Peter’s Mother-in-law’s Fever

27 Sep
from Google Images

from Google Images

Jesus was rejected in Nazareth and challenged in Capernaum, but his disciples trusted him, that what he claimed was true (cf. John 1:40-49; 2:11). Knowing this, it seems justified that the text should show that it was Jesus’ disciples who first asked him to do something on their behalf, not as a sign, but as a work of mercy. That is, they appealed to his compassion (Luke 4:38). This is quite different from demanding a sign like changing stones to bread or leaping from a great pinnacle (Luke 4:3, 9). They weren’t looking for signs and wonders that would appeal to their curiosity, but in their compassion for the weak, they appealed to Jesus’ compassion.

Luke tells us that Jesus simply stood over Peter’s mother-in-law and rebuked the fever. The fever left her, and she immediately rose from her sickbed and began serving Peter’s guests (Luke 4:39). Matthew says that Jesus touched her hand (Matthew 8:14-15), and Mark adds that he “raised her up” i.e. from sleep (Mark 1:30-31). Everything is seemingly recorded in matter-of-fact style. No dramatization was involved. Yet, this was not so among the Jewish scribes of Jesus’ day. Notice how the Babylonian Talmud records a similar event:

Johanan said: “For an inflammatory fever let one take an all-iron knife, go whither thorn-hedges[1] are to be found, and tie a white twisted thread thereto.[2] On the first day he must slightly notch it, and say, ‘and the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, etc.’[3] On the following day he [again] makes a small notch and says, ‘And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see, etc.’ The next day he makes [another] small notch and says, ‘And when the Lord saw that he turned aside [sar] to see.’”[4]

Rabbi Aha then interrupts Rabbi Johanan’s record by saying:

Aha, son of Raba, said to R. Ashi, “Then let him say, ‘Draw not nigh hither?’[5] Rather on the first day he should say. ‘And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, etc. … And Moses said, I will, etc.’; the next day he says, ‘And when, the Lord saw that he turned aside to see’; on the third, ‘And he said, Draw not nigh.’”

After Rabbi Aha has finished his correction of Rabbi Johanan, the text continues:

“And when he has recited his verses he pulls it down [viz. the bush] and says thus: ‘O thorn, O thorn, not because thou art higher than all other trees did the Holy One, blessed be He, cause His Shechinah to rest upon thee, but because thou art lower than all other trees did He cause His Shechinah to rest upon thee. And even as thou sawest the fire [kindled] for Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and didst flee from before them, so look upon the fire [i.e., fever.] of So-and-so[6] and flee from him.’ [Babylonian Talmud; Shabbat 67a. All three excerpts with their footnotes are in the text]

It is not difficult to see the immediacy of Jesus’ authority when contrasted with that of the authority of the Pharisees and scribes. Theirs was driven from a dramatic scene which is claimed to have produced results, perhaps exciting the faith of the sick one or the faith of those who stood by witnessing the scene. Nevertheless, the rabbis’ efforts must have had mixed results. Otherwise, why would so many have brought friends and family to Jesus immediately after the Sabbath (Luke 4:40)? Why not continue the status quo of bringing those affected by various diseases to the scribes and Pharisees, if their methods were so successful? On the other hand, Jesus’ authority was completely dependent upon God’s willingness to back up his words to produce results, and Jesus claimed that God always heard his prayers (cf. John 11:42).


[1] Or, wild rose bushes.

[2] The knife, or the thorn bush?

[3] Exodus 3:2.

[4] Exodus 3:4. Sar also means to depart, and it is applied magically to the fever. The belief in the efficacy of sacred books or verses to effect cures, etc., was widespread in ancient times both among pagans and believers in God. V. J.E. art. Bibliomancy.

[5] Exodus 3:5; this may appropriately be referred to the illness.

[6] Mentioning the mother’s name.

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Posted by on September 27, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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