Friday, June 28, 2013

Epilepsy or possession?

Many Bible commentators, including otherwise conservative commentators, classify the young demoniac in the Synoptic accounts (Mt 17:14-20; Mk 9:14-29; Lk 9:37-43) as epileptic. A prima facie problem with their diagnosis is that the Gospels attribute his condition to demonic possession.

One reservation I have is that being a NT scholar doesn't make one an expert on epilepsy. All we're getting from the commentators is their amateur understanding of epilepsy.

In addition, the boy has other symptoms which don't seem to be attributable to epilepsy. He's a deaf-mute. And his father says the evil spirit tried to make the boy drown himself or burn himself to death.

To be sure, we should make allowance for the fact that this is the father's impression. Jesus doesn't say that, or the narrator. Still, the fact that Jesus exorcizes the boy to some degree endorses the father's interpretation. 


  1. This is a good point. Another thing to consider is that many people write off cases of demonic possession in Scripture as being the superstition mindset of primitive people. Now that we know better, living in the scientific age, we can safely say that these were really cases of epilipsy or perhaps schizophrenia, etc. So the story goes.

    But the ancients were not ignorant of mental disorders. When David went to Achish (1 Samuel 21:10-15), he acted like a madman and the king's first conclusion was not that David was possessed, but that he was insane. So people in the time of the Bible were aware of mental disorders and did not necessarily write everything off as demonic possession.

  2. Another problem is that people tend to think with an either/or mentality. Either it's demonic possession, OR it's epilepsy. A third possibility is that it's both demonic possession AND epilepsy. Some diseases are purely natural, others are purely supernatural and other times it's both. Sometimes it may have started off as natural and then made worse by the demonic, or started off as demonic but resulted in something that's also physical.

    If anyone is interested, here's my blog on Evidence and Testimonies of Demonic and Angelic Encounters

    1. I'll be adding more links to the above blog either today or tomorrow. Possibly with links to resources associated with theologically diverse people like Roger Sapp, Neil T. Anderson, Walter Martin, Derek Prince, John Piper, Sam Storms, Donald G. Barnhouse, Greg Boyd etc.

  3. You're all ignoring a third possibility: alien possession.

    1. Actually, it might be the reverse. Many people who have claimed to have had reoccurring alien abductions have been able to virtually or completely stop them by appealing to the authority of the name of Jesus. See This Link HERE. And those who occasionally still have the experience are able to immediately end them by resisting them in the name of Jesus. This would strongly suggest that, at least in these cases the "aliens" were demons. In which case, all alien encounters may be demonic. There's also a logical possibility that some encounters with aliens are demonic and some are genuinely of extra-terrestrials. From a Christian perspective, there's nothing inherently inconsistent with the possibility of malevolent extra-terrestrials which God may have originally created good. Or they may be the offspring (in some distant way) of the Nephilim.

      I personally do not believe extra-terrestrials are actually abducting humans or interacting with humans, or visiting earth via UFOs. However, the UFO phenomena seems to be real and may be demonic too. Steven Greer's documentaries (Here and here) of various former military personnel usually doesn't involve alleged encounters with extra-terrestrials. Only a few do and when you listen to their testimonies, they seem suspect.

  4. I think Annoyed Pinoy raises a good point. Not all sickness is the result of sin (though some evidently is). It would also seem reasonable with what the Bible reveals about demonic possession that it could account for some mental and physical sickness. Cutting is a mental illness. The demoniac at the Gerasenes was a cutter which, in light of the context, seemed to be the result of his possession

    Mathetes gives a good example of the ancients being able to distinguish between mental illness and possession. I'm not sure what basis they would have to make that distinction or if they were able to make that distinction properly, but it's an interesting distinction nonetheless.

    1. I agree, not all sickness is the direct result of sin. Sometimes it's just the result of living in a fallen world. So, it's only indirectly the result of sin (e.g. Adam's).

      I'm not sure what basis they would have to make that distinction or if they were able to make that distinction properly, but it's an interesting distinction nonetheless.

      I'm sure there were cases of misdiagnosis where it was thought to be demonic when actually only (or mostly) physical, or physical when it was only (or mostly) demonic.

      However, if the sickness also seemed to be accompanied by paranormal events (e.g. poltergeist activity, extreme continuous blasphemy/profanity etc.) then it would have been easier to diagnose in those instances. Then from there, they could compare those extreme cases with less severe cases of sicknesses and make more informed diagnoses.

    2. On one of my blogs, I just added links to two audio files (part 1 & 2) of Walter Martin giving a testimony of him exorcising a demon(s) out of a girl.

      Here are the links to two audio files where his daughter Jill Martin Rische plays recordings of her late father Walter Martin speaking on his experience with demonic possession.

      The first audio has the recording of Walter start right before 7 minutes. On the second audio file, the recording continues soon after the 4th minute starts. Walter Martin begins telling his testimony of an exorcism at 41 minutes into the first audio file.

      The Truth about Spiritual Warfare, Demon Possession & Exorcism with Walter Martin
      Part ONE, Part TWO

      One of the (many) examples Walter Martin gives for why he concluded demons were really involved was the incident of the girl and her mother in the kitchen and all of a sudden a knife lifted off the table and flew accross the room and missed the girl. In times past, both Steve and Jason have been open to the possibility of natural human psychic ability. Unless this is a case of subconscious telekinesis (by mother and/or daughter), then a good abductive hypothesis is that of demonic activity.