by Al Maxey

Issue #422 ------- November 22, 2009
Where there is great love,
there are always miracles.

Willa Cather {1876-1947}
Death Comes for the Archbishop

Sticking, Spitting, Sighing
Reflective Analysis of Mark 7:31-37

The Lord Jesus had just recently given some of His most scathing rebukes to the scribes and Pharisees for their loyalty to their own religious tradition over the will of the Lord God [Mark 7:1-13; Matthew 15:1-14]. In fact, His words to these hardened Jewish leaders were so forceful that His own disciples came up to Him afterward and said, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" [Matt. 15:12]. Yes, Jesus was aware, but He never backed down. The Lord told people what they needed to hear, rather than what they may have wanted to hear. His disciples must do no less! There have always been those who prefer having their ears tickled to having their hearts pricked, but our commission is to "preach the Word; to reprove, rebuke, exhort" [2 Tim. 4:2], thereby fulfilling our ministry as defenders of ultimate Truth.

Following this confrontation with a number of the legalistic leaders of His day, Jesus did some moving about (as many faithful proclaimers of Truth over tradition are forced to do today, as well, after an encounter with entrenched congregational patternists). He went to the region of Tyre, where He had a conversation with a Syrophoenician woman [Mark 7:24-30; Matt. 15:21-28]. After this, He "went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis" [Mark 7:31]. None of the other gospel writers detail the events that follow within this region; only Mark gives us this account. "The Decapolis (the territory of the 'ten Greek cities') was largely Gentile, but there were also a significant number of Jews living there" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 683]. Though the specific "locality is not named, it was probably somewhere near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 209].

When it was learned that Jesus had come into their area, "great multitudes came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, dumb, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them, so that the multitude marveled as they saw the dumb speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel" [Matt. 15:30-31]. Although Matthew, within his account, does not elaborate beyond this general depiction, Mark provides us insight into one of these healings. "They brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him" [Mark 7:32]. There has been considerable speculation and debate among biblical scholars over the exact condition of this man, much of it generated by the term employed by Mark to depict the poor man's difficulty with speaking. Was he completely mute, or did he merely have trouble speaking plainly so as to be understood by others? Even those who are completely deaf can often be taught to utter distinguishable sounds, thus becoming capable of some degree of communication with others. Was that the case here? Or, was he truly incapable of uttering any sound -- a genuine mute?

Even noted Greek scholars differ on this. Dr. Kenneth Wuest states the Greek term employed by Mark signifies one who "speaks with difficulty," therefore this man "was not absolutely dumb" [Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 154]. On the other hand, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in his classic work "The Expositor's Greek Testament," points out that this word only appears once in the New Testament writings and should be translated "dumb" in view of the use of this same word in the Septuagint in Isaiah 35:6 [vol. 1, p. 392]. "Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy." The most likely understanding is that the man was utterly incapable of any kind of speech, since Matthew, in his summary section of the healings that took place in this region, uses a different word than Mark, a word meaning "mute." The word used by Mark commonly denoted one who "stammers," but Mark may simply have been signifying that this man was uttering indistinguishable sounds (stammerings, gruntings), rather than actual speech. This would indicate he did not have a physical problem with his vocal chords, but rather had never learned to speak the language of his people. Therefore, what speech he had was nothing but "stammering." If this was the case, then he was not clinically mute, but had just most likely been deaf from birth and had never been schooled in how to converse with others.

Since this unfortunate "deaf mute could make no intelligible request for himself" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 684], those persons who brought him to Jesus, presumably family or friends, "entreated Him to lay His hand upon him" [Mark 7:32]. The fact that they pleaded with the Lord for some blessing to be bestowed upon this man indicates the great love and concern they felt for him. At this point, Jesus does the unexpected: He takes the afflicted man aside, removing him from the crowd, in order to deal with him in private. "He took him aside from the multitude by himself" [Mark 7:33a]. This action has thoroughly confused some biblical interpreters. "Why this was done we have no means of information" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "For reasons which are not divulged, Jesus withdrew the sick man from the crowd" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 203]. A number of explanations have been suggested, however, with the most likely being that "Jesus did not wish to be drawn into a new ministry of healing on a large scale" [Dr. Nicoll, vol. 1, p. 392]. "Our Lord did not want to encourage a wider healing ministry. The latter was only incidental to His preaching and teaching, and could assume such proportions that it would interfere seriously with His ministry to the spiritual needs of the multitude" [Dr. Wuest, vol. 1, p. 154]. A good many in the crowd may also have been there simply to behold a spectacle -- to watch Jesus "perform." Therefore, He may have separated Himself and the deaf/mute man from the crowd to preserve this sacred moment from those simply seeking a "sideshow."

