Saturday, March 2, 2013

Salvation from death, part 2

...While he was saying these things to them, behold! one of the rulers came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has died just now! Nevertheless, come place your hand upon her, and she will live." And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment, for she said to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Have courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And the woman was saved from that very moment. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd causing a disturbance, he said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they ridiculed him. But when the crowd had been cast out, he went in and grabbed hold of her by the hand; and the girl arose, and this news went out into all that district.  (Matthew 9:18-26)

In the previous post we finished discussing Matthew's introduction to the miraculous story contained within 9:18-26. In that post I discussed such important factors as what the central focus of this narrative is, and what the surrounding  events of this narrative look like. We learned that a Jewish "ruler" of a synagogue bursts into the scene of table fellowship within Matthew's home where Jesus is feasting with tax collectors and "sinners," while, at the same time, being surrounded by censorious disciples of the Pharisees and John the baptist. And this Jewish "ruler" not only interrupts the table fellowship, but he also kneels before Jesus in a posture of worship to proclaim before everyone in the house that Jesus is the only man who can raise his dead, unclean daughter to life again by touching her. This ruler's great faith is bold and self-sacrificial, and it's that kind of faith which Jesus was not at all ashamed or embarrassed to "follow" (Matt. 9:19).

According to Matthew's account, we don't find the detailed description of crowds swarming around Jesus on every side, effectively restricting his ability to maneuver around easily. Those are details which Mark and Luke considered important to emphasize. Matthew chooses instead to omit those details and simply state that Jesus "followed" this ruler, and that his disciples followed as well. As one can imagine, when Jesus got up from feasting at Matthew's table, lots of disciples and wanna-be disciples rose quickly to see if he actually could raise the ruler's dead daughter. And if you can imagine this scene with all of it's surrounding drama, it is here and at this time when everything suddenly comes to a halt because of an unnamed woman who had suffered for twelve years: 

And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment, for she said to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved."
According to certain laws which God declared to the people of Israel in the wilderness, Jews knew that they were instructed to be mindful of "bodily discharges" and the ceremonial impurity which could spread contagiously as a result.  Leviticus chapter fifteen contains those specific instructions which God declared to Israel in the wilderness, and Matthew's Jewish audience would have definitely thought of those laws as they heard the shocking news about this bleeding woman. But another thing which would have been shocking is her suffering for twelve years. Matthew did not have to mention her suffering for twelve years. If all he wanted to focus upon was her medical condition, the long time frame of suffering for twelve years need not be mentioned. But it was mentioned, and therefore it was important to help identify with the uniqueness of her suffering. And the more I read and re-read Matthew's account of this story, the more I gravitate toward the view that Matthew is not highlighting her medical condition as the cause of her suffering (contra Mark and Luke); nor is he highlighting a type of suffering caused by the laws of Leviticus fifteen. Instead, Matthew is highlighting a type of suffering caused by the Jewish rulers of her society -- rulers like the scribes and Pharisees in the background of this very scene within Matthew's house. For example, when discussing the interpretation of Leviticus fifteen among first century Jews, Craig Keener describes the way Pharisaical law would have impacted this woman's lifestyle: 
Because of her continual flow of blood, she was not permitted to move about in crowds; anyone she touched or whose cloak she touched became unclean. Those who were most pious seem to have been most concerned to avoid unnecessarily exposing themselves to impurity (e.g. m. Nid.), even if it was impossible for married men to avoid that totally. ...Indeed, at least in theory any strict Jewish man must learn whether a woman who touched his clothing or sat in a boat with him was unclean and therefore had rendered him as unclean. 

... Her condition is desperate 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 it if started at puberty, and almost surely would have led to her divorce if it began after she was married, since intercourse was prohibited under such circumstances and childlessness normally led to divorce. The stigma of childlessness, the pain of feeling "left over," the economic consequences of being unable to earn sufficient income, yet having neither husband nor children for long-term support, probably would have made her condition seem almost unbearable.1

With this first century context in mind, there are a number of startling points which are worthy of consideration. For example, why is this woman inside of Matthew's house? Doesn't she know that every Jew within Matthew's house sees her as unclean? And why is she all-of-a-sudden willing to spread her uncleanness upon Jesus by touching him? Doesn't she know she is forbidden to spread her uncleanness upon others? These are only some of the questions we could ask, but to appreciate the depth of suffering which this woman had endured for twelves years, we need to take this woman's ceremonial uncleanness seriously. 

