Salvation by Faith in Jesus the Messiah: A Canonical Exegesis of Mark 5:25-34 in Context


The fifth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel is a collection of three apparently unrelated miracle stories occurring back to back. The chapter opens with Jesus and the disciples arriving by boat at the far side of the Sea of Galilee, just after Jesus has calmed the storm upon the sea at the end of chapter four. When they disembark, they are met immediately by a demoniac of that country, a man who has been dwelling among the tombs, “crying out night and day … and beating himself with stones” (Mk 5:4-5).[1] Jesus exorcises the unclean spirits from the man and drives them into a herd of swine, which immediately throw themselves off a cliff and into the sea. The man’s countrymen then entreat Jesus and the disciples to leave, and they cross over again to Galilee. On this shore, too, they have a welcoming party: among the large crowd which has gathered to see Jesus, they are met by Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue, who implores the Master to come and heal his dying daughter. Before he can do so, however, another woman approaches Jesus from the back of the crowd. She has been afflicted for twelve years with a serious malady which has caused her to bleed continuously, and despite spending all her money on the treatments of many physicians, she has only gotten worse. However, Mark tells us that she had heard about Jesus, and thought to herself, “If I touch even his garment, I will be saved” (Mk 5:28). Doing so, she is indeed healed immediately (5:29). 

Jesus then begins to ask the crowd who has touched him. The woman is afraid, but she throws herself down before him and tells him the whole truth. Jesus sends her on her way, calling her “daughter” and confirming that her faith has saved her (5:34). Following this exchange, messengers arrive from Jairus’ household, carrying the unfortunate news that the man’s daughter has died. Jesus, however, reassures Jairus, telling him not to be afraid, but to have faith. He then takes Peter, James, and John and goes to the man’s house, where he rebukes the mourners and drives them out, telling them that the girl is only sleeping (5:39). Jesus takes her by the hand and tells her, “Arise!” Immediately, she gets up and begins to walk about. 

The story of the bleeding woman (Mk 5:25-34), which is the particular subject of this exegesis, constitutes the center of a “Markan sandwich,” a distinctive literary technique of St. Mark’s Gospel in which one story takes place in the midst of another, interrupting the surrounding narrative and apparently occurring independently of it. In this case, the healing of the woman interrupts the healing of the daughter of Jairus, which begins with vv. 21-24 and concludes in vv. 35-43. Syntactical differences between vv. 25-34 and the surrounding text indicate that St. Mark borrowed the story of the woman’s healing from another source and inserted it at this point in the overall progression of the narrative. This alone would be sufficient reason to attempt a reading of the surrounding stories in the light of the insertion, at least if one accepts James R. Edwards’ supposition that “Mark sandwiches one passage into the middle of another with an intentional and discernible theological purpose,” and thus that “the insertion interprets the flanking halves.”[2] However, there are also a number of common motifs between the two healing stories, as well as certain commonalities with the exorcism story which precedes them both, that suggest a definite meta-narrative behind all three.


 Most commentators have suggested that these stories, taken together, are meant to indicate Jesus’ total subversion of Jewish purity laws:[3] in quick succession, he interacts with a pagan man, possessed and dwelling among the dead (thus triply unclean), with a ritually impure woman, and with a corpse! Jesus, however, is not rendered unclean in any of these cases; rather, contact with His person purifies the impure, like His baptism made the waters of the earth clean[4] and the tree which Moses cast into the bitter waters of Marah made them sweet (Ex 15:22-25). On this reading, faith is given primacy over and against the ritual purity prescribed by the law as the sine qua non of salvation.  

