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Miracle as Parable:

The Healing of the Blind Man as a


Parable of the Healing of the Spiritual
Blindness of the Disciples of Jesus
in Mark 8:22-26

Tyler Vela

NT508 - Gospels
May 8, 2016
Reformed Theological Seminary

Introduction
Most readers of the Gospels are familiar with the parables and the miracles of Jesus. They
are frequently our most beloved sections in all of the gospel accounts. In addition, there are
instances where a miracle story functions as a kind of living parable that the gospel author uses to
illustrate a broader spiritual truth or historical example. We find just such an instance in Marks
gospel. This paper will show that the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in 8:22-26 serves just
such a function and is best understood in the larger literary structure of Mark. The miracle
presented in this pericope serves as a living parable of the spiritual condition of the disciples and
illustrates their slow but certain enlightenment leading up to, and beyond, the resurrection. This
paper will first explore interpretive issues within the pericope itself that aide in understanding the
miracle itself, and then will investigate broader contextual issues in the surrounding passages that
assist in establishing the role of the pericope in the overall message of Marks gospel to his
audience.

Interpretive Issues
Several factors come into play when dealing with the interpretation of this passage. These
include geographical markers, the features of the healing itself, and finally the command for silence
following the healing.
First, the reader is told that Jesus and his disciples arrive at the waterfront town of
Bethsaida, a city on the Northeastern side of the Sea of Galilee which was the hometown of several
of the disciples: Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John. 1:44; 12:21). A question can be raised at this
point as to why Mark chose to call Bethsaida a in 8:23. By all accounts Bethsaida had gone
under major renovations under Philip the Tetrarch around 31 CE, was renamed Bethsaida Julias

in dedication to Julia the daughter of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar, 1 and would have
certainly been considered a by the time Mark penned his gospel.2 The predominate view
among commentators is simply that it had been called a for so long that Bethsaida would
have been engrained into the verbal memory of the people as a .3 However, if one takes an
early date for the crucifixion, one may infer that Mark is reflecting the historical nature of the
narrative by showing that this event did occur prior to the upgrades by Philip.4
A further question could potentially be raised about the occurrence of the miracle in
Bethsaida of all places. On the one hand, this was a city, along with Chorazin and Capernaum, that
were condemned for their wickedness by Jesus (Matt. 11:21-23; Luke 1:13-15). The choice of
Bethsaida for the location may militate against the critical position that this story was invented by
the gospel author. For healing is typically presented as being something done for those with faith,
and yet Bethsaida is called one of the most faithless places in Israel at the time. However, one may
then respond that there was no location better suited for a miracle revealing the blindness of the
disciples than the faithless hometown of a handful of them. Thus, the location itself may not be
useful in determining the historicity of the event beyond what has been said above. This may
however, shed light on why the miracle had to take places in stages possibly due to the lack of
faith in the man himself, a citizen of the faithless town of Bethsaida.
In addition to the specific geographical locale, we are told that Jesus led the man out of the
village before healing him. This was not something uncommon for Jesus to do, and we observe
just such a movement in the immediately preceding healing of Mark 7, where Jesus removes the

Josephus Ant. 18.2.1 28.


Riesner, R. Archeology and Geography in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Green, McKnight, and
Marshall. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 39.
3
This is the view of Hendriksen: William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
2

1975) 321.
4

However, one could wonder if this would link to a source for Mark that butts right up to the earliest days of the
church. See also Riesner, R. Archeology and Geography, p39.

