10

27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν· Ναί, κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν. (Matthew 15:27, SBT GNT)

26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:26-28, ESV)

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:26-28, NIV2011)

Most translations and commentaries consider the woman's reply, using the Greek word ναί meaning 'yes', to be an affirmation of Jesus' statement that it is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs.

R. T. France instead argues that the woman is disagreeing with Jesus. The NIV2011 is the only translation I could find that follows this interpretation (a change from the NIV1984 which just says 'yes'.)

Ναί, "Yes," is not common in direct speech, and when it occurs normally conveys a positive answer to a preceding question. Its use here following a negative statement is striking and emphatic, and indicates disagreement with the negative statement Jesus has just made. (Davies and Allison, 2:555, declare that "The word is not intended to contradict Jesus' οὐκ," but give no reason for this surprising pronouncement.) The following γὰρ then gives the reason for disagreeing rather than, as most versions take it, meekly accepting his negative verdict and pleading for an exception. Surely that would need a following "but" or "yet," not a "for" (as indeed many versions insert with no warrant in the Greek -- so, e.g., GNB, NRSV, REB, NJB, NIV [but not TNIV]).

The "debate" reaches its climax in an unexpectedly feisty response from this Gentile woman. ... Far from being the meek acquiescence which most versions imply, it is a robust refusal to accept the apparent implication of Jesus' words. She turns Jesus' own parable against him. If Gentiles are to be "dogs," then at least let the dogs have their due. The dogs do have a right to be fed, even if all they get is the leftovers. Jesus, as the Messiah of Israel ("Son of David," v. 22), must indeed first go to his own people, but that does not mean that his mission must stop there. Her reply, whether she knows it or not, thus encapsulates the important biblical theology of the election of Israel not for their own benefit alone but to be a means of blessing to all nations, a light to the Gentiles (Gen 12:3, Isa 49:6). "Yes, it is right, Lord!" (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 589, 595.)

So what is the strongest argument for whether this woman was agreeing or disagreeing? If you are going to answer that she was agreeing, I would be especially interested in seeing arguments from commentators which specifically countered France.

8

There doesn't need to be an argument/ debate about if the women is agreeing or not, her answers is a classic, 'yes....but....' answer. It is therefore both a partial agreement and disagreement with what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying.

Matthew 15:27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν· ναὶ κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν. (Mat 15:27 BGT)

This is a type of answer that is still common place in the English language, for example one might say "It's going to be a very hot day, look at the blue sky' and another may respond, "Yes, the sky is blue but look at the clouds on the horizon.' The one responding is accepting the truthfulness of the statement that the sky is blue, but denying the implication being drawn from that fact by pointing out another relevant peace of information.

Likewise here the women concedes Jesus' point that he has come to minister to the Jews but she thinks that despite his point he should still help her because there should be some residual 'bread crumbs' left over even for the 'dogs'

This statement from the commentator however is very interesting, "The following γὰρ then gives the reason for disagreeing rather than, as most versions take it, meekly accepting his negative verdict and pleading for an exception. Surely that would need a following "but" or "yet," not a "for" (as indeed many versions insert with no warrant in the Greek -- so, e.g., GNB, NRSV, REB, NJB, NIV [but not TNIV])." It is interesting because he has just provided a sound reason fro translating the "καὶ γὰρ" as 'but' (or some synonym in English).

In the opinion of this writer the commentator has created an issue that does not exist with his assertion that the text of many English Bible versions have the women 'meekly accepting' that simply isn't the case:

NKJ Matthew 15:27 And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

KJV Matthew 15:27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.

ESV Matthew 15:27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

NET Matthew 15:27 "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

NIB Matthew 15:27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

NAS Matthew 15:27 But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

They all present her accepting the truthfulness of the facts but rejecting the apparent implication of those facts, as is demonstrated by the choice of the coordinating conjunction. However, the TNIV chooses to not translate the conjunction and instead translates the particle "ναὶ" as 'Yes it is.'

