Matthew 15:24 (Responding to an IO Proof Text)

In this post we will respond to one of the proof texts (Matthew 15:24) which the Israel Only movement often uses to make their case that [1] only natural Israel was ever part of God’s redemptive narrative and [2] this narrative ended in AD 70. This post features an explanation of how IO proponents use that text along with a response.

Israel Only (IO) PROOF TEXT

“But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 15:24).

IO’S CLAIM ABOUT THIS TEXT

This is proof that Jesus never intended for anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel to receive or inherit salvation, eternal life, the kingdom of God, etc.

Source: Preterist Perspectives Discussion & Debate group, Facebook (Oct. 12, 2018)

Source: Preterist Perspectives Discussion & Debate group, Facebook (Nov. 7, 2018)

matthew 15,24 in preterist perspectives discussion debate group dec 28, 2018

Source: Preterist Perspectives Discussion & Debate group, Facebook (Dec. 28, 2018)

RESPONSE

First of all, notice that Matthew 15:24 is misquoted in all three of the memes above. I’m unable to find any Bible versions which have Jesus saying, “I was sent only FOR the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Instead, every version I’ve seen (for example, the 25 versions at Bible Hub) has Him saying the equivalent of, “I was sent only TO the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Prepositions matter. Let’s look at the context of Matthew 15:24, at a related statement Jesus made earlier in Matthew 10, at a parallel account in Mark 7, and at a similar statement made in John 1.

MATTHEW 15:21-28

In noting the context of Matthew 15:24, we can see that the region of Tyre and Sidon (verse 21) was the setting for this conversation between Jesus, His disciples, and a certain woman (Matthew 15:21-28). The woman was a Canaanite, and she cried out to Jesus for mercy because her daughter was severely demon-possessed (verse 22). When Jesus didn’t answer her, the disciples urged Him to send her away (verse 23). Jesus, answering His disciples, said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24). The woman worshiped Jesus and again asked for help (verse 25). Jesus, answering her directly this time, said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (verse 26). The woman agreed, but said, “Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (verse 27). Jesus praised her for her great faith, declared that her desire should be met, and her daughter was healed that very hour (verse 28).

In this passage, Jesus referred to the lost sheep of the house of Israel as “the children” and referred to others as “little dogs.” The Canaanite woman acknowledged her status as a “little dog.” However, she also insisted that the little dogs, i.e. those not of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, were entitled to the crumbs from the children’s bread.

In verse 24, was Jesus saying that He would never have anything to do with those who were not of the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Were “the little dogs” always to be considered “little dogs” who could only catch crumbs if they were desperate enough?

MATTHEW 10

On a prior occasion, soon after choosing His 12 disciples, Jesus made another statement about the lost sheep of Israel:

“These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded, saying, ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand…”’” (Matthew 10:5-7).

So in Matthew 10, Jesus made a distinction between [1] “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and [2] the Samaritans and Gentiles. On that occasion, He clearly instructed His disciples to avoid the Samaritans and the Gentiles, and to only interact with the lost sheep of the house of Israel (those to whom Jesus was sent – Matthew 15:24).

Did Jesus ever expand on those instructions? Did He ever send anyone to the Samaritans and to the Gentiles? Or was His mission always and forever only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?

On one occasion, Jesus Himself ministered so effectively to a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26) that many Samaritans believed in Him because of her testimony (John 4:39), and He ministered so effectively to that crowd of Samaritans (John 4:40) that many more Samaritans believed in Him and declared Him to be the Christ and the Savior of the world (John 4:41-42).

Just before Jesus ascended, He gave an important commission to the same disciples whom He had earlier [1] instructed to avoid Samaritans and the Gentiles and [2] declared that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. On this occasion, He commissioned them to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He likewise told them to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15; cf. Matthew 28:18-20). It wasn’t long before Philip, Peter, and John preached the gospel in the city of Samaria, people were healed and filled with the Holy Spirit, and Samaria was filled with joy (Acts 8:5-17). Evidence that the gospel was preached to the Gentiles is found throughout much of the book of Acts and the epistles written by Paul.

MARK 7

In Mark 7:24-30, Mark provides a parallel account of the woman whose demon-possessed daughter was healed. Though many of the details are the same, we can note a small but significant difference in what Jesus said to her in response to her repeated requests: “But Jesus said to her, ‘Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs’” (verse 27).

Recalling that “the children” = “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” we can note that Jesus didn’t say that only they should be filled. He said that they should be filled first. This calls to mind when Peter quoted the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14) that in his seed “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Acts 3:25), and he said to the Jews, “To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

JOHN 1

Similar to the above passages, John wrote this about Jesus’ ministry: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

In this passage, “His own” is equivalent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That’s who Jesus came to (John 1:11) and that’s who He was sent to (Matthew 15:24). Yet, while many of “His own” (the lost sheep of the house of Israel) rejected Him, He was received by many Samaritans and Gentiles. And just as He was received by many Samaritans and Gentiles, He extended to “as many as received Him” the right to become the children of God.  

CONCLUSION

Jesus’ statement, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), defines who He came to live and minister among. A non-Israelite woman tested the limits of this statement and was rewarded for her faith (Matthew 15:21-28). Mark’s account of this passage reveals that the Lord’s bread was for the lost sheep of Israel FIRST, but not exclusively (cf. John 1:11-13, Acts 3:25-26). Matthew 10:5-7 reveals the temporal nature of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples that they should avoid Samaritans and Gentiles and instead only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus included the Samaritans and Gentiles in His later commission (Acts 1:8; Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:18-20), and the rest of the New Testament bears witness to the fruitfulness of that commission.

The Israel Only (IO) movement likes to use Matthew 15:24 to say that only the lost sheep of the house of Israel were intended to inherit the kingdom of God and be blessed with forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, etc. in Christ. IO appears to ignore the distinction that Jesus made in Matthew 10:5-7 between [1] the lost sheep of Israel and [2] the Samaritans and Gentiles. Yet later (and elsewhere) in the New Testament when Samaritans and Gentiles are shown to be in Christ, proving that Christ was not sent ONLY to bless the lost sheep of the house of Israel, IO would undoubtedly say that the Samaritans and Gentiles were also part of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

How can Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:24 define and limit for all time who could join His family if an identical statement in Matthew 10:5-7 is clearly shown to be temporary? Why should the distinction between the lost sheep of Israel and the Samaritans/Gentiles in Matthew 10:5-7 disappear only when it’s convenient for the IO movement? Is this not a classic case of “having your cake and eating it too”?

Jesus’ mission can be defined as “Israel first,” but not “Israel only.” Jesus was sent TO the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but He was not ONLY sent FOR the lost sheep of Israel. He was sent for others as well, including you and me.

Please see this link for other responses to IO proof texts.

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