by Al Maxey

Issue #287 ------- February 6, 2007
The wish for healing has
ever been the half of health.

Seneca the Younger {5 B.C.-65 A.D.}

A Scandalous Faith
Reflecting on the Healing of the
Woman with the Issue of Blood

On Sunday, December 31 of this past year, I received the following email from a minister in the beautiful state of California: "Bro. Al, You are surely familiar with the story of the woman who had been bleeding for the past twelve years. I was recently studying this passage, and it occurred to me that this woman, who because of her condition was unclean, was in direct violation of the Law of Moses by being in a crowd of people. Her violation of the Law of Moses would certainly explain her apparent fear of being discovered. I find it interesting, however, that Jesus still healed this woman, even though she 'didn't have it on straight' as far as her life was concerned. This is just another example of Jesus' concern for people over a strict observance of law. Al, I have a quick question for you: do you think that Jesus truly did not know who touched Him, or was He just giving this woman an opportunity to figuratively 'come clean' after she had been physically healed when she touched His garment?"

The above fascinating biblical account, of which this ministering disciple of Christ from California speaks, can be found and examined in all three of the Synoptic Gospels [Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48]. The most thorough treatment, however, is to be found in Mark's account, which provides details and insights, probably gained from Peter, from whom most scholars feel John Mark drew heavily in the composition of his gospel, that are lacking in the other two records. "Mark relates this story at greater length, with closer attention to detail than the other evangelists, except in the matter of symptoms of the sickness, in which Luke, the physician, is more exact" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 189]. In all three of the synoptic accounts the story is placed within, and almost as an interruption to, the story of our Lord's raising of Jairus' daughter. Indeed, Jesus was delayed in His attempt to minister to this young girl because of the shocking event that unfolded with this "unclean woman." A few scholars, such as Martin Luther, also see a connection between the number of years the woman had suffered her affliction and the age of the daughter of Jairus, both of which were twelve. Few scholars believe the linking of the two accounts is purely coincidental. Some of the statements made by our Lord Jesus have also generated considerable comment over the centuries, to which the above reader alludes. Did Jesus not know who had touched Him? Was power drained from Him against His will? If so, by whom? And why would He show mercy to one who was seemingly acting contrary to the Law of Moses? Was He condoning her willful transgression? Even rewarding it?! These are just some of the questions and concerns that need to be addressed in our study of this powerful biblical account.

The story occurs in Capernaum, where Jesus happened to be living at this time, which was a rather small village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. As was quite common at this time in our Lord's ministry, large crowds followed Him wherever He went, often pressing in upon Him so closely that He could physically feel their presence. In fact, when Jesus would later ask who had touched Him, after the afflicted woman touched the hem of His garment, Peter remarked, somewhat incredulously, "Master, the multitudes are crowding and pressing upon You" [Luke 8:45]. His disciples, therefore, were amazed that in this jostling crowd He could detect a woman's touch of the corner of His garment. But, more about this later. The point to note here is that He was in the midst of a pressing throng, a distraction that this poor woman apparently hoped to use to her own advantage. He was also making His way to the home of a synagogue official by the name of Jairus, whose young daughter was gravely ill. In fact, by the time Jesus arrives there, after having been delayed by this woman with the issue of blood, the daughter of Jairus had already died. The temptation of the crowd, of course, might well have been to blame this woman for the delay. These are just the bare essentials that constitute the basic context of the event we will examine in more depth in the course of this current issue of Reflections.

Perhaps the first order of business in this exegesis is to provide some comment upon the physical condition of the woman in question. As to this person herself we really know absolutely nothing, although tradition identifies her as being a woman of about the same age as Jesus, whose name was either Veronica (according to Eusebius) or Bernice (according to the work known as The Acts of Pilate). Apart from these speculations we know absolutely nothing. She is never mentioned again in the New Covenant scriptures. As for her physical condition, Matthew says she suffered from a haimorroeo, a Greek word which appears only here in the entire NT, and which signifies a "flow of blood." Some translations refer to it as an "issue of blood" (KJV), while others render the word as "hemorrhage" (NASB). Mark and Luke separate this word into its two original Greek words, but the meaning is the same: a flowing of blood. This was a condition she had endured for twelve long years. The speculation of most scholars is that this abnormal flow of blood was either vaginal or rectal in nature (most likely the former --- the Greek word haimorroeo appears only one time in the Septuagint [Lev. 15:33], and clearly refers to vaginal bleeding; even the breaking down of this Greek word into its two components, as was done in Mark and Luke, which also appears within the Septuagint [Lev. 12:7; 15:19, 25; 20:18], is clearly genital in every occurrence), pointing to a very serious medical problem from which the physicians of her day were unable to bring about any successful remedy, although they had certainly tried, and at great personal (emotional and physical) and financial cost to her. She "had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse" [Mark 5:26]. She "could not be healed by anyone" [Luke 8:43].

