The Lowdown on Dropsy

I was reading in the Bible book of Luke last week, and came across this passage:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. [Luke 14:1-4; NIV]

I’ll bet I’ve read that passage scores of times without knowing what, exactly, the condition of “dropsy” entails. Seeing as how it’s never too late to learn something new, I decided to do some quick research.

I first headed to my trusty Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (treeware version…the physical heft of a good research tome is one of life’s small joys), where I confirmed that the passage in Luke is the only Biblical appearance of the word. I further learned that the word comes from the Greek hudropikos [hoo-dro-pik-os’; Strong’s number 5203], which means “to be dropsical” or “to have the dropsy.” Ah, well. But I saw also that the Greek word is derived from hudatos (“water”) and optomai (“to appear”). That’s better: one who has dropsy “appears watery.”

A quick look at Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words didn’t add anything, but a glance at this passage in Luke as interpreted by the writers of Good News for Modern Man revealed a description of the afflicted man as “having swollen arms and legs.” Obviously, we’re talking about some kind of edema.

And, in fact, this is confirmed by referring to various online medical resources. WebMD includes a reference to dropsy in an article about how many modern medical treatments have their roots in relatively ancient tradition:

A number of medicines popular during the Washington and Lincoln eras are still used today in one form or another for the same medical conditions. These include quinine for malaria, opium (from which codeine and morphine are derived) for pain, ipecac plant for dysentery, chalk for heartburn, and senna leaves for laxatives (now we use Senacot). Foxglove — or digitalis — for heart disease, was used back then for what was called dropsy; the doctors knew that condition caused fluid retention, and this plant relieved it.

So, even though the man described in Luke had a condition that had an ancient name, the condition itself is still around in various forms, and it does appear in literature down through the ages. I point you to this interesting discussion of historical references to the disease and its treatment (if the page renders funkily in your browser, copy and paste the text into a Word document).

And, finally, I stumbled across a discussion of a modern-day epidemic of dropsy, occuring in India in 1998. Those afflicted experienced swelling of their bodies “caused by the consumption of mustard oil adulterated with oil of prickly poppy. Prickly poppy scientifically known as Argemone mexicana contains alkaloids with physiologically active toxins (sanguinarine and dihydrosanguinarine).” 2,000 cases were detected, with 41 deaths reported. It’s interesting to note what the WHO has to say about the treatement of this form of dropsy:

No specific therapeutic measures are established. It has been suggested that diuretic, bioantioxidants, steroids, vitamins, calcium and protein-rich diet have some beneficial effect on epidemic dropsy cases.

In other words, “we don’t know how to treat it, so we’ll try a lot of things to address the symptoms and then hope for the best.”

This is all very interesting (to me, anyway), but, so what? Well, the “so what” is this: even today, with all of our scientific and technological advances, the treatment of any form of edema is still hit-and-miss.

That makes the little account in Luke — almost akin to a throwaway special effect in a movie — a great deal more significant than we probably give it credit for. Once again, we see the Lord provide healing with just a touch or a word or a glance, even where the best efforts of man still come up short.

Guess what? He still does those things for us today, spiritually and physically! That’s a great thought to take with you into the weekend.

Amen and amen.


  1. That’s the sort of passage which always makes me wonder about the Pharisees and other critics of Jesus.
    How could they be blind to a miracle performed right in front of them?
    Throughout the Old Testament (much of which they’d read). The performance of miracles in the face of disbelief was a trademark of those who spoke for God.
    It’s as though they simply didn’t care whether He spoke the truth or not.

  2. I suppose the Pharisees decided to use existing Judaic laws for the purpose of harassing Jesus.
    I wonder if any the Pharisees told Him, “We’re going to be on you like ugly on a gorilla.”
    The Pharisees’ abuse in arbitrarily interpreting Judaic law as they saw fit has many modern parallels.
    My puzzlement, though, is how can an intelligent person watch a miracle being performed and ignore the enormity of what they’ve witnessed?

