He called her ‘daughter:’ God’s universal grace in Mark 5:25-34

December 18, 2009 Matthew Keedy Clifton New Testament Commentary

by Matthew K. Clifton

Introduction

One of the most intriguing passages in the synoptic gospels is found in Mark 5:25-34. In this passage, sometimes called the “healing of the woman with the issue of blood,” a miracle takes place that appears to be unique among the others in the gospel accounts. While on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus, who is the ruler of the synagogue, Jesus is approached surreptitiously by a woman who had a persistent hemorrhaging. She touched his garment and was healed. After Jesus realized someone had touched Him, the woman returns and tells Jesus “the whole truth” about what happened. In the end, Jesus tells her to “go in peace,” calling her “daughter.”

This story is intriguing because Jesus seems to be passive in this miracle, while the woman takes the initiative and is healed. Such passiveness in healing is seen nowhere else in the gospel accounts. It is also an interesting story because of Jesus’ reaction. Although a multitude of people were pressing against Him, He was able to discern one special touch. But the other part of His reaction was the statement, “Who touched Me?” Did Jesus know which person touched Him, or not? And why did Jesus call her “daughter” following the healing, when He uses the term no where else in scripture?[1]

Female writers have been especially drawn to this story. One popular publication hailed this account in Mark as a story of a woman who risked everything and was healed by her faith.[2] Another more radical approach portrays this miracle as an empowerment of women to break down the social-religious walls that restrained them, and even goes so far as to say that Jesus in turn needed something from the woman, because “Jesus is also healed, brought to a new wholeness.”[3]

There can be no doubt that the healing of this woman with a hemorrhage wells up some very strong feelings in women. After all, only a woman could truly identify with the biological processes and the discomfort that was involved for the woman. There is also the issue of those of the feminine gender feeling women are marginalized not only in first century society, but also in contemporary times as well. And while it is true that Jesus often acted in His great compassion without respect for persons (Mark 7:24-30 is a good example), perhaps what makes the story so meaningful for women is the manner in which Jesus proclaimed her faith: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34). One female poet has spoken of this moment in a simple verse:

“My faith—weak, made bold
In Him—captured His power.
He calls me daughter.[4]

Although the passage brings up powerful feelings, we must be careful not to over-interpret the story. Exactly what is the point of Mark 5:25-34? Is it a story of the freeing of a first-century Jewish woman from the ritualistic requirements of the Law of Moses? Is it a story portraying how Jesus would allow women greater freedom from male-dominated society? Or is it a story of faith and how Jesus looks upon true belief as the “great equalizer?” All these thoughts and more will be considered, with the overarching purpose of this paper being to show how Mark 5:25-34 relates to the major themes found in the gospel of Mark.

Exegesis of Mark 5:25-34

The story of the woman with the issue of blood is part of a larger section (Mark 5:21-43) in which the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus, appeals to Jesus to heal his daughter (v. 22-23). Having been on the east side of Galilee in the “country of the Gadarenes” (v. 1), Jesus crossed back over the sea (v. 21). While a multitude of people had gathered around Him, Jairus came to Him and fell at His feet, begging Him earnestly to come save his daughter, because she was near death. Having heard this appeal, Jesus agrees to go with him, and a great crowd followed and “thronged” Him (v. 24).

With Jesus being pressed upon by the crowd, the woman with the flow of blood comes upon the scene. Mark writes, “Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse” (v. 25-26). The exact nature of this condition may be impossible to pin down, but it is was almost certainly a uterine disease of some sort.[5] There is also the question of whether or not the bleeding was constant. One writer states,

There are those who believe that the drain was constant. Another
view would be that throughout the twelve years an excessive loss
of blood, occurring periodically, had made it impossible for her
ever to feel strong and healthy, and that at this particular moment
she was again suffering as a result of loss of blood.[6]

Whatever the case, the condition caused the woman much suffering. First, in verse 29 Mark describes her condition as an “affliction.” The Greek word here (?????? ) means “a condition of great distress, torment, suffering.”[7] Edwards points out that the term “combines physical suffering and shame, hence something akin to punishment.”[8] The word is certainly used in this manner in some places in the New Testament, such as Acts 22:24 and Hebrews 11:36, but may be used here in a more figurative sense.

Second, she suffered many things at the hands of many physicians (v. 26). She had spent her entire livelihood, but instead of getting better, she grew worse. In the parallel accounts, Matthew does not mention the physicians, and Luke merely says no physician could heal her. Being a physician, the woman’s condition was apparently incurable by the medical standards of the day.

