Jesus as Healer

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During his lifetime, Jesus was considered a healer. From today's perspective, Jesus' cures are related to psychosomatic maladies. Jesus usually healed by the use of words alone; his cures were sometimes effected instantaneously. The Jewish scriptures provided generative models for constructing healing stories about Jesus as physician. Graeco-Roman tales also served as models for stories about Jesus.

Healing stories in early Christian texts

In addition to the 6 reports of exorcisms attributed to Jesus—all outside John's Gospel—19 cures or resuscitations are attributed to Jesus in the earliest gospel traditions (the colors reflect Jesus Seminar voting results):

1. Officer's slave/son

Luke 7:1-10; Matt 8:5-13; John 4:45-54

2. Peter's mother-in-law
Mark 1:29-31; Matt 8:14-15; Luke 5:38-39

3. Leper
Mark 1:40-45; Matt 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16; EgerG 2:1-4

4. Paralytic
Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26

5. Man with crippled hand
Mark 3:1-6; Matt 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11; GNaz 4

6. Jairus' daughter
Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43; Matt 9:18-19, 23-26; Luke 8:40-42a, 49-55

7. Woman with a vaginal hemorrhage
Mark 5:24b-34; Matt 9:20-22; Luke 8:42b-48

8. Deaf mute
Mark 7:31-37; Matt 15:29-31

9. Blind man of Bethsaida
Mark 8:22-26

10. Revival of the young man at Bethany
SecMark 1:1-13

11. Blind Bartimaeus
Mark 10:46-52; Matt 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43

12. Two blind men
Matt 9:27-31

13. Widow's son at Nain
Luke 7:11-17

14. Afflicted woman
Luke 13:10-17

15. Man with dropsy
Luke 14:1-6

16. Ten lepers
Luke 17:11-19

17. Paralytic by the pool
John 5:1-9

18. Man born blind
John 9:1-7

19.Raising of Lazarus
John 11:1-44

Jesus Seminar and the healing stories

While affirming the description of Jesus as a healer, the Jesus Seminar had difficulty in finding stories it believed to be reports of actual cures. Most of the reports seem to have been shaped by the later tradition and were designated either gray or black.

The following core of 6 healing stories are designated pink in The Acts of Jesus:

2. Peter's mother-in-law

Mark 1:29-31; Matt 8:14-15; Luke 5:38-39

3. Leper
Mark 1:40-45; Matt 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16; EgerG 2:1-4

4. Paralytic
Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26

7. Woman with a vaginal hemorrhage
Mark 5:24b-34; Matt 9:20-22; Luke 8:42b-48

9. Blind man of Bethsaida
Mark 8:22-26

11. Blind Bartimaeus
Mark 10:46-52; Matt 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43

The historical problem presented by the attribution of healings to Jesus is illustrated by the three summary statements found in Mark (1:32-34; 3:7-12; 6:53-56).

Mark 1:32-34:

In the evening,

at sundown, they would bring all the sick and demon possessed to him. And the whole town would crowd around the door. On such occasions he cured many people afflicted with various diseases and drove out many demons. He would

never let the demons speak, because they realized who he was.

The commentary in The Acts of Jesus observes:

This summary,

which is the creation of Mark, presumably brings the first day of Jesus' public acts to a close, a day that began with the enlistment of the first followers and ended with the cure of Peter's mother-in-law. Mark represents these activities as occurring on a particular occasion, when, in fact, he is generalizing on the basis of memories of the kind of public acts Jesus performed: Jesus healed folk and exorcized demons. He may have done so on a particular occasion in Capernaum, at sunset, at the door of Simon Peter's house. However, Mark does not have a particular story to tell, so he creates a typical scene out of many faceless and nameless participants and out of activities characteristic of Jesus.

The Fellows of the Seminar agreed that Jesus healed people and drive away what were thought to be demons. This much of Mark's report reflects historical reminiscence. As a possibility, that much of Mark's summary deserves a gray designation, but no more than that on account of Mark's tendency to exaggerate (the whole town was there!). The balance of the information has been supplied by Mark's imagination. This is particularly true of Mark's view that Jesus forbade the demons to speak because they knew who he was and Jesus wanted to keep that fact a secret for the time being. While Mark's summary reflects some vague historical memories, the connection with events of the first day, the time and the setting, and the number of patients, are undoubtedly fictions.(p. 60)

Mark's second summary passage (3:7-12) needs to be compared with its parallels in Matthew and Luke, as well as to the description of another famous healer of the time:

Then Jesus

withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a huge crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard what he was doing, a huge crowd from Judea, and from Jerusalem and Idumea and across the Jordan, and from around Tyre and Sidon, collected around him. And he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him on account of the crowd, so they would not mob him. (After all, he had healed so many that all who had diseases were pushing forward to touch him.) The unclean spirits also, whenever they faced him, would fall down before him and shout out, "You son of God, you!"
But he always warned them not to tell who he was.