It is also possible that Jesus knew the majority of the people would not perceive the significance of the actions He would perform next upon this man, and that some of these individuals, who had a tendency to be somewhat superstitious, might regard His actions as being "magical," and would thus place the healing power in the actions themselves, perhaps even trying to imitate them with those who were similarly afflicted. Although taking this person aside has caused considerable confusion for some scholars, it is nothing compared to the bewilderment generated by what followed. Jesus stuck His fingers in the man's ears, spit (presumably upon His own hand or fingers) and touched the man's tongue with His saliva [Mark 7:33b]. Adam Clarke lamented, "There is scarcely an action of our Lord's life but one can see evident reason for --- except this!!" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 312]. Mark doesn't give any explanation for the actions of Jesus, but "leaves us here to our own conjectures" [Dr. Nicoll, vol. 1, p. 392]. Dr. Albert Barnes says, "Why this was done it has been found exceedingly difficult to explain" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].

A good many scholars believe, however, that our Lord's actions are quite easily explained in light of the condition of this man whom He was about to heal. Being a deaf/mute, this man was deprived of the normal avenues of communication. Therefore, to convey to him what was about to happen, Jesus employed what some call "a tableau vivant, an acted metaphor" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, p. 296]. It was the language of visible, physical gesture directed toward the very sites on the man's body that were afflicted, and that would now be healed by the hand of the Lord. In a word, Jesus was conveying His intent to the afflicted man. "Our Lord's teaching was usually by speech, but this was a case in which oral language was useless. Christ accordingly employed the language of gesture and action. He thus adapted Himself and His ministry to the necessities of this poor man" [ibid, p. 299]. This is a very important point that we dare not overlook, as it has great application for us today in our efforts to reach the spiritually afflicted in the world about us. We, like Jesus, must be willing to adapt when it comes to our methods of conveying Truth and spiritual healing unto others. One size simply does NOT fit all, and unless we are willing and able to explore other approaches, we may find ourselves irrelevant and ineffective in our attempts at ministry!! Our Lord's desire was to be understood by this man, not to cater to the crowd! "Ordinary language could not be understood by the sufferer. Jesus employs gesture instead. There are special institutions for teaching the deaf and dumb. Consider how holy a work it is, and how consecrated by His example" [ibid, p. 309]. Simply stated, Jesus used sign language. "As this man knew nothing of the language of sounds, our Lord addressed him in the language of signs" [ibid, p. 327].

After performing these acts, our Lord "looked up to heaven, and with a deep sigh He said unto him, 'Ephphatha' --- that is, 'Be opened'" [Mark 7:34]. This "deep or heavy sigh" has also been the source of some scholarly speculation over the years. The Greek word Mark uses is stenazo, which means "to groan, sigh; give vent to a deep-seated, inner emotion." Although various explanations for this deep sigh have been postulated, most believe it signifies Jesus genuinely felt the sufferings of this man. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" [Heb. 4:15]. Jesus truly feels our pain, and His sigh expressed His compassion. "He sighed, and no wonder, when He looked abroad on suffering humanity, when He reflected on the miseries of a fallen race, and when especially He contemplated the living example of that misery that then stood before Him. He sighed in sympathy with our sufferings" [ibid, p. 328].

The fact that Jesus Christ "looked up to heaven" may signify a couple of things here. For one, this was a fairly common Jewish "attitude of prayer" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 684]. At the tomb of Lazarus, when they had rolled away the stone, "Jesus raised His eyes and said, 'Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me'" [John 11:41]. As our Lord spoke His powerful high priestly prayer before His Gethsemane ordeal, He "lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, 'Father, the hour has come'" [John 17:1]. This action on the part of our Lord may also have served as yet another "sermon in sign" that the man before Him might understand that "every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" [James 1:17]. "He raises the man's thoughts to heaven, to remind him that all relief was to be looked for from thence" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, p. 327]. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills -- From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" [Psalm 121:1]. After lifting up His eyes to heaven, Jesus uttered a single word: Ephphatha. No lengthy discourse was needed on this occasion, as the man before Him was deaf. With a word from the Master all was made new! This was an Aramaic word which simply meant "Be opened." The effect of Jesus' command was immediate: "his ears were opened ... and he began speaking plainly" [Mark 7:35]. This action was yet another proof from the prophetic writings that Jesus was the Messiah [Isaiah 35:5-6], a fact apparently not entirely lost upon the crowds, who echoed this prophecy in their astonished recounting of the event [Mark 7:37].