deaf-mute away from the crowd before healing him. This also occurred previously in 5:35-43 when
Jesus raised Jairus daughter from the dead. However, commentators are divided on exactly why
Jesus needs to remove the man from the city before the healing can occur. Did Jesus want to avoid
the interruption of the crowd and give his sole attention to the blind man? Or was it in order to
keep the crowds from starting to see Jesus, not as the Messiah, but merely as a run of the mill
magical faith healer?5 Here, Hendriksen states that the connection with the healing away from the
crowd in 7:33 reinforces the former. However, it appears that such a solution only moves the
problem back a step, for the same question could be asked of the healing in 7:33-35. At this point,
with no clear indication as to one or the other, the safest position may be to assume Jesus had
compound reasons for his action that could include both reasons and possibly others.6
Second, we can observe that this is only one of two miracles in all of the gospels that is
directly accomplished in stages, and employs means not typical to most of Jesus other healings.
The only other instance has several noteworthy similarities to the present pericope. In both cases
the healing involved a blind man and Jesus applied his own spittle to the subjects eyes.
Additionally, in both cases an additional step was needed either a second touch of Jesus or a trip
to the pool of Siloam. Mark does not even use his typical , which is surprising considering
that this was such a vivid and impressive miracle. This dual stage miracle, and some of the

Robertson, NTC: Mark, 322.


Is it possible that the removal of healings from the public eye was also to support Marks presentation of the
Messianic Secret? This view is not without its problems, especially when used to support critical theories of the
historicity of the gospels, but Mark certainly presents some sort of Messianic Secret motif. An interesting and possible
move forward in understanding the Messianic Secret motif has been presented by David F. Watson in Honor Among
Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010) in which he argues Jesus was not
trying to be secretive but rather was an attempt to avoid the appearance of accepting excessive honor. This would be
in line with other Hellenistic royal biographies. This view was further adapted by Adam Winn in Resisting Honor:
The Markan Secrecy Motif and Roman Political Ideology, JBL 133, no. 3 (2014): 583-601. Here it could also be
possible, as in with the man himself, that the removal had more to do with the lack of faith of the citizens of Bethsaida
where Jesus would not be able to perform miracles with so many unbelievers looking on. This was a precedent set in
6:4 where Jesus could not perform miracles in his hometown, save a few healings, because of their lack of faith.
6

theological complications that it may bring on a superficial reading of the text, may explain why
this miracle is exclusive to Marks gospel.7 For if Matthew and Luke were both using Mark, and
they already had other healing stories that conveyed the power of Jesus of the deaf and the blind
in fulfillment of the prophecies, then why would they want to include this passage which may
bring up questions about if Jesus was not completely powerful to heal? While it will be clear
shortly that Mark was not attempting to show a limit to the power of Jesus, but rather has Jesus
illustrating the spiritual blindness of the disciples, the avoidance of even that perception may have
been prudent given their audiences.8 However, Johnson speculates that Matthew and Luke, being
later works, may have understood Marks purpose to illustrate the lack of faith of the apostles, but
given the rising stature of the apostles in the authority structure of the early church, may have
wanted to omit the story to diminish the perception of the apostles as lacking faith. This is unlikely
for two reasons. First, if we understand that Mark is not necessarily writing these events in
chronological order, then it is possible that he chose one miraculous healing to serve as an
illustration of the spiritual blindness of the apostles, even though that may not have been the
context within which the miracle occurred. Surely if Mark had made such a literary adaptation,
then Matthew or Luke could have repurposed the healing for some other objective as well.9 Yet,
the main problem here is that neither Matthew nor Luke shy away from showing the often blind
and faithless character of the disciples throughout the ministry of Jesus. Why they would think that
this one instance was so over the top when compared to, say, the triple rejection of Jesus by Peter,
seems to be beyond the pale. Nevertheless, however one views the relationship between the