This woman was not ignorant of first century Rabbinical traditions. This woman knew what every Jew in that house would have been thinking had they known that she was sitting among them. This leads me to believe that one implication of Matthew's sudden and dramatic interruption of this unnamed, unclean woman is that she has been hiding her uncleanness from everyone in Matthew's house. (Luke even mentions that she was hiding, Lk. 8:47.) It's as though, out of nowhere, this woman bursts onto the scene with just as much, if not more faith as the Jewish "ruler" of the synagogue; only this woman is not trying to make a huge scene. This woman has been waiting quietly because she doesn't want everyone in the room to know she's unclean. She is simply taking advantage of an opportunity that appears to be advancing towards a sudden loss as she sees Jesus following the ruler further and further away. 

This woman also appears to have been attentive to the doctrinal claims of the Jewish ruler too. Just as he believed in Jesus' unique authority to touch and give life to his dead (and therefore unclean) daughter, this woman also believes in his unique authority to cleanse her from twelves years of uncleanness. She too is a dead "daughter" of Israel (9:22), and so she reaches and tries to grasp the tassle of Jesus' garments before it's too late, before he's out of reach. What is unique to Matthew's account of this story is that there is no indication that her "touch" upon Jesus' garments healed her (contra Mark and Luke). Instead what we find in Matthew's story is that by catching hold of the tassle of his garment, this caused Jesus to pause and turn around toward her, giving her the attention she so desperately wanted and needed, even if it was but for a single moment of time; for she said to herself: 
"If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved." 

And it is to this great faith in Jesus that he "turns" toward her and, without any conversation or publicity about her medical condition, declares:
"Have courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you."  And the woman was saved from that very moment. 
In Matthew's account of this story, the authoritative words of Jesus are what bring healing to her. Her faithful "touch" upon Jesus doesn't heal. His word alone heals. And if Matthew's account of this story was the only available to us, we would be left with the impression that no one else in the room ever became aware of her uncleanness. Her faith led her to Jesus and his comforting recognition of saving faith was all that needed to be mentioned. 

But what did Jesus mean when he said, "Your faith has saved you"? Doesn't this  imply some sort of works-righteousness or salvation by works? Well, as you may have already noticed, most modern translations avoid this implication by translating the word "saved" as "made well" or "made whole." So, for example, when this woman says to herself that if she could only catch hold of his garment, the ESV unfortunately translates the next phrase as "I will be made well." And likewise, Jesus says to her, "Your faith has made you well." And then afterward, as you might have already suspected, it says the woman was "made well." This Greek verb (translated in the ESV as "made well") is sozo, which literally means to "save." That is why I have translated it as "save." In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is told by an angel of the Lord that Mary, his betrothed wife, will bear a son, and he would name her son "Jesus" because "he will save (sozo) his people from their sins."  Matthew 27:40 portrays Jesus suffering on the cross while mockers proclaim to him, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save (sozo) yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!" A couple verses later they chide against him again, saying, "He saved (sozo) others; he cannot save (sozo) himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him" (27:42). And finally, even within the list of ten miracles recorded in chapters 8 & 9, Jesus' own disciples cry out to him in desperation for deliverance, saying, "Lord! Save us! (sozo) We're perishing!" (8:25).2

Clearly then, when this woman says to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved," she's not thinking of spiritual "salvation" in the sense of deliverance from eternal condemnation (and so there should be no worries concerning works-righteousness either). She's thinking of "salvation" in its broadest sense, the sense of full deliverance from her medical condition and its social consequences. Matthew does not portray a woman who simply needs some medical discomfort alleviated. (Mark and Luke both portray that, actually; cf. Mk. 5:26 & Lk. 8:43.) Matthew portrays a woman who has suffered socially for twelve years because of a medical condition which every Jew treated like an unclean corpse. It is only because of first century Pharisaical traditions and their foolish interpretation of Leviticus fifteen that this woman is hiding her ceremonial uncleanness. 

