What are we to think about stories about Jesus among the Gentiles? People have always been fascinated with Jesus. People have tried to explain him. Some cultures have claimed him. Some have told stories about him growing up in Great Britain or India, trekking across Tibet, Persia, Assyria, Greece, and Egypt. According to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, founded in the early 20th century, Jesus went to India and Kashmir after his crucifixion. Some even believe that Jesus visited native Americans after his resurrection. What are we to think of these stories?
Simply this: these stories are pure fiction — nothing but fantasy. They have no historical or archaeological foundation at all. No world class historian takes these stories seriously.
Then we have to ask, What makes the New Testament accounts of Jesus any different from these other stories about Jesus going to India or America? The answer in one word is “eyewitnesses.” The Gospels were not written 18 or 19 centuries later — not 1,800 or 1,900 years after the life of Christ by people who had visions or imagined that Jesus did the things that they claim he did.
No, the Gospels were not written hundreds or thousands of years after the life of Christ; they were written by eyewitnesses like Matthew and John, disciples of Jesus Christ who lived and walked and talked with him for three years. The Gospels were written by people like Mark and Luke who knew the eyewitnesses and who as careful historians documented the facts of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
Paula F. Fredriksen who “earned a Ph.D in the history of religion from Princeton University and diploma in theology from Oxford University” “states that no serious scholarly work places Jesus outside the backdrop of 1st century Palestinian Judaism.” In other words, serious historians know that all the earthly ministry of Jesus took place in the Middle East, not in India, or Great Britain, or America.
That is one of the reason why our passage in Mark 7 today is so interesting. Besides the healing of the man of the tombs in Mark 5, this is the only passage in the ministry of Jesus when he leaves Jewish territory and goes into Gentile territory. Here in Mark 7, we read about Jesus among the Gentiles.
Mark 7:24 ESV And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.
1. Jesus Among the Gentiles
1.1. The Place
Jesus has gone into the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is far north of Israel. This is the region of modern day Lebanon. This was Gentile territory! This is not the first time that he has gone into Gentile territory, for we saw in Mark 5 that he went to the region of the Gerasenes, east of the Sea of Galilee, where he was greeted by a naked man with an unclean spirit.
But once again, Jesus has left Jewish territory and is among the Gentiles.
Tyre was a seat of ungodly paganism. Centuries before, Jezebel had come from Tyre and had corrupted the “Northern Kingdom with her pagan prophets and practices (1 Kgs 16:31-32).” More recently, Tyre had fought against the Jews, siding with the Syrian oppressors. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that the inhabitants of Tyre were “notoriously our bitterest enemies” (Ag. Ap. 1.13).
1.2. The Motive
So why in the world would Jesus go to the region of Tyre and Sidon? Why would he leave his home territory to go into Gentile territory?
The first reason is opposition. We have seen over and over again how the Jewish religious authorities are increasingly hostile to Jesus. They are opposed to
- his authoritative teaching,
- his claim to forgive sins (2:7),
- his healing on the Sabbath (3:2),
- his refusal to submit to their traditions (7:5) to name just a few items on their list!
The first 23 verses of this chapter 7 show the most intense conflict with the scribes and Pharisees up to this point.
The point of contention had been the tradition of the elders. The Jews maintained that there could be no salvation apart from the Law. They had put the emphasis on external appearances, on external cleanliness, on clean and “unclean” foods. But Jesus declared that all foods were clean (Mark 7:19), that we are not defiled by the food that we eat but by what is in our hearts. Jesus shows by going among the Gentiles not only that there are no unclean foods, but that there are no unclean people. We were all created in the image of God. We were all created to know him and love him. He also shows that the Law is not our Savior; Jesus Christ himself is our only Lord and Savior.
1.2.2. Rest and relaxation
Secondly, Jesus needed to rest. Already in chapter 6, Jesus had tried to get away with his disciples to “rest a while” (6:31). But they had been unsuccessful. The people followed Jesus into the wilderness where he taught them and feed the five thousand.
In Tyre, Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (Mark 7:24). Jesus and his disciples have been going 24/7, so to speak, and it was time for a rest, so they go to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and enter a house, not wanting anyone to know that they were there. But the plan did not work. “He could not be hidden.”
1.2.3. Teaching of his disciples
Another reason why Jesus was trying to get away, was so that he could have some private teaching time with his disciples. Up to the point, the disciples have failed to understand who he is and what he came to do.
- They had not understood the parable about the sower (4:13).
Mark 4:13 ESV And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
- The disciples had been astounded when Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee because they had failed to understand the significance of the feeding of the five thousand (6:52).