Third, there was the suffering she experienced in her ostracism from the religious community due to her illness. Leviticus 15:25-27 says that a woman who has a discharge of blood for many days other than at the time of her normal impurity will be considered unclean all the days she is experiencing this. This mean that she could not participate in the temple worship for the 12 years she had suffered, and no pious Jew would have any contact with her. Commenting on this fact, Edwards says, “No doubt Mark recorded the incident to dramatize Jesus’ rejection of the concept of ritual uncleanness and to affirm his acceptance of all persons no matter what their status in society.”[9]

Verses 27-28 relate how the woman, after hearing about Jesus, came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. She believed such contact would heal her. Some scholars feel the woman perhaps may have held some pagan-like beliefs. Wessel feels that her faith here may have been mixed with some superstition.[10] Apparently there was the idea both before this incident (Mark 3:10) and after (Mark 6:56) that just touching Him could heal. There was a similar feeling with the apostles, as some brought their sick out into the streets in the hopes that even Peter’s shadow may cross them (Acts 5:15). Even clothing that Paul had touched cured the sick, which the Bible says was the result of God’s working (Acts 19:11-12).

Her expectation was correct. When she touched Him, she immediately felt the “fountain of her blood” was dried up, and she knew she was healed (v. 29). In contrast to those who only claim they can heal, true healings are immediate and complete. Jesus also felt the event, and He knew that “power had gone out of Him” (v. 30). He turned around and asked, “Who touched My clothes?”

His disciples were perplexed by Jesus’ question. How could a person possibly recognize one touch among the hundreds in the bustling crowd? Luke tells us that Peter was the one who asked this question (Luke 8:45). The fact that Jesus could discern such a touch from among the many is a proof of His deity. R.T. France agrees that this passage has the effect of setting Jesus apart as one who has “supernatural insight,” but he goes further and states that Jesus’ insight did not extend far enough to instantly recognize the culprit.[11]

In verse 32 we read that Jesus “looked around to see her who had done this thing.” This was not just a glance, but rather a long and penetrating search of the crowd.[12] Hendriksen writes that there are three main interpretations of verse 32.[13] The first view is that Jesus already knew the identity of the woman. The second is that He knew at least that the culprit was a woman, based on the use of the feminine participle in Mark 5:32. The third possibility is that He did not know anything about the person.

Perhaps the question is best solved by simple logic. If Jesus was able to know someone touched Him in a crowd, would it not also stand to reason that He could know who touched Him, as well? And despite the views of Hendriksen and France, it is more likely that Jesus was allowing the woman to identify herself, drawing her out of the crowd. God asked a similar question of Adam in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9), and yet His complete knowledge is not questioned.

Responding to Jesus’ penetrating gaze, the woman came and fell down before Jesus and told Him the whole truth about what had happened. She was “fearing and trembling” because of what had taken place, and she threw herself upon the mercy of this Man who had such power. What this woman did took great courage, since she was ceremonially unclean, and touching a Jewish man would have rendered Him unclean as well.

What did this “unclean” woman expect from Him at this point? Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue. Having no social standing, she has interrupted the assistance that was on the way for one of the more respected people in the city. While Jairus was religiously connected, the woman was religiously disconnected from the spiritual community. What she got was comfort and reassurance. His first word to her, instead of a reprimand, was “daughter” (v. 34). How that healing word must have washed over her! Jesus told her that her faith had made her well. He tells her to go in peace, and be healed of her affliction.

Relation to Mark’s Structure

How does this passage fit into Mark’s overall framework? First of all, the account of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood is part of one of Mark’s “sandwich stories.” The surrounding “bread” of the sandwich is the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mark. 5:21-24; 35-43). According to Guelich’s outline, this sandwich story is embedded in the portion of Mark’s gospel that focuses on showing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,[14] which stretched from 1:16 through 8:26. Therefore, this story does show some signs of confirming Jesus as the Son of God. This account comes in well before the watershed passage of Mark 8:27ff, in which Peter confesses Jesus as Christ and Mark’s focus on the coming death of the Messiah begins.

Relationship to Markan Themes

Some of the strongest themes that run through the gospel of Mark are Christology, discipleship, the kingdom of God, the Pharisees and ritualism, the “Messianic secret,” eschatology and the atonement. Does the healing of the woman with the issue of blood relate to any of these themes?

Mark 5:25-34 seems to relate to many of these themes. First, Christology is touched upon when readers see how Jesus could discern one certain touch from among the multitude. Only Deity could identify an unseen hand touching His garment. Also, the very fact that “power” went out of Him tells the reader that Jesus is no ordinary man.

Second, discipleship comes into play somewhat when one considers why Jesus commended the woman. Her faith had made her well. Is not the faith the woman exhibited the kind of faith that Jesus is looking for? The kind that realizes human hands cannot heal, but that the “Great Physician” must be consulted?

Third, allusions to the theme of “the kingdom of God” may also be seen in this account. It is evident from the words of Jesus that healings would be a sign of the Messianic kingdom (Luke 7:20-23):

When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has
sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look
for another?’” And that very hour He cured many of ?infirmities,
afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. Jesus
answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have
seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame ?walk, the lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the
gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended
because of Me.”