Freed, Edwin. The New Testament: A Critical Introduction. (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing, 1986), 107.
A further complication could have been perceived in Jesus unusual question about the effectiveness of the healing
in v24. In all other miracle accounts in the Synoptics, when Jesus performed a miracle, if he spoke, it is always a
declarative statement. The question could be seen as something ambiguous concerning the knowledge and efficacy of
Jesus in the healing process.
9
The problem of viewing these pericopes as historically contextless will be discussed further in the paper.
8

synoptic authors on this point, if we employ the criterion of embarrassment, we can readily
understand this to increase our confidence in the historicity of the account because this kind of
miracle story would not be something that the early church would have invented if it were not
true.10
This may present a problem for those who favor the historical reliability of the gospel
accounts. We can see this by asking the question: is the order of these events as Mark presents
them historical, or does Mark order these stories this way for a thematic reason (a la the messianic
secret) even though they occurred in a different order in history? 11 The problem here is, as we
will see, the best understanding of Marks intent behind 8:22-26 is about the progressive healing
of the spiritual blindness of the apostles, and yet, if this event took place without the connection to
the previous healing of the deaf mute in 7:31-37 and not connected to the confession of Peter or
the transfiguration, what purpose then would Jesus have had for healing in such a slow and unusual
manner? It fits very well in the narrative structure of Mark, but if Matthew and Luke thought it
would be too problematic to remove it from that literary construct, then what does that say about
the actual event? However, why should we think that Mark was inventing the theme of the healing
of the spiritual blindness of the disciples? A simple resolution is that Mark merely picked up on
this theme in the ministry of Jesus, and drew it out more directly than Matthew or Luke. Just
because the events may not have followed the Markan chronology, does not mean that Mark was
inventing the spiritual truth behind the miracle. If the disciples were perpetually bumbling their
faith, surely Jesus would have addressed it in his ministry in some shape or form. If the miracle as
parable serves Mark well, why should we not think that it would not have served Jesus well also?

Wessel, Walter. Mark in The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol 8. Ed. Gbelein. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1984), 691.
11
Hooker, Morna. Blacks New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to Saint Mark. (Peabody:
Hendricksen Publishers, 1999), 198.
10

The use of some natural means may have also been problematic for Matthew and Luke. It
is commonly noted that spittle, along with most other bodily fluids, was seen as a defiling
substance and was not typically looked on with favor. However, Edwards points out that there is
evidence that the spittle of certain important persons was seen as possessing healing powers. 12
Edwards also notes that in the Hellenistic world there was not such a strong limitation of the kinds
of fluids and substances that would be employed in healing balms.13 This may have been why
Jesus was willing to employ such means. It would have been a signifier to those in the
predominately gentile Decapolis to expect a healing to occur, whereas their balms would typically
have been ineffectual.14 Whatever the reason, it is clear by the time that the healing is over that it
is complete to the utmost degree. In just three short verses (23-25), Mark uses eight different words
across nine instances to refer to the man regaining his sight.15 In fact, Mark clearly has no belief
that Jesus ability to heal was somehow lacking or diminished with certain ailments such as
blindness. In every other case in his gospel, including with blindness (10:52), Mark present Jesus
ability to heal as instantaneous. This should be a strong indicator to the reader that what is being
presented here is not that Jesus struggled in some way to heal this specific blind man, but rather
that something else was being addressed by this miracle. This connection to the broader themes in
Mark will be explored in the closing sections of this paper.
Another important feature of the healing was that it was specifically the healing of a blind
man. Witherington notes that in early Judaism there was the perception that giving sight to the
blind may have been so nearly impossible that it was viewed as less likely than raising someone

12

Edwards, James. The Gospel According to Mark. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 225.
A second century Roman inscription tells of a balm made from white rooster blood, honey, and eye fluid as a
potential cure for blindness. Edwards, Mark. 225.
14
Edwards also wonders here if this may be a foreshadowing of the Jesus own blood that would cleanse us when it
touches our lips and tongues (14:24), especially considering its connection to the previous miracle of healing the mute
in 7:31-37. Edwards, Mark. 226.
15
Edwards, Mark. 243.
13

