In Matthew 15, Jesus visits the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon and encounters a Canaanite with a demon-possessed daughter.

“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Matthew 15:22 (NIV)

When Jesus appears to ignore the woman, his disciples ask him to send her away, and Jesus gives them this insight. 

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Matthew 15:24 (NIV)

Upon hearing this, the woman cries out to Jesus, and we see this exchange:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment (emphasis added).

Matthew 15:25-28 (NIV)

In those days, it was common for Jews to call Gentiles “dogs” because they were “unclean.” Yet, it seems strange that Jesus would call this Gentile woman a dog because that’s not a kind and loving thing to say. 

Earlier in Matthew, Jesus gave his disciples this insight. 

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (emphasis added).

Matthew 7:6 (NIV)

In both cases, Jesus uses the word dog, but the Greek words used in these two cases have significantly different connotations. 

In Matthew 7:6, Jesus uses the Greek word “kuón,” which refers to the wild dogs that roamed the regions and were hated by everyone. However, in Matthew 15:26, Jesus used the Greek word “kunarion,” which refers to puppies and other little domesticated dogs people kept as pets. Therefore, Jesus wasn’t referring to something negative. Still, it looks like Jesus called the woman a dog, so let’s look further.

The context of this exchange deals with Jesus helping a Gentile. However, Jesus was sent first to the Jews to help them. As God’s chosen people, the Jews had to be offered salvation before it could be offered to anyone else. This is what Jesus means in Matthew 15:24 when he says he was sent to the “lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus’ ministry wasn’t to the Gentiles. That means it wasn’t to us. We only received His grace and mercy because the Jews didn’t believe he was the Messiah and refused salvation. 

In Matthew 15:26, Jesus says it wouldn’t be suitable for a father to feed his pets before feeding his children. That’s a statement we can agree on. Imagine your family has a dog, and instead of feeding the dog leftovers from dinner, you get the dog’s portions. 

The Canaanite woman’s response fits perfectly within the context of what Jesus said because she understood the metaphor. However, she aptly points out that even the dog gets the leftovers. The Canaanite woman isn’t acknowledging that she’s a dog because Jesus didn’t call her a dog. Instead, as I have said, she understood the metaphor. 

Matthew 15:26 is an excellent example of why we must approach Scripture in context because taking it out of context can lead to misunderstanding and confusion.