  3. %%%%
    Mr. Freen raises a very significant point in that miracles are suspensions of natural laws and therefore not the work of human beings.
    As to who is doing the suspending of the natural laws, I only know of 2 sources. Either, God does it, or the devil does it.
    We read from the old testament Moses parting the sea, Peter walking on water, Moses casting his cane and the cane turns into a snake. That is not Moses or Peter doing these miracles. It is God.
    We also read on the bible the magicians also able to turn their canes into snakes, you know, the snakes which were swallowed by Moses’s snake. Well, it was the devil that changed the magician’s canes into snakes.
    How come, says Mr. Freen the pharisees were so blind to the miracles that were occuring right in front of them? My opinion from reading some of the Gospels is that GOD IS THE ONE WHO CHOOSES TO ALLOW YOU TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE. That is why it is good to follow your conscience and strive to do the will of God. In doing so, God might allow you to see.
    The three wise men, for example. Though non-Jews, must have been people who tried to do the will of God and followed their consciences. That’s why the star was enough to cause them to go into a long journey, bringing gifts. The shepherds, too, most likely ancient Palestinians, they were allowed to hear the angels singing. And they went and paid homage to the new born king. But look at Herod, with his evil intent, did God allow him to see the star? For this evil generation, no sign will be given them but the sign of Jonah. The sign might be right there in front of them but they will not see it or will not see the significance of it. I say this because in marian apparitions as occured in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 where there were 3 visionaries, 2 visionaries could see the Virgin Mary, while the third visionary could not, because he stole a portuguese equivalent of a ten cent coin. Only after saying many rosaries as told to the other 2 seers was he able to see the Virgin Mary.
    Mr. Freen might be able to understand more fully the pharisees’ blindness to the miracle of Jesus curing this man with “DROPSY” when similiar miracles are also in front of his own very eyes. Take the case of Padre Pio, a Capuchin priest, whose body is now dead. In his bodily life, FOR 50 YEARS, HE WAS WALKING WITH A VERY DEEP WOUND ON HIS SIDE JUST LIKE JESUS’ WOUND ON HIS SIDE WHEN THE ROMAN CENTURION TRUSK A SPEAR INTO JESUS’ SIDE. A VERY DEEP PUNCTURE WOUND LIKE THAT WILL CAUSE YOU TO HAVE TETANUS WHICH WILL KILL YOU OR ANY MEDICAL DOCTOR OR MEDICAL SCIENTIST IN DUE TIME. Up to now, I don’t think anybody can do such a fraud. And any doctor or medical scientist who wants to can try it on himself or herself!!!
    But this Padre Pio had this very deep puncture wound on his side plus the nail wounds of Christ on the palms of his hands and also on his feet. Everyday, in the later decades of his 50 years of carrying these wounds, thousands of visitors from all over the world would visit him. Not once have I ever heard that he smelled like a person with a rotten wound. For his wounds, never got infected, there was no pus, yet his wounds never healed nor closed in their 50 years. In fact the first test medical doctors did to find out if he was faking was to simply wrap his hands with rolls and rolls of bandages and putting seals on them to make sure nobody will unbandage them and put medicines. They removed the bandages after many days, and the wounds were still there with no signs of healing, nor any signs of infections.
    In life, he was visited even by MUSLIM IMAMS OR MUSLIM RELIGIOUS LEADERS. There is even a book on Padre Pio, written by a LUTHERAN PASTOR.
    There are tons and tons of literature, books, videos on this priest. And it is not only the wounds, but the cures of sick people, the ability to read the thoughts of sinners, people seing him in two places simultaneously, miracles such as the rescue of a pilot who fell from his plane during World War II, Even an air bombing raid in World War II involving a PROTESTANT US GENERAL who later paid him a visit and became a CATHOLIC as a result of his experience. See for yourselves by searching the Internet for: “padre pio”

