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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Amazement

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AMAZEMENT.—The interest of this word to students of the Gospels is twofold, and arises out of its employment, on the one hand, as one of the terms used to express the effect upon the people of our Lord’s supernatural manifestation, and on the other, in one unique instance, to describe an emotion which tore the heart of the God-man Himself.

The nominal form, ‘amazement,’ is of rare occurrence in EV (only Acts 3:10, 1 Peter 3:6 [for πτόησις] in AV; Mark 5:42, Luke 4:36; Luke 5:26, Acts 3:10 in RV); the passive verb, ‘to be amazed,’ occurs not infrequently in the narrative books of NT (rarely in OT. e.g. Exodus 15:15). They are especially characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, and are currently employed in their narratives, along with several kindred terms, to describe the impression made by our Lord’s wonderful teaching and His miraculous works. In the AV they translate in these narratives a number of Gr. words: θάμβος, θαμβέομαι, ἐκθαμβέομαι; ἔκστασις, ἐξίσταμαι; ἐκτλήσσομαι. But the RV, studying greater uniformity of rendering, omits ἑκτλήσσομαι from this list, and makes ‘amazement,’ ‘to be amazed,’ the stated representatives of the other two groups [exceptions are: Mark 16:8 where ἔκστασις is rendered ‘astonishment’; Acts 3:10 f. where θάμβος, ἔκθαμβος are represented by ‘wonder’: passages like Mark 3:21, 2 Corinthians 5:13, and again Acts 10:10; Acts 11:15; Acts 22:17 are, of course, not in question]. To ἑκτλήσσομαι it uniformly assigns ‘astonisn,’ ‘astonishment’; and to the accompanying terms of kindred implications similarly appropriate renderings: ‘to θαυμάξω (ἑκθαυμάζω, Mark 12:17) generally ‘to marvel’ (but ‘to wonder,’ Matthew 15:31, Luke 2:18; Luke 4:22; Luke 24:12; Luke 24:41, also Acts 7:31), and to φοβέομαι (φόβος Matthew 14:26, Mark 4:41, Luke 5:26; Luke 7:16; Luke 8:37; cf. ταράσσω Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:50, τρόμος Mark 16:8, τρέμω Mark 5:33, Luke 8:47) ‘to be afraid,’ varied to ‘to fear.’ The constant recurrence in the Synoptic narrative of one or another of these terms as a comment upon the effect of our Lord’s teaching or works, imparts to the reader a vivid sense of the supernaturalness of His manifestation and of the deep impression which it made as such on the people.

Sometimes it appears to have been the demeanour or bearing of our Lord which awoke wonder or struck with awe (Matthew 27:14 ||Mark 15:5, Mark 9:15; Mark 10:32; cf. Luke 2:48). Sometimes the emotion was aroused rather by the tone of His teaching, as, with His great ‘I say unto you’ He ‘taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes’ (Mark 1:22 ||Luke 4:32, Matthew 7:28; cf. Mark 11:18, Matthew 22:33). At other times it was more distinctly what He said, the matter of His discourse, that excited the emotions in question—its unanticipated literalness, or its unanticipatable judiciousness, wisdom, graciousness, or the radical paradox of its announcements (Luke 2:47-48; Luke 4:22; Matthew 13:54 || Mark 6:2; John 7:15; Matthew 19:25 || Mark 10:28; Matthew 22:22 || Mark 12:17, Luke 20:26). Most commonly, however, it was one of His wonderful works which brought to the spectators the dread sense of the presence of the supernatural (Luke 5:9; Mark 1:27 || Luke 4:38; Mark 2:12 || Luke 5:26, Matthew 9:8; Luke 7:18; Luke 11:14 || Matthew 12:23; Matthew 8:27 || Mark 4:41, Luke 8:25; Mark 5:15 || Luke 8:32; Luke 8:37; Mark 5:30; Mark 5:33; Mark 5:42 || Luke 8:35; Matthew 9:33; Mark 6:51; John 6:19, || Matthew 14:26; Mark 7:37; Luke 9:43; Matthew 21:20), and filled the country with wonder (Matthew 15:31).

The circle affected, naturally, varies from a single individual (Mark 5:33), or the few who happened to be concerned (Luke 2:48; Luke 5:9), or the body of His immediate followers (Matthew 17:8, Mark 10:24; Mark 10:26, Matthew 19:25; Matthew 21:20), up to a smaller or larger assemblage of spectators (Luke 2:17; Luke 4:22; Mark 1:22 || Luke 4:32; Mark 1:27 || Luke 4:36; Mark 2:12, Luke 7:16; Luke 8:25; Luke 8:37, Mark 5:42, Matthew 13:54, Mark 6:51; John 6:19 || Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:50; Mark 7:27, Luke 9:43, Mark 16:8; Matthew 22:22 || Mark 12:17, Luke 20:26). These spectators are often expressly declared to have been numerous: they are described as ‘the multitudes’ or ‘all the multitudes,’ ‘all the people of the country,’ or quite generally, when not a single occasion but a summary of many is in question, ‘great multitudes’ (Matthew 9:8 || Luke 5:26; Matthew 7:28; Matthew 12:23, Luke 11:14; Luke 8:35 || Mark 5:15; Mark 8:20; Matthew 9:33; Matthew 15:31, Mark 9:15, John 7:15, Mark 11:18, Matthew 22:33).

The several terms employed by the Evangelists to describe the impression on the people of these supernatural manifestations, express the feelings natural to man in the presence of the supernatural. In their sum they leave on the reader’s mind a very complete sense of the reality and depth of the impression made. Their detailed synonymy is not always, however, perfectly clear, the student will find discriminating discussions of the two groups of terms which centre respectively around the notions of ‘wonder’ and ‘fear’ in J. H. Heinrich Schmidt’s well-known Synonymik der griechischen Sprache, at Nos. 168 and 139. It will probably suffice here to indicate very briefly the fundamental implication of each term in its present application.

Θαυμάζω is a broad term, primarily expressing the complete engagement of the mind with an object which seizes so powerfully upon the attention as to compel exclusive occupation with it. It is ordinarily used in a good sense, and readily takes on the implication of ‘admiration’; but it often occurs also when the object contemplated arouses internal opposition and displeasure. What it always implies is that its object is remarkable, extraordinary, beyond not so much expectation as ready comprehension, and therefore irresistibly engages attention and awakens ‘wonder.’ It does not import ‘surprise,’ but rather, if you will, ‘curiosity,’ or better, ‘interestedness.’ In this it separates itself from θαμβέομαι, in which the notion of ‘unexpectedness’ is, at least originally, inherent.

This latter term gives expression to the sense of mental helplessness which oppresses us on the occurrence of an unanticipated and astonishing phenomenon. The affection of the mind it suggests is one of mingled admiration and fear; and in the usage of the word this passes both downward into ‘consternation,’ strengthened to ‘fright’ and ‘terror,’ and upward into ‘awe’ and ‘veneration.’ In the LXX Septuagint the lower senses are predominant (e.g. Sirach 12:5, Song of Solomon 3:8; Song of Solomon 6:3 [Song of Solomon 6:4] Song of Solomon 8:10, Ezekiel 7:18; 1 Kings 14:15, 2 Samuel 7:15, Wisdom of Solomon 17:3, Daniel 8:17-18; 1 Maccabees 6:8, Daniel 7:7, Sirach 30:9). In the Evangelical passages now before us, on the other hand, the higher senses come forward, and the idea expressed lies near to ‘awe,’ and the term comes thus into close synonymy with φοβέομαι.

The notion of ‘surprise’ which underlies θαμβεομκι seems to be much more prominent in ἐξίσταμαι. This term, broad enough to be applied to any ‘derangement,’ bodily or mental, was particularly employed, with or without a defining adjunct, to describe that aberration of the mind, the subjects of which in English too we speak of simply as ‘demented’ (2 Corinthians 5:13). In its more ordinary usage the implication is no more than that the subject is thrown out of his normal state into a condition of ‘ecstasy,’ or extreme emotion,—the emotion in question being of varied kind, but more commonly an ‘amazement’ which carries with it at least a suggestion of perplexity, if not of bewilderment.

When this ‘surprise’ rises to its height, however, especially if it is informed with alarm, the appropriate term to express it would seem to be ἑκτλήσσομαι, although this term is used so frequently for purely intellectual effects arising from intellectual causes, that it falls readily into the sense of pure ‘astonishment.’ Nevertheless, the element of ‘alarm’ inherent in it places it among the synonyms of φοβέομαι, from which it differs as a sudden access of fright differs from an abiding state of fear, or as, in connexions like those at present engaging our attention, to be ‘awestruck’ differs from the continuous sense of ‘awful reverence’ which prompts to withdrawal from the dread presence.

The same fundamental emotion of fear which finds its most natural expression in φοβέομαι is more rarely given expression also in such terms as ταράσσω, the basal implication of which is ‘agitation,’ ‘perturbation,’ passing on into the ‘disquietude,’ on the one side, of that ‘troubled worry’ the extreme of which is expressed by ἀδημονέω, and on the other into that terrified ‘consternation’ which finds its extreme expression in πτοέομαι (Luke 24:37): or as τρέυω, which in its application to the trembling of the mind—to mental ‘shivering’—draws near to the notions of ‘anxiety’ and ‘horror.’

The emotions signalized as called out by the manifestation of Jesus in His word and work, it will be seen, run through the whole gamut of the appropriate responses of the human spirit in the presence of the supernatural. Men, seeing and hearing Him, wondered, were awestruck, amazed, astonished, made afraid, with a fear which disquieted their minds and exhibited itself in bodily trembling The confusion by RV under the common rendering ‘amaze,’ ‘amazement’ of two of these groups of terms (θάμβος, θαμβέομαι, ἔκθαμβος, ἐκθαμβέομαι, and ἔκστασις, ἐξίσταμαι), seems scarcely to do justice to the distinctive implications of either, and especially fails to mark the clear note of the higher implication of ‘awe’ that sounds in the former. The interest of noting how completely the notion of ‘surprise,’ originally present in θάμβος, has in usage retired into the background in favour of deeper conceptions, is greatly increased by the employment of the strengthened form of the verb ἐκθαμβέομαι by St. Mark (14:33) to describe an element in our Lord’s agony in Gethsemane.

When St. Matthew (Matthew 26:37) tells us that Jesus ‘began to be sorrowful (λυπεῖσθαι) and sore troubled’ (ἀδημονεῖν), St. Mark, varying the phraseology, says (in the RV) that He ‘began to be greatly amazed (ἐκθαμβεῖσθαι) and sore troubled (Mark 14:33).’ Surely the rendering ‘amazed,’ however, misses the mark here: the note of the word, as a parallel to ἀδημονεῖν and λυπεῖσθαι, is certainly that of anguish not of unexpectedness, and the commentators appear, therefore, to err when they lay stress on the latter idea. The usage in the LXX, both of the word itself (Sirach 30:9, where also, oddly enough, it is paralleled with λυπέω) and of its cognates, seems decisively to suggest a sense for it which will emphasize not the unexpectedness of our Lord’s experience, but its dreadfulness, and will attribute to our Saviour on this awful occasion, therefore, not ‘surprise,’ but ‘anguish and dread,’ ‘depression and alarm’ (J. A. Alexander), or even ‘inconceivable awe’ (Swete).

The difficulty of the passage, let it be remarked, is not a dogmatic, but an exegetical one. There is no reason why we should not attribute to the human soul of the Lord all the emotions which are capable of working in the depths of a sinless human spirit (cf. J. A. Alexander’s excellent note on Mark 8:10 and Swete’s on Mark 6:6). But certainly the employment of the verb ἑκθαμβέομαι here by St. Mark affords no warrant for thinking of the agony of Gethsemane as if it exceeded the expectation of our Lord, and as if it consisted in large part of the surprise and perplexity incident upon discovering it to be worse than He had anticipated (cf. the otherwise admirable note of Dr. Swete, in loc.—‘long as He had foreseen the Passion, when it came clearly into view its terrors exceeded His anticipations’; A. J. Mason, The Conditions of our Lord’s Life on Earth, pp. 135–138—‘when the hour came, it exceeded all His expectations’). On the contrary, the usage of the word combines with the context here to suggest that its whole force is absorbed in indicating the depths of soul-agony through which our Lord was called upon to pass in this mysterious experience. On the terms employed, the note of Pearson, On the Creed, ed. 1835, p. 281; ed. New York, 1847, pp. 288–289, is still worth consulting.

In studying the emotional life of our Lord’s human spirit during His life on earth, as it is exhibited to us in the Gospel narratives, nothing in point of fact is more striking than the richness of the vocabulary by means of which He is pictured to us as the ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,’ and the slenderness of the suggestion that He may have been subject to the surprises which constitute so large an element in the lives of mere men. So far as the explicit assertions of the Evangelic narratives go, it would seem that the unexpected never happened to Jesus. Neither surprise, nor astonishment, nor amazement, nor suspense, nor embarrassment, nor perplexity, nor distraction, is ever, in so many words, attributed to Him. Those who would discover in the narratives, nevertheless, some ground for supposing that He may have experienced these emotions (e.g. A. J. Mason, The Conditions of our Lord’s Life on Earth, pp. 135–138; T. Adamson, Studies of the Mind in Christ, pp. 11, 12, 167: and in its extremity, E. A. Ahbott, Philomythus, on which see Southern Presbyterian Review, Oct. 1884, ‘Some Recent Apocryphal Gospels,’ p. 733 ff.), must needs depend on an inferential method, the inconclusiveness of which has been repeatedly pointed out of old, as, for example, by Augustine (e.g. circa (about) Faust, Manich. xxii. 13), who remarks upon its equal applicability to the anthropomorphisms of the OT.

‘Wonder’ (Authorized Version; Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘marvelling’), to be sure, is attributed to Jesus on two occasions (Matthew 8:10, Luke 7:9, Mark 6:6). But the term used (θαυμάζω) is on both occasions precisely that one which least of all implies ‘surprise,’ which declares its object rather extraordinary than unexpected. ‘Θαυμαζω,’ remarks Schmidt (op. cit. p. 184), ‘is perfectly generally “to wonder” or “to admire,” and is distinguished from θαμβεῖν precisely as the German sich wundern or bewundern is from staunen; that is, what has specially seized on us is in the case of θαυμάζειν the extraordinary nature of the thing, while in the case of θαμβεῖν it is the unexpectedness and suddenness of the occurrence.’ All that needs be imported by these passages is that the circumstances adverted to were in themselves remarkable; and that Jesus recognized, felt, and remarked upon their remarkableness,—in the one instance with the implication of admiration, in the other with that of reprobation. That the circumstances which called out His sense of the incongruity in the situations He remarks upon were unanticipated by our Lord, and therefore when observed struck Him with a shock of surprise, we are not told.

Benjamin B. Warfield.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Amazement'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/amazement.html. 1906-1918.

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