Though I agree that this theme is present, I will argue that there is a still more important narrative at play in this chapter. St. Mark, after all, does not choose to emphasize the purity/impurity aspect of any of these stories; the Gospel text makes no mention of it, the volumes of commentaries written on the subject notwithstanding. However, Mark is careful to introduce textual parallels in each of these stories with Isaiah’s prophecies of the new exodus and the restoration of Zion, which would announce at once to any reader familiar with the Law and the Prophets that those very prophecies are being fulfilled in the saving ministry of Jesus Christ. Furthermore if, as Edwards argues, the story of the bleeding woman – the insertion – is the key to interpreting the meta-narrative, then it is clear that both stories are indeed unified by the one central theme of salvation by faith. This faith in Jesus does surpass the ritual prescriptions of the old law, as the majority of commentators attest, but only because of this deeper reality, namely, the beginning of the new exodus and the reconstitution of Israel by her Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

After presenting a critical translation of the central pericope in the following section, I will proceed with a formal, textual and contextual analysis of this pericope. The formal analysis will investigate the Markan sandwich technique in greater detail, as well as the parallel structures between the inner story of the bleeding woman and the outer story of the daughter of Jairus. In the textual and contextual analyses, I will focus in particular on the themes of purity/impurity and faith and on Mark’s Isaian parallels, arguing that the former themes depend for their intelligibility on the latter literary context. Finally, I will present a theological exegesis of this pericope on the basis of those parallels, drawing in the outlines of the portrait of Jesus as depicted in this chapter: namely, the Messiah, whose every word and deed advances the new exodus and the long-promised restoration of Israel.  

Critical Translation

25 καὶ γυνὴ οὖσα ἐν ῥύσει αἵματος δώδεκα ἔτη25 And a woman, being in a flow of blood[5] (for) twelve years,
26 καὶ πολλὰ παθοῦσα ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἰατρῶν καὶ δαπανήσασα τὰ παρ’ αὐτῆς πάντα καὶ μηδὲν ὠφεληθεῖσα ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον εἰς τὸ χεῖρον ἐλθοῦσα, 26 and having suffered much under many physicians, and having spent everything of hers, and not having benefited at all, but rather having become worse, 
27ἀκούσασα περὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐλθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ὄχ-λῳ ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ: 27 having heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd from behind, took hold of[6] his garment:
28 ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὅτι Ἐὰν ἅψωμαι κἂν τῶν ἱματίων αὐτοῦ σωθήσομαι. 28 for she said that, “If I touch even his garment, I will be saved.”[7]
29 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξηράνθη ἡ πηγὴ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς, καὶ ἔγνω τῷ σώματι ὅτι ἴαται ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγος. 29 And immediately her fountain of blood was dried up, and she knew in the body that she had been healed from the scourge.[8]
30 καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐπιγνοὺς ἐν ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἐξ αὐτοῦ δύναμιν ἐξελθοῦσαν ἐπιστραφεὶς ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ἔλεγεν, Τίς μου ἥψατο τῶν ἱματίων; 30 And immediately Jesus, knowing in himself that the power was going out from him, turning to the crowd, said, “Who touched my garment?”
31 καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, Βλέπεις τὸν ὄχλον συνθλίβοντά σε, καὶ λέγεις, Τίς μου ἥψατο;31 And his disciples were saying to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you, and you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
32 καὶ περιεβλέπετο ἰδεῖν τὴν τοῦτο ποιήσασαν. 32 And (yet) he was looking around to see the one who had done this.
33 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ φοβηθεῖσα καὶ τρέμουσα, εἰδυῖα ὃ γέγονεν αὐτῇ, ἦλθεν καὶ προσέπεσεν αὐτῷ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ πᾶσαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν.33 But the woman, being afraid and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and prostrated (herself) before him and told him the whole truth.
34 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Θυγάτηρ, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε: ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην, καὶ ἴσθι ὑγιὴς ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγός σου.34 But he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you: Go in peace, and be healed from your scourge.”

Formal Analysis

The Significance of the Markan Sandwich Technique

The usual formal understanding of St. Mark’s Gospel by scholars of the form-critical school, at least prior to the mid- to late twentieth century, was that “the Second Gospel is not a literary work but a conglomerate of anonymous, popular and collective Jesus tradition.”[9] To use J. R. Edwards’ memorable image, the evangelist was seen as little more than a “witless water boy … schlepping water from the spring (a creative oral tradition) to thirsty hordes (the readers).”[10] Operating under such an understanding, the fact that the stories of the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman are intercalated (“sandwiched”) in Mk 5:21-43 bears no special literary significance. It is probable that the events simply happened the way Mark describes them,[11] or at least, that the stories were told to Mark in this order and dutifully copied down in the same way. 