The commentator picks up on this reading that seems to read a lot into the emphatic particle ναὶ what is interesting to this writer is that after asserting that there is no reason to read καὶ as 'but' he then, without apparent reason reads "ναὶ" in a way that doesn't seem have lexical support. Thayer, for example, points out that the particle is "responsive and confirmatory of the substance of some question or statement"

See also

69.1 ναί: an affirmative response to questions or statements or an emphatic affirmation of a statement—‘yes, yes it is true that, yes it is so, sure, indeed.’ πιστεύετε ὅτι δύναμαι τοῦτο ποιῆσαι; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ναί, κύριε ‘do you believe I am able to do this? They said to him, Yes, Lord’ Mt 9:28; ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Ναί, κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια … ναί, ἔρχομαι ταχύ ‘yes, indeed, I am coming soon’ Re 22:20.[Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 664). New York: United Bible Societies.]

And,

[GING] ναί ναί affirmative particle yes, yes indeed Mt 5:37; 11:9, 26; 17:25; Lk 7:26; 12:5; J 11:27; 21:15f; Ac 22:27; 2 Cor 1:17–20; Phlm 20; Js 5:12. Certainly, indeed Mt 15:27; Mk 7:28 v.l.; Rv 14:13; surely 22:20. [pg 131]

[Fri] ναί particle expressing affirmation; (1) as denoting assent or agreement yes (MT 9.28); (2) as affirming the statements of others certainly, that's so, quite so (MT 15.27); (3) as emphasizing one's own previous answer to a rhetorical question yes, indeed (MT 11.9); (4) as an emphatic repetition of one's own statement yes indeed, I tell you, even so (MT 11.26); (5) ν. ν. used in strong affirmation instead of an oath formula certainly yes, yes and amen (MT 5.37; JA 5.12) ναί QS ναί

[LS] ναί ναί, Adv., used in strong affirmation, yea, verily, Lat. nae, Hom., Att.; in Hom. mostly followed by δή. 2. ναὶ μά in oaths, yea by. . , ναὶ μὰ τόδε σκῆπτρον Il.; μά is sometimes omitted, ναὶ τὰν κόραν Ar.; ναὶ πρὸς θεῶν Eur. II. in answers, alone, aye, yes, τοῦτ᾽ ἐτήτυμον; answ. ναί Aesch.; ναί, ναί Ar.

  • Well France disagrees that she concedes anything. You present the dominant interpretation, and it could well be right, but you haven't argued for it. – curiousdannii Sep 12 '15 at 8:03
  • @curiousdannii no he doesn't, he says she refuses to accept the 'implication' of what he is saying, which is exactly what I said she does! – Jonathan Chell Sep 12 '15 at 8:06
  • "Its use here following a negative statement is striking and emphatic, and indicates disagreement with the negative statement Jesus has just made." "Yes, it is right, Lord!" I'd say these means he thinks she was disagreeing with Jesus. – curiousdannii Sep 12 '15 at 8:08
  • @curiousdannii which he then goes on to qualify with this, "Far from being the meek acquiescence which most versions imply, it is a robust refusal to accept the apparent implication of Jesus' words. – Jonathan Chell Sep 12 '15 at 8:11
  • 1
    I was going to ask whether there any lexical support to read γὰρ as concessive, but BDAG actually mentions this use in its entry, making the point: oft. the thought to be supported is not expressed, but must be supplied fr. the context. The unexpressed (or not re-expressed, since it was stated in 15:25) thought, it seems to me, is “You should help me.... καὶ γὰρ the dogs...” In that reading γὰρ carries its usual sense as a marker introducing the reason why. (I'm agreeing with your answer, and +1.) (cc: @curiousdannii) – Susan Sep 13 '15 at 0:26
4
+50

I agree with your reading of France, as he makes it clear in his last statement you quote from him a more direct opposition to Christ's statement is what he believes it means:

"Yes, it is right, Lord!"