Also, the mercy and love that Jesus showed the woman would certainly be a marker of those who were truly servants in the kingdom (Matt. 23:23). There could also be an allusion to another kingdom principle: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first (Matt. 19:30). Though Jairus’ daughter may have deserved top priority by human standards, the account of the woman with the issue of blood shows that those of “lower status” can obtain the same blessings as those of “higher status.” God is not a respecter of persons, and as Deity, neither is Christ. He took time to stop and call the woman out so that He may have a personal contact with her.

Fourth, the account perhaps has some tie to ritualism. However, there seems to be less of a tie to the theme of “the Pharisees and ritualism” than to the other themes. Although this section certainly challenges the reader to understand the laws of ritual impurity, especially in terms application to females, Mark does not explicitly call our attention to this. The Law of Moses certainly had restrictions on contact with women who had either a normal discharge or abnormal ones (Lev. 15:19-33). But Mark never explicitly mentions this fact in his account. Instead he seems to focus on her faith. And while the fear of having contaminated this man of God and causing Him to be ceremonially unclean certainly would have caused this woman to tremble, it does not appear that Mark is making a point about impurity laws. Instead, he seems to be making a point about faith in Christ Jesus.

Finally, this section does seem to have some bearing on the atonement. The simple fact that both a man of Jairus’ stature and a woman of such a lowly nature could access the Divine healing is a foreshadowing of the universal access to the grace of God through faith and obedience. Some scholars believe since Jesus was likely speaking Aramaic to the woman, the phrase “go in peace” likely carried the full meaning of the Hebrew “Shalom.”[15] It is possible that Jesus was referring to her complete restoration, both physical and spiritual.

Theological Meaning

As mentioned earlier, there are several meanings given to this passage by commentator and popular authors. Among recent re-evaluations of the story are the feminist interpretations of the story as a female struggle against male-dominated society. Marla J. Selvidge, for example, says Mark 5:25-34 “may stand preserved because it remembers an early Christian community’s break with the Jewish purity system, which restricted and excluded women from cult and society.”[16] Selvidge claims this miracle story “subtly shatters the legal purity system and its restrictive social conditioning.” Summarizing her thoughts, Selvidge writes,

Her gynecological problems have caused her anguish, but they
will not keep her cloistered from society (Mark 5:26), as the
Levitical writers would mandate (Lev. 15:19,28). While the
Marcan Jesus speaks with the woman, attention is drawn to
her strength (her faith) first, and then her healing (Mark 5:34).
Traces of restrictive purity obligations survive in the miracle
story (Mark 5:25,29) only to be discarded by a Jesus movement
that centered its emphasis not on restricting women but on
preserving stories about women who were liberated from physical
and social suffering.[17]

There are problems with this view, of course. First, Jesus said He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). The purity laws of Lev. 15:19-30 were a binding part of the law. They were not handed down by “the Levitical writers,” but by God Himself. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Jesus was rescinding the purity laws at that particular time. This would come later, with the law being “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14) and taken away, with a new covenant being forged between God and man through the blood of Christ. Jesus would seem to take away food laws in Mark 7:15-23, but He actually seems to be teaching that defilement comes not from the actual foods, but from a moral condition in a man’s heart. Mark seems to understand that food laws will be displaced in the kingdom of God, but since Jesus is focusing on the Pharisees and their expansion of the law with their traditions, it seems unlikely that Jesus was declaring an end to all facets of the Law of Moses on that side of Calvary. Even if He was fully abolishing food laws before His death on the cross, it certainly does not mean that all of the Law of Moses was abolished before His death.

A second and more significant difficulty for Selvidge’s view is that Mark does not so much as even mention the Levitical purity laws regarding normal and abnormal menstruation. Since Mark is understood have been written to Gentiles, it is unlikely he would have left this fact unstated, if indeed it was a focus of the pericope. For instance, Mark takes pains to explain the Pharisees’ traditions about hand washing (Mark 7:3). He would not do this for a Jewish audience. The difference, then, between Mark 7 and the discussion of food laws and Mark 5 with the healing of the woman with the issue of blood is that in Mark 7 the writer is making a point about the Pharisees and their tradition, but in Mark 5 the main point is not about purity laws. One writer has even argued that the woman’s ethnicity is not even sure, since so little information is given.[18] Surely if Mark were making a point about the Jewish ritual law he would provide a little more information for the Gentile reader, as he did in Mark 7.