Matt 12:15-21

Aware of

this, Jesus withdrew from there, and huge crowds followed him, and he healed all of them. And he warned them not to disclose his identity, so what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet would come true:

Here

is my servant whom I have selected,
my favored of whom I fully approve.
I will put my spirit upon him,
and he will announce judgment for foreigners.
He will not be contentious,
nor loud-mouthed,
nor will anyone hear his voice on main street.
He is not about to break a crushed reed,
and he's not one to snuff out a smoldering wick,
until he brings forth a decisive victory,

and foreigners will center their hope on him.

Luke 6:17-19

On the way

down with them, Jesus stopped at a level place. There was a huge crowd of his disciples and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. And everyone in the crowd tried

to touch him, since power would flow out from him and heal them all.

Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana (8.15):

When it became

certain that he had arrived, people flocked to him from all over Greece aglow with anticipation; never had so many gathered for an Olympic festival as on this occasion. People came straight from Elis and Sparta, from as far away as Corinth; even the Athenians came, although they are not from the Peloponnesus. And there were people from Megara who were then lodging at Olympia, together with many from Boeotia, and from Argos, as well as leading citizens of Phocis and Thessaly. Some of these folks had already made Apollonius' acquaintance, but were anxious

to acquire additional knowledge from him.

The account from Philostratus links with the final of Mark's 3 summary passages, Mark 6:53-56

Once they

had crossed over to land, they landed at Gennesaret and dropped anchor. As soon as they had gotten out of the boat, people recognized him right away, and they ran around over the whole area and started bringing those who were ill on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. And wherever he would go, into villages, or towns, or onto farms, they would lay out the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who managed to touch

it were cured!

Compare this with Matt 14:34-36

Once they

had crossed over they landed at Gennesaret. And the local people recognized him and sent word into the whole surrounding area and brought him all who were ill. And they begged him just to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those

who managed to touch <it> were cured!

One further summary passage is found only in Matthew 15:29-31:

Then Jesus

left there and went to the sea of Galilee. And he climbed up the mountain and sat there. And huge crowds came to him and brought with them the lame, the blind, the maimed, the mute, and many others, and they crowded around his feet and he healed them. As a result, the crowd was astonished when they saw the mute now speaking, the maimed made strong, and the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they gave all the credit

to the God of Israel.

Case Study - Healing the leper

Mark 1:40-45

Then a leper comes up to him, pleads with him, falls

down on his knees, and says to him, "If you want to, you can make me clean."
Although Jesus was indignant, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and says to him,
"Okay---you're clean!"
And right away the leprosy disappeared, and he was made clean. And Jesus snapped at him, and dismissed him curtly with this warning: "See that you don't tell anyone anything, but go, have a priest examine <your skin>. Then offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as evidence <of your cure>."
But after he left, he started telling everyone and spreading the story, so that <Jesus> could no longer enter a town openly, but had to stay out

in the countryside. Yet they continued to come to him from everywhere.

Matt 8:1-4

When he came down from the mountain, huge crowds followed

him. Just then a leper appeared, bowed down to him, and said, "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
And he stretched out his hand, touched him, and says,
"Okay---you're clean!" At once his leprosy was cleansed away. Then Jesus warns him: "See that you don't tell anyone, but go, have a priest examine <your skin>. Then offer the gift that

Moses commanded, as evidence <of your cure>."

Luke 5:12-16

And

it so happened while he was in one of the towns, there was this man covered with leprosy. Seeing Jesus, he knelt with his face to the ground and begged him, "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and says,
"Okay---you're clean!"
And at once the leprosy disappeared. He ordered him to tell no one. "But go, have a priest examine <your skin>. Then make an offering, as Moses commanded, for your cleansing, as evidence <of your cure>."
Yet the story about him spread around all the more. Great crowds

would gather to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But he would withdraw to isolated places and pray.

EgerG 2:1-4

Just then a leper comes up to him and says, "Teacher, Jesus,

in wandering around with lepers and eating with them in the inn, I became a leper myself. If you want to, I'll be made clean." The master said to him, "Okay---you're clean!" And at once his leprosy vanished from him. Jesus says to him, "Go and have the priests examine <your skin>. Then offer your

cleansing what Moses commanded---and no more sinning." [ . . . ]

Leviticus 13:2-17

When a person

has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall examine the disease on the skin of his body, and if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous disease; after the priest has examined him he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean. ... the priest shall examine him, and if the disease has turned white, the priest shall pronounce the diseased person clean. He is clean.

For further discussion of this item, see 110 A Leper Cured


Prepared by Gregory C. Jenks
October 2000
Adapted from The Acts of Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998)