Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Review of Healing, Weakness, and Power
Audrey Dawson. Healing, Weakness and Power: Perspectives on Healing in the Writings of Mark, Luke and Paul. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2008. Pp. xvii + 302. ISBN 978-1-84227-524-5. $38.00 paper.
How did Mark, Luke, and Paul understand the healing ministry of Jesus and its continued expression in the life of the apostolic church? This is the concern of Audrey Dawson, who writes from dual perspective of a consultant physician and a New Testament scholar. This results in a work that is broad in scope, exegetically sensitive, and thoroughly stimulating. Chapter one introduces the topic to be studied and discusses many of the problems associated with researching ancient conceptions of healing in the contemporary context.
Chapter two begins with a wide-ranging summary of views of healing and sickness within Jewish thought as a way to contextualize Jesus’ healing ministry. The Greco-Roman world is surveyed and she concludes that the practice of magic was a widespread phenomenon and that healing miracles conferred power on individuals and credibility for their religious framework. Dawson’s argument in this chapter is that much of Mark, Luke, and Paul concerning the healing ministry of Jesus and the apostles is consonant with the expectations, practices, and beliefs within the early Roman empire.
Chapter three focuses on the Gospel of Mark and its depiction of healing by arguing, from a narrative-critical perspective, Jesus is seen as a healer, who attracts both crowds and opposition but this healing activity is only seen prior to his passion. This ministry focus is then developed within the broader context of Mark’s Christological concerns in which Jesus’ weakness becomes a focus of the latter part of the Gospel (p. 66). Dawson further argues that Jesus passed the concern for healing on to his followers. Thus, healing ministry would in turn form a key component of their mission throughout the Mediterranean basin, a mission sourced in Jesus’ example of healing both Jew and gentile (p. 90).
Chapter four Dawson discusses Luke’s portrayal of the healing ministry of Jesus and the apostles in Luke-Acts. Luke’s narrative presentation differs in significant ways from that of Mark. For example, in Luke the healings also serve a pedagogical function (Luke 11:14). Also, Mark emphasizes the humanity of Jesus while Luke describes him “as the powerful, obedient Son of God” (p. 156). Moreover, healing is understood in the context of the revelation of God’s power and functions as a key component for the legitimation of the mission to the gentiles through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:12).
Dawson argues, in chapter five, that Paul’s presentation of Jesus’ healing ministry is quite different in comparison to Mark and Luke. The source of this difference is Paul’s experience with personal illness in which he developed his theology of suffering and mission (2 Cor 12:7-10). Dramatic physical healings were thus not a central part of Paul’s ministry. Furthermore, Dawson understands Paul’s message of spiritual salvation to the gentiles to be an extension and his re-contextualization of the earthly ministry of Jesus which had emphasized physical healing.
Chapter six discusses the implications of the preceding study, reveals its findings, and brings to the fore the similarities and differences with regard to healing, weakness, and power in Mark, Luke, and Paul. Dawson’s work is particularly helpful in her assessment of Luke as one not writing as a physician (pp. 152-56) and locating the source of Paul’s reprioritization of the significance of physical healing within the life of the Christ-movement in his personal experience with chronic illness (pp. 198-203). This revised doctoral dissertation, done under the supervision of Andrew D. Clarke at the University of Aberdeen, provides a compelling reading of the differentiated and situational significance of healing within the earliest Christ-movement and makes a valuable contribution to New Testament studies.
This review originally appeared as:
Review of Audrey Dawson, Healing, Weakness, and Power: Perspectives on Healing in the Writings of Mark, Luke and Paul. (Milton Keyes: Paternoster, 2008). Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 20, no. 1 (2010): 134-35.