In the Fulness of Time/Part 113

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2009
When the father brought the boy to the nine disciples they could not “cure” him. This inability carries with it some concern since Jesus had just endowed them with authority to heal the sick and to cast out demons.

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Jesus Delivers the Demon-possessed Boy. Matthew 17:14-21

Mt. 17:14-16 “And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic, and greatly vexed, for often he falleth into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”

It would seem, according to the account in Mark 9:14-16, that certain scribes were disputing with the disciples of Jesus who were not with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Jesus asked the scribes just what they were questioning, a man in the multitude came to Jesus concerning his demon-possessed son. Because of the close proximity of these two events, it may well have been that the scribes were making the most of the failure of the disciples to cast out the demon. Matthew does not mention the scribes at all, but begins with the request of the boy’s father.

The father of the boy names his ailment as seleniadzetai, literally, “moonstruck.” This is variously translated as “epileptic” (ASV), “lunatick” (AV), “seizure” (NIV). The Greek word is only used twice in the New Testament; here, and in Matthew 4:24 where it is used as specifically separate from diseases, torments, demon-possession and palsy. There was a belief that the moon (selena) influences certain forms of diseases, so this may have been in the father’s mind as he described his son’s illness to Jesus. The boy was “greatly vexed,” that is, in a bad condition, and his symptoms included falling into the fire and water (Matthew), foaming at the mouth, gnashing his teeth and pining (Mark).Whether or not these are symptoms of epilepsy is beside the point. The real cause was demonic power which convulsed him and cast him into the fire to destroy him (Mark 9:20-22). Jesus called the demon a “dumb and deaf spirit,” again emphasizing the cause of the boy’s illness as demonic, not some ordinary disease.

When the father brought the boy to the nine disciples they could not “cure” him. This inability carries with it some concern since Jesus had just endowed them with authority to heal the sick and to cast out demons (Matthew 10:8). Further, after their first tour of ministry they returned, having “cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13). Luke 9:6 adds that they were “healing everywhere.” It is no wonder then, that this boy’s father was disappointed that these same disciples were unable to cure his son!

Mt. 17:17-18 “Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to me. And Jesus rebuked the demon and he departed out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.”

Commentators are divided concerning the reference to a “faithless and perverse generation.” Some involve the entire generation living at that time; others include only the nation of Israel; some limit it to the nine disciples. The word genea can have wide application, meaning “race” or “generation;” however, it can just as well be limited to a specific group. Here it would seem better to refer it to the nine disciples. Jesus had charged them with a lack of faith, and little faith, several times before this. Further, His response had to do specifically with the healing of the boy, something only the nine disciples, not the crowd, could have done.

There is a similar usage in Psalm 24:6: “This is the generation (the kind of person) of them who seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob” (or, “that seek thy face – one like Jacob”). The idea is, that only a man who has clean hands and a pure heart will ascend into the hill of the LORD; the ideal Jacob, if you will! Jacob had his faults, but he did wrestle with the Angel of Jehovah until He blessed Jacob. This is just the point Jesus was making with His disciples, only in reverse: “You are the kind who lack faith and whose minds are twisted away from me” (‘perverted’ from diastrepho’). Thus will He tell them in verses 20-21. Interestingly, the Received Text of both Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29 include “this kind” (genos) using the same root word from which “generation” (genea) comes.

Mark gives details of the cure. Jesus “rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him and enter no more into him.” Additional details make it clear that the demon was the real cause of all the boy’s ailments. Even at the point of being cast out, the demon “convulsed him greatly, and came out of him; and he was like one dead, insomuch that many said, He is dead” (Mark 9:26). However, when Jesus rebuked the demon it came out of the child and he was cured from that very hour.

Mt. 17:19-21 “Then came the disciples to Jesus privately, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Move from here to yonder place; and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit, this kind goeth not out except by prayer and fasting.”

The question of the nine disciples concerning their inability to cast out the demon is answered by Jesus in a direct and simple fashion: “Because of your unbelief.” Attempts have been made to support the reading: “Because of your little faith” from oligopistian, comparing it with Matthew 6:30; 8:26. One of the reasons for this is that unbelief seems too strong for disciples who do have faith. Yet, the same word apistos (“faithless”), is used by Jesus in verse 17, obviously including the disciples. In Mark 4:40 He had asked them why they were so fearful, adding a further question: “How is it that ye have no faith?” It is quite possible in a given situation to lack faith, even in such solid believers in Christ as these gifted disciples with the experience of casting out many demons!

Certainly the answer to the disciples was not that the power had been removed, since “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29); but as Jesus continues His answer He clearly indicates that if they exercise their faith even though it is small as a mustard seed, they can move mountains; they can do the impossible! Jesus also said to the boy’s father (Mark 9:23), and He will repeat it to His disciples in Matthew 19:26: “With God, all things are possible.” This would seem to cancel out the argument for replacing “Because of your unbelief” with “Because of your little faith” since faith as a mustard seed is little faith which grows and works!

If the question is asked whether God would actually remove a mountain in response to faith, the answer has already been given in the reality of miracles past. It was “by faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land . . . By faith the walls of Jericho fell down” (Heb. 11:29-30).

In every miracle there is the factor of the will of God, and there are times when the will of God must be sought by prayer and fasting. So it was in this case, as Jesus said in 17:21; Mark 9:29, “Howbeit, this kind goeth not out except by prayer and fasting.” Once again, there are notations against including this entire verse (Matt. 17:21) as well as omitting “and fasting” from Mark 9:29. But John Burgon, the conservative author remarks:

Thus, the precious verse (S. Matthew xvii. 21) declares that “this kind [of evil spirit] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” is expunged by our Revisionists, although it is vouched for by every known uncial but two (B, Aleph) every known cursive but one (Evan. 33); is witnessed by the Old Latin and the Vulgate, The Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Aethopic and Slavonic versions. (The Revision Revised, reprint by Conservative Classics; Paradise, PA, n.d., p. 91)

He then names 13 other sources and adds: “why in the world, then, (our readers will ask) have the Revisionists left those words out? . . . For no other reason, we answer, but because Drs. Westcott and Hort place them among the interpolations which they consider unworthy of being even ‘exceptionally retained in association with the True Text.’ ‘Western and Syrian’ is their oracular sentence.” (Ibid, pp.91-92)

In a later footnote, on page 200, Burgon asks the same question and replies: “Because (we answer) they have been misled by B and Aleph, Cureton Syriac and the Sahidic, as untrustworthy a quaternion of witnesses to the text of Scripture as could be named.” This is not the time nor the place to become involved in a discussion of textual criticism, except to say that it seems too much dependence has been placed upon two manuscripts, the Sinaiticus (Aleph) and the Vaticanus (B) simply because they are older, not necessarily more accurate, while thousands of other, younger manuscripts are put down as inferior because of their younger age.

Christ’s admonition, therefore, proves that certain demonic forces required special reaction on the part of the disciples, namely, prayer “for God’s direction), and fasting (to center their minds upon God’s Person and power). Jesus had warned of the ranks of evil among demons in 12:45 when He gave the account of the demon who was gone out of a man and later returned with “seven other spirits more wicked than himself . . . and the last state of that man was worse than the first.”

In the fulness of time, all these wicked spirits will be judged once and for all and cast away to hell forever!

Read Part 114

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