 Against this supposition, however, stand the vast stylistic differences between vv. 25-34 and the surrounding text. The story of Jairus’ daughter is written mostly in the historical present tense and uses a succession of short, simple sentences, typical of Mark’s Gospel; the story of the bleeding woman is written mostly in the aorist tense with much longer sentences and complex participle constructions, particularly in vv. 25-27. These differences suggest that a combination of two separate sources has taken place, either by Mark himself or an earlier redactor from whom he borrowed, with the story of the bleeding woman copied from one source and inserted into the larger narrative containing the exorcism of the demoniac and the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus from another. 

The majority of the form-critical exegetes, naturally, would presume that this insertion was the result of a pre-Markan oral tradition. Bultmann may be taken as representative of the scholarly consensus of his time: “Mark is not sufficiently master of his material to be able to venture on a systematic construction himself.”[12] However, more recent scholarship has been more inclined to take seriously the ancient testimony of Papias, as handed down by Eusebius of Caesarea, that Mark “wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered … not, however, in exact order.”[13] He had “no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings,” but rather, according to Papias, he “accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers],” and “made no mistake in thus writing.”[14] This Mark, far from the witless water-boy of the historical-critical imagination, carefully arranged the apostolic accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus with a distinct theological purpose in mind. One concludes that the stories in Mk 5:21-43 were purposefully intercalated by the inspired author, leaving the reader to ask: to what end?

Some argue that “Mark employs his sandwich technique to heighten suspense or allow for the passage of time”[15] in the surrounding narrative; that is, to achieve a purely literary effect. In this pericope, the interruptive episode of the bleeding woman does indeed seem to allow time for the messengers of Jairus’ household to arrive with the news of his daughter’s death. However, from a literary point of view, it is not necessary. The time Jesus spent looking for the woman in the crowd was not so long that he might otherwise have made it to Jairus’ house before the girl died; the messengers must have already been on the road some time before, and could just as well have shown up as soon as Jairus made his request. Furthermore, if the intention of this intercalation were to build suspense by delaying the resolution of the Jairus story, Edwards notes that “it would be necessary to address the question why Mark, who uses the word ‘immediately’ some 40 times, and who narrates his Gospel in an otherwise rapid-fire fashion, would need to create the illusion of a passage of time at [this] particular point.”[16] If the Markan sandwiches have only this literary purpose, one is left to wonder why Mark has sandwiched these two stories at all.

Edwards, however, argues that while the Markan sandwich “is, to be sure, a literary technique … its purpose is theological; that is, the sandwiches emphasize the major motifs of the Gospel.”[17] They are not primarily used for the sake of furthering the story but to convey theological meaning. The inserted story provides the key to interpret the surrounding narrative in the theological light which Mark intends. In this case, then, “the woman’s faith forms the center of the sandwich and is the key to its interpretation.”[18] She is to be contrasted with Jairus, a respectable man with a prominent social and religious position who has come to seek Jesus’ help face to face, while she, a nameless social outcast, furtively reaches out to touch his garment from behind. However, in a beautiful inversion, her reaching out in faith results immediately in her salvation, whereas Jairus’ faith fails him when the messengers arrive with the news of his daughter’s death. Jesus commends the woman for her boundless confidence and gently rebukes Jairus for his lack thereof: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mk 5:36 RSV). Edwards elaborates:

What kind of belief must Jairus have in a situation in which all human hopes are exhausted? The answer is given in Jesus’ command to believe (pisteuein, v 36): Jairus must have the kind of faith (pistis, v 34) the woman had! Faith knows no limits, not even the raising of a dead child, as Jesus goes on to demonstrate.[19]

The intercalation of these two stories is thus a deliberate literary technique used by the evangelist to illuminate the theological necessity of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.

