In this essay I will attempt to critically apply three synchronic and three diachronic approaches to Matthew 15:21-28. I will endeavour to illustrate responsible biblical interpretation by giving examples of good application as well as examples of abuse.
2. Matthew 15:21-28
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 the dogs.”27 “Yes Lord,” she said. “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
3. Synchronic approach
With this approach, the final form of the text is examined in terms of language and literature. The synchronic approach has evolved from modern linguistic and literary criticism. Tools of structural linguistics are used. I will explore three synchronic approaches namely: discourse analysis; narrative criticism and ideological criticism.
3.1 Discourse analysis
In discourse analysis, the flow of larger sections of language is studied. This enables one to understand how the text is organized and how this affects one’s understanding of the text. In this analysis I will use the method as described by Holgate and Starr (2010:49-54).
If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!
Key: The main verbs are in bold; the text is divided into separate lines with one verb per line; lines belonging together are grouped into distinct statements and indented according to their relative positions. Subjects are underlined and a dotted line inserted to mark changes of subject.
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!”
26 He replied,
“It is not right to take the children’s bread
and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she said.
“but even the dogs eat
the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus answered,
“Woman, you have great faith!
Your request is granted.”
And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Recurrent words and phrases:
Answer (v.23; 24; 26; 27); Came (v.22; 23; 25); Crying (v.22; 23); Send (v.23; 24); Said (v. 25; 27).
By doing this discourse analysis, it can be seen that:
people (the woman and the disciples) came to Jesus.
people turn to Jesus with different agendas – the woman because of distress; the disciples in self- righteousness/ intolerance.
Jesus answers questions and requests.
in verse 24, Jesus is actually speaking to the disciples and not necessarily to the woman.
Jesus was using the situation to illustrate a point to his disciples. Just prior to this event, Jesus had to explain to them (v 16-20) to look past the single-minded concern for the law to the principle of the law.
Proper use: This shows us that everyone can come to Jesus with whatever they need to bring to him. It teaches us not to disregard a person, like the disciples did, because of a feeling of cultural or religious superiority.
Misuse: To misinterpret Jesus’ initial reaction and to use that to justify cultural, religious or gender arrogance.
3.2 Narrative criticism
This is a technique whereby a Biblical text is evaluated as a story, considering various aspects including the ‘implied author’ as well as the ‘implied reader’. It views the text as a whole, analysing it and emphasizing the effects of the narrative on the implied reader. It considers the events, the characters, conflict and the literary strategies used.
In this text, the following analysis can be made:
The events occur in the region of Tyre, which was a Gentile, i.e. a non -Jewish area. This is the same region where Elijah healed a gentile woman’s son. The narrative takes place after Jesus had been talking to the Jewish religious leaders, a crowd of people and his disciples about ritual cleanliness. The characters are Jesus, a Canaanite woman, Jesus’ disciples, and indirectly the woman’s daughter and the nation of Israel. Conflict can be detected between the disciples and the woman, as well as in Jesus’ initial responses. The implied narrator is Matthew.
Proper use: It reflects the attitude of the rest of the Gospel of Matthew that the good news of Jesus the saviour is not only for the Jewish people, but for the whole world. We should take this point and realise that we need to bring the message of grace to whoever is seeking mercy and wants to believe.
Misuse: This can happen when this text is misunderstood, creating a perception of intolerance to women and outsiders.
3.3 Ideological criticism
Ideological criticism considers three areas in which ideology affects texts. These are: the ideological context in which the text was produced; the ideology expressed within it and the ideology of those who read it (Holgate & Starr 2010:132). Due to the wide range of possible readers, there will always be more meanings of the text than what the author intended. This can result in more than one legitimate interpretation of the text. This happens because when reading the text, readers bring with them their pre-understandings, assumptions, values and interests. Feminist ideological criticism, for instance, points out that the Bible has been written by men from the perspective of men and the final list of books that were included in the canon was likewise decided by men.
Proper use: To use ideological criticism to expose stereotypes and to highlight the sometimes not so obvious inclusiveness which Jesus has for those who feel disregarded.