from the dead, and indeed, an action that only Gods Messiah would be able to accomplish.16 If
this is the case, then it surely adds gravity to Jesus statements concerning his ministry where he
stated that he came to heal and to preach the coming of the kingdom of God (Matt. 4:23; 9:35;
21:14; Lk 4:18), of which healing the blind was included. One could even say that Jesus taught
that the evidence for the coming of the kingdom included the healing of the deaf and the restoring
of sight to the blind (Matt.11:4-6) given his response to John, such that these were not two distinct
aspects of the ministry of Jesus but rather two sides of the same coin. The proper response that is
to follow a miraculous healing is faith something very unlike the response given in his hometown
of Nazareth in 6:1-6. The consistent image in the prophets, and employed by Jesus and the apostles,
as to the spiritual state of a man is their ability to hear and see, (Is. 6:9-10; 43:8; Jer. 5:21; Ezek.
12:2; Matt. 13:14; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10, Jn. 12:40; Acts 28:26; Rom. 11:8). Therefore, when Jesus
healed the sick and the deaf and the blind, he did so as illustrations of the power of the kingdom,
as well as to reveal the spiritual healing that the coming of the kingdom would bring. Previously
in Mark 7 when Jesus heals the deaf-mute we are told that the man could hardly talk. This is a
phrase only found in the LXX in Is. 35:6 which tell of the messianic age that is to come where the
tongue of the mute will shout for joy. This notion that physical blindness and deafness are merely
representations of a much more serious condition, spiritual blindness and deafness, will be
explored further along in the present paper.
In addition, some have drawn the connection between this healing of the blind man and his
statement that he sees trees (or rather men that appear to be trees walking, a rather unusual
construction in Gk.) with a story found in a myth of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.
Epidaurus writes, This blind man saw a dream. It seemed to him that the god came up to him and

16

Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing, 2001), 239.

with his fingers opened his eyes, and that he first saw the trees in the sanctuary. At daybreak he
walked out sound.17 The idea that Mark has borrowed from Epidaurus is wildly overstated
however. The healing in Mark does not occur in a dream and the blind man that Jesus heals does
not see actual trees but rather sees men walking around. The reference to trees is an ironic statement
to the effect that he knows that he sees men walking about, but his vision is still so blurry that they
might as well be walking trees. The notion that Mark borrowed from Epidaurus (or some other
such source) would no doubt rely on the assumption that Mark was polemicizing the text in order
to show that Jesus was the true healer. However, this would seem rather problematic if the story
was borrowed and possessed no historical foundation, for it would render Marks presentation of
Jesus touching the man twice utterly nonsensical. For why would Mark attempt to show Jesus as
a mightier healer than Asclepius and yet make him need to touch the man twice while Asclepius
only needed to touch the man once?18 Therefore, beyond there being no literary or verbal reliance
on Epidaurus found in Mark, there also seems little reason to think that such a polemic was part of
Marks intent.19
Third, after the healing is completed, Jesus commands the man to not go back into the
village, a clause that has been often amended in the manuscript traditions to make the intent clear
by later scribes to include the command found in some manuscripts that the man was also to remain
silent. While most textual critics hold that the reading found in , B, and L (Do not go into the

17

Edelstein, Emma J. and Ludwig. Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies. (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Press, 1945). 233.
18
Taylor, Vincent. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1966), 370-372.
19
Another example given is found in Tacitus, Hist. 4.81 where the emperor Vespasian is said to have cured a blind
man in Alexandria by wetting his eyes with his own spittle. While there are notable differences between this account
of that of Tacitus (Jesus does not need to consider options, hesitate in responding, seek counsel from doctors, nor seek
underhanded self-promotion), the real problem between the two texts is simply that of anachronism considering that
Vespasian would have lived contemporaneously to the composition of the gospels and Tacitus account would have
been composed several decades after Mark. Mark clearly could not have had Tacitus later account of Vespasian in
mind.