Chiastic Structure

As noted above, Jairus and the bleeding woman may be read as mirror images of one another. He is prestigious, respectable, and has a name for himself in St. Mark’s account, while she is nameless, impoverished, outcast from society. Their one point of contact is that they have both found themselves in desperate circumstances which have led them to Jesus. However, their respective stories from that point on may also be read as mirroring one another in a kind of chiastic structure if considered under the aspect of the publicity or privacy of the scenesJairus approaches Jesus in a very public setting, surrounded by the crowd on the lake-shore; the healing of his daughter takes place in a very private setting, with Jesus alone in the house with the girl, her parents, and his three most intimate disciples. Conversely, the healing of the bleeding woman, which interrupts the Jairus narrative, progresses from her private, secret act of touching the Lord’s garment to her public confession of “the whole truth” in front of the whole crowd. 

The chiasmus may be visualized as follows:

A. Public scene: Jesus meets the synagogue official (5:21-24)  

            B’. Private scene: The woman touches his cloak (5:25-29)

            A’. Public scene: The woman’s public confession (5:30-34)

B. Private scene: Jesus heals the daughter of Jairus (5:37-43)                                            

Collins notes that the “narrowing of the audience [in the Jairus narrative] has the effect of highlighting the mysterious and miraculous character” of his daughter’s rising from the dead.[20] However, the exterior movement from a public scene to a private scene may also reflect something of Jairus’ subjective, interior transition. At the beginning of the story, he had faith enough to throw himself publicly at Jesus’ feet and entreat him earnestly to heal his daughter (cf. Mk 5:22-23), but not enough to “trouble the teacher any longer” after the news of her death, when it seemed all hope was now in vain. He had human faith in a miracle-worker, but not yet the boundless interior confidence shown by the bleeding woman, which respected no obstacle in seeking its fulfillment. Jesus, however, exhorts Jairus to have such faith, founded not on what seems possible to human understanding, but on sheer confidence in Him. His public faith, expressed in his words and deeds, must be joined to a steadfast interior faith in God.

St. Jerome comments that the opposite exterior movement in the story of the woman likewise reflects her subjective change from impurity to cleanliness: “Note the separate stages; mark the progress. As long as she was hemorrhaging, she could not come into [Jesus’] presence. She was healed by faith and then came before him.”[21] Her faith had saved her from the involuntary privacy of social exile and allowed her to move once again into the public realm of relationship and communion. Understood in this way, the parallel structures of the two stories likewise highlight the central motif of salvation by faith.

Textual Analysis

The Markan sandwich of Mk 5:21-43 also contains numerous textual parallels between the bleeding woman and the daughter of Jairus. The woman has been afflicted for twelve years (v. 25), while the girl was twelve years old when she died (v. 42). Collins supposes “it is unlikely that this number is symbolic,” but rather that it is meant to emphasize, in the woman’s case, the extreme length of her suffering and the concomitant difficulty of her healing.[22] However, one is hard-pressed to read the number twelve in the New Testament without hearing in it an echo of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples who are their antitype and fulfillment. As Rikki Watts notes, “that Mark nowhere else records how long individuals suffered or their age suggests that he sees herein some significance.”[23] At the very least, it serves to establish a parallel between the woman and the girl, which is further cemented by the fact that both are called “daughter” (cf. vv. 23, 34). Both, too, are at the very nadir of their suffering – the girl is at the point of death; the woman’s long suffering and ostracism from society constituted for her a kind of prolonged death – and both will be “saved” (σῴζειν) by the healing touch of Jesus (cf. vv. 23, 28, 34).

 There is also a kind of inverted parallel between the disciples and the woman along the axis of faith in vv. 31-33. “Unlike the disciples,” Collins notes, “who were unable to calm the storm because of their lack of trust or faith (4:40), this woman was able to heal herself by … her faith.”[24] Their rather brusque response to Jesus’ question in v. 31 seems to indicate that they have not yet learned their lesson; having seen that the wind, the sea, and the unclean spirits obey Him, they still seem to lack faith even that Jesus will be able to ascertain who has touched Him in the crowd! Certainly they do not know the miracle which has just taken place under their very noses. The woman and Jesus alone know “what had been done to her” (v. 33; cf. v. 30). 

