Word of the Week
February 12, 2022
Siōpaō and Phimoō: Shut Your Mouth!
And being aroused, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.
The disciples were professional fishermen. They spent their life on the Sea of Galilee and knew its moods. But this storm caught them by surprise. A simple passage across the lake turned into a desperate fight for survival.
Violent winds whipped the waves into towering piles of water that threatened to fill the boat. They could make no headway and began to panic. The sheer volume of sound made it almost impossible to think clearly.
Meanwhile, Jesus was peacefully dozing on a cushion at the stern. The distraught disciples shook him awake and asked, “Don’t you care that we are about to drown?”
Rather than entering into their distress, He rose and spoke two words that stopped the storm in its tracks.
All of us go through life storms that threaten to swamp us. Like the disciples, we struggle to stay afloat but we know we can’t bail fast enough to keep our boat from sinking. That’s the moment to turn to the One who can calm the seas (and our hearts) with a few words.
What did Jesus say to stop the storm?
He used two Greek words: siōpaō and phimoō. The first means “to be silent, to say nothing.” The second means “to muzzle, become quiet.” Let’s take a closer look at each word.
Siōpaō (see-oh-pah-oh) occurs 10 times, almost all in the Gospels. It consistently describes someone who remains silent, someone who doesn’t say anything.
- Jesus chose to remain silent at his trial, refusing to answer the accusations against him (Matthew 26:62; Mark 14:61).
- The disciples had nothing to say when Jesus asked what they had been talking about, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest (Matk 9:34).
- Christ’s critics had no reply when Jesus asked whether it was lawful to do good or harm on the sabbath (Mark 3:4).
- When two blind men begged Jesus for healing, the crowd told them to shut up and stop bothering the teacher (Matthew 20:31; Mark 10:48).
- When Zacharias questioned the idea that he and his wife could have a baby at their advanced age, the angel Gabriel announced, “You will be silent and unable to speak until the baby is born” (Luke 1:20).
- The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision telling him to keep preaching the word. He should not be silent because of fear (Acts 18:9).
This word consistently describes a person who refrains from talking – someone who keeps his mouth shut.
Phimoō (fi-mah-oh) occurs 7 times, and literally means “to put a muzzle on, to silence someone.”
We see the literal meaning when Paul cites the Old Testament regulation against muzzling an ox that is treading out grain (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18). A stingy farmer would put a muzzle on the ox to prevent it from eating any grain.
The word is used figuratively to describe someone who is forced to remain silent. He might be unable to speak because he cannot come up with an answer, like the wedding guest in Christ’s parable who has no answer to the king’s question (Matthew 22:12). Similarly, Peter says that we may silence critics of Christianity by consistently doing what is right (1 Peter 2:15).
When Jesus dealt with demons, he sometimes “muzzled” the unclean spirit, refusing to let it speak (Mark 1:25; Luke 4:35).
This word is even stronger than the first, implying that Jesus prevents the person from speaking. It is not a voluntary silence, but a forced one.
Do you notice how uniquely Jesus uses these words in Mark 4:39?
Everywhere else, a person (human or demonic) is silenced. Here he commands the sea: Don’t keep speaking! Be muzzled! We might say, “Shut your mouth!”
We know that seas don’t talk, and they don’t have mouths that can be muzzled. But the one who spoke the universe into existence in Genesis 1 could certainly speak the word and control this small corner of creation.
The disciples recognized that Jesus had power beyond anything they had imagined. Anyone who could silence not only people but nature was more than a mere man.
When we are floundering through waves that threaten to capsize our ship, we can turn to the one who can control the seas with a word!
The word phimoō appears in a very rare grammatical form: a perfect tense imperative. You can count the number of perfect imperatives in the New Testament on the fingers of one hand! The perfect tense shows action that is completed, producing results that last afterwards. In this case, the idea would be, “Quiet down and don’t start up again!”
This is an instance where we can learn not only from the meaning of a word, but also from the grammar form used. You will be able to learn more about grammar in a new course that will become available later this spring.
Q – After Jesus healed a leper in Matthew 8:4, he told the man to show himself to a priest. Why did he give that instruction?
A – The Old Testament law contained detailed instructions for dealing with leprosy (Leviticus 13-14). If a person diagnosed with leprosy recovered, he was supposed to have a priest inspect him to confirm that he was genuinely free from the disease. Then he would offer an appropriate sacrifice and be declared ceremonially clean, able to participate in public worship. The procedure reminds me of the quarantines practiced today for Covid. When Jesus sent him to the priest, he was enabling the leper to resume normal life. He was also documenting the fact of a genuine miracle, and he was letting at least one priest know that Someone was able to heal lepers!
Multitudes crowded around Jesus to watch him heal the sick, hoping to see him make the move to lead a revolt against Rome. We might describe them as curious or shallow, but the Lord saw them through different eyes. Next week we will look at the two words that described them in Matthew 9:36. In our fractious society, we can learn from his insights.
©Ezra Project 2022