village,) to be the most plausible, this saying appears to have been combined with an early Latin
text (Do not speak to anyone in the village,) to produce a longer reading (Do not go into the
village and do not speak to anyone in the village,) found most notably in the KJV and Youngs
Literal Translation. While the longer reading is undoubtedly a scribal conflation of the original
with a later reading, the intent seems effectively identical. The man was commanded to not go to
the city in which he was most likely a known beggar, the only trade really open to someone of his
condition, in which he would be forced to tell everyone about what had happened to him.20

Narrative Context
A major key to understanding the function of this pericope in Mark is to understand several
of the other pericopes that surround it, and how it either builds on what came before it, or directly
alludes to what will follow. Not only are there direct verbal links between this and several other
passages, but the literary links are clear and powerful. It is also apparent that Mark uses concentric
circles of interconnectivity rather than a straightforward singular relationship to another passage.
This will be shown shortly, but for now the connection between 8:22-26 and previous passages
will be explored.
One of the major correlations to a previous passage is found within the broader context
surrounding the pericope. As is shown in the chart below, the healing in Bethsaida completes a

20

One interesting aside for this pericope is that unlike other healing stories in Mark, including 7:37 and 10:52 which
are most intimately tied to it, there is no mention of the faith of the man following the healing, his jubilant praise and
proclamation of Jesus even in spite of the command to remain silent, nor a statement that he became a follower of
Jesus. Beyond the blessing of renewed sight, there is a loud silence of any mention of the impact this had on the
spiritual life of the blind man. This may be a strong indicator that the story functions in Mark as an illustration of the
spiritual blindness of the disciples rather than being directly about this specific blind man. See Edwards, Mark. 245.
Contrary to this, Gundry suggest that Jesus commanded him to go home rather than to the village because he would
no longer need to beg. Going home rather than going to beg would actually function as testimony rather than silence.
R.H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross. (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,
1993), 419-420.

narrative structure that parallels the previous section. The theological significance of this can be
readily seen in comparing the two sections.
6:35-7:37

8:1-8:26

1. Feeding of the 5,000 (6:35-44)

1. Feeding of the 4,000 (8:1-9)

2. Crossing the Lake (6:45-56)

2. Crossing the Lake (8:10)

3. Controversy with Pharisees (7:1-23)

3. Controversy with Pharisees (8:11-13)

4. The childrens bread (7:24-30)

4. The leaven of the Pharisees (8:14-21)

5. Healing symbolic of spiritual condition


(7:31-37)

5. Healing symbolic of spiritual condition


(8:22-26)

The point at the end of each of these literary segments, is that Jesus is the long awaited
Messiah that Israel had been hungering for, but that this would stand in stark contrast to the
traditions of the Pharisees. France notes an additional connection between 7:31-37 and the healing
of the blind man with Is. 35:5-6.21 The connection to 8:22-26 then cannot be overstated since Isaiah
begins that prophecy about the return of the remnant from exile with a mention of the healing of
the blind. Mark was clearly drawing back the curtains and revealing that Jesus was the one spoken
of throughout the Old Testament, as confirmed with these miracles.
In addition to the broader connections, there are striking parallels between the healing
accounts that terminate both of these sections. Both employ the phrases (they brought),
(and they begged him to), and (and he spat). In
addition, we can see several conceptual connections between the two passages such as the request
by others to heal the infirmed man by touching him, the movement of the subject into a more
private location, the use of touch and spittle in the healing, and the command for secrecy following

21

France, R.T. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids: William
B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 322. This concept is also found in Ps. 146:8 and Is. 29:18. William Lane, The
New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1974), 286.

