Was Jesus a Racist?

Was Jesus a racist? According to Miguel De La Torre, he was. In an opinion-piece for the Associated Baptist Press, De La Torre sets forth an interpretation of Matthew 15:21-28 that is nothing short of heretical. De La Torre charges that, when Jesus addressed a Canaanite woman as a dog, he revealed that he was a racist.

Rather than summarizing the essay, I’ll ask you to read some of this one for yourself. Here’s De La Torre in his own words:

In the fullness of Jesus’ divinity, he had to learn how to be fully human. His family and culture were responsible for teaching him how to walk, how to talk, and how to be potty-trained.

He also learned about the superiority of Judaism and the inferiority of non-Jews, in the very same way that today there are those within the dominant culture who are taught America is No. 1 . . .

Nevertheless, for Christians, the imago Dei finds its fullest expression in the personhood of Jesus as he turned many “rules” upside down. This is a truth that even Jesus, in his full humanity, had to learn.

To deny this woman a healing and call her a dog reveals the racism his culture taught him. But Jesus, unlike so many within the dominant social structure of today, was willing to hear the words of this woman of color, and learn from her.

And thanks to her, Jesus’ ministry was radically changed. The Canaanite woman responded by saying, “For even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.”

Her remark shocked Jesus into realizing that faith was not contingent on a person’s ethnicity. In fact, Jesus had to admit that this was a woman of great faith.

This woman of color had to cross the “border” demarcated by Jesus’ culture. But she crosses this border not to worship her oppressor (Jesus), but to demand an equal place at the table of the Lord. She demands to be treated as an equal.

It matters little if she belongs. It matters less if she has proper documentation. Her daughter was sick and because of her humanity, she was entitled to a healing. She was more than the dog he called her.

Up to this point, the gospel message was exclusively for the Jews. In Matthew 10:5, Jesus sends his 12 disciples on their first missionary venture. He clearly instructs them, “Do not turn your steps into other nations, nor into Samaritan cities, rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Yet five chapters later, Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman who existed on the margins of his society. She challenged Jesus with the good news that healing was not the exclusive property of one ethnic group. Instead, healing should be available to all who come.

Jesus learned something about his mission from this woman of color. How do we know this? By the end of his ministry when he gives the Great Commission, he commands his followers to go out to all nations, not just the people of Israel.

Now, if Jesus is willing to learn something from the margins of society, from those who he was taught were his inferiors, no better than dogs, shouldn’t Euro-Americans who call themselves his disciples today be willing to do likewise?

Friends, this essay in not just bad, it’s not even Christian. It’s so shot-through with error on so many levels that it’s difficult to know where to start. The Gospels nowhere depict Jesus as if he learned from sinners how to be more righteous. Sinners learned from Jesus, not vice versa. Moreover, since the New Testament consistently presents Jesus as a flawless human, the idea that Jesus needed moral tutelage is ridiculous. Just to name one text, Hebrews 4:15 says very clearly that Jesus was tempted in every way yet without sin (which would include the sin of racism!).

Exegetically, De La Torre has totally missed the point of the passage about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman. As a result, De La Torre couldn’t be more wrong in his indictment of Jesus. This is liberation theology gone to seed, and it is ugly indeed.

35 Responses to Was Jesus a Racist?

  1. Robert February 24, 2009 at 1:56 am #

    Haaaaaa! This has to be an early April Fools joke.

  2. John Holmberg February 24, 2009 at 2:05 am #

    I don’t know if I’m more surprised by the absurd article by De La Torre, or by Denny’s calling out a Southern Baptist publication!

  3. Nick February 24, 2009 at 2:55 am #

    Yeah, he’s pretty out there in his liberalism that he brings to to the Scriptures. I had to read a book by him on ethics in seminary; he’s basically a full-blown liberation theologian. Pretty standard stuff for those guys.

  4. Brent Hobbs February 24, 2009 at 9:07 am #

    If I had any respect for ABP, I might be surprised too.

  5. Chris February 24, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Good grief, you don’t need to twist scripture to prove that racism is wrong.

