Context Matters: Two Tries to Heal the Blind

If we learn to read the Bible for what it is—and not as a random assortment of disconnected episodes—we’ll discover that some of the trickiest passages make a lot more sense than we thought.

We find the passage in question in Mark 8:22-26, which has no parallel in the other gospels. People in Bethsaida bring their blind friend to Jesus. Jesus leads him by the hand outside the village. He spits on the eyes and asks whether the man sees anything. He touches him a second time, “and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (Mark 8:25). Jesus then sends him home, prohibiting him from re-entering the village.

 

Perhaps you’ve come across the intriguing little story where it takes Jesus two tries to heal a blind man. After Jesus spits and lays hands on the blind man, the man can see, but people look like walking trees (Mark 8:23-24). Jesus tries a second time, and the man can finally see everything clearly (Mark 8:25). Did Jesus struggle with this one? Did he require more practice to get it right? Or could this be an example of an oral tradition slipping past editors, who otherwise had worked hard to portray a fictional Jesus to fit their preconceived notions regarding his character and claims to divinity?

Context matters. If we learn to read the Bible for what it is—and not as a random assortment of disconnected episodes—we’ll discover that some of the trickiest passages make a lot more sense than we thought.

The Blind Man

We find the passage in question in Mark 8:22-26, which has no parallel in the other gospels. People in Bethsaida bring their blind friend to Jesus. Jesus leads him by the hand outside the village. He spits on the eyes and asks whether the man sees anything. He touches him a second time, “and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (Mark 8:25). Jesus then sends him home, prohibiting him from re-entering the village.

We don’t need to speculate in a think tank about why it took Jesus two tries, as the context likely provides the clues we need. I have two theories for your consideration. If we zoom out to catch the flow of Mark’s argument, we’ll find help both before this passage and after it.

What Came Before

This story, along with the following one (Mark 8:27-30), concludes a major section of Mark’s gospel. Our structural hint comes from the bookends (known also as an inclusio) of guesses about Jesus’ true identity.

When Herod hears of the disciples preaching two by two across the countryside, he hears some people saying John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. Others think he is Elijah, while yet others consider him a prophet, like one of the prophets of old (Mark 6:14-15). And the 12 disciples have apparently heard exactly the same three guesses: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28). This repetition provides us with bookends to help us see that Mark is making a coherent argument through these chapters.

So what is that argument?

Jesus has big ministry plans for these 12 men. He sends them out with his own authority to preach, heal, and exorcise unclean spirits (Mark 6:7-13). Yet at the height of their effectiveness, we’re reminded through flashback of what happened the last time a man of God got the attention of important people (Mark 6:14-29). This does not bode well for the disciples.

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