The neuter gender of κυνάριον in Mark 7:27-28 does not stop it from applying to the Syro-Phoenician woman as an insult. Per Smyth (197 b):
Exceptions to the Rule of Natural Gender. — Diminutives in -ιον are neuter (199 d), as τὸ ἀνθρώπιον manikin (ὁ ἄνθρωπος man), τὸ παιδίον little child (ὁ or ἡ παῖς child), τὸ γύναιον little woman (ἡ γυνή woman). Also the words τέκνον, τέκος child (strictly ‘”thing born”), ἀνδράποδον captive.
So, even though κυνάριον is neuter and the woman is feminine, that shouldn’t throw us off. The word is still a very pointed insult, directed straight at the woman.
Mark 7:24-30 (the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman) has some really interesting grammatical stuff going on, which we’ll look at after the jump. First, the text:
24 Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Τύρου. Καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς οἰκίαν οὐδένα ἤθελεν γνῶναι, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν· 25 ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον, ἐλθοῦσα προσέπεσεν πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ· 26 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς, Συροφοινίκισσα τῷ γένει· καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτὸν ἵνα τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐκβάλῃ ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς. 27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ· ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν. 28 ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· κύριε· καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων. 29 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ὕπαγε, ἐξελήλυθεν ἐκ τῆς θυγατρός σου τὸ δαιμόνιον. 30 καὶ ἀπελθοῦσα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς εὗρεν τὸ παιδίον βεβλημένον ἐπὶ τὴν κλίνην καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐξεληλυθός.
24 He got up from there and went to the coasts of Tyre. And as he entered the house he did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not be hidden. 25 In fact, right away, a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him, came into the house, and fell at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she asked him to cast the demon out from her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, because it’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 She answered him, “Sir — the dogs under the table also eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 He said to her, “On those grounds, go; the demon has gone out from your daughter.” 30 And when she went away to her house, she found her child lying on the couch and the demon gone.
The interesting stuff:
- Verse 24 has an adversative καί (καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν, “but he could not be hidden”). The adversative καί is sort of like a tiger; you’ve read about them in books, you’ve seen pictures of them in their natural habitat, maybe even seen a few in a zoo, but when you come across one in your neighborhood, you’re very surprised (to say the least!).
- Verse 25 has an emphatic ἀλλά (ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, “In fact, right away, a woman heard about him”). It’s like the ἀλλά and the καί here have switched roles — ἀλλά, normally an adversative conjunction, takes on the role of an emphatic connective, while καί, which is normally a connective, functions as an adversative in v. 24.
- In verse 27, Jesus makes a pun on the woman’s request. The woman asks Jesus to “cast out” (ἐκβάλλω) the demon from her daughter, while Jesus remarks about how unseemly it is to take the children’s food and “throw” (βάλλω) it to the dogs.
- Verses 27 and 28: κυνάριον. Louw and Nida have this entry for κυνάριον: “(diminutive of κύωνa ‘dog,’ 4.34, but in the NT the diminutive force may have become lost, though a component of emotive attachment or affection is no doubt retained and thus the reference is presumably to a house dog) — ‘house dog, little dog.’” I think they’re incorrect — the word does retain its diminutive force, but it doesn’t carry a sense of affection. Instead, the diminutive here is a diminutive of insult. Κύων can carry the sense of “a word of reproach, freq. in Hom. of women, to denote shamelessness or audacity” (LSJ s.v., II), and the woman in this passage is both shameless and audacious, (a dirty Gentile asking the Jewish messiah for help? Puh-leeze!), so this reading of κυνάριον makes a lot of sense.