THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN
TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
A SABBATH IN CAPERNAUM
(St. Matthew 8:14-17; St. Mark 1:21-34; St. Luke 4:33-41.)
It was the Holy Sabbath - the first after He had called around Him His first permanent disciples; the first, also, after His return from the Feast at Jerusalem. Of both we can trace indications in the account of that morning, noon, and evening which the Evangelists furnish. The greater detail with which St. Mark, who wrote under the influence of St. Peter, tells these events, shows the freshness and vividness of impression on the mind of Peter of those early days of his new life. As indicating that what is here recorded took place immediately after the return of Jesus from Jerusalem, we mark, that as yet there were no watchful enemies in waiting to entrap Him in such breach of the Law, as might furnish ground for judicial procedure. But, from their presence and activity so soon afterwards,1 we infer, that the authorities of Jerusalem had sent some of their familiars to track His steps in Galilee.
1. St. Luke 5:21; 6:2; 6:7.
But as yet all seemed calm and undisturbed. Those simple, warm-hearted Galileans yielded themselves to the power of His words and works, not discerning hidden blasphemy in what He said, nor yet Sabbath-desecration in His healing on God's holy day. It is morning, and Jesus goes to the Synagogue at Capernaum.2 To teach there, was now His wont. But frequency could not lessen the impression. In describing the Influence of His Person or words the Evangelists use a term, which really means amazement.3 And when we find the same word to describe the impression of the 'Sermon on the Mount,'4 the inference is naturally suggested, that it presents the type, if it does not sum up the contents, of some of His Synagogue-discourses. It is not necessary to suppose that, what held His hearers spell-bound, had necessarily also its effect on their hearts and lives. Men may be enraptured by the ideal without trying to make it the real. Too often it is even in inverse proportion; so that those who lead not the most moral lives even dare to denounce the New Testament standpoint, as below their own conceptions of right and duty. But there is that in man, evidence of his origin and destiny, which always and involuntarily responds to the presentation of the higher. And in this instance it was not only what He taught, but the contrast with that to which they had been accustomed on the part of 'the Scribes,' which filled them with amazement. There was no appeal to human authority, other than that of the conscience; no subtle logical distinctions, legal niceties, nor clever sayings. Clear, limpid, and crystalline, flowed His words from out the spring of the Divine Life that was in Him.
2. The accounts of this given by St. Mark and St. Luke chronologically precede what is related in St. Matt. 8:14-17. The reader is requested in each case to peruse the Biblical narratives before, or along with their commentation in the chapters of the present work.
3. The following are the passages in which the same term is used: St. Matt. 7:28; 13:54; 19:25; 22:33; St. Mark 1:22; 6:2; 7:37; 10:26; 11:18; St. Luke 2:48; 4:32; 9:43; Acts 13:12.
4. St. Matt. 7:28.
Among the hearers in the Synagogue that Sabbath morning was one of a class, concerning whose condition, whatever difficulties may attach to our proper understanding of it, the reader of the New Testament must form some definite idea. The term 'demoniacal possession' occurs not in the New Testament. We owe it to Josephus,5 from whom it has passed into ecclesiastical language. We dismiss it the more readily, that, in our view, it conveys a wrong impression. The New Testament speaks of those who had a spirit, or a demon, or demons, or an unclean spirit, or the spirit of an unclean demon, but chiefly of persons who were 'demonised.'6 Similarly, it seems a strange inaccuracy on the part of commentators to exclude from the Gospel, of St. John all notice of the 'demonised.' That the Fourth Gospel, although not reporting any healing of the demonised, shares the fundamental view of the Synoptists, appears not only from St. John 7:20, 8:48, 52, but especially from 8:49 and 10:20, 21.7 We cannot believe that the writer of the Fourth Gospel would have put into the mouth of Jesus the answer 'I am not a demon,' or have allowed Him to be described by His friends as not one 'demonised,' without a single word to show dissent from the popular view, if he had not shared the ideas of the Synoptists. In discussing a question of such very serious import in the study and criticism of the Gospels, the precise facts of the case should in the first place be clearly ascertained.
