As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Living a Holy Life

Many Christians believe that we take the free gift of salvation and do nothing with it. This is lazy and takes salvation “by grace alone” to an extreme that neither Jesus nor the apostles would have taught. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10; 7:19). The kingdom of God will be given to those who produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43). A life worthy of the Lord bears fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10). We are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). In a conundrum which confuses many, we are not justified by righteous deeds. That is a gift. But a saving faith produces good deeds (James 2:17-20) and we will be rewarded by what we have done (Matthew 16:27).

Losing & Gaining Ourselves

A Greek word often translated as soul or life can also be translated as psyche. It literally means breath, but is used metaphorically for our life, everything that makes us ourselves. The great paradox is that whoever wants to save themselves will lose, but whoever loses themselves for Christ will find themselves. What good is it if we gain the whole world, yet lose ourselves? What can anyone give in exchange for themselves (Matthew 16:25-26)? Or, what are we worth? God tells us what we are worth to him. To God we are worth the death of His Son. God’s challenge is not a call to self-hatred, but that true self-fulfillment is found in self-denial. Our true selves are found not in narcissistic solitude but as part of a sharing community, giving to God and to our community neighbors.

Get Behind me Satan

Get Behind
Me Satan
Grandma forced Dad into a job that he hated. He later changed to a career that he liked. We naturally want to protect others from possible suffering. Like Peter said to Jesus we also say, “No way!” Jesus’ reaction was blunt, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:21-28) Perhaps we have tried to discourage children from what we imagined to be a poor career choice, when maybe it was their life’s calling, their purpose for being. It is an evil and diabolical thing to make a young person unhappy for life merely for the sake of a steady pay check, the idolatrous perpetuation of a family business or to fit other similar vain expectations. We don’t want others to suffer, and so we tend to want to coddle them. Yet, such good intentions may actually be more evil than good.

Saving Jesus

Saving Jesus
from the Church
Some recent church news has been encouraging. Brad Wilcox, University of Virginia sociologist found that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to attend church. It’s the exact opposite of urban myths associating Christianity with ignorance and low education. Other recent news is that the liberal trend in the Church is reversing. The next generation is theologically more conservative. Have we been worried about the Church? Have we been concerned that Jesus has lost control? Have we been trying to save Jesus? Do believe that Jesus is the living Head of the Church or just a figurehead? When Peter tried to save Jesus from being killed Jesus’ quick reply to him was, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:21-28) Are we guilty of lacking faith that Jesus knows what he’s doing or has things under control?

Lose Life to Save It

Lot's Wife
In Matthew 16:21-28 Jesus made the strange-sounding statement that whoever loses his life for him will find it. How is that even possible? It is totally counter-intuitive to our natural instincts. We are all concerned with the security of our lives. We are anxious about finances, retirement, taxes, terrorism, identity theft, the stock market and the price of fuel for our cars. We do a lot to preserve this life. How can Jesus ask us to give up our lives for his sake? Each of us actually has two lives and this riddle speaks of them both. The life that Jesus asked us to lose is this temporal life and in so doing gain eternal life. He did not ask us to commit suicide, but give up our self-centered ways, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.

The Cross Trumps Tradition

It's God's War
The ministry of Jesus Christ was a total departure from tradition. Throughout Jewish history a Messiah figure was a conquering military hero who saved Israel from foreign domination. The Old Testament tells the stories of many such superstars. In Matthew 16:21-28 Jesus went totally against that convention by prophesying about his crucifixion. To Peter it appeared to be admitting defeat. The original language indicates that Peter’s immediate response was a strong scolding. That was not the way things were done. A Messiah was supposed to live on and conquer. He was supposed to say take up your sword and follow me, not your cross. The Church of Jesus Christ needs ongoing reformation. We constantly need to pray for and follow his direction not lean on our traditions. In Jesus, loss is gain, defeat is victory. The cross trumps tradition.

From Rock to Stumbling Block

Studies of Peter
Peter went from rock to stumbling block within the same chapter (Matthew 16:21-28). After this event he would go from that to worse, denying Jesus. We all experience ups and downs in our faith journey. There will be times when we see Jesus as Messiah and become like Peter, rock of the Rock. There are also times when we look at events around us and cry out, “Bad things like this are not supposed to happen!” Pastors know that they will sometimes be crucified or disowned, even by close friends. Of course, being crucified is something that other Christians also experience. When our fellow Christians are persecuted, are we tempted to lose faith or cry out to heaven in objection? Let us not stumble but remember that carrying our own cross of crucifixion is part of the Christian journey.

Entitlement Mentality

Poverty and Famine
Entitlement mentality affects rich and poor. Some believe that their hard work or talent entitles them to gross excesses of wealth. Others believe that they are entitled to things without working for them. Peter also misunderstood what a Messiah was entitled to (Matthew 16:21-28). His entitlement mentality temporarily put him on the side of Satan rather than God. Jesus came from privilege, became poor to save the world and now lives again in the wealthiest corner of the universe, heaven. But rich or poor, he did not consider that either entitled him not to sacrifice his life for humanity. What good is it to feel like we are entitled to the gain whole world but in so doing lose our own soul? A mentality that involves willingness to sacrifice the self for the sake of others is from God.

Opposing or Following Jesus

When Peter rebuked Jesus’ regarding his prophecy of his crucifixion, Jesus rebuked him in turn calling him Satan. The word Satan simply means adversary, someone in opposition. Peter was opposed to Jesus’ plans. Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.” The same word for “behind” is translated in the very next verse as “follower.” Jesus was telling Peter to quit being an adversary but get behind him by following him. When we try to take the lead away from Jesus, we are an adversary. When we create church rules in opposition to the essentials of the faith espoused by Jesus then we are an adversary of his. When we try to be more righteous than Jesus we are in opposition to him. In effect Jesus is also saying to us, “Back me up, you who are in opposition.” (Matthew 16:21-28)

Mollycoddling Compassion

Raising a
Responsible Child
Can compassion go too far? Can parents be overindulgent of their children to their own harm? When they need money are we always there to bail them out? Some of life’s lessons must be learned the hard way, and not saving adult children from every financial difficulty is tough love. When they get in trouble at school are we among those parents who criticize the teachers and defend even the wrong acts of our children? That kind of parenting is a disaster for any child. Can too much compassion even be against God’s will at times? Peter was certainly compassionate when Jesus predicted his suffering (Matthew 16:21-28). Perhaps most of us can relate. We would not want anyone we loved to suffer, especially the cross. However, Jesus rebuked him because this was not the right time for mollycoddling compassion.

Confession without the Cross

Dark Night
of the Soul
Altar calls were popularized by Charles Finney in the 19th century and are not always successful. Only a small percentage of those who make a formal public confession immediately enter a church and live a Christian life. Jesus did not use altar calls. They tend to treat the Christian walk like a check list with one thing on the list being successfully ticked off. Though not required as a one-time formal ceremony, confession of Jesus Christ is required throughout life. However, confession alone is insufficient as Peter was soon to discover. Earlier in Matthew 16:21-28 he had confessed Christ, but did not want Jesus to suffer on the cross. As he found out, confession without the cross is not quite enough. We need to set our minds on God’s interests, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.

Empty Cross Syndrome

the Cross
Protestants do not often display a cross with Jesus on it. That is more of a Catholic thing. I have even heard Protestants criticize Catholics for it as focusing too much on Good Friday and not enough on Resurrection Sunday, but I can find no biblical reasons for such condemnation. It is just a matter of choice. Perhaps we Protestants are too squeamish. Perhaps the Passion of the Christ (movie) could only have been made so well by someone associated with Catholic tradition. Yet we Protestants do remember the passion of Christ in the bread and the wine, but perhaps we are also somewhat like Peter in wanting to avoid the fact that Christ had to suffer (Matthew 16:21-28). A healthy focus on the cross is a reminder that we too must take up our crosses and follow him.

