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Matthew 15: 21-28

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


Summary

The story

After hot discussions with Pharisees in Gennesareth on the clean and unclean, Jesus and his disciples withdrew in the Pagan region of Tyre and Sidon. Then, getting out of her region, a Canaanite women, belonging to people considered unclean and enemy by Jews, goes to Jesus asking that he heals her daughter possessed by a demon. But Jesus doesn't react and says nothing. It is now the disciples who are going to Jesus to do something because they are really bothered by the intensity of her cries. But Jesus reminds them about his original mission, which is targeting only Jews. Then, the woman is back to Jesus expressing somehow her faith in Jesus, calling him "master". Again, Jesus reminds her about his original mission, identifying pagans with puppies and stating that food needs first to be given to the children of the house so they could survive and grow. The woman agrees with Jesus, cunningly mentioning that this cannot stop puppies eating what is falling from the table of the masters, i.e. she could be fulfilled with the crumbs of Jesus' teaching, her master. Thereupon Jesus recognizes her astounding faith, and the strength of this faith heals immediately her daughter.

The vocabulary

The story starts with words that Matthew enjoys using, starting with exerchomai (pulling oneself out of a place), where he stresses the rupture from the Jewish milieu of Gennesareth, then ekeithen (from there), and finally anachōreō (he withdrew) to present Jesus trip as a strategic retreat. And according to his habit in telling a story, he starts by requesting our attention: idou (behold!). The main figure is a Chananaia (a Canaanite woman), a term that he is the only one to use, in order to refer to this people considered unclean and enemy in the Old Testament. To describe her request, Matthew uses krazō (to cry out), to express a movement of great intensity, eleeō (to have mercy), what God was offering to his people in the OT, kyrios (master, Lord) in the mouth of the woman, telling her faith in Jesus, huios Dauid (son of David), as in his eyes she recognizes in Jesus the Jewish Messiah, kakōs (badly) daimonizomai (possessed by a demon), a way to tell us that there is something lamentable in her situation, which calls for more compassion.

Matthew's editorial work continue with ouk apekrithē autē logon (he did not answer her any word), a unique expression in the whole Gospel, a way to alluded to the fact that Jesus' mission is targeting first the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (ta probata ta apolōlota oikou Israēl), a phrase unique to him, and the presentation of the disciples in the mediator role with the verb proserchomai (to come near), one of his favourite word, when they come near Jesus to pray him to apolyō (dismiss / release) the woman. Then Matthew uses his peculiar style to present the Canaanite woman as a person of faith with elthousa (having come), the verb proskyneō (to pay homage) and the verbe boētheō (come to the aid) also found in the Psalms.

Matthew's editorial work shows again at the end of the story with nai (yes) and kai gar (for even), when the woman, from her faith, agrees with Jesus that one should never throw bread to puppies, and also with the plural word kyrioi, alluding to the master of puppies and of the house, but also to Jesus as a master to believers. With his fetish word tote (then), Matthew concludes what is the consequence of the woman's faith, a faith described as great (megas), the only time this adjective is used about faith in the Gospels: what she wants (thelō), a key word for Matthew, happens, her daughter is healed, and it happens apo tēs hōras ekeinēs (at this very hour), Matthew's way to show the strength of faith.

Structure and composition

This story does not have the usual structure of a miracle story with its 5 steps. Because of the role of the disciples as mediators in the story, and how the Canaanite woman faith is evolving, we are talking here about the Christian mission that will open itself to non-Jews. This is confirmed by the whole context situated in the second part of the Gospel, where Jesus centers his teaching on his disciples, after the refusal to believe of his compatriots, and the story of the Canaanite woman is the pivotal moment introducing a non-Jewish setting that will have its apex with the second feeding of the crowd, in a non-Jewish territory: this the new mission of the disciples.

When Matthew writes his Gospel, he has before him the story from Mark of this pagan woman, where the emphasis is already on the fact that faith in Jesus as reached non-Jews. But he will give to the story his own twist: mainly the disciples become a significant character in the story, and after reminding the previous instructions on restricting the mission to Jews, he highlights the pagan's women faith so that she becomes a model, and so part of the Christian community.

Intention of the author

This Gospels probably had as its primary audience the Jewish Christian community of Antioch, and was written around the year 80 or 85 by a Jewish Christian. The Canaanite narrative cannot be understood without recalling the issue of the integration of the non Jews into the Christian community. In his letter to the Galatians, around year 53, Paul talks about the conflict with those Christians who believe that one cannot join the common Eucharist table without becoming a Jew and being compliant with all the Jewish rules. These Christians, called Judaizers, will be active for many years. Unfortunately, to address the issue, Christian leaders could not refer back to Jesus practice, as his mission was targeting only the Jews. In this context, around year 67, Mark, the first evangelist, gave us a story of a pagan woman healed by Jesus because of her faith, using probably an old tradition on Jesus miracle outside Galilee, and using it for a section of his Gospel on Jesus outside the Jewish environment.

Matthew will take over Mark's narrative, but will edit it strongly. First, the pagan woman will be called a "Canaanite", who was considered a defiled race and enemy for a Jew. Then in Jesus behaviour he will express Judaizers' view that Jesus mission was exclusively for Jews: "I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". At the same time, he introduced the character of the twelve disciples who, since Jesus death, are now the mediators, and so everything has to go through them and their successors. Finally, he puts the emphasis on the woman's faith who clearly says that Jesus is her master, and it this very faith that healed her daughter. All this is Matthew's response to the issue of Judaizers: even though Jesus mission was first for the chosen people of Israel, he would have recognized the faith of the non Jews, and the strength of their faith would have allowed them to be fully part of the Eucharist community.


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    21 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη Τύρου καὶ Σιδῶνος.21 Kai exelthōn ekeithen ho Iēsous anechōrēsen eis ta merē Tyrou kai Sidōnos. 21 And having gone out from there, Jesus withdrew towards the portions of Tyre and Sidon.21 And leaving Gennesareth, Jesus withdrew unto the regions of Tyre and Sidon.
    22 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ Χαναναία ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων ἐκείνων ἐξελθοῦσα ἔκραζεν λέγουσα• ἐλέησόν με, κύριε υἱὸς Δαυίδ• ἡ θυγάτηρ μου κακῶς δαιμονίζεται22 kai idou gynē Chananaia apo tōn horiōn ekeinōn exelthousa ekrazen legousa• eleēson me, kyrie huios Dauid• hē thygatēr mou kakōs daimonizetai. 22 And behold a woman Canaanite from these boundaries having come out, was crying out saying: Have mercy on me, master, son of David; the daughter of me badly is possessed by a demon.22 Now, behold, a Canaanite woman, having come from these borders, began to cry out: "Take pity on me, master, son of David, for my daughter is in the grip of evil impulses".
    23 ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῇ λόγον. καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἠρώτουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες• ἀπόλυσον αὐτήν, ὅτι κράζει ὄπισθεν ἡμῶν.23 ho de ouk apekrithē autē logon. kai proselthontes hoi mathētai autou ērōtoun auton legontes• apolyson autēn, hoti krazei opisthen hēmōn. 23 Then him he did not answer her a word. And having come near the disciples of him were asking him saying : Dismiss her, because she cries out from behind us.23 But he did not answer a word. After approaching him, his disciples insisted on saying, "Get rid of her, because she is behind us defeaning us."
    24 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν• οὐκ ἀπεστάλην εἰ μὴ εἰς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ.24 ho de apokritheis eipen• ouk apestalēn ei mē eis ta probata ta apolōlota oikou Israēl. 24 Then him, having answered he said: I was not sent, if not towards the sheep the having been lost of house of Israel. 24 But Jesus answered them, "I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
    25 ἡ δὲ ἐλθοῦσα προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγουσα• κύριε, βοήθει μοι.25 hē de elthousa prosekynei autō legousa• kyrie, boēthei moi. 25 Then her, having come, was paying homage to him saying: master, come to the aid of me. 25 However, the woman began to bow down against him with her words, "Master, help me".
    26 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν• οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις.26 ho de apokritheis eipen• ouk estin kalon labein ton arton tōn teknōn kai balein tois kynariois. 26 Then him, having answered, he said : not it is good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to little dogs. 26 Jesus replied, "It is wrong to take the children's bread and throw it to the puppies."
    27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν• ναὶ κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν.27 hē de eipen• nai kyrie, kai gar ta kynaria esthiei apo tōn psichiōn tōn piptontōn apo tēs trapezēs tōn kyriōn autōn. 27 Then her she said: Yes, master, for also the little dogs eat of the crumbs the falling from the table of the masters of them.27 She continued, "It is true, master, for even puppies only eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table".
    28 τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ• ὦ γύναι, μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις• γενηθήτω σοι ὡς θέλεις. καὶ ἰάθη ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτῆς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνη.28 tote apokritheis ho Iēsous eipen autē• ō gynai, megalē sou hē pistis• genēthētō soi hōs theleis. kai iathē hē thygatēr autēs apo tēs hōras ekeinēs.28 At this moment having answered, the Jesus said to her: O woman, great of you the faith! Happen to you as you want. And was healed the daughter of her from the hour this one.28 Then Jesus said to her, "My dear lady, how great is your faith! Let whatever you want happen!". And her daughter was healed at that very moment.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 21 And leaving Gennesareth, Jesus withdrew unto the regions of Tyre and Sidon.

    Literally: And having gone out (exelthōn) from there (ekeithen), Jesus withdrew (anechōrēsen) towards the portions (merē) of Tyre and Sidon (Tyrou kai Sidōnos).

exelthōn (having gone out)
The verb exerchomai is formed from the preposition ek (from) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go). It is therefore the idea of moving when leaving a place. It is found everywhere in the Gospels: Mt = 43; Mk = 37; Lk = 39; Jn = 30. But Matthew likes this word; in addition to copying it from Mark and the Q document, it appears in his own passages, or he sometimes adds it when he edits his sources. This is precisely the case here: Matthew copies an account he gets from Mark, which begins thus: "And rising from there, he went away (aperchomai)" (Mk 7:24). The verb aperchomai, formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go) is similar to exerchomai: the former translates the movement from a point A to a point Z, the latter translates the fact that someone is pulling himself out of a place or leaving a place. It is this last verb that Matthew chose in preference to Mark's; for him, it more clearly translated the idea of a rupture, whereas Jesus leaves a place to live a form of retreat.

ekeithen (from there) The adverb ekeithen (Mt = 12; Mk = 5; Lc = 3; Jn = 1; Ac = 3) appears in a slightly scattered way in the Gospels-Acts. We see it qualifying verbs such as to go out (exerchomai), to pass (paragō), to leave (metabainō), to withdraw (anachōreō), to go away (ekporeuomai), to get up (anistēmi), to move away (aperchomai); it indicates the origin of a movement. It is a familiar word in Matthew, even if the expression exerchomai ekeithen (to get out of there) is present in his sources (Mark, Q document); it is probably typical in a Greek environment. And here he is merely repeating the ekeithen in Mark's version. But where does this "there" refer to? If we look at the context, the only locality mentioned earlier in both Matthew (14:34) and Mark (6:53) is the city of Gennesaret, on the shores of Lake Galilee, a few miles south of Capernaum.

anechōrēsen (he withdrew) The verb anachōreō is composed of the preposition ana (it describes a movement from bottom to top, or backwards or of starting over) and the verb chōreō (to make room, to move); it is a withdrawal movement. Again, Matthew is very fond of this verb: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Ac = 2. It is used four times in the infancy narratives where it appears in a context of flight: the Magi retreats by another route to avoid Herod (2:12-13); also to avoid Herod, Joseph retreats to Egypt (2:14), then to Galilee (2:22). When Jesus is the subject, the verb describes a strategic retreat on his part in the face of an imminent threat:
  • Jesus withdraws when he learns that John the Baptist, with whom he is associated, is arrested (4: 12);
  • Jesus withdraws when he learns that the Pharisees have gathered to kill him (12: 15).
  • Jesus withdraws when he learns of the death of John the Baptist (14: 13).

Otherwise, it is Jesus who asks the crowd to withdraw or to leave the house of the ruler of the synagogue where his daughter is considered dead (9: 24), or it is Judas who withdraws from the temple after throwing away his thirty pieces of silver, a retreat that ends with his suicide (27: 5).

How, then, is Jesus' retreat to be interpreted here in v. 21? When we look at the context above, we see that Jesus had just experienced a controversy with the Pharisees to the point where his disciples said to him: "Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked to hear you speak like this?" This is what seems to motivate Jesus to make a strategic retreat.

merē (portions)
The word meros does not play a great role in the Gospels: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 4; Ac = 7. It basically means part of a whole, and is translated by portion (of a whole), part (in a group), piece (of a food), region (part of a country), remainder (of a whole), lot (among the different fates awaiting people), group (among a population). Of the four presences of the word in Matthew, three are proper to him and they are always used in the plural: in the infancy narratives, Joseph withdrew in the portions of Galilee (2: 22), then there is our verse where Jesus withdrew in the portions of Tyre and Sidon, and finally the arrival of Jesus in the portions of Caesarea Philippi (16: 13). The term is very often translated by region or district, but in Matthew, apart from the reference to Galilee, it does not really describe a political border (we can refer to this map of Palestine). For Tyre and Sidon belong to Phoenicia, and Caesarea Philippi to Ituraea.

Tyrou kai Sidōnos (Tyre and Sidon)
The area where Jesus withdrew is called Tyre and Sidon. The two cities always appear together in the Gospels, and elsewhere they appear only in Acts, and separately (for Tyre: Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Ac = 2; and for Sidon: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Ac = 1). These two cities of Phoenicia, now Lebanon, which are two ports on the Mediterranean Sea, some 25 miles apart, represent pagan cities for the Jews. In Matthew, of three references, two come from Q document (11:21-22), and here in the account borrowed from Mark, he adds the reference to Sidon, whereas Mark speaks only of Tyre; Matthew probably wanted to rationalize things, knowing that they are usually mentioned together.

Thus, Jesus makes a strategic retreat in a pagan milieu. It is not said that Jesus goes to Tyre, but to the region to which the city belongs. Note that the distance between Gennesaret and Tyre is about 37 miles.

v. 22 Now, behold, a Canaanite woman, having come from these borders, began to cry out: "Take pity on me, master, son of David, for my daughter is in the grip of evil impulses".

Literally : And behold (idou) a woman (gynē) Canaanite (Chananaia) from these boundaries (horiōn) having come out (exelthousa), was crying out (ekrazen) saying: Have mercy (eleēson) on me, lord (kyrie), son of David (huios Dauid); the daughter (thygatēr) of me badly (kakōs) is possessed by a demon (daimonizomai).

idou (behold)
The interjection idou is the imperative middle-passive, 2nd person singular, of the verb horaō (see, look, observe, notice); Literally it should be translated: be seen! In this form, the expression is so frequent that it deserves a separate treatment: Mt = 62; Mk = 7; Lc = 57; Jn = 4; Ac = 23. In a story, it is intended to attract attention: "And behold, a man comes...". This process is used a lot by Luke, Matthew and the Q document. In Matthew, the expression appears 62 times, but since it is found 9 times in Mark's text, which he copied, and 8 times in the Q document, there are 45 occurrences of it. But to measure how much Matthew likes to use this expression, it should be noted that 27 times he adds it to the account he receives from Mark, and twice to the account he receives from Q document. And here, in v. 22, in this account he receives from a tradition common to that of Mark, he takes the liberty of adding "And behold" to draw attention to his account which is about to begin. We are before a stroke of Matthew's pen.

gynē (woman) In spite of the very Jewish context of his Gospel, Matthew is the second after Luke (we know that the latter can be considered the evangelist of women) to mention women on a statistical level: Mt = 29; Mk = 17; Lk = 41; Jn = 22; Ac = 19; and of the 29 mentions, 16 are specific to him. In the Gospels, the word has two meanings, a female person and the spouse of a man. Let's look at them briefly.

Female person

  • In his Sermon on the Mount, before repeating Mark's text about the eye that causes scandal, Matthew presents us with this sentence: "Well, I say to you, whoever looks at a woman (gynē) to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (5:28).

  • As he takes from Mark's account of the healing of the woman with blood loss, he adds (after Mark's "my daughter, your faith has saved you") the sentence: "And from that time the woman (gynē) was saved" (9:22).

  • To Mark's conclusion that there were 5,000 men in his account of the crowd's feeding of loaves, Matthew adds: "not counting woman (gynē) and children" (14:21).

  • Similarly, to Mark's conclusion that there were 4,000 men in his account of the second crowd's feeding of loaves, Matthew adds: "not counting woman (gynē) and children" (15:38).

  • At the end of Jesus' controversy with the Pharisees concerning divorce, an account he takes from Mark, Matthew adds an exchange with his disciples where the latter react to Jesus' request not to repudiate a woman for any reason, as was done in the Jewish world, by saying: "If this is the condition of a man towards a woman (gynē), there is no point in getting married" (19:10).

  • In the scene he takes from Mark, where a woman pours a very precious perfume on Jesus' head, he not only puts the indignation at this waste into the mouths of his own disciples, but he transforms Mark's: "Why do you bother her?" into "Why do you bother this woman (gynē)", emphasizing that she is a woman (26:10).

