Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

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C. S. Bartholomew
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Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Mar 07, 2016 7:47 pm

καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τὸ δαιμόνιον καὶ ἐθεραπεύθη ὁ παῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης

No previous mention has been made of a demon when Matthew tells us Jesus rebuked him. The most accessible antecedent is the boy. The language used by the father σεληνιάζεται ... θεραπεῦσαι is ambiguous. σεληνιάζεται may suggest some sort of demonic agency but θεραπεῦσαι does not suggest exorcism. So the question is why should we assume that the request of the father is for an exorcism rather than a healing? Among recent commentators D. Hagner and R. T. France represent the divide over how to read the scenario as depicted in Matt. 17.


Matt. 17:14 Καὶ ἐλθόντων πρὸς τὸν ὄχλον προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ ἄνθρωπος γονυπετῶν αὐτὸν 15 καὶ λέγων· κύριε, ἐλέησόν μου τὸν υἱόν, ὅτι σεληνιάζεται καὶ κακῶς πάσχει· πολλάκις γὰρ πίπτει εἰς τὸ πῦρ καὶ πολλάκις εἰς τὸ ὕδωρ. 16 καὶ προσήνεγκα αὐτὸν τοῖς μαθηταῖς σου, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθησαν αὐτὸν θεραπεῦσαι. 17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη, ἕως πότε μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν ἔσομαι; ἕως πότε ἀνέξομαι ὑμῶν; φέρετέ μοι αὐτὸν ὧδε. 18 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τὸ δαιμόνιον καὶ ἐθεραπεύθη ὁ παῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης
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Paul Derouda
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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Mar 07, 2016 9:26 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:So the question is why should we assume that the request of the father is for an exorcism rather than a healing?
To me this passage suggests that the writer doesn't make a clear distinction between the two. I think the antecedent is definitely the boy, and ἐξῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τὸ δαιμόνιον seems (to me) almost a manner of speaking here, I don't think that the "(evil) spirit" means much more than "madness" this time. How very different than the graphical description of the "legion" that went into the pigs!

It's an interesting passage, and I suppose this sort of thing shows how differently people thought about mental illness than they do now. I think your dichotomy between healing and exorcism didn't really exist (except maybe in medical writers, like in Hippocrates' On the Holy Disease, where Hippocrates expresses his convinction that epilepsy is an illness like any other). I think it's the advent psychiatry and more generally the understanding of the functions of the brain that made exorcism (as still practiced by the Roman Catholic church, I believe) obsolete. I think it's still Roman Catholic doctrine that exorcism is sometimes (very rarely) warranted and is allegedly effective in rare cases where medical measured don't work, and I think it's from this sort of conflict between the scientific and the traditional that the dichotomy arises.

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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by jeidsath » Mon Mar 07, 2016 10:12 pm

This is an example of "editorial fatigue" par excellence. Matthew is copying (almost word for word in places) from Mark 9. He's also summarizing and changing some of the details as he goes. Among other things, Matthew has dropped the "ἔχοντα πνεῦμα ἄλαλον" of the original, causing the weirdness that you point out.
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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Mar 07, 2016 10:37 pm

I remembered a passage in the Odyssey (a simile) where a spirit assails a person even when the illness is not mental. (5.394 ff.)

ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος βίοτος παίδεσσι φανήῃ
πατρός, ὃς ἐν νούσῳ κεῖται κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων,
δηρὸν τηκόμενος, στυγερὸς δέ οἱ ἔχραε δαίμων,
ἀσπάσιον δ’ ἄρα τόν γε θεοὶ κακότητος ἔλυσαν,
ὣς Ὀδυσῆ’ ἀσπαστὸν ἐείσατο γαῖα καὶ ὕλη,

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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Mar 08, 2016 12:56 am

It is interesting to compare the use of δαίμων in this Homeric text with Matthew. Stephanie West in the Oxford commentary observes: δαίμων (he who deals out, cf δαίω), an unspecific supernatural agency invoked as the cause of the inexplicable: "Il concetto di δαίμων in Omero", Atene e Roma xli (1939). In Homer δαίμων seems to me a more impartial idea than that in Matthew. δαίμων has to be qualified by στυγερὸς to bring out its baleful effect. I am reminded of Socrates daemon too, which he regarded as beneficial. Biblical texts especially in translation perhaps too easily elide demon with "evil". Although its quite clear in Matt. that the demon is not very friendly.

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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Mar 08, 2016 7:23 pm

Paul Derouda wrote: To me this passage suggests that the writer doesn't make a clear distinction between the two. I think the antecedent is definitely the boy, and ἐξῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τὸ δαιμόνιον seems (to me) almost a manner of speaking here, I don't think that the "(evil) spirit" means much more than "madness" this time. How very different than the graphical description of the "legion" that went into the pigs!
I was thinking about "scenarios" [1], particularly if σεληνιάζομαι activates a cultural situation where demonic agency is assumed. I agree that this isn't strictly either/or since Matthew appears to use θεραπεύω with maladies of all sorts; See Matt. 4:24.

Matt. 4:24 Καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν Συρίαν· καὶ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ποικίλαις νόσοις καὶ βασάνοις συνεχομένους [καὶ] δαιμονιζομένους καὶ σεληνιαζομένους καὶ παραλυτικούς, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτούς.


[1] Scenarios, Discourse, and Translation, Richard A. Hoyle, 2008 SIL International
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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Mar 08, 2016 8:21 pm

I brought in the Odyssey passage (although it's maybe 700 years older than the NT passage), because it occured to me that any illness might considered to have been brought about by an evil spirit. It's not as if some illnesses were considered to be "natural" and other brought about by a demonic agency, I don't think the ancients were wondering whether a sick person needs a doctor or a priest. If something bad happens to you, it means an evil spirit put a curse on you, if you choose to believe so.

But on the other hand, it seems to me that δαιμονιζομενος or σεληνιαζομενος, in the context of e.g. Matt. 4:24, are just regular terms for mentally ill. The idea of an evil spirit possesing a person had become such a common place, especially in the case of mental illness, that the original meaning of the word was not felt so strongly.

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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by seneca2008 » Wed Mar 09, 2016 12:40 am

But on the other hand, it seems to me that δαιμονιζομενος or σεληνιαζομενος, in the context of e.g. Matt. 4:24, are just regular terms for mentally ill
Hershkowitz, The Madness of Epic. Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius includes an interesting account of the difficulties of defining what "mental illness" in the ancient world might be. There is a review from Bryn Mawr here http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/1999/1999-08-07.html

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Re: Who was rebuked in Matt. 17:18?

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Wed Mar 09, 2016 4:35 pm

Mark 1:32 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης, ὅτε ἔδυ ὁ ἥλιος, ἔφερον πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας καὶ τοὺς δαιμονιζομένους· 33 καὶ ἦν ὅλη ἡ πόλις ἐπισυνηγμένη πρὸς τὴν θύραν. 34 καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν πολλοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ποικίλαις νόσοις καὶ δαιμόνια πολλὰ ἐξέβαλεν καὶ οὐκ ἤφιεν λαλεῖν τὰ δαιμόνια, ὅτι ᾔδεισαν αὐτόν.

R. T. France[1] points out that Mark's gospel is different from Matthew and Luke. Mark uses θεραπεύω consistently for disease and distinguishes it from demonic agency where he uses ἐκβάλλω.



[1] R. T. France, Matthew NICNT 2005 p109, Mark NIGTC 2002 p151-152.
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