Sunday, August 14, 2022

A Bound Woman Bound to Be Loosed from Bondage

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments of Luke 13:10-17, the gospel reading for 14th Sunday after Pentecost. Your comments are welcomed. If you're interested, here is an essay that I wrote on this text for Political Theology. 

I am a little uncomfortable with subtitles for this text reading: “Jesus heals a crippled woman,” because those are not Luke’s terms. ‘Heal’ is the term used by the chief of the synagogue, not the narrator or Jesus. And the term “crippled,” besides being out of vogue, is fairly neutral regarding agency, while Luke is rather explicit that this crippling is ‘spirit’-driven (v.11) and an act of Satan (v.16). Furthermore, while she is nameless, she is named as a “daughter of Abraham,” so she is not entirely anonymous. And consider the words that “this daughter of Abraham was bound to be loosed,” in Jesus’ question, indicating that this was God’s intention. When I see this subtitle, I almost hear, “Sigh. Another healing story.” There is so much more at work here. But, perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

My attention on this text has been drawn to the words δέω and λύω (bind and loose), as you will see below. To begin, note that δέω and λύω are the same verbs found in Matthew 16:19, where Jesus says to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” An interesting entry about binding and loosing is found in this article, which says that these twin powers that were customarily given to Pharisees.

10 ην δὲ διδάσκων ἐν μιᾷ τῶν συναγωγῶν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν.
Yet while teaching, he was in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
ην: IAI, 3s of εἰμί, to be
διδάσκων: PAPart, nms, διδάσκω 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses  
1. The setting for what follows is the synagogue on the Sabbath, both of which factor into the controversy. The main verb here is ‘was’ (not ‘teaching, which is a participle), which may signify that Jesus being in the synagogue on the Sabbath is the point, more than that he was teaching.

 11καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ πνεῦμα ἔχουσα ἀσθενείας ἔτη δεκαοκτώ, καὶ ἦν συγκύπτουσα καὶ μὴ δυναμένη ἀνακύψαι εἰς τὸ παντελές.
And behold a woman having a spirit of infirmity 18 years, even was bent together and not able to bend up into all-fullness.
ἔχουσα : PAPart, nfs, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv εἶδον 1) to see 2) a particle serving to call attention, "behold!"
ην: IAI, 3s of εἰμί, to be
συγκύπτουσα : PAPart, nfs, συγκύπτω, 1) to bend completely forwards, to be bowed together 
δυναμένη : PMPart, nfs, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, 
ἀνακύψαι : AAInf, ἀνακύπτω, 1) to raise or lift one's self up 
1. I am using ‘bend together’ and ‘bend up’ to show that συγκύπτω and ἀνακύπτω have the same root.
2. The word παντελές would literally be all (παν) fullness (τελές).
3. It would be good to know what the narrator really intends to say with the phrase “spirit of infirmity” (πνεῦμα … ἀσθενείας). Was it simply a way of saying that she was disabled? Does it signify a “1st century cosmology of superstition”? Is it a way of identifying something that is not as it should be, but without being able to identify a material cause?
4. A next set of questions would be: What connotations does the phrase “spirit of infirmity” raise in the mind of the reader/hearer of this story? Would it call the integrity of the story into question, because we might attribute this woman’s posture to a lack of calcium, rather than a spirit? Would it cause us to categorize this story as one of ‘those’ stories that lacks relevant connection to our way of living? Should we translate out the “spirit” part of the text, if the narrator’s intent by that term is not how we typically end up hearing that term?
I genuinely do not know the answers to these questions.
5. The word “Behold!” (ἰδοὺ, sadly missing from the NIV) has the same root at the verb “seeing” (ἰδὼν) in the next verse. The narrator calls the reader to behold the woman whom Jesus is beholding.

12 ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὴν  Ἰησοῦς προσεφώνησεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Γύναι, ἀπολέλυσαι 
τῆς ἀσθενείας σου,
Yet seeing her, Jesus called and said to her, “Woman, you have been loosed from your infirmity.”
ἰδὼν: AAPart nsm, εἴδω, to perceive
προσεφώνησεν: AAI 3s, προσφωνέω, 1) to call to, to address by
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀπολέλυσαι: PerfPI, 2s, ἀπολύω 1. to let loose from, loosen, unbind; free, relieve from; release, let go free.
1. The root of the verb ἀπολέλυσαι (“loosed”) is ἀπολύω, a form of λύω, which is important to this pericope.   

