What this doctoral graduate’s research says about communicating the gospel on an emotional level
“Accidental academic” Dr Carole Ferch-Johnson has examined the way the early church represented Christ and His mission through the media of human hands and feet. In particular, she has studied the significance of hands and feet in two narratives from Acts: the healing by Peter and John of the lame beggar at the temple (Acts 3) and the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
Ferch-Johnson completed the study for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, with which she graduated from Avondale College of Higher Education this past year.
To better understand the words for hands and feet, Ferch-Johnson examined their use in Acts and Luke and in: the Greek writings from Judaism of that era; the writings of Greek authors quoted by Luke in Acts; and, because the narratives address healing, the medical works of Hippocrates and Soranus.
In this interview with Avondale’s Public Relations Officer Brenton Stacey and Sydney Adventist Forum Committee member Garry Duncan, Ferch-Johnson explains how her study provided new insights into the narratives and shares practical implications.
You examined in your PhD thesis the way the early church represented Christ and His mission through the media of human hands and feet. Why hands and feet?
In Luke 24:39-40, Jesus appears to his disciples post resurrection. They are afraid, but He reveals His identity by inviting them to look at His hands and His feet. He affirms a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as He has, and He shows them His hands and His feet. The text twice names these body parts, which are significant to the message of Jesus in His resurrection and to the mission of Jesus through the outreach of the hands and feet of His disciples. The thesis takes this Gospel mention of hands and feet into the narratives of Acts to see how they feature as media of nonverbal communication as the disciples carry the message and fulfil the mission of Jesus.
What motivated you to study this aspect of Christ and His mission?
Interpersonal communication has always been in the biblical text. I chose to name it and use it as an untried lens for viewing the text and seeing how integral interpersonal communication is to an enriching of our understanding of the text.
Hands and feet are at the extremities of the body. What does this say about Christ and His mission?
The functions of hands and feet as media of nonverbal communication are central to the transmission of meaning, which is at the heart of effective human interaction. Because they are at the extremities of the body, hands and feet can offer the first point of contact between people. Any sharing of Christ and His mission typically begins with hands and feet.
You say the focus on healing and empowerment through touch should encourage Bible readers to communicate the message of the gospel on emotional not just informational levels. Why does this seem so difficult, corporately and personally, to replicate in practice?
Cultural mores create social limitations. However, people are often emotionally hungry and we need to find appropriate ways to share the message of Jesus holistically. Awareness of this is the place to begin. Touching has many applications and we need to select what is useful to people in their circumstances. Of course, emotional connection between people always costs. This may be a reason why we’re reticent to become involved on this level.
Researchers often find so much more in the research process beyond what they’re actually researching. Did anything else make you think, Wow! That’s interesting. I’d like to find out more about that?
I was very focused on hands and feet for this research, but other body parts prominent in the process of communication also gained my attention. There’s some interesting stuff on eyes, ears and mouths in Acts, for example. This is also in relationship to communicating the message and fulfilling the mission of Jesus and His disciples.
Lecture: Dr Carole Ferch-Johnson | June 3
“Talking hands and listening feet in the narratives of Acts.” Presented by Avondale College of Higher Education and Sydney Adventist Forum. Ella Hughes Chapel, Avondale College of Higher Education (Lake Macquarie campus), Saturday, June 3, 3.30 pm. Freewill offering.LEARN MORE