However, the context itself renders France's argument invalid. She is in fact "affirming" Jesus' statement, as is clear from her own qualification. Observe the words used between them, especially the verbs and object of those verbs (taking the ESV quote; lemmas for the Greek words given in brackets):

26 And he answered, “It is not right to take [λαμβάνω] the children's bread [ἄρτος] and throw [βάλλω] it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs [ψιχίον] that fall [πίπτω] from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:26-28, ESV)

Her counter statement in no way rejects what Christ said. If she was saying "Yes, it is right, Lord!" She would be saying "Yes, it is right, Lord, to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." If she were making that statement with her ναί, then her following statement of "the crumbs that fall" would make no sense at all. Who needs falling crumbs if the bread itself is supposed to be taken and tossed to them!?

The problem is France, in this matter anyway, does not see the obvious. Your quote from him notes:

(Davies and Allison, 2:555, declare that "The word is not intended to contradict Jesus' οὐκ," but give no reason for this surprising pronouncement.)

Davies and Allison likely give no reason because of the contextual fact (as I demonstrated) that no explanation should be needed. It is not a "surprising announcement" for them to make at all, if one simply considers the context. The woman would not have followed up her ναί with the statement she did make if she intended the ναί to affirm the positive (opposite) of Jesus' negative statement.

France also argues:

The following γὰρ then gives the reason for disagreeing rather than, as most versions take it, meekly accepting his negative verdict and pleading for an exception. Surely that would need a following "but" or "yet," not a "for."

But γὰρ is not always a "reason," for according to William Arndt et. al. in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) [a.k.a. BDAG], while γὰρ is often causal, it can also be a (bold in original):

marker of inference, certainly, by all means, so, then. In self-evident conclusions, esp. in exclamations, strong affirmations, etc.

Because of the γὰρ being the (post-positive) conjunction, the καί in the "καὶ γὰρ" introducing her following statement would be non-conjunctive, and in context, fits as an intensive "even" (BDAG, s.v. καί).

So the Greek and translation would be (note, δὲ and γὰρ are post-positive conjunctions that are placed second in a Greek sentence, but in English, we swap the position of them to the front, so I've grouped those words with braces):

{Ἡ   δὲ}   εἶπεν   Ναί κύριε  {καὶ γὰρ}        τὰ  κυνάρια ἐσθίει 
{And she}  said,  "Yes, Lord, {certainly even} the dogs    eat

ἀπὸ  τῶν ψιχίων  τῶν      πιπτόντων ἀπὸ  τῆς τραπέζης τῶν    κυρίων αὐτῶν
from the crumbs, the ones falling   from the table    of the Lord   of them."

So her statement is an intensifying of her affirmation of Christ's statement, while at the same time offering the further implication that when children are eating their bread (that has not been tossed to the dogs, as Christ said), crumbs fall that the dogs get to partake of themselves.

Her faith was shown in that she believed, as a Gentile, even she could benefit from the leftovers of Christ's ministry to the Jews. He did not have to actively "take" His energy away from His ministry to "give" her enough mercy in healing her daughter (as she asked in v.22, which started the whole encounter). And she was right, Jesus simply spoke it be done and it was (v.28): His ministry to the Jews in no way compromised. But she was rewarded because her faith was such that she knew that she only needed the crumbs of mercy He could show her to heal her daughter.

Commentators

I have yet to find a commentator directly engaging France on this. That is not to say one has not, but perhaps (as I argue above), it is such an obvious thing that she is not contradicting, that commentators have not felt a need. More likely, I just have not found the right commentator.

I have found a couple of commentators so far that do directly engage the concept that France argues for, though without much detail other than a bare assertion.

Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000) on p.232 notes (bold emphasis added):

She worded her response not as a contradiction of what Jesus had just said but as an extension of the argument Jesus had presented.