  6. D.J. Williams February 24, 2009 at 9:31 am #

    Wow. Speechless.

  7. James Cole February 24, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    Well, it’s not the first time the APB has had some articles that are way off base. A couple of months back they had a few articles arguing for the biblical legitimacy of homosexuality.

  8. Matthew February 24, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    I guess when you get the fully-man part right, but not the fully-God part, you end up with ridiculous stuff like this. So we can thank the Canaanite woman for our salvation? I mean, if she hadn’t confronted Jesus about his racism, he never would have included us in the gospel, right?

  9. Joshua February 24, 2009 at 11:37 am #

    Are people just reaching as far as they can now days? I don’t understand!?

  10. jeff miller February 24, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    Miguel,

    If your out there I am sorry, but this excerpt is an expositional nightmare.

    As a teacher, how did you get so far out from under this text? How did you get so far out from under God’s history with Israel?

    As Denny said you are wrong on so many levels. I can’t help but think you are standing in the wrong place to understand Jesus Christ as God has revealed Him to us in Matthew. This gospel is about Israel. Jesus came for Israel, He came to be Israel, and He came so that God might define Israel around Jesus. Not around someones modern sensitivities about something they might call “racism”.

    To me one of the saddest things about this excerpt is that if we were to receive it, we would destroy the beauty of this woman’s humble, tenacious, loyal-recognition of Jesus the Messiah of God’s people… a people who are marked out by the very loyal-acknowledgment she exhibits.

    Miguel please try again. I will join others and pray for greater fidelity to the Gospel in your teaching as well as in ours.

  11. Daniel February 24, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    I just became familiar with De La Torre’s articles a few weeks ago, and this does not surprise me at all. In his previous article he argues that “the Book of Joshua depicts a non-biblical God.” I’m not sure where to find the real biblical God if not in the Bible.

    Here’s the url if anyone’s interested – http://www.abpnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3796&Itemid=9

  12. Darius T February 24, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    Besides being one of the most racist writers I’ve ever read (ironically enough), I’m also guessing he’s an open-theist…

    “Jesus’ ministry was radically changed… Her remark shocked Jesus into realizing that faith was not contingent on a person’s ethnicity.”

  13. Darius T February 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    “In his previous article he argues that “the Book of Joshua depicts a non-biblical God.” ”

    So, in other words, he’s a self-refuting idiot as well as a heretic? It’s like Obama’s comment that he wasn’t supporting a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution because historically we haven’t defined marriage in the Constitution. Um, Mr. Law Scholar, that’s the POINT of the amendment.

  14. Jonathan February 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm #

    De La Torre’s article, as depicted by Mr. Burk, seems quite intriguing and helpful to seeing Jesus historically and allegorically, in addition to literally. This is in line with the way that the early Church viewed the Bible. Check out Augustine, Ambrose, and Gregory of Nyssa in this bibliography (http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/interpretation.php).

    Also, this is in-line with a post-modern view of Jesus as, at least in the fully human part of Jesus, being constructed socially as we all are.

  15. Tyler A. February 24, 2009 at 10:54 pm #

    Have you actually read this article. Really read the article. What is being stated here is something profound about the humanity of Christ in his time. You all must make the decision that he is fully God and not fully Human too in order to come to your conclusions. That the piece of Christ that was human would not learn from the people around him is absurd. Christianity is a shallow pool if we can not read into the text with the depth that De La Torre has.

  16. Matt Svoboda February 25, 2009 at 2:11 am #

    A professor of mine always says, “Heresy damns the soul.”

    Indeed, this man is a heretic.

  17. Jamie Steele February 25, 2009 at 10:26 am #

    Tyler,
    It sounds as if you are saying the incarnate Son of God was a racist who needed this woman to come into His life or He would remain a racists. You my friend have bad theology and a wrong view of Jesus.
    According to your line of thought, had she not encountered Jesus He may have remained a racist.

  18. Darius T February 25, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    It’s scary that there are other supposed Christians who agree with De La Torre’s false teaching.

  19. kris February 25, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    Hard to believe.

