Though Islam (the Qur'an) does confess high respect for Jesus as a 
prophet from God, there is hardly anything of the teachings of Jesus 
preserved in the Qur'an. If we had only the Qur'an we would have no
clue why Jesus has made such an impact on our world, since besides
some remarks on the birth of Jesus, there are only a few summary 
statements about Jesus in the Qur'an, e.g. he did a few miracles,
like the healing of blind people, even raised people from the dead, 
and he was raised to God (alive) [by the way, raising dead people 
and being (visibly) raised to heaven is not unique to Jesus, we read 
similar things about the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 2.] 

But why did Jesus make such an incredibly impact on our world while 
Elijah can not even compare to that? We don't have "Elijahites" today, 
but nearly two billion Christians. Not the most important reason, but 
definitely part of the answer is that the teachings of Jesus were 
shaking people up and completely overturning the conventional. 

I want to invite you to look at one particular teaching of Jesus. 
I am "glad" that Robert Squires used this passage below to attack 
the Holy Bible, because otherwise I might have never thought so 
deeply about this passage and might have never fully understood 
its beauty and its powerful message.

I hope for your patience in reading, since this is long, but the 
deep things of life, and any religion has as its goal to answer 
the deep questions of life, will never be found on the surface 
and cannot be stated in flimsy 3 line statements. 

If you don't have a Bible handy, you can read the texts, which I
refer to in the following but do not quoted in full, by using

In article <4j2mhe$>, Robert Squires writes:

| Additionally, in Matthew 15:21-28, the (alleged) incident of the woman 
| of Canaan is reported.  In this story, Jesus (allegedly) compares the 
| Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews) to "swine" and "dogs".
| Based on this evidence, it seems that the Christians either have to 
| choose between believing in a "sinless" Jesus or believing that everything 
| in the Bible is the "inspired" word of God - since both of them can't be 
| true.  
| Personally, I've never heard any explanations from Christians
| concerning these verses that amount to anything more than a denial.

Preliminary remarks:

1) Before I start to explain the meaning of this passage, let me admit 
that is a difficult passage. For many years I did not understand at all 
what is going on here and it felt so "out of character" with what I knew 
about Jesus from the rest of the gospels. My "feeling" was that this 
story is "wrong". A few years ago I started to grasp its meaning partially 
and only now, that your (ab)use of it to attack the inspiration of the 
Bible forced me to look at it again and pray about it, I have come to see 
during the last few days the true significance of it. Let me share with 
you why you go so completely wrong [though somehow understandably]. 

And when I can show that your interpretation is wrong, then your 
conclusion also falls apart, i.e. there is no problem with the 
inspiration anymore. 

2) If you can read within this sentence the statement "There is no God", 
would you therefore be justified to spread the rumor that I have said 
that God doesn't exist?  Not in the CONTEXT of the last sentence above. 
Nor, if you found it in a conversation of mine with an atheist, where 
I argue:
Let's assume "there is no God" ... and go on to lead him to a logical 
contradiction in order to show him that this is an untenable statement.

If you were to take this phrase of my conversation out of context, you
would actually be using it to show the very opposite of what I was
saying! Therefore, it is obvious that the context around a statement is 
of the utmost importance, if you want to truly represent what I am saying. 
To say that I claim that there is no God would be slander and nothing else. 
With this in mind let us look at the context of the incident you mention 
above, i.e. Matthew 15:21-28.

                       A Teaching of Jesus 
First it is important to notice that Jesus teaches about 'clean' and 
'unclean' in Matthew 15:1-20, right up to the incident you are talking 
about. This is the first BIG clue. Therefore let me look at that topic 
in a bit more detail. 

Just as Islam has certain rituals and rules what is 'clean' and 
'unclean', so also does Jewish law and tradition have a lot of that. 
I would be grateful to be informed by you about the place and meaning
of those in Islam. I have so far not made much effort to understand 
this particular topic in Islam, but I would like to know, especially
now, after I have looked at the topic in so much detail of what Jesus
says about it. You are most welcome to tell me what Islam teaches on 
this either 'just on its own terms' or 'in a comparison to the Bible'.

