May I request your time to read the following paragraphs.


Did Jesus Apply Lamentations 3:23: “Great is your faithfulness?”
to the Syrophoenician Woman in Matthew 15:28?

    In stark contrast to those who were attracted to Jesus strictly on the basis of his miracles or their own full stomachs was the Syrophoenician woman to whom Jesus exclaimed, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Matt. 15:28 emphasis mine).  Was Jesus ascribing to this Canaanite woman what Jeremiah had ascribed to the God of Israel in Lamentations 3:23?  Lamentations 3:23: “Great is your faith[fulness]” unmistakably referred to God; yet, assuming he was speaking in the common Greek language of the ancient world, Jesus applied the identical expression to the Canaanite woman.  
    Petitioning the “son of David” on behalf of her demon-oppressed daughter, the woman could not sidestep the brunt of Jesus’ assaying statements: (1) “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and (2) “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:24, 25).  Graciously, but adroitly, she countered:

    “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matt. 15:27).

The parallel passage in Mark 7:24-30, particularly verse 29, makes it clear that it was the above  statement of response that prompted Jesus’ exclamation, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Matt. 15:28).  Spoken according to the analogy of the faith, the woman’s words had a prophetic ring (Rom. 12:6) serving notice that the Syrophoenician had gotten it!  And it was faith!  Undaunted by Jesus’ apparent rebuff, she immediately voiced a faith originating in God Himself–thereby evoking Jesus’ exclamatory response in the language of Lamentations 3:23!  The faith [Greek pistis] that so characterized the God of Israel had become her very own.  “Deep” was calling to “deep” (Ps. 42:7).   Prompting, recognizing, and affirming in this Canaanite woman a greatness of faith which echoed the great faith[fulness] of the heavenly Father, Jesus startled the ancient world in a way that reverberates into our own.  Then in response to her faith Jesus announced, “Be it done for you as you desire!”   And the woman’s daughter was healed instantly. (Matt. 15:28).  
    In the mind of the Septuagint translators, pistis was the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew emunah.  The Hebrew emunah appears in Lamentations 3:23, as well as Habakkuk 2:4 which was cited by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:17.  The Hebrew emunah is one of several words related to faith or faithfulness which are derived from the verb aman.  Indeed the universal “Amen” which punctuates the prayers of the faithful throughout the world comes from aman.   George M. Landes’ Student Vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew indicates that emunah occurs 49 times in the Hebrew Bible.  The fact that Lamentations 3:23 is missing from the extant Septuagint manuscripts (as appears to be the case), therefore, cannot contradict the obvious, namely, that the Greek pistis would certainly be the accurate and expected rendering of emunah in that verse as well.   Aman’s nounal counterpart was the Hebrew emeth found in Genesis 24:27 and Psalm 85:12 [verse11 in English versions], and according to Landes, it appears somewhere between 100 and 199 times in the Hebrew Bible.  The 1901 American Standard Version rendering of the Hebrew emeth in Psalm 85:11 as “truth” is not at odds with either the New International Version or the English Standard Version both of which render it “faithfulness” as follows:

    Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from heaven.