10

the healing are all found in both accounts.22 There are so many similarities in fact, that some like
Bultmann were led to conclude that 8:22-26 was a doublet invented as a modified version of the
previous miracle story and must not be considered a historical event.23 The problem with that view
is that in order to establish the position that one pericope was invented would require far more than
noting simplistic similarities. In fact, the differences between the passages appear just as dramatic.
Not only are the medical conditions different between the two subjects, other notable differences
are the lack of reference to the Isaiah 35 prophecy from the latter pericope as well as the addition
of a second touch for healing something no gospel writer would have invented as shown above.
Not only does this pericope follow close on the heels of the miracle found in 7:31-37 as
already presented, but it is also intimately related to what follows. This has led many scholars to
disagree about whether it ends the previous section, or if it starts a new transitional section between
the opening and closing acts of Marks gospel. For example, deSilva argues that the healing of a
blind man in 8:22-26 actually forms and inclusio with the healing of a blind man, Bartimaeus, in
Mark 10:46-52 and is bound together with three passion predictions in 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34.24
To support this view, there also appears to be a shift in the way Mark presents the function of
Jesus ministry at this point. While Mark is riddled with miracles leading up to 8:22-26, besides
the inclusio completion in 10:46-52 and one exorcism in 9:14-29, there are no more miracles on
Jesus march to the cross.25 Furthermore, Jesus also turns his attention away from and
focuses almost exclusively on the private instruction of the disciples.26

22

Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark, 238.


Bultmannm Rudolf. The History of the Synoptic Tradition, rev. ed., trans. J. Marsh (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972), 213.
24
deSilva, David. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation. (Downers
Grove: IVP Academic, 2004), 199.
25
France, TNIGTC, 320.
26
Though France points out that is strangely present during what appears to be a private retreat in 8:34,
France, TNIGTC, 320. However, Jesus needed to summon them with the disciples so how near they actually were may
be overstated.
23

11

One thing that all scholars appear to agree upon is that the miracles of 7:31-37 and 8:2226 function as living parables representing the spiritual blindness of the disciples. The spiritual
blindness motif is common in the gospels, and has previously been presented to Marks readers by
the time they arrive at 7:31. Mark has also already made use of the prophecy in Is. 6:9-10 regarding
the making of the people blind so that they will not turn and be healed. He employed it in 4:12 to
show a contrast between the privilege of the disciples and those of the crowds. However, as Mark
progresses through the ministry of Jesus, the privilege of the disciples wanes and they are
repeatedly shown to be spiritually deaf and blind, and themselves in need of the healing touch of
Jesus. Mark first presents this shortly after Jesus tells them of the blindness of the people when the
disciples are rebuked for lacking faith in the storm in 4:40. We then see their deafness/blindness
surrounding these two miracles in 6:52, 7:18, and 8:16-18.
The major question then becomes how this two stage miracle maps onto Marks narrative
presentation of the progressive healing of the disciples. Is there a two stage healing for them as
well? Some commentators will locate the first overcoming of the blindness of the disciples at the
confession of Peter in Mark 9 and the second at the transfiguration.27 There are certain literary
features that can be observed which support this position. We can see the parallels between the
healing of the blind man in 8:21-26 and the immediately following section where Jesus questions
the disciples on who the people say that he is. The similarities are as follows:
8:21-26

8:27-30

1. Jesus leads the blind man away to a


secluded area (23a)

1. Jesus leads the disciples away to a secluded


area (27a)

2. The first outcome is imperfect (23b-24)

2. The first outcome is imperfect (27b-28)

3. Jesus asks for clarity (23c)

3. Jesus asks for clarity (29a)

Osborne, G.R., Redaction Criticism in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Green, McKnight, and Marshall.
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 666.
27

12

4. The second outcome is complete (25)

4. The second outcome is complete (29b)

5. The man is commanded to secrecy (26)

5. The disciples are commanded to secrecy


(30)

Immediately following this section, we then come across Jesus sternly rebuking Peter for
rejecting his teaching that he must suffer and die. Many have marveled that the great apostle Peter
could go from such a strong confession of Jesus as the Christ in v29 to such an abysmal rejection
of the most pivotal aspect of the ministry of the Christ in v32. Seeing this as just one brush stroke
in Marks theme concerning the healing of the spiritual blindness of the disciples should greatly
aide the reader of Marks gospel in understanding why these two events are placed back to back,
as well as why the transfiguration then follows so quickly on its heels.
This position is not without its problems however, given that even the second healing at
the transfiguration is not complete. Mark shows in the section directly following, that the disciples
do not have the faith to heal (9:19), as well as numerous examples where they clearly do not
understand what following Christ entails (9:33-35; 10:13-14; 10:38, 41). This may also explain
why this section ends with the healing of another blind man, Bartimaeus, indicating that another
healing was needed. Surely, Jesus own death and resurrection, which he continually predicted, is
in view.