I suppose that since I've already mentioned it, now is as good a time as any to clarify what I mean by their "foolish" interpretation of Leviticus fifteen. I want to take just a few moments to clarify just how unnecessary it was for Pharisees and their ilk to interpret Leviticus fifteen as though it endorsed ostracizing women with long-term conditions like this.3 After a close examination of those particular laws, the literary structure distinguishes between long term and transient "bodily discharges."4 And the ceremonial restrictions for each of those were different. For men, long term problems of bodily discharge would likely be caused by venereal diseases, and they were treated very seriously. For women, their monthly, transient period was taken just as seriously; and when I say "very" seriously, I simply mean those laws were more strict when compared with others in direct relation to them.5 

However, the treatment was not serious at all for men with transient discharges or with women who had long term complications of "bodily discharge" (like this woman in Matthew  9:20-22). Scholars are divided as to why that might be the case, and I certainly have my own opinion,6 but it's not very difficult to figure out from the law itself that women who had long term medical complications of bloody, bodily discharge were alleviated from the stricter ceremonial restrictions placed upon her and others during her ordinary menstrual cycle. Leviticus 15:19-31 are the laws which specifically handle long term medical complications of bodily discharge among women in Israel (under the Old Covenant), and those laws only state that "every bed on which she lies" and "everything on which she sits shall be unclean. ...And whoever touches these things shall be unclean."  (Lev. 15:26-27)

How difficult would it be to avoid touching this woman's bed on which she lays down? And how difficult would it be to avoid touching a chair that she sits on? It wouldn't be difficult at all. And on top of that, even if someone did touch those things, and were therefore deemed ceremonially "unclean," they would only be restricted from entering the Temple because of its ceremonially holy space.7 Furthermore, if they did want to enter the Temple, and incidentally they had become ceremonially "unclean" by touching an unclean chair or bed, there was a provision for that: all they would have to do is wash their clothes, take a bath, and wait until the sun goes down in order to be ceremonially "clean" again (Lev. 15:27). And how awful would that be, seriously? The answer is, it wouldn't be. And that's because the Law of God was not designed to make life miserable.8 It would have required greater self-discipline, but not greater misery.

Now, my hope is that all of this background information is going to help us appreciate Jesus' response even more; and here's what I mean by that. In the Greek text, Matthew portrays Jesus as knowing the existence of her faith in him already. In Matthew's story, this woman gets Jesus' attention, and he then turns around toward her and says, "Your faith has saved you." And when he says her faith "has saved" her, that verb is in the perfect tense. In Greek, the perfect tense is unlike the English perfect. In Greek the perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action. In other words, Jesus speaks as though he knows something which only she has known and has been hiding within Matthew's house, something which otherwise would have remained hidden from her if Jesus had not told her; and what he declared to her was that God had orchestrated all of these events to bring her faith in the past to this point of salvation from death, both medically and socially, in the present. Her faith, Jesus says, has saved and continues to save her. Her faith believes, along with the ruler of the synagogue, that Jesus is the only man who can touch the unclean and deliver from death. And so we read that within that very hour she was "saved."

Salvation from death is the central focus of this narrative, and Matthew isn't entirely finished with it yet. Matthew still has not concluded what he introduced, namely the resurrection of the "ruler's" daughter. However, I intend to show in the next post that Matthew's conclusion to this narrative is not actually focused upon a miraculous resurrection of the ruler's daughter (which is the clear emphasis that Mark and Luke both give in their narratives), but instead is a third illustration of faith which is intentionally juxtaposed with the salvation offered to this unclean woman. And it is that peculiar juxtaposition which launches us into, and helps us interpret, the final two miracles of chapter nine. But I'll save the exposition of those verses for other posts.

1.  Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2009] pp. 303-304
2.  This use of sozo is especially clear when compared with the wide variety of expressions in Greek used to describe healing. Matthew 4:24 says: "So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed (theropeuo -- lit. "cured") them."  Matthew 8:8 says: "But the centurion replied, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say a word, and my servant will be healed (iaomai -- lit. "healed")."  Mark 5:34 says: "Go in peace, and be healed (hugies -- lit. "made whole")"

3.  In Rabbinical studies, Numbers 5:1-5 is often viewed as a standing law. And what I mean by describing it as a "standing" law is that it maintained a permanent legal status as long as Israel was a nation. I do not agree with that interpretation of Numbers 5:15. Instead, I see Numbers 5:1-5 as a temporary provision for Israel at Mount Sinai to help them prepare for their march toward the promised land. It is only a few chapters later (Num. 10) that we find Israel leaving Mount Sinai for the first time, and after that time we find no further reference to people with discharges being "put out of the camp." And so, I see this as a temporary provision, not a permanent provision for all times and all places. 
4.  Gordon Wenham provides a sketch of the Leviticus 15 and it's literary structure which I found to be very helpful. I have tweaked the way it looks a bit, but the essence is the same as his:

