Demons appear to be popping up a lot in the New Testament so far, which I think is strangely fascinating. In fact, in Mark alone the words “demon”/”unclean spirit”/”spirit” are mentioned about 20 times just in the first nine chapters. Usually when I think of demons, I think of the black, smoke-like clouds that possess people in the completely amazing TV show Supernatural. As we all know, during Jesus’ ministry he went across the land and cast out demons. Now, when I was imagining this, I pictured something like when Sam and Dean cast out the demon Meg Masters in the season one finale of Supernatural:
(Just a heads up, there is foul language used in the show, and in this scene)
However, during my reading, I found a few cases where these “demons” that Jesus was casting out were also blamed for various psychological/physical problems, such as epilepsy and muteness. After realizing this, I started to wonder if these so-called “demons” were actually how the people of the time explained illnesses that could not be seen, especially mental illness.
According to one source, this may actually be true. If you view the demon possessions from a medical perspective, what people thought were symptoms of demonic possession were actually just symptoms of mental illness (Christianity). This can be seen in Matthew 17:14-20, were Jesus heals a young epileptic boy by casting out demon. Another case appears in Mark 9:14-29, where Jesus must do what his disciples failed to do and cast out a demon from a mute person. To me, this seems to be the most plausible answer. These people did not have the knowledge of mental illness that we have today, and could have easily used demons as a way of rationalizing what was going on.
There’s also another source that lists several reasons explaining that mental illness (specifically schizophrenia) can’t be caused by demonic possession (Schizophrenia). Some of these reasons include:
- Demons speak rationally, while people with schizophrenia generally can’t
- Demons have an aversion to Christ, while many mentally ill people seek spiritual help
- Supernatural events are demonic, not mental illness
On the other hand, many people believe that the demons are, well, actual demons. As for how to tell if a person is possessed by a demon, one source lists these symptoms of demonic possession:
- Mental problems
- Irrational emotional breakdowns
- Physical problems that aren’t easily cured
There are several other symptoms listed as well (Great Bible Study). While this could easily be the real answer, I find it hard to believe from my perspective in the modern world.
However, there are several cases in the Bible where there’s no mental illness involved with demonic possession. So, assuming that these were literal demons, how did Jesus cast them out? There are several different methods that people believe could have been used.
One site, while it doesn’t go into much detail, states that Jesus used exorcisms to rid people of demons (beliefnet). This source also states that many people were using exorcisms to release innocent victims from the grasps of demons during the time of Jesus, although their methods varied from each other. As we can see through the many horror movies based off exorcisms and several TV shows that show exorcisms being performed (like Supernatural) today, exorcisms are still performed and people are still fascinated with them. As with the demons being real, along with the modern day view of exorcisms, I find it a bit hard to believe that Jesus used this method to cast out demons.
Another theory is that Jesus cast out demons using his name (Great Bible Study). This seems to be a bit more plausible than exorcisms if you believe that Jesus is the son of the Protagonist. Along with this, many people believe today that demons flinch at the name of Christ (usually in Latin). But again, it’s kind of hard to believe that a simple word can make a demon flee in terror.
Finally, there is one theory actually mentioned in the Book of Mark, which is prayer. In Mark 9:29, it states “And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” Personally, this would seem like the most obvious method of banishing a demon, or at least attempt to banish a demon. This is especially true considering the fact that the Hebrew people often prayed to the Protagonist in times of hardship, and I would think that demonic possession would be a type of hardship.
In conclusion, I feel that at least some of the demons that Jesus cast out of people were actually instances of mental illness. As for the other cases, if they were in fact demons, there are several methods Jesus could have used to banish them. For me, if you’re going to believe in literal demons, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that prayer would be an obvious way to rid yourself of the demon.
(Because seriously, how can you not love the Supernatural Impala)