Furthermore, Stein sees a point of contact between the woman and the Gerasene demoniac of the preceding pericope in the fact that she has only “become worse” (v. 26) after all her expensive treatments, while the demoniac could not be bound by anyone any longer, “even with a chain,” for “no one had the strength to subdue him” (vv. 3-4). In both cases, “human help was of no avail; human help actually harmed.”[25] Finally, there are both textual and formal inverted parallels between the woman and Jairus, which have been sufficiently explained above.

There is an exact textual correspondence between the woman’s response to her salvation in v. 33, “being afraid and trembling” (φοβηθεῖσα καὶ τρέμουσα), and the “fear and trembling” (φόβου καὶ τρόμου) with which St. Paul urges Christians to “work out” their salvation (Phil 2:12). Her reaction is similar to that of the disciples at the end of the previous chapter, who were “afraid with a great fear” (ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν) after the Lord calmed the storm (Mk 4:41), and the Gerasenes in the preceding parable, who “were afraid” (ἐφοβήθησαν) when they saw the former demoniac sitting clothed and in his right mind (Mk 5:15). The woman’s reaction is therefore typical in St. Mark’s Gospel of one who has been saved from death or has witnessed the Lord’s salvation. The various other proposed explanations for her reaction, such as “that she was ashamed or embarrassed to reveal the nature of her ailment in public; she feared because she had stolen power without permission … she feared that Jesus would be angry and would undo the healing,” and so on, are absolutely unsupported by the textual evidence. That her reaction is one of awe or reverence at what had been done for her and of a filial fear of the Lord may be seen clearly in the light of her very next act: to prostrate herself (προσπίπτειν) before Jesus and tell him the whole truth. 

Jesus’ words to her then constitute a fourfold response of encouragement. (1) Jesus addresses her as “daughter” (Θυγάτηρ), a respectful and affectionate greeting of the time period to women of any age or relationship to the speaker,[26] which nevertheless carries with it a distant echo of the Isaian formulation, “daughter Zion” – a point to which we will return in the following section – as well as introducing a parallel with the daughter of Jairus. (2) His statement that her “‘faith has made her well [saved her]’ … carries the weight of the entire story [and] brings the dialogue to its climax.”[27]The same word (σᾠζειν) is used here by Jesus as was used by the woman to express her hope before she touched his garment. Jesus is thus not reinterpreting the means of her healing or correcting a misunderstanding; rather, he “sets what happened in the perspective of her faith.”[28] (3) He blesses her with a common Jewish farewell, “Go in peace,” which “involves less a wish for ‘peace of mind’ than a wish for divine peace that is a foretaste of eschatological salvation.”[29]The word of Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is invariably effective: the peace He wishes for her is the very peace He alone can give, in the eschatological salvation which He is even then in the process of bringing to fulfillment. (4) His final command, “be healed from your suffering,” reiterates what has in fact taken place, giving his personal sanction to the healing she has already received as a result of her faith: “The word ratifies what has already happened.”[30]

Contextual Analysis

A close reading of this pericope would be incomplete without an investigation of the woman’s ῥύσις αἵματος, her “flow of blood,” and the attendant question of purity. As noted above in footnote 5, Collins argues that “the ‘flow of blood’ mentioned in v.25 is no doubt a gynecological ailment,”[31] citing other uses of this phrase in medical texts of antiquity; for example, Aristotle writes in the Historia Animalium with regard to “menstrual flows” (καταμήνια) that “this blood, if it has become diseased, is known as flux” (ούς).[32] Thus understood, this woman’s twelve-year flow of blood would certainly have rendered her unclean, as Leviticus unequivocally states: “At the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean” (Lev 12:2b), and “if a woman has a discharge of blood for many days … all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness” (Lev 15:25).