Dr. Adam Clarke's explanation is an interesting one, although I believe unnecessary. The event itself is not really one that poses any significant theological difficulties, even though the actions of Jesus might, at first glace, appear puzzling and cryptic. Considering the condition of the man for whom He was about to pour out a divine blessing, however, our Lord's actions are clear. He communicated to the man in a way that would have best facilitated for him an understanding of what was about to take place. Jesus' ministry was not about showmanship, it was about touching the hearts of those to whom He ministered; it was about helping them grasp God's grace and mercy and love. Jesus was never tied to any one methodology in His effort to achieve these goals, but adapted Himself to the needs of the moment. May God help each one of us to be just as open to the wide diversity of methods available to us as we seek to reach out to the afflicted souls about us. May we have the courage to speak to the hearts of the spiritually blind, deaf and mute, "Be Opened," so that they may at last perceive and experience the marvelous healing grace of our heavenly Father.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Doctor in Kentucky:

Dear Brother Al, "Quid Pro Quo Theology" was a great article! My wife and I read it together this morning. Having come from out of the "tit for tat" fellowship of the Non-Institutional faction of the Churches of Christ, I must agree with your third conclusion in your article, and also with your teaching on "Available Light." I also fully appreciate Bro. Leroy Garrett's work, and appreciate his contributions to our understanding of Grace! We need more like you two men!!

From a Reader in Illinois:

Brother Al, I just read your article "Quid Pro Quo Theology." Too bad we can't make that issue of Reflections required reading for the local church!! We need to be talking together ... and I mean ALL Christians!! I'm quite sure that the forces of evil rejoice to see Christians divided over what name hangs over the door of the meeting house, and that we're continually throwing insults at each other!

From a One Cup Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, I have been reading some of your earlier Reflections (the ones from 2003 - 2005), and all I can say is -- WOW!! I surely could have used them thirty years ago (although I would probably not have valued them as much then as I do now)!! Thank you so much!! May God give you the ability to continue standing up for Truth in these evil days. Also, I just want to say that the Readers' Responses at the end of your Reflections articles are so informative and uplifting. I am so glad that you provide these for us. Though I have never met you, I truly feel like I know you. May God bless you, brother.

From a Minister in Hawaii:

Aloha Brother Al, Similar to your "briefcase" illustration, I've often used the idea of taking a gift check to the bank and endorsing it. The act of signing the gift check in no way earns it, or even merits it, nor does this action make it any less of a gift. Baptism is simply how we "endorse" and identify with what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Therefore, in baptism we express our faith that His check won't bounce; that His righteousness is credited to our account; that our name is entered on His ledger. Keep up the great work, brother!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I finally had a moment to sit down and read "Quid Pro Quo Theology," and once again I enjoyed you challenging my mind. I often struggle with this very issue, and with the arguments put forth by both you and Dr. Leroy Garrett. In my current belief, though, I find myself more in the court of Leroy Garrett on this one. Brother, you continue to be an incredible source of JOY in my life, so please keep up the great work!!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I confess that I'm a sinner; I disapprove of and repudiate sin, even while continuing to miss the mark myself. I write this in specific regard to whether any one of us should ever reject fellowship with fellow sinners who fill "other" churches. Yes, they hold mistaken doctrines; they are sinful human beings --- just as I hold mistaken doctrines because I am a sinful human being!! Thanks be unto God that He gave the blood of His one and only Son to cover our sinful brethren's mistaken teachings --- as well as our own!! Let us no more divide ourselves with divisive names; rather, let us accept one another as together we strive to follow the Way of Christ.

