Healing the Infirm Woman (Luke 13:10-17)

This is an extracted of The Testimony of Luke, by S. Kent Brown, pages 659-665. It includes the New Rendition, Analysis, and Notes on each verse.

 New Rendition

10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a spirit of sickness for eighteen years. And she was doubled over and was unable to stand up entirely straight. 12 And seeing her, Jesus called to her and said, “Woman, you are released from your illness.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and she was immediately made straight and glorified God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, answering said to the crowd, “There are six days in which it is permitted to work, so on these you come and be healed, but not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answering him said, “Hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath loose his cow or donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 But this woman, being a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound lo these eighteen years, is it not fitting that she be released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 And after he had said these things, all those opposed to him were ashamed, and all the crowd rejoiced because of all the splendid things that happened because of him.


The Sabbath day dawns. All gather to the synagogue. Acts of worship approach. Sacred gifts rest in bags. Devotions hover. Scripture reading draws near. The stranger and his entourage enter the door. An unforgettable day begins.

The massive weight of this story, at first notice, lands on the proper use of the Sabbath day. The treatment of the Sabbath takes up dense space in Jesus’ society because “it is a sign between [God] and the children of Israel for ever” and stands as “a perpetual covenant” that binds him and his people together (Ex. 31:16–17). Therefore, under penalty of death, people are to do no work on the Sabbath, including no kindling of “fire throughout your habitations” (Ex. 35:3). But a second glance brings into focus another center of gravity that complements the first and adds heft. This one has to do with Jesus’ announced program for his ministry in the Nazareth synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord . . . hath anointed me . . . to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, . . . to set at liberty them that are bruised” (4:18). From one synagogue to another, from initial announcement to fulfillment, the two stories, one inside Nazareth and the other somewhere outside Galilee, uncover the heart of Jesus’ ministry, that of deliverance.

In another vein, Jesus’ appeal to Abraham not only points to himself as the true continuation of Israel’s destiny[1] but also as the one who “is able of these [despised, crippled] stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (3:8). In a real sense, Jesus’ restoration of this worn-down woman lifts her back to her prior status as a Jewess of strength and vigor, back into the embrace of acquaintances and friends who have come to think ill of her, back to a proper state of self-worth. In a word, Jesus has healed her wholly—physically, socially, psychologically.

In two verses (see 13:15–16), Jesus draws an important contrast between human beings and animals, illustrating the loftier importance of humans just as he does in his contrasts with sparrows and ravens (see 12:7, 24). His technique is to argue from the lesser to the greater:[2] from an ox to a daughter of Abraham, from a rope that binds an animal for a few hours to a disease that binds a person for years, from a superseding of the Sabbath for the health of a tame beast to a superseding of the Sabbath for the sake of an unnoticed, quiescent woman.


13:10 And he was teaching: The Joseph Smith Translation, remarkably consistent with Luke’s notations about time passing and Jesus traveling, adjusts these words to read: “And after this, as he was teaching” (JST 13:10).

teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath: For the last time in his Gospel, Luke takes us inside a synagogue where, in an expected pattern,

Jesus’ words and actions challenge the norms of worship, causing an outburst from some attendees. It seems clear that Jesus pushes to heal the crippled woman on the Sabbath even though he need not do so because of her long-standing condition. He is evidently determined to show his view of the Sabbath while bringing deliverance to her (see the Notes on 6:9; 14:3; the Analysis on 4:31–37).[3] Luke’s notice, of course, offers a sense of the passing of time and of Jesus changing location as he travels to Jerusalem.

13:11 spirit: It is not clear why Luke writes this term unless he is anticipating Jesus’ pointer to Satan (see 13:16). One possibility has to do with a mental or spiritual condition that may accompany the woman’s disease.[4] In a related vein, evil influences can control a person’s physical abilities (see 11:14; Alma 15:3–5), as can divine influences (see 1:20).

infirmity eighteen years: Luke characterizes the woman’s condition as a disease, as the occurrence of the Greek term for disease (asthenaia) in other contexts demonstrates (see 5:15; 8:2; 13:12; Acts 28:9).[5] The number eighteen coincides with the number in 13:4 and may have served as a catchword connector whereby Luke then introduces the story of the woman in this context.

bowed together: The verb (Greek synkuptō) appears only here in the New Testament and is otherwise unusual.[6] We might think of workers who bend over for long periods of time and experience difficulty standing upright.

could in no wise lift up herself: In medical terms, the disease seems most likely to be an inflamation of the spinal cord that typically affects victims in their youth (spondylitis ankylopoietica).[7] The phrase “in no wise” may be rendered “to any degree” or it may mean “fully,” thus carrying the sense either of the woman being unable to unbend at all or, a less severe condition, unable to stand completely straight (Greek pantelēs).[8] The Joseph Smith Translation favors the former understanding, changing “lift up herself ” to “straighten up” (JST 13:11).

13:12 when Jesus saw her, he called: In this instance, Jesus initiates the action, not the woman. His mercy for a sufferer is active, not passive. Moreover,

he picks her out from the attendees, noticing her in a way that others who have come to regard her in a demeaning light do not. They evidently

view her condition as a result of God’s disapproval, much as Elisabeth’s acquaintances view hers (see the Note on 1:25).