Gynecological physicians who have examined this biblical account typically diagnose this woman's condition as being a rather extreme form of a disorder known as Menorrhagia. One gynecologist defines it as "an abnormal uterine bleeding characterized by heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding. In some cases, bleeding may be so severe and relentless that daily activities become interrupted." There are numerous possible causes for such a debilitating physical disorder, including hormonal imbalance, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infection, tumors, or polyps in the pelvic cavity, platelet disorders, liver, kidney, or thyroid disease, and a long list of other potential causes. Most such cases today can be effectively treated with either medication and/or various surgical procedures, including a hysterectomy, with the course of treatment being largely determined by the cause of the excessive and prolonged bleeding, and the condition of the patient and her ability to tolerate certain medications or procedures. Obviously, the woman presented to our view in the biblical account of the synoptic writers had exhausted the wisdom of the physicians of her day, not to mention her financial resources, and to no avail. Her condition had persisted, and indeed grown worse, over a period of twelve years. In a word, she was desperate.

In that day and age, this poor, afflicted woman experienced far more than just extreme physical discomfort. She was also regarded as being "unclean," and thus was ostracized from the community in many significant ways, which, in effect, removed her from the social and religious life of her family, friends and neighbors. She had become an outcast. "Her condition is desperate both for medical reasons and because of its social consequences; her partial ostracism would extend especially to her private life. Her ailment probably had kept her from marriage if it started at puberty, and almost surely would have led to her divorce if it began after she was married, since intercourse was prohibited under all such circumstances --- Lev. 18:19; 20:18" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 303]. It is also possible, depending upon when the onset of this condition was, that it had rendered this woman incapable of bearing children, which was in that time perceived to be yet another negative she was forced to bear. Lev. 15:19f declares such a woman to be "impure" and "unclean." She must avoid any contact with others, and if someone does come into contact with her, even accidentally, that person is also rendered unclean for a period of time, and must engage in acts of ritual cleansing before he or she may be regarded again as "clean." Thus, for a period of a dozen years this horrible condition had "excluded her from public worship in the Temple and synagogue, and had isolated her even from the company of her relatives" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, p. 189]. To make matters worse, Luke, as a physician, declares her condition to be, at least by all means then known, incurable [Luke 8:43]. Therefore, she would be forced to spend the remainder of her life suffering under these physical, emotional, social and religious conditions. Not a pleasant prospect, to say the least.

Therefore, when Jesus came to Capernaum, and when this woman heard of His presence there, apparently being aware of His power to heal, she boldly formulated a plan whereby she might secure such a healing of her awful affliction. "When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, 'If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed'" [Mark 5:27-28]. The woman seemingly hoped to remain unnoticed, and to slip away quietly with her restored health, a reasonable assumption from the wording of Luke 8:47 -- "And when the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him." Undoubtedly, this woman had surmised that Jesus would certainly not feel a mere touch of the fringes of His outer garment. She clearly had no desire to call attention to herself in any way whatsoever, and for quite obvious reasons, so she came up behind Him, merely hoping to brush her fingers against His garment. Then she could melt back into the crowd and be gone. Her ultimate goal was to "steal a cure by touch when touch by one in her state was forbidden" by Jewish law [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 375]. This premeditated action clearly constituted "a bold disregard of the ceremonial law" [ibid, p. 376]. "She really, by rabbinical law, had no right to be in a Jewish crowd" [C.E.W. Dorris, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Mark, p. 127]. "She knew that her touch was polluting; she was well aware that it conveyed ceremonial defilement" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, p. 239]. "She was not even permitted to move about in crowds; anyone whom she happened to touch, or whose cloak she touched, became unclean," yet "she is so desperate that she will touch the Teacher, knowing full well that under the law this will make Him unclean" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, p. 303]. Dr. Keener characterizes this as a perfect example of "Scandalous Faith," which is a most interesting, as well as insightful, observation.

