what about those who are not a believer in Christ??

Hi, @davidjeu! I’ve often wondered the same thing, so thank you for bringing it here. :slight_smile:

One of the explanations that I’ve heard that seems to make the most sense to me was that Jesus was purposefully eliciting a response from the woman to make her great faith apparent to those who witnessed the event…esp. the Jews! Jesus often laments the lack of faith from his own people, and he often uses the faith expressed by Gentiles to highlight that yawning gap. In this case (as recorded in Matthew 15 and Mark 7), I would contend that Jesus knew he could challenge her…press her into making a deeply impressive statement of faith.

I agree on one level with @Nucc – Jesus was a Jew and he is their Messiah (‘First to the Jew’ and all that) – but I don’t think we can say that Jesus’ “real” mission was to the reach Israel. (To me, that makes it sound like opening it up to the Gentiles was Plan B.) Jesus had a number of ‘missions’, if you will, and one major one was to redeem Israel. As he was making Messiah claims and functioning as a rabbi, people (esp. those around him at this event) would expect that he would prioritise the Jews and ignore the Gentile woman. Jesus, on the surface, treats her like they (and maybe even she) expected her to be treated, and and she defies them with her persistence. Her declaration of faith is truly astonishing!

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:11-12


Jesus definitely came for all and even sent his disciples out to spread the word to all nation’s. Mark 16:15: He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” God also had plans for us to be his children in the old testament as he said: " They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation…" Deuteronomy 32:21. I agree with KMac that He responded to her in that way because it would give us more support for what he said about being persistent. Ask and keep on asking, knock and keep on knocking. He gave multiple parables on persistence and this was a living example of it. Just as a child is persistent with request to their parents without hesitation so should we be with our Father in heaven.

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Thank you for your valuable response. It was helpful.

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And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Romans 15:12 NKJV. The gentiles, all who are not true Jews were of the seed of Adam who was the first that received the promise of a Savior. In my years of ministering to different people with multiple ethnic back grounds and personalities each person is unique. I cant but Jesus knows the unique makeup of everyone and exactly what worked best to reach all.

I would like to add to the good answers that have already been given. I have found it helpful to read the NT and particularly the parable in the context of the 1st century culture and not from a 21st century western cultural POV. I think it helpful to understand that we are we are an I, me, mine focused culture. We read everything watch everything and process everything from an “I” centric POV. This is not how the people of the 1st century middle Eastern cultures view everyday life then and even now. Here is an excerpt form a very helpful book on this subject.

Contemporary Western society is highly individualistic. Most of the societies in the majority world still function as tightly knit communities. Descartes, the seventeenth-century French philosopher, concluded, “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). African theologians reply, “I am, because we are.” The individual lives, moves and has his or her being as part of a community. That community gives identity and profoundly influences both attitude and lifestyle. In the stories from and about Jesus, the surrounding community (on-or offstage) is a critical component in all that takes place and its presence must be factored into any interpretive effort.

Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 218). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

From Bailey’s POV this parable has 5 moving parts. The Canaanite woman and Jesus which can be framed in ‘she asks and he delivered, end of story’. But getting to that conclusion means that we have to ignore what is seemingly troubling behavior from Jesus the disciples and to some extend the Canaanite woman if we use the lens of a 21st century westerner’s POV.

  1. The cry for help. It was from a woman and a gentile. Two strikes against her. She called out to a Jew and called him Lord invoking the name of Son of David in her appeal as if to say I know you can help because you are who you say you are. Jesus was silent. We can’t help but wonder is he tone deaf or just avoiding an uncomfortable social exchange. From Bailey’s book:

Even today in the Middle East, in conservative areas, men and women do not talk to strangers across the gender barrier. In public rabbis did not talk to female members of their own families. Furthermore, the woman in this story is a Gentile seeking a favor from a Jew.

Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 220). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

  1. A teaching moment in response to the “disciples to the rescue offer”. “Do you us want to get rid of her?” Implying that she knows this is improper behavior and besides she is a gentle and you are a Rabbi. Jesus responds, I was sent for the loss sheep of the house of Israel.

