Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and began teaching the people at the sabbath meetings. They were astonished at the way he taught them, for his word was spoken with authority.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by an evil spirit who shouted in a loud voice, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I recognize you: you are the Holy One of God.” Then Jesus said to him sharply, “Be silent and leave this man!” The evil spirit then threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him harm.
Amazement seized all these people and they said to one another, “What does this mean? He commands the evil spirits with authority and power. He orders, and you see how they come out!” And news about Jesus spread throughout the surrounding area.
Some Christians are not a little embarrassed when they read stories of exorcisms in the gospel like the one we have in today’s gospel reading. They are so influenced by secular thought that they are ready to relegate any mention of demons to the Dark Ages. They are tempted to accept the sweeping statement of rationalist thought which claims that Jesus and his contemporaries naively called demonic possession what were simply cases of hysteria or of psychosomatic illness. Jesus’ “exorcisms” were, therefore, merely natural cures of nervous disorders. However, a close study of the gospels contradicts the rationalist theory at every turn.
Item. When the gospels give general statements on healings and exorcisms, they usually (78% of the time) distinguish between sickness and demonic possession. And Mark, our earliest gospel, never confuses the two.
Item. In the 14 different gospel passages presenting specific exorcisms, 8 out of 14 (or 57%) are devoid of terminological confusion and clearly distinguish healings from exorcisms. The rest of the texts present some slight confusion (3 texts) or considerable confusion (3 texts).
Item. We also have 15 gospel passages in which Jesus is said to have performed healings and in which these healings are described without the least reference to demonic influence. (More on this topic on tomorrow’s comments).
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