    This guy has it totally backwards. Jesus didn’t “learn” from this woman. The woman learned from Him.

    Her people were the victims of racism in the Jewish culture at the time and Jesus was teaching her & calling out her faith that the true God of all man wasn’t a racist.

    Totally bizare and almost to the point of blasphemy to insist that the Word that became flesh was learning from flesh. According to his logic the flesh became the Word. Sounds like hints of Morman theology.

    Hi Denny

    Kris

  20. kris February 25, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    forgot to check email followup

  21. brian February 25, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    In the early church there was a debate on who Jesus is. Some said that he is man, some said that he is god. Eventually they realized that they were asking the wrong question it is not weather he is god or man but the issue is that he is both. Then we have that great confession from the council of Nicea that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. We now declare that Jesus is both God and man.

    It is absurd, and as noted earlier, heretical to deny that Jesus is either fully God or fully man. Only as being fully God can he overcome the grave and purchase our great salvation. Only by being fully man can he be tempted like we are and not give in. Now one of his offices is to be our priest. And as our Great High Priest he sympathizes with our weaknesses because he was tempted in all things as we are yet without sin. Heb 4:14-16

    Now he sits triumphantly as our great mediator for having lived a perfect life and reigning supreme over his creation.

    To think that he had to be taught by a Canaanite woman how to not be racist is ridiculous. Jesus was not conceived in sin like the rest of humanity, his father is god.

    It is good for us to explore the implications of the doctrines that we embrace such as the humanity of Christ, just not to the point that it will lead us to heresy.

  22. Derek February 25, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Thank you, Dr. De La Torre for opening our eyes.

    And just imagine how much more enlightened Christ would have been if he could have attended a 400 level class on the “Liberation of Women in Patriarchal Society” or a seminar on the “Celebration of Kwanzaa”.

    Sheer brilliance, I don’t know how I missed this!

  23. Zach February 25, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    check out the comments on his website when you click on his name at the top of your article. It seems as though everyone else agrees with you Dr. Burk 🙂

  24. glenn gillane-duggin February 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    Oooh ooh ohhhhhh! I would be one of those “supposed” christians that you are talking about!

    I do think it is interesting that the whole discussion about the death of god never included those who kill god by their idolatry of the bible. The god i believe in is actually still present and teaching us, not locked into a text that was written so long ago. So because the social situation of jesus’ time was the was it was (a little redundant, eh?) how the h— could he not be in some way influenced by it?

    grace and peace
    glenn gillane-duggin

  25. glenn gillane-duggin February 25, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    that should be “was the WAY it was”. Sorry about that mates.

  26. RJHD February 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    On the face of it, calling a Canaanite woman a “dog” for no other reason than her ethnic/racial idea is, by definition, racist. What else should we call it?

    Professor De La Torre’s interpretation is a faithful effort to recovery the scandal of God’s radical mission of inclusivity of all people, even those on the margins of society. The point of this portion of Professor De La Torre’s essay is to call to repentance Christians who insist superiority of whiteness and self-righteous, xenophobic nationalism that results “name-calling.” One possible example of name-calling: Christian citizens of the U.S. persist in telling Latino/as to “go back to where they came from” or “learn some damn English.”

    Many of the comments posted here make it quite clear that this central message was lost on the readers of Dr. De La Torre’s article. The irony is not that Professor De La Torre is a racist (as Darius T suggests), but that, in the rush to defend the character of Jesus, Christians should miss Jesus’ modeling of repentance.

  27. Richie February 25, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    One thing that struck me was the fact that De La Torre said that the woman’s daughter deserved a healing because of her humanity. Our humanity (i.e. of sinfulness) is exactly why we deserve nothing but Hell from God. Each act of healing is an act of unconditional grace that is meant to cause the light of the gospel to shine more brightly.

