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DIFFICULT PASSAGES: Mark 8:22-26 – Why Did He Do It Like That?

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When He had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes wee opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.” – Mark 8:22-26




Mark provides us with the only record of this miracle. In some ways, it is the most curious of all Jesus’ miraculous signs. The story is simply told, but not as easily understood.

Jesus,with His disciples, came to Bethsaida at the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee, just east of where the Jordan River empties into the sea. This was a fishing village, and the home of some of the Twelve. It was not Jesus’ intent to stay here for any length of time or to engage the people of this village in extended teaching. He was on his way to Caesarea Philippi with the Twelve where he would teach them further concerning things He had no intention of saying to the multitudes.

Yet, as He passed through,people recognized Jesus and brought a blind man to Him, begging Him to heal the man. Perhaps because of His desire to get away from the crowds, Jesus Himself took the man by the hand and led him out of the village. There He spat on his eyes and laid His hands on him. Then He asked him, Do you see anything? This is the only instance of healing in which Jesus asked if the person were healed.

The man replied, I see people; they look like trees walking around. In other words, he could see, but not clearly. Then Jesus again placed His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home with instructions not to even enter the village.

This is the only miracle that was done in stages as well as the only one where the person healed was asked if he had been cured. Why did He do it like that?

Chrysostom, “the golden mouth” preacher, was a presbyter and bishop at Antioch in the late 4th century. In his later days, he was a much admired archbishop in Constaniople. He has left voluminous writings. He said that this miracle occurred in stages because of the imperfect faith of the man. He did not seek healing from Jesus; others brought him to Jesus. The first glimmer of sight caused him to believe, and Jesus went on to heal him completely.

R. C. Foster (Studies in the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, Reprinted 1971, p. 696) says as follows:
We cannot tell why the miracle was performed in two steps. The question Jesus asked seems to indicate that the method was His deliberate plan. The man had not been born blind, but had lost his sight, for he knew the appearance of trees and men. [J.W.] McGarvey holds that the miracle was not gradual, but consisted of two instantaneous miracles, each of which accomplished exactly what Jesus intended; and that Jesus used this different method to reveal that He could heal in part and by progressive steps. It certainly did dramatically emphasize the immediacy of Jesus’ other miracles.
When I asked why it was done this way in one of my classes at the Sunset School of Preaching in the mid-1960’s, Johnny Ramsey suggested it was perhaps to show that He was in complete control of the process. His answer was similar to that of McGarvey, cited by Foster. Yet, I thought there must be more to it than that.

To see the full picture, we must keep the context in view. It was when I looked at this event in its context that I began to get a clearer idea of why Jesus did it this way. Earlier in this chapter, the Pharisees asked for a sign, even though many signs had already been given. Jesus refused to give another sign to those who refused to see the signs He gave (Mark 8:11-12).

Immediately after that, His disciples misunderstood Jesus’ remark about being careful to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees. He responded by asking them, “Do you still not see or understand” and quoting Isaiah 6:9-10 against them, a passage which speaks of eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that are hardened. After this, the disciples did understand – some. But did they see and understand clearly? No, for immediately following this healing, Peter confessed Jesus as being the Christ of God – and then began to rebuke him when He said He would be crucified in Jerusalem (Mar_8:27-32).

In other words, this miracle was also a parable-in-action, designed to teach the disciples that full sight of the riches of God in Christ does not come at once! William Barclay (The Gospel of Mark, In The Daily Study Bible Series, Vol 3. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2nd edition, 1956, p. 194-195) comes close to this, as he says:
Usually Jesus’ miracles happened suddenly and completely. In this miracle the blind man’s sight came back in stages. There is symbolic truth here. No man sees all God’s truth all at once. One of the dangers of a certain type of evangelism is that it encourages the idea that when a man has taken his decision for Christ he is a full-grown Christian. One of the dangers of Church membership is that it can be presented in such a way as to imply that when a person becomes a pledged member of the Church he has come to the end of the road. So far from that being the case the decision and the pledge of membership are the beginning of the road. They are the discovery of the riches of Christ which are inexhaustible, and if a man lived a hundred, or a thousand, or a million years, he would still have to go on growing in grace, and learning more and more about the infinite wonder and beauty of Jesus Christ.

There are several important lessons for us in this “parable in action.”

