True Blue Jew

In Matthew 9, Mark 5 and Luke 8 there is somewhat of an odd story involving a woman who after having suffered for twelve years comes into miraculous contact with Jesus for healing. This story takes place while Jesus is assisting Jarius’ twelve year old daughter. Is this double-mention of twelve coincidence, a number used to relate context to the tribes of Israel? Is it also by chance that the author uses δώδεκα (dodeka, twelve) twelve times in Luke, but not once in Acts? Both stories also have the victims as “daughter.”

Matthew and Mark have the woman saying to herself,

“If I just touch His garments, I will get well [lit. I will be saved, Hagner, WBC]."

Luke however does not mention this, instead it is stated that she had a twelve year issue of blood and

“came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.”

In Luke, the reader is not given the woman’s thoughts as to why she took such action,

“she devises a plan of secretly touching his garment. Her reasoning and simple faith find articulation in v 21. It will suffice to touch the garment of this very special person. This strategy may well have been dictated by her ritual uncleanness and her sense of the holiness of Jesus as a divinely empowered healer. το κρασπέδου το ματίου ατο, ‘the fringe of his garment,’ probably refers not simply to the edge of Jesus’ garment but to the tassels (Hebrew צִיצִת, îit’) required by Num 15:38–41 and Deut 22:12 for the four corners of one’s outer garment (cf. 23:5). Jesus is thus faithful to the Torah in his dress. The idea of being healed through even the garments worn by a holy person was not so unusual in that culture (cf. 14:36; Mark 6:56; Acts 19:12)."1

This is a tough situation for the woman, more than the text lets on for most of the readers in our culture. This woman was perpetually unclean, meaning she was an outcast, completely cut-off from everyone; no human contact. It is obvious that she approaches Jesus in this stealthy manner because she believes that he would not come close due to her impurity, she would be rendering him unclean. Keener remarks,

“this woman’s sickness was reckoned as if she had a menstrual period all month long; it made her continually unclean under the law (Lev 15:19–33)—a social and religious problem in addition to the physical one. If she touched anyone or anyone’s clothes, she rendered that person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day (cf. Lev 15:26–27, [m. oharot 5:8]). Because she rendered unclean anyone she touched, she should not have even been in this heavy crowd. Many teachers avoided touching women altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated. Thus she could not touch or be touched, she had probably never married or was now divorced, and she was marginal to Jewish society.”2

Matthew and Luke have a word Mark does not in the telling of this particular story; fringe (kraspedon). In a recent blog post, Gerald McDermott explores this briefly, but in my opinion leaves the best part out.

The word kraspedon is used few times in the NT, but there is a lesser mentioned portion of text in Matthew 14 and Mark 6, when Jesus was in Gennesaret, and the same word is employed:

“when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured” Mat 14:35-36.

Why were people drawn to Jesus’ fringe or hem?

“The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, ’Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes…” Num 15:37-38.

The covenant people of God were commanded to sew tassels (tsitsith) on the “corners” of their garments. The word corner in Hebrew is kanaph and can also be translated as wing or extremity as in the passage where Yahweh - extending protection and covering over Israel - says,

“I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness” Eze 16:8 ESV.

It is used of wing in the sense of protection, as a mother bird spreads her wings over her chicks and the wings of the Seraphim which covered the Ark, their face, “feet” (euphemism for something else) and were used for flying.

In the Septuagint, the word corner (kanaph) is translated kraspedon; the same word Matthew and Luke use in these narratives (cf. Mat 23:5). Why then does Jesus credit the woman with an exercise of faith for touching his tassel?

Possibly because of a messianic prophecy in Malachi that stated,

“But to you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise, and healing shall be in his wings [Heb. kanaph, where the tassels or tsitsith were sewn]…” Mal 4:2 LXE.

Jesus as the Jew of Jews or the true blue Jew (blue cord in tassel joke there cf. Nu 15:38) of course would be wearing tassels. If he was not, he was a disobedient Jew. When I was in Israel, the historian R. Vanderlaan - who was teaching - made the comment in regard to this narrative,

“every piece of art we have shows Jesus breaking God’s law, and we want Jews to take seriously that he is the messiah.” 

Prof. Anthony Buzzard appropriately asks,

“Have we forgotten that our Savior was a Jew?” Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, 9.

McDermott, as well as Keil and Delitzsch mention the Pharisaic superfluous attitude in commands such as Nu. 15:38,

“The size of these tassels is not prescribed. The Pharisees liked to make them large, to exhibit openly their punctilious fulfillment of the law.” Kiel and Delitzsch, 1:721.

Mark describes the woman as having

“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.” 

Ironically, Luke the doctor left that part out. The woman’s faith is exemplified - according to Matthew and Luke (12 x 12) - by pointing to her action upon the belief that by “touching” (hapto, “lay hold of”) the symbol of God’s protection for his people and the messianic characteristic of healing, she would be a recipient of that promise. Instead of Jesus becoming unclean from her, she became clean and was “saved” because of him (8:48). Jesus said of the little girl,

“Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well [lit. saved]" (v. 50).

This theme of Jesus as the truest Jew bringing salvation is the larger picture Luke wants to give his audience.

1. Donald A. Hagner, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary, 248 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

2. Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, Mt 9:20 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

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