For one of my Religion classes last week we were assigned to read Mark 5:21-43. Naturally, being the overachiever I am, I bypassed my English translations and delved straight into the Greek text. I was surprised by the great implications of the little nuances I discovered.
In verse 25 Mark introduces the bleeding woman by describing her as a woman with a “flow of blood.” The Greek noun used for the word “flow” here is ῥύσις (rhu’-sis), which has a connotation of defilement and uncleanness. This word is etymologically related to the words ῥυόω (rhu-ah’-oh), meaning “to defile, make dirty, or pollute,” and ῥύπος (rhu’-poss), meaning “the refuse part of soil, uncleanness, foul dark juice.” Later in verse 29, however, Mark uses a completely different noun for “flow.” Here, πηγή (pay-gay’) plainly means “spring, fountain.” There is absolutely no sense of defilement, uncleanness. What is fascinating is that the flow is given a different noun after the woman touches Jesus’ cloak. Mark’s change in vocabulary mimics the exact same immediate purification that the woman herself received. The woman was immediately made clean, and if there was any doubt about it, Mark solidifies it with his vocabulary.
Another fascinating element in the Greek was the verb for “touch” in verse 27, ἅπτω (hop’-tow). While this verb can generically refer to simple touch or physical contact, it is also the very same verb used repeatedly in the gospels to refer to miraculous healing. The BDAG Greek Lexicon (the “authoritative” dictionary for New Testament and Early Christian Greek) specifically gives a definition for ἅπτω as “touch as a means of conveying a blessing” or healing. Usually when this sort of healing scenario occurs in the New Testament, it is the healer who does the touching. Here, however, the healee, the bleeding woman, is the one who does the touching. It is an explicit reversal of the typical healing picture. Furthermore, in Jewish culture when an unclean person touches a clean person, it unambiguously defiles the clean person. This is absolutely not the case in this scene. The unclean woman touches Jesus, but rather than Jesus himself being defiled, Jesus’ overwhelming cleanness reverses the defilement. Not only is he not defiled, the power flows in the opposite, unnatural direction and un-defiles the woman! This is the very image of death and corruption being reversed.
Later in the same passage about the woman realizes that Jesus is absolutely aware of the healing touch, and that she cannot hide from him. Verse 33 describes her as φοβηθεῖσα καὶ τρέμουσα (fo-bay-thay’-suh kye trem’-oo-suh), “fearing and trembling” because she knew what had happened to her. Fascinatingly, these are the same exact verbs Paul used when he entreated the Philippians to “work out” their salvation! Philippians 2:12 uses the words φόβου καὶ τρόμου (foe’-boo kye trah’-moo), “fear and trembling” to describe the working-out of salvation. Could not this be what the bleeding woman was doing at this point in the narrative? It seems that rather than truly dreading the consequences of her action, the participles of Mark 5:33 actually indicate that the woman has the right heart before God, and in a sense, is working out her salvation.
Finally, turning to the portion of the narrative in which Jesus brings Jarius’ daughter back to life, it is critical to realize that in verse 42 when Mark says the girl “rose up,” he uses the verb ἀνέστη (ahn-ess’-tay). In early Christian literature this verb carries the very specific and heavy connotation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This verb does not appear anywhere earlier in the gospel of Mark. Jarius' daughter, therefore, is actually the first person “resurrected” in the gospel!
Now to review what all of the above implies: Mark 5 tells of two women—one older, one younger—who are the first people to singlehandedly experience physical representation of the holistic Christian hope. The bleeding woman experiences Redemption, in the sense that her impurity and her affliction is reversed merely by touching and grasping at the fringes of Jesus’ being. The young girl experiences the Resurrection, in the sense that she is raised up from the most hopeless and irreparable situation.
So what then is significant about this passage? The very first instances of Redemption and Resurrection in Mark’s Gospel (which is also believed to be the earliest written gospel in the New Testament canon) were experienced by WOMEN! Additionally, these women themselves bookend the two extremities of life—youth and old age. Men function only as onlookers. What does all this mean? I cannot be certain, but it is nonetheless intriguing for the history of women in Christianity.
Furthermore, the “chiasmic structure” (i.e., starting with one story, then starting another, ending the second story, then finally ending the first) of this event inextricably relates the two into one event or action. Redemption and Resurrection are two but one. And as the word “chiasmic” suggests, the structure resembles the Greek letter “chi,” which is essentially a big X, two lines crossed. Whether or not Mark intended it, the structure indeed vaguely mimics a cross…which begs the question of whether this story may foreshadow the Cross itself, where Redemption and Resurrection for all are actually accomplished.
Posted on Wed, September 8, 2010
by Hannah Decker filed under