In Luke 1 (ESV), Zechariah the priest is rendered mute for his lack of faith:

19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.

The word for mute in verse 22 is κωφός, which in this form is used four times and is always translated mute. (But note the usage of κωφοὶ, which is rendered deaf twice).

Later in Luke 1, it appears that Zechariah is indeed deaf:

62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.

Why would you have to make signs if he can hear you speaking?

Thus, my question: in NT Greek, does the word κωφός necessarily carry the meaning of deafness? Or is that a possible but not necessary implication? Or do we assume Zechariah was deaf merely on the basis of verse 62?

  • 1
    Just FYI in case you were misunderstanding (not sure from this), κωφοὶ is just the plural of κωφός. Great question!
    – Susan
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:47
  • @Susan Thanks! I expected something along those lines, but wasn't sure if the meaning could vary when going from one form to another. It seemed odd that the form in v22 is always mute, while other forms seem to allow both, but perhaps it's just small sample size? Hence the question. Dec 14, 2015 at 14:50
  • That's fair (that the meaning may vary), especially in light of recent discussions. I vote for sampling limitations in this case, but I'll be interested to see what answers have to say.
    – Susan
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:58
  • I know this is an old post but I'm trying to figure out where you got κωφός from. From what I'm seeing the Greek word used here is σιωπῶν (siōpaō) which means "to be silent, hold one's peace".
    – Jason
    Sep 9, 2018 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


The term κωφός, according to William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), can mean either just mute, just deaf, or both, and gives numerous references for each to other Greek texts supporting the various usages.

So the term has flexibility.

It is clear that Zechariah was at least mute, as to whether he was also deaf, two things point to that being unlikely:

  1. After he was struck mute, he apparently continued in his priestly duties until his time was over, so v.23 (NKJV):

So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.

It is unlikely he could have continued in that capacity at all if he had also been struck deaf.

  1. The term used for "made signs" is the imperfect active indicative third person plural of ἐννεύω, which Arndt, et. al. state means "to signify by bodily movement, nod, make signs." It is a very imprecise term, as it could simply be that after Elizabeth made her statement at the child's circumcision that he would be called "John," they simply looked with raised eyebrows (or some other bodily gesture) to Zechariah to confirm she was speaking for him correctly. He chose not to just give whatever affirmative head nod may have been common in his time for "yes," but to write it out.

The point here is that the "signs" were not necessarily some type of sign language to communicate to a deaf person (if such really existed then...?), but rather merely some type of bodily gesture by which they sought affirmation that he agreed with Elizabeth's statement, quite possibly as they were making the verbal statement in v.61 "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name" (NKJV). So the word does not necessarily imply he was deaf.

Without point #1, I think it would be hard to prove whether or not deafness was intended as part of Zechariah's affliction, since the term is so flexible and the v.62 statement could lead that way. But if one lost both hearing and speech at once, then I think it would be impossible for one to function in the priestly duties he did continue with. The trauma alone would be monumental, not to mention the communication issues with the other temple personnel (which were no doubt hampered enough with his speech issue).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.