  1. We should never assume that, because we can see some truth, we know all truth. We need to be humble enough to realize that “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The time will come when we will see Jesus as He is, and then we will be like Him (1 John 3:1-3). Until then, let’s be humble enough to recognize there are things we do not yet see and understand.
  2. We should realize that seeing a little does not mean we see clearly. Peter, in Mark 8:27-29, confessed Jesus as being the Messiah. Yet, in verses 31-32 when Jesus began to talk about going to Jerusalem to die before being raised from the dead, Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. Peter understood Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ; he did not understand what that meant.
  3. If we – and even apostles – do not fully understand the implications of what we see in the Scriptures or in Jesus, we need to be patient with others who do not understand what we think we understand. Sincere believers in Jesus who are seeking to follow Him as closely as possible will sometimes understand various things differently. We need to be patient with one another, always seeking better understanding ourselves and seeking to learn even from those who disagree with us. If we love only those who love us, what do we do more than others? If we are willing to learn only from those who agree with us, how will we ever correct our misunderstandings? Further, if we refuse actually to listen to them, why should we expect them to listen to us as well?

If we would take these three lessons to heart, there would be far less strife within the church and far less prejudice against others who seek to follow Jesus. There would also be far less reason for other Jesus-followers to have prejudice against “us” – whoever “we” may be.

35 Responses

  1. Thank you for the article about the blind man. Sometimes I feel we are all spiritually blind, to lessor or greater degree. We can never completely understand why there is suffering in this world, such as illness, loss of life etc. However the holy spirit revealed to me this morning, that suffering does have a definite . purpose as Christ’s suffering had a specific
    purpose. I believe the blind man had to be healed in stages because his faith came in stages. Sometimes our healing also comes this way that is in stages.


    • Maria,

      It is perceptive of you to realize that suffering, while not always sent by God, is used by God to teach us endurance and give us greater hope. At least this is the message I get from Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-5.

      This particular parable, however, says nothing at all about the man’s faith. Remember that even faith as a grain of mustard seed will move mountains! His healing did not depend on his faith, but on God’s power.

      I am convinced the message of the miracle is that we do not always see as clearly as we think we do. He said he saw men – but Jesus had taken him aside out of the village. Were there men there? We don’t really know, but I doubt it. Did he see trees that he thought were men? I don’t know. If he saw men, to him they looked like trees. If he saw trees, they looked like men who looked like trees walking. Whatever he saw, he thought he saw men who looked like trees walking. He did not see clearly, though there was a glimmer of sight.

      So with us. We get a glimmer of truth – and tend to think we have comprehended TRUTH. We still have a long way to go, for we do not see as clearly as we think we see.

      That is why we must be very careful in judging others over doctrinal understandings of the Scripture. The most fundamental doctrines are clear. God loves us. He sent His Son to save us from our sins. He gives His Holy Spirit to those who in trust obey the Christ. When we follow Jesus, we become more like God.

      But the things that divide Christians are things that are not as specifically taught in the Scriptures. We do not have to be identical in our convictions to be able to love one another, love God, and serve Him together. We do have to love one another and love God more than we love self to be able to serve with those with whom we disagree.

      Of course, when someone denies that Jesus has come in the flesh or that He is God’s Son by whom we are saved, we cannot fellowship such a person. This is the antichrist.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment.



      • I think there are many ways to look at it, and just like most of scripture, many ways to apply it to our lives. Think about some of the most common topics preached today, and how each preacher is able to pull out various forms of application.

        What Maria was stating was in agreement with the first part of your article:

        Chrysostom, “the golden mouth” preacher, was a presbyter and bishop at Antioch in the late 4th century. In his later days, he was a much admired archbishop in Constaniople. He has left voluminous writings. He said that this miracle occurred in stages because of the imperfect faith of the man. He did not seek healing from Jesus; others brought him to Jesus. The first glimmer of sight caused him to believe, and Jesus went on to heal him completely.

        I don’t believe this is an “either, or” type of passage. I think all of these interpretations can be used to help us with our walk with Christ. I believe this because it’s vague. If God wanted one specific answer, then Jesus would have explained to His disciples what happened, like He did many times before.

        Great article Jerry, thank you for your service in the Kingdom.

        God bless,


      • Charlie,
        Thank you for your insights and kind comments. I stand by what I wrote in the article, and in my comment to Maria.

        Too many times, we have a glimmer of truth and think we now see Truth in its entirety. This has two effects:
        (1) It cuts us off from growing in our understanding of Truth.
        (2) It leads us to reject those who reject our limited understanding.