According to Bailey this is the start of a teaching moment for the disciples (exposing their deeply held prejudices and ethnocentric worldview) and a test for the Canaanite woman’s motive, a test that was given for many of those that appealed to Jesus to repair a broken live(s). Jesus’ reply would have been understood by both the disciples and anyone with a like mind as ethnocentric, an Israelite for Israel and the Canaanite woman and any gentile in earshot would understand this as an exclusionary statement.

Bailey from his book states this about this part of the parable:

Jesus’ approach to the education of his disciples is subtle and powerful. He does not lecture them about negative stereotypes. On the contrary, he appears to agree with them by seeming to say:

I will start by shutting her out and hopefully she will leave of her own accord. As a self-respecting rabbi I do not talk to women—particularly Gentile women. If I do talk to her, all of us could be thrown out of the district by an angry mob. If she persists, I will make clear to her that my healing ministry is only for Israel. She will then have no choice but to leave.

Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 222). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

How serious is the Canaanite woman? What is she willing to endure for the sake of her child’s health and even her personal well-being as a mother and care giver? Clearly, she has been rejected, what now?

  1. Her response is quite amazing. She knells at his feet. She drops the “Son of David” appeal and goes straight to the chase skipping all the protocol of the day and crying out as a hurting mother who is at the end of her rope and placing her entire well-being in the hands of Jesus. He responds with strong language. Dogs are only slightly better that pigs in this culture and are never pets only used as a type of guard dog or are wild scavengers. It is one thing to ignore a beggar quite another to insult them.

You must ask why the strong language? Again from Bailey:

Jesus chooses to take the theological attitudes of the disciples and press them to their ultimate conclusion with a reductio ad absurdum . In effect, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will be happy if I get rid of this woman, and limit my ministry to Israel. Very well, I will verbalize where your theology leads us. This will give you a chance to observe the response of this ‘unclean’ Gentile woman.”… It is acutely embarrassing to hear and see one’s deepest prejudices verbalized and demonstrated. As that happens one is obliged to face those biases, often for the first time. Contemporary history is punctuated with many examples of this dynamic from Gandhi to Martin Luther King and beyond.

Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (pp. 223–224). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

  1. She accepts the rebuke and turns it back into an appeal to the one who can satisfy hers and her daughter’s needs, and Jesus declares her faith great.

The disciples watched and listened as they saw this woman deal a deadly blow to their long-held prejudices against women and gentiles. She was willing to go to any lengths to receive the grace that was available only through Jesus by this great faith that she displayed.

  1. Jesus grants her request and her daughter is healed instantly and she elevated to a champion of faith in the one true Savior Jesus.

Bailey likes Ibn al-Tayyib , an Arabic Christian scholar of the 11th century and from his book he quote this about the woman:

Ibn al-Tayyib was one of the most distinguished medical doctors of the eleventh century in the Middle East. In his thoughtful thousand-year-old commentary he notes that the woman does not cry out, “ ‘O Lord, have mercy on my daughter,’ but rather, ‘Have mercy on me.’ This was because her daughter was not able to feel what the mother was enduring. The mother was in pain!” Ibn al-Tayyib then notes that at the end of the story “Jesus does not say, ‘O woman your daughter is healed,’ but rather he says, ‘let it be to you as you desire.’ ” It is the theologian/physician who notices that the caregiver is at the end of her rope and that she also needs healing.

He also gives her great praise in this except:

First is her humility as she lowers herself to the place of a dog. Second, her deep faith that a small amount of His food, like the small pieces of bread that fall from the table, is enough. This faith is praised by Christ for it is the primary virtue and the foundation of all other virtues. Third is her wisdom in that she was willing to act the part of a dog until she achieved her goal.

Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 225). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Two things that stand out in Bailey’s commentary. First I missed the instruction/teaching moment that Jesus interjected in the parable and second I missed the fact that the mother could very well have been at the end of her rope in the whole matter of caring for her daughter.

I apologize for the length and being late to the discussion.

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Welcome back to the community Jesudasan! Glad to have you here. Hope you will contribute to the community and learn something to impact people!