(Cp. Mark 7:27-28)
“good.” Read below.
“dog” = little dog. This verse is a wonderful example of how one reading the Bible must pay attention to the cultural background involved. Although Jesus was Jewish and most of the time in the Gospels the standards of Jewish culture apply, in this verse the standards of Greek culture apply. The Greek is kunarion (#2952 κυνάριον), which is the diminutive of “dog.” It sometimes happened in the Greek and Roman world (although not in the Jewish world except among those who had given up being Kosher and were more apt to follow Roman customs) that “little dogs,” or “house dogs” were kept, and like our house dogs today, sometimes ate under (or beside) the table (Cp. Xenophon, Plato, Theophrastus, Plutarch, others. See Thayer’s lexicon and Liddell and Scott). The word can also refer to “puppies,” (Cp. Liddell and Scott; Vine) but that would probably not be the case here, since the woman was a Syrophoenician and would have been familiar with the Greek custom of having a little house dog that would eat by the table. The reference to the “little dog” is made only in the account of the Syrophoenician woman. There is no other use of kunarion in the Septuagint (Greek OT) or the Greek NT.
That Jesus would say “little dogs” is amazing grace. He did not, even by implication, call her a “dog,” which in Greek culture had overtones of shamelessness or audacity in women (cp. Liddell and Scott). Instead, by using the word “little dog,” or “housedog,” he only made a glancing reference that she did not deserve any help (but really, who does?). He opened a door of grace for her, and she walked through it. Also, he said it was not “good,” kalos (#2570 καλός), for the children’s bread to be thrown to the little dogs. He did not use the word “lawful” (exestin, #1832). Rather, it was not “good” or “proper,” or “a fine thing to do.”