Woman: This term of address is common in Jesus’ day, and generally is respectful (see 22:57; John 2:4; 4:21; 8:10; 19:26; 20:13, 15).

thou art loosed: The perfect tense of the verb (Greek apoluō), which bears the general meaning of deliverance, conveys the sense of a permanent result, as it does elsewhere (see 5:20; 7:48).[9] In addition, Jesus’ deliverance of the woman fulfills his announced mission “to heal . . . [and] to set at liberty them that are bruised” (4:18).[10]

thine infirmity: The Joseph Smith Translation changes the singular to plural, “thine infirmities,” pointing to more than one difficulty and relaxing the tension between a plain physiological condition, likely osteoporosis, and Satanic mischief (JST 13:12). For both may have been at evil play in her life. Such an adjustment opens the possibility that one of her challenges arises from those who see her condition as evidence that she is despised by God, and from her own fears that this is so (see the Notes on 1:25; 13:16).

13:13 he laid his hands on her: This instance is one of a few that Luke records in his Gospel wherein Jesus touches the recipient of his healing gift (see the Notes on 4:40; 5:13; 8:54; 18:15; see also 24:50). That this practice continues among his disciples is evident from later references to their activities (see Acts 6:6; 8:17–19; 9:17; 13:3; 19:6; 28:8).[11]

immediately: The speed stands in contrast to the eighteen long years that the woman has suffered.[12]

13:14 ruler of the synagogue: This person seems to have enjoyed overall supervision of the synagogue as a place of congregating, of worshiping, and of distributing alms (see 8:41, 49). He is likely also a benefactor of the synagogue, having assisted in its construction or refurbishing (see 7:5).[13]

healed on the sabbath day: Here lies the crux of the question: whether an act of mercy, that is, a healing, is permitted on the Sabbath day. The same question arises when Jesus heals the man with the withered hand and the man afflicted with dropsy (see 6:6–11; 14:1–6). In each case, as in a law court, Jesus produces the physical evidence in the person of the healed man for his grasp of the Sabbath while his opponents flail at him with words.

said unto the people: The man does not address Jesus directly but, in an effort to turn the worshipers against him, appeals to those in the congregation.

There are six days: The synagogue ruler draws the crowd’s attention to the fourth commandment (see Ex. 20:9; Deut. 5:13).

ought to work: The expression is strong—a person “must work” only during the six days permitted by the law of Moses. The ruler’s statement gives voice to the view that certain activities, including acts of mercy, are considered work and are not permitted on the Sabbath.

13:15 The Lord: Luke’s title (Greek kyrios) is again consistent with Luke’s high Christology, equating Christ with Jehovah (see the Notes on 2:1; 5:8;

11:39; and 12:42).[14] In this episode, the title presents Jesus’ authority for overturning a restrictive view of the Sabbath.[15]

Thou hypocrite: The Greek term is plural and should read “hypocrites.”

Hence, Jesus is addressing both “the ruler of the synagogue” (13:14) and “all his adversaries” (13:17).

loose his ox or his ass: The “work” envisioned here is that of watering an animal rather than mounting a rescue operation, as in 14:5 (see the Note thereon). In later rabbinical law, the Sabbath can be superseded only by a pressing need or danger.[16]

13:16 a daughter of Abraham: Jesus counters the ruler’s appeal to the fourth commandment by connecting his actions to an earlier personality, Abraham, the father of the faithful. In addition, the woman’s condition, much as Elisabeth’s barrenness, will be seen by acquaintances as evidence for God’s disapproval of her, to say nothing of her own now-skewed view of her standing before God (see the Notes on 1:25; 13:12; 23:29). Jesus’ willingness to call her a daughter of Abraham restores her to her proper place in society as a person of honor.[17]

whom Satan hath bound: How Satan has involved himself with the woman’s condition is unclear. From Luke’s description, it appears that she suffers from a disease that attacks her spinal column. But for some reason, Jesus sees more in her disease (see Job 2:1–7; 2 Ne. 2:27). In addition, by healing her, he is pushing back the powers and influence of Satan’s kingdom (see the introduction to chapter 4; the Notes on 10:19–20; the Analysis on 11:14–28).[18]

these eighteen years: Luke does not tell us when or how Jesus learns the duration of the woman’s difficulty. It seems that Luke intends us to conclude that Jesus knows her situation because of his supernatural powers, a conclusion that we also reach in Jesus’ raising of the only son of the widow of Nain (see 7:11–15).

13:17 all his adversaries: Present in the synagogue are those already predisposed to look on Jesus’ acts in a dull, negative light. Whether Luke thinks of them as part of the large crowd of people who are following Jesus is difficult to say (see 12:54; 13:1).

all the people: The expression means “the whole crowd.” Significantly, the Joseph Smith Translation changes these words to “all his disciples,” implying that those in Jesus’ entourage have packed the synagogue that day (JST 13:17).

[1] Green, Luke, 525–26.

[2] Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1011–12; Green, Luke, 524.

[3] Walter L. Liefeld and Ruth A. Tucker, Daughters of the Church: Woman and Ministry

from New Testament Times to the Present (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan,

1987), 30–31.

[4] Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 444–45; McConkie, DNTC, 1:493–94.

[5] BAGD, 114.

[6] Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, 1668; BAGD, 782.

[7] John Wilkinson, “The Case of the Bent Woman in Luke 13:10–17,” Evangelical

Quarterly 49 (1977): 195–205; Marshall, Luke, 557.

[8] BAGD, 613.

[9] BAGD, 95–96; Marshall, Luke, 558.

[10] Green, Luke, 522–23.

[11] TDNT, 9:428–29, 431–32.

[12] Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1013.

[13] Schurer, History, 2:433–39; Levine, Ancient Synagogue, 415–27.

[14] BAGD, 459–61; TDNT, 3:1058–62, 1086–93; TLNT, 2:347–50.

[15] Green, Luke, 523.

[16] TDNT, 7:14–15.

[17] Green, Luke, 525–26.

[18] TDNT, 3:213, 399–401; Green, Luke, 521.