(Deaf) & Dumb?

My wife and I teach a third & fourth grade Sunday School class at my local church. 3rd-grader-21Yesterday, it was my week to teach the lesson, which concerned the birth of John the Baptist and the prophecy of Zechariah from Luke 1:57-80.  So having explained the activity in verses 59-63, where the neighbors and relatives assume the infant will be named after his father, and Elizabeth tells them his name is John “And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they all wondered” (vv. 62-63), one of my students immediately raised his hand and asked, “If his only problem was that he couldn’t speak, then why did they have to use sign language to talk to him?”


Did you ever wonder about that? It never once crossed my mind. Are you as smart as a third grader?

Today, I looked it up at the online ESV Study Bible. Here’s what I learned.

They made signs to his father indicates that Zechariah was deaf as well as mute, or else they would simply have spoken to him (see note on v. 22). This is confirmed by the people’s amazement (v. 63) that he chose the same name as Elizabeth chose, something that would not have been surprising if he had been able to hear her.

So naturally I also checked out the note at verse 22, which explicitly states that Zechariah was “mute”. Here’s what that note reveals:

Mute (Gk. kōphos) can mean either “mute” or “deaf,” depending on the context, and there is some evidence that it can at times mean “deaf and mute” (see note on vv. 62-63).  

So, once again, you learn something new every day. Are you smarter than a third grader? I’m not!


8 responses

  1. Wow…I’ve read that passage at least 70-80 times and even preached on it—and that thought never crossed my mind either. I feel pretty silly!

  2. Good one, John. Wow. My neice (5) asked a stumper during a family Bible time with Grandpa over the holidays: “Why did God make Satan?”

  3. I came across a Messianic Jew a couple years ago who said what the third grader obviously saw. Be of good cheer, someone else had to point it out to me a couple of years ago and I “pride” myself with having read and still read Luke over a hundred times over the last 35 years. Goes to show you, we are deaf, dumb and blind until God opens our ears to hear and eyes to see.

    Out of the mouth of babes and learned men, or women, or girls and boys and old men and women. Oh, ok, glad to meet you!

  4. Prior to the time of these Scriptures Zacharias could both hear and speak (see Luke 1:18-21). While I suppose it is possible that he was made both deaf and mute by the actions of his unbelief, that does not have to be the case. Verse 22 does indicates he was “speechless,” and uses a word (kophos) which sometimes is used for “deaf.”. Perhaps it was only the priest (the “they” who were performing this ceremony) who assumed that since he was “mute” he was also deaf. And while we can ponder why the people “marveled” (i.e. having not heard he made the same choice as Elizabeth) perhaps the wondement was only that they chose a name that did not fit the family mold. In fact these people seemed to “wonder” a lot (see Luke 1:21)

    Certainly either one is ok with me. Let’s just make sure we don’t stretch the Truth to reach the Truth.


  5. Josh,

    As you can now see, you’re certainly not alone.

  6. Bob,

    It is truly amazing the good questions kids can come up with. It’s like they’re little people or something! 😉

  7. Michael,

    Indeed. God has his timing in our learning such things, as well as the manner in which we learn them. He thinks of everything!

  8. Christian,

    The emphasis is certainly on the speechlessness in the text. Which explains why the question isn’t raised more often. The deafness only emerges as a possibility, as our pastor likes to put it, “from the white space.” Definitely not a hill to die on, but compelling, nonetheless. But I think the agruments for deafness are stronger than an argument that the folks signing to Zechariah were doing so on the basis of assumption. But that’s just me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: