In the Gospel of Mark, there is an intriguing account of how Jesus healed a blind
man in a two-step process:
‘And He came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man
to Him and begged Him to touch him. And He took the blind man by the hand and led
him out of the town. And when He had spat on his eyes and had put His hands on him,
He asked Him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, I see men as trees,
walking. And after that He put His hands again on his eyes and made him look up.
And he was restored and saw all clearly’ (Mark 8:22–25).
Bible-believing Christians have no problem with this miracle, as the Bible presents
the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who, in the beginning, created the universe and
all things in it, including human life, by the power of His Word (Genesis
Colossians 1:16). The Lord who could do one could certainly do the
other. The only question that arises is why the cure was in two stages rather than
At Creation, God did not need millions of years—the greater the power, the
less the need for time. He could have created everything in an instant, but chose
to take six days for a reason (Exodus
20:8–11). Likewise, Jesus could have healed this man in one step,
as He did all the other blind people He healed, but on this occasion He chose to
take longer. The two steps were only a few moments apart, not months, so there was
no time for ‘natural healing’ to occur, and the details given show that
it was not a case of psychosomatic or ‘hysterical’ blindness being relieved
(see below). The fact that Jesus took two stages does not mean that He was limited
to some non-supernatural means to do His creative miracle. Perhaps it was so that
we would see a proof of inspiration through the medical details given by the human
writer, Mark, but of which he could not possibly have known the significance—details
which were similar to those experienced by the people mentioned below, who had regained
their sight after many years of blindness.
Virgil was a 50-year-old man, blind from childhood, whose sight was restored in
1991 after a cataract was removed and a new lens implanted in one eye. His story
is told by Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of
Medicine, New York, in his book An Anthropologist on Mars.1 When the bandages were removed, Virgil could see,
but he had no idea what he was seeing. Light, movement and colour were all mixed
up and meaningless; all were just a blur. His brain could make no sense of the images
that his optic nerve was transmitting. Although he now had eyesight, he was still
mentally blind—a condition of perceptual incapacity known medically
Virgil could read the third line on a standard Snellan eye chart, equivalent to
a visual acuity of about 20/100 (with a best of 20/80).2 However, he could not distinguish words, even though
he could read Braille fluently, as well as raised or inscribed letters; he could
easily read the inscribed letters on tombstones by touch. A cat was particularly
puzzling, as he could see parts clearly—a paw, the nose, the tail—but
the cat as a whole was only a blur, as were human faces. At the zoo, Virgil found
it difficult to identify animals, and did so either by their motion or by a single
feature, e.g. a kangaroo because it hopped, a giraffe because of its height, a zebra
because of its stripes, and lions because of their roar. A few days after his operation,
Virgil said that ‘trees didn’t look like anything on earth,’ but
a month later he finally put a tree together and realized that the trunk and leaves
formed a complete unit.
People who have formerly been used to a world they accessed only by touch, hearing,
taste, and smell tend to be baffled by ‘appearance’ which, being optical,
has no correlation in the other senses. People who have been totally blind from
birth (congenital blindness) or early childhood have lived in a world of time alone,
not time and space. Thus the step at the end of a porch is something which occurs
for a blind person a short time after he leaves the doorway, rather than
something he is aware of in space. Sacks quotes the autobiography (Touching the
Rock) of John Hull, a blind man, who says that, for the blind, people are
there only when they speak; they come and they go out of nothing.
Sighted babies learn to master all this as time goes by, an achievement, it should
be noted, which is beyond the capacity of even our largest super-computers. People
who become blind later in life have built up a ‘visual memory’ of the
way things look and how they fit together in space. However, for the newly sighted,
it is a huge learning task involving a radical change in both neurological and psychological
functioning, a change in ‘the perceptual habits and strategies of a lifetime’—in
short, in identity.
Sacks says that these sorts of difficulties ‘are almost universal among the
early blinded restored to sight,’ and he mentions a patient, S.B., who could
not recognize individual faces a year after his eye operation, despite his then
having perfectly normal elementary vision.3
From such case histories, it appears that when sight is suddenly restored, there
is the need for the development of some new pathways in the visual cortex of the
brain. Thus the story of the Bethsaida blind man who saw ‘people as trees
walking’ is not a poetic account; it is a clinical description. Like Virgil,
this blind man could see, but he had the additional complication of agnosia—he
could not make sense of what he was seeing. Jesus, having given his eyes sight,
then heals his agnosia—in one miraculous instant his brain was taught what
the rest of us have learned from childhood.
So why did Jesus do it this way for this man, as He didn’t have to, and apparently
did not do so for any of the other blind people He healed?4
We don’t know for sure, but perhaps it is because, in healing the Bethsaida
man in these two stages, He has given a built-in stamp of authority to the authenticity
of the account, one that is discernible only to modern-day readers. There is no
way that an apocryphal or fabricated tale could have had these details: surgical
correction of congenital blindness was not being done then, so the author could
not have known about the problem of agnosia in the newly sighted.
It is thus irrefutable evidence that a miracle did occur at Bethsaida. This miracle
of healing would have involved restoring or creating eye structures, as well as
creating new nerve pathways and connections in the brain. It was thus of the same
order of miracle-working power as the making of Adam from the dust of the earth
or Eve from Adam’s rib, in a similarly short time (Genesis
Why did Jesus heal this way?
This is the only two-part healing of a blind person in Scripture. Why did Jesus do it this way?
Looking at the surrounding context in the Gospel of Mark is instructive. Directly before this account, the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees in Mark 8:14–21. Note especially Jesus says, “Having eyes, do you not see?” The story ends without an indication that the disciples understood Jesus’ point, even after He had explained it.
Immediately after the healing of the blind man, there is Peter’s confession of Christ in Mark 8:27–30. So surrounding this miracle, we have the disciples going from a partial to a full understanding of the identity of Christ, just as the blind man went from partial to full sight. We know that Jesus’ miracles had a theological motivation, and so it is probable that Jesus had this in mind when He healed in this way. It’s also likely that Peter (Mark’s source, according to reliable church tradition) interpreted it this way, which showed in the way Mark arranged his Gospel.
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