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The Canaanite Woman: Interchanges Within and Outside the Canon

A Bible and Beyond Discussion

Monday, April 22, 2024
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With Dr. Shirley Paulson and host Helen Mathis

Monday, April 22, 2024

Featuring Dr. Shirley Paulson and guest host Helen Mathis

Guest host, Helen Mathis, interviewed Dr. Shirley Paulson about her personal experience confronting the role of canon in both her scholarly and faith worlds.

Mathis organized the conversation in relation to the biblical account of Jesus encountering a woman from outside his experiential ‘canon’ – or world of Jewish laws. This unnamed person, known as ‘the Canaanite woman’ from the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 15), vehemently approached Jesus, seeking healing for her daughter. This is the only recorded encounter Jesus had with anyone outside the context of his Jewish community and its social and religious laws. At first, Jesus rebuffed the woman’s request, claiming that his gifts were intended only for the Jews. But her faithful commitment to his message and healing powers persuaded him to change his mind.

That transformation, or change in perspective, opened the door for Jesus to offer his gifts to her out of respect. It also enabled the woman to show Jesus how her own faith transcended boundaries.
Mathis is interested in a modern application of this incident, where people find ways of dealing with boundaries that restrict progress and growth. She asked both Paulson and the audience to consider how they have and will continue to identify and confront boundaries that restrict their own growth.

Her first questions for Paulson focused on how Paulson had been able to move out of the ‘canon’ she had been taught. She followed up by asking how Paulson felt this move had strengthened her capacity to experience a kind of transformation. What were the motives for questioning the boundaries? Did she encounter push-back or opposition when she began to study early works outside the biblical canon? What impact did the push-back have on her?

The questions led to the topic of language and why language – not merely a translation of words, but also language as the specific expression of a culture – is so important in the context of religious sharing and living.

Mathis also brought out, in her questioning, the value of witnessing faith in the ‘outsider.’ She recognized that the faith of the Canaanite woman not only won over Jesus, and changed his attitude, but exemplified what Jesus was looking for in the act of healing. What happened to Jesus was the subject of another significant part of the discussion. Was he transformed? Could Jesus learn? How do people read this story if they believe Jesus to be God, and therefore not subject to change.

Also discussed was the value of critical thinking and scholarship itself and how important it is in support of one’s overall desire to grow spiritually.


Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28

Gospel of Mark 7:24-30