A SINGLE Aramaic word from the Semitic language Jesus spoke, which features in last Sunday’s Book of Common Prayer reading from Mark’s Gospel, powerfully supports the historical reliability of the narrative.
The reading from Mark 7 records Jesus’s supernatural healing of a deaf man during his Galilean ministry:
‘And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain’ (v32-35 – King James Version).
In the Aramaic word ‘Ephphatha’, which Mark translated into a Greek aorist passive imperative, we hear the authentic Jesus speaking. Surely the actual word came from the witness who told Mark the story?
Revisionists determined to believe the Gospel narratives are made-up stories will find reasons to do so. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch in his 2009 book, A History of Christianity (Penguin), the basis of a BBC TV series, sweepingly refers to the cultural climate that he claims is responsible for doubt among church liberals about the veracity of Jesus’s miracles since the 18th century:
‘He had power: around him, as with many charismatic leaders over the centuries, there gathered stories of exceptional healings, miracles of providing food and drink, even raising apparent corpses from the dead. For a large part of Christian history, these miracles have provided much of the fascination of Jesus for those drawn to his story, though for three centuries they have increasingly aroused unease or intellectual conflict for Christians formed by the Enlightenment of the West.’
Significantly, MacCulloch’s book neglects to mention the vital historical testimony from the first half of the 2nd century AD of the Christian Bishop, Papias of Hierapolis, about Mark’s Gospel. The 4th century church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, read Papias’s ‘Expositions of the Dominical Oracles’, of which there are now only a few extracts extant. Eusebius of Caesarea was no admirer of Papias, calling him ‘a man of exceedingly small intelligence’, but he nonetheless cited Papias’s testimony that Mark was the Apostle Peter’s interpreter:
‘Mark, indeed, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, howbeit not in order, all that he recalled of what was either said or done by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord, nor was a follower of His, but, at a later date . . . of Peter’ (A New Eusebius, edited by J. Stevenson, SPCK, 1957).
The late 2nd century theologian, Irenaeus of Lyons, referred to Papias in his defence of Christian orthodoxy. According to Eusebius, ‘Papias himself, in the preface to his discourses, makes it plain that he was in no sense a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles; but tells us, by the language that he uses, that he received the things pertaining to the faith from those who were their pupils.’
Thus, according to this very early testimony in the history of Christianity, it was Peter who heard the Lord say the Aramaic word ‘Ephphatha’ and told Mark exactly what he had heard. But the anti-Christian BBC is of course very unlikely to present such powerful historical evidence for the truth of Christianity.
The miracle Mark records has a deeper spiritual meaning than a mere factual account. It fulfils the prediction of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah about the future salvation the Lord God had promised to bring. Isaiah recorded: ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert’ (Isaiah 35v5-6).
Through the proclamation of his saving Gospel, God by his Holy Spirit supernaturally enables lost humanity to receive his truth and thus transforms the spiritual wasteland in which we naturally dwell in our sinful rebellion.
The Collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity proclaims the generosity of the saving God Incarnate who so wonderfully opened the ears of the deaf man in the Gospel reading:
‘Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.’