  • When Mark recounts the scene of the empty tomb, he refers to Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome only as "they"; Matthew, on the other hand, writes clearly: "But the angel spoke and said to the women (gynē), 'Do not be afraid: I know that you are looking for Jesus, the Crucified One'" (28:5).

From all these details emerges Matthew's deep respect for women and a certain effort to enhance them. And in the face of this, the disciples do not always look good (see 19: 10 and 26: 20).

A man's wife

  • In the infancy narratives, the angel asks Joseph to take Mary as "his wife (gynē: litt. his woman)" (1:20,24).

  • Discussions on divorce not only gave Matthew the opportunity to quote Scripture (It was also said: "Whoever repudiates his wife (gynē: litt. his woman), let him give her a divorce certificate", 5:31), but above all to modify the text he received from Mark to give greater emphasis to the dignity of women: First of all, the initial question is no longer "to divorce a woman" as in Mark, but to divorce his wife (gynē: litt. his woman)" (19:3), emphasizing a relationship that already exists; then, when he takes up the citation from Genesis in Mark with "For this reason the man will leave his father and mother", Matthew adds the rest of the text of Genesis that Mark has forgotten or neglected: "and be joined to his wife (gynē: litt. his woman)"; finally, Matthew ends this discussion with this comment from Jesus' mouth to the Jewish community: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives (gynē: litt. your women), but from the beginning it was not so" (19:8).

  • In the parable of the ruthless debtor who owed 10,000 talents to his master, Matthew mentions the prospect of selling him, his wife (gynē: litt. his woman), his children and all his possessions (18:25).

  • In the controversy with the Sadducees over the resurrection of the dead and the example of a family of seven brothers, Matthew clarifies Mark's somewhat abrupt and impersonal phrase ("And the first took wife (gynē: litt. woman), and when he died he left no seed") by writing: "the first married, and died childless, leaving his wife (gynē: litt. his woman) to his brother". The emphasis is not on posterity as in Mark, but on the first brother's own wife, who is given to the next, a much more human and personal touch.

  • Finally, there is that unique scene in Matthew about Pilate's wife: "Now while he was sitting in the judgment seat, his wife (gynē: litt. his woman) made him say to her, 'Do not meddle in the matter of this righteous man; for I was much affected in a dream today because of him."

In Matthew's presentation of women as spouses, the emphasis is always on the relationship, so that the fate of the man and his wife are linked. Her role is positive. What would have happened if Pilate had listened to his wife?

It is time to return to our v. 22. The reference here to a woman comes from what he receives from Mark. Thus, in a way, there is nothing original to report, except that the portrayal of a woman fits well with Matthew's general direction.

Chananaia (Chananaia)
This is the only use of this adjective in the Gospels, and even in the entire New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. At the time of the Gospels, it refers to the people living in Phoenicia (the region of present-day Lebanon and Syria, see the Palestine map); Matthew preferred this adjective to Mark's who speaks of a Syrophenician woman. Why did he prefer this adjective to Mark's Syrophenician? We can guess it by going back to the Old Testament and to what the Canaanites people meant to the Jews. First of all, the territory of these descendants of Ham is originally very vague and very large:
(LXX) "The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon in the direction of Gerar, to Gaza, then in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, and on to Lasha. These were the sons of Ham, after their clans and languages, after their countries and nations" (Gen 10:19-20)
In other words, they occupy the entire Mediterranean coastline from Lebanon to Gaza. When Abraham arrives in this territory, he gives this instruction to his steward:
(LXX) "I want to beseech you, through the Lord God of heaven and earth, not to take a wife for my son Isaac from among the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am a passenger" (Gen 24:3)
Because the Canaanites are strangers no one should have a relationship with them. Afterwards, when the Jews are unhappy in the land of Egypt, God gives them this promise:
(LXX) "I will deliver you from the oppression of the Egyptians and bring you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, the land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:17)
Thus, the fight for the possession of the land is announced, in which the Canaanites will necessarily become enemies:
(LXX) "You shall annihilate them - the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites - just as the Lord your God has commanded" (Deut 20:17)
At the time of Ezra, around the 4th century BC, the Canaanites are referred to as an impure people:
(LXX: 1 Ezra 8:66) "The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. " (Ezra 9:1)
In this context, Matthew's introduction of this woman as a Canaanite woman creates a situation where Jesus must enter into a relationship with someone who belongs to the enemy and an impure race.

horiōn (boundaries) The word horion comes from the verb horizō which means: to define, to determine, to mark boundaries, to separate, and therefore is usually translated as: border, boundary, territory. It is uncommon in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 3; Mk = 5; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 1, and absent from the rest of the New Testament. It was Mark who introduced the word, and out of three uses in Matthew, two are a copy of Mark, as here (strangely, a little further on, in 15:39, Matthew also uses this word, whereas Mark has rather meros; it is possible that Matthew wants to be consistent and to standardize the vocabulary). Even if horion is not in Matthew's familiar vocabulary, it is clear that it serves his purpose well: it clearly suggests that there is a kind of wall between the pagan and the Jewish world.

exelthousa (having come out) We have already analysed this verb above, when it was about Jesus who was leaving his place in Galilee to go abroad, as it were, to live a form of retreat and isolation. Here, however, it is the Canaanite woman who comes out. What does she come out of? From those borders, they say. What does that mean? We have said that her territory is pagan and unclean. Matthew insists that she comes out of this territory to meet Jesus. By this, he indicates two things to us: on the one hand, this woman takes a step out of her environment, on the other hand, Jesus, just like a good Jew, does not defile himself by crossing this border; the meeting takes place in a way on neutral ground. Let us not forget, Matthew's Gospel is primarily addressed to Jewish Christians. It is his version of an account he receives from Mark, and for the latter these frontiers do not exist.

ekrazen (she was crying out) The verb krazō means: to shout, to cry out, to scream, to clamor for, to holler; it appears especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 12; Mk = 10; Lk = 3; Jn = 4; Ac = 11. Matthew likes this word, and of the 12 uses, 6 are his own, as is the case here in v. 22. Why do one shouts in Matthew? It is often a cry for help (two blind men ask Jesus to have mercy on them, 9: 27; a Canaanite woman asks to have mercy on her daughter, 15: 22-23), it is a cry of fear (the disciples cry out in fear when they see Jesus walking on the water, 14: 26; Peter, who tries to follow Jesus on the water, cries out for help when he begins to sink, 14: 30), the crowd proclaims its faith out loud (Hosanna to the son of David, 21: 15), and Jesus cries out with a loud cry before expiring (27: 50). Whatever the situation, the cry expresses a movement of great intensity.

eleēson (have mercy) The verb eleeō is mainly used by Matthew in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 8; Mk = 3; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Ac = 0, and of his 8 uses, 6 are unique to him, as here in v. 22. The word means: to have pity, to show mercy. In Matthew, it is part of the beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (5: 7). This beatitude is illustrated by its opposite in the parable of the ruthless debtor which ends with a reproach: "Should you not also have pity on your companion as I had pity on you?" (18: 33). On the other hand, the word expresses the prayer of someone addressed to Jesus to take care of his infirmity (two blind men, 9: 27), or of the infirmity of someone close to him (the daughter of the Canaanite woman, 15: 22; the epileptic son of a man, 17: 15). And this is an important theme in the Jewish world, because it is linked to that of salvation, as Isaiah writes: "Rejoice, O heavens, and be glad. God has had mercy on Israel; sound the trumpet, foundations of the earth; mountains, shout for joy; and you hills, and you trees that cover them, the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and Israel shall be glorified" (Isa 44:23). Because the face of God is that of compassion, the believer dares to pray with these words as we see in the Psalms : (LXX 85:3) "Have mercy on me, Lord; for all the day long I have cried to you" (84:3). It is not by chance that, apart from the Gospels, it is in Paul, especially when he addresses the Jewish question in his letter to the Romans (9-11), that this theme becomes central:
"Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romains 11, 30-33)

What Paul is saying is that the refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus brought the good news to the non-Jews, i.e. the Gentiles, and afterwards, in turn, the Jews will probably accept this good news, showing that God's mercy is for everyone. This theological vision allows us to understand what is at stake in our story with the Canaanite woman. For, let us not forget, Jesus left Galilee after a controversy with the Pharisees and scribes who reproached the disciples for transgressing the tradition of the elders; it is the symbol of the Jews' closure to what God offers them in Jesus. And now Jesus finds himself in contact with a pagan woman who asks him for mercy, exactly what God is offering.

kyrie (lord)
The masculine noun kurios in classical Greek means "he who is master of, who has authority", i.e. the master, the master of the house, the legal representative, the guardian (see our glossary). In a hierarchical society, it is therefore a generic term to describe the relationship of a superior to a subordinate: a superior exercises lordship over the subordinate. It is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that popularized this term to designate God: indeed, as in the Jewish world the proper name of Yahweh is unpronounceable and is replaced by אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), to express his role as master of the universe, then the authors of the Septuagint chose to translate Adonai by kurios (lord).

It will be understood that the term kurios is extremely frequent in the New Testament, and more particularly in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 80; Mk = 18; Lk = 104; Jn = 52; Ac = 106. Generally speaking, the term designates three different persons: 1) God, 2) Jesus and 3) the one who exercises the role of a master in society. Let us look more particularly at the Gospel of Matthew. If we make a distinction between the messiah and Jesus in the reference to Psalm 110, we get these statistics: God as lord = 18; Jesus as lord = 26; the master as lord (especially in the parables) = 33; the messiah as lord = 3 (concentrated in 22: 43-45 in the reference to Ps 110). Beyond these statistics, we must first of all remember that Matthew likes to use the term kurios, even if Luke surpasses him in this domain. To be convinced of this, it is sufficient to first take up these statistics by observing the cases where these references to kurios are unique to Matthew: God as lord = 9; Jesus as lord = 22; the master as lord = 19; the messiah as lord = 1. But we can then examine how he transforms his source, in particular Mark, to introduce kurios.

MarkMathew's version
(1: 40 : a leper) "If you are willing, you can cleanse me"(8:2) "Lord, if you are willing, you can cleanse me
(4: 38 : the stilling of the storm) And they awaken him and say to him: "Teacher (didaskale), you have no concern that we perish"(8: 25) They awoke him saying: Lord, save us, we are perishing"
(7: 26) the woman... Syrophoenician... kept asking him if he could cast forth the demon out of her daughter(15: 22) a Canaanite woman from these borders having come out, was crying out saying: Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David, for my daughter is in the grip of evil impulses"
(8: 32 : prediction of the passion) And Peter having taken Jesus towards him, he began to rebuke him(16: 22) And Peter having taken Jesus towards him, he began to rebuke him, saying: Far be it from you Lord.
(9: 5 : transfiguration) Peter says to Jesus: 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here"(17: 4) Peter says to Jesus: 'Lord, it is good for us to be here'
(9: 17 : healing of the epileptic child) One ouf of the crowd answered him: 'Teacher (didaskale), I brought my son to you"(17: 14) A man came to him... and saying: "Lord, have mercy on my son"
(10: 47-51 : the blind man/men of Jericho) When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" ...but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "Rabboni, let me see again."(20: 30-33) When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" ...but they shouted even more loudly, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David" ...Jesus said: "What do you want me to do for you?" They said to him, "Lord, let our eyes be opened."
(14: 19 : prediction of Judas' betrayal) They (the disciples) began to be grieved and to say to him one by one: "Surely not I"(26: 22) They (the disciples) began to be grieved exceedingly to say to him one by one: "Not I, is it, Lord?"

As we can see, Matthew replaces terms such as "you", Jesus, teacher, rabbi or rabboni found in Mark with the title of Lord. Or, when Mark's account is in indirect style, he transforms it into a direct style and adds the vocative Lord. What can we conclude? Two things. First of all, Matthew likes to clarify and standardize vocabulary; he designates the same realities with the same words. Then, we find in him the premises of a high Christology that will reach its peak with John, i.e. Jesus takes on more and more the characteristics proper to God. Let us remember that we usually date Mark's Gospel around the year 67, and Matthew's around the year 80 or 85. During this period of more than 10 or 15 years, reflection on the person of Jesus has evolved and become more refined, and the traits that associate him with God or faith after Easter become more important than those that reflect historical data as they are. This is how the Canaanite woman, in the eyes of Matthew, expresses her faith in a way by calling him : Lord.

huios Dauid (son of David)
Why refer to Jesus as the "son of David"? We know that Jesus is not the son of David, but the son of Joseph. However, in the Gospels - Acts the expression comes up a few times: Mt = 9; Mk = 3; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. Let us settle the case of Luke (18:38-39): his two references to Jesus as the son of David are simply a repetition of Mark's account of the blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. This brings us to Mark's own account (10:47-48) where twice the blind Bartimaeus calls Jesus "son of David". Why did he call him "son of David"? It seems that at the time of Jesus, King Solomon, son of David, had gained a reputation in Jewish circles as a great exorcist and healer. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus tells us the story of Eleazar, who performs exorcisms by invoking the name of Solomon and using incantations he is said to have composed. The Testament of Solomon, apocryphal writing from the 1st century BC, reflects the same perception (on this point see Meier: The Healings of Jesus.

But with Matthew we enter another world, because for him this title is of great importance. Of course, just like Luke, he takes from Mark the expression "son of David" in the story of the healing of the blind man in Jericho. But in the other seven instances the expression is unique to him. And it begins in the infancy narrative with the genealogy of Jesus when Matthew writes: "Book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham" (1:1). Thus, for Matthew, at the starting point Jesus is a descendant of David. And Jesus is the son of David because his father, Joseph, is the son of David (1:20). Later, Matthew thinks it is important that Jesus be questioned under this title, as by those two blind men who cry out: "Have mercy on us, son of David!" (9: 27). And the reaction of the crowds to all the healings he performs is to say, "Is not this the son of David?" (12: 23). On a few occasions, when he repeats an account of Mark, he adds the reference to the son of David.

MarkMathew's version
(7: 26) the woman... Syrophoenician... kept asking him if he could cast forth the demon out of her daughter(15: 22) a Canaanite woman from these borders having come out, was crying out saying: Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David, for my daughter is in the grip of evil impulses"
(11: 9 : messianic demonstration in Jerusalem) Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"(21: 9) The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
(11: 18) And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him(21: 15) But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became angry

Why this insistence on the part of Matthew? The key is given to us in this passage from Mark, when Jesus asks the Pharisees: "What is your opinion about the Messiah? Whose son is he?" (Mt 22: 42). The answer, of course, is: David. In fact, in Jewish tradition the answer is more nuanced, since the figure of the Messiah also takes the form of a prophet like Moses (see John 4:25). But the fact remains that God's promise to the prophet Nathan played a very important role: "And when your days are fulfilled and you have lain with your fathers, I will maintain after you the lineage that came from your womb... and I will establish his royal throne for ever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me" (2 Samuel 7:12-14). A great Jewish current considered that the Messiah would be of the descent of David. In Qumran, the messiah of righteousness appears in the form of a descendant of David or a priest or prophet who has been anointed. In the Jewish apocrypha, he is the son of David who comes to gather his people like a shepherd, or he is a king who comes to reign for 400 years and rebuke the unjust (See also Meier and as well this presentation on the Psalms of Solomon, a writing from the 1st century BC). And the earliest statements of faith in the Epistles of Paul mention that Jesus is of the offspring of David: "[This Gospel] concerns his Son, who according to the flesh is of the lineage of David" (Romans 1:3). Thus, the Canaanite woman, this pagan woman, recognizes in Jesus the Jewish Messiah promised in the eyes of Matthew.

thygatēr (daughter)
The word thygatēr means daughter, as opposed to son. We find it a few times in the New Testament (28 times), and especially in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 9; Jn = 1; Ac = 3); it is not surprising to note that this number is small compared to the word son which appears 301 only in the Gospels-Acts and 2Jn. In Matthew, there is little to say, except that of the eight occurrences of the word, six come from a source common to Mark, the Q document and even John (21:5). And the other two occurrences are only an extension of the Q document (10: 37) and of Mark's account (15: 28). In short, Matthew does not present anything original on this point. A daughter refers either to a particular person: the daughter of a chief who has died (9:18), a woman with blood loss (9:22), the daughter of Herodias (14:6), the daughter of the Canaanite woman (15:22.28); or to the general reality of the daughter of a mother (10:35.37) or female persons belonging to a nation (daughter of Zion: 21:5). Even though Matthew receives the core of the Canaanite woman's story from one source, it must be emphasized that the fact of integrating into his Gospel a story about a woman and her daughter, thus two persons who have no social status in antiquity, reveals something of the values of the evangelist.

kakōs (badly)
Kakōs is an adverb that means: badly, wickedly, miserably, pitifully. It is uncommon in the Bible, and in the New Testament it is found almost exclusively in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 2; Jn = 1; Ac = 1. In Mark, the adverb appears only in the expression echō kakōs (Literally: to have badly, i.e. to be in pain or unwell). Of the seven kakōs occurrences in Matthew, four are simply a repetition of Mark's echō kakōs expression. In the other three occurrences, Matthew seems to draw from a similar source as Mark, but his editorial work is more important, so he becomes the only one to use kakōs in these passages:
  • the Canaanite woman: "my daughter is badly possessed by a demon" (15: 22)
  • the epilectic child: "my son is epileptic and suffers badly (17: 15)
  • the parable of the wicked tenants: "He will destroy those wretches badly" (21: 41)

Thus, it must be recognized that kakōs is part of the Matthean vocabulary, and even if the evangelist draws from a source that Mark knows well, our text bears the mark of his editorial work.

daimonizetai (she is possessed by a demon)
At the root of the verb daimonizomai, there is the word daimōn (demon) which designates a higher, even divine spirit. In antiquity, there were a number of these beings who exerted an influence on humanity, primarily an evil influence. In Judaism, there is only one God who dominates over all the forces of the universe, but the fact remains that belief in these higher forces, hidden powers, some of which are responsible for the evils of mankind, is maintained (see for example, 1 Enoch, a Jewish apocryphal writing). Thus, behind the various illnesses, especially mental illnesses, we see the action of these demons. In this context, the verb daimonizomai, which is used in the passive, translates as: to be possessed by a demon. Note that it is very rare in the Bible and appears only in the Gospels: Mt = 7; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 1; Ac = 0. With the exception of our v. 22, this verb always appears in the form of a participle and is used as a noun: the being possessed by a demon, usually translated as demonic. On three occasions, Matthew simply uses Mark's word. The fact remains that on four occasions the verb is unique to him (about a savage being of Gadara, 8:28; about a mute demon, 9:32; about a mute and blind demon, 12:22 and about the daughter of the Canaanite woman).

Let us come to our v. 22: two things are remarkable, on the one hand it is the only case where the verb does not appear as a noun with the use of the participle (the verb is in the passive present tense, 3rd pers. singular), and therefore cannot be translated as "demonic", and on the other hand, it is the only case where the verb must be qualified by an adverb (kakōs, evil or wicked), as if the mere mention of being possessed by a demon was not enough to describe the lamentable side of the situation. What to conclude? First of all, it is clear that here we feel the intervention of the evangelist's hand in shaping the narrative according to his perspective. The addition of kakōs does not give us any more details about the illness of the Canaanite woman's daughter (Mark, for his part, simply says that the mother asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter), but nevertheless tells us that there is something lamentable in her situation, which calls for more compassion.

v. 23 But he did not answer a word. After approaching him, his disciples insisted on saying, "Get rid of her, because she is behind us defeaning us."

Literally : Then him he did not answer (apekrithē) her a word (logon). And having come near (proselthontes) the disciples (mathētai) of him were asking (ērōtoun) him saying : Dismiss (apolyson) her, because she cries out from behind (opisthen) us.

apekrithē (he answered)
The verb apokrinomai is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb krinō (to decide, choose, judge, interpret): literally, to make a decision or make a judgment based on what has been said, hence "to answer". It is extremely frequent in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 55; Mk = 30; Lk = 46; Jn = 78; Ac = 20. But what is remarkable in the Gospels is to find the stereotypical expression: "to answer and to say", the first often in the present participle and the last expressed by the verb legō (to say) or phēmi (to declare), often in the past tense, for example: "But answering, he (Jesus) says" (Mt 15:24); to be convinced of this stereotype, one only has to look at the numbers: Mt = 50; Mk = 19; Lk = 40; Jn = 32. As we can see, Matthew is a bit of a champion of this stereotype. For he appreciates a lot of verbs that belong to his familiar vocabulary, so much so that out of the 55 uses in his Gospel, 43 are particular to him; because he often adds them to the sources he uses: for example, Mark writes : For example, Mark writes, "Peter began to say to him, 'Behold, we have left everything and followed you'" (Mk 10:28), but Matthew repeats the sentence like this: "Then answering, Peter said to him, 'Behold, we have left everything and followed you'" (Mt 19:27; see also Mt 13:11; 15:3.26; 17, 11; 21, 24; 22, 29; 24, 4; 26, 23.33.66; 28, 5); regarding the Q document, Luke writes: "At that very hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because...'" (Lk 10:21), but Matthew prefers to write: "At that time, answering, Jesus said, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because...'" (Mt 11:25; see also Mt 8:8; 25:26).

However, here in v. 23, we have a particular form: a negation (he did not answer). In fact, in the Gospels, apokrinomai is found in four different forms:

  1. answer (most often to the present participle) + say, as we saw earlier, followed by the content of the answer
  2. reply, followed by either oti (that) or simply the content of the reply
  3. answer in the negative, i.e. do not respond
  4. finally, in the form of a simple mention that there was an answer (you have answered correctly, Lk 10:28).

In Matthew, we find only forms i) and iii). Let us examine the five negative forms:

  • 15: 23 : ho de ouk apekrithē autē logon (but he didn't answer a word to her)
  • 22: 46 : kai oudeis edynato apokrithēnai autō logon (and no one was able to answer a word back to him)
  • 26: 62 : ouden apokrinē (don't you answer anything?)
  • 27: 12 : ouden apekrinato (he didn't answer anything)
  • 27: 14 : kai ouk apekrithē autō pros oude hen rhēma (But he did not answer him, not even to a single charge)

Let's settle immediately with 26: 62 and 27: 12 (ouden apokrinomai) which is an expression of Mark that Matthew reuses (see Mark 14: 60-61; 15: 4-5). The same goes for (ouk apokrinomai) of 27: 14 (Mark 15: 5); only the rest of the sentence is particular to him. Now, the expression "not answer a word" from 15:23 and 22:46 is not found anywhere else in the Gospels and appears to come from Matthew's editing work. The source of the story is known to Mark, but Matthew rewrites it in his own way. Finally, let us note that 15:23 and 22:46 are the only references to an absence of response outside the context of the passion; in the latter case, we understand the reaction of Jesus who knows that the dice in his trial are loaded and that it is useless to say anything. Here, in v. 23, Jesus refuses to respond to a woman who cries out for help.

logon (word)
If the expression "not answer a word" comes from Matthew's pen, the word "word" (logos) is very widespread throughout the New Testament and the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 33; Mk = 24; Lk = 32; Jn = 40; Ac = 65. Logos has the same root as the verb legō (to say), hence the usual translation of "word". It is a word that Matthew likes, to the point that of the 33 recurrences in his Gospel, 19 are his own. It is used to describe different realities because of its flexibility:

  • A case or an account: "Any man who repudiates his wife, except in the case (logos) of promiscuity ..." 5: 32
  • A saying or a language: "But let your word (logos) be : Yes (if it is) yes; no (if it is) no..." 5: 37
  • The teaching or preaching of the Gospel: "And if anyone does not welcome you and listen to your words (logos), come out of this house" 10:14
  • Jesus' speech: "Then the disciples came to him and said, 'Do you know that the Pharisees are scandalized when they hear your speech (logos)'" 15: 12
  • An account or several accounts: "Therefore the kingdom of Heaven has been compared to a man king who wanted to settle (his) account (logos) with his servants" 18: 23.
  • A word: "And no one could answer him a word (logos)" 22: 46
  • A narrative or statement or story: "And this narrative (logos) has been peddled among the Jews to this day" 28: 15

It is worth highlighting two aspects of Jesus' words in Matthew.

  1. First of all, it is not enough to accept his word, it must be understood: "From every man who hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it (syniēmi), comes the Evil One and takes hold of what has been sown in his heart" (13:19; compare this with Mark 4:15, who writes : "when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them". This idea is repeated two verses later in Matthew (13:23 "He who was sown on the good earth is the one who hears the word and understands (syniēmi) it", while Mark 4:20 simply "who hears the word and receives it").

  2. Then this word is so powerful that it is able to heal: "And when evening came, many demons were brought to him, and he cast out spirits by his word, and he healed all who were sick" (Mark 1:32-33 rather: "And when evening came, he he healed many who were sick with various ills and cast out many demons").

proselthontes (having come near)
The verb proserchomai is formed from the preposition pros (to) and the verb erchomai (to come, to go), and therefore means to come to, to go to, and therefore to approach. It is little present in the New Testament outside the Gospels-Acts, but it is at the heart of Matthew's vocabulary: Mt = 55; Mk = 5; Lk = 10; Jn = 1; Ac = 10. When editing his sources, the evangelist does not hesitate to add it to his account. For example, Mark writes: "And on the first day of the unleavened bread, when the Passover was being sacrificed, his disciples said to him, 'Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" (14: 12); Matthew rephrases the story as follows: "Now on the first (day) of unleavened bread the disciples came near (proserchomai) Jesus, saying, 'Where would you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?'" (26: 17). An example with the Q document, while Luke writes: "Now the devil said to him, 'If you are (the) Son of God, tell this stone to become bread'" (Lk 4: 3), Matthew prefers to write: "And coming near (proserchomai) the tempter said to him, 'If you are (the) Son of God, tell this stone to become bread'" (Mt 4: 3). It should be noted that out of the 55 occurrences of the word in his Gospel, 48 are particular to him; that is to say, his affection for this term.

What role does this verb play in his Gospel? It seems that it is a way for the evangelist to put the spotlight on the characters who are about to interact, as on a stage when it is dark all around. Let's not forget, Matthew likes order and clarity. This is his way of introducing a story and bringing all the attention to the main characters in the scene. And most of the time, it is Jesus that one comes near to (35 times out of the total of 55). Those who come near are first of all people who expect something from Jesus.

  • One comes near Jesus to ask for healing (the woman with hemorrhages, 9:20), sometimes with an expression of faith (a leper came near and knelt before him, 8:2).
  • One comes near for clarification (the disciples come near to ask for an explanation of the parable, 13: 36).
  • Disciples come near to receive a teaching (5: 1)

Those who come near Jesus are also adversaries

  • The Pharisees come near Jesus to start a controversy (15:1).
  • The guards of the chief priests come near Jesus to arrest him (26: 49).

Here, in v. 23, the disciples come near Jesus to make a request. This literary process emphasizes the disciples' request and Jesus response that follows: all our attention should be focused on this interaction, because it is important.

mathētai (disciples)
Mathētēs is the masculine noun mathētēs in the plural accusative. It means: to be a disciple or a pupil or a learner; it refers to someone who listens to a master. As one can imagine, the word is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 72; Mk = 46; Lk = 37; Jn = 78; Ac = 28; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It can be the disciples of Jesus, John or even those of the Pharisees (Mk 2:18).

The question was asked: is the word "disciple" the work of the first Christian community, which referred to the members of the community as "disciple", or does it really reflect what people called all those who were attached to Jesus when he preached? After his analysis, J.P. Meier concludes that the term really belongs to the time of Jesus, since the early Christians rather abandoned the term to define themselves. Moreover, among those who considered Jesus as a master, we can distinguish three different groups of people:

  1. First, the small group of those who physically accompanied him on the roads, leaving work, family and home behind,
  2. Those who welcomed him into their homes, offering him shelter and food and money when he visited their region,
  3. Finally, the crowd of curious people who listened to his preaching and expressed some form of interest.

It should be noted that although several women are mentioned, none of them were given the title of disciple, no doubt due to the culture of the time.

Matthew likes the word disciple: not only does he use it very often (he is 2nd, behind John), but of the 72 occurrences, 42 (about 60%) are unique to him. But what must be emphasized is that Matthew is keen to associate them with the Twelve: he is the only one to speak of the Twelve disciples, firstly to frame the discourse of mission (10:1 and 11:1), then to share the fate that awaits him as he goes up to Jerusalem (20:17). And when Judas has betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, Matthew will speak of the eleven disciples (28:16); he is the only one to have this expression. Mark, who is the source of Matthew and Luke, speaks only of the "Twelve" and the "Eleven". What does this mean? Matthew seems to restrict the title of disciple to the specific group of the Twelve who accompany him on the road and whom he sends on mission. And when we look at the whole of his Gospel, it is clear that he makes them play a special and unique role:

The disciples are special people to whom Jesus reserves a particular teaching and who have a greater knowledge of the Christian mystery.

  • All the sermon on the mountain is addressed to them first of all ("And when he saw the crowds, he went up into the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him; and opening his mouth, he taught them (disciples), saying", 5:1-2).
  • While the crowd is taught only a parable, Jesus reserves the explanation of the parable for the disciples. ("Then leaving the crowd, he came home, and his disciples came to him and said, 'Tell us the parable of the weeds in the field", 13: 36)
  • They are able to better interpret Jesus' words ("Then the disciples understood that his words were directed to John the Baptist", 17: 13).

The disciples have a unique relationship with Jesus and constitute his family

  • While for Mark it is the people of the crowd around him who do the will of God who are his mother and brothers, Matthew restricts this group to the disciples ("And stretching out his hand to his disciples, he said, 'Behold my mother and my brothers'", 12: 49).
  • The disciples are the privileged witnesses of his action: in the scene of the healing of the daughter of Jairus and the woman with blood loss, Matthew insists on saying: "And rising up, Jesus (Jairus) followed him and his disciples" (9: 19); in the same way, at the beginning of the scene of the storm stilling, Matthew writes: "Then he got into the boat, followed by his disciples" (8: 23).

Disciples are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world

  • Because they receive from the very mouth of Jesus the outline of Christian action through the whole Sermon on the Mount, Matthew can write: "You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world" (5: 13-16).
  • When Jesus sends them on a mission, he plans what they will have to do: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You have received freely, give freely" (10:8).

What is quite peculiar to Matthew, the disciples play the role of intermediary or mediator between Jesus and the crowd.

  • Let us note the difference between Mark's version and Matthew's version in the account of the crowds feeding when the food was distributed to the crowd:
    Mark 6: 41Matthew 14: 19
    and (Jesus) gave them to the disciples to present to them (to the crowd)he (Jesus) gave the bread to the disciples and the disciples to the crowds.

    We will have noticed that Matthew uses the word disciple twice (we underlined the 2nd time). Why this repetition? If Jesus first gives the bread to the disciples, isn't it obvious that they are the ones who then give it to the crowd? Why this redundancy in Matthew? One has the impression that he wants to accentuate the structure of the relationship between Jesus-disciples and disciple-disciples, highlighting the role of intermediary or mediator of the disciples. He will do the same thing during the second crowds feeding scene (15: 36). And he will do the same thing at the Last Supper when he writes: "Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples" (26:26; Mark simply "gave it to them" (14:22)). Explicitly mentioning the word "disciples" is a way of affirming their role as mediators in relation to others.

  • The emphasis on the disciples' role as intermediary or mediator appears throughout his Gospel. It is the role of the disciples to ask Jesus for explanations of his teaching (13:36 "His disciples came to him and said, 'Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field' "). It is their role to inform Jesus (15:12 "Then the disciples came to him and said, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked to hear you speak like that?) It is their role to pray Jesus to act (15, 23 "When his disciples came to him, they insisted on saying, 'Dismiss her, for she is behind us breaking our ears'". It is their role to ask Jesus to explain certain events: (21:20) "When the disciples saw this, they were astonished and said, 'How did the fig tree dry up in an instant?"; see also 24: 3 on the signs of the end of the world). Finally, it is their role to go out into the whole world, to baptize and make known the teaching of Jesus (28:16).

We should not be surprised by the unique place Matthew gives to the disciples. We are probably in the community of Antioch around the year 80 or 85 when the Church begins to structure itself on the model of the Old Testament and where this classification between clerics and laity takes shape.

However, despite the unique role Matthew makes the disciples play, he does not hesitate to underline their weakness, their limits and sometimes their narrow-mindedness. For example, they are afraid when Jesus walks on water (14: 26), or when they hear a voice from heaven (17: 6). When Jesus presents his vision of marriage where a man cannot divorce his wife for any reason, their remark would be considered macho today (19:10 "His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry"). When Jesus tells them that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew writes: "The disciples were greatly astounded: 'Who then can be saved?" (19: 25). When a woman pours an alabaster jar containing a very precious perfume on Jesus, it is in the mouth of the disciples' that Matthew put this cheap remark: "Why this waste? (26: 8). When Peter bravadoes that he is ready to die for Jesus and Mark writes that "all" said the same, Matthew makes it clear: "All the disciples said the same" (26:35).

Here, in v. 23, Matthew makes the disciples play this role of intermediary as they ask Jesus to intervene so that they may find peace again. This role allows Matthew to introduce an explanation from Jesus of his silence in the face of the woman's requests. At the same time, Matthew does not hesitate to present a not so flattering picture of the disciples: they want her to get off their backs.

ērōtoun (they were asking)
The verb erōtaō is here in the imperfect, and therefore refers to an ongoing action that is not finished. It means: to ask a question, to question someone, to address a request, to pray, to invite. It is especially present in the Gospel-Acts and the Epistles of John: Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 15; Jn = 27; Ac = 6; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1. It is a familiar word in the Johannine tradition, as can be seen, but not very present in Matthew; in fact, in the four occurrences in his Gospel, only one is proper to him in the account of the rich young man (19:17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?"). The only thing to emphasize here in v. 23 is Matthew's transformation of this account of the Canaanite woman: whereas in Mark it is the woman who "asks" to Jesus, here it is the disciples who ask to Jesus, in accordance with the role of mediator that Matthew makes them play.

apolyson (dismiss)
The verb apolyō is formed from the preposition apo (from, far from) and the verb lyō (to bind), and therefore means literally: to unbind or remove the link. It exists almost only in the Gospels-Acts throughout the New Testament (the only exception is Hebrews 13:23): Mt = 19; Mk = 12; Lk = 14; Jn = 5; Ac = 15. Its meaning is determined by its context. And when we look at the texts as a whole, the contexts can be grouped into four main categories:

  • The context is that of the physical connection of the prison or of an arrest, and apolyō is generally translated as "release": "At each Feast, the governor used to release to the crowd a prisoner, the one they wanted" (Mt 27:15).