Putting the Pericope Together


The best way to understand the role of 8:22-26 then, is to understand the relationship of a
series of concentric circles rather than any rigid connection that this pericope has to any other
single event. The idea of the miracle was clearly to reveal the blindness of the disciples, but rather
than attempting to find a rigid two stage healing of their condition as suggested above, Marks
point may be somewhat looser than that. Seemingly, the idea is that the disciples were not yet
13

seeing or hearing fully and would need subsequent touches from Jesus the confession of Peter,
the transfiguration, the crucifixion, and then, ultimately, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.28
Further, this can be seen from the fact that after each of the passion predictions within this second
act, that the disciples are described as still not possessing a full understanding of what has or is
about to happen, or what it means to follow Jesus to the cross. If Mark intended, for example, that
the transfiguration in 9:2-9 to be understood as the culmination of the healing of the blindness of
the disciples, then why would he explicitly state that they did not understand that the Messiah must
be crucified in 10:32, or that sitting with Christ in glory involves suffering in 10:38? For Mark,
the process of healing appears to have been a continuing progression within the rest of his gospel
and the twofold process in healing the blind man was not to give the number of steps that it would
take, but rather was simply to illustrate that it would take multiple touches of Jesus for healing to
be complete. Mark may have resonated with the promise that such progressive healing holds out
to the reader. Consider Marks own biography from within the pages of the New Testament. This
was a man whose initial service to Christ was marked by imperfect faith, trepidation, and
ultimately abandonment. However, he was eventually able to venture out again in faith and was
shown grace and forgiveness. He was ultimately restored to fellowship with Paul and became the
trusted companion to Peter. This message of hope, that there is healing for spiritual blindness and
fear, may have been something so meaningful to Mark that he was willing to include its lessons to
the church even at the risk of having people wonder about power of Christ in the two stage healing.

28

At this point I would consider a larger canonical approach acceptable and would bring in aspects of the already/not
yet to include other events in redemptive history such as the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the spreading of the
gospel to the Gentiles (all tongues can be healed) the return of Christ, and finally the final glorification of the saints.
Mark, being a companion of Peter and Paul, may even have such broad eschatological hopes in mind. His gospel
terminates with a truncated ending which leaves the hope of the gospel open in a way that shows Jesus had indeed
been raised, but that the secret was still to be fully revealed.

14

For Mark, then, this healing passage may be vitally pastoral. Calvin appears to have
anticipated this parabolic miracle should be understood not just as a picture of the spiritual
blindness of the disciples and their need for healing, but also for the spiritual healing of all who
would be disciples of Jesus. Followers of Jesus should not allow our expectation for healing to
require something spontaneous and immediate if that be not the desire of the Lord. Calvin
observes, And so the grace of Christ, which had formerly been poured out suddenly on others,
flowed by drops, as it were, on this man.29 We can see this not only as a fulfillment of the hope
for physical healing, but as a deep and abiding realization of the promises given to the Israel in the
Old Testament. When Messiah comes, there will be healing, rejoicing, and newness in all of life.
It may not happen in an instant, but we persevere to the end where our sight will be restored, our
ears opened, our tongues loosed, and our dead cold limbs given new life to dance as David danced.

Calvin, John. Calvins Commentaries, vol. XVI: Harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke Part 2I. (Grand Rapids: Baker
Books, 1995), 285.
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