Is Sickness Caused by Demons or Sin?

This will be a controversial subject, but I think it is vital to deal with it as it has the potential to free up Christians from dangerous misconceptions and practices.

The first passage that may give us important information, this time concerning how the gospels were compiled is this:

Luke 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph’ilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

We learn that Luke (and we may also suppose the other gospel writers) collected eyewitness accounts about Jesus’ ministry. There was a window of time when after the ministry of Jesus when nothing was written down, but stories were transmitted by oral tradition in small modules that were easy to memorise self-contained stories. The gospels were compiled from these orally transmitted stories.

The oral transmission made some scholars question the validity of these accounts, but the Jews excelled in this area. They transmitted what they call the Oral Law throughout many centuries. At the end, due to very heavy persecutions they suffered, and because of fear that the Oral Law would be lost they compiled it into the work known as the Talmud (which by itself is not the Oral Law, but contains it).

Therefore, I see no reason why not to trust these accounts as long as they are authentic (not late additions), however, we need to keep in mind that eyewitnesses told these stories as they understood them, with their own limitations. Now this is an important point, for eyewitnesses, though they may not pick up all the details, are never wrong, they simply tell their account according to how they comprehend it (God doesn’t bypass people’s intellect). This also explains the differences between the gospel accounts.

Now why do I emphasize this so much? Because it gives us the key to understand many of the gospel stories. Isn’t the bible the unmistakable “Word of God”? Well, I have dealt with the term earlier, and thus you should be aware that the term “word of God” in my opinion simply refers to the oracles of God – most often to the Law, but sometimes to the other sayings (promises) of God, for example to the Kingdom. The bible never refers to itself as the “word of God”, but as Scriptures, that is, holy writings, so let us stick with that definition. Jesus broke it down to three divisions; the law, the prophets and the writings. I leave it to you to identify the time when the writings of the NT were began to be referred to as Scripture.

Therefore, I conclude that the gospel stories were collected from genuine eyewitnesses who faithfully told their account to others as they understood them. This is important for our next step. Let us read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

Matt 4:23 And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.

Pagan religions, especially the religion of the Syrians were filled with demons, and sickness (particularly mental illness) was attributed to them. Those living in Galilee near the Syrian border were heavily influenced by their neighbours, thus the belief that demons caused sickness was common. This is why we see Jesus casting out demons when he travels the area and heals people. The eyewitnesses simply told the stories as they understood them.

However, when we come to Jerusalem we find that sin is attributed to sin. Let us consider the following passage:

John 9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man *blind from his birth*. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Later on the Pharisees are talking to this man who was born blind:

John 9:34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?”

Being born blind meant being born in sin to the Jews in Jerusalem. Sickness was attributed to sin, not to demons.

Therefore, the recognition of the simple fact, that ancient beliefs provide the background to the gospel stories, helps us resolve the virtually contradictory accounts of Jesus’ healing. What we need to know is that in reality people were sick and Jesus healed them by the power of God.

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