Furthermore, the “fountain of blood” which is dried up in Mk 5:29 (ἡ πηγὴ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς) corresponds verbatim to the Septuagint text of Lev 12:7, which describes the priest’s offering in atonement for the woman after her period of menstruation: “Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood” (τῆς πηγῆς τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς). Guelich suggests that this wordplay might “subtly address the underlying purity question of how Jesus could be touched by a defiled person without personal consequence … His power to remove the defilement makes the issue moot.”[33] It should be noted, however, that this indirect allusion “could not have taken place in the setting of Jesus, since the present description in [Mk] 5:29 is editorial in nature and the alleged allusion is based on the Greek text of Lev 12:7 found in the LXX. It is not based on Aramaic (or Hebrew).”[34] Nevertheless, the textual evidence seems to establish beyond doubt that the woman’s μάστιξ rendered her impure and “defiled anything and anyone she touched.”[35] For this reason, Guelich argues, she is depicted by Mark as “coming from the rear of the crowd, the appropriate place for the defiled”; in so doing, she “risked defiling others by approaching and deliberately touching Jesus’ clothes.”[36]

Jesus is also to be found in compromising situations with regard to the laws of ritual purity before and after this encounter with the bleeding woman. Immediately before, he was in contact with a Gentile possessed by an unclean spirit, living among tombs in a pagan country. The ritual impurity of the whole situation in Mk 5:1-20 is illustrated above all by the presence of the herd of swine (Mk 5:11).[37] Immediately after this pericope, meanwhile, Jesus goes to the home of the recently deceased daughter of Jairus and takes hold of her hand (Mk 5:41), in contradiction of Numbers 19:11: “He who touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean.” Therefore, Guelich contends that when the bleeding woman is first introduced in Mk 5:25, “the purity question [present in all three stories] comes immediately to the surface.”[38]Other commentators, however, take a more nuanced view: Collins admits that “ritual impurity is not an explicit theme in the story,”[39] and Stein concludes, “Thus it plays no role in what [Mark] wants to share with his gentile readers … As a result, if we want to understand what he sought to convey to his readers through these accounts, we should concentrate on what the text tells us.”[40]

Isaian Parallels

In this section, I am entirely indebted to the scholarship of Rikki Watts, who argues convincingly that, “while attention is rightly given to key terms and motifs within the intercalation (e.g. ‘faith’, ‘fear’, ritual impurity and status)” by many commentators, “the integrity of the larger unit (4:35-5:43) … and the Old Testament background should not be ignored.”[41] With regard to this latter point, Watts situates the entirety of Mark’s Gospel within an “Isaianic new exodus horizon.”[42] The first verses of this Gospel quote Isaiah’s “voice crying out in the wilderness” (Mk 1:2-3; cf. Isa 40:3), explicitly setting the “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” within the Messianic context of Isaiah’s prophecy, and further textual and formal parallels abound between the Second Gospel and the Book of Isaiah. 

In the final chapters of III Isaiah, the prophet pleads with the Lord to “tear the heavens and come down” (Isa 64:1), sending His Messiah at last to lead Israel on the way of her new and definitive exodus. The key textual parallels with Mk 5:25-34 are found in Isa 64:6-9:

We have all become like one who is unclean,
            and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (lit., menstrual napkin).
We all wither away like leaves,
            and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one that calls upon your name,
            that bestirs himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
            and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquities.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father …
            Behold, consider, we are all your people.”

Like the people of God in Isaiah’s vivid analogy, the bleeding woman introduced in Mk 5:25 is unclean because of her menstrual flux. Lest this merely ritual impurity seem to be a less than perfect parallel with the sins of the people, Watts points out that “first-century popular theology apparently assumed that suffering implied sin and the LXX’s use of μάστιξ,” the ‘scourge’ described in Mk 5:29 and 34, “likewise implies divine chastening.”[43] Thus there is a clear parallel between the woman’s flow of blood and the iniquities of the people which carry them away: “It seems likely that the onlookers would have assumed the woman’s guilt with her healing implying forgiveness of her sins.”[44] She certainly may be described as one “withering away” from her interminable blood loss, as well as the loss of all that she had, spent on useless medical treatments. Jesus’ face is indeed hidden from her, as the Lord’s is hidden from Israel; she approaches him furtively from behind to touch the hem of his cloak.

