Decontextualize? 🤔 How Does that Happen?

What a Dog Can Teach Us About Bible Study

“It doesn’t take long for society to change yesterday’s hero into today’s scoundrel…”

Warren Wiersbe

Remove something or someone from their context (original setting) and you won’t fully understand them. When we look back and judge people according to our real-time sense of normal, we will judge them too harshly. Whether it’s a Bible narrative or some other some point of history, a little background is helpful before we give a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Yet, we see what’s called decontextualization all over the place these days. This is when we look back at historical figures and evaluate them according to contemporary perspectives. When we do this, it won’t take long before we find the subject lacking on some point, and then we’re tempted to write them off.

Of course, some things offend our God-given sensibilities, regardless of context. Genocide, slavery, and the exploitation of human beings created in the image of God always gets a thumbs down – no matter when, why, how, or by whom.

But we have to be careful when, from our vantage point of progress, we put past influencers under a judgmental microscope.

No one is safe when we do this. Suddenly flaws start appearing and dwarfing the character of people we once admired.

It doesn’t work. Not a single historical figure can stand up under that kind of scrutiny.

Not even Jesus.

Consider the time Jesus indirectly called a gentile woman a “dog” (Matthew 15:21-28). She was pleading with Jesus to deliver her daughter from demonic possession and in the course of the back-and-forth Jesus said,

It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

His point was that He was focused on ministering to Israel (the children) and to attend to her needs would be a detraction from that.

From where we’re standing, that wasn’t very nice. It was a demeaning and degrading thing for Jesus to say to her.

But wait. If we dig into the scene a little bit, we’ll learn a couple of things that may change our perspective:

  1. Jesus was breaking the cultural rules by even speaking to the woman in the first place. Since she was a gentile and a female, most Jewish men wouldn’t have even acknowledged her.

2. Just like we have different words for referring to dogs of different sizes (puppy, pup, beast, etc.), so did they. The word Jesus used for dog was not the same word they would use in that time and place for a stray, scavenging dog that roamed the streets. That’s the word Jews typically used for gentiles. But in this case, Jesus used the diminutive form for dog, the same term used for puppies or little dogs that were house pets.

In other words, Jesus was not insulting the woman. He was speaking to her gently while making His point. But it takes a little bit of context to see that.

By the way, there’s a beautiful ending to that story. The woman persists in asking Jesus to do what only He could do for her daughter. So, He says to her,

“Dear woman, your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

-Matthew 15:28

As usual, there was more to the story. There always is. Context matters.

It’s a new day with God. Run with it.

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