        Each of these is disastrous. One makes us spiritually impoverished; the other leads to division and fragmentation among sincere believers in Christ.

        Unfortunately, we see both of these effects manifest among followers of Jesus.


    • Perhaps the seeing of trees, sine we are trees planted … indicates having his Spiritual sight before the natural sight.


      • We can “perhaps” and come up with almost anything. I based my remarks in the post on the actual text and its context. When we begin to allegorize without a strong basis for the allegory, I fear we may get into very subjective interpretation. To jump from saying that seeing trees as men walking indicates spiritual sight is a big leap, though I suppose you might base that on Psalm 1 – but that Psalm does not say the man who meditates on God’s Law is a tree, but that such a man is like a tree planted by rivers of water, not a tree walking around. There is nothing in the text to suggest that the blind man had spiritual sight, though that could have come after he reflected on Jesus’ miracle.


  2. Bro Starling,

    Thanks for a thorough answer. I am working on this event for our Young Adult Bible Class and knew the question would come up as to why 2 steps. I had not really looked at it in a while, I had forgotten McGarvey’s comments.

    Parrish Church of Christ, Alabama


    • Scott,

      This passage is one that demonstrates the importance of context. In this case, the pre-text and the post-text both contribute to understanding. What comes before sets the stage – and what comes afterward illustrates the point Jesus was making for His disciples. Many (if not all) of the miracles seem to me to be “parables in action.” That is, the event of the miracle not only shows Jesus’ power and mercy; it will teach an important lesson as well. May God bless you in your Young Adult class!



    • Jerry,
      I think you gave a wonderful reasoning for this peculiar miracle account. I think it also has an apologetic purpose.

      If Jesus was only human he would have had no knowledge in the first century of how eyesight actually works. Eyes take in images but send these images in impulses to the brain that it must interpret. The blind man had lost his sight at some point in his life both because his eyes and brain were damaged.

      The description he gives of his partial healing is a very clinical description of visual agnosia, a condition in which the eyes work fine but the brain can’t sort out the jumbled images it is receiving. It is kind of like a scrambled video transmission.

      It tells the modern reader what no pre-20th century reader could have known since this understanding was unknown to science until the late 19th century. The eyes AND the brain needed to be healed. Jesus could have healed both instantly but did not.

      By inclusion of the phrase, ‘men like trees walking around’ he tells us moderns that he is Divine; he knew what none of his audience could have known in 30AD, or even in 1800AD, how eyesight works. Of course, he designed it!

      See Creation magazine, Sept 1999

      (edited format for easier reading)

      Kevin, thank you for this insight. I have never put those 2 things together before. – Jerry.


      • Kevin, I was looking for someone with a response like yours. Thank you. Your view is very much like my own: that the two stages reveal a physiological knowledge of how vision works. Jesus didn’t cure by hocus-pocus. He cured by knowing everything about the body.

        However, I don’t think the man being healed saw blurry images. I think he saw multiple images of the one other man there, Jesus. That’s called “polyopia.” (See “Cerebral polyopia” on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerebral_polyopia)

        And instead of seeing these images of Jesus as being blurry or “as big as” trees, he simply saw these images upside down — another physiological fact of how vision works.

        The miracle is like a summarizing statement on a test, for which the student reading this Biblical passage must demonstrate to his professors that he has a thorough grasp of the material hinted at.


  3. thanks for your commitment to truth. I hope I will be able to relay this message effectively to our small group at work tomorrow. Thanks again,


  4. This is fantastic


  5. Its interesting when he healed the blind man in stages in that it not only gives a point to study about the likeness of how we are baby Christians and do not see it all at once for the major picture but I also believe something supernatural happened here. I’ve read accounts of people seeing angels and their magnificent heights…could the blind man actually seen angels walking around ” men like walking trees” ? Think about it…why would Jesus have the blind man actually say…hey ..thats weird but theres these trees walking around…hhhmmm

    Interesting observation- jerry


    • Angi,
      Interesting thoughts though I really do think Jesus did this miracle in stages to show that he performed two separate miracles. First he healed the man’s eyes, then he healed his brain. If the eyes are fine but the brain is damaged it is a condition called visual agnosia and you will have pixelated vision kind of like a scrambled cable TV picture. People might well look like trees walking around. Having the blind man actually say this gives us the clue as to what really happened. The brain needs to be healed to interpret the information coming from the healed eyes along the optic nerve in order to ‘see’ normally. Jesus could have healed the man in one step but I think it may well be that he did this in two steps to show us, in this present age when we now understand how vision works, that he is Divine. He demonstrated knowledge of human vision beyond any knowledge he could have had in 30 AD if he was a mere man. Nothing will convince the true sceptic, however, if you are inclined to believe Jesus is God then this account of a miracle should bolster your faith. I think Jesus did this one in a special way just for us in this modern age to “give a reason for the hope that lies within us”.


