Jesus—His Life and Message: Two Unique Healings
September 1, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Two Unique Healings
In the Gospel of Mark, there are accounts of Jesus healing two men who were in need—one who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and another who was blind. In both instances, Jesus performed the healing using a rather unique method.
In the first instance Jesus was in the far north, as both Sidon and Tyre are well north of the Sea of Galilee.
He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.1
The Decapolis was an area which bordered the southeast part of the Sea of Galilee. It was known as the Decapolis because the area contained ten Greco-Roman towns.
Jesus encountered a man there who needed healing.
They brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.2
This man was unable to hear, and he was able to speak, but not correctly. Various Bible translations state that he had a speech difficulty (CSB), had an impediment in his speech (KJV), spoke with difficulty (NAS), or could hardly talk (NIV). It’s quite possible that his problem of not being able to speak had to do with his being deaf, as not hearing how words sound poses a challenge to saying those words properly.
Those who brought this man to Jesus, likely his friends or relatives, obviously cared about him and wanted him to be healed. They implored Jesus to lay His hands on him. Throughout the book of Mark, laying hands on someone referred to the act of healing.3
Taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”4
In this Gospel, this is one of two times that Jesus takes someone aside privately for healing. (The second will be covered below.)
The man’s healing involved six actions: Jesus taking him aside, putting His fingers into his ears (to heal his deafness), spitting, touching the man’s tongue (to cure his speech impediment), sighing, and saying, “be opened.”5 The two actions which raise the most questions are the spitting and the sighing. We’re not told why Jesus spit or where He spit. Was it on the ground, on His fingers, or on the man’s tongue? The only other place where Jesus spits in this Gospel is when He spit on the eyes of a blind man when healing his blindness. Some Bible translations render this passage as after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva (NAS, NAU). Another states: Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue (NLT).
As Jesus touched the man’s tongue, He looked up to heaven and sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” His sighing is understood to be an emotional, prayer-like gesture, or a sign of deep distress that leads to prayer. Ephphatha was likely an Aramaic expression. Jesus and His disciples primarily spoke Aramaic, as it was the traditional language of Judea in the first century AD. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus used various Aramaic terms: Talitha cumi,6 Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,7 and abba.8 Jesus’ command—be opened—brought healing to the deaf man, so that he was now able to hear. Along with this, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly; meaning that he was able to speak without his prior speech impediment.
Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.9
Two other times in this Gospel, Jesus instructed those who were healed to say nothing.10 In one of those cases, when a man was healed of leprosy, he didn’t keep it quiet. Instead, he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town.11 In this particular situation, it’s not clear who Jesus is referring to when He charged them to tell no one. It could refer to those who brought the deaf man to Jesus, or it could refer to the crowd. In any case, in spite of Jesus telling those present to not tell others about the miracle, they zealously spread the news. Author Robert Stein states:
The command to silence, however, like Jesus’ desire that his whereabouts not be known (Mark 7:24), cannot be kept. Jesus cannot be hidden. His words and works cannot be concealed.12
They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”13
The response to the deaf man gaining hearing and his speech impediment being healed was one of extreme astonishment. Stating that Jesus has done all things well echoes what is stated about God in the book of Genesis:
God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.14
The statement that he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak echoes what is stated in Isaiah 35:5–6:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.15
The second unique healing took place just outside of Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip.16 It was a small fishing village on the northeastern end of the Sea of Galilee. In the Gospel of Luke, we read of Jesus sending the twelve apostles out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.17 Once they returned, Jesus took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.18 Apparently the town of Bethsaida ultimately was not receptive to Jesus’ message, as in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said:
Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.19
The Gospel of Mark tells of a healing Jesus performed in this town.
They came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.20
Here, like the deaf man in Mark 7:32, the blind man was brought to Jesus by others. Those who brought him begged that Jesus touch him, which was a request for Jesus to heal the man.
[Jesus] took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”21
Though the man was brought to Him by others, Jesus took the man by the hand and led him out of the town. Jesus apparently wanted to perform this miracle in private. After departing the town, He spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on the man. Having done so, Jesus asked if he could see anything. This question and the man’s answer are unique in a healing miracle, as generally those who Jesus healed were fully restored. This healing account is also the only one within the Gospels where Jesus asks about the results of one of His miracles. The man’s response showed that the healing had begun, but was not complete.
He looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”22
At this point the man could see, but not clearly. Upon hearing his response, Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.23 Jesus once again placed one hand on each eye. After doing so, the man’s sight was completely restored; he was fully healed.
He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”24
Jesus instructed the man to return to his home but to avoid going to or through Bethsaida. There is no explanation as to why Jesus advised him to not go back to the city. However, this is consistent with other statements Jesus made throughout the Gospel of Mark, in which He strictly ordered His disciples not to make Him known. These include:
He strictly charged them to tell no one about him.25
As they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves.26
It’s interesting to note that Jesus’ healing of the blind was unique in the history of Israel.
There are no Old Testament narratives of giving of sight to the blind. There is some evidence that some teachers in early Judaism saw the giving of sight to the blind as a more difficult miracle even than raising the dead, and one that only God or his Anointed One could perform.27
Jesus’ healing of the deaf and the blind reflected the work of His Father and the promises of what was to come.
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.28
In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.29
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Mark 7:31.
2 Mark 7:32.
3 Mark 5:23; 6:5; 8:22, 25.
4 Mark 7:33–34.
5 Stein, Mark, 360.
6 Mark 5:41.
7 Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.
8 Mark 14:36.
9 Mark 7:36.
10 Mark 1:44–45, 5:41–43.
11 Mark 1:45.
12 Stein, Mark, 361.
13 Mark 7:37.
14 Genesis 1:31.
15 Isaiah 35:5–6.
16 John 1:44.
17 Luke 9:2.
18 Luke 9:10.
19 Matthew 11:21–22. Also Luke 10:13–14.
20 Mark 8:22.
21 Mark 8:23.
22 Mark 8:24.
23 Mark 8:25.
24 Mark 8:26.
25 Mark 3:12.
26 Mark 9:9–10.
27 Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, 239.
28 Psalm 146:8.
29 Isaiah 29:18–19.