Matthew 16:18 Where the Evidence Leads

Let's study Matthew 16:18 and surrounding verses with a desire to allow the evidence to lead us rather than any preconceived bias. We may be surprised to reach a different conclusion than three of the four main theories surrounding this passage.

We may conclude that the Catholic theory that this proves Peter was the first pope is wrong. We may also find that so are two of the three main Protestant theories. Let’s examine each theory and why perhaps a fourth conclusion held by some mainstream Protestant churches has merit. It tells an unexpected story.

1. The Rock-was-Christ Theory

This theory states that Jesus said to Peter that he was a small stone, but on this large rock, meaning Jesus himself, he will build his church. However, the evidence does not support this theory at all for a number of reasons.

a. Petros and Petra

The words for Peter and rock are certainly two different words in Greek. A beginning Greek student may therefore conclude that they mean two different things. Sadly, that is precisely the conclusion to be found in some popular commentaries. For instance Matthew Henry boldly claims that “Nothing can be more wrong than to suppose that Christ meant the person of Peter was the rock. Without doubt Christ himself is the Rock, the tried foundation of the church; and woe to him that attempts to lay any other! Peter's confession is this rock as to doctrine. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived.” (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible is available in the Public Domain)

If you don’t have good evidence to support your theory, resort to threats and intimidation. Label those who disagree, “deceivers and deceived” so as to scare your audience into agreeing with your less than scholarly deduction. This a similar conclusion to that made by others whose understanding of biblical Greek is more clumsy. The word for Peter (petros) is masculine and the word for rock (petra) is feminine and some have erroneously concluded that petros only ever means a small stone and petra only ever means a huge crag, but that is wrong.

As Greek poetry from the time proves, the language is flexible enough to allow both petra and petros to mean the same thing, depending on the context, and “word play does not demand the usual meaning of words, especially in metaphorical applications such as the present one. The Aramaic word play on the same word remains the most convincing explanation.” (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (470). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

We don’t need to invent a hasty conclusion, perhaps based upon a fear that if we follow the evidence we may be forced to agree with the Catholic Church. Following the evidence, has led me to disagree with both Matthew Henry and the Catholic Church. This does not make them bad. Nobody gets it all right.

So, what then is the truth about the two Greek words? I do agree with my Catholic brothers on one point. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and there the same word (kephas) would have been used for rock as Peter. That is why we see in some Bibles that Peter is also called Cephas. The fact is that in the original Greek, the two words Petros (Πέτρος, Peter) and petra (πέτρα, rock) were interchangeable (Matthew, Volume 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, By Craig S. Keener).

Why then are there two different words? Some languages have feminine and masculine words. It’s just grammar. Jesus applied the feminine Greek word for rock (petra) to a man by using the masculine form of that word (petros). Up until that time, Peter was not a common man’s name, but Jesus used this masculine form of the word as Simon’s nickname. In the thorough and well researched New International Commentary we read, “The Greek reader would therefore see here a difference in form but not in meaning...” (The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament, by R. T. France)

b. Other Contexts

In 1 Corinthians 3:11 we are told that no other foundation exists except Jesus Christ. Yet, in Ephesians 2:20 Jesus clearly identifies all the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the Church, including himself as the cornerstone. Is this a contradiction, on the one hand to say that only Jesus is the foundation, yet on the other hand, to say that the apostles and prophets are also that foundation? No, it is a matter of understanding that these are two different contexts, with two different emphases.

The same is true of Isaiah 51:1-2, where Abraham is described as the rock from which ancient Israel was cut. That does not ignore the obvious, that God was their founder, but includes Abraham’s contribution.

2. The Rock-was-Peter’s-Faith Theory

This theory states that Jesus neither pointed to Peter, nor to himself as the rock, but to Peter’s faith, evidenced by Peter’s acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. This theory further goes on to state that all who likewise believe are the true church and likewise have this authority spoken of in the rest of the context.