 13 καὶ ἐπέθηκεν αὐτῇ τὰς χεῖρας: καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀνωρθώθη, καὶ ἐδόξαζεν 
τὸν θεόν.
And he laid hands on her; and instantly she was straightened, and was glorifying God. 
ἐπέθηκεν : AAI 3s, ἐπιτίθημι, to put or lay upon 
ἀνωρθώθη: API, 3s, ἀνορθόω, 1) to set up, make erect  1a) of a deformed person  2) to rear again, build anew
ἐδόξαζεν: IAI, 3s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion 2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate  
1. I like how the only other use of the verb “straightened” in Luke/Acts is a reference to God re-building the fallen tabernacle of David in Acts 15:16.
2. The English word “was” is a little deceptive. In the phrase “was straightened” it indicates the passive voice. In the phrase “was glorifying” it indicates the imperfect tense. I’m seeing how the quirks of my first language might pose problems to people of other tongues.
3. The word “instantly” here (παραχρῆμα) is not the term that Mark uses frequently (εὐθὺς).
4. There is a curious sequence of “You have been loosed,” then Jesus lays hands on her, then she is straightened immediately. It makes me wonder whether Jesus was pronouncing her reality (which had already been given) and by touching her enabling her to live it (so that she immediately experienced it.) (I’m thinking back to last week’s verse, where Jesus says that he has a fire to kindle, but wishes that it were already kindled. If there had been faith in the world or among God’s people, perhaps she would have experienced being loosed from Satan’s grasp eighteen years ago.

14 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ  ἀρχισυνάγωγος, ἀγανακτῶν ὅτι τῷ σαββάτῳ ἐθεράπευσεν  Ἰησοῦς, ἔλεγεν τῷ ὄχλῳ ὅτι Ἓξ ἡμέραι εἰσὶν ἐν αἷς δεῖ 
ἐργάζεσθαι: ἐν αὐταῖς οὖν ἐρχόμενοι θεραπεύεσθε καὶ μὴ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ 
Yet having responded, the ruler of the synagogue, being indignant that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, was saying to the crowd, “There are six days in which it is binding to work; therefore in them while coming be healed and not on the day of the Sabbath.” 
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart, nms, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
ἀγανακτῶν : PAPart, nms, ἀγανακτέω, 1) to be indignant, moved with indignation, be very displeased
ἐθεράπευσεν: AAI 3s, θεραπεύω, 1) to serve, do service  2) to heal, cure, restore to health
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰσὶν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten
ἐργάζεσθαι: PMInf, ἐργάζομαι, 1) to work, labour, do work
ἐρχόμενοι: PMPart npm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
θεραπεύεσθε: PPImpv 2p, θεραπεύω, 1) to serve, do service  2) to heal, cure, restore to health
1. I am noticing particularly that the verb ἔλεγεν is in the imperfect and not the aorist tense. That would indicate ‘was saying’ instead of ‘said.’ This might have been a much longer protest and discourse than this one sentence summary.
2. The verb δεῖ has a lot of significance in some texts, such as Jesus saying “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer....” It is often simply translated as “must.” The root suggests a binding, a necessity, similar to the (biblically informed) southern expressions of my youth, “I am bound and determined” or “I am bound for the promised land.” The verbs δέω and λύω (bind and loose) are critical to this pericope.
3. Don’t you just want to smack this guy?
4. Was it the fact that Jesus “laid hands” on the woman that constitutes the violation of the Sabbath? Surely it is not the ruler of the synagogue’s place to tell God whether to heal or not to heal on the Sabbath. Even more curiously, while he is indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he BLAMES THE WOMAN for coming to be healed (passive) on the Sabbath. And, if a healing occurs, wouldn’t there be some kind of reverence, some kind of wonder, or at least some kind of joy that would prevent a normal person from getting indignant? Everything about this protest is maddening.

 15 ἀπεκρίθη δὲ αὐτῷ  κύριος καὶ εἶπεν, Ὑποκριταί, ἕκαστος ὑμῶν τῷ 
σαββάτῳ οὐ λύει τὸν βοῦν αὐτοῦ  τὸν ὄνον ἀπὸ τῆς φάτνης καὶ 
ἀπαγαγὼν ποτίζει;
Yet answering the Lord said to him, “Hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath loose your ox or ass from the manger and having led gives drink? 
ἀπεκρίθη: API, 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer  
λύει: PAI, 3s, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 
ἀπαγαγὼν: AAPart, nms, ἀπάγω, 1) to lead away
ποτίζει: PAI 3s, ποτίζω, 1) to give to drink, to furnish drink 
1. "Hypocrites" is plural, indicating that Jesus - while answering "him" not "them" - is speaking to more than just the ruler of the synagogue. The verb "loose" is singular because that is what properly goes with "each," but it is "each of you" where the "you" is plural. And Luke's conclusion in v.17 will say that Jesus "opponents" (plural) were put to shame. So, this is directed to more than just the ruler of the synagogue. It could speak to a literal group there who supported the approach of the ruler, or it may be a glimpse into how to address a systemic problem even as it is expressed by an actual person who is present. 
2. The word ‘manger’ here is indeed the same manger as in Luke’s birth story.
3. My translation is rather wooden, particularly from trying to show the aorist participle and present tense verb at the end of Jesus’ question.
4. It is interesting that Jesus is speaking of ‘loosing’ the animals from the feeding trough, using the same term that he used to release the woman from her infirmity. Jesus did not say, “Woman, you have been healed.” He said, “Woman, you have been loosed.”