5. Comp. Delitzsch in Riehm's Hand-worter-buch.
6. The word 'spirit' or 'spirits' occurs twice in St. Matthew, thrice in St. Mark and twice in St. Luke; with the addition 'evil,' twice in St. Luke; with that of 'unclean,' once in St. Matthew, eleven times in St. Mark, and four times in St. Luke. The word daimwn in singular or plural occurs once in each of the Synoptists; while daimonion, in singular or plural, occurs nine times in St. Matthew, three times in St. Mark, fourteen times in St. Luke, and six times in St. John. The expression 'the spirit of an unclean demon' occurs once in the St. Luke, while the verb 'to be demonished' occurs, in one form or another, seven times in St. Matthew, four times in St. Mark, once in St. Luke, and once in St. John. Comp. also the careful brochure of Pastor Nanz, Die Besessenen im N.T., although we differ from his conclusions.
7. Comp. also Weiss, Leben Jesu i. p. 457.
The first question here is, whether Christ Himself shared the views, not indeed of His contemporaries (for these, as we shall see, were very different), but of the Evangelists in regard to what they call the 'demonised?' This has been extensively denied, and Christ represented as only unwilling needlessly to disturb a popular prejudice, which He could not at the time effectually combat. But the theory requires more than this; and, since Christ not only tolerated, but in addressing the demonised actually adopted, or seemed to adopt, the prevailing view, it has been argued, that, for the sake of these poor afflicted persons, He acted like a physician who appears to enter into the fancy of his patient, in order the more effectually to heal him of it. This view seems, however, scarcely worth refuting, since it imputes to Jesus, on a point so important, a conduct not only unworthy of Him, or indeed of any truly great man, but implies a canon of 'accommodation' which might equally be applied to His Miracles, or to anything else that contravened the notions of an interpreter, and so might transform the whole Gospel-narratives into a series of historically untrustworthy legends. But we will not rest the case on what might be represented as an appeal to prejudice. For, we find that Jesus not only tolerated the popular 'prejudice,' or that He 'adopted it for the sake of more readily healing those thus afflicted' - but that He even made it part of His disciples' commission to 'cast out demons,'8 and that, when the disciples afterwards reported their success in this, Christ actually made it a matter of thanksgiving to God.9 The same view underlies His reproof to the disciples, when failing in this part of their work;10 while in St. Luke 11:19, 24, He adopts, and argues on this view as against the Pharisees. Regarded therefore in the light of history, impartial criticism can arrive at no other conclusion, than that Jesus of Nazareth shared the views of the Evangelists as regards the 'demonised.'11