  • The context is that of the presence of people in the same location, and apolyō is generally translated as "to give leave" or "to send away": "After sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came into the territory of Magadan" (Mt 15:39).

  • The context is that of the legal bond of marriage, and apolyō is generally translated as "to divorce": "Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because of your hardness of heart, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8).

  • The context is that of a moral or legal bond of debt, or a sin to which the disease is linked, and apolyō is generally translated as "to forgive" or "to release": "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and it will be forgiven you" (Lk 6:37).

As we can see, the idea is always the same: a link exists, and that link is broken. From all the Gospels-Act texts, we can establish the following table.

ContextMatthewMarkLukeJohnActs
Prison/under arrest54559
Presence of people in the same location64406
Marriage84200
Tied by debt/sin/sickness00300
Total191214515

A first comment is in order. In spite of the number of occurrences of the verb apolyō in the Gospels, the latter appears mainly during three events: 1) the trial of Jesus before Pilate and the decision to release either Jesus or Barabbas, a scene recounted by Mark, and repeated by Luke and Matthew, and also recounted by John, monopolize the "prison/under arrest" context (the only exception being a parable from Mt 18:27); 2) the scene of Jesus feediing the crowds, recounted by Mark, and repeated by Luke and Matthew, monopolizes much of the "crowd/caught up in an event" context; 3) the controversy over divorce, narrated by Mark, and taken up by Luke and Matthew, almost completely monopolizes the "marriage" context (the only exception being Matthew, who adds it in his discourse on the Mount and in his infancy narrative when Joseph intended to dismiss his wife quietly).

The second remark concerns Matthew, where we note the greatest number of occurrences. But this number is misleading because there are in fact only seven occurrences of his own. And of these seven occurrences, three are simply an extension of the discussion on divorce (5:31; 19:7-8), and one is an extension of the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds (14:53). So we are left with three occurrences that are truly unique to Matthew: Joseph's decision to dismiss his wife in the infancy narrative (1:19), the parable of the master releasing his insolvent servant from prison (18:27) and our v. 23 where the disciples ask for the Canaanite woman to be sent away. This is not a word that is really familiar to Matthew and would be part of his literary arsenal; it seems to play a purely utilitarian role.

Now we have to answer the question: what does apolyō mean here in the mouth of the disciples? Note that most Bibles (see other translations) have translated this verb, here in the aoristic imperative, 2nd person singular, as "Send her away" except the Jerusalem Bible which translated : "Give her what she wants" with the note that the only way to hope this woman goes is for Jesus to give her what she wants and heal her. Technically, the verb apolyō can mean to dismiss someone as well as to free someone from his or her evil (the latter is confirmed by one case, Luke 13:12: "Jesus said to her, 'Woman, you are set free (apolyō) from your ailment'"). In short, the primary meaning of what the disciples are asking is to see the disappearance of the woman who is bothering them with her loud cries, especially in the context of this "retreat" to which Jesus seems to have invited them by moving away from the Jewish world. But at the same time, we know very well that this woman will not stop crying until she has obtained what she wants; it is a little like the parable of the unjust judge and the unwelcome widow in Lk 18:2-8 which ends with this sentence of Jesus: "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" So Matthew is probably playing on the two sides of apolyō: dismiss and release.

opisthen (from behind)
Opisthen is an adverb that means: from behind, at the back, after, hereafter. It is very uncommon: Mt = 2; Mc = 1; Lc = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. If we consider the fact that this word, used by Mark in the account of the woman with blood loss (5, 27), is taken up as it is by Luke and Matthew for the same account, we find ourselves with only three different occurrences. Elsewhere, Luke uses it to speak of Simon of Cyrene who carries the cross behind Jesus (23, 26) and Matthew uses it here in our account. What role do the evangelists make him play? In Mark's case, it shows the intensity of the woman who is in the midst of the crowd and ends up sneaking in and touching Jesus' garment with pain and misery; this is what Matthew and Luke understand when they speak of the "fringe" of his garment. Thus the back describes the limit of how far his faith could go, and for Jesus it describes his healing power that is exercised even when only the back of his garment is touched. In Luke, where Simon of Cyrene carries the cross behind Jesus, the allusion is quite clear to the situation of the disciple: "If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23); "Whoever does not carry his cross and come after (opisthen) me cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:27). What about Matthew? First of all, let us note that the adverb accompanies the verb krazō (to cry out). Elsewhere, in Matthew, two blind men shout to Jesus, following him and saying: "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" (9:27); shouting and being behind Jesus is a way of expressing their faith in asking for help. But here the cries are behind the disciples. Let us remember the role of intermediary or mediator of the disciples that we have underlined above: the woman addresses Jesus through the disciples. And we understand the gesture of the woman to turn to the disciples after Jesus' silence.

v. 24 But Jesus answered them, "I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Literally : Then him, having answered he said: I was not sent (apestalēn), if not (ei mē) towards the sheep (probata) the having been lost (apolōlota) of house of Israel (oikou Israēl).

apestalēn (I was sent)
The verb apostellō is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb stellō (to equip, to prepare for a journey, to dispatch, to send), and therefore means: to send to someone, to send to a place, to send on a mission. It is easy to guess that it is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 22; Mk = 20; Lk = 25; Jn = 28; Ac = 23. Usually it is a superior who sends a subordinate to accomplish a mission or to do a job: God sends his prophets or messengers, the angels, Jesus sends his disciples, a master sends his servants. Matthew follows this great tendency and offers nothing special compared to the other Gospels. There is, however, one point where he differs from the others. In a section (10: 1 - 11, 1) about sending the disciples on mission where he gives his instructions, Matthew puts the following into Jesus' mouth:
Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, nor enter a city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 10: 5-6

In other words, Jesus asks his disciples to restrict their mission to the Jews only. Thus, what Jesus says here in v. 24 is totally consistent with the mission he entrusted to his disciples: just as Jesus, from Matthew's perspective, perceived his mission received from God as being reserved exclusively for the Jews, so it is the same type of mission that he asked his disciples to pursue.

ei mē (if not)
This Greek expression to express a restriction is composed of the conjunction ei (if) and the negation particle (not). It is usual in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 14; Mk = 13; Lk = 10; Jn = 12; Ac = 2. Matthew seems to like it well, because of the 14 occurrences in his Gospel, five are particular to him, and in this last case he sometimes modifies his source to add the expression. For example, when he repeats Mark 9:8 ("Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more (ouketi), but only Jesus"), Matthew writes instead: "But when they looked up, they saw no one if not (ei mē) Jesus alone" (17:8; see also Mt 14:17; Mk 6:38 and Mt 12:24; Mk 3:22). He does the same thing with the Q document (see Mt 5:13; Lk 14:34-35). All this to say that we are in Mathean literary territory.

probata (sheep)
The word probaton refers primarily to a small herd of four-legged grazing animals such as sheep and goats. But in the New Testament it refers to ewes, the female sheep, especially when distinguished from the male sheep, the goat (eriphos) or the lamb (arēn). It is less frequent than one would have expected, given Jesus' peasant background: Mt = 11; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 19; Ac = 1. But with Mark probably addressing the Christians of Rome, and Luke perhaps addressing those of Corinth, one can understand these evangelists not to be very "sheepish". It is Matthew who has best preserved the setting of Palestine and the pastoral images that Jesus may have used (in John, despite the number of occurrences, the word is concentrated above all in the parable of the good shepherd, and at the end, in the appeal to Peter to take care of the flock). In addition to taking up certain texts of Mark, such as Jesus' reaction before a crowd that appears to him as a flock without a shepherd (Mt 9:36), or the reference to Zechariah 13:7 where the shepherd is beaten and the sheep scattered is a prediction of the flight of the disciples to Gethsemane (Mt 26:31), and a text from Q document where a shepherd has 100 sheep and one goes astray (Mt 18:12), Matthew introduces eight occurrences of his own.
  • Warning about false prophets, who come disguised as sheep, but inside are ravenous wolves (7: 15)
  • His presentation of people excluded of the mainstream of the Jewish people as "lost sheep" who are the goal of Jesus' mission (15: 24) and that of his disciples (10: 6).
  • In his instructions to the disciples whom he sends on mission, Jesus says: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep among wolves; be you therefore as prudent as serpents and as simple as doves" (10:16).
  • With Matthew, we are probably closer to the Q document and the Palestinian setting in the discussion about healing on the Sabbath, when he puts in the mouth of Jesus: "Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep!" (12:11-12); under the pen of Luke and in a Greek and urban environment, the text becomes: "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" (Lc 14: 5)
  • And we have this great fresco of the Last Judgment where the Son of Man separates, like a shepherd, the sheep from the goats (25: 32-33).

Speaking to a predominantly Jewish milieu, Matthew can hope that his audience will grasp the references to all those pastoral images that the Old Testament is full of. Let us recall some of them.

  • The prophet Ezekiel rebukes the Jewish leaders for having let the sheep go astray and not having sought out those who went astray, so that from now on it is Yahweh himself who will take care of his flock, especially through the work of his servant who will be like David (Ezek 34).
  • It is the same message that Jeremiah sends (Jer 23:1-4).
  • Finally, the prophet Micah became the spokesman of Yahweh, promising to bring back the sheep that had strayed away (Micah 4:6-7).

Thus, it must be concluded that our v. 24 is totally aligned with Matthean theology and its literary style.

apolōlota (having been lost)
The verb apollymi (to lose, to destroy, to cause to perish, to lead astray, to demolish, to waste, to kill) is quite widespread in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 18; Mk = 10; Lk = 27; Jn = 9; Ac = 2. We can divide his 18 occurrences in Matthew into three main categories:
  • To die or be physically destroyed. For example, 2:13: "For Herod will seek the child to destroy (apollymi) him " or 27:20: "However, the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowds to claim Barabbas and kill (apollymi) Jesus" (see also 5:29-30; 8:25; 9:17; 10:39; 16:25; 21:41; 22:7; 26:52).

  • Lose possession of something. For example, 10:42: "Whoever gives one of these little ones a drink of fresh water, as a disciple, truly I say to you, he will not lose (apollymi) his reward" (see also: 10:6; 15:24; 18:14).

  • Lose its integrity or its value. An example where we find two different meanings, 10: 39: "Whoever has found his life (has kept his physical life) will lose (apollymi: will not lose it physically, but will lose its integrity and value) it and whoever has lost (apollymi: physical death) his life because of me will find it (but in another form)". (see also: 10, 28; 16, 25).

In which category does our v. 24 fall? We're certainly not talking about physically dead sheep. To understand what we're talking about here, we have to go back to the Old Testament.

  • Ezekiel 34:4: "You did not bring back the one who went astray, seeking (zēteō) the one who was lost (apollymi). But you have ruled them with violence and harshness"
  • Ezekiel 34:16: "I will seek (zēteō) the lost (apollymi), I will bring back the lost (apollymi) ".
  • Jeremiah 50:6: "My people were lost (apollymi) sheep"
  • Psalm 119:176: "I am going astray, lost (apollymi) sheep: come and fetch (zēteō) your servant".

Thus, the lost sheep is the one that seems to have left the people of the covenant for whatever reason, that no longer demonstrates its belonging to the Chosen People, and of which God has somehow lost possession: the relationship seems broken. For this reason, from God's point of view, the apollymi verb in v. 24 falls into the category of "loss of possession" or "loss of relationship". But this loss of relationship also implies a loss of value and integrity. For Jesus, reaching out to these lost people was the goal of his mission.

It is worth noting that although the use of apollymi is well attested to by all evangelists, Matthew likes this verb, so that of its 19 occurrences, 10 are his own. And he sometimes adds it to his sources. For example, while Mark 9:47 writes: "And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell", Matthew 5:29 prefers to write: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose (apollymi) one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (see also 27:42). Similarly, while Luke 12:4 reflects the Q document as follows: "Fear not those who kill the body and after that have nothing more to do", Matthew 10:28 prefers to reflect this version as follows: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy (apollymi) both soul and body in hell".

oikou Israēl (house of Israel )
The word Israēl is composed of the Hebrew noun el "goal, domain, leader", hence "god", and the verb from the root either ssr (to shine, enlighten, save, dominate) or srh (to fight, struggle). The name Israēl was first attributed to Jacob, using a popular etymology: "He (the stranger against whom Jacob fought all night) said, 'You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have been strong against God and man and have prevailed'". But here in v. 24 we speak of the "house of Israel", so not of an individual, but of an ethnic group descended from Jacob. In fact, traditionally, the house of Israel referred to all the descendants of Jacob who lived in northern Palestine, while those in the south were called the house of Judah. This was one of the achievements of King David (10th century BC). It was one of the achievements of King David (10th century BC) to reign first over the house of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4: "The men of Judah came and there they anointed David as king over the house of Judah"), and then also over the house of Israel (2 Samuel 12:8: "Yahweh, according to the words of Nathan) have given you your master's house, I have put your master's wives in your arms, I have given you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that is not enough, I will add anything else for you"). Unfortunately, the continuation is more complex and more painful, while a schism tears the two houses apart from 933 BC, and in 721 BC, Samaria, which belongs to the house of Israel, is taken by the Assyrians who deport a certain number of people and install foreigners, so that a prophet like Jeremiah (about 620 BC), in his promises in the name of Yahweh, must constantly distinguish the two groups :

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness." For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel (Jer 33: 14-17)

The house of Judah in the south will also know the fate of the house of Israel in the north and will be condemned to exile in Babylon in 587 BC. But after the return from exile of the house of Judah and the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem (around 520 BC), the lines between the house of Israel and the house of Judah begin to blur and the meaning of the expressions begin to change. An example is given by 1 Chronicles 28:4 (the book of Chronicles is dated around 340 BC) where David talks about Yahweh's decision to choose him

Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my ancestral house to be king over Israel forever; for he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took delight in making me king over all Israel.

David came from the south, from the tribe of Judah, but he became king over all Israel, which includes, according to the old terminology, both the house of Israel and the house of Judah. We see another development in the Psalms, where the house of Israel comes to refer to the laity as opposed to the clergy (priests and Levites): "House of Israel, bless the Lord, house of Aaron, bless the Lord, house of Levi, bless the Lord, those who fear the Lord, bless the Lord" (Ps 135:19-20). At the dawn of the Christian era, the expression "house of Judah" seems to have fallen into disuse, and only "house of Israel" remains (for example, the book of Judith, about 75 BC, knows only "house of Israel": 4:15; 6:17; 8:6; 13:14; 14:5.10; 16:14).

What about the New Testament? The only reference to the house of Judah is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8 ("Behold, the days come, says the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah"). On the other hand, the expression "house of Israel" is present twice in Matthew in reference to the mission of Jesus and his disciples (10:6; 15:24), and twice in the Acts of the Apostles, first in Peter's discourse following Pentecost (2:36, "Let the whole house of Israel know this with certainty: God made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified"), and then in Stephen's discourse, which tells the whole of holy history and makes reference to the prophet Amos (7:42, "Then God turned away from them and gave them up to the worship of the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: Did you then offer me, O house of Israel, victims and sacrifices in the wilderness for forty years?")

Thus, Israel and Judah evolved differently. While Judah is the source of the term "Jew", i.e. of Judah, designating a specific race, Israel has come to designate a politico-religious entity. While the expression God of Judah is never used, the expression God of Israel is omnipresent. And it is thus that it is found in the mouth of Jesus in Matthew to designate the object of the mission: the whole community which has its roots in Jacob and occupies a precise territory.

Did Jesus really see his mission as limited to a specific group and a specific territory? Is the expression "saviour of the world" not found in Jn 4:42 (see also 1 Jn 4:14)? It is likely that Matthew reflects the historical Jesus. The most weighty argument is that it took almost a revolution and Paul's hard work to bring about the acceptance of a decision made at the Jerusalem assembly in 51, more than twenty years after Jesus' death, into the Christian community of non-Jews; the attitude of the former disciples is rooted in what they observed in the teacher. And even after the decision at Jerusalem, tensions remained high with the action of the so-called "Judaizers", under the leadership of James, Jesus' brother, who wanted all Jewish practices to be preserved (on this point see Paul's letter to the Galatians, especially 2:4-16). Thus one can speak of the "saviour of the world" in the year 90, the probable date of John's Gospel, but this is the result of a long evolution.

v. 25 However, the woman began to bow down against him with her words, "Master, help me".