For the English “truth” is very much akin to the English “troth” which is replete with the sense of covenant faithfulness, good faith, or fidelity.  There is, however, another Greek word which is rendered “truth” in English, namely the Greek aletheia, and, if that specific meaning, rather than “faithfulness” or “faith” were the writer’s intention, it is likely that he would have deployed it rather than pistis.  Certainly aletheia is used throughout the New Testament where it is rendered “truth” in English.  
    To settle the issue beyond dispute, and by way of summary, note:  (1) the Greek word pistis used by the Septuagint translators to represent the Hebrew emeth and emunah appears in Matthew 15:28 on the lips of Jesus in reference to the Syrophoenician woman; (2) the Greek megas which also appears on the lips of Jesus in Matthew 15:28 and is rendered “great” was used by the Septuagint translators to represent the Hebrew rab in Psalm 47:3 (48:2 in our English Bibles) and in many other old testament verses; and (3) the Hebrew rab which the Septuagint  represents by the Greek megas also appears in Lamentations 3:23–the focus of this discussion.  Accordingly, it is well substantiated that Jesus’ words spoken to the Syrophoenician in Matthew 15:28 constituted a verbatim Greek rendering of Lamentations 3:23.  
    For Jesus of Nazareth effectually and intentionally to establish an analogy of faith by applying the language of Lamentations 3:23 to a Syrophoenician woman was certainly his prerogative when one considers his analogy of being.  Attesting to his own preexistence and deity by claiming identity with the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14 (John 8:58), Jesus of Nazareth put infinite distance between himself and every other human being.  Jesus’ affirmation of the Syrophoenician’s faith in words reflecting Lamentations 3:23, no less than his participation in the creatural aspect of our humanity via the Incarnation, should be understood as upholding rather than obscuring that line of distinction between created beings and the Supreme Being, i.e., the Creator.  His affirmation of the Syrophoenician’s faith was consistent with the Incarnation, properly understood in terms of the orderly hypostatic union of the human and divine in the singular person of the Son “in the fulness of time” in order to redeem those under the law (and hence accountable to it) whether that law be the Law of Moses or the law written upon the heart of every human being (Gal. 4:4-5; Rom. 2:14-15).  Accordingly, Jesus’ deployment of the language of Lamentations 3:23 concerned the substance of the Syrophoenician woman’s faith, not the degree of it, unless, of course, the greatness of it was by way of contrast with so many pathetic expressions of faith Jesus encountered among the tribes of Israel.
    But Jesus’ exclamatory affirmation of the Syrophoenician’s faith had deeper implications, namely that mere mortals are made partakers of the divine nature “now that faith has come” (Gal. 3:25; 2 Pet. 1:4).  Faith[fulnes] is an attribute of the Almighty–indeed a communicable attribute of the first order whereby an unrighteous lost soul is justified or declared righteous in His presence and sanctified “with the precious blood of Christ” --the “Son of David”–a “lamb without blemish or spot” “foreknown before the foundation of the world but . . . made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (Rom. 1:3; 3:25;1 Pet. 1:19-21).  As the incarnate Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, was sent by the heavenly Father to restore faith to an elect humanity through the gospel events recorded in the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5).  The restoration or return of that faith[fulness] which had been originally breached in the Garden of Eden by the serpent’s cunning, by the women’s deception, and by Adam’s transgression constitutes the essence of reconciliation for through faith the righteousness of God is imputed to them totally apart from the works of the law.  That glorious faith which is imparted through the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:14-17) places humans in a position far exceeding that of Adam–even unfallen Adam.  To minimize faith in the program of redemption, therefore, is to minimize “the victory that overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4-5).  Without faith, it would be “impossible” to please God (Heb. 11:6).  Jesus did not minimize it.  He did just the opposite–He maximized it!  In the case of the Syrophoenician woman, he exclaimed, “O woman, great is your faith!”  Who can fathom the depths of God?

    Let the heavens praise your wonders,
        O LORD,
       your faithfulness in the assembly
        of the holy ones!
    For who in the skies can be
        compared to the LORD?
       Who among the heavenly beings
        is like the LORD,
    a God greatly to be feared in the
        council of the holy ones,
       and awesome above all who are
        around him?
    O LORD God of hosts,
       who is mighty as you are,
        O LORD,
       with your faithfulness all around
        you? (Psalm 89:5-8)



    The above paragraphs are part of a 7-page chapter, perhaps the linchpin chapter, entitled “The Faith of God,” of a book to be published under the title Now that Faith has Come.  If you would like to read the entire chapter and offer comment, let me know and I will e-mail it to you as an attachment and will highly value your insights and discernment.

Your brother in Christ,
David C. Brand
Director, ADVOCATE Enterprise
Howard, OH
(740) 358-3057
www.dcbcom.org