The Healing of a Blind Man (Mark 8:22-26) by Kelly R. Iverson

Mark 8:22-26 is one of the more striking accounts in all the Gospels. The healing of the blind man is the only canonical episode in which Jesus attempts to heal an individual but is not immediately successful. Although the man’s vision is ultimately restored, Jesus must provide a second healing touch to accomplish the miracle.

What else is happening around Mark 8:22-26?

Exploring the surrounding context can help us to understand a particular Bible passage. It is worth noting that Mark’s Gospel contains two episodes involving blind men (Mark 8:22-26, Mark 10:46-52). Even more noteworthy is that the two accounts bookend, or frame, a section of the narrative. Often referred to as the “way section”—since Jesus and the disciples are making their way to Jerusalem—the unit begins with the two-staged healing in Mark 8:22-26 and concludes with the healing of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. Not only is the section set off by two healings, it also incorporates three passion predictions (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:32-34). In each instance, Jesus reveals that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Following each prediction, the disciples fail to grasp Jesus’ teaching.

This intentional literary structure suggests that Mark has a rhetorical effect in mind. The healing accounts that frame the section, along with the repetitious passion predictions and misunderstanding, indicate that the episodes are best interpreted together.

What is the rhetorical purpose of the two-stage healing?

As Mark’s story unfolds, the clarity of the divine plan develops. However, Mark reveals Jesus’ fate from the early stages of the narrative (Mark 2:20, Mark 3:6, Mark 3:19). The irony is that while the audience becomes aware that Jesus must die, the disciples remain confused or at times directly opposed to the notion of a crucified Messiah.

The tension between Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ misunderstanding is an undercurrent of the narrative that is never resolved. To emphasize the disciples’ lack of understanding, Mark uses a number of techniques to expose their inadequacies. For example, Mark sometimes employs a character’s physical condition (such as imperfect sight or hearing) to symbolize a broader theological concept. In particular, during Mark’s “way section,” blindness functions as a metaphor for the disciples’ lack of understanding. This relationship is made explicit by Jesus’ own words in the scene immediately before the two-stage healing: “do you still not perceive or understand?…Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (Mark 8:17-18).

In view of these connections, many scholars argue that the two-stage healing provides implicit commentary on the disciples’ spiritual blindness. Their confusion about the mission and identity of Jesus, as well as their own role within the kingdom, indicates that, like the blind man, their vision is still partial. Though called to be with Jesus (Mark 3:14) and invested with the mysteries of the kingdom (Mark 4:11-12), the disciples are in need of a second touch.

The literary section of Mark 8:22-10:52 offers hope that, like the blind man, the disciples will be restored to full sight. The audience may not find that restoration in the “way” section or the remainder of the Gospel, but texts like Mark 14:28 and Mark 16:7 allude to it. At this juncture in the narrative, the passion predictions and final two encounters in Mark 10:35-45 and Mark 10:46-52 reveal the disciples’ continued lack of understanding. In the exchange with James and John (Mark 10:35-45) and his conversation with blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus addresses the parties with essentially the same question: “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36; see also Mark 10:51). To their shame, James and John request positions of power. In stark contrast, Bartimaeus simply requests to see. The profound irony and discrepancy between the responses is not lost on the audience, who recognizes that only Bartimaeus has responded appropriately, for to “see”—to discern spiritual matters—is far more important than political maneuvering.

Although the two responses further expose the disciples’ impaired vision, the Gospel of Mark is not concerned with resolving the tension. Rather, the disciples’ incomprehension emphasizes that the Markan Jesus can only be understood in light of his death on the cross.

Kelly R. Iverson, "Healing of a Blind Man (Mark 8:22-26)", n.p. [cited 27 Jun 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/main-articles/healing-of-a-blind-man-mark-822-26

Contributors

Kelly R. Iverson

Kelly R. Iverson
Associate Professor, Baylor University

Kelly R. Iverson is associate professor of New Testament at Baylor University. He is the author of Gentiles in the Gospel of Mark: “Even the Dogs under the Table Eat the Children’s Crumbs” (T&T Clark, 2007) and the coeditor of Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect (Society of Biblical Literature, 2011).

The two-stage healing of a blind man in Mark 8:22-26 emphasizes Jesus’ power and the disciples’ spiritual blindness and lack of understanding.

Did you know…?

  • Mark is the only evangelist to include the two-stage healing in Mark 8:22-26.
  • Mark 8:22-26 occurs within the context of a larger literary unit that concludes with the healing of a second blind man in Mark 10:46-52.
  • Mark 8:22-10:52 is often referred to as the “way section” because in it Jesus and the disciples journey to Jerusalem.
  • In the ancient world, blindness was often used as a metaphor to describe a person’s lack of understanding.
  • Mark’s depiction of the disciples is frequently negative, and their lack of faith is often presented alongside minor characters’ appropriate responses to Jesus.
  • The two-stage healing in Mark 8:22-26 functions as a commentary on the disciples’ lack of understanding.

Belonging to the canon of a particular group; texts accepted as a source of authority.

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Relating to persuasive speech or writing.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Of or related to the written word, especially that which is considered literature; literary criticism is a interpretative method that has been adapted to biblical analysis.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 10:46-52

The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind begga ... View more

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 10:46-52

The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind begga ... View more

Mark 8:31

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the ch ... View more

Mark 9:31

31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being kill ... View more

Mark 10:32-34

A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
32They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, a ... View more

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A program of good works—or the calling to such a program—performed by a person or organization.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Mark 2:20

20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

Mark 3:6

6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Mark 3:19

19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Jesus and Beelzebul
Then he went home;

Mark 8:17-18

17And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?18 ... View more

Mark 3:14

14And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message,

Mark 4:11-12

11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;12in order that
‘they may in ... View more

Mark 8:22-10:52

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 14:28

28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Mark 16:7

7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Mark 10:35-45

The Request of James and John
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of ... View more

Mark 10:46-52

The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind begga ... View more

Mark 10:35-45

The Request of James and John
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of ... View more

Mark 10:46-52

The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind begga ... View more

Mark 10:36

36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

Mark 10:51

51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 10:46-52

The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind begga ... View more

Mark 8:22-10:52

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.23He took the blind man by the ... View more

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