Literally : Then her, having come (elthousa), was paying homage (prosekynei) to him saying: master, come to the aid (boēthei) of me.

elthousa (having come) After legō (to say) and eimi (to be), erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go, to appear) is the most frequent verb in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 113; Mk = 86; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Ac = 50. In Matthew, it appears almost every ninth verse. This frequency is partly explained by the fact that it is a verb of everyday life and that he copied this verb which appears in his sources. But there is more, since of the 113 occurrences, 51 are specific to him. Moreover, on several occasions, he modifies his source to add erchomai. And in the passages where erchomai is his own, very often it appears in the form of a participle (22 times): for example, "having arrived", the person or a thing did this or that (2: 9 "having arrived, the star stood above the place where the child was"). This is also reflected when he modifies a source. For example, when he copies Mark 2:15, which says, "And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples" he changes the sentence to: "And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners having arrived (erchomai), they were sitting with him and his disciples" (9:10). This is an example of the Matthean style.

prosekynei (she was paying homage) The verb proskyneō means: to prostrate oneself, to obey or submit to someone, to greet or welcome respectfully, from which to pay homage or worship. It usually means to recognize the dignity of someone who is before you. Apart from Matthew and John, it is not so common in the Gospel-Acts : Matthew = 13; Mark = 2; Luke = 3; John = 11; Acts = 4. But even the number of occurrences is misleading in John, for of the 11 presences of the verb, 9 appear in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman where the place of worship is discussed (proskyneō). And if we limit our analysis to the cases in which one prostrates oneself before Jesus as a sign of true homage, then we obtain the following statistics: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 1; Ac = 0. This is a peculiarity of Matthew's Gospel where people bow down before him. First of all, people bow down before him to ask for a favour: a leper asks to be cleansed (8: 2), a leader asks to lay his hand on his dead daughter (9, 18), the Canaanite woman asks to intervene for her daughter (15: 25), the mother of the sons of Zebedee asks for her sons to sit on the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom (20: 20). Each time we have the same sentence structure: to come near (proserchomai) or to come (erchomai) + to bow down (proskyneō) + to say (legō). For Matthew, it is a faith process.

But we also prostrate ourselves before Jesus to pay homage to him, to recognize his particular dignity: the Gospel begins in this way ("When they (the Magi) entered the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling on their knees, they paid homage (proskyneō) to him", 2: 11), and it ends in the same way ("When they (the disciples) saw him, they bowed down (proskyneō)", 28: 17). There is even more. When Matthew takes from Mark the scene where Jesus walks on the sea, he completes the story at the moment when the wind calms down with this sentence of his own:

Those in the boat bowed down (proskyneō) to him, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God!" (14: 33).

There is in Matthew a form of high theology, i.e. a theology that looks at Jesus, no longer in his human traits, but with the outlook of faith after Easter and with feelings proper to a liturgical environment. And the verb proskyneō serves as a vehicle for this perception and these feelings, so that he does not hesitate to modify certain scenes from Mark to add proskyneō: the leper kneeling in Mk 1:40 becomes someone who bows down or prostrates himself in Mt 8:2; the chief who falls at his feet in Mk 5:22 becomes someone who prostrates himself in Mt 9:18; the woman in our story who falls at his feet in Mk 7:25 becomes here someone who prostrates herself in Mt 15:25. This is the Matthean universe.

Here, in v. 25, it is the second time that the Canaanite woman intervenes with Jesus. The first time, she had challenged Jesus by saying: "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David", thus appealing to his messianic title (son of David). Here she "comes" to Jesus and "prostrates herself" or "pays homage", which is an attitude of faith in Matthew. And between the two requests of the woman, there was the intervention of the disciples. If we decode Matthew's language correctly, there was a change in the woman's faith thanks to the role of the disciples, which allowed her to see in Jesus all his dignity.

boēthei (come to the aid) The verb boētheō (to come to the aid, to help, to come to the rescue) is very rare throughout the New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 1; 2 Cor 6; Heb = 1; Rev = 1. In the Gospels, it only appears in Mark in the scene of a mute epileptic child where the father first asks for help ("But if you can do anything, come to our aid (boētheō) out of pity for us", 9: 22), then after Jesus' remark ("If you can!... Everything is possible for the one who believes"), the father asks for help a second time ("I believe; help (boētheō) my unbelief!", 9: 24). Thus, the verb boētheō really appears in a context of faith. Here, in v. 25, we have noticed the evolution of the woman who comes to Jesus and pays homage, an attitude of faith in Matthew. We must recognize that by using the expression "come to my help" (boētheō), something of her faith is expressed. Matthew chooses his words well, and he knows that it is the typical vocabulary of the Psalms. Let's give some examples:
  • 27:7: (LXX) The Lord is my champion and my protector; my heart has put its hope in him, and I have been helped (boētheō), and my flesh has blossomed again; and with all my heart I will give thanks to him
  • 36: 40: (LXX) And the Lord will help (boētheō) them, and he will deliver them, and he will take them away from sinners, and he will save them, because they have hoped in him
  • 39: 14: (LXX) Lord, please save me; Lord, look upon me and help (boētheō) me

v. 26 Jesus replied, "It is wrong to take the children's bread and throw it to the puppies (kynariois)."

Literally : Then him, having answered, he said : not it is good (kalon) to take (labein) the bread (arton) of the children (teknōn) and to cast (balein) it to little dogs.

kalon (good) Kalos is an adjective meaning: good, beautiful. Without being frequent, it is nevertheless very present in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 21; Mk = 11; Lk = 9; Jn = 7; Ac = 1. It is used in three different ways.

To qualify a material object (27 times)

  • The earth is good, i.e. it is fertile: "Others fell into the good earth and brought forth fruit on the way up" (Mk 4:8).
  • A tree is good, i.e. it bears fruit: "Take a good tree, its fruit will be good; take a spoiled tree, its fruit will be spoiled. Take a spoiled tree: its fruit will be spoiled." (Mt 12:33).
  • The grain is good, i.e. it gives what is expected: "The servants of the owner came to him and said, 'Master, isn't it good grain that you have sown in your field? Where then is there weeds in it?" (Mt 13:27)
  • The good things of fishing, i.e. what is edible or marketable: "When it is full, the fishermen drag it to the shore, then sit down, collect in baskets what is good, and discard what is worthless" (Mt 13:48).
  • Salt is good, i.e. it fulfills its role well: "Salt is good; but if salt becomes tasteless, with what will you season it?" (Mk 9:50)
  • The stone is beautiful: "As some said of the Temple, it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings" (Lk 21:5).

To qualify a person or what they do (9 times)

  • The works are good: "So your light must shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Mt 5:16).
  • A shepherd is good, i.e. he plays his role to the full: "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" (Jn 10:11).
  • A heart is good, i.e. it is upright and willing: "And what is in the good soil are those who, having heard the word with a willing and generous heart, hold it fast and bear fruit by their steadfastness" (Lk 8:15).

To qualify a situation or an intangible reality (13 times: all the occurrences have their source in Mark); kalos is then used as an attribute of the verb to be (he is good)

  • Action related to good decision and good judgment: "for it is not good to take the bread of children and throw it to the puppies" (Mk 7:27).
  • A happy or good event (transfiguration of Jesus): "Rabbi, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Mk 9:5).
  • One situation is good, because it is better than another: "But if anyone should offend one of these little ones who believe, it would be better for him to have one of those millstones that the donkeys spin around his neck and be thrown into the sea" (Mk 9:42).
  • An event can be good if it does not take place: "But woe to that man (Judas) by whom the Son of Man is delivered up! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born!" (Mk 14:21)

Here, in v. 26, Matthew takes up a phrase from Mark where it is said that it is a good decision not to squander the good that belongs to one's family. "Good" has the moral meaning of "good", as in "doing good". The opposite would be to do something that is wrong.

labein (to take) The verb lambanō is part of the common Greek vocabulary and is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 53; Mk = 20; Lk = 21; Jn = 46; Ac = 29. Basically, it means: to take. But "to take" can have two dimensions, an active dimension where one takes something and manipulates it (30 times in Matthew; for example 5: 40: "If anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, give him even your cloak"), and a passive dimension where one takes something upon oneself, and therefore one welcomes it and receives it (18 times in Matthew, for example 10: 41 : "Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous man as a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward"). But Matthew also presents us with a specialized use (5 times) that comes from Greek stylistics: to "take counsel", i.e. to "hold counsel" (lambanein symboulion; see 12: 14; 22: 15; 27: 1.7; 28: 12; on the other hand Mark uses the expression "to give counsel" (didōmi symboulion) in 3: 6 and "to do counsel" (poieō symboulion) in 15: 1). Matthew stays away from Mark's variations, as he likes to standardize the way of naming things.

Lambanō is a word that Matthew likes (38 times the verb is his own), so he sometimes prefers it to the verb used by its source; for example, while Mark uses airō (to take away) in 8: 19 ("When I broke the five loaves of bread for the 5,000 men, how many baskets full of pieces did you take away?"), Matthew substitutes it with lambanō 16:9 ("Do you not remember the five loaves of bread for the 5,000 men and the number of baskets you took?").

But here, in v. 26, we have the expression "take the bread". This expression appears on five occasions in his Gospel: here with the account of the Canaanite woman, with the two accounts of the crowds feeding (14: 19; 15: 36), with the discussion about the disciples forgetting to take bread (16: 5.7), and at Jesus' last supper (26: 26). And each time Matthew only uses the expression of Mark's pen.

arton (bread)
Even if it is not the most frequent word, artos is quite present: Mt = 20; Mc = 21; Lc = 14; Jn = 24; Ac = 5. Usually, Matthew is content to copy the sources that speak of bread, and in this sense, bread is not a theme that he likes to propose. As we know, bread is at the core of our diet. And this is shown in two passages that he copies from the Q document, first the account of the temptation of Jesus where the tempter asks him to transform stones into bread while he is hungry (4: 3), and the prayer of the Our Father where the daily bread is asked for today (6: 11). It is therefore a precious good, and we understand the image of Jesus here in v. 26 who does not want to squander such a precious good. But this precious good is also at the core of the Eucharistic symbolism that Mark proposes with its two crowds feeding scenes and Jesus' last meal, a symbolism that Matthew takes up again (14: 19: 15: 36; 26: 26).

There are, however, two passages where Matthew differs from his parallels: firstly, in his discourse on the mountain, while he takes up the theme of the effectiveness of prayer from the Q document, he gives the example of a son asking his father for bread, and thus what is at the core of a Jew's diet, and to which the father will certainly not respond by giving a stone (7: 9), whereas Luke rather presents the example of the son's request for a fish, the food of a people from a sea area, and to which the father will certainly not respond by giving a serpent (11: 11); then Matthew gives an extension to the discussion in Mark (8:14-21) where the disciples seem dismayed at having forgotten to take bread and where Jesus reminds them of the two crowds feeding scenes, but an extension that takes up Jesus' warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, a misunderstood warning in Mark, which ends with the discussion about the lack of bread, but which is well explained in Matthew, where the issue is not bread, but the leaven represented by the teaching of the opponents of Jesus (16: 11-12).

In short, we must conclude that Matthew does not bring anything original to the theme of bread and is content most of the time to go back to his sources. And here, in v. 26, in taking up Mark, he also takes up the theme of the Eucharistic bread which underlies a good part of the references to bread in his Gospel.

teknōn (children)
The word teknon derives from the verb tiktō which means: to generate. It thus designates the progeny, and it is present in the Synoptics and Acts: Mt = 14; Mk = 9; Lk = 14; Jn = 0; Ac = 5. It differs from nēpios (infant, being weak and helpless), pais (a boy from 7 to 14 years old) and hyios (son). Matthew reflects the different meanings of the word teknon
  • The offspring of the parents on which their affection and responsibility is expressed (9 times). For example, "But what do you think. A man had two children. He said to the first one: "My child, go away today and work in the vineyard" (21: 28).
  • The offspring of a community or group (3 times). For example, "Do not presume to say to yourselves: We have Abraham as our father. For I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones" (3:9).
  • Progeny as posterity or offspring (2 times). For example, "And all the people said, 'His blood be upon us and upon our children." (27:25)

In v. 26, the word teknon refers quite clearly to the offspring of the parents on whom their affection and responsibility is expressed. Indeed, parents are responsible for feeding their children, and it would be wrong for them not to see this, or to take actions that prevent them from fulfilling their responsibility. Thus, the evangelist takes up the idea that Jesus' primary responsibility is to nourish Israel with his teaching.

balein (to cast) The verb ballō means first of all: to cast, from which derives: to throw, to place, to drop, to put, to put down. It appears only in the Gospels-Acts, with the exception of Revelation, and a passage in the Epistle of James and the first of John. It is a verb that we regularly see in Matthew: Mt = 33; Mk = 17; Lk = 18; Jn = 17; Ac = 5. Even if 20 of the 33 occurrences of the word in his Gospel are of his own, the evangelist does not try to put it forward by substituting it for certain key words from his sources. For ballō is well present in all evangelists, and the majority of Matthew's particular occurrences appear in scenes that are specific to him, such as the discourse on the mountain, or certain parables where one have to sort out, or certain stereotypical expressions like being thrown on a bed (bedridden), being thrown into prison, throwing the hook. And here, in v. 26, as we have pointed out, Matthew simply copies a sentence from Mark 7:27.

kynariois (chiots) The name kynarion (little dog, puppy) appears only in this scene throughout the Bible: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. It is Mark who introduced it in his account of the Syro-Phenician woman (7, 27-28), taken up again by Matthew (15: 26-27). Why this reference to puppies? First of all, what does the dog represent? We must avoid the modern bias that sees in the dog the faithful and endearing pet that we like to spoil, and that sometimes occupies a place in the bed. A passage from Matthew's Mountain Discourse may enlighten us:

Do not give to the dogs (kyōn) what is holy, do not throw your pearls before the swine, lest they trample on them and then turn against you and maul you (7: 6).

Here, the dog is on the same level as the pig who has to make do with leftovers or garbage. In antiquity, the dog lives outside and often leads a life of scavenger (see 1 Kings 14:11: "Those of Jeroboam's family who die in the city will be eaten by the dogs"), as is also implied in this parable of the rich man and Lazarus: "Moreover, the dogs themselves came to lick his ulcers" (Lk 16:21). To call someone a "dog" is an insult, because the dog is often associated with someone who has disgusting habits: "It happened to them what the true proverb says: The dog has returned to his own vomit, and the sow is whashed only to wallow in the mud" (2 Peter 2:22). This is how Paul can associate bad workmen with dogs and ask them to stay away: "Beware of dogs! Beware of bad workers! Beware of those who mutilisate the flesh!"(Phil 3:2). It is the same echo in Revelation: "Beware of dogs, and of sorcerers, and of unclean men, and of murderers, and of idolaters, and of all who delight in doing evil!" (Rev 22:15). The same perception is found in the Old Testament: one is afraid of the dog that appears to be an enemy ("Many dogs surround me, a band of rascals surround me, as if to tear my hands and feet to pieces", Ps 22:17); it is even presented as an abomination: "You shall not bring to the house of the Lord your God the wages of a prostitute or the payment of a dog, whatever you have vowed: for both are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Ex 23:19).

What about puppies, like here in v. 26? As the following v. 27 suggests, it seems that puppies, unlike dogs, were allowed to stay in the house. Why did they do this? Undoubtedly because of their fragility: they were not yet able to defend themselves against the hyena or the wolf, and had to be protected until the day they could face the enemy. Thus they could be fed with the scraps of the table, but never with good food, as Ex 22:30 shows: "You shall not eat the meat of a beast torn apart by a wild beast in the field, you shall throw it to the dogs". Even if the puppies were temporarily housed at home, they were not of great value. Thus, Jesus' assertion that it is immoral to waste children's essential food on future scavengers remains valid (the Old Testament uses the term "dead dog" to describe a worthless being, see 1 Samuel 24:15; 2 Samuel 9:8).

One might finally ask the question: since we are in non-Jewish territory, is there a link between the dog and the pagan world? This is possible, although it is not clearly stated. First of all, we have two examples (Mt 7:6 and 2 Pet. 2:22) where dogs and pigs are associated when we speak of vile beings we must keep away from. Now, pigs are associated with the pagan world, since the Jews did not eat them. Moreover, dogs are presented as evil and dangerous beings that must be avoided. Thus, there is a certain congruence in drawing the parallel between the pagan world and dogs.

v. 27 She continued, "It is true, master, but there are also puppies that eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table".

Literally : Then her she said: Yes (nai), master, for also (kai gar) the little dogs eat (esthiei) of the crumbs (psichiōn) the falling (piptontōn) from the table (trapezēs) of the masters (kyriōn) of them.

nai (yes)
Nai (yes, really) is an uncommon affirmative adverb in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 9; Mc = 0; Lc = 4; Jn = 3; Ac = 2. It is found most often in the Gospel of Matthew. And moreover, of the nine occurrences, seven are his own. Let us note right away that this "yes" always appears as an answer to a question or a challenge, and not in the context of a solemn affirmation by Jesus, Matthew preferring the expression: "Amen, I say to you"; the only two exceptions are 11: 9 ("What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. ") and 11:26 ("yes, Father, for such was your gracious will"), which come from Q document (the four occurrences in Luke are an echo also of Q document). Thus, the Sermon on the Mount asks the disciples to have a frank language ("Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one", 5:37), the disciples answer "yes" to Jesus that they have understood the parables (13:51), Peter answers "yes" to the tax collectors who ask him if his master pays the didrachma (17:25), finally Jesus answers "yes" to the chief priests and scribes who ask him, indignant, if he hears the children shouting in the temple: "Hosanna to the son of David".

