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Matthew 8:1-4 New International Version

Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

It seems there is an apparent inconsistency or contradiction in Matthew 8:1-4, where it is reported that a leper was present in a crowd following Jesus. Leprosy, at that time, was a highly contagious and stigmatized disease, raising the question of how someone with leprosy could mingle in a crowd without causing concern or isolation. How can this apparent contradiction be explained?

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    It appears there is no contradiction. The large crowds were behind Jesus (8:1) while the leprosy came and knelt before Jesus (8:2). The leprosy was not in the crowds. Jan 16 at 19:35
  • Your argument doesn't make sense because Jesus himself instructed the leper to keep the events a secret, while in Leviticus 13:45, the leper was required to cry out publicly: "And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean."
    – Betho's
    Jan 16 at 20:07
  • not all "lepers" were required to isolate themselves (see my answer) Jan 17 at 5:05
  • @Betho's "... Jesus himself instructed the leper to keep the events a secret, while in Leviticus 13:45, the leper was required to cry out publicly ..." Jesus gives his instruction after the leprosy was cured : "Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”" Jan 17 at 15:23

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There are two matters here that help explain the OP's perceived contradiction in Matt 8:1-4, concerning the presence of a shunned leper amidst a large crowd:

  1. Matt 8:1 says that large crowed followed Jesus, ie, behind Him, and the leper approached Jesus from "before" Him, ie, in front of Him, V2
  2. It is true that, according to law and custom, the leper should have been nowhere near such a crowd and thus defied all social norms. However, the fact that the leper approached Jesus means that even if he passed through the crowd, the crowd would have "parted" to avoid contact with such a person.

In either case, the crowd would have instantly drawn back to avoid the slightest contamination from the presence of the leper.

The significant part of the story is V3 where Jesus, despite all the local fears and social norms, "reached out His hand and touched the man", presumably to the shocked disbelief of the onlookers. Thus, Jesus was not contaminated by the disease - quite the opposite - Jesus' purity made the man pure and he was healed.

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  • The crowds moved in a silent dance, like an ocean retreating in the presence of the leper who cried out. It was as if the very tide of humanity was receding, leaving behind an isolated leper with Jesus, while the rest distanced themselves, forming a dark and respectful composition. The scene conveyed a eerie aesthetic. Now I understand why Jesus asked the leper not to tell anyone; he and Jesus were alone, and the crowd observed them from afar.
    – Betho's
    Jan 16 at 22:47
  • Thus, Jesus was not contaminated by the disease - quite the opposite - Jesus' purity made the man pure and he was healed. - beautifully stated, +1 Jan 17 at 3:12
  • see lev 13 for instances where a leper is not put under quarantine Jan 17 at 5:07
  • btw, the Jewish Annotated NT says there was no prohibition against touching a person with leprosy, as there was with touching a dead body for example. Only in severe cases the person was supposed to be isolated from others. Jan 17 at 6:54
  • @DanFefferman - that is true but the practice at the time was complete shunning.
    – Dottard
    Jan 17 at 7:22
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Additionally, I must add, that it would not be a contradiction to assume (not in the text) that a leper who is not overcome by the disease (say a singular spot of lepresy) could hide it and lie about their condition to move through a crowd or area until they reached Jesus to admit the truth. Why would one feel that someone could not sneak about with lepresy at times depending on the extent of the condition and location on the body at that time. It was clearly not always immediately obvious or the admonition to shout out to others to stay away would not be needed as you could tell at a distance otherwise.

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  • Yes, you are also correct. The use of the word "clean" is subjective in the context; it may have been used as a code between Jesus and the leper, surrounded by the crowd.
    – Betho's
    Jan 16 at 22:52
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    – agarza
    Jan 17 at 5:06
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    the fact that Jesus told the man to show himself to the priests implies that he had been declared unclean. But there were forms of "leprosy" that did not require isolation. Jan 17 at 5:09
  • "clean" is not subjective in this case. See Lev. 13. The man was ritually unclean because he had a skin disease. After healing, Jesus sent him to the priest so he could be declared clean. Jan 17 at 6:57
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There are several possibilities here:

  1. Matthew 8:1 is the end of the previous story (the Sermon on the Mount); Matthew 8:2 is the beginning of the next. The chapter breaks did not exist in the original manuscript, and Matthew likes to jump quickly from one story to the next - sometimes without telling us that the time & place have changed (e.g. Matt. 3:1, 10:1)

  2. The crowd did not know the man was leprous and he snuck in (as soon as people realized a leper was present they would have given him a wide berth)

  3. There's a crowd following Jesus but Jesus is not in the midst of the crowd. On this view, Jesus & the leper interact at a slight distance from the crowd. Compare to Matthew 12:15-16 where there's a crowd, Jesus heals them, and then after healing in front of a crowd??? tells people not to make it known. Maybe He did ask a whole crowd to stay quiet - but it's much easier to imagine that the He took people apart from the crowd and healed them privately. His method appears to be ministering to people one by one.

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This man was probably not under quarantine. The Law of Moses dealt with several "leprous" skin conditions that rendered a person ritually unclean. Most were not what we call leprosy (Hansen's disease) even though the NT does use the word. Not all were contagious. Nor did they all require quarantine:

Leviticus 13

When someone is afflicted with a scaly infection, that person shall be brought to the priest. 10 Should the priest, upon examination, find that there is a white mark on the skin which has turned the hair white and that there is raw flesh in it, 11 it is a chronic scaly infection on the skin. The priest shall declare the person unclean without quarantine (shutting him up), since the individual is certainly unclean.

Since Jesus instructs the man to go and show himself to the priest, it is likely that this was all above-board. The man was unclean due to his disease, but not required to isolate himself. Thus, it is not difficult to understand how a man with a disease that rendered him unclean ("leprosy") would be found among the crowd that followed Jesus.

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