“Ephphatha!” — Why are some sayings of Jesus retained in the original Aramaic language?


This Sunday’s Gospel tells of Jesus healing the deaf man. I was wondering why the Gospel retains Ephphatha in the original (Aramaic) language spoken by Jesus?
Mark 7:31-37 New American Bible (Revised Edition)

Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and mute speak.”
English translations have very few Aramaic sayings of Jesus, and I understand this goes back to the ancient Greek manuscripts. Two other instances spring to mind:
Mark 5:41-42

He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.
Mark 15:34

And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why these phrases? What, if anything, do they have in common?


I think more so, because they mean something very specific to the culture of the people who are being addressed. My professor of Koine Greek, a Canon Lawyer, kept saying that English speakers can’t and probably don’t understand the “sense” of the words form those ancient cultures. We have so many words, that describe infinitesimal differences and nuance.
He said one had to really get a “sense” of what the Greek meaning was to them, in those times…and then go with a good translation for our current understanding and study.
Just my 2 cents…


Ephphatha means come open. So the gospels are saying be open to the gifts of the holy spirit. Many people can hear but at the same time they fail to listen to God.


I’ve wondered the same thing. Here’s a link with a few more examples:



One possible reason why Mark in particular loved to include bits of Aramaic here and there in general is to give his gospel an air of authenticity and exoticness, in other words as a way to engage his audience and give his story the ‘this really happened’ sort of feel.

I mean even today, ‘foreign’ characters in stuff like novels and movies are sometimes given bits of dialogue in their supposed native languages (y’know, stuff like a French guy blurting out ‘Bonjour’ or a ‘Merci’), even if most of the time they speak English. :wink: Mel Gibson decided to make The Passion of the Christ in Aramaic and Latin to give the movie a sort of air of historicity. I think Mark’s doing the same thing: he gives the reader a feeling of Jesus as He would have lived and spoken in His time.

Now two of the occasions Mark gives an Aramaic word are healing miracles. In those narratives, Mark may have given the Aramaic phrases as a sort of reference and as a parody of incantations composed of actual foreign words or gibberish (say, abracadabra) that were quite common at the time.

At first glance, Mark portrays Jesus as if He was a contemporary magician, performing miracles using ‘foreign’ magic spells. But he then subverts the idea by translating Jesus’ utterances into Greek for the benefit of his audience. Magic spells are thought to derive their power from being incomprehensible: the fact that they’re either just gibberish or some corruption of a foreign phrase gives them an air of mystery. But Mark, by translating Jesus’ utterances (Talitha koum(i) = ‘Little girl, arise’; Ephphatha = ‘Be opened’) shows that Jesus’ healings were not magic tricks; they were something else.

As for Jesus’ words on the cross, Mark apparently retains the Aramaic phrase here because the wordplay between Eloi (‘My God’ and Elias (‘Elijah’) is crucial to his narrative. Mark is often said to be a gospel of dramatic irony: the all-knowing narrator and the reader knows things that many characters in the story do not. The bystanders completely misunderstand what Jesus is saying (“Look! He’s calling for Elijah”); however, we the readers know the meaning of Jesus’ words, because the narrator translates it for us. We know something that the bystanders in the story do not.


I assume it’s due to the common testimony of eyewitnesses when a pithy Aramaic bit remains untranslated.


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