  6. Jerry,
    Thank you so much for freely sharing what you have freely received. Your commentary has greatly blessed and humbled me. Always stay encouraged through Christ.


  7. thank you for this perspective, I looked at what a couple of commentaries had to say on this passage but was unable to get a satisfactory understanding until I read this article.


  8. how do you know he was not born blind?
    can people who are born blind see in their dreams?


    • Although we cannot be absolutely sure, the implication of the blind man saying, “I see men, like trees walking” is that he had some understanding of what people and trees should look like. He was able to recognize parts of what he saw as people but it was a jumbled image – kind of like a fully sighted person looking through a kaleidoscope. The most reasonable explanation of this response is that he had eyesight at one point in his life and hence a memory of what people looked like, but lost his eyesight through either disease or accident. Not only were his physical eyes affected but the visual cortex as well. Had he been born blind, how would he know what people looked like? I really value the apologetic aspect of this account. Quite simply, if Jesus were only human he could not have known how eyesight works. That he did this healing in two stages, unlike any other miracle of his recorded in the Gospels, is significant. There were two healings. This is a testimony for modern man, who understands eyesight. Jesus has to be divine to have known of this in the first century. If the miracles were faked, there would not have been this detail included in the account since no one then knew of the eyeball to brain connection, that both needed to be healthy to see correctly.


  9. Thank you so much for this! I was quite confused when I read this passage but I think I can agree with you on this explanation 🙂 Thank you brother and God bless!


  10. I totally agree with those 3 lessons.


  11. I was excited to receive a “new” revelation on this passage a week or so ago. And then, to find this additional confirmation. I became a believer 40 years ago. Truly, I “see” things differently today than when Jesus “first opened my eyes”.
    Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born of water and the spirit.” Water would perhaps represent the “spit”; Jesus’ touch would represent the “spirit”. Both are necessary for us to have a “full” revelation of spiritual things during our journeying and pressing on to the end goal.
    A more exact parallel to this particular miracle could be the “two sticks in Jesus’ hand that will one day become ONE, eluded to in His prayer in John 17. Ezekiel 37:19. When I first read that passage, probably years ago, I actually understood/saw the sticks to be literal, i.e. “trees”. Today, walking in my Hebraic understanding regarding the lost tribes and how one day Jesus will gather us all together, I understand/see how the “sticks/trees” are actually men.
    Another parallel consideration could be the 2 “trees” in the garden. God said Adam could “eat” from only the one. We understand today that spiritual eating is actually associated with reading/believing, learning, etc. Do these things come from literal food? I think not…
    Thanks, Jerry, for sharing your spiritual revelation, and allowing a forum for others to do the same…


    • Diane, when we jumble up texts indiscriminately we can certainly come up with some interesting points of view, though just because we see that something “could be” the equivalent to another passage does not necessarily mean that the things are the same. In my post, I tried to stay within the context of the difficult passage, to let Mark guide us into why Jesus did things the way he did. By doing this, we are letting the Scripture speak to us, instead of imposing our views on the Scriptures. Nevertheless, I thank you for your comment and your obvious excitement concerning the passage involved – though the jump from the blind man seeing men that looked like trees walking to Ezekiel’s two sticks of Judah and Ephraim (the leading tribes of the two rival kingdoms, Judah and Israel) is at least a little far-fetched.


  12. But, why did Jesus then tell the man not to go into the village? V. 26 stands out as an odd addition to the storyline. I have been pondering why that verse is added at the end of the account.
    Perhaps for the same reason he told the leper whom he healed (Mark 1) not to tell any one. Again, I do not see a reason for that instruction in the text, so the answer remains with God. – Jerry Starling


    • Remember in Matt 11:20-24, Jesus rebuked several cities, Bethsaida included, “Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, They would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

      Jerry in in his comments says, “Earlier in this chapter, the Pharisees asked for a sign, even though many signs had already been given. Jesus refused to give another sign to those who refused to see the signs He gave (Mark 8:11-12).”

      There was nothing to be gained for this man to go into the village and testify of his healing, it would have just been wasted on “deaf” ears as Jesus would say in other places, therefore, better to return to his home which evidently is someplace else.


      • A good observation, Scott. You connected this event in Mark with a passage in Matthew that identified Bethsaida as a city that did not accept Jesus as Savior, but only as a worker of wonders. Why should the man go back to that city? Thanks for something I have overlooked. Jerry


  13. I have always had questions about this verse! its quite odd indeed. Brethren are quiet about it. Don’t you think that this man’s blindness had something to do with the village? Lets ponder over this one. Thank you for raising this one.
    I’m not sure what the village might have had to do with his blindness. The text is silent about that as far as I can tell. So, I will leave that question with the secret things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29). – Jerry Starling


    • Jesus took the man outside the village before he healed him. After he was healed he told him not to go back into the village. I think the village had something to do with his blindness. The people themselves were blind to who Jesus was. They wanted a miracle, not what Jesus had to tell them.
      Jesus spat on the eyes of the blind man. Spit has two meanings, it was used in the olden days for healing, but could it be that here it was also symbolic , maybe it was an expression of disgust? Disgust with the blindness, not alone with the blindness of the man but the blindness of the villagers. Where were they? Did they follow Jesus or had they lost interest and had not bothered to hear and see more. Disgust with the way they saw the blind man as blind and in need of healing? His handicap defined him.He needed to be like them again?
      They themselves were blind in their hearts!
      Very strange for if I remember well, several disciples came from this village!
      Ineke, When we look for symbols in every line or even word of Scripture, we will find them – whether they are there or not. I prefer to remain with the plain reading of the text and its context. Your evaluation of many of the people – probably even including those of Bethsaida – is likely correct. But to read disgust into Jesus’ use of spittle in healing? We can say “Maybe it was” almost anything – but, how does that come from the text? After all, this miracle is not unique in his use of spit. See also the healing of a deaf man (Mark 7:32-35) and a different blind man (John 9:1-7). While Jesus used symbolic action at times, the symbols are not hidden until a very imaginative person can ferret them out. — Jerry Starling


  14. […] DIFFICULT PASSAGES: Mark 8:22-26 – Why Did He Do It Like That? […]


  15. A friend of mine who has studied Jewish beliefs told me that in Jewish folklore there was a commonly held belief that the spittle of a first-born son had special healing power. Jesus was a first born son and so some may have expected that to be how he healed. This is just speculation but perhaps one effect on the witnesses to this miracle might have been to show that the power is not in spittle. The blind man was arguably in a worse condition after the first “attempt” at healing his sight by applying spittle. It was the touch of Jesus’ hand to his eyes that made him whole.


  16. Sir
    Thank you do much for the article, now i understood the meaning of the story. Sometimes we are not able to see the spiritual truth till someone explain to us, I hope Jesus will always help us to see the spiritual truth, so that we can prepare for the coming of our Lord Savour Jesus Christ.


  17. Contextually it makes sense that it was just part of Jesus walk and training for the Disciples,not to take away from his compassion, I wonder is he saying to us how do we see the blind[Spiritual] truly lost without Christ? May God open our eyes to bring the message of healing.

    I take from this passage that none of us knows all. We are always confused about something. That’s why, when I heard a brother pray, “We thank you that we have it all figured out.,” I added to myself and to God, “LORD, have mercy!” You are on the right track. Jerry Starling.


  18. Dear Jerry Sterling
    I am just seeing this text to day, and wonder if you are still available to see my comment.
    Thank you so much for teaching us the discipline to seek God’s message and revelations out of the inspired word without dwindling away from the context of the text , like you said, ” I prefer to remain with the plain reading of the text and its context.” and most emphatically you also wrote, “By doing this, we are letting the Scripture speak to us, instead of imposing our views on the Scriptures.”
    I am humbled, sir. Blessings


  19. Wow, eight years since I first saw this post and almost 12 since it’s writing. How interesting that there are so many perspectives on its meaning. Maybe like the many jumbled images the blind man saw, and each of us has focused on one “image” to try and make sense of this passage. I think we have done this based on what the Holy Spirit has directed us to, up to this point in our faith journey. When we are in Heaven, in our “final healing”, we will “see” this passage clearly in all of its glory!


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