Here, in v. 27, we have the expression "Yes, master", the Canaanite woman's response to Jesus' challenge to understand the meaning of his decision. Now, we also find this expression a little earlier in the Gospel according to Matthew (9:28): "When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to him, 'Yes, master.' " In the latter case, we are truly in a context of faith. This expression does not appear anywhere else in the Gospels except in John :

  • 11: 27: She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
  • 21: 15: When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
  • 21: 16: A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."

The fact that we find the same expression in both Matthew and John is surprising, since most biblical scholars agree that the Gospels of Matthew and John are independent of each other. It must be thought that the expression must have been known in the Christian communities and must have served to express their faith. It is precisely this expression that Matthew puts in the mouth of the Canaanite woman. And this gesture is conscious, since in Mark the woman simply says "Master" (some manuscripts have "Yes, master" also in Mark, but according to us, it is an attempt to harmonize by the copyists; see our argumentation in reference 1). What does this mean? Matthew clearly wants to place us in a context of faith, which will be confirmed in the following.

kai gar (for also)
With kai gar we have two conjunctions that follow each other, a linking conjunction, kai (and), and a causal conjunction, gar (for, because, indeed, that's why). The combined effect of the two conjunctions introduces the idea of an explanation which accentuates what has just been said and which is usually translated as : "yet even" or "for even" or "but even" or "for also". The expression is not very frequent in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 6; Jn = 1; Ac = 1. It is mainly found in Luke. As for Matthew, of the three occurrences, two come from his sources, the Q document in 8:9 ("For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me") and Mark in 26:73 ("Certainly you are also one of them, for even your accent betrays you"). There remains our verse here where Matthew seems to add the conjunction gar (for) to what he receives from Mark. Let us look closely at the beginning of the woman's response in the two evangelists:
Mark 7: 28Master, and (kai) the little dogs under the table eat of the crumbs of the children
Matthew 15: 27Yes, master, for even (kai gar) the little dogs eat of the crumbs the falling from the table of the masters of them.

In Mark, it seems that the woman brings a new point of view: Jesus says that it is not right to give the children's bread to the puppies, and the woman replies that he forgets to mention (the meaning of "and" (kai)) that the puppies eat the children's crumbs under the table. Matthew, on the other hand, apparently wants to prevent the woman from taking Jesus at fault, and so presents the woman's remark as a continuation of what Jesus said. First of all, she says, "Yes, master". This "yes" says: I agree with what you said. Then the "for also" accentuates what has just been said; it could be paraphrased as follows: you are right to say that it is not good to throw the children's bread to the puppies, since it is only crumbs that fall by chance from the table that the puppies eat. Hence our translation: for even puppies only eat... The change of tone in Matthew compared to Mark's is subtle, but very real, as we will see later on. Why is this? Let's not forget two things: Matthew has a high Christology, i.e. Jesus is seen through the eyes of faith after Easter, and therefore knows very well what he says and what he does, he is never caught in default; then, the Canaanite woman, as seen, is presented by Matthew as someone who has faith.

esthiei (it eats)
The first thing to note is that the original verb (esthiei, active present indicative, 3rd person singular) is a singular verb, while the subject (puppies) is plural. Did Matthew commit a syntax error? This is a peculiarity of the Greek language, more specifically the Attic version, where the verb can remain in the singular even if the subject is a neutral plural noun (there are examples in Homer): in this case the subject is considered as a whole composed of several parts (see Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges). However, the subject is kunaria (puppies), a neutral plural noun.

The verb esthiō (to eat, devour, put in the mouth) is very present in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 24; Mk = 27; Lk = 32; Jn = 15; Ac = 7. Only on the statistical level, we notice from the outset that Matthew finds it less interesting than Luke or Mark. And when we look more closely, we note that Matthew is most of the time content to simply copy his sources, the Q document (5 times), the Marcan source (14 times). As for the five occurrences that are proper to him, we observe that he adds it in 12:1 to clarify the reason why the disciples pluck heads of grain in Mark's account, in 15:20 to clarify the question of the clean and the unclean which Mark keeps at a high moral level, but which the Jew Matthew links to the fact of washing his hands or not, in 15:38 to clarify Mark's conclusion on the 2nd account of crowds feeding by specifying that the numbers mentionned are related to those who have eaten, and finally in 25:35.42 in the great fresco of the Last Judgment where giving food to the hungry is one of the criteria for entering the Kingdom. Thus, if we can find a point of insistence in Matthew, it is that the theme of eating concerns above all the fact of feeding the hungry. This is a far cry from Luke's scenes where Jesus accepts invitations to eat and sits at the table, or from his parables where people are feasting. There is something austere about Matthew.

Here, in v. 27, Matthew takes the verb from Mark's pen. But underlying the act of eating is Jesus' teaching that a puppy like the Canaanite woman is eager to eat, as we shall soon see.

psichiōn (crumbs)
Unfortunately, the name psichion is unique: it was introduced by Mark, whom Matthew copied, and does not appear anywhere else in the entire Greek Bible, and is almost absent from the writings of the great Greek authors. On a symbolic level, it translates the idea that puppies are content with the tiny remains of bread, and therefore that the pagan woman is willing to make do with the tiny remains of Jesus' teaching.

piptontōn (falling)
The verb piptō is the most frequent in Matthew, but the latter does not seem to make it play a particular role: Mt = 19; Mk = 8; Lk = 17; Jn = 3; Ac = 9. It has three main meanings:

  • First (9 times), it refers to an accidental reality where something falls to the ground: for example, a blind man falls into a hole (15: 14), a house collapses (7: 25.27), a bird falls to the ground (10: 29)
  • Then (6 times), it designates the symbolic gesture of prostrating or falling at someone's feet to pay homage (4: 9), or to express an intense supplication (18: 29).
  • Finally (4 times), Matthew repeats a scene from Mark that describes the voluntary action of the farmer who throws his seed for a harvest (13: 4-8).

Here, at v. 27, piptō belongs to an accidental reality where bread crumbs fall off the table. It seems to happen regularly, since the puppies are on the lookout. This is confirmed by this passage from Luke who writes: "He (Lazarus) would have liked to be satisfied with what fell from the rich man's table" (16, 21).

trapezēs (table)
Contrary to what one might think, the word trapeza is infrequent in the New Testament and in the Acts of the Apostles: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Ac = 2. It has two main meanings in the Gospels-Acts. First, there is this table, probably low with legs (obviously without a chair), to place the food for the meal. On the occasion of a feast and where there were guests, this table was on the first floor, on the terrace, as suggested by this passage of Mark where Jesus asks to prepare the Passover: "He (the owner) will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there" (14:15). It is the same situation that is presented in the Acts of the Apostles: "He (the jailor) brought them (Paul and Silas) up into the house and set a table before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God." (16:34). Thus, lying on a carpet with cushions, each one stretched out his hand to take food ("But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table", Lk 22:21).

But trapeza also translates as the counter or bench of the moneychangers (which gave rise to our word "bank", from "bench"): "And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves" (Mk 11:15). Luke's reference to the money-changer's table or bench as a bank is more explicit: "Why did you not entrust my money to the bank (trapeza)? When I returned, I would have withdrawn it with interest" (19:23).

Here, in v. 27, it should be noted that, while Jesus only mentioned giving the children's bread to the little dogs, it is the woman who introduces the idea of the table and what falls from the table. The scene has a certain congruence, because since ancient times one of the responsibilities of the woman has revolved around the table. But this experience here becomes for her the way to express in faith her request to Jesus: the experience of the table allows her to grasp what could only be implicit in Jesus' words (the bread is for children only) and to make it her prayer (but the puppies can be content with the crumbs from the table). And for Matthew, a leader of the Christian community, this is certainly the echo of the Christian table, the Eucharist (for the table as synonymous with the Eucharist, see 1 Corinthians 10:21 where Paul must call to order the Christians who participated in the feasts in the pagan temples: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot participate in the table of the Lord and the table of demons").

kyriōn (masters)
We have already analyzed above kyrios and we have noted that the word is sometimes attributed to God, Jesus, or to humans who exercise a form of authority and is generally translated as master. First of all, let us note that the word is here in the plural, and that it obviously refers to humans, more particularly to the owners of the puppies. But the very fact that the woman identifies herself with the puppies in her request to Jesus, and that Matthew accentuates her attitude of faith, we can see here in kyrios a double meaning: the masters of the dogs, and Jesus who became a master for the woman. For Matthew could simply refer to the puppies without mentioning their masters, as Mark does, and write: "that is why the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from the table". Why did he add "from their masters," which is not necessary? It is a reference to the woman's faith journey in Jesus as his master, and a transition to what follows.

v. 28 Then Jesus said to her, "My dear lady, how great is your faith! Let whatever you want happen!". And her daughter was healed at that very moment.

Literally : At this moment (tote) having answered, the Jesus said to her: O (ō) woman, great (megalē) of you the faith (pistis)! Happen (genēthētō) to you as you want (theleis). And was healed (iathē) the daughter of her from the hour (hōras) this one (ekeinēs).

tote (at this moment)
Tote is such an ordinary adverb that there would be nothing to say, if it were not a word almost fetish in Matthew: Mt = 90; Mk = 6; Lk = 15; Jn = 10; Ac = 21; it comes up in about every 12 verses. It is an adverb of time that is usually translated as "at his moment", "then", i.e. when the thing under consideration had been said or done, thereupon. It expresses a logical sequence of cause and effect. Since Matthew likes to structure things and present them in an orderly fashion, tote becomes the ideal tool for him. For example, "leave your offering there, before the altar, and go first to be reconciled with your brother; then come back, and then present your offering" (5:24); here, reconciliation must precede the offering. Of the 90 occurrences of his Gospel, 81 are proper to him. And so he likes to add this adverb to his sources, beginning with Mark. For example, in the scene in which Jesus is trapped about the tax to Caesar and he replies with a question about the effigy of the coin, Mark writes, "They said to him, 'Of Caesar'. But Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (12:16-17). When Matthew copies this scene, he makes a slight modification: "They say, 'From Caesar'. Then he says to them, "Give therefore to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (22:20-21); thus Mark's "but" has become a "then" for the payment of taxes is due to the use of Caesar's money. He does the same with the Q document. In Jesus' discourse on the return of the unclean spirit where the latter seeks a place of rest and does not find one, Luke writes: "He says, 'I will return to the house from which I came out'" (11:24). For his part, Matthew writes: "Then he said, 'To my house I will return, from whence I came'" (12:44); the addition of the small "then" allows Matthew to show the logical sequence between wandering without finding rest and returning to the point of departure.

What about tote in v. 28? What Jesus is about to declare is the consequence of what the woman has just said: there is a logical relationship. The healing that is about to take place is a consequence of what the woman has just said, i.e. the expression of her faith.

ō (O)
Ō is an interjection or exclamation expressing surprise, joy or sorrow. It is at the same time a call, because the word "woman" that follows is in the vocative and could be rendered thus today: "My dear lady! Do you realize how great your faith is? As one can imagine, ō is rather rare in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 3. In fact, one could say that there are only three occurrences in the Gospels, not five.
  • Mk 9:19: "O faithless generation," he said to them, "how long will I be with you? How long will I bear with you? Bring him to me.
  • Mt 15:28: "O woman, great is your faith! Let what thou wilt be."
  • Lk 24:25: Then he (Jesus) said to them (disciples of Emmaus): "O foolish hearts, slow to believe in all that the Prophets have spoken!"

The other two occurrences (Lk 9:41 and Mt 17:17) are only a repeat of Mk 9:19. What do we observe? The interjection is always in the mouth of Jesus, and it is always around faith: Jesus expresses either his surprise and joy in front of faith, or his surprise, disappointment or sorrow in front of the lack of faith. Surprise and joy are in front of a pagan woman, as if one did not expect to find faith in pagans (think of the account of the Roman centurion of Capernaum in Mt 8:10: "When Jesus heard this, he marvelled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly I say to you, I have not found such faith in Israel in anyone'"). On the other hand, Jesus was disappointed in his fellow countrymen in whom he expected to find faith.

megalē (great)
Megas is a very ordinary adjective meaning literally: large, but can include the dimension of strength and power. It is used regularly in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 20; Mk = 15; Lk = 26; Jn = 5; Ac = 31. Matthew uses it like the other evangelists (of the 20 occurrences, 12 are his own). He uses it to accentuate certain feelings (great joy of the Magi (2: 10), great joy of the women leaving the tomb (28: 8), the value of the commandment of God's love (the greatest commandment of the Law (22: 36. 38)), the impressive side of the end times (great signs (24: 24), loud trumpet (24: 31)) and the resurrection of Jesus (great stone before the tomb (27: 60), great earthquake as the angel descends from heaven (28: 2)). But what is remarkable here in v. 28, it is the only case in the Gospels where someone's faith is described as great: a woman, and a pagan woman in addition.

pistis (faith)
The term pistis (faith) is well known throughout the New Testament. But one will be surprised to learn that it is not so frequent in the Gospels: Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 11; Jn = 0; Ac = 15. In Matthew, of the eight occurrences, four are his own. But the occurrences unique to him come mainly from particular sources, and are not additions that he makes here and there to Mark or Q document, according to his habit. Does this mean that faith is not important to him? On the contrary, he is the only one to use the term oligopistian (of little faith: 17: 20) and three times that of oligopistos (people of little faith: 8: 26; 14: 31; 16: 8). Furthermore, while Mark attributes the disciples' inability to heal an epileptic to the fact that only prayer can succeed (9: 29), Matthew attributes it rather to their lack of faith and concludes that a person with faith "as big as a grain of mustard seed" would be able to move mountains (17: 20). And in his rebukes to the scribes and Pharisees, he mentions the fact of having neglected "the most serious points of the Law, justice, mercy and faith" (23:23). But faith is not a central and recurring theme for him, as is, for example, the practice of compassion (see the scene of the Last Judgment in chap. 25, and the leitmotif "It is mercy I want, not sacrifice" (9:13; 12:7)).

We cannot speak of faith without also speaking of the verb: to believe (pisteuō): Mt = 11; Mk = 14; Lk = 9; Jn = 98; Ac = 37; 1 Jn = 9. What is obvious is that the theme of faith comes above all from the Johannine tradition; the evangelist John never uses the word pistis, but always the verb pisteuō (to believe). As for Matthew, he remains true to himself: out of the 11 occurrences, six are his own, but they do not play a particular role.

So what is faith or belief for Matthew? Let us note first of all that the word "faith" for him, as for all the Gospels (the only exception being Mk 11:22 which speaks of faith in God), has no explicit object; Matthew does not specify faith "in whom" or "in what". Faith is something that is observed ("in no one have I found such faith in Israel": 8:10; "Jesus seeing their faith": 9:2). Faith has the ability to work wonders ("your sins are forgiven: your faith has saved you", 9:22; it can move a mountain: 17:20). Faith, therefore, appears as a fundamental trust in a happy outcome. But implicitly, the evangelist suggests that this fundamental trust comes from the presence of Jesus who triggers all these requests for healing (We will have noted in passing that this faith is different from the notion observed among some of our contemporaries where faith is defined as the belief in the existence of God or the adoption of a religion such as Islam).

Now let's look at the act of believing in Matthew. Once again, we find cases where the object is not explained (twice), one of which is peculiar to Matthew: "Go, as you have believed" (8:13). Implicitly, we know very well that it is a question of trusting in the happy outcome of a process, and that Jesus is its mediator. There are other cases where the object is made explicit (3 times), one of which is specific to Matthew who insists on trusting in Jesus' ability to heal: "Do you believe that I can do this" (9:28). Finally, there are cases where the object is a particular person (6 times), and if we focus on what is proper to Matthew, we first have to "believe in Jesus" ("If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea" (18:6); (note that Matthew here roughly copies Mark, but it is he who adds the "in me"); and then we have "to believe in John the Baptist": "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe in him; but the tax collectors and the harlots believed in him; and you, when you saw this example, did not even have a belated remorse that made you believe in him" (21:32) (note that this faith in John the Baptist is different from that in Jesus, for it means above all believing in the truth of the message he proclaims, which points to Jesus).

What can we conclude? There is a basic framework that emerges in Matthew: faith is this fundamental trust in the possibility of a happy outcome to what I seek, what I want, what I desire, and Jesus is in some way the catalyst. It is as if everything rests in the hands of the individual for things to happen. A typical example is that scene unique to Matthew where, after seeing Jesus walking on the water, Peter asks to be able to do the same thing, but after taking a few steps, he begins to sink, overcome by fear before the rising wind; and Jesus has this reply: "Man of little faith, why did you doubt?". Everything rested in Peter's hands and in his confidence despite the wind. Basically, Jesus is only making possible the expression of the full strength of faith.

Let us return to the Canaanite woman. What does Jesus say? "Great is your faith". We can now guess what happens next.

genēthētō (happen)
The verb ginomai (to arise, to become, to come into existence, to appear) is as frequent in Greek as the verbs to have and to be in English: Mt = 76; Mc = 54; Lc = 132; Jn = 50; Ac = 110. It is useless to make a detailed analysis here. Let us rather observe how this verb perfectly describes Matthew's perception of faith.
  • 8:13: Then he said to the centurion, "Go! Let it be done (ginomai) to you according to your faith!" And the child was healed within the hour
  • 9:29: And he touched their eyes, saying, "Let it be done (ginomai) unto you according to your faith."

