and looking up to heaven with a deep sign, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” Mark 7:34 NASB
Ephphatha – Try this tongue twister. It’s rather humorous that this word comes from a story about a man who spoke with difficulty. All of us may have trouble saying this.
What kind of word is this word ephphatha? Obviously it isn’t Greek. If it were, Mark would never have to add what it means. His Greek reading audience would know. That means this word is a transliteration, a phonetic equivalent without meaning translation. But what language is the original word? We assume that it is Aramaic, from the passive imperative pthah, “to open.” But if all of Yeshua’s conversation were in Aramaic, as most seminaries teach, then why did Mark transliterate only this word? Did you get that? If everything Yeshua says were Aramaic, then there would be no reason to include this one word as a transliterated word. Mark would simply translate this word along with everything else. Apparently Yeshua’s use of this Aramaic word was so odd that it needed explanation.
What this implies is that Yeshua spoke Aramaic – but not often, at least not commonly. That means that when He used an Aramaic word or phrase, as He sometimes did, it was recorded as a foreign word. Therefore, it needed to be explained. Now, why would Yeshua use this foreign expression on this occasion? There are two fascinating possibilities. The first is that the man who had difficulty speaking spoke Aramaic. That would mean if Yeshua wanted to say something to him in his native tongue, He would speak in Aramaic. Of course, Israel was multi-lingual. Many people spoke Greek (for trade), Latin (out of necessity), Aramaic (left over from those who returned) and Hebrew. It is more than likely that Yeshua spoke several languages, certainly Aramaic and Hebrew. In this instance, He may simply have been saying what the man would love to hear – healing words in his own tongue.
But there is also another possibility. We have already encountered the wry sense of humor about this word when I asked you to say it. If there were any word that a tongue-tied person might wish to be able to say, it’s a tongue-twister like this one. Do you suppose that Yeshua picked this word simply because its very structure exemplified the difficulty this man faced? Yet it rolls off the tongue of the Messiah without hesitation. The Lord has power over the tongue too. Ephphatha!
If Yeshua uses this odd Aramaic word to heal a man of his speech impediment, He stands in good ironic company. The prophets did the same thing, employing word plays and puns to communicate God’s message of justice and redemption. Perhaps the whole incident is a bit too subtle for us. Too often we read only the obvious – and we skip over words like this as if they have no deeper meaning. But I’m guessing that Yeshua didn’t choose this word accidentally. What do you think?
Topical Index: ephphatha, be opened, Aramaic, Mark 7:34