Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Mark 5:21-43



The stories of the woman with a hemorrhage and Jairus’ daughter (5:21-43) are two of four miracles in this section. The first was Jesus’ calming of the storm (4:35-41), demonstrating Jesus’ power over nature. The second was Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), demonstrating Jesus’ power over demons. The third and fourth miracles (5:21-43) now demonstrate Jesus’ power over sickness and death—his power to bring salvation even to hopeless situations.

• The story of the woman with a hemorrhage demonstrates great faith on the part of a woman who had tried every remedy without avail—a woman who could have been expected to give up—to lose all hope.

• The story of Jairus and his daughter demonstrates great faith on the part of a religious leader—part of the establishment. Most religious leaders oppose Jesus, but Jairus comes as a believer.

These two stories of belief in the midst of adversity lead into the story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, his hometown (6:1-6a). We would expect the hometown folk to receive Jesus gladly as the hometown boy made good—but they will not believe, and Jesus will be amazed at their unbelief.


This is a story within a story—the story of the woman with the hemorrhage set within the story of Jairus and his daughter. The stories belong together. Mark creates dramatic tension by telling the two stories together. Each story finds enhanced interest and power through its juxtaposition with the other.

• The stories show Jesus dealing with people of vastly different standing. Jairus is well-to-do and influential, while the woman with the hemorrhage is financially impoverished and socially outcast. Jesus does not favor one over the other. He neither rebukes Jairus for his money and social standing nor ignores the woman because of her poverty and marginality.

• The interruption of Jesus’ journey to Jairus’ house heightens the drama. Just imagine Jairus’ impatience as Jesus talks with the woman. He must wonder what is happening to the little girl while they delay. The answer, as they will learn, is that the little girl was dying. Jesus is now faced with a requirement, not for healing, but for undoing death.

• In both stories, competent authorities have proven that no remedy is possible. The woman spent all her money on physicians over the years, and their best remedies failed. The crowd at Jairus’ house has started mourning ceremonies, because the little girl is dead. They laugh when Jesus says the little girl is only sleeping.

• Both stories involve issues of ritual uncleanness. The woman is unclean because of her hemorrhage (Leviticus 15:25-30). The child is unclean because she is dead (Numbers 19:11-20). Anyone who touches either of them is rendered unclean by that touch.

• In the miracle stories in this Gospel, only Jairus and blind Bartimaeus (10:46) are named. Neither the woman with the hemorrhage nor the little girl is named. While both Matthew and Luke use Mark’s Gospel as one of their primary sources, Luke uses Jairus’ name (Luke 8:41), but Matthew does not (Matthew 9:41).

• The woman has been afflicted for twelve years and the little girl is twelve years old.

• Both the little girl and the woman are called “daughter” (vv. 22, 34).

• In both stories, the Greek word sozo is important. Jairus begs that Jesus might come and sothe his daughter. Jesus says to the woman, Daughter, your faith has sesoken you. Sozo can refer to healing or delivery from danger, but the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) often uses it to refer to the salvation of the Israelites (Psalm 44:1-8; Isaiah 43:11; 45:21; 63:9; Hosea 14:3) and the New Testament uses it to refer to Christian salvation (1 Corinthians 1:21; 9:22; Ephesians 2:5). The stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage are not just healing stories, but salvation stories as well.

• Both Jairus and the woman demonstrate considerable faith in Jesus. Jairus is convinced that Jesus’ touch will make his daughter well (v. 23), and the woman is convinced that just touching Jesus’ garment will heal her (v. 28). Jesus commends the woman for her faith, saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well”—or “has saved you” (sesoken—a form of sozo—v. 34). When Jairus gets the word that his daughter is dead, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, only believe” (v. 36), and then restores the little girl’s life. Faith is a key component in both of these stories.


21When Jesus had crossed back over in the boat to the other side, a great multitude was gathered to him; and he was by the sea. 22Behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, 23and begged him much, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Please come and lay your hands on her, that she may be made healthy (Greek: sothe—healed or saved), and live.” 24aHe went with him,

“When Jesus had crossed back over in the boat to the other side” (v. 21a). The Sea of Galilee has a Gentile eastern shore and a Jewish western shore. Jesus moves by boat between the two, ministering to Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus is now returning to the Jewish side.

“Behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came; and seeing him, he fell at his feet” (v. 22). Jairus is a prominent member of the community. Lay people routinely lead synagogue services, but the synagogue leader is responsible for the synagogue facilities, the security of the scrolls, the selection and oversight of worship leaders, and the general administration of the synagogue. Jairus is clearly an “insider”—a person who counts—a person who belongs.

It is worth noting that that the last time Jesus visited a synagogue, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to kill him (3:6) and the next time he visits a synagogue they will take offense at him (6:3—in Luke’s version, they will try to kill him—Luke 4:29).

