Word of the Week
June 3, 2023
Thaumazō: That’s Amazing!
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:6 NIV
Sometimes the only thing you can say is, “That’s amazing!”
That’s what I said when Jerry West launched a basketball from almost the full length of the court and watched it drop into the hoop with two seconds left, sending the Los Angeles Lakers into overtime in the 1970 NBA finals.
People said the same thing when Secretariat blazed to victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, leaving the other horses 31 lengths behind.
We are amazed by all the things that surpass our expectations. And the Bible is full of people who were astonished. Moses never expected to meet God at a burning bush. No one expected David to walk away from a duel with Goliath.
The sixth chapter of Mark describes three moments when someone was amazed, using a different Greek word on each occasion. Scrutinizing those words will sharpen our view of the stories.
- In the Nazareth synagogue – Mark 6:2
Word had spread about the teacher who was performing remarkable miracles all around the Sea of Galilee. Crowds were clamoring to hear him. People were coming to be healed.
Now He interrupted that ministry to make a visit to His home town of Nazareth. On the sabbath, He joined the people for the weekly worship at their synagogue. When He began to teach,
the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man learn these things, and what is this wisdom that has been given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? (Mark 6:2)
The word for “astonished” is ekplēssō [ek-PLAY-soh]. It is a strong word – not just mild surprise, but overwhelming amazement. Used 13 times, it most often describes the way crowds responded to the teaching and miracles of Jesus. He was so surprising and different that it almost knocked you out of your senses!
The people of Nazareth had known Jesus since He was a toddler, and they thought they knew what to expect from Him. The reality, however, was shockingly beyond their expectations.
- In the aftermath of His home town visit – Mark 6:6
What a disappointing reception Jesus received in Nazareth! You would hope to find a warm welcome from people who had known Him so long, but the overall response was rejection. When Jesus reflected on the experience, the verse says, “And He was amazed at their unbelief.”
His surprise is different from that of the Nazareth crowd. The Greek word used is thaumazō, used 43 times and usually translated “to be amazed, to wonder, to marvel.” This is the usual word for amazement in the New Testament.
The crowds were amazed by Christ’s miracles (Matthew 15:13). The disciples were startled when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (John 4:27). Pilate was surprised at Christ’s refusal to defend Himself (Matthew 27:14) and His quick death (Mark 15:44). The Sanhedrin were amazed by Peter and John’s defense (Acts 4:13). And Paul was astounded at the fickleness of the Galatian churches (Galatians 1:6).
Christ’s amazement was not a panicky, fearful response. He was well aware of the hardness of the human heart. However, He recognized that His reception in Nazareth was much worse than it should have been.
According to the New Testament, Jesus was only amazed (in the thaumazō sense twice: by the lack of faith in Nazareth (Mark 6:5) and by the faith of the centurion (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:5) who recognized His authority to heal remotely.
- On the newly calmed Sea of Galilee – Mark 6:51
A boat full of seasoned fishermen had been battling a storm for hours and making no progress until Jesus walked across the waves to join them. He stepped into the boat, told them not to be afraid, and instantly calmed the storm.
Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped, and they were utterly astonished.
The Greek word used here is existēmi, used 17 times. It sometimes meant “to be out of one’s mind, to be crazy.” Christ’s family thought he was losing his mind in Mark 3:21, and Paul said he was willing to be thought insane for the sake of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:13). More often, however, the word meant astonishment so strong that a person might think he was out of his mind. What they experienced was so impossible that they were stunned by it.
God is full of surprises, and that should be no surprise. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His plans reach beyond our puny imaginations. The question is “How do we respond when God does the amazing? Do we reject it like the people of Nazareth? Or do we embrace it like the centurion?
The three words in this article are synonyms. That means that they have similar meanings. All describe the emotions that we feel when faced with something that goes outside our expectations. All three were used to describe the reactions of the crowds when Jesus performed miracles. At the same time, they are three different words, with slightly different shades of meaning. We can expand our search by looking at the origins of the words in classical Greek. Ekplēssō comes from a word that means “to strike,” and might carry the idea of being knocked out of your senses. Thaumazō was used for admiration with a touch of awe or fear in the face of something unusual or mysterious. And existēmi has links to the Greek word from which we get “ecstasy,” an experience where you are not in your normal state of mind.
We constantly face perplexing situations where we don’t know what to think. Next week we will look at a Greek word that tells us where to look for answers.
©Ezra Project 2023