Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Having Eyes He’s Still Unable To See Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

As promised in a previous post, I am going to be responding to Muslim taqiyyist Paul Williams’ blatant distortion of Mark’s Gospel in an attempt to once again undermine the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. This time Williams focuses on Christ gradually healing a blind man as reported in Mark 8:22-26 in order to show that Jesus cannot be God in the flesh.

Here is what he says:

“There is an old, olde argument, now largely out of use in Christian circles, that argues Jesus was God because he did amazing miracles.  Surprisingly, the argument has now been resurrected from ignominy by certain Christians who frequent this blog… This is certainly the image of Jesus we see portrayed in Hollywood films and in popular Christian fantasy. But there are passages in the New Testament which portray Jesus in a very different light. As a Christian I recall feeling a twinge of embarrassment when I came across these stories…”

And after quoting the passage from Mark Williams decides to provide his own spin on the text,

“So to recap the story: to effect a miracle Jesus spits in the man’s face and puts his hands on the poor man’s eyes in a manner which would have been familiar to healers in the ancient world. Jesus was not sure if the spit had healed him so he asked the man if he could see anything. On discovering that the cure was only partially successful, Jesus tries again and this time he is successful – no doubt after a fervent prayer to God for the healing miracle to be complete.

“This story, if true (we have no way of verifying its authenticity), portrays Jesus in an utterly different light to Christian claims that his miracles prove he is God. If anything this story demonstrates just the opposite: Jesus is like the charismatic holy men who gradually, falteringly, effect a cure.”

Suffice it to say, Williams’ blatant misreading of the text raises many problems and further highlights the fact that this taqiyyist has no business criticizing God’s Word, the Holy Bible.

In the first place, how does Williams know for certain that it wasn’t Jesus’ intention to heal the blind man gradually? Does he have access to the mind of Christ to tell us with absolute certainty that Jesus intended to heal the blind instantaneously, upon the first touch? Did Williams ever bother to think for a moment that perhaps it was’ Christ’s will for the man to gradually receive his sight in order to use this as an example, an illustration, of something else?

Contrast Williams’ misreading and manhandling of the text with that of the noted Christian reformer and scholar John Calvin:

This miracle, which is omitted by the other two Evangelists, appears to have been related by Mark chiefly on account of this circumstance, that Christ restored sight to the blind man, not in an instant, as he was generally accustomed to do, but in a gradual manner. He did so most probably for the purpose of proving, in the case of this man, that he had full liberty as to his method of proceeding, and was not restricted to a fixed rule, so as not to resort to a variety of methods in exercising his power. On this account, he does not all at once enlighten the eyes of the blind man, and fit them for performing their office, but communicates to them at first a dark and confused perception, and afterwards, by laying on his hands a second time, enables them to see perfectly. And so the grace of Christ, which had formerly been poured out suddenly on others, flowed by drops, as it were, on this man. (Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible; underline emphasis ours)

And compare William’s assault and criticism of the method that the Lord Jesus used to heal the blind man with the attitude of this next commentary:

“This miracle, found only in Mark, raises several interesting questions. First, why did Jesus lead the man out of the town before healing him? Why didn’t He heal by simply touching the man? Why use such unconventional means as saliva? Why didn’t the man receive perfect sight immediately? (This is the ONLY cure in the Gospels which took place in stages.) Finally, why did Jesus forbid the man to tell about the miracle in the town? Our Lord is sovereign and is not obligated to account to us for His actions. There was a valid reason for everything He did, even though we might not perceive it. Every case of healing is different, as is every case of conversion. Some gain remarkable spiritual sight as soon as they are converted. Others see dimly at first, then later enter into full assurance of salvation.” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, ed. Art Farstad [Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc., Nashville, TN 1990], p. 1340; capital and underline emphasis ours)

This brings me to my second point. Williams forgot to mention–either because he hasn’t read the context or chose to butcher it in order assault the majestic and splendor of Christ–that this particular miracle is placed immediately after the Lord Jesus’ severe rebuke of the disciples for their failure to perceive and understand his message: 