  28. glenn gillane-duggin February 26, 2009 at 2:31 am #

    Why would god create something (humans) that was inherently sinful? Is god that twisted, that god needed something to punish, so god created humans to be god’s own personal punching bag? And, if we are inherently sinful and deserve nothing but hell, then why do folks get all up in arms about things like abortion? why save those lives if they are sinful anyway and deserve to be in hell? just skip the middle man, the money to raise them, and let them go early. (I hope you can tell that i am being a little dramatic, but the point still stands.)

    thanks
    glenn gillane-duggin

  29. brian February 26, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    To glenn gillane-duggin:

    God did not create us to be his punching bag he created us to glorify Him. If you read Genesis 1-2 you will see that God’s original creation was good. It is stated over and over that God looked at what he made and called it good. In Genesis 3 we have the account of the fall in which humanity sinned against god. From this point on we live in a fallen world that is in need of redemption. The incarnation of Jesus Christ initiated God’s plan of redemption. Jesus came to earth and lived a perfect, sinless life. he died on the cross for the sins of the world. He rose from the grave three days later defeating death and purchasing eternal life for all who would place their trust in him. The initiation of the Kingdom is already happening but it is not yet complete. Christ is coming back again and this time to make all things new. He will create a new heavens and a new earth. He will judge the unrepentant world for its sinfulness and cast them into the lake of fire.

    On account of Adam’s sin we are born with a sinful nature. But just as we are declared sinful on account of Adam so we can be declared righteous by the substitutionary atoning work of Christ. So even though we are born sinful and depraved we don’t have to remain that way we can trust in Christ’s work on the cross.

    As far as abortion goes: It is a horrendous evil that has plagued this nation since its legality. It is not doing the unborn a favor to kill them before they take their first breath. Life is a gift from God. People are made in his image and I don’t believe that we have the right to destroy the image of God, no matter what circumstances surround the pregnancy. God has shown throughout history that he can take those who are viewed as lowly and use to do mighty things. We must fight to allow each person the right to live their life because they cannot fight for themselves.

    I know that this is lengthy but in order to refute your statement I had to spell out the gospel of Christ and its implications for your worldview.

  30. Richie February 26, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    Well said, Brian. I would add only that god has revealed to man through His Word, the Bible, that He is a lover of righteousness and justice. Abortion is both wicked and unjust, and God wants to do something about it. And His children have the privilege of joining Him in the fight against such evil, being used by Him to make a difference that will last forever. In it, by the way, a fight that has already been won. Jesus Christ purchased the redemption of not only mankind (for those who believe), but also for this fallen world. When He returns in glory, He WILL abolish abortion, as well as all other evil. End of story.

  31. Derek February 26, 2009 at 11:35 am #

    Glenn Gillane-Duggin:

    Our worth as humans is not tied to our relative goodness. Neither did Adam’s sin make Adam less valuable in God’s eyes.

    If our worth were connected to our holiness (or lack), God would not have sent Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God … took on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… becoming obedient to the point of death.” (Philippians 2)

    God values us more than we can understand. His willingness to be crucified for our sake demonstrated this in the most practical terms possible. Further, “He does not want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)

  32. jeff miller February 26, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    Richie in 27,
    I think you are right in pointing out a misfire in Miguel’s idea that the woman thought she was “entitled to a healing”. This may seem subtle but She did not approach Jesus with a sense of entitlement, but supplication and loyal-acknowledgment of Jesus as the answer to her great need. Thus she was a perfect demonstration of saving faith in Jesus.

    Loyalty to Jesus and having a sense-of-entitlement don’t really go well together.

  33. glenn gillane-duggin February 27, 2009 at 3:05 am #

    brian,

    about abortion, i was being inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory. but i would like to let you know that abortion has not been an issue only since its legalization. people have been having abortions for eons, not to mention the psalms seem to support the killing of babies, so there is a biblical argument for the practice of infanticide. but, and this argument will probably not be sufficient for you, but regardless or abortions legality people will have them. and the ones people perform on themselves are much more horrendous than anything that a doctor can do. i will never have an abortion because i am male, as are you as far as i can tell, so where are the women theologians talking about these issues that affect them on a profoundly different level than us? (there are plenty of women theologians talking about this and have been talking about it for a couple of generations) so maybe we should be looking to them for more of these answers. we could learn from them things we could never fathom.