Therein lies the key point of divergence between Isaiah’s lament and Mark’s miracle story: “This unclean woman, unlike Isaiah’s Israel, reaches out to this true son of the Father.”[45] She bestirs herself with confident faith to take hold of the Lord, and is rewarded with salvation. Furthermore, St. Mark describes the woman, upon realizing that she has been healed, as “being afraid and trembling” (cf. Mk 5:33). This language corresponds to the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 66:2: “This is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.” Indeed, Jesus looks to the woman, prostrate and trembling at his feet, and calls her “daughter” (Θυγάτηρ), a name commonly used in Isaiah to refer to Zion, the chosen people of God. Jesus then definitively pronounces her healed and blesses her with peace, as the Lord promised to heal daughter Zion and bless her with peace in the new exodus: “Peace, peace, to the far and near, says the LORD; and I will heal them” (Isa. 57:19). Thus, writes Watts, “while not taking anything away from the personal liberation of the woman, the Isaianic parallels suggest that Mark also sees the woman as a symbol of exiled Israel” restored to communion with God.[46]

Likewise, the surrounding narrative of the daughter of Jairus finds its parallel in the eschatological prophecies of Isaiah 65:19-20: “No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in [the new Jerusalem], or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days.” Upon entering the home of Jairus, Jesus first sends out the mourners, putting to rest the sound of weeping and wailing (Mk 5: 39-40), and then raises the child from her premature death (v. 41). He asks that she be given something to eat (v. 43); this, too, has an Isaianic parallel, for in the immediately following verse, the Lord promises that the people of the new Jerusalem “shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isa 65:21).


In this paper, I have argued that the intercalated stories of the bleeding woman and the daughter of Jairus found in Mark 5 are arranged in this way by the evangelist to express a key theological principle. The distinctive Markan sandwich technique, of which Mk 5:25-34 is a case in point, is a literary technique employed by the evangelist to give a theologicalinterpretive key to the surrounding narrative. The inner story unlocks the meaning of the outer story. In this case, the faith of the bleeding woman is the key to understand Mark’s purpose in the surrounding story of Jairus’ daughter. The woman and Jairus are set up by the evangelist as foils to one another by the use of both textual and formal inverted parallels. In particular, the inner and outer stories form a chiasmus in which the outer narrative moves from a public scene to a private scene, symbolizing Jairus’ subjective movement from public confession to a real, interior faith in Jesus, while the inner narrative moves from a private scene to a public scene, signifying the woman’s restoration to public life by her act of faith. 

I have further argued that the motif of ritual purity, while certainly implicit in these two pericopes as well as in the preceding story of the Gerasene demoniac, is not a key theme in this chapter of Mark. The surpassing of these ritual restrictions is present in the text only as a corollary to Mark’s plain emphasis, namely, that salvation is procured by faith in Jesus Christ, not necessarily by strict observance of the law. One runs the risk of missing the “forest” of salvation for the “trees” of purity laws. Furthermore, this theme of salvation by faith is to be understood here in the wider literary context of St. Mark’s Gospel, the “Isaian new exodus horizon” identified by Watts. By means of clear textual and formal parallels, too many to be written off as coincidental, Mark portrays Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who will lead daughter Zion on the way of her new exodus, out of sin and death and into lasting peace, healing, and communion with the Father. The bleeding woman and the daughter of Jairus, whom Mark links by the motifs of the number twelve and the title “daughter,” may both be taken to represent Israel, suffering and near death on account of her sins, whom God wishes to raise to a new and definitive life in Himself. Israel must only turn to her Messiah, Jesus, the true Son of the Father, in faith if she is to be healed and saved from her sins. Then the words of Jesus addressed to the afflicted woman will ring out at last to God’s whole chosen people: “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (Mk 5:35).