And not But

Another piece of evidence that Peter was the rock that Jesus intended, is the use of the word “and” rather than “but.” Jesus certainly did point to himself as the rock in other contexts, but that does not mean that he meant the same thing in this context. Some people conclude that Jesus either pointed to himself as the rock, or to Peter’s faith, but the evidence disagrees with that conclusion. We were not there to see Jesus’ gestures, so we must rely upon the language to help us out and the language is very clear.

If Jesus had indeed pointed to himself as the rock in this context, or even to Peter’s faith, it would have been written as, “but on this rock I will build my church.” However, it was not. The wording is, “and on this rock I will build my church.” This evidence clearly indicates that the theories of Jesus’ pointing to himself or to Peter’s faith are false. Peter was the one to make the confession that Jesus was the Christ, and it is natural to see the confessing Peter as the rock, not his faith divorced from him as a person.

Some people worry that this would eliminate Jesus as head of the church and place a man in charge, but that ought not to be a concern. Notice that Jesus said I will build my church. It will still be Jesus who does the building, and it will still be his church.

3. The Rock was Peter-as-Pope Theory

This is actually the easiest theory to eliminate from this passage, as there is absolutely nothing at all about any successors to Peter. In fact, there is no statement in the Bible at all regarding Peter and a subsequent papacy. That entire theory rests upon discussions of later church history. In fact the very formal and authority conscious structure of the Catholic and some Protestant churches is a later historic development and not the kind of structure lived out by the early Apostles.

The biblical evidence certainly points away from Peter being a pope. In Galatians 2:11 we find Paul strongly correcting Peter, without any indication of deference to him being higher in rank than Paul. There is no New Testament record of Peter having passed on any pope-like authority to anyone, nor any evidence that Christ commanded Peter to do so. Paul wrote to the churches of Rome with authority; Peter did not. Nowhere in the entire New Testament did Peter ever refer to himself having any higher authority than the other apostles.

4. The Rock was Peter-as-Forerunner Theory

Peter was the first of the apostles to clearly confess that Jesus was the Christ, and as such was the pace-setter. He was given teaching authority, to declare what is permissible and what is not, not authority to change things as many subsequent Christian leaders have presumptuously done. The tense in Greek does not imply that Peter would make decisions and heaven would follow, but that decisions will have already been made in heaven, and Peter would follow.

The New International Commentary states that Peter was the steward or chief administrative officer of the kingdom of heaven, not the owner. The keys that he was given were like those to a storehouse, to provide spiritual nourishment to the household of God. Peter’s leadership in the very earliest phases of the church is quite clear, as he declared the way of the gospel being open to the gentiles and so on. However, Peter is nowhere endorsed in the Bible as one of the popes at Rome.


We do not have to run away from allowing the Bible to have its natural meaning and potentially use dishonest research because of prejudice either for or against the idea of a papacy. Matthew 16:18 neither supports the idea of Peter being the first pope, nor some of the theories invented to run away from it. As so often is the case, the truth is really somewhere in the middle. Peter had the faith to declare that Jesus is the Christ. As such, we can clearly see how he was used early on in the book of Acts at the very first stages of the building of the Church. A forerunner is a far cry from being a pope.

Who is the Rock

Matthew 16:13-20 is controversial. Was Peter called the rock on which the Church was built? It is unclear. Jesus most likely spoke in Aramaic and used the word Kepha for rock. The choice of two Greek words Petra and Petros were grammatical and do not necessarily make it clearer. In the Old Testament God is called the Rock of Israel. The rock of Daniel’s prophecy which conquered Rome was Christ. We don’t establish doctrine on unclear passages. What did Peter say? He said that another rock, Christ was the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:7-8), a rock (Petra) that makes men stumble. Peter was the first to proclaim this faith, but in his letters Peter merely introduced himself as an Apostle, not chief Apostle. To claim that Peter was the first Pope reads more into the passage than it says.