Introduction:  “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron”  (v1)
                              A)  Long Term  (v2-12)  
Male Discharges:               Cleansed by sacrifice  (v13-15)
                                    B)  Transient  (16-17)
                                                      and intercourse  (v18)
                                    B’)  Transient  (v19-23)  
Female Discharges:                  and intercourse  (v24)
                              A’)  Long-term  (v25-27)  
                                      Cleansed by sacrifice  (v28-30)

Purpose of Law:  Not to defile the Tabernacle   (v31) 

Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1979] p. 216
5.  When the transient discharges of women (Lev. 15:19-24) are compared with the long-term discharges of women (15:25-30), one major difference among the transient discharges (for women only) is the restriction upon those who merely "touch her" (v. 19). This could mean touching her skin, her body in general (clothing and all), or it could mean her genitalia.  In a similar manner, stricter restrictions are placed upon men with long term discharges (not short term discharges, like semen excretion). Instead of restricting people from "touching him," the unique restrictions of long term discharges for men are two-fold: 1) "whoever touches the body of the man" (v. 7) and 2) "if the man with the discharge spits on someone who is clean..." (v. 8). The "body" mentioned here in verse 7 is Basar in Hebrew, and it is used euphemistically here and in verse 19 for genitalia, which is what leads many hebrew scholars today to believe that the passing reference about "touching her" in verse 19 also refers to her genetalia. 
6.  There definitely seems to be a clear association of ceremonial death (and it's contagious forms) with the constant reminder of Adam's fall into sin, God's curse upon his biological descendants, and the ultimate curse of death/final judgment for all those united with the first Adam. It is also my understanding that there are only three general categories in which contact with the "unclean" is considered contagious, and this helps me make this association more easily. Those three categories are 1) contact with corpses (i.e. actual death), 2) contact with "leprous" skin diseases (external death), and 3) contact with bodily discharges (internal death). All other laws which infer a contagious uncleanness (like touching the carcasses of unclean animals, living in moldy/disease-ridden houses, and the uncleanness associated with childbirth) are either sub-categories of these three or not actually described as contagious at all. They are simply considered to be unclean. In the case of bodily discharges and the difference between men and women (both transient and long-term differences) I see a direct connection between God's curse upon mankind (death), long term bodily discharges due to sexually transmitted diseases (in men), and the transient menstrual cycle of women (which necessitates the regular shedding of the uterus lining after the life producing time of ovulation). Man's sin, his seed, and ultimate death are very clear associations in my mind when I think of how this might have been understood when the Law was originally given in ceremonial form to Israel.
7.  The purpose of the law is stated at the end of Leviticus 15, which says, "Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my Tabernacle that is in their midst."  The most obvious inference from this purpose clause is that death is the sentence which God would execute (either ceremonially or literally) upon those who draw near to him in His Tabernacle with their uncleanness, thereby polluting His "House." Hence, the very next chapter of Leviticus (Lev. 16) is about purification of the Tabernacle from uncleanness. If they did not draw near to God in their state of ceremonial uncleanness, there wouldn't need to be a fear of death for polluting God's House; but uncleanness taught them, ceremonially, to fear death and to fear drawing near to God (literally, in the Tabernacle) if they were living in a state of "uncleanness." Gordon Wenham interprets this law as meaning: "Those who were unclean could not participate in divine worship in the tabernacle. If they did, they not only polluted the tabernacle but were liable to death at the hands of God." -- Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1979] p. 221
8.  It is a common misunderstanding among Christians to think of these ceremonial laws as being impossible to obey and therefore miserable to live by, when in fact, they would have been relatively easy to remember and obey if understood properly. For example, the ceremonial law pertaining to a woman's transient menstrual cycle is often portrayed as a horribly miserable set of laws to live by, when in fact, it would have been relatively easy to live by. Consider, for instance, the fact that many women married godly men when young, had many children, and breastfed all of their children. Then consider the fact that once a woman gets pregnant, she doesn't have to worry about ceremonial uncleanness until she gives birth to her child because she doesn't get her period back until after giving birth; and as long as she is breastfeeding her newborn child and toddler, she won't have her period during that time either; and as long as she keeps on having children, she won't have her period for an even longer amount of time. And after a certain age, that woman would go through menopause and her menstrual cycle would cease permanently. And so, the average woman who got married, had children, and raised children, probably wasn't concerned with her ceremonial uncleanness many times in her life, especially when compared to women who never married or were barren. As Gordon Wenham observed, the "women likely to be much affected by the law of Lev. 15:19-24 would be unmarried teenage girls." -- Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1979] p. 224

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