Jesus and Racial Bias

In light of Rachel Held Evans tweet about Jesus "changing his mind about racial bias"--and the  firestorm that ensued in a series of related tweets--I thought it might be helpful to share what John Calvin wrote about Jesus' interaction with the Syrophonecian woman. Commenting on Matthew 15:26, Calvin explained the meaning of Christ's response to the woman's request for him to come and heal her daughter in the following way:

"Christ's reply is harsher than ever, and one would think that he intended by it to cut off all hope; for not only does he declare that all the grace which he has received from the Father belongs to the Jews, and must be bestowed on them, otherwise they will be defrauded of their just rights; but he disdainfully compares the woman herself to a dog, thus implying that she is unworthy of being a partaker of his grace. To make the meaning plain to us, it must be understood that the appellation of the children's bread is here given, not to the gifts of God of whatever description, but only to those which were bestowed in a peculiar manner on Abraham and his posterity. For since the beginning of the world, the goodness of God was everywhere diffused--nay, filled heaven and earth--so that all mortal men felt that God was their Father. But as the children of Abraham had been more highly honored than the rest of mankind, the children's bread is a name given to everything that, relates peculiarly to the adoption by which the Jews alone were elected to be children...the blessing which was to be expected in Christ dwelt exclusively in the family of Abraham. To lay open without distinction that which God had conferred as a peculiar privilege on a single nation, was nothing short of setting aside the covenant of God; for in this way the Jews, who ought to have the preference, were placed on a level with the Gentiles."

In his comments on Jesus' employment of the name "dog" in his response to the Gentile woman, Calvin wrote:

"Since the Gentiles were admitted to partake of the same salvations--which took place when Christ diffused everywhere the light of his Gospel--the distinction was removed, and those who were formerly dogs are now reckoned among the children. The pride of the flesh must fall down, when we learn that by nature we are dogs At first, no doubt, human nature, in which the image of God brightly shone, occupied so high a station that this opprobrious epithet did not apply to all nations, and even to kings, on whom God confers the honor of bearing his name. But the treachery and revolt of Adam made it proper that the Lord should send to the stable, along with dogs, those who through the guilt of our first parent became bastards; more especially when a comparison is made between the Jews, who were exempted from the common lot, and the Gentiles, who were banished from the kingdom of God."

Calvin's exposition is a typical reading of this text among Protestant and Reformed exposition of this passage. To suggest that Jesus had to outgrow racial bias is to read a very biased cultural agenda onto the text of Scripture, rather than to allow the historical and theological meaning of the text--in its canonical context--speak for itself. Furthermore, to suggest that racial bias is not necessarily sinful unless it is continued in (as Held Evans intimates) sounds strikingly similar to what many are teaching about same sex attraction. Though she most certainly did not intend to do so, Held Evans has actually given credence to the idea that it may not necessarily be sinful for men and women to self-identify as white supremacists--provided they don't act on it. That alone, should give us pause about where the cultural readings of God's word are heading.