In this video, Robertson makes an unusual claim: Jesus...was racist. And he uses Scripture to prove it. It really is amazing to me that someone can misread Jesus so badly. Rather than trying to get the meaning out of the text, Robertson reads his own uncharitable meaning into it.
Robertson misses the point completely. On his view, Jesus was a prejudiced, biased, bigoted sinner who needed to repent. But the text teaches just the opposite. Jesus countered the prejudices and bigoted attitudes of his day by responding the same way he always did to every Gentile who put his trust in him—with grace and mercy. Maybe Reverend Robertson’s Jesus is racist, but that is not the Jesus of history. That is not the Jesus of the New Testament. That is not the Jesus of reality.
Jesus was a magnificent moral teacher...and a racist. But don’t worry, he repented. Jesus repented? Really? You all know what we gotta do, right?
This is Red Pen Logic with Mr. B., where we help you assess bad thinking by using good thinking. Plus, we try to have some fun while we’re doing it. Today, I want to do something a little different. Instead of responding to a graphic with my red pen, I want to reply to a recent TikTok video from Reverend Brandon Robertson. In this video, Robertson makes an unusual claim: Jesus was racist. And he uses Scripture to prove it. See for yourself:
“Did you know that there’s a part of the Gospel of Mark where Jesus uses a racial slur? In Mark chapter seven, there’s the account of the Syrophoenician woman—a woman who is Syrian and Greek, both of which there were strong biases against within the Jewish community—and she comes to ask Jesus to heal her daughter, who’s possessed by a demon.”
Robertson begins with some background. Good start. Historical context is really important in properly understanding a historical event. Robertson says the Jewish community would have strong biases against this woman. He’s right, and here’s why. First, she’s a she. A woman. And women were not highly regarded at that time. For her to even talk to a Jewish rabbi—Jesus—in public, was a big no-no. Strike one. Second, she’s a Gentile. That means she’s not Jewish. Because the Jews were separated from the Gentiles by the laws of the Mosaic Covenant, Gentiles were considered unclean. Strike two. Third, her daughter had a demon, and it doesn’t get more unclean than having an unclean spirit. Strike three.
So, the fact that Jesus, a Jew, was interacting with this woman was scandalous to other Jews.
But if you’ve read the Gospels, you know that this isn’t scandalous for Jesus because Jesus is different. Robertson gives historical information about the Gentile woman, but he ignores the historical information of the Jewish Jesus. So, he completely misunderstands Jesus’ statement.
The reverend’s charge seems to make sense if you look no further than Jesus’ words in Mark 7, but what’s our rule? Never read a Bible verse. So, what do we know about Jesus from the rest of the record?
First, Jesus was really good. The greatest moral teacher ever, some think. And you can see why. Look what he taught: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Turn the other cheek. The greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s radical good. Plus, you don’t have to look very far to find that Jesus was pro-Gentile, not pro-racist towards Gentiles. Remember Mark 5, when Jesus cast the demon out of a man into a herd of pigs? He was a Gentile. Or when Jesus tells a Roman centurion that he has the greatest faith in all of Israel? Another Gentile. Or how Jesus almost got himself killed at the beginning of his ministry for saying nice things about...drumroll please...Gentiles. Jesus, an anti-Gentile, racist bigot? Please.
Do you think this is relevant background information about Jesus? And yet, Robertson doesn’t even mention it. But it gets worse:
“And what is Jesus’ response? He says, ‘It’s not good for me to give the children’s food (meaning the children of Israel’s food) to dogs.’ He calls her a dog.”
So, here’s the crux. Why does Jesus refer to this woman as a dog? Is it because he’s racist like the reverend says? Let’s take a closer look.
First, this is totally out of character for Jesus. Jesus loves Gentiles. He’s in Tyre, for goodness sake. A Gentile region. For three years, Jesus has been fighting the bigoted attitudes towards the Gentiles. And now, Robertson wants us to believe he’s now embracing those attitudes? Seriously?
Second, calling this woman a dog amounts to slander, and just five verses earlier, Jesus condemns slander as evil. Is Jesus a hypocrite too? No. Obviously, something else is going on here. Note the context. Just before this encounter, Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they’re more interested in being clean on the outside than clean on the inside. They’re more interested in clean hands than clean hearts, and it’s the heart of faith that Jesus is interested in. Then, after this teaching, where does Jesus go? Tyre, a pagan, unclean nation. This is not a coincidence. Spoiler alert: He’s about to apply the lesson that he just taught the Jews.
A Gentile woman comes to Jesus and begs for mercy. Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus said it. No question. But is this Jesus’ theology? Does Jesus really think that this woman is a dog? No. Here’s why.
By Jewish standards, she’s unclean. She’s a dog. But Jesus has just been teaching that what really matters is a clean heart, a heart for God. So, it isn’t Jesus’ view that she’s a dog. It’s Jesus’ view that the children’s food isn’t just for the children of Israel. It’s for everyone because Jesus has already said, “Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.” Gentiles who put their trust in Jesus will eat at the same table with the children of Israel in the kingdom, not on the floor with the dogs. But that’s not how the reverend sees it:
“What’s amazing about this account is that the woman doesn’t back down. She speaks truth to power. She confronts Jesus and says, ‘Well, you can think that about me, but even dogs deserve the crumbs from the table.’ Her boldness and bravery to speak truth to power actually changes Jesus’ mind. Jesus repents of his racism and extends healing to this woman’s daughter. I love this story because it’s a reminder that Jesus is human. He had prejudices and bias, and when confronted with it, he was willing to do his work, and this woman was willing to stand up and speak truth.”
This is a classic example of reading a foreign theology—in this case, progressive theology—into the text. This woman isn’t confronting Jesus about his racism. She isn’t speaking truth to power. She’s humbly submitting to Jesus and pleading for mercy. Look carefully at her reply. She says, “Yes Lord,” not, “No, bigot.” She is happy with even the leftovers. She recognizes she’s outside the covenant, and she wants in.
So, why does Jesus call this woman a dog? Jesus parrots this common sentiment for a purpose, and it’s not because he’s racist. It’s because he wants to make a point to those who view her as a dog, to those who follow the laws but don’t have a heart for God. He wants this woman to express her faith so his disciples can see past her gender and her race and see what he sees: her heart. Her faith in him. Impressed, Jesus casts out the demon and rescues her daughter.
But Reverend Robertson paints a very different picture. It really amazes me that someone can misread Jesus so badly. Rather than trying to get the meaning out of the text, Mr. Robertson reads his own uncharitable meaning into it. Robertson misses the point completely. On his view, Jesus is a prejudiced, biased, bigoted sinner who needed to repent. But the text teaches just the opposite. Jesus countered the prejudices and biased attitudes of his day by responding in the same way he always did to every Gentile who put their trust in him—with grace and mercy.
Maybe Reverend Robertson’s Jesus was a racist, but that’s not the Jesus of history. That is not the Jesus of the New Testament. That is not the Jesus of reality. Class dismissed.