 16 ταύτην δὲ θυγατέρα Ἀβραὰμ οὖσαν, ἣν ἔδησεν  Σατανᾶς ἰδοὺ δέκα καὶ 
ὀκτὼ ἔτη, οὐκ ἔδει λυθῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ δεσμοῦ τούτου τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου; 
Yet this being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound behold eighteen years, was she not bound to be loosed from this bondage on the day of the Sabbath? 
οὖσαν: PAPart, afs, εἰμί, 1) to be
ἔδησεν: AAI, 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains 
ἔδει: IAI, 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains    
λυθῆναι : APInf λύω 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened
1. I like how the story is circling back to another “behold,” just as it did in v.11, drawing the attention to a woman bound for eighteen years.
2. The word δέω appears in some form three times in this verse, if we count the nominative form of δεσμοῦ, “bond.” She was bound by Satan; she is bound to be loosed; from bondage.
3. As I indicated above and note often, it is indeed possible to translate δέω simply as “must” or “ought” and relegate it to something like a helping verb for other verbs in the sentence. It is possible. But, in doing so, I think we are letting our disbelieving tendencies drive our translations. I personally do not think the Scriptures make any sense if one does not have a vivid sense of a living, active God in the world. To treat the word δέω as a solid verb in its own right, indicative of divine agency, would be more sympathetic to what I believe the writers of Scripture intend.  I’m only going on and on about this because it is easy to miss the word play in this verse if one reads the KJV, NIV, ESV, or NRSV, which relegate δέω to either “ought” or “should.”
4. “Bound to be loosed”: Jesus uses δέω and λύω cooperatively and oppositionally. She is bound by Satan. She is bound (by God?) to be loosed from having been bound by Satan.
If we interpreted the agency of ἔδει to be “bound by God,” then the woman who was bound by Satan to her infirmity is bound by God to be loosed. That, to me, is the presence of the reign of God, made known in Christ.
5. To reflect theologically for a moment, the early church is doing an end run around the whole philosophical opposition between ‘freedom’ and ‘necessity,’ and replacing it with a paradox. She is bound to be loosed. It is necessary for her to be freed. This might be the paradoxical meaning of other phrases like ‘take my yoke upon you ... my yoke is easy,” and Paul’s emphasis on being “bond slaves” to Christ, who are thereby free. There is almost a given-ness to being bound, with the only question of whether one is bound for freedom or bound for bondage.

17καὶ ταῦτα λέγοντος αὐτοῦ κατῃσχύνοντο πάντες οἱ ἀντικείμενοι αὐτῷ, 
καὶ πᾶς  ὄχλος ἔχαιρεν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐνδόξοις τοῖς γινομένοις ὑπ' αὐτοῦ.
And, in his saying these things, all of his opponents were disgraced, and all of the crowd rejoiced over all of the glorious things that were coming into being by him.
λέγοντος: PAPart gsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κατῃσχύνοντο: IPI, 3pl, καταισχύνω, 1) to dishonour, disgrace  2) to put to shame, make ashamed  
ἔχαιρεν: IAI, 3s, χαίρω, 1) to rejoice, be glad  2) to rejoice exceedingly  3) to be well, thrive  4) in salutations, hail!  5) at the beginning of letters: to give one greeting, salute
γινομένοις: PMPart, mnpl, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. If the early church had known the term “Booyah!” they could have shortened this verse to one word.

2. Three forms of the word πᾶς (all) appear in this one sentence.

So, if you're interested, here is my slightly refined translation: 
Then Jesus was in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, teaching. And behold a woman, having a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, was even bent together and not able to bend fully upright. Upon seeing her, Jesus called and said to her, “Woman, you have been loosed from your infirmity.” And he laid hands on her; and instantly she was straightened, and was glorifying God. In response, the ruler of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, was saying to the crowd, “There are six days in which it is binding to work; therefore come to be healed in those days and not on the day of the Sabbath.” But answering, the Lord said to him, “Hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath loose your ox or ass from the manger and lead it to drink? Yet this being a Daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound behold eighteen years, was she not bound to be loosed from this bondage on the day of the Sabbath? And, in his saying these things, all of his opponents were disgraced, and all of the crowd rejoiced over all of the glorious things that were coming into being by him.