- The disciples had not understood that food entering the body does not make us unclean, but that it is the evil that comes from the heart that makes us unclean (7:17-23).
Jesus probably wanted time with his disciples to teach them things that they were slow to learn.
1.3. No Place to Hide
Jesus had “entered a house and did not want anyone to know,” but there was no place to hide. Mark tells us, “yet he could not be hidden” (7:24). Back in chapter 3:8, people from Tyre and Sidon had already come as far as the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus. They had no doubt taken back reports of his teaching and his miracles. It was not only in Judea and Galilee that people were talking about Jesus. The news of his wonderful works had preceded him to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Now Jesus has come and though he is in a house, he cannot be hidden.
1.3.1. Enter the Woman
Mark 7:25-26 ESV But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
This woman hears that Jesus has come and boldly makes her way to him. This woman is not a Jew; she is a Canaanite (Matthew 15:22). She exemplifies what Paul said of the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:12 NIVO remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
Yet she comes. She is a woman who knows better. She knows all about Jewish customs. As Tim Keller explains,
She knows that she has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach a Jewish rabbi—she is a Phoenician, a Gentile, a pagan, a woman, and her daughter has an unclean spirit. She knows that in every way, according to the standards of the day, she is unclean and therefore disqualified to approach any devout Jew, let alone a rabbi. But she doesn’t care. She enters the house without an invitation, falls down and begins begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter.
Matthew tells us in his Gospel,
Matthew 15:22-23 NIVO A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
She knows that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Son of David, and she begs for mercy. Jesus does not answer her, so she keeps begging so much so that the disciples want Jesus to send her away.
But she will not be sent away. Nothing can stop her. This woman will not take no for an answer. She knows what she needs and she intends to get it.
Again Tim Keller says,
You know why she has this burst of boldness, don’t you? There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage, because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re normally timid or brazen—your personality is irrelevant. You don’t think twice; you do what it takes. So it’s not all that surprising that this desperate mother is willing to push past all the barriers.
She will not be denied.
1.3.2. A Glimmer of Hope
Mark 7:27 ESV And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Jesus’ response is startling to us. It is “one of the most shocking and controversial statements He ever made.”
The Jews referred to the Gentiles as dogs. It was not a term of endearment. In another place, Jesus tells us not to give that which is holy to dogs (Matthew 7:6). The Apostle Paul turned the term back on the Judaizers, those who insisted that Christians must follow the Law to be saved: “Look out for the dogs,” he said, “look out for the evil doers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2).
But Jesus is not using the ordinary term for dogs (κύνας, kunas). He is using κυναρίοις (kunariois) which means “little dogs.” It refers to small dogs that were permitted in the house. It is the word that was used for puppies.
Jesus is giving a parable here:
Mark 7:27 NIV “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Jesus is speaking to a mother, and mothers know that the children must be fed first. Notice the word “first.” In the word “first” is a glimmer of hope. First, let the children eat all they want.
The children of Abraham, the Jews, were the first ones to receive the gospel.
Romans 1:16 ESV For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Why should the Jews be the first to receive the gospel? The Apostle Paul explains,
Romans 9:4-5 ESV They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
The Word would become flesh. God would take upon himself humanity. The Eternal Word would be born of the virgin and that means that he would be born as a babe.
Galatians 4:4 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
Christ was not only the son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he was also the son of Abraham and the son of David to whom the promises had been made (Matthew 1:1).
Throughout the Book of Acts, as the Apostle Paul spreads the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ, Paul always goes to the Jews first to let them know that the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus who is the Messiah.
Jesus concentrated his ministry on Israel, for all sorts of reasons. He was sent to show Israel that he was the fulfillment of all Scripture’s promises, the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings, the fulfillment of the temple. But after he was resurrected, he immediately said to the disciples, “Go to all the nations.” His words, then, are not the insult they appear to be. What he’s saying to the Syrophoenician woman is, “Please understand, there’s an order here. I’m going to Israel first, then the Gentiles (the other nations) later.”
While Jesus does mighty works of exorcism (5:1-20; 7:24-30), healing (7:31-37) and feeding the hungry (8:1-10), …he does not teach and evangelize.”
The priority of the Jews in Jesus’ mission does not mean that the Gentiles will be excluded. Jesus responded that the bread must first be given to the children of Abraham. The word “first” gave the woman hope that there would be enough bread to go around.
1.3.3. An Audacious Argument
Mark 7:28 ESV But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
This woman understands Israel’s priority. “I’m okay with that,” she says. “I don’t have a place at the table. I accept that.”
