Why Jesus is not an excorcist

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Stefan Kristensen
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Why Jesus is not an excorcist

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:12 am

The word 'exorcist' is from the Greek εξορκιστης which is derived from the verb εξορκιζω, ultimately from ορκος, "oath", and ορκιζω, "to make swear; to put under oath". Swearing and oaths is part of quite a complex semantic field. In modern language it has various meanings that cover anything from the simple idea of 'promise' to the concept of obscene language (profanities/curse words/swear words). It's an extremely interesting subject historically, I think.

The term εξορκιζω seems to be pretty much synonymous with ορκιζω (without the prefix εξ-). Apparantly they both have the same meaning: to put under oath, or 'adjure' from latin, 'jurare': to swear.

This is what the high priest does at the interrogation in Matt 26:63. He "adjures" Jesus to answer his question truthfully using the Greek term εξορκιζω: "I adjure you by the living God to tell us whether you are the christ, the son of God!" As far as I understand it, the idea seems to be that the high priest urges Jesus to answer truthfully under the watchful eyes of God or else suffer consequences from God. God is invoked as a witness to Jesus' integrity in answer and also invoked as the executioner of the consequences for lying. The high priest kind of binds Jesus under oath, and the word is εξορκιζω, 'I exorcise you by God to answer', as it were.

In Mark 5:7 it is the demon called Legion who "adjures" Jesus with the term ορκιζω: "I adjure you by God, do not torment me!" The idea seems to be kind of the same: God is invoked in order to 'bind' Jesus under divine oath, so that God is invoked as a witness, judge and executioner. I must confess, I have a hard time trying to understand the basic idea of this conception. I mean, one thing is invoking God to be the judge in a matter of truthful witnessing, as in the interrogation by the high priest. Or in American court of law, where the witness him/herself has to swear by God (or something like that if I'm not mistaken). This makes sense to me, because that's a matter of truth vs. lie (or false testimony), and obviously God punishes lyers and perjurers.

However, in this latter case, the demon (Legion) apparantly wants to invoke God by his 'adjuration' in order that, if Jesus doesn't do what is told, God will punish him! How can that be a thing? 'I adjure you by God, give me all your money!' Anyway, it must be this latter instance of 'adjuration' which is the closest to the idea of what we call 'exorcism': invoking God's presence in order to call on his authority, which will then make the possessing demon submissive.



Biblical researchers often comment on the curious fact that when Jesus exorcises demons he never uses any such language or curses or the like. A few times he seems to be using magical remedies such as spit, but even when he uses language which might look like magical incantations, e.g. "ephphatha", this is nothing more than Aramaic versions of what he does in the other places: he simply commands.

In other words, Jesus never seems to invoke the power of God when he exorcises demons, and this has often surprised researchers. If exorcism means invoking God's presence or authority or power by putting the demons under oaths to God or something to that effect, then Jesus is no exorcist. Simply because: Jesus is the power. Jesus is the authority. He himself. If anything he should invoke himself! He has been given the divine authority, the power of God's name, he has inherited the name, the power, and therefore he simply commands the demons directly by his own word.

This sets Jesus apart from any other exorcist ever to have wandered the earth. Jesus is not an exorcist. If God is defined by his cosmic power, then by all means the Jesus of the gospels is God in the flesh. He is invested personally with all the power and force of God the creator. So, it is now Jesus' name and power which is invoked in exorcism, as we can clearly see in the NT. Jesus is therefore no exorcist and he doesn't perform exorcisms, strictly speaking. He is himself the power used by other exorcists.

Martin Klatt
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Re: Why Jesus is not an excorcist

Post by Martin Klatt » Thu Nov 29, 2018 9:27 am

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Last edited by Martin Klatt on Tue Dec 04, 2018 8:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Irish1975
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Re: Why Jesus is not an excorcist

Post by Irish1975 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 10:42 am

Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:12 am
Biblical researchers often comment on the curious fact that when Jesus exorcises demons he never uses any such language or curses or the like. A few times he seems to be using magical remedies such as spit, but even when he uses language which might look like magical incantations, e.g. "ephphatha", this is nothing more than Aramaic versions of what he does in the other places: he simply commands.

In other words, Jesus never seems to invoke the power of God when he exorcises demons, and this has often surprised researchers. If exorcism means invoking God's presence or authority or power by putting the demons under oaths to God or something to that effect, then Jesus is no exorcist. Simply because: Jesus is the power. Jesus is the authority. He himself. If anything he should invoke himself! He has been given the divine authority, the power of God's name, he has inherited the name, the power, and therefore he simply commands the demons directly by his own word.

