The Agora
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Amazed, astonished (Greek)

There are three very expressive Greek words which are very difficult to differentiate.

Ekplesso seems to carry the idea of bewilderment ("foolish": Ecc 7:17).

Existemi suggests wits paralyzed. It is the word used by the family of Jesus to describe his eccentric behavior: "he is beside himself" (Mar 3:21).

Ekstasis (related to the preceding) is a trance (Acts 10:10; 11:5; 22:17). Thus it pictures those who are "pop-eyed" with astonishment.

All of these are used with ref to the amazement provoked by Jesus. It is, of course, to be expected that people's surprise at witnessing his miracles should call for vigorous dramatic description. But it is itself surprising that the teaching of Jesus should have created as big a sensation as his wonderful works.

His parents were amazed to find their twelve-year-old boy talking without embarrassment with learned doctors of the law (Luk 2:48). The multitude who heard the Sermon on the Mount, the crowd in the synagogue at Capernaum, and his townsfolk in the synagogue at Nazareth (Mar 1:22; 6:2), the Passover pilgrims hearing his disputation with scribes and Pharisees (Mat 22:33) -- all of these listened and stared with astonishment. There is one special example of shock to the Twelve by what the Lord taught -- "how hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven... easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle" (Luk 18:24,25).

When it is considered how sensational so many of the Lord's miracles were, one is left wondering why the astonishment of the beholders is mentioned in certain particular instances: the healing of the demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mar 1:27: these people at Capernaum were always being surprised, but not converted); the palsied man let down through the roof (Luk 5:26: the same synagogue); the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mar 5:42: Capernaum again); the blind and dumb man (Mat 12:22: Capernaum!). The fisher apostles were just as flabbergasted by the miraculous draught of fishes (Luk 5:9: at Bethsaida-Capernaum), as they were later at their Lord's walking on the water and stilling the storm (Mar 6:51). Two other miracles creating outstanding bewilderment were the healing of the epileptic boy (Luk 9:43) and that of the deaf and dumb man (Mar 7:37). Last of all there was the final cleansing of the temple -- or was it the Lord's unabashed proclamation of a temple thrown open to all nations (Mar 11:18)?

The resurrection of Jesus was the supreme occasion for astonishment, yet this is mentioned only twice. The women encountering the angels "trembled and were amazed" (Mar 16:8). And the two on the way to Emmaus told how infectious this amazement was: "Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre...." (Luk 24:22).

Another group of correlated words still has to be considered: thambos, thambeomai, ekthambeomai. The last of these, more emphatic than the others, very often implies fear -- the women at sight of angels at the tomb (Mar 16:5,6), and, probably, the people beholding the glory in the face of Jesus (Mar 9:15); cp also Dan 7:7, LXX. Then what of Mar 14:33: Jesus "sore amazed" in Gethsemane? This cannot be fear. The use of ekthambos to describe the amazement of the crowd seeing the lame man leaping and cavorting in the temple court (Acts 3:11) shows that fright is not a necessary ingredient of this word. But what was it which made Jesus "sore amazed"? This is one of the lesser unexplained mysteries of the gospels. Thambos and its verb are always associated with fear in LXX, and also, certainly, in the account of Saul's conversion: "he trembling and astonished" (Acts 9:6), but there is nothing of this in any of the other examples. Indeed in several instances the synoptists take their choice between these and the words considered earlier.

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