Origen's View of Peter

Origen (The Early Church Fathers)
Origen was head of the catechism school of Alexandria and the greatest scholar of Christian antiquity. His commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 is eye-opening, ‘if we too have said like Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, "Thou art Peter," etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church...’ Origen repudiated an exclusive church franchise mentality with words like, ‘all bear the surname of "rock" who are the imitators of Christ...’

Augustine’s View of Peter

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year's, Epiphany
Sermons of
Augustine was bishop of Hippo and his writings have great influence in the entire Christian Church. Regarding Matthew 16:13-20 he wrote, ‘Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. "Therefore," he saith, "[You are] Peter; and upon this Rock" which [you have] confessed, upon this Rock which [you have] acknowledged, saying, "[You are] the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;" that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, "will I build My Church." I will build [you] upon Myself, not Myself upon [you].’ The Church is built upon the Rock Christ not Peter.

Chrysostom’s View of Peter

The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom,
Homilies of
John Chrysostom was a leading bishop of Constantinople famous in history for his eloquent preaching. His commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 does not support Papal primacy. Rather he commented on Jesus’ words, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;" that is, on the faith of his confession....He that has built His church upon Peter's confession...’ (1) There is no mention that Peter’s authority over all the world was to continue beyond his grave other than through those who confessed the same faith. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ....I have preached Christ, I have delivered unto you the foundation. Take heed how you build thereon, lest haply it be in vainglory, lest haply so as to draw away the disciples unto men." (2)

Who do You say He is

Who Is Jesus?: An Introduction to Christology
Who is Jesus
Jesus asked his disciples, Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:13-20) The answer to that question would go a long way to defining who they were. It defines us too. Peter answered it and he was named after the Rock of our Salvation. Are we like Peter, rock of the Rock? We sometimes forget that not everything about God is revealed to us by flesh and blood Church leaders, the Bible and tradition, but by God the Father to us personally. What a shame that this passsage is overshadowed by those who wish to promote their own flesh and blood leadership. Yet, when we understand who Jesus is, when that is revealed to us from our Father in heaven, then we too are Rock of the Rock and we receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Sacerdotalism — the Man in the Middle

Sacerdotalism originated in the Old Testament sacrificial system where a human makes sacrifice on our behalf to God. The theory postulates that only those given the authority may consecrate the bread and wine or baptize. One place that is used to support this idea is Matthew 16:13-20. Here Peter was given authority on earth to decide heavenly matters. A strength of sacerdotalism is that the potential for heresy is lessened because trained people administer the sacraments. A weakness is that people begin to look to human leaders instead of God. Peter was told that God revealed this faith to him and no man. So we mistakenly look to a man to confess Christ on our behalf and don’t join him in confessing Christ. We allow a Pastor or Magisterium to inform us about God, but never experience him ourselves.

Exclusive Church Franchise

Seeker and Servant: Reflections on Religious Leadership (J-B US non-Franchise Leadership)
Seeker and Servant
The controversy over Matthew 16:13-20 is largely political, a controversy over franchise. Church is God’s business, but who on earth has the franchise? Is it Rome? Is it Constantinople? Is it Madras? Is it Alexandria? Is it Jerusalem? Such questions rely on interpreting the passage in ways that perpetuate human power structures even though no such promise was made to Peter. The problem is that people are pointed to the power of men, the exact opposite of Peter’s experience. There was no promise of territorial franchises as in national churches or exclusive franchises as in only Peter’s ordained successors being allowed to have the keys. Faith and salvation are not exclusive. There is one thing in this that is exclusive. Who is Jesus is not revealed by flesh and blood human politics but exclusively by our Father in heaven.