Thus, to the Canaanite woman, the centurion and the two blind men, the Jesus of Matthew says the same thing: let what you desire and want happen with great confidence. As we have pointed out in analyzing faith in his Gospel, everything rests in the hands of the believing person who can make things happen; Jesus is only there, so to speak, to proceed to the final delivery. We are far from a magical Jesus who multiplies miracles by his own power.

theleis (you want)
The verb thelō means: to want, to be determined to, to desire, to wish, to enjoy, to love. Here is a completely Matthean word: Mt = 43; Mk = 25; Lk = 28; Jn = 23; Ac = 14. Among the 43 occurrences in his Gospel, 27 are his own. Thus, not only does he use it more often than the other evangelists, but he sometimes adds it to his sources. A typical example is the account of the transfiguration. Mark 9:5 writes: "And Peter spoke and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah'", Matthew copies this text with two modifications: "And Peter spoke and said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good that we are here; if you want, I will make three tents here, for you one and for Moses one and for Elijah one" (see also the crowds feeding narrative where, before the prospect for Jesus to send the crowd away on an empty stomach, Matthew adds to Mark's account "I do not want to, they might faint" (15: 32).

Why this insistence on the verbe "to want"? As we read through Matthew's Gospel, we note a particular insistence on action: "Not by saying to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will they enter the kingdom of heaven, but by doing the will of my Father in heaven" (7:21). This is a typically Jewish attitude in which the emphasis is on orthopraxis, "doing", right action; it is more important to have right actions than right ideas (orthodoxy). Thus, it is probable that he is the one who adds "Thy will be done, as it is in heaven, so also on earth" to the Lord's Prayer (a phrase absent from Luke 11:2). The importance of this will can be seen in some parables, such as that of the laborers in the vineyard: "Take what is yours and go. I want to give to the latter as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I want with my possessions? Or is your eye bad because I am good?" (20: 14-15); or the two sons whose father asks them to go to work in the vineyard: "I don't want to," replied the first; then, remorsefully, he went.... The second answered, "Yes, Lord, and he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father" (21:29-31).

Thus, for Matthew, the human being has the immense responsibility for his decisions and actions, which he is called to adjust to God's will. When he puts in the mouth of Jesus: "Let whatever you want happen", he underlines the importance of the action taken by the woman from the beginning, of respecting her free decision to pursue him to the point of annoying him. This decision and action were rooted in her immense faith.

iathē (she was healed)
The verb iaomai means to heal, to cure. It is not much used in the Gospels, except in Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 11; Jn = 3; Ac = 5 (the Gospels seem to prefer its synonym: therapeuō). In Matthew, the word is also little used: out of the four uses, one is borrowed from Q document in the scene of the centurion of Capernaum ("Say just one word and my child will be healed", 8, 8), which he copies at the end of the scene ("Let it be done to you according to your faith!". And the child was healed in the hour", 8:13); another is a citation from Isaiah 6:10 ("Let not their spirit understand, nor let them be converted, and I will heal them", 13:15). Only this scene from the Canaanite woman remains, therefore, where the word is really proper to Matthew. But one cannot help but see it as a somewhat stereotypical formula, as can be seen in the juxtaposition of the healing of the centurion's child, where Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion and the Canaanite woman to whom Jesus says that his faith is great.
8: 1315: 28
"Go! Let it be done to you according to your faith!" And the child was healed at that very moment"Let it be done for you as you want". And her daughter was healed at that very moment

Healing is in fact only the consequence of faith. Jesus is only a witness to it.

hōras (hour)
Let's start with the name hōra which is quite present in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 15; Mk = 11; Lk = 5; Jn = 25; Ac = 8. We will have noted the high number in John where the hour plays an important theological role. What about Matthew? We can distinguish three different meanings:
  • Time as a measure of time. The typical example is the parable of the laborers at the vineyard (20:3-12): "Out by the third hour (9:00) . Left again around the sixth hour (noon), then around the ninth hour (3 p.m.).... So those of the eleventh hour (5 p.m.) came ... Those who came only one hour (the sun begins to set around 6 p.m.)"

  • Time as a moment or a moment in time. For example: "And from that moment (hōra) the woman was saved" (9: 22; see also 15: 28; 17: 18).

  • The hour as a reference to Jesus' death on the cross: "Now you can sleep and rest: the hour is at hand when the Son of Man will be given over into the hands of sinners" (26:45).

Of course, hōra at v. 28 does not indicate a specific time of day, but the coincidence in time between the expression of the Canaanite woman's faith and the healing of her daughter: this form of immediacy wants to establish a causal relationship between the process in the faith of the Canaanite woman and its outcome.

ekeinēs (this one)
The complete and literal expression is: apo tēs hōras ekeinēs (from the hour that one). Why underline this expression? It is found only in Matthew in the Gospels, with one exception (it also appears once with a slight variation in John 19:27: "Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother'. From that hour (apo ekeinēs tēs hōras), the disciple took her (Jesus' mother) as his own". Here are the other cases.
  • 9:22: (Healing of the woman suffering from hemorrhages) "Jesus turned around and saw her and said to her, 'Take heart, my daughter, your faith has saved you.' And from that hour (apo tēs hōras ekeinēs) the woman was saved"
  • 17: 18: (healing of the epileptic son of a man) "And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil came out of him, and the child was healed from that hour (apo tēs hōras ekeinēs)".

These two examples are all the more remarkable because in 9:22 Matthew copies Mark 5:34 which simply reads: "Go in peace and be healed of your infirmity, my daughter, your faith has saved you"; and in 17:18 he copies Mark 9:25-27 which reads: "Jesus commanded the unclean spirit, saying to him, 'You, dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him.... And, crying out and shaking him strongly, he came out. And Jesus, taking him by the hand, straightened him up, and he stood up".

Thus, clearly and deliberately, Matthew added this expression to his sources. In this way he underlines, on the one hand, the authority of the word of Jesus, which bears no delay, and on the other hand, the strength of faith, which acts in an irrevocable way.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    General setting v. 21
    • Jesus leaves Gennesaret in Galilee for a retreat in pagan land

    First request for action v. 22
    • A Canaanite woman
    • Calls Jesus with his Messianic title
    • Speaks of her daughter as being possessed by a demon

    Lack of response from Jesus v. 23a

    Mediation by the disciples v. 23b
    • Request for intervention
    • Because the woman bothers them

    Jesus' first response: to the disciples v. 24
    • His mission is limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel

    Second request for action v. 25
    • The woman comes to Jesus and prostrates herself before him.
    • She evokes his lordship
    • Asking him for help

    Jesus' second response: to the woman v. 26
    • He can't give the puppies the children's bread

    Reply from the woman v. 27
    • Puppies can make do with the crumbs they get from their owners' table

    Jesus' third reponse v. 28a
    • Exclamation before such great faith
    • He orders the realization of what the woman wants

    Conclusion v. 28b
    • The Canaanite woman's daughter is immediately healed

    • It might feel like we're looking at a miracle story. Yet the healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter does not follow the usual structure, which can be summarized as follows:
      1. Presentation of the case (often by the narrator)
      2. Request for healing (either by the victim or by the victim's parent or custodian)
      3. Jesus' response and action (a gesture or a word)
      4. Ascertainment of the healing (often by the narrator)
      5. Reaction to the healing (often the crowd marvels and comments on Jesus)

      First of all, the presentation of the case (1) and the request for healing (2) are somehow merged: it is the woman herself who informs us of her daughter's problems through her request to Jesus. Then, in a surprising and unique way in the Gospels, Jesus refuses the request. Moreover, it is completely new that the disciples have to intervene to convince Jesus. Equally unprecedented is the need for the woman to present her request for a second time. Later, Jesus will decide to comply with this request only when he hears a word from the woman who, according to him, expresses a very great faith (3). Finally, the narrator ascertains the healing (4). On the other hand, no reaction to the healing is presented (5), a reaction that is often the normal conclusion to such an account, in order to highlight Jesus' being.

    • If the structure of this story differs from the usual structure of miracle stories, it is probably because the key to understanding it is different: it is less a question of revealing a dimension of Jesus' being than of revealing a new dimension of mission. Two elements point in this direction.
      • The mediation of the disciples, those disciples whom Jesus had sent on mission with the instruction: "Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:6), and who now ask to intervene on behalf of a non-Jewish woman, contrary to the initial instruction.
      • The evolution of the Canaanite woman, a non-Jew, is in three stages:
        • First of all she calls him Jesus with his Messianic title,
        • Then she acknowledges his lordship and pays homage to him
        • Finally, through the symbol of puppies and crumbs, she acknowledges that the slightest bit of his teaching can nourish her.

    • Thus, the place of the disciples and the slow opening at the request of the Canaanite woman leads us towards a discourse of mission.

  2. Context analysis

    Let us proceed in two stages, first by considering a possible plan of the whole of the Gospel and by observing where our passage fits in this great plan, then by considering the immediate context of our narrative, ie what precedes and what follows.

    1. General context

      Establishing which plan Matthew had in mind when composing his Gospel is a matter of conjecture. First, did he have any? Generally, it follows the sequence of Mark which begins in Galilee where takes place almost the whole of the ministry of Jesus, and ends in Jerusalem in a final confrontation with the Jewish authorities, where he will undergo a Jewish and Roman trial and will die crucified.

      But Matthew gives us a certain number of clues which allow us to make divisions. First there are the first two chapters of the narrative of the childhood of Jesus which represent in advance what will be the life of Jesus, son of David, the Emmanuel, ie God with us, rejected by the Jews through the figure of Herod who wants to kill him, received by the pagans through the figure of the Magi of the East, reliving the destiny of the chosen people through the stay in Egypt. We can consider these two chapters as a prologue to the Gospel.

      In ch. 3, through the preaching of John the Baptist, we have an introduction to Jesus who is clothed in the Holy Spirit, ready for his mission.

      The section that extends from ch. 4 though ch. 27 can be clearly divided into two separate sections using the situation of John the Baptist. In 4: 12, Matthew writes: "Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum". The imprisonment of John the Baptist is an opportunity for Jesus to stand on his own two feet, to begin his preaching, to choose disciples. This first section seems to end in 13: 58 while Jesus preaches in his homeland and the evangelist concludes: "And there he did not do many miracles, because they did not believe." In 14: 1, the evangelist announces a new section with the formula: "At that time" and describing the death of John the Baptist, figure of the fate that awaits Jesus. And in fact, this second section is marked by the shadow of suffering (16: 21 "From that moment, Jesus Christ began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, to suffer a lot .. . ") And death is awaiting Jesus with the three announcements of passion. It is a section initially centered on the disciples and on the opening of the pagans through the figure of the Canaanite woman, before the final confrontation with the Jewish authorities.

      The first section (4: 1 - 13: 58) starts by emphasizing the mission of Jesus with his preparation through the ordeal of the desert (4: 1-11), his initial preaching (4: 12-17 ) and the choice of the first disciples (4: 18-22), which ends with a summary (4: 23-25). Then comes the presentation of his program on the mountain, and of his action which accompanies his word through the grouping of ten miracles (5: 1 - 9: 38): Jesus shows himself powerful in words and in actions. And he delegates this mission to the disciples who will have to do the same (10: 1 - 11: 1). All of this triggers a period when one have to take a stand in relation to Jesus' person and teaching, where one have to know how to recognize the signs (11: 2 - 13: 58).

      The second section (14: 1 - 27: 66) is marked by the shadow of the death of Jesus, which began with the death of John the Baptist himself. The first section has ended with a statement of failure, so Jesus is now focusing on his disciples, preparing them for his demise. The Eucharistic symbols appear with the two schenes of Jesus feeding the crowd (ch. 14 and 15), the arrival of the pagans is announced with the story of the Canaanite woman (ch. 15), and the prospect of her imminent death which marks this whole section, just as of his resurrection through the story of the transfiguration (ch. 17). This is an opportunity for Jesus to explain how the disciples should live together (ch. 18). Then there is the final confrontation in which traps are constantly laid before him and where Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (ch. 21 - 23). Finally, Jesus offers a final speech concerning the coming of the Son of man and what will be the criteria for judgment, ie compassion (ch. 24 - 25), before remaining almost completly silent during his Jewish and Roman trial (ch. 26 - 27).

      The conclusion of ch. 28 is centered on the experience of the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the disciples to the whole world in a mission.

      One of the characteristics of the Gospel according to Matthew is to present to us five well-defined discourses or catecheses: teaching on the mountain (from 5: 1, "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him" through 7: 28-29 "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things... "); the teaching on the mission (from 10: 1" Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples... These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions..." through 11: 1 "Now, when Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples ... "); teaching in parables (from 13: 1 "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea... and he told them many things in parables..." through 13: 51-52 "Did you understood all this? ... "); teaching on fraternal life (from 18: 1 "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" through 19: 1 "When Jesus had finished saying these things..."); eschatological teaching (from 24: 3 "When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will this be'..." through 26: 1 "When Jesus had finished saying all these things").

      All these considerations on a possible plan of the Gospel according to Matthew can be represented by the following table.

    2. Immediate context

      The account of the Canaanite woman is situated in the second part of the Gospel, where Jesus centers his teaching on his disciples, after the refusal to believe of his compatriots, which ends the first section (see 13: 58). This second part is marked by the perspective of Jesus' death and the final confrontation with his compatriots.

      Let us first consider what precedes the account of the Canaanite woman (14, 1 - 15, 20).

      • Reminder of the death of John the Baptist whose disciples come to inform Jesus (14: 1-12)
      • Jesus feeds five thousand men and twelve baskets full of the rest (14: 13-21)
      • Jesus walks on the waters to join the disciples in a boat beaten by the waves, and Peter, trying to do the same thing and afraid of the violence of the wind, sinks, before Jesus rescues him with the reproach of lack of faith (14: 22-33).
      • Summary on the healings of Jesus in Gennesaret (14: 34-36)
      • Dispute with the Pharisees and the scribes about what is pure and what is unclean, because the disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before eating, which causes them to be scandalized.

      The death of John the Baptist announces the death of Jesus, and thus plunges us into the after-Jesus, the time of the Christian community. It is in this context that we must read the scene where Jesus feeds five thousand people, the evocation of the Eucharist where Jesus pronounces the blessing and breaks the bread for five thousand people, i.e. the five original loaves multiplied by a myriad, symbol of infinity, and the twelve baskets that remain are for the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Christians of Jewish origin. The evocation of the Church continues in the scene of the boat beaten by the waves, an image of the opposing forces, which the risen Jesus is able to dominate, but not Peter, the leader of the community, for lack of faith. This does not prevent Jesus from continuing to heal. But the fact remains that a certain number of Jews do not understand that the tradition of the elders, an echo of the circles where people of pagan origin were baptized, has been abandoned. It is here that the controversy about the pure and the impure arises, because non-Jews were considered impure and their contact was forbidden. This discussion is a source of conflict. This is what takes us away from the Jewish milieu and brings us into pagan territory, where the Canaanite woman's story begins.

      Let us now consider what follows after the account of the Canaanite woman (15:29-39)

      • Jesus returns to Galilee, on a mountain, where he performs countless healings. Throughout, Matthew follows Mark's sequence which specifies that this place in Galilee is in the Decapolis, a group of Greek cities, therefore non-Jewish. Matthew makes reference to it when he writes that, in the face of so many healings, people give glory to the "God of Israel" (15:31), that is, to a God who was until then a stranger to them.

      • Then follows the scene where Jesus feeds four thousand men with his seven loaves, and there will be seven baskets full of them. This scene is, of course, an evocation of the Christian Eucharist. But why two Eucharists, one with five thousand men, the other with four thousand? The answer lies in the place, here a non-Jewish milieu, and in the symbolism of the numbers. The number four evokes the four points of the compass (the points of the compass were known in antiquity, see 1 Chronicles 9:24), and therefore the whole universe, much wider than the Jewish milieu; hence the number four thousand, i.e. a myriad times four. As for the number seven, it probably refers to the seven men of Hellenistic origin appointed for table service (see Acts 6:1-6), because of complaints that widows of Greek origin were neglected in the Christian community. Thus, the place and the symbolism of the numbers tell us that this second Eucharist is addressed to non-Jewish Christians.

      Thus the context offers us a clear picture of the situation. On the one hand, situating ourselves after Easter, we have a Christian community beaten by the headwinds under Peter's leadership, to the point of seeming to perish and sometimes doubting, but still guided by Jesus who remains master of the weather (15: 22-33), who continues to feed his own through the disciples distributing bread (14: 13-21), and also continues to heal (15: 34-36). On the other hand, there are also the non-Jews who have joined the community, whom Jesus also heals (15: 29-31), whom Jesus also continues to feed through the disciples (15: 32-39). In such a context, the Canaanite woman's account, right in the middle, becomes the turning point in moving from an exclusively Jewish community to a much larger community. And the trigger point for this turning point is the scandal among some of the people of the lack of respect for Jewish traditions.

