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THE DEMONIACS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
The writers of the New Testament speak of demons and possessions by evil spirits. There are many who maintain that Jesus and his apostles adopted this phraseology ad hominem,accommodating their words to the prejudices and superstitions of the times and of the people with whom they were conversant; while in fact they spoke of diseases, epileptics, hypochondriacs and deranged people. But others dissent from such views, and maintain that they meant to be understood as speaking of real demons and of possessions by evil spirits. We propose to examine, in this paper, these different opinions. We first advert to the arguments of those who deny the existence of demons in the proper sense, and of the real possessions by evil spirits.
Those who maintain that demoniacs are only epileptics, hypochondriacs, or deranged people, go back to the notions of the Greeks and Romans of a very early period, for the purpose
of showing that demons were but the ghosts of dead men, who once sustained infamous characters, and whose malignant dispositions continued after their departure from the body, and influenced them to haunt and afflict men who were still in the body.
Then they assume that the like notions prevailed among the Jews, and that Christ and his apostles, if they intended to be understood, were obliged to use language in accommodation to these superstitions.
But what proof is there that the Jews understood by demons the spirits of dead men? We see none whatever. The fact that Greeks and Romans adopted such superstition avails nothing in proof that the Jews of our Saviour's time believed in such absurd opinions. On the contrary, it is well known that the Jews believed in the existence of holy and wicked angels, and that they derived these sentiments from their sacred Scriptures ; that they understood by demons, angel sthat had fallen from their original high standing, and who were the agents of Satan, the prince of the demons.
That such was their opinion, will be seen by recurring to
Matthew, 12th chapter, and to parallel passages in the other Evangelists. The Pharisees allege that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons. Thus it seems plain that they accounted wicked angels as agents of a powerful prince who employed and controlled them.
Is it not, then, a mere assumption that the Jews believed the ghosts of dead men to be the tormentors of the living ?
But we stop not here. We are constrained to consider the three great points which they attempt to establish.
First. It is maintained that the symptoms of demoniacs were like the ordinary symptoms of epilepsy, or hypochondria, or derangement. Supposing we admit that some of the symptoms were the same, will that prove the truth of the assumption? Some of the symptoms of an epileptic may be like some of those of a hypochondriac, and some of those of a hypochondriac may be like those of a mad person. But all this is far from proving that epilepsy, hypochondria and insanity are all
In order to make this argument of any validity it must be shown that demoniacs never exhibited anything contrary to, or different from the above named diseases. But this has not been shown, nor can it be. We expect to show in a subsequent part of this discussion that demoniacs exhibited many things that were altogether irreconcilable with the notion that they were only the subjects of those above mentioned diseases. And we proceed to another point. Secondly. It is maintained that demoniacs are only diseased
prove this assumption many cases are cited. The first is that of the man possessed of “an unclean spirit,” who dwelt in the tombs, who was boisterous and ungovernable, and who attacked travellers as they passed that way. Mark v. 2, and Luke viii. 27. This person, it is said, "showed all the signs of insanity." "He had the wild notion that innumerable evil demons dwelt within him.” “And the great strength which he showed in breaking the chains with which they attempted to bind him is just what we often witnese in the insane, who exhibit a surprising degree of strength.” His address to Jesus as the Son of God is accounted for on the supposition that he had “some lucid intervals," and "and had heard enough of Jesus to account him the promised Messiah.” His petitions that Jesus would not "torment him before the time"; and that he would permit the demons to enter the herd of swine,” are alleged as proof positive of derangement.
Besides, it is said, “a real demon would not be likely to choose such a habitation,” and that he is called an “unclean spirit,” because he was “the spirit of one dead,” which was reckoned unclean; and that the “demons did not enter the swine,” but that "the crazy man ran after them so impetuously that he frightened them into the water."
Surely this is a very great discovery. But how does it appear that one so exceedingly crazy as to be ungovernable, and a terror to all passers by, dwelling in tombs and cutting himself with stones, and whom no one could bind with chains, had such lucid intervals" as to know more of the real character of Jesus than all the ruling ecclesiastics of the time, and all the men who had their reason. But a still greater wonder is, that he should have the disposition to do it, after Jesus had commanded his insanity to depart from him and was obeyed.
Why should we not rather suppose that the disease of the man fell suddenly upon the animals ; and that through epileptic fits they fell down the precipice into the sea !
Besides, why might not a real demon be as ready to enter swine, as was Satan to choose a serpent to tempt our progenitors, and to destroy the race? What better residence could an "unclean spirit” desire, than “unclean beasts” ?
