Paul E. Kretzmann

Exorcism in the gospel accounts

Concerning possession by demoniacs and its healing we have reports only in the first three gospels, while John makes no mention of these miracles of Jesus. It is peculiar, also, that the narratives of the healing of people possessed with evil spirits are confined to the ministry of Christ in Galilee. In all accounts there is no instance of a miracle of this kind during the last part of the Lord’s life, in Judea. Mark, who gives the most complete account of these healings, mentions four cases: the healing of the demoniac in the synagog of Capernaum, Mark 1:23-27; Luke 4; the healing of the Gadarene, Mark 5:1-13; Matthew 8; Luke 8; the daughter of the Syrophenician woman, Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15; the healing of the boy with the dumb spirit, whose father had first brought him to the disciples, a lunatic, Mark 9:17-29; Matthew 17; Luke 9. Mark also, besides mentioning the fact that Jesus cast out many devils, Mark 1:34, speaks of the healing of Mary Magdalene, from whom the Lord cast out seven devils, Mark 16:9. Details of this healing are not given in the Scriptures. The other evangelists mention or describe the following cases: the healing of the dumb man that was possessed with a devil, Matthew 9:32-33; the healing of one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb, Matthew 12:22; the healing of the woman that had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself, Luke 13:11.

Demons are cast out by Christ and in His name

In many cases the details are not given. “He suffered not the devils to speak,” Mark 1:34; “He cast out devils,” Mark 1:39; “unclean spirits fell down before Him,” Mark 3:11-12. We are told also that the Lord gave His disciples power over unclean spirits, Mark 6:7, and that the latter cast out many devils, Mark 6:13. The seventy returned with the report that even the devils were subject to them through the Lord’s name, Luke 10:17; and Christ gave His disciples the final promise, before His ascension: “In My name shall they cast out devils,” Mark 16:17.

Possession and sickness

In general, it may be said that in all these cases only such symptoms are named as are found also in the case of the usual sicknesses: deaf, dumb, blind, epileptic, lame, and insane. But there are three points which plainly distinguish the cases mentioned in the gospels from ordinary diseases with similar symptoms: 1) They say things which they cannot possibly know in the natural order of things, namely, that Jesus is the Son of the most high God, that He is the Son of God, etc.; 2) they possess supernatural strength, they cannot be held with chains and fetters; 3) in the case of the Gadarene demoniacs, they caused the whole herd of swine to cast themselves into the sea.

Mark distinguishes demoniacs from the sick

In addition to this, it should be noted that Mark distinguishes the demoniacs from the ordinary sick people by the words: “He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils,” Mark 1:34, and: “They brought unto Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils,” Mark 1:32. It would therefore not be correct to say that these demoniacs were simply ill, and that the devil had received permission from God to transmit to them a special disease, as in the case of Job. The healing of demoniacs implied more than that. It meant actually that people were possessed by evil spirits that tormented them in some peculiar fashion, made them ill, caused them to do and say things which they would not have thought of otherwise, and in other ways vented their spite on them, and that Jesus drove these spirits out.

Demonic influence in our day

In regard to the question whether this peculiar malady, possession of evil spirits, is still found in our days, and especially, whether this is true in individual cases, it is best to hold opinion and judgment in abeyance. People have confessed in some cases that they could actually feel the power of the devil, who also tormented them in their body in a most excruciating manner. But we have no Scriptural ground for assuming the existence of this form of disease in our days. But that is true, and cannot be denied, that Satan takes possession of the heart and mind of man, makes him spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God. He has his constant work in the children of unbelief, and also makes use of every opportunity to hurt and harm us in our body and in our earthly possessions, in so far as God permits this, either as a divine punishment or as a fatherly chastisement.

[Syn. Ber. Iowa Dist., 1907, 41. 42]