Was Jesus racist in Mark Chapter 7? Popular progressive pastor Brandan Robertson recently made a short video in which he made that exact charge. I’m sure many people watched this video simply due to the shock factor. After all, when you think of Jesus, “racist” usually isn’t a word that gets associated with Him. So is the Reverend Robertson correct? Was Jesus using racist language in Mark chapter 7?
According to Robertson, Jesus used a racial slur against a Syrophoenician woman. Jesus calls her “A dog”. After doing so, the woman “confronts His racism, and speaks truth to power”. And this is what causes Jesus to change his mind. Jesus repents of His racism and heals the woman’s daughter of her demon possession. Sounds like a nice story of someone overcoming their racism. But is this what is actually going on in this verse?
Who Is Jesus Talking To?
Often when Jesus is speaking to an individual, there is an audience around Him. That seems to be the case here. Just a few verses earlier in Mark 7:6, Jesus is speaking to the pharisees and pointing out their hypocrisy. He makes the point that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out. What matters is having a clean heart.
According to the Jewish leadership at the time, this woman would have been an outsider. She was a woman to start, a gentile, and her daughter was possessed by a demon. This would have put her on the lowest rung of Jewish society. This is how those in the audience saw her. So Jesus is trying to make a point to them while speaking to her.
What Was Jesus’ View Of Gentiles?
Did Jesus really believe this woman was “a dog”? No, He didn’t. And we know this from His other interactions with gentiles. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus heals a demon possessed man who was a gentile (Mark 5:13). Also in Matthew 8:11, Jesus tells the disciples that people from everywhere will sit at the Father’s table.
So no, Jesus is not racist towards gentiles. He goes out of His way to try and make everyone understand that we are all equal in the sight of God. This would have been extremely out of character for Jesus.
Did This Woman Boldly Speak Truth To Power?
One last thought on this video from Reverend Robertson. He makes a big deal about this woman speaking truth to power. This is, in his estimation, what gets Jesus to repent of His racism. But take a closer look at the woman’s response:
“And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”
Does this sound like a bold statement? She calls Him “Lord”, not racist! She is in a place of submission, not a challenging one. She is begging for assistance, for mercy. And how does Jesus respond? With the following verse:
29 Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”
30 And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.
Jesus extends mercy to her and to her daughter. Not because she stood up to Him, but because she was humble before Him. Jesus sees past all of the things that give this woman low status in society and looks at her heart. Far from being a racist, Jesus was the purest example of how to look past social status and race, and find the true measure of people. Their hearts.