[1] Translated by Adela Yarbro Collins in Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2007). 

[2] James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31, no. 3 (1989), 196.

[3] “Of the commentators who have given special attention to the linking of these accounts, most agree that the primary point is the importance of faith over against special concerns for ritual purity.” Rikki Watts, “Jesus and the New Exodus Restoration of Daughter Zion: Mark 5:21-43 in Context,” in The New Testament in Its First Century Setting: Essays on Context and Background in Honour of B. W. Winter on His 65thBirthday, ed. P.J. Williams et. al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 14.

[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 39, a. 1, respondeo, at New Advent,

[5] The noun ύσις refers to a “flowing, flow” (cf. Bauer, 738). In the case of this woman’s ῥύσις αἵματος, it may be translated generally as a “flow of blood” or perhaps “hemorrhage.” Guelich attests that, “though unspecified, her problem has been associated by implication with a ritually defiling bleeding” (296). Stein adds that this flow of blood would certainly have rendered her ritually impure, “especially if the hemorrhaging involved her menstruation” (267). Likewise, Collins argues that “the ‘flow of blood’ mentioned in v.25 is no doubt a gynecological ailment,” citing other uses of this phrase in medical texts of antiquity by Aristotle and the Hippocratic physicians (280). 

[6] This verb in antiquity frequently has the connotation “of touching as a means of conveying a blessing (divine working by a touch of the hand) … esp. to bring about a healing” and even, “of those who are ill, touching the healer … also of touching the clothes of the healer” (cf. Bauer, 103). 

[7] There is a happy ambiguity in this verb, σῴζω, which can mean to “save from death,” i.e. to save someone’s life from mortal danger or disease, as well as to “save or preserve from eternal death,” the ultimate salvation which comes from God alone (cf. Bauer, 798).

[8] This noun, μάστιξ, literally refers to a whip or lash, though it may be used figuratively, as here, to refer to any torment or suffering (cf. Bauer, 495). Collins notes that the same word is used for those tormented by unclean spirits in Mk 3:10, although in the case of this woman, the “wielder of the whip” is left unspecified (82).

[9] Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1985), 47.

[10] Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches,” 194.

[11] Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary, ed. Harold W. Attridge (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2007), 276.

[12] Rudolph Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, revised edition, trans. J. Marsh (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1968), qtd. in Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches,” 194. 

[13] “Fragments of Papias,” VI, translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, edited by Alexander Roberts et al. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885), at New Advent,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches,” 195.

[16] Edwards, fn. 13.

[17] Edwards, 196.

[18] Edwards, 205.

[19] Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches,” 204.

[20] Collins, Mark: A Commentary, 276.

[21] Jerome, Homily 77, in Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, vol. 57, ed. R. J. Deferrari (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1947-), 148.

[22] Collins, 280.

[23] Watts, “Jesus and the New Exodus Restoration of Daughter Zion,” 22-23.

[24] Collins, Mark: A Commentary, 284.

[25] Stein, Mark, 268.

[26] Stein, Mark, 270.

[27] Guelich, Mark, 299.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Stein, 271.

[30] Guelich, Mark, 299.

[31] Collins, Mark: A Commentary, 280.

[32] Arthur L. Peck, Aristotle: Historia Animalium, vol. 1 (LCL; London: Heinemann, 1965), 220-23; cited by Collins, Mark, 280.

[33] Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26 (Word Biblical Commentary, v. 34A; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1989), 297.

[34] Robert H. Stein, Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 269.

[35] Guelich, Mark, 296.

[36] Ibid, 297.

[37] Ibid, 277.

[38] Ibid, 296.

[39] Collins, Mark: A Commentary, 283.

[40] Stein, Mark, 268.

[41] Watts, “Jesus and the New Exodus Restoration of Daughter Zion,” 18.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Watts, “Jesus and the New Exodus Restoration of Daughter Zion,” 20.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid, 19.

[46] Watts, “Jesus and the New Exodus Restoration of Daughter Zion,” 20.

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