Jairus “fell at (Jesus’) feet and begged him much” (vv. 22b-23a). In one sense, this is remarkable. As a man of authority, Jairus must be concerned for his image. Jesus, a visiting teacher, has no official position—and the Pharisees and Herodians are plotting to kill him (3:6). To seek Jesus’ help, Jairus must set aside all his pride to come as a supplicant to this itinerant and controversial young man.

In another sense, though, there is nothing at all remarkable about Jairus’ appeal. A parent of a dying child will do nearly anything to save the child. Jairus is driven by desperation to seek Jesus’ help. This is the first of three stories in this Gospel of parents bringing their child to Jesus for help. The other two are the Syrophoenician woman (7:25-30) and the father of the son with a spirit (9:14-29). In all three cases, the parents experience obstacles to the child’s healing, but persist—and Jesus heals all three children.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Please come and lay your hands on her, that she may be made healthy, and live” (v. 23b). Jairus’ invitation to come contrasts with the Geresenes’ request that Jesus go away (v. 17). Where the Geresenes responded to Jesus’ miracles with fear, Jairus responds with faith. He does not ask Jesus to help if he can, but instead expresses confidence that Jesus can restore his daughter’s health if he will only lay his hands on her.

“He went with him” (v. 24a). While a great crowd has gathered around Jesus (v. 21), Jesus takes time to go with this anguished father. The crowd is never more important than the individual in need.

This is an important model for ministry for today’s church. We will seldom save people by the boatload. We need to be ever-vigilant to address the needs of the individual person.


24b and a great multitude followed him, and they pressed upon him on all sides. 25A certain woman, who had an issue of blood for twelve years, 26and had suffered many things by many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse, 27having heard the things concerning Jesus, came up behind him in the crowd, and touched his clothes. 28For she said, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.

30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd, and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31His disciples said to him, “You see the multitude pressing against you, and you say, ‘Who touched me?'”

32He looked around to see her who had done this thing.

33But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.

34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well (Greek: sesoken—healed or saved you). Go in peace, and be cured (Greek: hugies—healed or healthy) of your disease.”

“A certain woman, who had an issue of blood for twelve years” (v. 25). Thus begins a story set within another story—the story of the woman with the hemorrhage (vv. 25-34) set inside the story of Jairus and his daughter (vv. 21-24; 35-41). Jairus must be beside himself as Jesus delays on his journey to Jairus’ daughter, who is at the point of death (v. 23) to help this woman whose condition is serious but not life-threatening.

“and had suffered many things by many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse” (v. 26). This woman has suffered at the hands of many physicians, who took her money but failed to cure her. Her circumstance is very different from that of Jairus. Her bleeding, most likely a vaginal discharge, renders her ritually unclean, isolating her from most human contact. Not only is she unclean, but her touch renders unclean anyone whom she touches. She defiles even the bed upon which she lies and the chair on which she sits, and these then transmit her uncleanness to anyone who touches them (Leviticus 15:25-30). Given the ease with which a man can divorce his wife (see Matthew 5:31), it seems likely that her husband has long since divorced her. Her condition would make it impossible for her to find a job as a household servant and would, ironically, make her ineligible to attend Jairus’ synagogue (Cousar, 410). Her situation is very much like that of a leper (see 1:40-45), in that she is cut off from social contact. Such isolation must be nearly unbearable. This woman is clearly an “outsider”—a person who does not count—does not belong.

The real purpose behind this verse, however, is to set up a contrast between the physicians, who did not help the woman, and Jesus, who does.

“having heard the things concerning Jesus, came up behind him in the crowd, and touched his clothes” (v. 27). Jairus approached Jesus directly, face to face, but this woman approaches Jesus from behind, cloaked in the anonymity of the crowd. She believes that just touching Jesus’ garment will make her well (v. 28). Having avoided touching other people for so many years, it must require a great effort to reach out and touch even Jesus’ cloak. Because she is unclean, her touch will render Jesus unclean—and possibly undermine his healing powers. This woman cannot imagine that Jesus would welcome her touch—but is driven by a desperate need that has dominated her life for a dozen years (v. 25).

“If I just touch his clothes, I will be made well” (v. 28). But there is more here than desperation. There is faith as well. The woman has confidence that Jesus can and will heal her.

The woman’s faith is well-placed. Immediately upon touching Jesus’ cloak, “the flow of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction” (v. 29). Jesus senses that power has gone from him and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” (v. 30). The disciples believe this to be an unreasonable question, given the press of the crowd, but the woman falls down before Jesus and tells him the whole truth (v. 33).

Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease” (v. 34). Note that, when the woman touched Jesus’ cloak, she was healed of her disease. However, only after she presents herself to Jesus does he say, “Daughter, your faith has sozo you”—has saved you (Williamson, 110).

Note the relationship of faith and healing. “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (v. 34). In the next chapter, Jesus will visit his hometown, where he will be unable to do any deed of power because of their unbelief (6:1-6). The power by which Jesus heals is God’s power. The faith of the individual, however, is an important component in receiving the blessing of healing.

The word, “daughter,” might seem paternalistic to our ears, but was a common form of address in Jesus’ day. His use of the word reflects a kind of warmth and acceptance that this woman has most likely not heard in a long time. A daughter is a beloved member of a family—an insider rather than an outsider. In this context, daughter is a healing word.


35While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler’s house saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?”

36But Jesus, when he heard the message spoken, immediately said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.”37He allowed no one to follow him, except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.

38He came to the synagogue ruler’s house, and he saw an uproar, weeping, and great wailing. 39When he had entered in, he said to them, “Why do you make an uproar and weep? The child is not dead, but is asleep.”40They ridiculed him. But he, having put them all out, took the father of the child, her mother, and those who were with him, and went in where the child was lying.

41Taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha cumi!” which means, being interpreted, “Girl, I tell you, get up!”

42Immediately the girl rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old. They were amazed with great amazement.

43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and commanded that something should be given to her to eat.

“Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?” (v. 35). This story is reminiscent of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11. If Jesus had come earlier, he could have prevented Lazarus’ death. Once Lazarus died, Martha and Mary lost hope in Jesus’ power to help. Mark does not tell us Jairus’ reaction when he sees the mourners, but we can imagine his desolation when he sees that rites for the dead have begun.

“He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James” (v. 37). These three men constitute Jesus’ inner circle, and will be invited to accompany Jesus at the Transfiguration (9:29) and at Gethsemane (14:33).

Jesus “saw an uproar, weeping, and great wailing” (v. 38b). Mourning includes professional mourners, who wail, beat their breasts, tear their hair, and rend their garments. Flutes play a dirge. These actions alert the community to the death and signify grief.

When we consider the custom of professional mourners, we should not discount the presence of real grief. The tragic death of a child would break the hearts of friends and neighbors in any time or circumstance.

There is no hope of resurrection manifested here—nothing to stand as a counterpoint to the grief that accompanies death.

The crowd greets Jairus, saying “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any more?” (v. 35). Jesus tells Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, only believe” (v. 36). He allows no one to follow as they go to see the little girl (v. 37)—mourners are inappropriate for a girl who will soon be walking and eating.

To the crowd, Jesus says, “Why do you make an uproar and weep? The child is not dead, but is asleep” (v. 39). His comment is difficult to understand, because this is clearly a story of resurrection rather than of healing. However, sleep is a temporary condition and death is permanent. This girl will soon be “up and running,” so Jesus considers her condition temporary.

“They ridiculed him” (v. 40a). The crowd has no doubt regarding the little girl’s death. Their comment prepares us for the difficulty of the miracle that Jesus will work.

Jesus limits the audience for the healing/resurrection to the parents of the little girl and “those who were with him,” (Peter, James and John) (v. 40). “Taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha cumi!” which means, being interpreted, ‘Girl, I tell you, get up!'” (v. 41).

“Talitha cumi” is Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew. “Among the Jews, Aramaic was used by the common people, while Hebrew remained the language of religion and government and of the upper class” (Encyclopedia Britannica 2003, “Aramaic”). Mark translates “Talitha cumi” into Greek for Gentile Christians of the early church who might not know Aramaic.

“Taking the child by the hand” (v. 41a). Touching this girl violates Torah law, which renders a person who touches a dead body unclean until evening (Leviticus 11:39) or for seven days (Numbers 19:11). Such a person is required to remain outside the camp (Numbers 5:2-3).

In this chapter, Jesus violates many taboos. The story of the Gerasene demoniac (vv. 1-20), he went to a graveyard where he dealt with a legion of unclean spirits (v. 9) and a great herd of pigs (v. 11). He affirmed the unclean woman for touching his garment in faith (v. 34). Now he touches a corpse.

However, instead of being defiled by the little girl’s body, Jesus’ touch removes the potential for defilement. Surely no one can anyone accuse Jesus of touching a woman with a discharge if she is now clean—or touching a corpse if the girl is now walking and eating (vv. 42-43).

“Immediately the girl rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old” (v. 42a). Immediately is one of Mark’s favorite words, occurring 27 times in this Gospel. The little girl is 12 years old, which corresponds to the 12 years that the woman suffered with a hemorrhage (v. 25).

“He strictly ordered them that no one should know this” (v. 43). This seems odd, because there was no way that the crowd would not learn of the girl’s healing/ resurrection, and there was no way that the crowd would keep the news quiet.

This is reminiscent of the earlier situation where Jesus told a healed leper to say nothing to anyone except a priest, but the leper proclaimed it openly “so that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was outside in desert places: and they came to him from everywhere” (1:44-45).

Why would Jesus tell people not to spread the word of these healings? It is a matter of timing. While he will disclose more fully to his disciples the meaning of his messianic mission (Mark 8:30-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), he will reveal to the crowds only what they are prepared to understand (Mark 8:34 – 9:1).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan