Jesus did many remarkable miracles during his ministry. One of the most captivating is his healing of two women on the same day in Mark 5. When reading this passage with commentary, you gain so many insights that you wouldn’t know otherwise. So, we’ve included excerpts from the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd Edition. Enjoy reading this familiar passage with commentary on Mark 5.


This passage includes two cases of reversing uncleanness: a woman with a continual flow of blood and a corpse (see Lev 15:19-33; Num 19:11-22). Even after the flow stopped, the first woman would be counted unclean for seven days (Lev 15:28); the dead girl was even more unclean, so that one who touched her contracted impurity for a week (Num 19:11).


21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 

Commentary on Mark 5:21-24

The precise duties of “rulers of the *synagogue” probably varied somewhat from one place in the empire to another; sometimes the title designates simply benefactors, perhaps to honor them, but elsewhere they were the chief officials in synagogues (perhaps not unrelated to their social influence); virtually always they were prominent members of their communities.

Jairus’s daughter had been a minor until that year and on account of both her age and her gender had little social status apart from her family. One would fall at the feet of someone of much greater status (like a king) or prostrate oneself before God; for this prominent man to humble himself in this way before Jesus was thus to recognize Jesus’ power in a serious way.


25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 

Commentary on Mark 5:25

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 15:25-28)—a social and religious problem on top of the physical one. Sometimes this condition starts after puberty; if that was true in her case, given a common ancient life expectancy of about forty years and the “twelve years” that she had been ill, she may have spent even half or all her adult life with this trouble.

Since she could not bear children in this state, and Jewish men often divorced women who were incapable of bearing (cf., e.g., Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 42:1), this woman probably had never married or (if the sickness began after marriage) had been divorced and remained single. In a society where single, celibate women could not easily earn much income, the illness affected virtually every area of her life.


26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 

Commentary on Mark 5:26

Although some remedies were genuinely empirically based, many practices of both Jewish and Gentile physicians in biblical times were no more than superstitious remedies, which not surprisingly often proved ineffective (cf. 2 Chron 16:12; Tobit 2:10; *Qumran Genesis Apocryphon 20:19-20). Although many physicians in the Greek world were slaves, Palestinian Jewish sources suggest that physicians in Palestine had ample incomes. Some Palestinian Jews were skeptical of physicians’ value.


27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Commentary on Mark 5:27-29

If this woman touched anyone or anyone’s clothes, she rendered that person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day (cf. Lev 15:26-27). Some uncleanness was unavoidable, but it was inconvenient to fulfill the required bath, and men avoided uncleanness when they could. Because she rendered unclean anyone she touched, she should not have even been in this heavy crowd.

Later Jewish tradition made this danger even more serious than Leviticus had (e.g., Mishnah Toharot 5:8), so many teachers avoided touching women (other than their wives) altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated. Thus she could not touch or be touched, was probably now divorced or had never married, and was marginal to Jewish society.


30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Commentary on Mark 5 - photo 1

Commentary on Mark 5:30-34

Jewish people believed that only teachers closest to God had supernatural knowledge. Jesus uses his supernatural knowledge to identify with the woman who had touched him—even though in the eyes of the public this would mean that he had contracted ritual uncleanness. (By law, she was still counted as unclean for seven days after her flow of blood stopped; Lev 15:28.)

Given the frequent failure of the male *disciples’ faith (8:17-21; 9:19), Mark’s record of this woman’s faith (cf. 7:29; 12:44; 15:40-41) is all the more striking, especially for readers whose culture considered women less stable and emotionally weaker than men.


35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 

Commentary on Mark 5:35-39

Childhood deaths were common (in Egypt, which was poorer, perhaps half the children born did not survive into adulthood). Tradition expected at least two or three professional mourners (two flutists and a mourning woman) to facilitate grief at the funeral of even the poorest person; more mourners would assemble at the death of a member of a prominent family like this one.

Because bodies decomposed rapidly in Palestine, mourners had to be assembled immediately upon someone’s death (presumably especially when it had been expected), and in this case they had gathered before word even reached Jairus that his daughter had died. Messengers were normally dispatched immediately to bring a parent or spouse the sad news.


40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Commentary on Mark 5:40-43

In that culture, at the age of twelve the girl was a virgin probably soon to be married (with very rare exceptions, women were not able to continue in education as they do today). Young girls usually looked forward eagerly to their wedding day as the most joyous event in their life, and to die unmarried—especially just short of it—was lamented as a particularly great tragedy.

Jewish interpreters sometimes linked texts by a common word; that this girl had lived the same number of years as the woman with the flow of blood had been ill (5:25) provides a useful literary connection. Whereas contact with the bleeding woman would render Jesus unclean for a day in the eyes of others (Lev 15:19-33), touching a corpse led to seven days of uncleanness (Num 19:11-22, esp. 19:11). Jesus spoke to her in *Aramaic, perhaps her first language, although Greek was widely spoken in Palestine. (On the use of Aramaic in healings, See comment on 7:34-35.)

IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd Edition


Craig Keener updated his IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament. He is one of the leading New Testament scholars on Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture.

This unique commentary provides crucial cultural background you need for richer Bible study. One of the best parts is the glossary of cultural terms and historical figures. Additionally, you’ll find plenty of maps, charts, bibliographies, and introductory essays.

Visit our website to learn more about the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd Edition.

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