  4. I’d considered that possibility, Eurasian.
    Unfortunately, that logic seems to contradict the doctrine of free will. On one hand, we as humans supposedly have the right to choose between good and evil. If, however, God denied the Pharisees (or anyone else) the ability to “see” (i.e. recognize/ understand) Christ’s Divinity or the truth of His ministry, then they no longer have free will to make that choice between salvation and damnation. If that occurred, they would be denying Christ, not out of their own free will but through God’s will.
    Doesn’t that reduce them to human automatons, marionettes dancing on Divine strings?
    Is a person who has never been exposed to Christian teachings (hypothetically still possible in some remote parts of the world) damned for not accepting Jesus? Worse, if a person is deliberately denied the ability to “see” (i.e. recognize/ understand) them through God’s will, how are they to be held accountable for their actions?
    Whether or not the Pharisees, having been exposed to the teachings of Christ (which I believe they were), chose to follow Him is another matter. If the Pharisees having witnessed His miracles chose to deny Him (for whatever reason), then that’s a decision they freely made.
    Which is my whole point. How does a person witnessing one positive miracle after another, first-hand, ignore the enormity of what they’ve witnessed?

  5. %%%
    (1) Matthew 25v14-30 PARABLE OF THE TALENTS. God does not give the same amount of talents. To some he gives little. To some he gives plenty. To those who have little and bear no fruit, even the little they have will be taken away. To those who were given plenty and produce plenty of fruits, even more will be given.
    (2) To those God gave more, more is expected. To those He gave less, less is expected.
    (3) But whether you end up a little saint or BIG SAINT, your reward is Heaven. Just as in the parable of the winepress? Some workers were there earlier. Others later. But the pay was the same. Of course, in Heaven, God will listen to the prayers of the BIG SAINTS MORE than the prayers of the little saints.
    (4) You know how the neurons in the brain work? The paths that are used most often are strengthened and they grow new paths, like the networks of roads in the tall city that expanded NORTH WEST into what used to be cottonfields.
    Those paths that are rarely used, wither, and sometimes even die, like asphalt or dirt roads that gov’t has abandoned because nobody uses them.
    The same too with those pharisees. THEIR NEURONS HAVE BEEN TAUGHT BY THEIR OWN FREE WILL TO FIND PLEASURE IN DISOBEYING THE COMMANDMENTS OR IN DISOBEYING THEIR CONSCIENCES. So when the Messiah appears to them curing this man of his DROPSY, their brains are not sensitive to such and even find such repugnant or unpleasant. But why do their brains find such repugnant or unpleasant? BECAUSE BY THEIR OWN FREE WILL, THAT IS HOW THEY FREELY PROGRAMMED THEIR NEURONS THROUGH REPETITIONS AND REPETITIONS.
    (5) Notice that I said CONSCIENCE, not ten commandments. But for those who received the ten commandments, their consciences have to be educated in the ten commandments as is the case of the Jews. And if you are a Christian, you consciense also has to be educated by the commadments of LOVE GOD, LOVE NEIGHBOR, and also the additional commandment of LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS CHRIST LOVES YOU. Also, the BEATITUDES, And if you are a catholic, ALSO THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE CHURCH. And if you are the pope, you also have the additional commandment of Christ to Peter, FEED MY LAMBS.
    So those who received less, such as some tribe in some forest of the world, people there might only need to follow their conscience to enter heaven, because the consciece is kind of like God’s HARD DISK inside a person. That’s why Christ tells us to spread the Good News to the ends of the Earth. ( I never excluded in this or other writings non-christians from Salvation or Heaven. The three WISE MEN were not JEWS. But they heard GOD. Nor were the ANCIENT PALESTINIAN SHEPHERDS WHO WERE CHRIST’S FIRST VISITORS JEWS.)
    (6) Eric might try this on his dog , Abbye. Mr. Freen might try this with his cat. I noticed years ago that an animal only pays attention to sounds that matter to it. Other sounds that have no relevance to it, the animal does not pay much or any attention to it. I think, it is kind of like us. You go into the field, and the snake is just right there in front of your feet, but you won’t see it. But another person who is used to seing snakes already has patterns of such snakes in his brain and can see a rattler against the ground. With respect to your question, Mr. Freen, a person who pays attention to God through his conscience everyday, will see God when He appears in front of him curing a man with DROPSY.