I understand the proper meaning of these rules of purification in
the Bible to be as follows. God gives through the laws of ritual 
purification in many areas of life - whether abstaining from intercourse
during menstruation, ablutions before prayer, or eating, or sacrifices
for purification in certain circumstances before you can perform other 
religious duties etc etc - constant reminders of the fact that there
is a great gulf between us in our many transgressions against God, which
defile us, and God in his holiness on the other side. They are the reminder 
of our impurity in the sight of his holy eyes and if we want to approach 
him, whether in praise or supplication, we need to be made pure and 
acceptable first.

[Side remark:
  How really can 'water' take away the impurity of sin? How can 
a sacrifice of an animal redeem me from the death-penalty that is due
me for my rebellion against God's holy laws? There is a lot of material
and evidence in both Old and New Testament, that these 'purification
rituals' are only images of the purification that will be done by God
alone, in the sacrifice of the pure and unblemished one, who takes upon
himself the sin of all people and his atoning death is the payment for
the debt of sin incurred. The 'rituals of purification' are only a
reminder of the ultimate reality of the purification that will some 
day be accomplished for us by God himself in his great mercy and love.
But that is just an aside, back to the main topic.]

But then, the Jews have turned these purification laws on their head and 
have totally inverted their meaning. Instead of letting them be reminders 
of their own impurity before God and to make them grateful for the 
forgiveness and mercy of God, who will receive them anyway when they 
approach him in a humble spirit, the Jews or at least the self-righteous 
among them,
 [and are we not just like them in our tendency to look down on others       ]
 [since we are "right" and "better" while they are "wrong" and "unspiritual"?]
then used these 'purity laws' to look down on those outside of their 
religion and declare THEM unclean, because they do not observe these 
rituals. Instead of a reminder for "humility before God" [the intended 
meaning] these laws became used as tool for "pride before men" [the total
perversion of their intention]. 

I already pointed out in my last article ["Robert Squires' attack on the
Bible"] that the Pharisees (the religious leaders) sought every occasion to 
find fault with Jesus. [And here they even take the effort of travel to do 
so!] It is this motivation combined with the perverted understanding of the 
purity laws that surfaces in this text. Matthew chapter 15 starts out with:

1    Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from
     Jerusalem and asked,
2    "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? 
     They don't wash their hands before they eat!"
3    Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God 
     for the sake of your tradition?

... and then Jesus exposes how many of the 'traditions' are a perversion
of God's law. The discussion of these specific examples is not so important 
here. So let us continue with Jesus conclusion of the discussion, which is
a very sharp judgment on them [read the text itself to understand why].

7    You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8    "`These people honor me with their lips, 
                              but their hearts are far from me.
9      They worship me in vain; 
                                  their teachings are but rules 
                                        taught by men.'"

10   Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 
     "Listen and understand:

11      What goes into a man's mouth 
             does not make him `unclean,' 
        but what comes out of his mouth, 
             that is what makes him `unclean.'"

12   Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know 
     that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?"

15   Peter said, "Explain the parable to us."
16   "Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them.
17   "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth 
                                  goes into the stomach and
                                       then out of the body?
18   But the things that come out of the mouth 
                         come from the heart, 
                     and these make a man `unclean.'
19   For out of the heart come evil thoughts, 
         adultery, sexual immorality, 
         false testimony, slander.
20   These are what make a man `unclean'; 
         but eating with unwashed hands
         does not make him `unclean.'"

I want to quote two excerpts from D.A. Carson's commentary on the Gospel 
according to Matthew, where he writes on Matthew 15:1-20 as follows. 

  The burden of Scripture Jesus quotes is that the Pharisees and teachers
  of the law have displaced the true religion of the heart (verse 8), of
  the entire personality and will, with a religion of form. Therefore 
  their worship is vain (verse 9) and their teachings their own with 
  nothing of God's authority behind them.   [page 349]

  The point ... is that what a man truly IS affects what he says and does.
  Jesus presupposes that the heart is essentialy evil (cf. 7:11). But the
  burden of this pericope [= passage] is not to be pure on the inside and 
  forget the externals but that what ultimately defiles a man is what he 
  really is. Jesus is not spiritualizing the Old Testament but insisting
  that true religion must deal with the nature of man and not with mere
  externals.   [page 351]

Kind of reminds me of the Qur'anic verse [slight different emphasis than
usually presented by Muslims:

  2:120. Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee
  unless thou follow their FORM of religion...

