Sunday, May 19, 2024

Jesus And Pigs And Dogs

Peter Williams' recent book, The Surprising Genius Of Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2023), discusses some agreements that are often overlooked among the gospels. For example, Jesus' parables in the gospel of Luke bring up some "proverbially unclean" animals, pigs (15:16) and dogs (16:21). The surrounding context of both parables suggests that the association with those animals is something negative. Similarly, Matthew 7:6 refers to dogs and pigs in that sort of negative manner. Another point that could be made, which I don't recall Williams making in his book, is how easily such a pairing of dogs and pigs could have been avoided in early Christian circles. Paul makes a negative reference to dogs (Philippians 3:2), but not pigs. The same is true of John (Revelation 22:15). And John brought up a wide variety of animals and other beasts in Revelation, which increases the potential for him to have included pigs and dogs as often as Jesus did, which John didn't. Peter combined the two animals (2 Peter 2:22), but most New Testament authors didn't, including ones who wrote as extensively as Paul and John did. Another point that I don't recall seeing in Williams' book is the episode with the Gerasene demoniac, which involved casting the demons into pigs. The demons asked to be cast into the pigs, so they're the ones who initiated it. But Jesus' willingness to go along with the request suggests that he found it fitting. And that account is found in Mark's gospel, which means that Jesus' expression of that sort of view of pigs is found in three of the gospels. I'm not suggesting that such a view of pigs is something highly unusual. But the expression of such a view seems unusual enough to be significant. Given how seldom pigs come up in that sort of way in the rest of the New Testament, it's notable that the gospels have Jesus expressing that sort of view of pigs a few times, in a few different contexts that are so diverse (in material found in only one gospel, in material found in multiple gospels, both in parables and elsewhere, etc.). Jesus also seems to refer to dogs in that sort of way more often than we see in other early Christian sources. In addition to the passages cited above, see Matthew 15:26 and the parallel passage in Mark. These are more examples of agreements among the gospels that are of a more subtle nature, and therefore are often overlooked, and which are best explained as coming from the historical Jesus.

(See here for a discussion of how one of these passages involving pigs is significant in another context.)

1 comment:

  1. One factor to take into account with the last two episodes mentioned above is that we should ask why the demons and the Syrophoenician woman brought up pigs and dogs when speaking to Jesus. The fact that Jesus accommodated their references to the lowliness of pigs and dogs is significant, as I discussed above. But it's also significant that they brought up those animals, and did so in the way in which they did it, to begin with. There's a good chance they'd heard Jesus not only bringing up pigs and dogs before, but also in the specific way in which they were bringing them up to him. Keep in mind that Jesus likely repeated some of his parables and other teachings, including the ones that reference pigs and dogs. So, the demons and the Syrophoenician woman could easily have heard Jesus speak that way on one or more occasions. Thus, they had reason to expect him to resonate with a reference to pigs or dogs in the manner in which they referred to those animals. In other words, these passages not only give us information about how Jesus reacted to such references, but also give us some indication of what others perceived about how they could expect him to react to such things.