Some scholars feel this woman's "faith" may have been more a case of desperation mingled with superstition. A few have argued that the woman most likely didn't really have a clue as to the true identity or power or mission of Jesus, but that she merely had embraced some of the local superstitions of the people. "The intrusion of Hellenistic ideas and superstitions may indeed have influenced her action" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 916]. "Her faith seemed to be mixed with a measure of superstition. She apparently shared the belief, common in her day, that the power of a person was transmitted to his clothing" [ibid, p. 661]. This would explain, it is reasoned, why she believed merely touching His garments could convey healing power. Indeed, something quite similar did occur some years later -- "And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out" [Acts 19:11-12]. Although there may well have been some superstitious influence to her faith, nevertheless it was not beyond the ability of our compassionate Lord to confer grace in spite of such. "Her faith, even though mixed with superstition, was rewarded" [ibid]. After all, there have been even stranger cases of divine healing -- "They carried the sick out into the streets, and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them ... and they were all being healed" [Acts 5:15-16]. Clearly, our Lord was not seeking perfect perception, but rather bold belief. The failings of the former could quite easily be overlooked in the presence of the fullness of the latter. Nor did our Lord withhold mercy due to imperfection of law keeping, even if that lawlessness was intentional, as it apparently was in this case. The reality is: legitimate human need is of greater importance than law, and the latter can be set aside in order to extend grace in the case of the former. This eternal principle is clearly spelled out by Jesus in Matthew 12:3-8, Mark 2:25-28 and Luke 6:3-5. Thank God His Son was not a legalist, or that poor woman would likely have received the back of His hand, rather than His healing touch.

When the afflicted woman touched the hem of the Lord's garment, something marvelous and miraculous occurred. "And immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction" [Mark 5:29]. Luke, the physician, said, "And immediately her hemorrhage stopped" [Luke 8:44]. It was at this point that the Lord, "perceiving that power had gone out from Him, turned around in the crowd and said, 'Who touched My garments?'" [Mark 5:30]. The disciples of Christ, not yet aware of what had just taken place, were somewhat bemused by this question. The crowd was so thick that Jesus was being jostled continuously, so they were amazed that He would ask such a question [vs. 31]. "But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it" [vs. 32]. This raises an interesting question: Was Jesus truly not aware of the identity of this person? Was healing power actually drained from Him without His approval? Or, was there some purpose for His question to the throng that surrounded Him? Although a few suggest that the garments of Jesus actually were endowed with healing power that could be drained off by a mere touch, this seems unlikely. After all, Jesus was being touched continuously by the crowd as they all made their way to the home of Jairus. Others have suggested that since Jesus was unaware of the presence of this afflicted woman, since she approached from behind, God healed her through Jesus, even though Jesus Himself did not become aware of the act until He felt the healing power expended. This also, however, seems extremely unlikely due to the omniscience of our Lord (which is clearly evidenced in various passages in the gospel accounts).

It is the conviction of most biblical scholars, and I agree, that Jesus was fully aware of who this person was who had touched Him, and, indeed, had known what was about to happen long before it occurred. Although fully human, He was also fully divine, and such foreknowledge and perception is in keeping with His deity. Therefore, He clearly had a purpose in addressing the crowd with this question. That purpose was to bring this woman's faith to the point of confession. She was shrinking back; she was longing to melt into the crowd and disappear. Her faith was bold up to a point; now it needed to be brought to fullness of expression. Her courageous, even "scandalous," faith had indeed saved her from her affliction, but would that faith, if left hidden and unexpressed, ever truly uplift and ennoble her life? Jesus sought more for this woman than just an immediate physical restoration; He sought an abiding spiritual relationship with her as well. Thus, when this woman presented herself before Him, Jesus addressed her lovingly and tenderly as "daughter" [Mark 5:34]. This, incidentally, is "the only occurrence in all the Gospels of Jesus ever addressing a woman by that word" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 662].