I agree, among both Jews and Christians [and for sure among the Muslims just
as well - I have read soc.religion.islam long enough to see the many fights
about "HOW to do things the exact right way"] there are some who are very
concerned about FORM. But Jesus makes clear that it has to be a thing
of the HEART and even "right" form is of no use when the heart is wrong.

Now with a first understanding of this issue [and we need to grow in 
understanding just as the disciples of Jesus needed to still learn a lot]
let us look at the "troublesome" text itself.

21   Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
22   A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 
     "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering 
     terribly from demon-possession."
23   Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged
     him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
24   He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
25   The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.
26   He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss 
     it to their dogs."
27   "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall 
     from their masters' table."
28   Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is
     granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

This is the "problem" text. But just as the context 'before it' 
is important, so will the context 'after it' shed lots of light on 
our final analysis.

But first some more general observations:

1) The central effort of Jesus' ministry and teaching is to teach 
his disciples, [because those will be the ones who take his message 
to all the nations around the world. It is very important that they 
are properly instructed.] If you take the Gospels as a whole, that 
will be very clear and this general observation will also help us 
to understand this specific incident better.

2) Verse 21 says, that Jesus leaves Jewish territory and goes to 
"Tyre and Sidon", a pagan area outside the borders of his own country. 
[In fact, you might be surprised how often Jesus is NOT in Israel but
in pagan territory and preaches and heals. But that is a whole Bible
study in itself, although we will already see quite a bit of it here.]

3) It is generally known that Jews considered non-Jews to be 'unclean'
for many reasons, some of which I indicated above: Their non-observance
of the purity laws, their idolatry and many more reasons. Religious 
Jews would usually avoid all to much contact with these 'unclean people' 
as to not be difiled himself through their contact with them. 
[and Jesus was just teaching about 'clean' and 'unclean' in the verses
before]. Especially 'dogs' was a word of contempt used by many Jews when
talking about the pagans. [And to this days, in Islam dogs are seemingly
considered 'unclean' as far as I have observed.]
Furthermore we have to bear in mind that the disciples of Jesus are 
devout Jewish believers and not unaffected by the general cultural 
worldview of the Jewish people. 

I believe that in this encounter with the Canaanite woman Jesus is still 
in the process of TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES [and through this passage: US] 
on the true meaning of 'clean and unclean' and that WE HAVE TO GET RID OF 
our perverted interpretation of it.
To do so, he uses a very powerful method: He formulates THEIR opinions 
and then exposes them as false. Jesus is a master teacher as everybody
will know who has studied the gospels in some depth. Formulating the
thoughts that they think are right gives him their immediate approval,
and they agree with him 'automatically' and emphatically. All the greater 
will be the shock, all the more memorable the teaching, when then the 
falsity of it is exposed.

Remember that I started out with the remark: "Let us assume 'there is no
God'" ... in order to prove the atheist wrong by logic on the basis of his
OWN assumptions. I am quite convinced by now that Jesus has "dropped" the 
"you believe" in front of his statements and then by word and deed exposes 
how wrong the beliefs of the disciples are. And those are the beliefs of 
most Jews, and basically all people in all cultures. I don't know of any 
culture that does NOT look down on the others because they are different! 
If you seek an application of the teaching of Jesus to your own life, 
here it is staring into your face [and mine!].

Is it not true that most Muslims have just as much problems with
racism and cultural and religious bigotry as anybody else? Though
it might not be endorsed by "true" Islam, isn't it still a big
problem? Just as it was and is for the Jews, and as it was and is
for any culture and religion. Is this teaching of Jesus not very
relevant to Muslims as well? 

At this point, I have not yet proven my claim. I have provided most 
of the background information though. Please continue to part 2. 
You do not want to give up, and miss the solution to the riddle, 
now that you have already persevered so far. [Though I hope it has 
not been a chore, but already started to be fascinating to you as 
much as it was for me when I was discovering these things. And I am
still very much excited about it.]

Continue with Part Two.
Bible Commentary Index
Answering Islam Home Page