From a Minister in California:

Dear Brother Al, "Quid Pro Quo Theology" was another excellent piece of logic! A gift must be received!! Our reception on His terms involves us doing something. However, that responsive action does not mean that we've worked for or earned that free gift. I, like you, disagree with Leroy Garrett on this. Bless his and Ouida's good hearts!! Leroy has made me think beyond my boundaries over the years, and that is good for a guy like me with only a half acre in which to work!!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Brother Al, Thanks for your latest Reflections in which I was again reminded of Dr. Leroy Garrett and his wife Ouida. How are they doing? Please soldier on, Bro. Maxey! You are definitely a young version of Dr. Garrett!!

From a Reader in Washington:

Brother Al, I enjoyed so much your article on "Quid Pro Quo Theology." Keep up the very important and good work!

From a Minister/Author in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, I am just returned from Africa. It was a hard trip, and my age is showing. However, I believe it was very profitable. I remember Bro. Garrett from his "pastoral oversight" days with Carl Ketcherside. This idea of Bro. Garrett (discussed in your article) is not new, as I am sure you know. Many years ago I had a friend who was a Mormon. He held the same belief: that all people were saved until they heard the Mormon gospel; if they chose to reject it, they were lost. One of their young "elders" once dusted off his shoes in my presence because he said I had heard the truth and rejected it ... therefore, I could never be saved. By the way, one of our problems, at least in my mind, is that we've made baptism a work of human merit that we perform in order to be saved. It is NOT!! It is a work of God, even as Jesus said faith is. Faith and baptism are simply the way in which we accept God's gracious gift of salvation.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, Your gentle and gracious handling of differences of opinion among brothers is one of the things that sets you apart from others, and establishes you as an authentic, serious and credible student and teacher of biblical principles!! It is encouraging to see how you look beneath the surface of an issue for the bigger picture before diving in. Sadly, too many people just jump right in and then look for something to keep them afloat in a sea of error. Brother Al, you are correct -- quid pro quo cannot be sustained theologically. Your "third alternative" does indeed cut to the heart of the matter, and it is a perfect example of what a serious and thoughtful examination of doctrine can achieve!!

From a Reader in Florida:

Attention Florida Ministers --- Dear Brother Al, We live in Florida, and our little congregation (Church of Christ) is in the midst of some tremendous spiritual turmoil. Back in Reflections #376 (Dec. 1, 2008) there was a letter in the Readers' Section from a minister in Florida (he talked about a renovation project in their auditorium, and how they went to two services in their fellowship room, one of which was instrumental, and how God led them to some positive changes). Anyway, my husband and I would very much LOVE to visit there, and we are willing to travel to wherever in Florida this congregation is. Would you be willing to give us that congregation's whereabouts? The travails of our little church are getting worse, and our membership is declining fast!! We are trying so hard to keep our little church alive and infuse it with God's grace, but the legalistic patternism that prevails here is killing us. We would really like a chance to sit down with that minister and talk with him, and to visit his congregation. Thanks for any help you can give us!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I wanted to tell you how much my husband and I appreciate your efforts toward bringing unity among all believers through your preaching and teaching, and especially through your Reflections articles. We pray that God will bless you richly in this effort. We were raised up in the "conservative" church, and had been members of our local congregation for almost 30 years. After becoming frustrated with all the division, mean-spiritedness, bitterness and anger, we decided to start meeting in our home with other members of our immediate family. My husband and brother-in-law found several web sites that we began to visit regularly --- those maintained by Carl Ketcherside, Edward Fudge and Al Maxey. We have also been attending a "non-denominational church" here some, and we've heard excellent lessons on GRACE --- a subject that I had never, ever heard a sermon on!! My husband leaned over at one point during one of those lessons and said, "Why did I have to wait 45 years to hear this?!" It has been so refreshing to hear about our freedom in Christ. We have never been so happy in our Christian lives. I genuinely believe that we had been "brainwashed," in a sense, not having been exposed to anything but the dogmas of the Church of Christ. Brother Al, thank you so much for your help!!

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Brother Al, After my three year affiliation with the Churches of Christ here in Kentucky, it suddenly dawned on me that no one I have ever known (family, friends, etc.) belonged to a Church of Christ congregation, which, according to what I am being taught within this group, means that ALL of these folks are headed to hell. How can this be?!! Have you written any Reflections that address this matter? Any help would be appreciated.

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