But regard carefully the narrative of the inspired writer, and see how entirely inconsistent with the idea that this man was only a deranged person. “No man could bind him with chains.”
He had supernatural strength. “He was always night and day in the mountains, or in the tombs.” Does it appear that there was any room for “lucid intervals.” But the moment that he saw Jesus afar off, “he ran to worship him." This was conduct different from that of all his countrymen, who had always been sane. And it is to be accounted for only by supposing that there was something within him which recognized the real character of the Son of God. Therefore he said : “Jesus, thou Son of God, Most High, I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not." It would seem that this man was more fully acquainted with the character of Jesus than all the sane men of the Sanhedrim. Is this consistent with the idea that he was merely a deranged man? Besides, would insanity say, "If thou cast me out, suffer me to go into the herd of swine”? Or if it was the doing of a crazy man to destroy these swine, how could the whole city lay the blame upon Jesus, and demand that he should leave the place. Indeed, is there not much in this Gadarene demoniac that shows the absurdity of assuming that he was merely a deranged man?
The second case, which is brought in proof that the symptoms of demoniacs are like those of insanity, epilepsy or hypochondria, is that of the dumb and blind man mentioned in Matthew xii. 22, and Luke xi. 14; which some suppose to be the same as that related in Mark vii. 32. It is supposed that insanity or melancholy was the disease. But does either of these deprive a man of sight or of speech? Who ever heard of such a case? It is not said that this man was born blind, or a deaf mute. But it is implied that an evil demon obstructed his sight, and prevented his speech! We can see no evidence that this man was an epileptic, hypochondriac, or insane.
The next case brought is that of the young man mentioned in Matthew xvii. 15, and in Luke ix. 38, who was lunatic from his childhood; who was seized and torn by an evil demon, and who fell often into the fire and into the water; who foamed at the mouth and gnashed his teeth, and wallowed upon the ground. It is assumed that this was a case of epilepsy merely. But this is a mere begging of the question. What if these symptoms resembled somewhat those of that disease? Might not the cause be different? If one person is deprived of reason by intemperance, and another by a blow upon the skull, and if they exhibit a similarity of appearance and conduct, is it proper to affirm that the latter person is a drunkard ? And why should the opposers of real possession by evil spirits assume, contrary to the inspired word, that this is a case of epilepsy? But
The third point which some opposers of real possessions attempt to establish is, that the Evangelists, Christ, and the Apostles, regarded demoniacs as merely diseased persons. It is assumed, but not proved, “that the Evangelists introduce demoniacs among sick people, as a separate class of sick,” and “that in sume instances they comprehend demoniacs under the head
VOL. VI.-NO. XXXIII,
of diseased persons without expressly mentioning thenı”; and that they did not think it necessary always to mention them, because they did not conceive that there was anything in their case sufficiently peculiar to render the distinction of any importance.
But how did these critics learn that demoniacs are included where there is no mention of them? We look at the Scripture narratives, and see that continually the writers do distinguish between demoniacs and diseased persons. “And they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments; and those that were possessed with demons; and those that were lunatic; and those that had the dropsy." Matthew iv. 24: In commissioning the apostles he said: "Heal the sick; cleanse the lepers ; raise the dead; cast out devils,” [demons.] Matthew x. 8. “They brought unto him all that were diseased, and those that were possessed with demons.” Mark i. 32. “And he gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases." Luke ix. 1.
It would seem that there is no ground for the assumption that demoniacs and diseased persons are the same, for the distinctness of the above quotations must settle the question.
But again, it is said that the word demon is used tropically for disease, as Bacchus is for wine, and Ceres for corn; that Christ and the Evangelists made use of language very much as physicians in speaking of “St. Anthony's fire," "the nightmare,' and “unacy,” although the causes of these diseases are well known, and there is no ground for using such language except by accommodation. But we object to such an abuse of the divine word. It makes Christ but a vain empyric and the Evangelists but mysterious quacks. It represents them as imposing upon the credulity of men, and making use of the superstitions of the ignorant to advance their own honor. Could it consist with the uniform simplicity and integrity of Christ to speak of demons as he did, to command them, to threaten them, and to speak of them as knowing him, if it were but a hallucination of superstition? When the demoniacs cried, “We know thee who thou art, the Son of God," would it consist with integrity to forbid them to make him known, because they knew that he was the Christ, if it were all a delusion? And if any will attempt to free themselves from difficulty by represent