    your understanding of god seems to present god as a narcissist, the archetypical one at that, but seeing as god is god, i do not think i can agree with you. not to mention i do not see this view reflected in the scriptures. if god needs us to jiggle gods metaphorical balls i am not sure god is that great.

    i agree with you that jesus died for the sin of the world. i don’t agree that jesus only died for those who believe in him.

    i always wonder what paul thought as he was dying. jesus obviously didn’t come by the time paul said he would, so i am not too concerned with that as a central part of my faith. besides, it will come like a thief in the night.

    my comment about god not creating us as punching bags for god’s own enjoyment was meant to convey that we were created good, as you say. i do not fall into the gnostic worldview that one part of us is sinful (i.e. the part of the woman’s daughter that needed to be healed, her body i.e. humanity) and the other, the “spiritual”, that is good and thus should be held up as some how special. i believe in a jesus in flesh. one that had to learn. one that had to grow.

    as far as the comments made in regards to Miguel’s heretical nature i would like to point out that jesus was in fact a heretic. am i saying Miguel is the same as jesus, no. but, as ones following jc maybe we should learn from his message and life (jesus that is).

    thanks y’all
    glenn

    p.s. this has been really fun. sadly, i am in school and on a quarter system (lame!) and the end of the quarter is approaching with a vengeance so i will no longer be posting on this amazing blog.

    i hope to share in the table with you when we meet in heaven.

  34. Darius T February 27, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    “(there are plenty of women theologians talking about this and have been talking about it for a couple of generations) so maybe we should be looking to them for more of these answers. we could learn from them things we could never fathom.”

    A person’s gender doesn’t change how evil abortion is. Just because a man can’t have one doesn’t mean he can’t speak to its morality.

    “…not to mention the psalms seem to support the killing of babies, so there is a biblical argument for the practice of infanticide.”

    Hopefully you’re not serious.

    “…regardless of abortion’s legality people will have them.”

    Based on your logic (or lack thereof), we should legalize murder, since people have do it either way.

    “your understanding of god seems to present god as a narcissist, the archetypical one at that, but seeing as god is god, i do not think i can agree with you.”

    I would recommend that, if you have an open mind, you read Piper’s Desiring God regarding this issue. God is primarily concerned with His own glory, and the Bible EXPLICITLY says this over and over and over again. That you deny this indicates that you must be quite Biblically illiterate or have some really odd hermeneutical style.

    “i don’t agree that jesus only died for those who believe in him.”

    Are you saying, then, that you believe that all are saved, whether or not they have faith in Jesus? Cause His death covers the sin of all for whom He died so that they don’t have to face God’s wrath. So if He died for everyone, then everyone is saved regardless of their amount of faith. Or perhaps I misunderstand.

    I agree with you regarding the aspect of our inherent sinfulness, our soul isn’t good while our flesh is bad. Everything is bad, we are spiritually dead until God calls us and regenerates our hearts of stone.

    Jesus was not born of man but of the Spirit, so while He was fully man, He did not have the same corrupt flesh that you and I do. He was perfect, both in person and deed. Except perhaps when he was a little child, He never had to learn a thing or be taught anything.

    “as far as the comments made in regards to Miguel’s heretical nature i would like to point out that jesus was in fact a heretic.”

    Jesus was PERCEIVED to be a heretic by the self-righteous in His day who had set up a false religion, but He demonstrated over and over that He was indeed NOT a heretic. He fulfilled Scripture. In comparison, De La Torre denies Scripture. Big diff.

    “i hope to share in the table with you when we meet in heaven.”

    I hope and pray that you come to a true understanding and faith in the true God rather than the one you have created in your mind. Otherwise, based on your comments here, I am afraid that we may not meet in heaven. Please read Piper’s book, and REALLY honestly read the Scriptures. And get some good Biblical friends and counsel around you who can disciple you in the Lord.

  35. Derek February 27, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    glenn gillane-duggin,
    Al Mohler has an interesting blog on the topic, posted just days ago: “The Divine Egotist — Is God Arrogant, Selfish, or Megalomaniacal?”

    An interesting read. I think he answers this question in a helpful way.

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