06.03.04 Mk. 1:29-31; Lk. 4:39 (See also Mt. 8:14-15; Lk. 4:38-39) Capernaum
PETER’S MOTHER-IN-LAW HEALED
Mt. 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went into Simon and Andrew’s house with James and John. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. 31 So He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up.
Lk. 39 So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and began to serve them.
After the synagogue service, it was the custom for people to enjoy a meal with friends, so Jesus went to the home of Peter. It is said that Peter’s mother-in-law was ill, but it is unknown if she was sick in bed or if she became ill after the synagogue service. Either way, by the time Jesus arrived at Peter’s house she had “a fever.”
“Simon’s mother-in-law.” Simon had no shortage of names, and is also known as “Peter,” “Simon ben Johan/bar Jonah,” “Simon Peter,” “Cephas,” and “Kepha.” As with all the disciples, little is known of their families. But concerning Peter, he was obviously marked and may have had a son (1 Pet. 5:13) and his wife eventually joined him on some missionary journeys (1 Cor. 9:5).
06.03.04.Q1 Why is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law to be considered more than a healing miracle?
The significance lies in the term “a fever.” There were three kinds of fevers in the Galilee and surrounding areas, because Galilee was different than Perea and Judah. Those two areas were too dry to have mosquito-infested marshy areas. In Luke 4:38, the physician said the fever was great, suggesting its seriousness. Ancient physicians marked the difference between a light and great fever.
- The Malta fever in which a person was weak, anemic, and wasted away.
- Typhoid fever
- Malaria, a disease
A short distance north of the Sea of Galilee is the Hula Lake, which was surrounded by a large marshy area. It was always a mosquito-infested swamp and travelers always risked getting Malta fever, malaria, or typhoid. All three of these diseases generally resulted in death. According to Alfred Edersheim, the Talmud identifies this disease as the eshatha tsemirta, meaning, “a burning fever,” which suggests that she had one of these terminal diseases.
Jewish writings reveal the extent to which pagan superstitions had infiltrated Judaism. It appears that some rabbis imitated Greek healing practices because basic elements were similar. For example, the prescribed healing method for a fever recorded in the Talmud involved tying an iron knife to a thorn bush with the hair of the sick person attached. This was repeated several consecutive days, after which the bush was cut down while a magical formula was announced. Objects of iron, such as nails and knives, were in much demand and were said to hold magical powers to ward off evil.
Luke said that Jesus rebuked the fever. The healing was more than a miracle because Jesus not only healed Peter’s mother-in-law, but demonstrated power over the superstitions and ridiculous methods of the rabbis. The narrative reflects the same manner in which He rebuked demons, which implies the source of the fever. As mentioned previously, Jesus never touched anyone with demonic spirits, but He commanded them to leave as He did with the burning fever. This story is far more dynamic than the healing, which was a phenomenon in its own right.
The Jewish people had a number of incredible legends and superstitions they believed would either heal a person or cast out demons. One of them was recorded by Josephus.
In the Valley of Baaras there is a certain root called by the same name. Its color is like to that of flame, and towards evening it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do so, but recedes from their hands, nor will it yield itself to be taken quietly until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; no, even then it is certain death to those who touch it, unless anyone take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away.
It may also be taken another way without danger, which is this: they dig a trench all around it, until the hidden part of the root be very small; they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, the root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately instead of the man who would take the plant away; nor after this need anyone be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet after all these pains in getting it, it is only valuable on account of one virtue which it possesses, that if it be brought to sick persons, it drives away those called demons.
Josephus, Wars 7.6.3 (180-185)
This interesting point of superstitious folklore is that they reveal that the Jewish people had more faith for healing in a variety of places, but not in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus was about to change their perception of Who does the healing.
“Began to serve them.” She functioned as the Greek diaconate or, as would be known after Pentecost, a deaconess of the church.
. Concerning medical procedures available in the first century Israel, a number of good resources have been published by the University of Haifa, Hebrew University, and the Israel Museum. For further study, see the articles published in Michmanim, (English and Hebrew), Haifa, Israel: University of Haifa (Vol. 13) May, 1999.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:295.
. This disease is known by several names, including the Mediterranean fever. It is caused by a bacteria from infected milk or undercooked meat.
. Also known as the plain of El Huleh, or the Sea of Merom,
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:307-08.
. Alfred Edersheim (18125-1889) was a Jewish scholar who converted to Christianity, and whose writings are considered by scholars as classic; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 336-37. He is clearly a rich source for the understanding of first century Jewish traditions. However, he has his bias in that he is anti-Pharisaic and anti-Rabbinic. Therefore, he has a tendency to be less than historically accurate on some issues.
. The Greeks likewise had their own superstitious methods of exorcisms that included wild and frenzied dancing with singing and chanting. These components were not in Jewish exorcisms. For more information, see Ustinova, “Treating Madness with Madness: The Greek Corybantes.” 26.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 336.
. Stans, “Crucifixion Evidence.” 6.
. Read the discussion on healing and exorcisms written in Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4Q521 at the end of 08.05.04.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 336.