Friday, May 21, 2010

Jesus: The Undercover Exorcist

Jesus has had a good time traipsing around since he left His homeland of Galilee. In events exclusively covered by the Gospel of John, Jesus attended Passover in Jerusalem, had a long chat with Nicodemus about being saved, and wandered into Samaria where He spoke to a woman at a well. He eventually makes it back to his beloved homeland of Galilee, where He reluctantly heals a boy shortly after arriving.

Now, giving the other Gospel accounts a turn, Jesus begins teaching (with authority) in Galilee in a town called Capernaum.

Jesus: The Undercover Exorcist
Jesus was a bit enigmatic for many reasons. One of those reasons is that He seemed to want to hide His identity at some times, yet broadcast it at others. Jesus proclaimed that He was the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and that nobody hides a light, but rather puts it out where it can be seen (Luke 11:33). Yet there are times when Jesus wanted nobody to know who He actually was.

Mark 1:23-28 and Luke 4:33-37 record Jesus' first miracle for each Gospel respectively as being the exorcism of an evil spirit, or demon, from a man in a synagogue. Not quite word-for-word, but sentence-for-sentence the accounts between the two Gospels are nearly identical. They are so close that it seems more like school-book plagiarism than two separate eye-witness accounts. In fact, the differences have probably been introduced in language translations and the copyists' own rewording for clarification.

What makes this exorcism particularly interesting is what the demon proclaims before the it is exorcised. Let us look at Mark 1:24, although we could just as easily look at Luke 4:34. According to Mark 1:24, upon seeing Jesus the demon cries out loudly:
"What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" NIV
So this demon knows Jesus' human name, knows He essentially has complete control and can “destroy” this demon and the others (as indicated by “us”), and knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Wow! What an incredible revelation, and so conveniently located near the beginning of these Gospels! It is a perfect proclamation to affirm the identity and veracity of the Jesus in one line. Maybe a little too perfect. Maybe even a bit fictional? Let us take a closer look.

In the next section (Mark 1:25-26, Luke 4:35), Jesus commands the demon to be quiet, and then to leave the man. The evil spirit obeys, and leaves the man.

Be quiet... Why would Jesus want the demon to be quiet, given that this demon had just done such a helpful job by identifying Him?

Christian commentaries say that this was to prevent people from thinking that Jesus was working in collaboration with Satan. However, that fails logic for a few reasons.

First, it did not stop accusations of Jesus being Satanic, as we see in Matthew 9:34, Matthew 10:24, Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22, and Luke 11:15. So in other words, the Christian commentators are unwittingly saying that God failed to do something which He intended to do, which would mean that not all things are possible with God.

Second, despite Jesus being aware of this issue, He neglects to preemptively silence demons which He later encounters. Refer to the exorcism of miscellaneous demons in Luke 4:41, or refer to when Jesus casts demons into swine in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-18, and Luke 8:26-39. You could even go a step further, and say that God, knowing the future, could have preemptively silenced the demons before Jesus even lived on earth. Instead, they are permitted to identify Jesus to everyone in His presence.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, such a position contradicts the Bible itself! Mark 1:34 and Luke 4:41 state that the reason why Jesus bid the demons to be quiet is because they knew who He was. The natural conclusion based on these verses is that Jesus did not want people to know that He was the Son of God, at least in these instances. Jesus wanted to do these exorcisms undercover.

However, even the Biblical explanation fails logic by reason of the second argument above. There must be a true reason for this text; a reason which makes sense. Skepticism provides that reason quite easily.

If this is a contrived history instead of a real one, then these demonic proclamations are obviously used to bolster the claims made by men; that Jesus was the Son of God. Demons, being spirits themselves and therefore knowing the spirit world, would have an inherent credibility in identifying God, His Son, or any other spiritual being.

There is circumstantial evidence as well which points to these exorcisms, with yelling demons who identify Jesus, as being not only fictional, but perhaps late additions to an evolving story.

Consider Matthew's version of the story in which Jesus asks His Disciples who they think He is (Matthew 16:13-20). Simon (Peter) replies that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus then states that Simon is blessed, because “this [information] was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in Heaven,” despite the account eight chapters earlier where a demon shouted that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 8:29).

Also consider that Matthew mentions Jesus exorcising demons seven times (Matthew 4:23-24, Matthew 8:16, Matthew 8:28-34, Matthew 9:32-33, Matthew 12:22, Matthew 15:21-28, Matthew 17:14-20). Mark mentions Jesus' exorcisms eight times (Mark 1:23-28, Mark 1:32-34, Mark 1:39, Mark 3:10-12, Mark 5:1-18, Mark 7:24-30, Mark 9:14-29, Mark 16:9). Luke mentions Jesus' exorcisms nine times (Luke 4:33-37, Luke 4:40-41, Luke 6:17-19, Luke 7:21, Luke 8:2, Luke 8:26-39, Luke 9:37-43, Luke 11:14, Luke 13:32). These witnesses make exorcisms one of Jesus' most frequently performed miracles. However, the Gospel of John does not mention that Jesus performed any exorcisms at all!

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