  1. Mark,
    I find it interesting that you would link this piece of Luke to Matthew. Would you consider linking it to Luke 5:16-19 where Jesus reads from the Isaiah scroll and announces "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."

    The "booyah" is in discovering the freedom, the sight, and the jubilee that the kingdom brings
    because it is present in the person and presence of Christ. As believers we need to recognize this and live it straight up through praise worship and prayer.

  2. Jason,

    The reason I made reference to Matthew is because of the explicit relation there between 'binding and loosing,' which is prominent in this week's Luke pericope. I am usually reticent to link one gospel with another, since I can't assume that Luke or Matthew cross referenced each other.

    The Luke 4 text that you reference is one of my favorite texts ever, particularly as it sets the agenda for Jesus' ministry in Luke's gospel. It is also a favored text among our sister-parish in El Salvador and I hear someone reference it almost every time I visit them. I think it is particularly related to this pericope because of the perfect tense with which Jesus says, "Woman, you have been loosed..." Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of the Jubilee in c.4 in Nazareth; now he is inviting this woman to walk in the fullness of that jubilee.

    I think Luke 4 is a wonderful cross-reference for what is happening in this text and thank you for making that connection.


  3. Thanks for this post, very thoughtful and helpful for my sermon prep. For the worship service I am pairing this with duet 5:12-15, the commandment to observe the Sabbath which is linked to the time of slavery. A fun connection of the law being linked to freedom.

  4. I was not able to see if you answered the question about debts and tresspasses in the LOrd's Prayer. Can you cut and paste your response for me. I would love to see your imput. Thank you. I use a computor at the library once a week .


  5. Great stuff!

    Really helpful in coming to grips with the text.

    God bless you.

  6. I may have posted my comment to the wrong day. I'm in the Washington, DC area, and today is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech. Your illumination of the "binding and loosing" ideas makes this verse very appropriate to the day. Thank you!

  7. Thank you for this. I have taken this passage as a basis for my prayer time to make things easier for myself for a few weeks before the emphasis on Christmas takes over. I find it particularly interesting at the very start of the story where you suggest that Jesus was one among many in the synagogue, not practicing any particular teaching ministry at the time the bent over woman appeared on the scene.

  8. Thanks; JC took over the Pharisee's authority to bind and loose: thanks, God.

  9. What a great insight in "bound to be loosed" thank you.

  10. I thought "booyah" came from Aramaic. No?

    1. It's the third declension of the post-partative aorist participial premature post-nasal drip of the Aromatic, I think.

  11. A psychiatric nurse told me once that the inability to stand up straight is a classic symptom shown by women who have experienced sexual violence and incest particularly. Makes this an even more interesting read. Witches too were accused of (and admitted to) having sex with the devil when it seems they had had illegal or adulterous sex with a man or men. How does Satan bind? Maybe through the abusive, binding, back-bending power/authority of people (in this case, of males)?

    The 'daughter of Abraham' = she is a daughter of the promise. It also remembers that Abraham and Sarah were 'bent over' with age and infertility.

    The laying on of hands (by a stranger, a religious male!) has anxiety associated with it for many women today; here, they are the hands of blessing, the transmission of the power and favor of the living G-d (so she praises G-d).

    1. I think this is a partial response to Mark's earlier questions: "A next set of questions would be: What connotations does the phrase “spirit of infirmity” raise in the mind of the reader/hearer of this story?"

      Post traumatic responses are often a 'spirit of weakness.' If we take the bondage of the adversary seriously, in a post-modern context, we do see - and have experienced - being bent over with a sense of little self-worth, a sense of not being able to look others in the eye - that is not physically caused. Being bound by the 'adversary' may not be a scientifically invalid description if we take the dynamics of blaming, shaming and scapegoating as adversarial to the coming-into-being of Jesus' work.

  12. Thank you for this Mark... do you think she was bound to be loosed specifically on the Sabbath - is her unbinding an example of Sabbath living?

    1. Hi Caroline,
      I tend to read almost EVERYTHING in the gospels as examples of Sabbath living. Thanks for making the point here.

  13. By the way - 'smacking' the Leader... Why would anyone want to smack a Leader who insisted that anyone needing healing come through legal channels, and not cross the boundary of the Sabbath? Why would we not recognize that hedges and protective fences are how to keep things orderly from those who would cause us to lose our dignity? Or am I being too obtuse here? From El Paso?

  14. Replies
    1. Dear Bill,
      C'mere, step a little closer. Trust me, it's just to .. um, to hear you better. Yeah, within arm's reach would be good.


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