If Mark 5:25-34 is not about rescinding the cleanliness laws of Lev. 15:19-30, then what is it about? Charles E. Powell argues that the main theological idea of this passage is that faith is sufficient to appropriate Jesus’ power for help and salvation.[19] He summarizes the teaching well when he writes,

Mark’s theological emphasis in this passage was not on Jesus’
power and deity but on the woman’s faith and Jesus’ validation
of her faith as the means of salvation. Thus the theological idea
for this passage is that faith is sufficient to appropriate Jesus’
power for help and salvation. This contrasts with the theological
emphasis of the larger pericope about raising Jairus’ daughter,
which emphasizes Jesus’ power and deity.[20]

Powell maintains that the importance of this change in emphasis between Jairus’ daughter and the woman balances Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as the Son of God and the suffering servant with the significance of faith as the means of obtaining the salvation that Jesus offers.

Conclusion

What is the central meaning of this story? It seems to be that the juxtaposition of the healing of the synagogue ruler’s daughter with the woman with the issue of blood serves to show the universal availability of God’s grace. On one hand, there is the respected religious leader Jairus. Without a doubt he would have been fully connected to the spiritual community. On the other hand, there is the woman with the issue of blood, who without a doubt was disconnected from the spiritual community due to her disease. Like the leper, she was on the outskirts of life, separated by physical circumstances. And yet by faith she is able to partake in the grace of God. Just as Jairus reached out publicly, she reached out secretly, and yet both received the healing they so desired. As Wiersbe has noted,

The contrast between these two needy people is striking and reveals
the wideness of Christ’s love and mercy. Jairus was an important
synagogue officer, and the woman was an anonymous “nobody”; yet
Jesus welcomed and helped both of them. Jairus was about to lose a
daughter who had given him twelve years of happiness (Mark 5:42),
and the woman was about to lose an affliction that had brought her
twelve years of sorrow. Being a synagogue officer, Jairus was no doubt
wealthy; but his wealth could not save his dying daughter. The woman
was already bankrupt! She had given the doctors all of her money, and
yet none of them could cure her. Both Jairus and the poor woman found
the answers to their needs at the feet of Jesus (Mark 5:22 and 33).[21]

While Mark did not make a main point of her ritual impurity, her condition certainly made her feel less of a “daughter of Israel.” But following her expression of faith, Jesus pronounced a blessing upon her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34). Reading this blessing, one might be reminded of Jeremiah 8:22:

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no recovery
For the health of the daughter of my people?

For those who place their faith in Christ and seek Him out through obedience, the answer is always, “yes.” And the faith that is demanded is a confident trust which derives value not from the one who expresses it, but from the object (Jesus) in which that faith rests.[22] As Garland affirms, faith enables anyone, regardless of advantages or disadvantages, to find healing and salvation in Jesus.[23]


[1] Jesus does use the term “daughters of Jerusalem” in Luke 23:28 when addressing some women who are weeping at His plight. But this does not seem to be the same personal address as He used with the woman in Mark 5:25-34.

[2] Liz Curtis Higgs, “The Woman Who Touched Jesus,” Christianity Today (World Wide Web, accessed March 18, 2009), http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/2007/janfeb/14.14.html.

[3] Ruby Sales, “Somebody Touched Me,” The Other Side, Nov. and Dec. 2003, 12.

[4] Catherine Meaney. St. Anthony Messenger. Cincinnati: Sep 1999. Vol. 107, Iss. 4; p. 40 (1 page)

[5] Walter W. Wessell, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 8, Mark, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 661.

[6]William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 10, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, Accompanying Biblical Text Is Author’s Translation., New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 204.

[7]William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, “Based on Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wr?terbuch Zu Den Schriften Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Frhchristlichen [Sic] Literatur, Sixth Edition, Ed. Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, With Viktor Reichmann and on Previous English Editions by W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, and F.W. Danker.”, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 620.

[8]James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 163.

[9]James A. Brooks, vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 96.

[10] Wessel, 661.

[11] R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, eds. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 237-238.

[12] Wessel, 661.

[13] Hendriksen, 208-209.

[14] Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, World Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1989).

[15] Hendriksen, 210.

[16] Marla J. Selvidge, “Mark 5:25-34 and Leviticus 15:19-20: A Reaction to Restrictive Purity Regulations,” Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (December 1984), 619.

[17] Ibid, 623.

[18] Marie-Eloise Rosenblatt, “Gender, Ethnicity, and Legal Considerations in the Haemorrhaging Woman’s Story Mark 5:25-34” in Transformative Encounters: Jesus and Women Re-viewed. Ed. Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000), 148.

[19] Charles E. Powell, “The ‘Passivity’ of Jesus in Mark 5:25-34,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (January-March 2006), 74.

[20] Ibid, 74-75.

[21]Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, “An Exposition of the New Testament Comprising the Entire ‘BE’ Series”–Jkt. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989), Mk 5:21.

[22]John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:125.

[23] David E. Garland, Mark, New International Version Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 220.

Salvation, women,

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