To this woman's eternal benefit, rather than fleeing when she heard the Lord ask, "Who touched Me?," she again displayed courage and came forward to meet her Savior, although she was uncertain as to her fate for such "scandalous" faith. "The woman, fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him, and told Him the whole truth" [Mark 5:33]. Luke provides a bit more insight -- "And when the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed" [Luke 8:47]. Bro. H. Leo Boles writes, "The question implies neither ignorance nor deceit in Jesus; He asked it in order to call forth the confession of the woman for her own good and the good of others" [A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, p. 182]. In response, "the woman publicly acknowledged what she had done, why she did it, and the blessings that she received" [ibid, p. 183]. Her confession was not made secretly or privately, for Luke says clearly that it was made "in the presence of all the people." We are told that "many of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God" [John 12:42-43]. Not so with this woman, however. She courageously proclaimed her faith to all, even declaring the motivation for her actions, which certainly would have involved very personal revelations that many might have hesitated to make public. Again, not so with this woman! And thereby she becomes a lasting example to us all.

The statement by Jesus in Mark 5:34 is a powerful promise to this woman who has just confessed not only her motivation for her actions, but also her faith. Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be whole from your plague." The word "saved" does not necessarily refer to eternal salvation, but may simply refer to being saved from the debilitating disorder that had afflicted her for the past dozen years, although we would certainly hope to encounter this precious woman one day in heaven. What Jesus sought to convey to her that day, however, in addition to the preciousness of a lasting spiritual relationship (seen in the term "daughter"), is that her healing was permanent. It was not just a temporary reprieve; it would be enduring. When Jesus declared her well ("saved"), Mark uses the perfect tense, which conveys continuing action based on a past event. She "stands whole having been made well." Indeed, Jesus used the present imperative when He said, "Be whole from your plague," which is phrased as a command, and which denotes continuous action. In other words: "Be continually whole!" This was no halfway, half-hearted fix; rather, she would never suffer this affliction again. When the Lord sets us free, we are free indeed ... not just part way, but all the way, and always. "The verb is perfect in tense, indicating that it was a complete and permanent cure" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, p. 112].

Yes, there is much we could say about the faith of this woman. We could perhaps characterize it as "scandalous," and in the eyes of the world it would certainly be perceived that way. She knowingly and willingly acted contrary to law and custom. She placed others at risk of ritual and ceremonial defilement. Her knowledge may have been less than perfect and her behavior less than lawful. She might even have been somewhat influenced by the superstitions of the day. Her health was failing, her finances were gone, and she was a social outcast. She had nothing to commend her ... except a bold faith. She knew that Jesus was the answer. She may not have completely perceived how, or even why, but she did know enough to seek Him out, and, when she found Him, to reach out in simple, trusting faith. What she found was not rejection, but acceptance; not rebuke, but praise; not harshness, but healing. Brethren, that same Jesus is there for you and for me. With boldness of faith we approach Him, not with a gift in our hands of personal perfection, but with outstretched hands seeking healing, cleansing and restoration. He turns none away who seek Him in faith, and, like this woman, we too will hear, "Son/daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be thou made whole!" Praise the Lord for His mercy and grace!

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From a Minister in New Mexico:

Al, I look forward to your weekly thoughts in Reflections. I have also purchased your book Down, But Not Out, and am enjoying reading it, as well as being challenged by it. Thank you!

From a Reader in New Jersey:

Bro. Al, I have told you before, but just want to tell you again, how much I appreciate what you do for the church universal. You are a breath of fresh air and a much needed voice in our fellowship. I will pray for you and your ministry. May God our Father bless you and yours for years to come!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Bro. Al, Thanks for your excellent work and challenging messages. They are so good for all of us. I know that God and His Spirit are resting on you as you bring us these Reflections so regularly. May He continue to bless you!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, Your thoughts on "The Seven Noahide Laws" were very interesting, particularly when you pointed out there were only six laws given to Adam and only seven to Noah. The thought occurs to me that if God saw fit to limit the specification of law to so few (and only ten were given to Moses), what makes those of a legalistic mindset think God would saddle men today with a vast, complex system of legal requirements that men must know and keep; a system so complex that no two groups of people can even agree as to what they are, much less be able to actually keep them? When Paul wrote in Romans 1 about the degeneration of mankind from a knowledge of God to moral depravity, he stated that they were "without excuse," for "what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them." I believe that says that God's revelation of Himself and His law for mankind is "writ large" upon the universe, so much so that it is unmistakable in its brevity and understandability. If it were not, then it would not be universally applicable!