  6. You’ve made a number of interesting points, Eurasian. But you’ve raised a far more unsettling question.
    What cat? Where did you get the idea that I have a cat?
    Please tell me you meant it as a figure of speech.
    Unless you know something I don’t. There’s a… a… cat in my home?
    *looks around nervously*

  7. So those who received less, such as some tribe in some forest of the world, people there might only need to follow their conscience to enter heaven…
    This philosophy is directly contradicted by Jesus’ own words in John 14:6, when He said “”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And considering that man is born into sin — without exception — and his natural state is sinful and lost, “following his conscience” is just about the worst possible way to achieve salvation, whether you’ve heard the Good News or not.
    There is no other Name by which men may be saved (Acts 4:12). The only remaining question, then, is how will every person have the opportunity to hear about Jesus? Romans 10:14 is a good place to start: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” I believe there’s more to it than that, but that’s a subject for another time.

  8. %%%%
    1Peter3v15 but do it with gentleness, and reverence, KEEPING YOUR CONSCIENCE CLEAR,……….
    1Peter3v21 This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body, BUT AN APPEAL TO GOD FOR A CLEAR CONSCIENCE, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 ……
    It is my opinion that to have a CLEAR CONSCIENCE, YOU WILL HAVE TO OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE. I never thought I would be successful at finding a single bible passage mentioning CONSCIENCE because I never remembered reading it before in the bible. But after reading only 2 books namely James then 1Peter, to my surprise, there was the word CONSCIENCE in 2 BIBLE PASSAGES!!!
    But I know that OBEYING CONSCIENCE IS WHAT IS TAUGHT BY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. In fact, from EWTN, channel 42COX, I learned that in case of conflict between a person’s conscience and what is taught by the Roman Catholic Church, a person is adviced to follow his concience, even if his concience is erroneous in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. That is why, in Roman Catholic Schools, such as Loyola, (jesuits) and University of Dallas (EWTN), there are students who are Baptists, even Muslims, and followers of other religions. There was even a Baptist girl who used to appear often in EWTN TV PROGRAMS. It is the belief of the Roman Catholic Church that if a Baptist, for example, REALLY BELIEVES IN HIS/HER CONSCIENCE THAT THE BAPTIST CHURCH IS THE TRUE CHURCH, then the Roman Catholic Church does not want her to be Catholic or worse commiting SACRILAGE while going to communion NOT BELIEVING THAT THAT CONSECRATED BREAD IS LITERALLY THE BODY OF CHRIST. That is why the student can finish her studies WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE UP THEOLOGY OR RELIGION CLASSES.
    1Peter4v5-6 but they will give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached EVEN TO THE DEAD THAT THOUGH CONDEMNED IN THE FLESH IN HUMAN ESTIMATION, THEY MIGHT LIVE IN THE SPIRIT IN THE ESTIMATION OF GOD.

  9. It is my opinion that to have a CLEAR CONSCIENCE, YOU WILL HAVE TO OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE. I never thought I would be successful at finding a single bible passage mentioning CONSCIENCE because I never remembered reading it before in the bible. But after reading only 2 books namely James then 1Peter, to my surprise, there was the word CONSCIENCE in 2 BIBLE PASSAGES!!!
    Actually, the word “conscience” appears more than 30 times in the Bible. The way I interpret the most common use of the word in Scripture (primarily in the New Testament) is as a description of how we determine for ourselves what is right or wrong. Our conscience may therefore be “informed” by our senses, our knowledge and seeking of knowledge, and our leading by the Holy Spirit (if we are saved).
    Conscience alone has no direct bearing on our salvation. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 4:4: My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
    Later, in chapter 8, Paul refers to those whose consciences are weak.
    Therefore, while conscience may be one factor in convicting us of our need for God and His salvation, it is useless in and of itself in bringing about that salvation. Only faith in Christ can do that.