Even more remote in the past (1865 for original printing) is John Peter Lange and Philip Schaff, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008) on page 282 (bold emphasis added; all italics original):

The word ναί by way of admission, not of contradiction; but not exclusively, or even primarily, referring to the designation “little dogs.” To have done so would have been to miss the meaning of Christ, although He had, no doubt, also intended to set before her mind the defilement clinging to her as a heathen. She acquiesces in the truth of the whole statement, humbly submitting to the judgment implied in the figure employed—that she had no right or title to the covenant-dispensation. But adopting this very figure (not with ἀλλά, as Chrysostom, Luther, [and our authorized version] have it, but with καὶγάρ, she converts it into an argument. Yea, Lord—she says—it is even so: it is not meet to give the children’s bread to the little dogs; but, on the contrary, the little dogs are sustained by what is left over from the superabundance on their master’s table. De Wette interprets: “For dogs must be content with the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” The meaning of her reply seems to be: Even so, Lord; for it is not customary for the children to suffer want in order that the little dogs may be fed, but rather that the latter are sustained by the crumbs which fall from the table. Viewed in this light, the reply is most becoming, indicating: 1. Humility, or submission to a figure which apparently involved shame and, as understood by the Jews, reproach. 2. Perseverance, transforming a seeming refusal into an implied promise of help. 3. Spirituality, recognizing under the repulsive garb of the figure, the mind of Christ, whose love and benevolence she realized even through the unpromising medium. Evidently she beheld the rich fulness of Christ and of His kingdom. 4. Confidence, that the goodness and grace of the Lord were unlimited and illimitable.

The fact that these commentators at least mention the contradiction to discount it implies they were at least aware of that idea being circulated for an understanding of it, but apparently not a widely held idea.

Circular Evidence

You note:

R. T. France instead argues that the woman is disagreeing with Jesus. The NIV2011 is the only translation I could find that follows this interpretation (a change from the NIV1984 which just says 'yes'.)

The reason for the change in the NIV particularly is no doubt because of France's influence, for according to the Wikipedia article on him:

He had been a member (since 1989; vice-chairman since 2005) of the Committee on Bible Translation responsible for the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), and for Today’s New International Version (2005).

He died in 2012, a year after the 2011 NIV came out. So the NIV translation is not an independent scholarly witness that it should be translated as a contradiction, for France clearly influenced the change.

  • I can see the logic of this argument, but also the logic of France's. :p The Gentiles need their falling crumbs because the Jews didn't realise they were meant to be sharing the bread directly. Such an interpretation does mean that Jesus would have been testing her rather than being corrected by her. – curiousdannii Dec 21 '15 at 16:37
  • @curiousdannii: "The Gentiles need their falling crumbs because the Jews didn't realise they were meant to be sharing the bread directly" misses the point. Jesus is stating He is not come to minister directly to the Gentiles. So it is He who is unwilling to share "the bread directly" at this point in His ministry. He will command that to be done by Peter going to Cornelius and with the apostle Paul's ministry call, both post-resurrection. But her showing of faith (as a little dog faithfully awaits the droppings of its master) does let her partake of the crumbs He will let fall to her now. – ScottS Dec 21 '15 at 17:34
0

One connection that clarifies this:

The Greek for dog in vs. 26 isn't the normal derogatory one that pious Jews of that time would use for the unclean Gentile. It was an affection term, instead. Jesus gave the woman a big opening and I would guess she smiled when she replied. She has amazing trust, as demonstrated by her coming to Jesus in the first place and, secondly, by realizing that Jesus was had a sense of humor and replying to what Jesus was really saying.

Note that the Gentiles of her nation would not be utterly ignorant of the beliefs of the Jews and she obviously had an intelligent grasp on their ideas of the Messiah considering that Jesus' reply to her request didn't leave her nonplussed.

  • Can you give some references for the Greek being affectionate? – curiousdannii Sep 22 '17 at 23:50
  • curiousdannii: Maybe, but: 1. It is a diminutive form in the Greek and that is often used as an affectionate term. 2. The context should always be checked in translation and it almost demands that the diminutive form be affectionate because Jesus includes children in his first reply. – Muddleglum Smith Sep 24 '17 at 2:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.