From a Minister in California:

Dear Bro. Maxey, I just finished reading your latest Reflections, and was amazed with how well you put this all together. You have really gotten my wife and me excited. In fact, we have spent considerable time today just trying to look up more information on the Noahide Laws. Also, when I read the excerpts from various brethren all over this nation who have either left the One Cup group, or who still remain with them and seek its reform, I realize that I could write several pages on my own experiences during the 38 years I was in that fellowship. However, I now consider myself a free man in Christ, because I can at last express my thoughts without the fear of being excommunicated or black-balled like so many who have gone that way. Very disgraceful. My dear brother in Christ, please keep spreading the truth of God's Word. You are helping to educate hundreds and hundreds of fine Christian people. I love your works!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I hope you are faring well with that "neighbor" of yours ["preacher" Coe] who is trying to take you apart!! What an idiot!! He should know by now that it is impossible for him to do any harm at all to you or your biblical studies. Brother Al, I thank God every day for you just being there, and also thank Him for allowing you to continue your work. You are such a help for all of us WORLDWIDE. Soldier on, dear brother!

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Brother Al, I have just recently begun a new work after being fired by the legalists after 9 years, 2 months, and 19 days as their minister. They gave me two weeks notice!! But, I'm recovering, along with several other brethren. One of the problems: the divorced are not welcome in this area. They are viewed as second rate Christians at best. They are encouraged to attend, and to give their money, but they are not allowed to serve in any way at all. Al, it took me a long time to study my way out of this shameful behavior. Thanks to you, and men like you, who are willing to take up the Word and do battle with and expose such foolishness that contradicts our Lord's teaching, we are now free. I'm deeply grateful. May God bless you richly, Al.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I have a request. Can you possibly answer the question as to why some people see the use of the Greek word episunagoge differently in the only two places it is used in the NT (Heb. 10:25 and 2 Thess. 2:1)? In the passage in Thessalonians it is no doubt used to indicate the gathering of all Christians together on that Great Day, but there are those who insist that its use in Hebrews is proof that we are commanded to "attend church." Why would the Hebrew writer use this particular word?

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Maxey, Your Reflections article on the "Noahide Laws" was marvelous. I emailed it to my sons and my grandchildren. My granddaughter, who is in seminary at the University of Chicago, preached at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) here a couple of weeks ago and she spoke on the topic of "Universal Laws." It was right in line with your Reflections article. I had not heard that point of view before. What an epiphany! Thank you so much. Keep up the good work, and may God bless you.

From a New Reader in Arkansas:

Bro. Al, Just a note to say thank you for responding so quickly to my request to be added to your email list for Reflections. I also wanted to tell you that I took the liberty of giving out your Archives URL on some blog sites. I did this because of some of the comments that were being made on there, and because I knew that some of your essays would answer their questions. I had read from some of your previous writings that you had given permission to share your work to the glory of our Lord, and so I thought that this would be a good time and place to do so. With your permission, I would also like to print out some of your articles to pass on to folks I know who do not have computers. I will also be giving your web address to those I know who do have computers. Finally, I just want to tell you how glad I am that you are doing this work!! I have found your writing to be quite thought-provoking, and your kind of writing seems somewhat hard to find. I believe it fills a very definite need. You will be in our prayers, Bro. Al ... prayers of thanksgiving for you, and also prayers that you may be given strength and guidance. God bless you and yours!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Al, It's been a long time since I last dropped you a note, but I hear from you often via your Reflections. Years ago, when you were living and preaching in Germany, you gave me a typed copy of a study you had done on "The Bible Through The Ages" in which you looked at the manuscript evidence for OT and NT, textual criticism, the history of the Bible, a look at the versions, etc. It was a very detailed study. I am scheduled to teach an adult class here in a few weeks and I would like to use your material. Would that be okay with you?! I've also located several of your Reflections articles dealing with the different versions and would like to use them in a PowerPoint presentation, along with your other study materials. Thanks for your dedication and hard work for the Lord. I really appreciate receiving your Reflections and hope that they continue for many years to come!!

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