  10. %%%%
    Eric, et al:
    My understanding from the book of James is that if your Faith in Jesus is genuine, that faith will be followed by good works on your part. This is specially true if your body still has time, DAYS, MONTHS, YEARS to do good works because your body has not yet died and your brain is not yet brain dead.
    When you do these good works as a result of your faith or great faith in Jesus, you are actually OBEYING YOUR CONSCIENCE.
    Your statement contradicts James 2v14-26 which has the subtitle: FAITH AND WORKS. 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
    15 If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give to them the necessities of the body, what good is it? 17 SO ALSO FAITH OF ITSELF, IF IT DOES NOT HAVE WORKS IS DEAD.
    26 For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD.

  11. I see no contradiction between my statements and the verses you cite. My interpretation of what James is speaking of is a faith that is, in effect, false. It’s a profession of something without a corresponding or underlying belief. Such “faith,” as many commentators point out, might be useful in convincing others of one’s piety, but salvation is not the result.
    So, how does one judge the validity of someone’s faith? As James points out, it’s by seeing the evidence of their works. The Christian who has truly been saved by faith will exhibit that saving faith through his works. Conversely, one who has no good works…one whose life shows not the slightest bit of change, pre-salvation vs. post-salvation, has likely not experienced salvation.
    I’m not competent to judge another’s heart, and that’s not my job. But we are called by James to exercise discernment, even as we are called to put our faith into action, for the glory of God.

  12. %%%%%
    Mathematically, there are 4 combinations or cases.
    Case I
    The person has no good works AND no faith that brings salvation.
    Case 2
    The person has good works BUT no faith that brings salvation.
    Case 3
    The person has no good works BUT has faith that brings salvation.
    Case 4
    The person has good works And faith that brings salvation
    The way I see it, the Roman Catholic Church wants people to be Case 4. However, case 3 will also bring salvation if the person just prior to his death, is able to have the SINCERE “INTENTION” TO DO GOOD WORKS IF ONLY GOD WILL POSTPONE HIS DEATH AND ALLOW HIM TO DO GOOD WORKS. This might be the case of the good thief on the cross who was promised Paradise by Jesus who said, “Tomorrow, you will be with me in Paradise.” But then, on the cross, the good thief was there doing what I think were good works by arguing with the bad thief trying to show the bad thief his errors so that the bad thief will change.
    But YES, in my thinking, THE SINCERE INTENTION TO DO GOOD WORKS IN THE FUTURE WILL BE ACCEPTED, and I hope will be accepted AS GOOD WORKS IF THE PERSON SUDDENLY DIES and thus enable the person who has Faith to be saved. So case 3 will for me hold true, or I hope will hold true, for this very special case.
    But then, doing good works can be done very easily if you have life. Even a quadrupledgic can PRAY FOR OTHERS, and that is a form of GOOD WORKS. Even a soul whose body has already died, can still pray for others, and therefore can still do good works. So, I hope, that in the other world, souls that were not able to make it to heaven will do good works by praying for others. You see, in the other world, FAITH must be very easy. As I understand from James, even the DEMONS BELIEVE. What DEMONS DON’T DO AND I INVITE THEM TO DO RIGHT NOW IS TO DO GOOD WORKS, FOR EXAMPLE BY PRAYING FOR OTHERS OR TO STOP TEMPTING OTHERS TO DO SINS, TO ADORE GOD, TELL TO OTHER DEVILS TO DO GOOD WORKS INSTEAD OF BAD WORKS!!!!
    You see, life means activity. You will be doing in those activities works that are either good works or bad works, or perhaps even indifferent works. Question is: will you be saved if you say you have faith and are doing BAD WORKS? IF you are doing what might be called INDIFFERENT WORKS, you might be in trouble with Christ’s words in the Gospel wherein he says: “I WISH YOU WERE GOOD OR BAD. BUT BECAUSE YOU ARE LUKEWARM, I WILL VOMIT YOU…..” To God, LUKEWARM IS WORSE THAN BAD.

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