Friday, May 20, 2011

Living Dead Girl

The synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree on the chronological order of a short series of anecdotes which started with the healing of a paralytic man. The harmonized story continues with Jesus picking up Matthew/Levi, the tax collector, as a disciple, and telling the Pharisees that He is not there for them. Jesus then explains that His followers will fast after He is gone, and that you do not mix old and new fabric, or pour new wine into old wine skins. John ignores all of this.

Matthew continues on with the subject of this study, initiating the event while Jesus was discussing the wine and wineskins.

Mark and Luke have a rift in time, which both record that the events of this study happened right after Jesus returned across the Sea of Galilee, which was after He exorcised a Legion of demons, sending them into swine. To Mark and Luke, the healing of the paralyzed man had occurred long before Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee.

Living Dead Girl
Can you keep a secret? Sure you can. Maybe. It depends. What is the secret about? What would be the consequences of revealing the secret? How many people already know about it? There are many factors involved in keeping a secret, and sometimes it is just impossible to do so. Take the following episode in the Bible, for example.

Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, and Luke 8:40-56 tell the tale of how Jesus brought a dead girl back to life. Interjected into the tale is the story about how a woman with a bleeding disease touched Jesus' cloak and became healed by doing so (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:42-48), but let us stay focused on the resurrection here.

The girl was the daughter of “a ruler” (according to Matthew), or a ruler of a synagogue named Jairus (according to Mark and Luke).

Matthew 9:18 has the ruler requesting Jesus for the resurrection of his daughter, because his daughter was already dead. In contrast, Mark 5:22-23 and Luke 8:41-42 have this ruler requesting healing for his daughter, because she is nearly dead. Was she dead already or just dying? Was this ruler asking for a resurrection or a healing? Unless you care about the truth, it does not matter.

Mark 5:35 and Luke 8:49 soon somewhat reconcile their side with Matthew, by having someone report that the daughter has just died, so there is no need for Jesus to come to try to heal her. To which Jesus replies to Jairus to “just believe” in Mark 5:36 and Luke 8:50. Meanwhile, Matthew's ruler believed that Jesus could resurrect his daughter from the very beginning.

Jesus makes it to the ruler's house. He tells the crowd of mourners that the girl is not dead, but rather she is asleep. Everybody laughs at Him. Jesus subsequently goes into the house and brings the girl back to life. The exact details around the resurrection are uncertain.

Matthew 9:23-26 has Jesus usher all of the noisy mourners out of the house before reviving the girl, and the news of this resurrection spreads throughout that region.

Mark 5:37-43 has Jesus limit the number of people following Him to the house to only Peter, James, and John. Jesus ushered the mourners out of the house, went back in with the ruler, his wife, and the three disciples, and then resurrected the girl. Jesus then told the parents not to let anyone know about this miracle.

Luke 8:51-56 has everyone follow Jesus up to the house. Jesus then limits the number of people going into the house to just Peter, James, John, and the parents. It is not clear whether or not the house was full of mourners at the time when Jesus entered it. Jesus resurrects the girl, and tells her parents not to tell anyone about the miracle.

OK, so here is the deal: As noted above, according to Mark and Luke, Jesus tells the girl's parents to keep a secret about the resurrection of their daughter. Jesus' request was impossible! Really! Let us review:
  • The girl's father (Jairus) was the leader of a synagogue. It is safe to assume that he was therefore well known in the community, and it should be, likewise, safe to assume that the community knew about his dying daughter.
  • When Jairus made his request for help from Jesus, he did so in front of a large crowd (Mark 5:21, Luke 8:40).
  • The girl was pronounced dead in front of the crowd (Mark 5:35, Luke 8:49).
  • A crowd of mourners had already started mourning her passing (Matthew 9:23, Mark 5:38, Luke 8:52)
  • The mourners knew that she was dead, not simply asleep (Luke 8:53)

So what exactly were the parents supposed to do to keep this secret? Lie, and say that they had only lied before, and she was really just asleep and faking illness? Explain that their one daughter did die, and that the living girl they now had was her twin, which they had kept hidden for 12 years? Besides, even if the parents kept quiet about the miracle, everybody else would run around blabbing about it!

It just does not make sense, but what else would you expect from bad fiction writers?

A thought had occurred to me that perhaps this tall tale was actually meant to be a parable. The mentioning that this girl was 12 years old coincides with the Bat Mitzvah age, when a young Jewish girl would be considered under the Law. The girl dies, as death is a common punishment under the Law, and as a representation that the system of the Law is broken. Jesus comes along and resurrects the girl, fixing the broken system by implementing Christianity. Jairus would be representative of a faithful Jewish believer, who mourns for the broken system, and who Jesus supports by telling him to keep on believing in God. If this parable approach is correct, the secret at the end is still a bit tricky to figure out its purpose. Perhaps the command to keep the fixing of the broken system by Jesus a secret would come from being practical; to keep their belief in secret to avoid being attacked by other Jews who still clung to the old system? Pure speculation, I know...


  1. I trust you are well.

    I don't think the idea the story of the young girl is parable works.

    The discrepancies in the accounts are not a problem if you think about your own retelling of events. I know when I have recounted things on different occasions I may tell different parts of the story. If you try to examine my record as copies (a reasonable assumption) you might think I lied (I did not) or didn't really remember the event (I did).

    The difference is I'm not writing the infallible Word Of God, so there may be some argument about how that is supposed to work.

    That said, Christ could certainly tell them not to tell people (as in recount the details of the event or that Christ resurrected her) without expecting them to keep it a secret. After all, as you point out, everyone already knew parts of the story.

    What may make more sense is that He was telling them not to talk about it for their sakes rather than His. If you think about it a bit I'm confident you can imagine several reasons why He might do so.



  2. Hi David! Good to hear from you again.

    I know exactly what you mean about the discrepancies. You give a nod to how these discrepancies are a bit difficult to reconcile with infallibility. Thanks! It is a quandary.

    Infallibility aside, I would also expect differences in the accounts told from the memories of three different people of the same event. In some cases, it's actually a good argument for authenticity of independent witness. Of course, that same perspective is also a judge against other portions of the Gospel which are a little too similar across each account, but I digress...

    I can, indeed, imagine why Jesus would advise them not to tell anybody. If for no other reason, it is self-consistent with Jesus' own words commanding righteous acts be done privately.

    So you don't like my idea of a parable? Come on, it's at least as good as the way in which Paul used Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31. There, Paul selective (mis-)quotes Sarah's words in Galatians 4:30, but completely ignores the fact that God promised to make a nation from Hagar's son in Genesis 21:11-13. :-p

  3. Ahh, but he doesn't say Hagar's children will not be a "great nation" (as God promised) only that they would not inherit with the children of the promise.

    No, it doesn't rise the the level of "infallibility" ;-)

  4. Ahh, but through Jesus, have they not inherited the Promise also? ;-)