“And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, ‘Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, ‘Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? HAVING EYES (ophthalmous), DO YOU NOT SEE (blepete)? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?’ They said to Him, ‘Twelve.’ Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?’ And they said, ‘Seven.’ So He said to them, ‘How is it you do not understand?’ Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw (blepeis) anything. And he looked up and said, ‘I see (blepo) men like trees, walking.’ Then He put His hands on HIS EYES (tous ophthalmous autou) again and made him look up. And he was restored and SAW (eneblepen) everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, ‘Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.’ Mark 8:13-26

Note the connection between Christ reprimanding the disciples for having eyes and still not being able to see with the slow gradual process of the blind man receiving his sight. It is obvious that the healing of the blind man was meant to illustrate the slow gradual process of the disciples’ perception of Jesus’ teachings.

In fact, this is a theme which is repeated all throughout Mark’s Gospel since the Lord is depicted as having to constantly rebuke the disciples for their lack of understanding:

“And He said to them, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’ But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, ‘To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that “Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.”’ And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?’” Mark 4:9-13

“When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, ‘Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not PERCEIVE that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?’” Mark 7:17-19

“Then one of the crowd answered and said, ‘Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.’ He answered him and said, ‘O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.’ Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: ‘Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!’ Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ So He said to them, ‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.’ Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, ‘The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.’ But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” Mark 9:17-32

This next one is quite interesting:

“In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.’ Then His disciples answered Him, ‘How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, ‘Seven.’ So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha.” Mark 8:1-9

The disciples’ response is rather perplexing when we keep in mind that according to Mark 6:33-44 all of them had witnessed Jesus feeding approximately 5,000 men not counting women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. They even managed to gather twelve baskets full of bread and fish that had been left over from this miraculously feeding!  

And yet despite all of these signs the disciples were still unable to perceive the message and Person of Jesus. 

It is therefore obvious in light of all of these examples that Jesus deliberately healed the blind man’s sight gradually, instead of instantaneously, as a way of illustrating the gradual spiritual perception of the disciples who at first didn’t understand the things Jesus said and did.

This explanation is standard fare among the commentaries on Mark, just as the following quotations illustrate:  

“The importance of this story for Mark is that it anticipates the opening of the eyes of the disciples. This is the second in a pair of incidents that only Mark records (the first one is 7:24-37) and that fulfill the OT messianic expectations of Isa 35:5-6. Mark uses both incidents to lead up to the full revelation of Jesus' messianic dignity to the disciples (8:27-30). Their eyes too were opened, not by human perception, but by the miracle of God's gracious revelation – which was as much a miracle as the opening of the blind man's eyes." (Kenneth L. Barker & John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary Volume 2: New Testament [Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids MI, 1994], p. 166; underline emphasis ours)

“The disciples had been blinded to spiritual truths by their constant preoccupation with their own immediate bodily needs. It was only fitting therefore that the next miracle should be the opening of the eyes of the physically blind man of Bethsaida, as a picture of what God would yet do for them. It is also fitting that 8:29, immediately below, should contain the account of the opening of the eyes of Peter to the messiahship of Jesus, and that chapter 9 should contain the story of the transfiguration. Of course, we are specifically told that Jesus healed many blind in the course of His ministry (Lk. 7:21), but this particular miracle is recorded only in Mark, naturally enough, if it occurred in Bethsaida, the home town of Peter (Jn. 1:44), and if Mark, even indirectly, depends on Petrine tradition. No name is recorded: with the exception of Bartimaeus (10:46), such people are usually nameless in the gospels, particularly Mark.” (R. Alan Cole, The Gospel According to Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), ed. Leon Morris [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI: Reprinted 1999], p. 199; underline emphasis ours)

“In Mark's account of the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida not only the climax of the story but the entire narrative is constructed on the motif of 'seeing.' In English translations several of the words used for sight are the same, but in the original Greek there are eight different words used for nine instances of seeing in 8:23-25! The redundancy of references to sight and seeing provides a counterbalance to the redundancy of accusations of blindness and misunderstanding in the previous story. Yet another link between this miracle and the previous story occurs in the speech of Jesus to the blind man. At a miracle Jesus normally speaks an authoritative word or makes a pronouncement. Here, however, he asks a question, '"Do you see anything?''’ (v. 23). That unusual question looks like an echo of Jesus' pleading questions of the disciples in the previous story, the first of which was '"Do you still not see?"' (8:17). The blind man's response that he can see people who 'look like trees walking around' (v. 24) is a clue that the disciples themselves will be enabled by Jesus to begin the process of moving from blindness to sight