  3. Parallels

    The only parallel is with Mark (7:24-30). Identical words are underlined. In red are the similar words in both evangelists, but not in the same sequence or the same frame or the same time or the same form.

    Matthieu 15Marc 7
    21 And having gone out from there, Jesus withdrew towards the portions of Tyre and Sidon. 24 Then, from there, having rising up, he went away towards the region of Tyre. And having entered into a house, he was wanting no one to know [it] and he was not able to be hidden
    22 And behold a woman Canaanite from these boundaries having come out, was crying out saying, "Have mercy on me, lord, son of David; the daughter of me badly is possessed by a demon". 25a But a woman, immediately having heard about it, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit,
    23 Then him he did not answer her a word. And having come near the disciples of him were asking him saying: "Dismiss her, because she cries out from behind us".
    24 Then him, having answered he said: I was not sent, if not towards the sheep the having been lost of house of Israel.
    25 Then her, having come, was paying homage to him saying: master, come to the aid of me. 25b having come, fell prostrate at his feet. 26 Then, the woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by race, was asking him that he should cast forth the demon out of her daughter.
    26 Then him, having answered, he said, "it is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to little dogs. 27 Then, he was saying to her, "Permit first the children to be satisfied; for it is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to the little dogs".
    27 Then her she said: Yes, master, for also the little dogs eat of the crumbs the falling from the table of the masters of them. 28 Then her she answered and says to him, "Master, even the little dogs under the table eat of the crumbs of the children
    28a At this moment having answered, Jesus said to her, "O woman, great of you the faith! Happen to you as you want". 29 And he said to her, "Because of this word, go, the demon has gone out of your daughter".
    28b And was healed her daughter from the hour this one. 30 And having gone away towards her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon having gone out.

    The first thing that jumps out is the great difference in vocabulary despite a pattern that seems similar: there are very few words that we were able to underline to show that they were identical in the two evangelists. The only similarities are the fact that he leaves Galilee (from there), goes to the city of Tyre, a woman with a daughter possessed by a demon comes to meet him and asks him to look after her daughter; Jesus, for his part, is reluctant to answer this prayer because, he says, "it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the puppies", and following the reply of the woman who points out to him that the puppies eat the crumbs from the table, decides to obey her request.

    All this led a biblical scholar like M.E. Boismard, of the École Biblique de Jérusalem (Synopse des Quatre évangiles en français. Paris: Cerf, 1977, p. 236), to hypothesize that this story was originally intended to be part of a set of miracle stories used for missionary preaching. And this account could be like this:

    And a woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, when she heard of Jesus, having come, fell at his feet and asked him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her: "Go, the demon is come out of your daughter". And going into her house, she found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone out.

    This original story follows the usual structure of the miracle story: 1- presentation of the problem; 2- request for healing; 3- action of Jesus; 4- ascertainment of the healing (the only thing missing is 5- the reaction of the crowd). Note also that there is no mention of place.

    Again according to Boismard, it is Mark (whom he calls Mark-intermediate to distinguish him from the final version of his Gospel where Luke's pen seems to play a role) who would have modified this story so that it would address the theme of the Gentiles also invited to the Eucharistic meal: Thus he had taken care beforehand to broach the theme of the clean and the unclean where Jesus is affirming that nothing that enters into man can make him unclean, knowing very well that the pagans were considered unclean; and now he sets the scene in the pagan region of Tyre where he introduces the theme of bread that is not given to puppies, expressing the reticence of the first Christian communities towards pagans who were considered unclean, and finally, presents a positive response only after the determination of the woman, echoing the same determination in those who knocked at the door of the Church. Mark's intention is clear.

    It is this modified account of Mark that Matthew has before his eyes. He in turn modifies it to emphasize his point. First of all, he introduces the disciples into the scene to make them play the role of intermediaries or mediators as he does throughout his Gospel (see our analysis of the word disciple earlier). Then he clarifies Jesus' reticence by taking up again the scope of the mission, which is limited to the Jews ("I have not been sent except as the lost sheep of the house of Israel"), as he had specified in sending the disciples on mission (10:6). Then it is the faith of a woman that he wants to put forward with his "Yes, master" and puppies like her who have masters, a phrase that ends with Jesus' exclamation: how great is your faith. Finally, as he often does, Matthew standardizes the finale (see 8:13 on the centurion of Capernaum: "Then he said to the centurion, 'Go! Let it be done to you according to your faith!" And the child was healed within the hour").

    What can we conclude about the work of the Jew Matthew? In a context where openness to non-Jews is still timid in the Christian community of the first century and meets with much reticence, Mark's text allows him to enter into the debate. He recognizes the value of the Christian Jews' reticence, for had not Jesus himself limited his mission and that of the apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? On the other hand, Jesus himself broke this rule in the face of the faith of a pagan woman. So, how can we refuse at the Eucharistic table non-Jews of the same faith?

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    In order to understand Matthew, we must first reconstruct somewhat the context of Christian communities in the first century, particularly during this thirty-year period which extends from the year 50, when the question of the pagans who wanted to be baptized began to be seriously asked, to the year 80, the date on which the writing of the Gospel according to Matthew is approximately situated.

    Let us recall that we have no trace that Jesus asked himself this question. At the beginning of his mission, he followed in the footsteps of John the Baptist who wanted to be an "awakener" of the Israelites, inviting them to return to their Lord ("proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins", Mk 1:4). What does Jesus proclaim according to Mark 1:15? "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the good news"? Who is it for? To the Israelites. With this in mind, he assembles a team of twelve disciples? Why twelve? The reference is clear to the twelve tribes of Israel. Of course, Jesus was able to heal non-Israelites, as both Q document (a Roman centurion, see Luke 7:1-10, Mt 8:5-13) and Johannine tradition (a royal officer attached to Herod Antipas, 4:46-54) attest; this double attestation testifies to a very ancient tradition that is likely to go back to the historical Jesus. But one would look in vain for a call from Jesus to a non-Israelite to become one of his disciples. John mentions the arrival of Greek proselytes who want to see Jesus (12:20-26) through Andrew and Philip, which triggers in Jesus the response that seems strange in the context: "The hour has come when the Son of Man is to be glorified". Why speak of "the hour of glorification" when Greeks want to see him? It is a clear allusion to the death of Jesus, so it is only after his death that the Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, will have access to Jesus. Another passage of John goes in the same direction: "I have yet other sheep that are not of this fold; these also I must lead; and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (10:16). The verbs are in the future tense; this future tense sends us back after Jesus' death.

    When did the question of the integration of non-Jews into the Christian community arise? Probably early enough, through the Gentiles defining themselves as Jewish sympathizers, who were called God-fearing, when Jewish Christians began to disperse because of persecution. Luke gives us a somewhat romanticized portrait of them through the account of the baptism of the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10:1-48) and Peter's speech rejecting the Jewish prohibition of fraternizing with a stranger or entering his house, stating that no man should be considered defiled or unclean, and telling us that the Holy Spirit had suddenly entered Cornelius and those who were with him, crying out : "Can we deny the water of baptism to those who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we have?". Thus, the opening to non-Jews was not the fruit of a long reflection, but of a series of events that forced things.

    But one question has not yet been resolved: how should this integration of non-Jews take place? Should they become Jews, i.e. should they respect Jewish laws and customs such as the Sabbath, the ritual of the annual feasts, dietary prescriptions, rites of purity, circumcision? If not, what are the minimum requirements? Paul, however, a good Jew, advocates freedom from Jewish traditions, because for him they play no part in the access to the new life offered by the resurrected Jesus; only total acceptance in faith is important. Thus, for example, he distances himself from circumcision, as we can see when he writes in his letter to the Galatians, referring to his stay in Jerusalem during that famous meeting to discuss this question: "From Titus himself, my companion who was Greek, they did not demand that he be circumcised. But because of the intruders those false brothers who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, in order to reduce us to servitude, people to whom we refused to give in" (2:3-4). And it was during this meeting of the leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem (in the autumn of 51) that James, Jesus' brother, spoke according to Luke, saying: "Therefore I judge that those of the Gentiles who convert to God should not be troubled. Let them only be commanded to abstain from what has been defiled by idols, from unlawful unions, from strangled flesh and blood" (Acts 15:19-20).

    Despite everything, tensions remain if we are to believe Paul himself in his letter to the Galatians (about 53 AD) when he refers to an incident in Antioch: "For before the arrival of certain people from the company of James (Jesus' brother), he (Peter) was taking his meals with the Gentiles; but after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction " (Gal 2:12). It will have been understood that the question of the common meal refers to the question of the common Eucharist. Paul's reaction was not long in coming: "But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (Gal 2: 14). Subsequently, the Judaizers, those Christian supporters of the preservation of Jewish customs, continued to spread intrigues in the various Christian communities to convince Christians to remain faithful to Jewish practices and to denounce Paul as an impostor. Much of Paul's epistle echoes this.

    The Church of Antioch, where the conflict reported by Paul took place, appears to be a very conservative Church, and it is from there that many Judaizers started their campaign. Now, according to many biblical scholars, it was probably at Antioch that the Gospel according to Matthew was written. Such a context explains the very Jewish character of this Gospel. At the same time, such a context highlights the innovative and liberating thought of the author, with his Sermon on the Mount which distances itself from the teaching of Moses and proclaims the beatitudes, with its invectives addressed to the Pharisees, with its emphasis on compassion ("I was hungry, you gave me food...").

    Let us return to Matthew as he writes this story about a pagan woman. He has before his eyes this passage where Mark places Jesus in a pagan context, after having fed the Jewish crowd in Galilee and after taking care, in the scene that follows, to present a Jesus distancing himself from what is considered unclean, in particular the contact of a Jew with a pagan : After the reminder that Jesus' teaching is primarily addressed to the Jews, Mark presents us with a woman ready to be satisfied with the crumbs of this teaching, so hungry is she, which opens the door not only to the healing of her daughter, but also to a second scene where Jesus feeds the crowd, this time in Decapolis, a territory occupied by non-Jews, Greeks; after the Eucharist with Jews, it is the Eucharist with Gentiles.

    This is what Matthew has before his eyes. He takes up this account with his own particular touch, thinking of his Jewish-Christian audience and the tensions in the face of the integration of non-Jews. First of all, he makes sure that no mistake is made about the paganism of the woman, since she is "Canaanite", a word that resounds very strongly for a Jew who knows the Old Testament. Now this woman is capable of recognizing Jesus' messianity, since she calls him "Son of David". But her prayer is unsuccessful without the intervention of the disciples, since the death of Jesus they have become his mediators, a role in a structured community which Matthew holds dear. It is here that he evokes the objection of many in his own community that Jesus' mission was for the Israelites and not for the pagans. Through a slight modification of the woman's response in Mark, Matthew presents us with the figure of a woman whose faith is so great that she accepts this Jewish priority, but the crumbs that remain of this teaching are enough to nourish her and to recognize in Jesus her Lord. And Matthew accentuates this faith in Jesus' exclamation: How great is your faith! We have here a qualifier never before used for a Jew. And a conclusion is obvious: how can we refuse baptism to people of such faith, and afterwards, how can we refuse the Eucharist; it is Jesus himself who opened the door.

    Matthew does not dwell on the details of the integration of non-Jews into the community. It was enough for him to take up Mark's text on the clean and the unclean and to remind the fundamentalists of the Law that the Law is centered on "justice, mercy and faith" (23:23). But what he wants to proclaim loud and clear is that non-Jews have their place in the community, for their faith has surpassed that of all others.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      • The first symbol is that of the stranger; Jesus is in a foreign country and meets a stranger. What is more uncomfortable than being in a foreign country or being confronted by strangers? With the migratory flows around the world, it is impossible to avoid this question. Where do we stand? Above all, how can we reflect the Gospel without being naive or blindly optimistic? How can we achieve successful integration?

      • "Have mercy on me", a cry for help. These cries are all around us if we know how to listen. It is not only individuals, but also organizations that ask us for financial support. Who can we say yes to? Who can say no to? What are our values and criteria for making the right decisions? And these decisions are not just individual decisions, they are also community and social decisions. There are countries that are closed in on themselves, and others that know how to open up to human misery.

      • "My daughter is badly possessed by a demon". There are diseases for which we feel unprepared. This is especially the case with mental illness. And it sometimes makes us feel a little ashamed. When it expresses itself violently, it can have terrible consequences. When it comes in the form of Alzheimer's, it causes infinite sadness. Matthew's answer is to talk about the faith of a mother who turns to Jesus. What is ours?

      • "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". This is how Jesus would have understood his mission. How do we understand ours? We all have a particular mission, or to use a more common expression, we have a particular responsibility. Very often it begins with one's own family, one's spouse, one's own children or grandchildren. But can it go beyond that? How do we respond to certain challenges to expand our circle of responsibility?

      • "Great is your faith". Today's Gospel cannot be read without addressing the question of faith, faith not in the sense of a doctrinal content, but in the sense of the recognition of the infinite value of the word and the person of Jesus, and of his current and active presence in our world. This recognition takes place in a world in turmoil, where our universe seems to be cracking on all sides and appears unrecognizable, where the temptation is great to call for a return to the past, and to reject the unknown with all these strangers. Where exactly does our faith lie? How creative and life-giving is it?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      • The far-right is making itself heard loudly all over the world, attacking the presence of foreigners, claiming race purity and uncompromising national values. This week, hundreds of white nationalists marched and gathered on the University of Virginia campus. This is a typical reaction to many changes. If it is understandable, is it acceptable? Does it not contradict the story of the Canaanite woman?

      • The current verbal escalation between the President of North Korea and the President of the United States is the most terrifying threat. Suspicion has long existed between, on the one hand, a state that has always felt its existence threatened, and sees in the atomic weapon its salvation, and on the other hand, a state that sees itself as the sheriff of the world and prefers strong methods in the face of thugs. Even if there is no simple solution, what path could be traced by a strategy inspired by a faith similar to that of the Canaanite woman? What would happen if a president invited himself to his rival's table around a common loaf of bread for a one-on-one discussion?

      • Venezuela is a country in agony. What is astounding is the breakdown in communication between a large part of the population and another, mainly composed of its leaders, supported by the army; it is the confrontation between two bodies that have become foreigners, with all the misery that ensues. The solution of one is to strengthen its authority, and that of the other to multiply the protests and disturbances; there is no way out. Is there any other way than force? How can we create a breach, like that Canaanite woman who cried out for help and said, "Have mercy on me, my child has gone mad"? And if faith can be that breach, what exactly does it mean?

      • It is fascinating to see how beings, who have lived in the greatest intimacy as a couple, can become strangers to each other. It's as if becoming strangers or intimate means little. Divorce and separation have become commonplace realities that no longer trigger surprises. Our world is made up of reconstituted families. Very often, a youthful mistake is followed by a stable reality. But what makes a cement solid or brittle? What makes one couple become one, and another a juxtaposition of two individuals? What made the Canaanite woman a being who really met Jesus?

      • We are talking about the integration of the strangers who knock on our doors. It's a real challenge. But is it greater than the integration of one's own being? How many people are strangers to themselves. How many people cannot reconcile themselves with a part of themselves. Hatred of the stranger often comes through hatred of oneself. According to Matthew, the Canaanite woman was not afraid of the Jew Jesus. The love of her daughter probably contributed to this: what did she have to lose? Were not all means good to help her daughter? But Matthew says that she had something more: faith. Faith is a true magnet that attracts everything, that cements everything, that reconciles everything. Do we really believe in the prospects it opens up?

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2017


1 The reading "Lord", without the "yes", is supported by the following manuscripts: papyrus P45 (3rd c.), codex Bezae (5th/6th c.), the Washington codex (5th c.) and the Koridethi (9th c.), a few lower case letters from the 9th and 11th c., old Latin translations (before the Vulgate of s. Jerome) from the 2nd to 4th c. and one of the first Syriac translations. On the other hand, the recension "Yes, Lord" is supported by the codex Vaticanus (4th c.), Sinaiticus (4th c.), Alexandrinus (5th c.) and a few others, many lower case, old Latin translations, the Syriac translation of the Peshitta and the Coptic translation. To decide on the authentic version, one simply cannot put all these versions on a scale and have the side with the most manuscripts triumph. First of all, not all manuscripts have the same value. For example, for biblical scholars, P45, the Sinaiticus, the Vaticanus and the Alexandrinus occupy a special place because of their quality and antiquity. But what to do when they do not all present the same version, as is the case here. One cannot simply say: the P45 is the oldest, and therefore the most authentic. Because even the oldest manuscript is dependent on a previous copy where a copyist may have made mistakes or taken the liberty to modify what he copied. Thus, after considering the quality of the versions, the question must be asked: in front of two different copies, what is most likely to happen if it is not simply a matter of inattention? For example, before Mark 7:28, what is more likely, that a scribe forgot the "yes" in "Yes, Lord", or that a scribe added the "yes" in Mark's version, knowing that Matthew had "Yes, Lord"? The study of the manuscripts shows that the copyists tended to harmonize the Gospel texts, so it is more likely that a copyist added "yes" to Mark's version to harmonize it with Matthew, rather than that a copyist forgot the "yes" by copying "Yes, Lord" from Mark.