The Syrophoenician Woman (Mk 7:24-31)

Exegesis, 1996

23 Pages, Grade: A


C o n t e n t s

1 The Syrophoenician Woman (Mk 7:24-31)

2 Introduction

3 Textual Problems

4 Form Criticism

5 Redaction Criticism

6 Issues Raised by the Text
6.1 The Harshness of Jesus' Reaction
6.1.1 The woman's disadvantage as a Gentile
6.1.2 Her Disadvantage as a Woman
6.1.3 The Place in the Gospel: Initiation of the Gentile Mission
6.2 The Woman's Behavior
6.2.1 She overcomes Barriers
6.2.2 "Little People" with Faith
6.2.3 Her Attitude of Being Servant
6.2.4 The Woman’s Ministry

7 Narrative Criticism
7.1 Type-Scene of Healing: "Suppliants with Faith"
7.2 The Rhetorical Device of Suspense

8 Conclusion

9 Bibliography

1 The Syrophoenician Woman (Mk 7:24-31)

24And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. 25But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.[1]

27And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 28But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

29And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." 30And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis.

2 Introduction

Whenever I read or heard the pericope about the Syrophoenician woman, I was struck by the harshness of Jesus' reaction towards this woman. I could not understand how he who had said: "Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you"[2] could so harshly reject the woman's request. This is the reason why I wanted to write my research paper about this pericope. I wanted to find out more about it than I had heard so far, for what I had heard had never fully satisfied me. So I did research about this text and will now put my results together. After textual, form, and redaction criticism I will focus on Jesus' and the woman's behavior from different perspectives.

3 Textual Problems

3.1 Verse 24:

'Eke‹qen d ¢nast¦j ¢pÁlqen e„j t¦ Ória TÚrou kaˆ Sidînoj. (...)[3]

Some manuscripts do not have the words kaˆ Sidînoj in verse 24. Although some of the most important witnesses, such as the codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus, the minuscle 33, and the majority text do have these words, Metzger claims that it is an assimilation to Mt 15:21 and Mk 7:31. His reasoning for this is that if "they had been present originally, there is no reason why they should have been deleted."

3.2 Verse 28:

¹ d ¢pekr…qh kaˆ lšgei aÙtù: kÚrie: kaˆ t¦ kun£ria Øpok£tw tÁj trapšzhj (...)

There are four different readings for the woman’s response in verse 28. Besides the one shown above, there is one saying "nai, kurie, kai", another "nai, kurie, kai gar", and one which says "kurie, alla kai". These differences are especially important because they alter the degree to which the woman’s response is servile or objecting. Metzger states that the case here is similar to the variant reading in verse 24: The word na… seems to be an assimilation to Mt 15:27, because it occurs eight times in Matthew, four times in Luke, and nowhere else in Mark.

3.3 Verse 31:

Kaˆ p£lin ™xelqën ™k tîn Ðr…on TÚrou Ãlqen di¦ Sidînoj e„j t¾n q£lassan tÁj Galila…aj (...)

Some manuscripts say "kaˆ Sidînoj Ãlqen" instead of "Ãlqen di¦ Sidînoj". Metzger argues in favor of the latter and states that "kaˆ Sidînoj Ãlqen" "is a modification which copyists introduced either accidentally (being influenced by the familiar expression 'Tyre and Sidon') or deliberately", because otherwise Jesus' route would have been extraordinarily circuitous, which seemed unlikely to the copyists.

4 Form Criticism

Before Mark wrote his Gospel, there had been many other traditions about Jesus. At first there were oral traditions, and then, in the course of time, they were put together in written form. These traditions were independent units circulating among the people. They were also used in the liturgy for certain purposes for which there were various forms of these traditions, such as healing stories, nature miracles, exorcism stories, pronouncement stories, passion accounts, etc. Form criticism now asks the question what the form of a pericope was before it was put in the context of a Gospel.

Asking this question about the pericope of the Syrophoenician woman, one could at first glance say that it is a miracle story, more exactly an exorcism. However, the main interest in this story is not the exorcism, but the change in Jesus' attitude to the Gentiles. Therefore Bultmann states that it is more akin to the pronouncement story. More specifically, it is "a 'controversy dialogue', built around the sayings in vv. 27 - 28".[4] This story, though, is not a typical controversy dialogue, because usually in a controversy dialogue, people, mostly the religious leaders, come to Jesus to ask a question in a matter of religion or interpretation of the law, often in order to trap Jesus. Jesus then gives an answer that shows his superiority and justifies his words or actions against the accusations of the religious leaders. In the story about the Syrophoenician woman, however, the case is different. The usual pattern of such stories is reversed, because now the woman justifies herself against the rejection of Jesus, and the result is a change in Jesus' behavior.

Another question for this pericope is where it ends. Generally, the end is set after verse 30. However, Bultmann, for example, counts also verse 31 to the story,[5] because then it is a completed unit. It starts with Jesus entering the region of Tyre and Sidon, and it ends with him leaving the area again.

5 Redaction Criticism

Mark probably took this story from an Aramaic source, because vocabulary and style reflect an Aramaic tradition.[6] Dibelius, however, argues that his source contained only the sayings of Jesus and the woman, for if we compare this text with the parallel in Mt 15:21-28, we see that only the words of Jesus and the reply of the woman correspond approximately word for word, the rest of the story is different. Therefore Dibelius suggests that these sayings were part of a tradition common to both Mark and Matthew. This source contained only the speeches, and the story was built around them.[7] Funk, however, does not agree with this, because these sayings of Jesus are not independently attested elsewhere. Therefore he states that it "is highly probable that the words attributed to Jesus in this story were created along with the story."[8] If they were independent, it would not be likely to trace them back to Jesus.

I don't agree with the theory that both Mark and Matthew took this story from the same independent source, because according to the two or four source theory, Matthew used Mark as a source for his Gospel, and therefore it is highly probable that Matthew took the story from Mark and adapted it in his interest, which means that he made it more Jewish, because his community consisted of Jewish Christians. The main difference between both texts is that in Mark's text the woman's situation is explained by the narrator, whereas Matthew explains everything in the form of a dialogue. As dialogue usually indicates that the form is secondary, this is another sign that Matthew's story is an adaptation of Mark's. Nevertheless, Bultmann also presents a different argument.[9] He says that Matthew's text could be the older one because it is more Jewish than Mark's. This is especially evident in the saying of Jesus in Mt 15, 24: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.", which Matthew probably knew as a logion in independent circulation. This would mean that Mark adapted the story in the interests of Gentile readers and therefore left this verse out. However, it seems more likely that Matthew inserted this verse in order to explain the harsh reaction of Jesus and thereby soften it.


[1] Translation according to the Revised Standard Version.

[2] Mt 5:42.

[3] The following textual criticism is taken from the critical apparatus of Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine, and from Metzger, Bruce: A textual commentary on the new Testament, p. 95 - 96.

[4] Cf. Bultmann, Rudolf: History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 38.

[5] Cf. ibid., p. 38.

[6] Cf. Taylor, Vincent: The Gospel according to St. Mark, p. 349.

[7] Cf. Dibelius, Martin: From Tradition to Gospel, p. 261.

[8] Funk, Robert W. and others: The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, p. 70.

[9] Cf. Bultmann, p. 38.

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The Syrophoenician Woman (Mk 7:24-31)
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Dipl.-Theol. (Univ.) Markus Schäfler (Author), 1996, The Syrophoenician Woman (Mk 7:24-31), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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