Jesus the Ecumenical Demon Slayer dominates the narrative of the Gospel of Mark. The words demon, unclean spirit, and Satan appear at least 35 times in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus performs at least 10 specific exorcisms in the book of Mark. Mark also tells us that Jesus performed countless other exorcisms in normal course of Jesus’ ministry:
“And (Jesus) went throughout Galilee, proclaiming, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Mark 1:39
Jesus gave his 12 disciples authority to perform exorcisms:
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits….(The 12 disciples) cast out many demons and annoited withoil many who were sick and cured them.” Mark 6:7&13
Jesus was ecumenical when it came to casting out demons. When people who were not following Jesus were effectively casting out demons in Jesus’ name, Jesus told the disciples not to stop them:
“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:38-39
Are demons simply a metaphor for mental illness? Is Jesus simply accommodating the beliefs of 0 AD?
Jesus interactions in the Book of Mark are not presented as metaphors or as Jesus simply pretending to cast out demons to accommodate his audience. Jesus has a theology, a belief system, related to demons:
- The demons speak to Jesus. One example in Mark 1:23-24 “Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, .”What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”,
- The demons always bowed before Jesus. In Mark 3:11 says, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God.”
- Demons have names. Demons have complicated feelings about Swine. In a particularly bizarre encounter with the demon named Legion we learn that demons prefer swine. But then Legion kills the pigs. Not exactly sure what is going on here: “Then Jesus asked him,”What is your name?” He replied, “Come out “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged (Jesus) earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged (Jesus), “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So (Jesus) gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
- Children can be possessed by demons. (I am a parent. Based on my experiences this may be the most credible evidence for demons. 🙂 ) Mark 7:25: :…but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately hear about (Jesus), and she came and bowed down at his feet.” As the woman begs at Jesus’ feet for her daughter’s life Jesus dismisses her without empathy because she is a different race than Jesus. When the mother perseveres, comparing herself to a dog under the table looking for scraps, Jesus heals her daughter.
- Some demons are harder to cast out than others. Jesus gets very frustrated with his disciples when they cannot cast a demon out of a boy who has been afflicted with seizures from birth. “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer Must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (Mark 9:19) Then the heartbroken father appeals to Jesus, “…if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus is offended, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” The father, terrified that he doesn’t “believe enough” to meet Jesus standards for casting out a demons, begs Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Jesus relents and casts the demon out of the boy. Not one of Jesus’ best moments in my view.
- Both Jesus and Satan have authority over demons. Jesus has more. In Mark 3:22 the scribes accuse Jesus of being able to cast out demons because “He has Beelzebul”. Jesus replies in verse 27, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”
What are my conclusion regarding Jesus the Ecumenical Demon Slayer?
- Demons are a version of “God of the Gaps”
If I lived around 0 AD and I saw a child having a seizure, a demon would have been a reasonable explanation. I am a Elementary Special Education Teacher. I have had several students who have seizures. They are sudden and scary. Often the body stiffens and the child falls on the floor writhing. The eyes glaze and the child appears absent. Then after a few moments or minutes the students usually’comes to’ and the seizure stops. I can see how 2,000 years ago a demon might be a reasonable explanation for a physical, medical condition.
We have all had some encounters with people who have a serious mental illness. There behaviors and words can be irrational and upsetting to the people around them. Often people with mental illnesses seem to be experiencing a different reality than the people around them. Again, I can understand why someone 2,000 years ago explain what is now a treatable mental illness with demonic possession.
2. Satan & Demons a Useful Metaphor. Until they’re not.
We all have voices in our heads. Some are paranoid “Are they talking about me?” “I think my boss is out to get me?” Some are indulgent: “A donut will make you feel better.” “One more episode of “Stranger Things” is as good as an hour of sleep.” Angry and Impulsive. “I quit!” “Go away!”
When I followed the teaching of the Bible in a literal way I would sometimes think, “Is that the voice of Satan or the voice of the Holy Spirit?”
I think there is some value to demons and satan as a metaphor for the thoughts and feelings we have. Possibly to achieve some distance and separate them from yourself and deal with them. But ultimately it produces paranoia, self-doubt, and self-hatred.
I have found it much more effective and healthy to take a neutral stance towards even my worst thoughts and feelings. I observe them. Become curious. Without defense or fear. I find if I can listen to them and accept them I can learn and grow. When I try to repress them or “cast them out” they become more powerful. They go find 7 demons who are worse and come back.
3. Mark Jesus the Ecumenical Demon Slayer is a Legend. Not the True Jesus.
I wish Jesus wrote books. I wish Jesus had a Podcast. But Jesus doesn’t. So we are left to work through the information about Jesus that is available to us. I believe these are legendary accounts intended to enhance Jesus credibility and message. Unfortunately these embellishments actually hurt the message and teaching of Jesus.
But someone said, “The Truth shall set you Free.”