Friday, July 27, 2007

Why did Jesus have to heal the Blind Man Twice in Mark 8?

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus encounters a blind man in Bethsaida. To heal the man, Jesus spit on the man's eyes and laid his hands on him. The man opened his eyes and could see men, but they were blurry and looked like "trees walking around." Jesus repeated the process and then the man could see. The obvious question here is why it took Jesus two times to heal the blind man? Was Jesus just having a bad day? Was his healing power bar depleted? What theological purpose could there be in this multiphase healing?

It could have something to do with discipleship.

In Mk 6, Jesus feeds 5, 000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. A little while later, in Mk 8, Jesus feeds 4, 000 people with just 7 loaves. These are incredible miracles and they clearly demonstrate that Jesus possesses the power of God. After this, Jesus has a confrontation with the Pharisees because they demand a 'sign'. You would think that feeding 4,000 people with next to nothing would be a sufficient sign! Following this confrontation, Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to go to the other side. In the boat, Jesus tells the disciples to “Watch out!" and "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (8:15). The disciples then conclude that Jesus said this because they only brought one loaf of bread on the boat with them! (8:14). Why, they wonder, did they not pack enough sandwiches for the trip to the other side? What were they thinking.

Bread is not a Problem for Jesus:
Jesus responds by asking why they are discussing their food problem (8:14-21): “Where have you guys been? Did you not remember when I fed 9, 000 people with 13 loaves of bread?” “How many baskets did you pick up after I fed the 5, 000?” Umm..., 12. And when I fed the 4,000 how many large baskets of broken pieces did you pick up? Umm..., it was 7. He was saying to them “Do You not yet understand? Bread is not a problem!” There is something here that they are failing to see...

What is important here is Jesus’ words in the midst of these questions. He says “Do you not yet see or understand? Having eyes do you not see? and having ears do you not hear? (8:17-18). Jesus is saying, Open your eyes and see what is right in front of you! His point is that, though they have physical eyes, they still are in some sense blind to who Jesus really is.

Seen in this context, Mark’s placement and record of this miracle is brilliant. They see a blind man, who Jesus then leads by the hand out of the city where Jesus heals him. The first time, the man can only see slightly, his vision is blurred. Then Jesus did it again, and the “man looked intently” and was healed and could then “see everything clearly”. This is essentially a parable that Jesus is acting out for his disciples. Was Jesus just having a bad day? Why did it take him two times to heal this blind man? I think it is obvious that Jesus could have healed him perfectly the first time, but he was teaching his disciples something as he gradually restored this man's sight. His point is that his disciples are blinded to who he really is though he is demonstrating his power to them day by day right in front of their eyes. Their understanding is coming, but it is coming in stages.

The passage following confirms Mark’s textual strategy. Right after this healing, Peter finally "sees" and confesses Jesus’ identity, that Jesus is “the Christ.” But then, Jesus begins to tell them that the Messiah must suffer, which they don’t fully understand. They see, but not clearly.

So, all that to say, that the reason that Jesus heals the blind men in two stages could be part of what Jesus was teaching his disciples. Also, from the way Mark has shaped his narrative, it seems clear that this is his intent, to highlight this theme (because he could have recorded these narratives differently, or not recorded that it took Jesus two times to heal the blind man). This passage along with its broader context give a glimpse into the nature of the discipleship of Jesus' closest followers.


It will take much study and submission to Scripture to avoid being counted as those who have eyes but do not see, and those who have ears but do not hear. Only by his grace . . .

12 comments:

Zach 3:34 PM  

JT would be so proud...good thoughts my friend.

Dusty Deevers 5:17 PM  

Yes...You are right.

Holy Spirit give me eyes to see even now.

John Fraiser,  7:56 PM  

This post is my introduction to your blog and I'm greatly pleased with it. You've done a fine job of explaining this text. I haven't looked at commentaries on this text. Did you borrow this interpretation of Mark's purpose or is it original to you?

If the majority of your posts are this well-written, I'll be visiting often.

Bill 7:57 PM  

Interesting approach! Every time I read the Gospels I come out with new questions and when this came up on Jamie's Blog I was surprised I missed the significance. I haven't actually read any other works on the significance of this miracle. I like your take on it but have you come across any other articles on it?

ronjour locke 11:04 PM  

Good thoughts. I think that the passage also emphasizes the work of Jesus in bringing about that sight. Sin blinds us to the reality of Jesus, yet God in His providence opens our eyes through revelation to see more of Jesus. Though Mark did not record it, Matthew emphasizes the Father's work in revealing Jesus' messianic role and deity to Peter.

Jamie 11:11 PM  

Ched: Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I totally missed the significance, and it adds so much to the story to hear your explanation.

Ched 12:03 PM  

Thank you all for the above kind words.

Did you borrow this interpretation of Mark's purpose or is it original to you?

I gladly acknowledge that two of my professors (NT, Systematic) at swbts have influenced my interpretation of this passage, and other profs (hermeneutics) also have trained me to look to the narrative context for what the author is doing.

have you come across any other articles on it?

I couldn't find anything like this online, but many commentators note different elements of the interpretation I gave. For instance, Robert Guelich's Word Biblical Commentary on Mark pp. 431-36, and David Garland's NIV Application Commentary on Mark pp. 312-13 hint at this theme. Also, James Edwards' Pillar New Testament Commentary on Mark takes this line of interpretation: "The juxtaposition of the two stories is a clue that the lingering blindness of the disciples may also be relieved, as is the blindness of the man at Bethsaida, by the continued touch of Jesus" (pp. 241-45). Edwards exposition is helfpul, as he teases out this theme throughout the rest of Mark.

Most scholars and commentators note the theme of blindness in relation to the disciples' faith and discipleship, though there is debate as to how much one can make of this. I think, at the very least, we can say that it is important in Mark's textual strategy. After all, the way he has composed his narrative is the only reason we are able to note the connection between the disciple's faith and the blindness of the blind man. Important too, as Ronjour noted, is the fact that Jesus is the one who can heal physical blindess as well as spiritual blindness. As Guelich notes, "This story offers them hope too based on the healing touch of Jesus who makes the deaf ears hear and blind eyes to see--even if it comes in stages" (p. 436).

There is a deep well of truth in this passage that we have only hinted at in our discussion.

Chase,  2:09 PM  

I will think more on this

Bret Rogers,  3:16 PM  

Ched,

I truly appreciate your careful and accurate observations from the Gospel according to Mark. My wife and I are currently reading through Mark at the dinner table. I look forward to sharing these contextual-theological insights with her this evening.

Glopee 12:15 PM  

I like this very much. thanks for taking the time to write this.

Anonymous,  12:18 AM  

I've been searching for sound expository teaching on this passage. Most have merely restated what is written. You, Sir, have given me a clear understanding of the passage and confirmed what I believed about the healing itself but in addition, you carefully constructed a lesson so profound, I'm awestricken. I hadn't considered the "flow" from point to point (the feeding of the multitude through Peter's confession of Christ's identity.) Thanks for this post. I'll be checking back to see what other illumination God has given you.

Peace and favor to you.

Aaron 9:16 PM  

Hi, Jesus healed the blind man twice in Mark 8 but not of blindness both times. He healed two different ailments. The first was blindness the second was Agnosia. Interestingly enough, Agnosia was introduced by Sigmund Freud in 1891. So I consider Mark 8 to be a "time capsule" evidence for Jesus healing ability. - Aaron Frick frick@insidehoops.net

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