This sets Jesus apart from any other exorcist ever to have wandered the earth. Jesus is not an exorcist. If God is defined by his cosmic power, then by all means the Jesus of the gospels is God in the flesh. He is invested personally with all the power and force of God the creator. So, it is now Jesus' name and power which is invoked in exorcism, as we can clearly see in the NT. Jesus is therefore no exorcist and he doesn't perform exorcisms, strictly speaking. He is himself the power used by other exorcists.
I take your point about Jesus' words during the act of exorcism, but I do think your interpretation needs to reckon with Mt 12:28 and Lk 11:20: "If it is by the spirit/finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."

Steven Davies comments: "the idea of the 'hand of God' in prophetic texts is used synonymously with 'spirit of God' to describe the initiation of of prophetic experience." Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity, p.127. So this Q text puts Jesus' exorcisms squarely in the tradition of ancient prophecy, i.e. not so unique.

Stefan Kristensen
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Re: Why Jesus is not an excorcist

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:55 pm

Martin Klatt wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 9:27 am
Neat. A good riposte to the Jesus as a magician theory, if we assume that means a professional of a particular guild that has a code of conduct.
So what would be the source of the ability of Jesus to drive out spirits and demons?
Is it the spirit he ingested at his baptism, is it the power of the highest god that favours him or is it his own power?
Or was he just a fraud, probably the most likely explanation as we don't believe in spirits and possession.
My approach is to disregard any historical notions concerning Jesus and instead look at the narrative presentation of him as controlled by theological ideas. And the theological idea which I think controls this central aspect of Jesus in the gospels, i.e. his authority over demons, whatever may have been the historical reality of any exorcistic activities by an historical Jesus, is perhaps the most basic christological notion of all: Jesus' kingship. Or, messiahship, if you will.

It is my view that there is a common understanding throughout all the NT texts that Jesus upon his resurrection was exalted by God and given kingship. The post-easter Jesus, then, is a king ruling from heaven, that's the foremost idea of him being "the messiah": he is a ruler. So the basic notion is that Jesus went from being heavenly pre-existent to earthly incarnated to heavenly active ruler, as we can see in such texts as Phil 2:6-11 and Heb 1:1-4. He may have been a pre-existent being, but upon his resurrection he acquired a new status.

And it is this status, his post-easter heavenly rulership which is represented in Jesus' ability to drive out spirits and demons in the gospel narratives (the synoptics, at least). This post-easter rulership is in gMark referred to by the term "authority" (1:22, 27; 2:10; 3:!5; 6:7; 11:28-33; 13:34). But two questions need to be answered:

(1) What exactly is the nature of this rulership of the heavenly Jesus, his "authority"?
(2) Why does Mark portray Jesus as having this rulership beforehand, i.e. before his resurrection?


Ad (1):
Jesus has not merely received a rulership by God like all the kings on earth throughout in history, but indeed the rulership of God. But what precisely, in the minds of the NT authors, is the rulership of God in which Jesus is imagined to take part? It's a difficult question, and to try and answer it I suppose we have to delve into the interesting questions concerning the imagined nature of God and cosmology as well as conceptions such as 'holiness'.

Ps 110 is one of the most frequently used verses from Scripture used by the NT authors to refer to Jesus after his resurrection. And this psalm, in the minds of the NT authors, speaks about Jesus sitting as the exalted ruler in heaven after his resurrection and it speaks about his "enemies". But who did the NT authors imagine these "enemies" to be exactly? Spiritual beings? Or evil humans? Both?


Ad (2):
Why does Mark portray Jesus as having this rulership beforehand, i.e. before his resurrection? Because it is theologically expedient, is my guess. Whatever the traditions were which Mark would have at hand, I believe that he conveniently uses this part of the Jesus story (the part which isn't his suicide mission of salvation) to communicate a bunch of theological ideas, including ideas concerning the post-easter Jesus. Whether Mark came up with that idea or whether it was already part of a narrative which he worked with, I'm convinced that he consciously frames his earthly Jesus as a mirror of the post-easter heavenly Jesus. And this is of course the exalted Jesus who has received heavenly rulership from God.

Mark, in this understanding, uses the highly abstract ideas concerning baptism which we find in the NT, especially in Paul's letters which Mark probably draws directly upon. In baptism one becomes a son of God, a sibling to Jesus, through the transformation of the holy spirit (e.g. Rom 6 and 8). At the same time one takes part in Jesus' rulership and authority, his sonship.

Now, Jesus received this authority upon his resurrection, and Paul describes the Christian baptism as a partaking in this event, Jesus' resurrection.

And so Jesus' baptism in Mark's story, I suggest, is framed consciously by Mark as a paradigm for this general Christian baptism, where the person takes part in Jesus' resurrection and exaltation, through the holy spirit. What happens at the beginning of Mark's story, then, is in a way Jesus taking part in his own resurrection and exaltation! Through his baptism. That's abit silly, but if you want to have the earthly Jesus to be a mirror of the post-easter Church, i.e. a mirror of the resurrected exalted Jesus, then that's an obvious device to use. In baptism Jesus supplies the gift of the holy spirit, his own spirit. He 'baptizes with the holy spirit', perhaps the same idea as Paul, who says that upon his resurrection Jesus "became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).

Mark generally wants Jesus to be the paradigm for the Christians, those who imitate him, 'follow' him. And at the same time, the Christians are partakers of Jesus post-easter heavenly nature and authority. Ergo, if you want to have both, and I believe that Mark does, then you have to make the earthly Jesus into the heavenly Jesus.

Put crudely:
A post-easter Christian is like the post-easter heavenly Jesus.
The pre-easter earthly Jesus is like a post-easter Christian.
The pre-easter earthly Jesus is like the post-easter heavenly Jesus!

Note that the heavenly Jesus is not acting on his own in the Christian scheme of things, at least not until the parousia. Instead he is acting through the activities of the Church. The Church, i.e. the Christian community, is his extended agent on earth. Indeed his body. If Jesus' "enemies" are to be subdued and destroyd, it is going to happen through the activities of the Christians. Using his authority, of course. The activities of the earthly Jesus in Mark's story is really just a mirror of the activities of the Christian community as imagined by Mark.

The only difference with regard to exorcistic activities is that whereas the Christians are defeating the "enemies" of Jesus by invoking his authority, the earthly Jesus obviously was not invoking himself, he is simply the authority itself, present right there in front of the enemies. Until he goes to heaven at easter, and then the Christians have to take over, using his name.

Stefan Kristensen
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Re: Why Jesus is not an excorcist

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Thu Nov 29, 2018 5:14 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 10:42 am
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:12 am
Biblical researchers often comment on the curious fact that when Jesus exorcises demons he never uses any such language or curses or the like. A few times he seems to be using magical remedies such as spit, but even when he uses language which might look like magical incantations, e.g. "ephphatha", this is nothing more than Aramaic versions of what he does in the other places: he simply commands.

In other words, Jesus never seems to invoke the power of God when he exorcises demons, and this has often surprised researchers. If exorcism means invoking God's presence or authority or power by putting the demons under oaths to God or something to that effect, then Jesus is no exorcist. Simply because: Jesus is the power. Jesus is the authority. He himself. If anything he should invoke himself! He has been given the divine authority, the power of God's name, he has inherited the name, the power, and therefore he simply commands the demons directly by his own word.

This sets Jesus apart from any other exorcist ever to have wandered the earth. Jesus is not an exorcist. If God is defined by his cosmic power, then by all means the Jesus of the gospels is God in the flesh. He is invested personally with all the power and force of God the creator. So, it is now Jesus' name and power which is invoked in exorcism, as we can clearly see in the NT. Jesus is therefore no exorcist and he doesn't perform exorcisms, strictly speaking. He is himself the power used by other exorcists.
I take your point about Jesus' words during the act of exorcism, but I do think your interpretation needs to reckon with Mt 12:28 and Lk 11:20: "If it is by the spirit/finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."

Steven Davies comments: "the idea of the 'hand of God' in prophetic texts is used synonymously with 'spirit of God' to describe the initiation of of prophetic experience." Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity, p.127. So this Q text puts Jesus' exorcisms squarely in the tradition of ancient prophecy, i.e. not so unique.
I haven't read this book, so I don't know the whole context of this argument, and I'm not sure I understand. By "prophetic experience" does he mean exorcism? Also, there is a difference between "the hand of God" and "the finger of God". The hand of God is its own concept, and if Luke wanted to use this concept why didn't he write "hand of God"?

Instead he writes "finger of God", which is a term used twice in Scripture. Once for the Law tablets "written with the finger of God" (Ex 31:18) and the other instance in a context which can easily supply meaning to this incident in Luke 11: Ex 8:19. Here, pharaoh is confronted with God's miraculous power in the famous contest of magic. Pharaoh's magicians exclaim that the power they witness is "the finger of God", but instead of recognizing the power of God at work, "Pharaoh's heart was hardened". Luke 11:20 seems to me like an obvious echo of this incident (or a so-called metalepsis).

What I mean is that demons obey authority and there is also a force or 'strenght' behind that authority. The authority is God's authority, and the force is God's spirit. The demons are forced to submit to God's authority, whether they like to or not, because of his stronger spirit. Just like a king, his authority is not worth alot if he doesn't have any strength to back it up, i.e. military force. Jesus can use God's force, because he has been given authority to do so. Unlike all other humans, he doesn't need to invoke God in order to have God use his strong force. Jesus has the ability to use God's force himself personally, i.e. God's spirit.

It's like the difference between a prince asking his father the king to command the military to kill his enemies, and a prince who has been given authority to command the military himself. Jesus doesn't need any invocations or the sort, he commands by his own word. Cf. also Matt 8:1-13.

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