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Mark 8:22-26 (ESV):

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

This is a fascinating healing story. For one, the first healing didn't "take" so Jesus had to lay hands on the man's eyes a second time. For another, the man makes a strange comment about seeing people that look like trees walking. Finally, Jesus sends the man home immediately for some reason.

But this question is focused mainly on what the man saw after the first healing. Why does he say he saw trees? And is he talking about Ents or Dryads? Or did the people look wooden?

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I always thought it meant his vision hadn't been healed 100% yet. Maybe it was still blurry and/or dark. –  JustinY Nov 11 '11 at 21:27
    
@transistor1 I agree. I didn't say it was an accident. –  JustinY Nov 12 '11 at 22:34
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5 Answers 5

Literally, his sight had not yet fully recovered. The question is why not?

When there are two things, one represents a heavenly aspect and the other an earthly aspect of the same thing.

The man was healed spiritually and physically.

When his eyes/understanding was 'washed in the word' (of spit/water) he was healed spiritually first. He saw men as trees, which is the spiritual understanding of trees in sensus plenior.

De 20:19 When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege:

He saw men as trees near Bethsaida. Since he had been healed spiritually, Jesus commanded him not to return to the wicked city [1] the same as Lot was commanded not to look back at Sodom. Consider the phrase "Dogs return to the vomit".

The second healing was a healing of the flesh.

**Note: sometimes we say the tree is the cross without violating the rule that it must always be the same thing. It is just a different way of saying that the cross represents the 'life of Christ which was taken there' since the metaphor is not a simple word substitution, but a full bodied contextual meaning.

[1]

Mt 11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

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One possibility is that the first healing corrected the man's vision problem and the second corrected a problem that modern neurologists call visual agnosia. For instance, Geri Richards Hall, a Behavioral Neurology nursing expert, guides nurses giving care to geriatric patients:

Patients with visual agnosia do not recognize day-to-day objects. They must be supervised and assisted when using objects, such as feeding utensils inappropriately. It is not uncommon to see people with visual agnosia put ketchup on their cereal instead of milk or request help to find something while appearing to gaze directly at the object.

The two visual syndromes may confuse direct care providers. While the patient is able to “see,” vision is often not functionally useful. Having the patient describe what he/she is seeing helps train direct caregivers. For example, a farmer explained that he saw tractors and trees piled atop of one another. While he recognized the information he was receiving was impaired, he was unable to develop compensatory strategies to enhance function.

Remarkably, Jesus seems to have followed the above clinical practice after a fashion; when he had healed the man's initial vision problem, he asked the man if he could see anything. When the man described what he "saw" he seemed to have an experience similar to the farmer's story above: what he saw didn't make any sense. So Jesus healed the neurological problem too.


As an aside, I'm intrigued with the story of Mike May, whose eyesight was restored as an adult. He was blinded at the age of three. One of his first experiences was riding in an airplane:

I was so excited to find out what I was seeing that I decided to ask my seatmates. I turned to the lady next to me and said, “excuse me, I just got my sight back last week after being totally blind for 43 years. Could you help me figure out what I am seeing?” There was a big pregnant pause as she decided if I was a lunatic or a miracle.

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Another line of thought for interpretation is in regards to Matthew 7:15 where Jesus likens people to trees which bear good or bad fruit. It seems that the blind man who began to partially see was given some insight into the condition of people. People are like trees. Good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. Obviously, the blind man could not perceive reality correctly when blind and his recovery of true spiritual sight is conditioned on first understanding that trees capable of both good or evil. Once the metaphor of trees is implanted in his minds eye, only then does Jesus allow him to move past trees and see people who are like trees.

This interpretation seems to fit well when you place the story of the blind man in the context of Jesus speaking previously in Mark 8 about the yeast of the Pharisees:

And Jesus...said to them, ... “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”—Mark 8:17-18 (ESV)

I believe the story of blind man receiving sight is use by the Author Mark to illustrate the point that people who claim to see may indeed be truly blind. Trees will bear fruit. Will yours be good or bad? What type of tree will you be? And finally, be careful what trees you follow after?

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Hi Kent! Welcome to our Biblical Hermeneutics Q&A site. The connection between seeing trees, and good and bad fruit is interesting, but I don't think Mark includes that particular teaching. The closest I can find is Mark 11 where Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit. That's a slightly different idea, but I think it could work. (FYI: we encourage editing here so that we can help each other polish posts. Feel free to re-edit.) –  Jon Ericson Aug 6 '12 at 18:51
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The answer is probably very simple. A plain reading of the text leads me to conclude that he didn't see clearly enough to distinguish between people and trees after the first partial healing. That is confirmed by the statement that he saw everything "clearly" after Jesus touched his eyes the second time.

I'd be careful to read any symbolism into it beyond that.

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As trees grow, they adapt certain forms and growth tendencies that are later difficult to change as time progresses. In the Hebrew Bible trees are therefore analogous to people: some grow, take root and bear fruit, while others do not (Judg 9:9-15; Ps 1:3; Ps 52:8; Is 56:3; Is 61:3; Jer 11:16; Jer 17:18; Dan 4:20-22). The same idea continues into the Christian New Testament (Mt 3:10; Mt 7:17-19; etc.).

Thus the blind man saw what Jesus saw in these people of Bethsaida: they were "uprooted" as described in Jude 1:12. In other words, the township of Bethsaida had already rejected the miracles of Jesus according to Mt 11:21 and Lk 9:10. As a result of the healing of the blind man, who had seen what Jesus saw, the command of Jesus was that the blind not return into Bethsaida (Mt 13:57-58 and Mk 6:5-6).

Thus Jesus did not perform an imperfect miracle that had to be tweaked a second time in order to restore the man's sight. The point is that Jesus ". . .came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:39). The people of Bethsaida did not "see" that they were uprooted, and Jesus directed the healed man (who now understood the situation) not to enter the city so that the city inhabitants would remain "blind" as to what Jesus had accomplished.

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