A Gentile Woman’s Exemplary Faith (Mark 7:24-30)

Jesus’ entrance into Gentile lands and His interaction with a Gentile woman is a turning point in Mark’s Gospel. By the way He answered her fervent request and the fact that He healed her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus begins to reveal the true nature of God’s grace, flowing to all who trust Him, including Gentiles.[1] The woman remains an important example of faith.

Mark depicts Jesus’ leaving the Jewish region around Gennesaret and entering the Gentile region of Tyre (v. 24a). The region surrounding ancient Tyre, modern day Lebanon and Syria, lay west and north of Galilee. It was a Gentile territory with a long history of animosity towards Israel. Jezebel of Elijah’s day came from this region, and the city of Tyre had sided against the Jews in the Maccabean Revolt. The historian Josephus declares that the inhabitants of Trye were bitter enemies of the Jews.[2] Even so, Tyre was an important trading city of the day, exercising sizeable economic dominance over the neighboring region of Galilee.[3] From a Jewish perspective, the region represented the most extreme expression of paganism.[4]

The woman who comes to Jesus for the healing of her demon-possessed daughter is an “unclean” Gentile. Mark emphasizes her “uncleanness” by the two-step progression of her description in verse 26: “now the woman was a Gentile, Syrophenician by birth”—one of the worst of all pagans.[5] To speak to Jesus, she had to break every cultural barrier of the day. Her ethnicity deemed her “unclean” in the Jews’ eyes, and her sex deemed her of lesser value to them.[6] The fact she had a daughter with a demon extenuated the “uncleanness.”[7] It is a wonder she had the audacity and courage to seek out and address Jesus, but she did.

The woman’s faith is not only marked by the immediacy of her response upon hearing that Jesus was in the region, but also by the manner in which she came to Him—for she fell at His feet (v. 25), and repeatedly asked Him to cast out the demon from her daughter (v. 26).[8] Falling at Jesus’ feet may have been an act of worship. Certainly, it was an act of placing herself at His mercy.

The sharpness of Jesus’ response to the woman is not what the reader may expect. Culturally, both for the Jew and surrounding Gentile peoples, dogs were seen to be unclean because they were scavengers. Left outside to roam, they generally ate garbage and corpses.[9] The harshness of the comment is lessened and a hint of compassion is seen by the term Jesus used, for it means “little dogs”—those that were allowed to enter a house and eat scraps from the table, distinct from a dog of the street or farm. But Jesus’ words should not be seen as a pleasant response, and His seeming initial rejection of the woman should not be dismissed. But it served His purpose: her faith is not extinguished, and His words serve to wet the woman’s zeal and inflame her ardor.[10] By addressing Jesus as “Lord,” she accepts that she is a “dog.” In contrast to most of the Jews, she recognized Jesus’ authority and understood her true position as well as her dependence upon His mercy. [11] To confirm the faith of the Gentile woman, Jesus miraculously heals her daughter (vv. 29-30).

The church needs this Gentile women’s example in an era characterized by a lack of genuine faith. Many claim to know much about doctrine, and many view certain doctrinal distinctions as barriers to true faith. But intellectual affirmation of a doctrine is not faith. Genuine faith brings men and women to realize they are but “dogs” in desperate need of God’s mercy, resulting in repentance. Genuine faith opens eyes to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation. Genuine faith provides courage and hope to men and women when they approach and make requests of God.

Brian Pinney is the BibleMesh administrator.

[1] John Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels. II, “Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30,” Calvin’s Commentaries Website, http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol32/htm/xlviii.htm.

[2] J.R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 217.

[3] R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 297.

[4] Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 217.

[5] Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 218.

[6] Amy-Jill Levine, A.-J, ed., A Feminist Companion to Mark, A Feminist Companion to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings 2 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 102.

[7] France, The Gospel of Mark, 297.

[8] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 145.

[9] Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 219.

[10] Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels, “Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30,” http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol32/htm/xlviii.htm.

[11] France, The Gospel of Mark, 298.