Misuse: When this is used to support the interests of some at the expense of others. For example, with feminist criticism, if the importance of women in the Bible is highlighted (rightly so) but then taken to the extreme of rejecting any masculine input and ignoring the voices of other marginalised groups.
Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.
4. Diachronic approach
In this approach, an analysis is made as to how the text came to be here in the Bible, in this form and in this place. The goal of diachronic analysis is the reconstruction of the historical course along which the texts reached their final forms.
4.1 Form criticism
This is a way of analysing a passage to determine whether some or all of the text first existed in oral form. It also considers how and where such forms were actually used in the context or life situation (“Sitz im Leben”) of religious communities. Part of this analysis is to determine the genre of the biblical text. There are four steps involved (Holgate & Starr 2010:75):
i) Determine the start and end of the unit and analyse the structure: This passage, taken from Matthew 15 starts at verse 21 and ends at verse 28.
ii) Determine the genre: This is a narrative, the purpose of which is to recount a miracle of Jesus involving an exorcism.
iii) Consider the literary, historical and social setting of the text: The passage is in Matthew chapter 15 and follows discussions on ritual purity. It precedes the description of Jesus healing many people and feeding 4000. The social setting is that of a group of Jewish men who are not in a Jewish area, being harassed by a gentile woman.
iv) Examine how this information assists in determining the earlier use of these units in the oral tradition: The Jewish nation was the “Chosen People” and this would be emphasised weekly in the synagogues. The Gospel of Matthew was written between AD 70-90 when there was conflict concerning the place of Gentiles within the early Jesus movement.
Proper use: By realising that this text is positioned between Jesus’ discourse on ritual purity and Jesus’ healing and feeding many people, it compels one to look beneath the surface of the text. The author intended his audience to understand that the message of this narrative was directed more at the attitudes of Jesus’ disciples (us), than as a story of perseverance.
Misuse: This can happen with a superficial reading of this passage which could result in an image of Jesus being uncaring, especially to women.
4.2 Redaction criticism:
Redaction criticism builds upon the results of source criticism since it can only be used when there are identifiable sources. Redaction criticism regards the author of the text as the editor or redactor of the source materials. It analyses the way in which the author organized information available to express his/her theological goals into what we read as the biblical text.
When one compares this passage in Matthew with that of Mark, a different emphasis on the significance of the events can be detected. It can be assumed the difference in the narrative would be due to the theological emphases that each stress in their respective gospels. In Mark’s account, the disciples, people of Israel and faith are not mentioned. In Matthew’s version the woman refers to Jesus as the “Son of David” but she does not do so in Mark’s version. The reason might be that Matthew’s own theology is imposing itself on the story; that is, Matthew had the woman address Jesus by his messianic title because this is how Matthew’s community understood Jesus.
Proper use: This shows that Biblical passages are written with specific purposes in mind. Matthew used this story to highlight his specific theological message to a Jewish audience.
Misuse: It would be incorrect to dogmatically use certain verses to prove a point. For example, it would be incorrect to state categorically that the woman’s daughter was healed because of her mother’s faith, since Mark does not mention faith. Faith may or may not have had anything to do with the cure.
4.3 Tradition criticism:
This flows from form criticism and tries to reconstruct the history or development of the Gospel traditions, from the earliest stages to the final form in which they appear in the passage under consideration. Traditional aspects seen in this passage are the people of Israel as God’s chosen; women occupying inferior positions to men; the Messiah as a descendent of David. There is a similarity with Matthew 8:5-13 (and Luke 7:1-10) where a Roman officer’s servant is healed by Jesus. This story also draws on the rich history of Jesus’ healings and his interaction with ‘outcasts’.
Proper use: With an appropriate application, one will realise the context of when this text was written, in which case one can see the appropriateness of the situation and characters.
Misuse: An inappropriate reading would be if this text is used as a basis to justify an exclusive religious attitude or to sanction a subservient position for women.
In this essay I used the passage from Matthew 15:21-28 and applied three synchronic and three diachronic approaches to the text. The Synchronic approaches used were discourse analysis; narrative criticism and ideological criticism. The Diachronic approaches were form criticism; redaction criticism and tradition criticism. I also used examples of proper use as well as misuse in the application of these methods.