“The healing of the blind man of Bethsaida is the only miracle in the Gospels that proceeds in stages rather than being instantly effected. Matthew and Luke omit the miracle, likely because it suggested that Jesus was unsuccessful on the first attempt. The necessity of repeated touches cannot imply for Mark insufficiency on Jesus' part, however, since elsewhere Jesus performs more difficult miracles (from a human perspective) without fail, such as healing the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20) or raising a dead girl (5:35-43). The two-stage cure in the present miracle thus suggests a process of revelation – as much for the disciples, we suspect, as for the blind man at Bethsaida. (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary) [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002], pp. 243-244; bold emphasis ours)

"The touch of saliva and Jesus' hands (cf. 7:33) conveyed His intentions and stimulated the blind man's faith. At first the healing was only partial: He looked up (cf. 8:25) and saw people (lit., "the men," perhaps the Twelve) moving in a blur like trees walking around. Jesus' unusual question, Do you see anything? indicated that THIS WAS INTENTIONAL ON HIS PART (not a weakness in the man's faith). It was a fitting follow-up TO HIS REBUKING THE DISCIPLES (vv. 17-21). The man was no longer totally blind, but his sight was still poor. How like him were the disciples!

"Then Jesus put His hands on the man's eyes again. He looked intently (from diablepo; v. 24 has a form of anablepo); his sight was restored, and he began to see (from emblepo) everything clearly. Now his sight was perfect. This was the outcome the disciples could anticipate despite difficulties in the process." (John D. Grassmick, "Mark," The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (general editors) [David C Cook Distribution, Ontario, Canada 1983], p. 138; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Even a liberal Bible translation, namely the St. Joseph Edition of the New American Bible, which is a version that Williams’ guru in dawah Shabir Ally highly recommends, states the following:

* [8:22–26] Jesus’ actions and the gradual cure of the blind man probably have the same purpose as in the case of the deaf man (Mk 7:31–37). Some commentators regard the cure as an intended symbol of the gradual enlightenment of the disciples concerning Jesus’ messiahship.

And here is what The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, another liberal favorite of Shabir’s, says concerning this miracle:

“… If any story in Mark HAS A SYMBOLIC FUNCTION, IT IS THE HEALING OF THE BLIND MAN AT BETHSAIDA (8:22-26) (and the healing of Bartimaeus [10:46-52]). On the way, Jesus will impress upon the disciples the necessity of his death and resurrection. Nevertheless, the disciples are slow to understand Jesus. In the case of the blind man of Bethsaida, the coming to sight is gradual and imperfect; he does not follow Jesus. Bartimaeus is healed immediately and follows Jesus on the way. Describing these stories as ‘symbolic’ does not deny their basis in history, nor does it mean that they were intended purely as allegorical statements…” (Ibid., eds. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. [Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1990], p. 614; bold and capital emphasis ours)

That these commentators are correct, and that Jesus’ gradual healing of the blind man’s sight was deliberate, is further confirmed by the following passage:

“Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.’ And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ The blind man said to Him, ‘Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And IMMEDIATELY he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.” Mark 10:46-52

Notice that in the case of Bartimaeus he was healed of his blindness instantaneously, which confirms that there was nothing lacking in the power of Christ to immediately heal the other blind man if he wanted to do so. Yet it is obvious from all of these examples that Jesus didn’t want the blind man to be healed immediately, but slowly in order to illustrate the spiritual blindness of his own followers who, like the blind man, only received their spiritual sight gradually over time.     

Now that we got Williams' deliberate manhandling of Mark 8:22-26 out of the way it is time to move on to the next part of the discussion where I will show that Jesus’ miracles do in fact prove that he is Yahweh God Incarnate.