Of Which Man are We

Why do we look to men? Matthew 16:13-20 tells us that Peter’s confession was revealed to him by God. Yet, some use this passage to point us to a man, a successor to Peter. This is called the Petrine doctrine. Others use the passage to point us to all bishops as having the keys of heaven. Still others point to Peter's faith not Peter or his successors and so point people to Christ. We ought to become suspicious when Jesus is interpreted not in his own right but through the lens of our traditions. If a church claims that it is of Peter, Luther, Calvin or Wesley is it not just like in 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 where Paul condemned such foolishness? Such division does not exist when Christ is revealed to us by our Father in heaven.

Why Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi was a city built on a rock to honor Caesar Augustus who called himself divi filius, the son of a god. Jesus took his disciples near this sin city where they could see its structure. It was an appropriate place for Jesus to be able to say to Peter, upon this rock I will build my Church (Matthew 16:13-20) because the imagery and the contrast with brutal Roman leadership were evident. Yet in contrast to Caesar, the leaders of the Church of God were not to elevate themselves above their fellows, but become servants of all. The authority of deciding church matters was given to Peter but not to him alone. Jesus later explained that the other Apostles also carried decision-making authority (Matthew 18:18). The rock we build Christian ministry on is Jesus Christ not ourselves.

Dishonest Interpretation

New Testament
Eisegesis is a poor Bible study technique, where people read into the Bible things that it does not say. It is dishonest interpretation or at best self-deception. One of the worst examples of this is the abuse of Matthew 16:13-20 to support the claim that Peter was the first pope. All Christian churches have weaknesses and this is just one of many. In order to be honest with the text we just need to ask ourselves some blunt questions. What does the text not say? What does it actually say? What are some of the opinions of experts? Notice what the text does not say. It says nothing like Peter would become first pope with an exclusive line of human authority which would also be the rock and carry the keys. That idea came along hundreds of years later.

Binding & Loosing

St Paul vs
St Peter
What did Jesus mean when he gave Peter (Matthew 16:13-20) and the other disciples authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18)? The historical phrase binding and loosing referred to interpreting the Scriptures, not binding demons or changing the teachings of Jesus. It did not mean to add a Christian Talmud of do’s and don’ts to Jesus’ teachings or create spiritual dynasties that shut out others from the kingdom of heaven. Let’s look at Jesus’ own final instructions to those same disciples. In Matthew 28:20 he specifically told them to teach what he taught. So their authority to bind and loose did not exceed that. There was no authority to bind heavy and grievous burdens on the Church (Matthew 23:3-5). They could however, educate others how Jesus teachings applied in different cultural contexts and at different times.

Defiled by the Words

What makes us clean or unclean? Old Testament laws defined clean and unclean foods or practices. The Pharisees’ hand washing ritual was a man-made rule but showed serious devotion to those laws. Jesus' disciples were criticized for ignoring the ritual (Matthew 15:10-28). Jesus was blunt and provocative. He stated that these highly respected religious leaders were not of God and that the disciples should ignore them. Was Jesus concerned with spiritual cleanness? Was the real purpose of Old Testament cleanliness laws to teach us about being spiritually clean in our hearts? Fastidiously following the Old Testament food laws does not guarantee a clean heart. Can religious rituals distract us from important matters of the heart? Faith is not outward religious mumbo jumbo, a show. Cleaning up unclean hearts is God’s focus. Are we letting God wash our hearts clean?

Faith not Race

Was Jesus a bigot? He rejected a Gentile woman asked for healing, saying that it was not right to give the children’s food to dogs (Matthew 15:10-28)? Rather than take offense, the woman boldly challenged Jesus. Her faith was bigger than racial sensitivities. Jesus was elated to see her great faith and healed her daughter. Could such a glowing compliment coming on the heels of such an awful insult be the core of this lesson? Was Jesus really a racial bigot or testing her faith? Dare we judge Christ by human political correctness? A good teacher will sometimes challenge students with an offensive view to bring out the best in them. How could Jesus, who created all of humanity, be racially bigoted? Does not the story really show that regardless of race, bold faith is what counts with Jesus?

Rude & Bigoted Jesus?

Faith that Transcends: A Study Guide to Hebrews
Faith that Transcends
The story of Jesus and the Gentile woman in Matthew 15:10-28 is one of the most shocking. Jesus appeared to be rude and bigoted. It was an animated encounter. The woman cried for mercy and the disciples, like a bunch of school bullies encouraged Jesus to just get rid of her. It is reminiscent of some churches today, who turn away from communion those of a different church or shun family members who have left their order. Why was Jesus so uncharacteristically blunt? Unlike harshly exclusive churches Jesus relented when he saw faith. Faith is what matters, not the race or church or order that a person belongs to. Abraham was the father of the faithful. Faith transcends breed, and Jesus’ drama emphasized that point. When will we get over our religious bigotry and recognize the faith of others?

When Jesus says No

Never Quit: Thoughts to Inspire the Will to Win
Never Quit
When Jesus says no are we reluctant to appeal? Remember the importunate Gentile woman in Matthew 15:10-28? Did you think I was going to say the importunate widow? That’s another example of being persistent with God. Could it be that God will sometimes test our faith in ways that make us think he is unfair, racist, bigoted, rude, arrogant or uncaring? Yet, in the end his mercy is just. Faith means not giving up. Jacob wrestled all night with God’s messenger. It seems that God wants us to learn to be unrelenting. Indeed, he that endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:13). Just as a wise parent will encourage a placid child to fight for themselves, perhaps God is trying to bring out the best in us by helping us to learn persistence.

When Blunt is Right

The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Know to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home and in Life
The Power of
Positive Confrontation
Some cultures have a reputation for being tactless and blunt while others seem to be more diplomatic and polite. To the well-mannered among us Jesus’ behavior in Matthew 15:10-28 could seem inappropriate. Yet Jesus was without sin, so perhaps it is our behavior that we need to examine. What can we learn from Jesus' bluntness in his encounter with the Canaanite woman? Grace towards others includes tact and is therefore in many cases a good response. However, is tact the appropriate course in every situation? In professions like the theater, choreography, firefighting and the military there is little time for polite diplomacy. Commands must be given sharply and followed quickly. When someone is about to drive over a cliff, saying, "Pardon me" is not appropriate. Positive confrontation can be used for good and what Jesus did was always good.

Confrontation Jesus-Style

Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior
Crucial Confrontations
We don’t like confrontation. Yet occasionally it is necessary. Some avoid it by gossiping or pretending that everything is okay. Others confront in negative ways by the extremes of bullying or cowardice. In Matthew 15:10-28 Jesus confronted a Gentile woman in a positive way. What can we learn from this in regard to confrontation Jesus-style? First, we notice that Jesus gave the woman no reply. The time for confrontation was not until she became insistent. Second, he became increasingly specific with the woman. First, he replied mildly about his ministry excluding Gentiles. Then he became very blunt, reminding the woman of her ancestry. The Canaanites once engaged in child-sacrifice and ritual prostitution. This disgusting history is perhaps why Israelites called them dogs. The confrontation revealed the woman’s faith for the disciples to see and Jesus intervened as she requested.

Unclean made Clean by Faith

Purity and Monotheism: Clean and Unclean Animals in Biblical Law (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies)
Purity and Monotheism
In the Old Testament period unclean eating and unclean people were equally forbidden. Some have tried to link the lists of unclean foods with in-edibility, but that is reading into the Bible more than it says. The whole of the laws of clean and unclean are summarized by Peter’s remarkable revelation that we should no longer call any person unclean (Acts 10:28). And so in Matthew 15:10-28 Jesus began leading his disciples into this new understanding by confronting a Gentile woman of a region with a particularly heinous history, Canaan. Though every nation has human rights skeletons in its closet, a recent example of similar shame might be found among modern Germans. Jesus’ confrontation was an object lesson for his students. It was a practicum in understanding that faith makes anyone clean, no matter what their historical background.