She is not offended. She does not accuse Jesus of unfairness. She does not say that Jesus owed her anything. She does not demand equal rights with the Jews. She does not claim to deserve anything. In the most respectful way, she wrestles with Jesus while refusing to take no for an answer.
Mark 7:28 ESV But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness— and I need it now.”
When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, there were 12 basketfuls left over. There was more than enough. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” This woman is arguing her case that with Jesus, there is more than enough.
Is not this what Jesus was suggesting she do by telling her that the children must be fed first? We read that Jacob wrestled with God, but first we read that God wrestled with Jacob. God wrestles with us. He wants us to be moved with compassion as he is moved with compassion, but far too often we are passive. We do not really want what we are asking for. We pray for the lost to be saved, but there is no strong desire, no passion, no power. We pray prayers that cost us nothing.
This Syrophoenician woman was put to the test. She continued to intercede for her daughter.
1.3.4. Faith Comes by Understanding
Mark 7:29 CSB Then He told her, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
This woman understood the parable. She is the first person in this gospel to really understand.
“For such a reply, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”
James Edwards has a beautiful comment on this verse:
This believing woman submits her cause entirely to Jesus, and she is not disappointed. “’ For such a reply, you may go,’” says Jesus, “’ the demon has left your daughter.’” What an irony! Jesus seeks desperately to teach his chosen disciples — yet they are dull and uncomprehending; Jesus is reluctant even to speak to a walk-on pagan woman — and after one sentence she understands his mission and receives his unambiguous commendation (loftier yet in Matt 15:28: “ ‘Woman, you have great faith!’”). How is this possible? The answer is that the woman is the first person in Mark to hear and understand a parable of Jesus. The brief parable of the children and dogs at the table has disclosed to her the mystery of the kingdom of God. She is not distant and aloof, attempting to maintain her position and control. She does what Jesus commands of those who would receive the kingdom and experience the word of God: she enters the parable and allows herself to be claimed by it. That she answers Jesus from “within” the parable, that is, in the terms by which Jesus addressed her, indicates that she is the first person in the Gospel to hear the word of Jesus to her.
Did you know that Jesus wants to walk into your town? He wants to walk into your home. He wants to walk into your life.
2. Theological Insights
This story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is packed with biblical truth.
2.1. The Authority of the Son of God
This story reveals the amazing authority and power of the Son of God.
Mark 7:29-30 ESV And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Jesus was not present when the healing took place. He did not lay his hands on the child to heal her. He spoke no words to cast out the demon. He simply willed the child’s healing and it took place. The Son of God possesses such complete power and authority over demons that he does not need to be present or to even speak a word. From a distance, he wills, and it happens.
2.2. One Plan of Salvation for All
Why did Jesus go to the Gentiles? We considered several reasons why Jesus went into the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory. But there is another reason that I did not mention. Jesus put an end to the distinction between clean and unclean (Mark 7:1-23). He then went to the Gentiles to show that the Church, as the Body of Christ in the world, the Church would also take the gospel to all nations. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we read the final command of Christ:
Mark 16:15-16 ESV And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
God does not have different plans of salvation for different peoples. There is only one God and only one plan of salvation for all men. There is only one Son of God and he is the one and only Savior. The Samaritans also recognized that Jesus is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). The Syrophoenician woman recognized the priority of Israel in the plan of God and the sufficiency of God’s salvation for all.
John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
1 John 4:14 ESV And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
Acts 4:12 ESV And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 17:30-31 NLT “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
1 Timothy 2:5 ESV For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
2.3. How about you? Has Christ walked into your life?
By all standards of Jewish culture and reason, this woman was unclean. A Phoenician, a Gentile, a pagan, a woman, and her daughter has an unclean spirit. But Jesus came to town. Christ walked into her life. Has Christ walked into your life?
I know a man in this town who says that he is too unclean to come to Jesus. He claims that he is too much of a pagan. There is a lot of pride and arrogance in such a statement. You degrade the work of Christ by saying that he is not powerful enough to clean an unclean sinner like you. You think that you are the greatest pagan of all time? Jesus Christ came into the world to save pagans like you and me.
Old man John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” said this, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
Jesus came into the world to save great sinners like you and me.
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
 Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 84). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 84-85). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Akin, Daniel L.. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014.
 Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 85-86). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.
 Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 86). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 86-87). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4208-4216). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
 Stein, Robert H.. Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Baker Publishing Group: 2008.
See also “Gospel of Mark”: