Demonic Possession in the Bible

Literal cases of Possession, Or Simply Cases of Epilepsy and Other Conditions?

Traditionally the subject of demonic possession and exorcism has been justified and given credibility by passages found in the Gospels. In this modern era, however, many people dismiss Biblical accounts of demon possession claiming that due to lack of understanding of mental conditions by the primitive people of the day, those innocents that Christ exorcised were not in fact possessed by demons but rather simply suffering from mental disease.  However a careful study of the Bible reveals that the writers actually differentiated between those possessed and those suffering from other conditions.   For example please read Matthew 4:24

Matthew 4:24  And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy and he healed them.

Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries define the words devils, lunatic, and palsy as follows:

  • Devils: (daimonizomenous ) those which were possessed with devils [1]
  • Epileptics: (seléniazomai) moonstruck, epileptic (Strong’s Greek Dictionary[2]
  • Palsy: (paralytikous) those that had the palsy [3]

The simple question manifests itself, if the writers of the Gospels grouped all the sick into one group with demonic possession as the diagnosis of the members of that group, why did they have different designations for these illnesses?  Obviously those that translated the original texts form Aramaic or Hebrew into Greek realized that in the case of Matthew 4:24, those that were brought to Christ not only suffered from demonic possession but other conditions as well.

Unfortunately, we as a society have a nasty habit of taking the word of certain sources and not taking the time to check the accuracy of those sources’ claims.  Comparing the medical knowledge that existed at the time of Christ to that which exists today, it Is easy to arrive at the conclusion that since epilepsy has only been recognized as a condition relative recently then the “primitive” minds that witnessed the miracles of Christ must have thought those suffering from epilepsy were possessed by demons.

However, even though many cultures did in fact believe that epilepsy was caused by demonic attack, four hundred years before the time of Christ, the Greek physician Hippocrates writes the first book on epilepsy, On the Sacred Disease. Refuting the idea that epilepsy is a curse. [4]  So even though many at the time of Christ did not understand the true nature of epilepsy—such as the father who brought forth his son describing  symptoms which are typical of epilepsy—there is historical evidence that some understood there was a difference between typical demonic possession and illnesses such as epilepsy.

References:

[1] http://biblesuite.com/greek/daimonizomenous_1139.htm
[2] http://biblesuite.com/greek/4583.htm
[3] http://biblesuite.com/greek/paralutikous_3885.htm
[4] http://www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/history

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