Mastix: Driven by Desperation

Word of the Week

August 19, 2023

Mastix: Driven by Desperation


Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Mark 5:34 NASB


“If I can just get to Jesus, he could heal me!”  The woman had tried everything.  For twelve long years she had swallowed every remedy, consulted every physician, paid for every treatment – but nothing stopped the steady flow of blood.

But now she heard of a teacher with such power that people were being healed merely by touching his (Luke 6:19).  He was her last resort, but she believed his power could rescue her.

But an array of obstacles blocked her path.

When she approached, he was surrounded by a throng of eager people.  According to Old Testament law, a woman with her condition was ceremonially unclean, and anyone she touched would also be unclean.  You can imagine the reception she would get if she started pushing through the crowd.

Beyond that, He was already on a mission more urgent than her problem.  One of the leading men in town had just begged Jesus to heal his daughter, who was at the brink of death.  A synagogue ruler was surely more important than an unknown woman.  And his daughter couldn’t wait.  The woman, on the other hand, had been dealing with her problem for twelve years.  Surely she could wait a little longer.

It would have been understandable if she had simply turned around and gone home.  She could try again another time.

But that’s not what she did.

She maneuvered her way through the crowd unnoticed until Jesus was within an arms-length.  Then she quietly reached out and grabbed the fringe of his outer garment.

And when she did, she immediately felt something change inside her body.  The fountain of blood had instantly dried up.

Why was she so determined?  It was because she was so desperate.  The people in the crowd might dismiss her problem as just one of those “female complaints.”  But the Greek word used for “disease” in Mark 5:29 and 34 dramatically shows the severity of her condition.

“She felt in her body that she was healed from her affliction” (verse 29)

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed from your affliction.” (verse 34)

The Greek word is mastix, which occurs six times in the New Testament.  Many others came to the Lord with a mastix and found that His power was sufficient to heal them all.

Mark 3:10 – “He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions (mastix) pressed about Him in order to touch Him.”

Luke 7:21 – “At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions (mastix) and evil spirits; and He granted sight to many who were blind.”

In these verses, mastix is used as a figurative description of disease.  But the literal meaning of the word was “a whip, a scourge.”

When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, the Roman officer was planning to interrogate him by flogging (mastix) him (Acts 22:24).

When the writer of Hebrews describes the heroes of faith, he includes those who have suffered for righteousness – those who have experienced stoning, chains, imprisonment and flogging (mastix) (Hebrews 11:26).

Roman whips were made of braided cords with pieces of metal or sharp shells embedded in the weaving.  Such scourges would tear apart skin and muscle and often led to death.  The Jewish version, according to the Talmud, consisted of three or four knotted leather cords, which were to be used to deliver thirteen blows on the chest and thirteen on each shoulder (the 39 lashes Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:24).

Any who experienced a session with a mastix would be in severe pain for a long time.  Healing would come slowly and would leave scars.  That’s why the word was used as a word picture for severe, debilitating illnesses.

The woman in this story was not merely suffering from an inconvenience; she was desperate for relief from a malady that left her in unrelenting misery.  You could say that she felt like someone who had been beaten.

When I read this story in Mark and discovered the word used in Greek, I realized that I had not really appreciated the level of suffering that this woman had endured.  I had no experience like it, and it didn’t sound that bad.  Now I know that she was in misery that drove her to desperation.  She would do anything to reach Jesus, because she knew that He alone had the power to help her.

There are people all around me who carry unseen burdens that batter them like a Roman mastix.  They are desperate for help, and the best thing I can do is to see them in their pain and help them to come to the One who can heal them.


Study Hint:

Words have multiple meanings, and it is the job of the Bible student to pay attention to all the possibilities.  In particular, many words have both literal meanings and figurative uses.  The literal sense describes a physical object, while the figurative uses provide vivid word pictures of emotional or spiritual realities.  That’s the case here.  Mastix is used for a literal whip, but our passage uses it to describe the whip-like agony that the woman was suffering from her physical condition.



Q – Why do some Bibles translate Christ’s words in John 3:3 as “born again,” while others say “born from above”?

A – This phrase comes from the Greek word anōthen, which can mean “from the top” [like the curtain in the temple – Matthew 27:51] or “from above” in the sense of “from heaven” (John 3:31).  Luke uses it to mean “from the first” (Luke 1:3).  So “born from above” is a good way to express the idea that our spiritual birth comes from God.

A different Greek word, palin, is the usual word for “again.”  So why do so many Bibles say, “born again” in John 3?  I think it is because Nicodemus evidently took it that way, as evidenced in his question, “Can a man be born a second time?” (John 3:4)


Coming Up

Submission is a dirty word in contemporary circles, a politically unacceptable term.  Yet it plays a prominent role in New Testament teaching.  Next week we will look more closely at the meaning of the term in biblical Greek.

©Ezra Project 2023

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for spelling out the meaning of mastix. It is so easy to put a less urgent meaning based on the way the English is expressed. For people who truly are in desperate straits, it is helpful to know how powerful the healing hand of Jesus is. It is also helpful to understand the conditions she faced in her culture. I think of the work that President Bush did in helping to fund help for people with HIV/AIDS. These people face similar obstacles in our world’s culture – rejection for being unclean and diseased. We seem to be constantly tempted to minimize the problems others have and maximize our own.

  2. Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved this passage. It always touched my heart. Thank you for explaining more deeply how this poor woman suffered for 12 years – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.

    I appreciate your posts. They help me understand the Word more deeply!!

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