8. St. Matt. 10:8. 9. St. Luke 10:17, 18.
10. St. Matt. 17:21; comp. also 12:43 &c., also spoken to the disciples.
11. This is also the conclusion arrived at by Weiss, u. s.
Our next inquiry must be as to the character of the phenomenon thus designated. In view of the fact that in St. Mark 9:21, the demonised had been such 'of a child,' it is scarcely possible to ascribe it simply to moral causes. Similarly, personal faith does not seem to have been a requisite condition of healing. Again, as other diseases are mentioned without being attributed to demoniacal influence, and as all who were dumb, deaf, or paralysed would not have been described as 'demonised,' it is evident that all physical, or even mental distempers of the same class were not ascribed to the same cause: some might be natural, while others were demoniacal. On the other hand, there were more or less violent symptoms of disease in every demonised person, and these were greatly aggravated in the last paroxysm, when the demon quitted his habitation. We have, therefore, to regard the phenomena described as caused by the influence of such 'spirits,' primarily, upon that which forms the nexus between body and mind, the nervous system, and as producing different physical effects, according to the part of the nervous system affected. To this must be added a certain impersonality of consciousness, so that for the time the consciousness was not that of the demonised, but the demoniser, just as in certain mesmeric states the consciousness of the mesmerised is really that of the mesmeriser. We might carry the analogy farther, and say, that the two states are exactly parallel - the demon or demons taking the place of the mesmeriser, only that the effects were more powerful and extensive, perhaps more enduring. But one point seems to have been assumed, for which there is, to say the least, no evidence, viz., that because, at least in many cases, the disease caused by the demon was permanent, therefore those who were so affected were permanently or constantly under the power of the demon. Neither the New Testament, nor even Rabbinic literature, conveys the idea of permanent demoniac indwelling, to which the later term 'possession' owes its origin.12 On the contrary, such accounts, as that of the scene in the Synagogue of Capernaum, convey the impression of a sudden influence, which in most cases seems occasioned by the spiritual effect of the Person or of the Words of the Christ. To this historical sketch we have only to add, that the phenomenon is not referred to either in the Old Testament.13 or in the Apocrypha,14 nor, for that matter in the Mishnah,15 where, indeed, from the character of its contents, one would scarcely expect to find it. But we find it mentioned not only in the New Testament, but in the writings of Josephus.16 The references in heathen or in Christian writings posterior to those of the New Testament lie beyond our present inquiry.17
12. The nearest approach to it, so far as I am aware, occurs in Pirqé de R. El. c. 13 (ed. Lemberg, p. 16 b, 17 a), where the influence of Satan over the serpent (in the history of the Fall) is likened to that of an evil spirit over a man, all whose deeds and words are done under the influence of the demon, so that he only acts at his bidding.
13. Surely Strauss (Leben Jesu, ii. 10) could not have remembered the expressions in 1 Sam. 16:14, 15, &c., when he sees a parallel to demoniacal possessions in the case of Saul.
14. Tob. viii. 2, 3, is not a case in point.
15. Gfrörer (Jahrh. d. Heils, i. p. 410, 412) quotes Erub. iv. 1 and Gitt. vii. 1; but neither of these passages implies anything like demoniac possession.
16. See, for example, Ant vi. 8. 2; 11. 3; viii. 2. 5; War vii. 6. 3.
17. The reader will find full references in the Encyclopædias, in Wetstein (Nov. Test. i. pp. 279-284), and in Nanz's brochure.
In view of these facts, we may arrive at some more definite conclusions. Those who contend that the representations of the Evangelists are identical with the popular Jewish notions of the time, must be ill acquainted with the latter. What these were, is explained in another place.18 Suffice it here to state that, whatever want of clearness there may be about the Jewish ideas of demoniac influences, there is none as to the means proposed for their removal. These may be broadly classified as: magical means for the prevention of such influences (such as the avoidance of certain places, times, numbers, or circumstances; amulets, &c.); magical means for the cure of diseases; and direct exorcism (either by certain outward means, or else by formulas of incantation). Again, while the New Testament furnishes no data by which to learn the views of Jesus or of the Evangelists regarding the exact character of the phenomenon, it furnishes the fullest details as to the manner in which the demonished were set free. This was always the same. It consisted neither in magical means formulas of exorcism, but always in the Word of Power which Jesus spake, or entrusted to His disciples, and which the demons always obeyed. There is here not only difference, but contrariety in comparison with the current Jewish notions, and it leads to the conclusion that there was the same contrast in His views, as in His treatment of the 'demonised.'
18. See Appendix XVI.: 'Jewish Views about Demons and the demonised.'
Jewish superstition in regard to the demoniacal state can, therefore, no more affect the question of the credibility of the Gospel-accounts of it, than can quotations from heathen or from post-Apostolic Christian writers. In truth, it must be decided purely on New Testament grounds; and resolves itself into that of the general trustworthiness of the Evangelic narratives, and of our estimate of the Person of Christ. Thus viewed, he who regards Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God can be in no doubt. If we are asked to explain the rationale of the phenomenon, or of its cessation - if, indeed, it has wholly and everywhere ceased - we might simply decline to attempt that for which we have not sufficient data, and this, without implying that such did not exist, or that, if known, they would not wholly vindicate the facts of the case. At any rate, it does not follow that there are no such data because we do not possess them; nor is there any ground for the contention that, if they existed, we ought to possess them. For, admittedly, the phenomenon was only a temporary one.
And yet certain considerations will occur to the thoughtful reader, which, if they do not explain, will at least make him hesitate to designate as inexplicable, the facts in question. In our view, at least, he would be a bold interpreter who would ascribe all the phenomena even of heathen magic to jugglery, or else to purely physical causes. Admittedly they have ceased, or perhaps, as much else, assumed other forms, just as, so far as evidence goes, demoniac influence has - at least in the form presented in the New Testament. But, that it has so ceased, does not prove that it never existed. If we believe that the Son of God came to destroy the works of the Devil, we can understand the developed enmity of the kingdom of darkness; and if we regard Christ as Very God, taking, in manner to us mysterious, Humanity, we can also perceive how the Prince of Darkness might, in counterfeit, seek through the demonised a temporary dwelling in Humanity for purposes of injury and destruction, as Christ for healing and salvation. In any case, holding as we do that this demoniac influence was not permanent in the demonised, the analogy of certain mesmeric influences seems exactly to apply. No reference is here made to other supernatural spirit-influences of which many in our days speak, and which, despite the lying and imposture probably connected with them, have a background of truth and reality, which, at least in the present writer's experience, cannot be absolutely denied. In the mysterious connection between the sensuous and supersensuous, spirit and matter, there are many things which the vulgar 'bread-and-butter philosophy' fails rightly to apportion, or satisfactorily to explain. That, without the intervention of sensuous media, mind can, may, and does affect mind; that even animals, in proportion to their sensitiveness, or in special circumstances, are affected by that which is not, or else not yet, seen, and this quite independently of man; that, in short, there are not a few phenomena 'in heaven and earth' of which our philosophy dreams not - these are considerations which, however the superficial sciolist may smile at them, no earnest inquirer would care to dismiss with peremptory denial. And superstition only begins when we look for them, or else when we attempt to account for and explain them, not in the admission of their possibility.
But, in our view, it is of the deepest importance always to keep in mind, that the 'demonised' was not a permanent state, or possession by the powers of darkness. For, it establishes a moral element, since, during the period of their temporary liberty, the demonised might have shaken themselves free from the overshadowing power, or sought release from it. Thus the demonised state involved personal responsibility, although that of a diseased and disturbed consciousness.
In one respect those who were 'demonised' exhibited the same phenomenon. They all owned the Power of Jesus. It was not otherwise in the Synagogue at Capernaum on that Sabbath-morning. What Jesus had spoken produced an immediate effect on the demonised, though one which could scarcely have been anticipated. For, there is authority for inserting the word 'straightway'19 immediately after the account of Jesus' preaching. Yet, as we think of it, we cannot imagine that the demon would have continued silent nor yet that he could have spoken other than the truth in the Presence of the God-Man. There must be, and yet there cannot be, resistance. The very Presence of the Christ meant the destruction of this work of the Devil. Involuntarily, in his confessed inability of disguise or resistance, he owns defeat, even before the contest. 'What have we to do with Thee, Jesus of Nazareth?20 Thou art come to destroy us!21 I know Thee Who Thou art, the Holy One of God.' And yet there seems in these words already an emergence of the consciousness of the demonised, at least in so far that there is no longer confusion between him and his tormenter, and the latter speaks in his own name. One stronger than the demon had affected the higher part in the demonised. It was the Holy One of God, in Whose Presence the powers of moral destruction cannot be silent, but must speak, and own their subjection and doom. The Christ needs not to contend: that He is the Christ, is itself victory.
19. In St. Mark 1:23.
20. I have omitted, on critical grounds, the clause, 'Let us alone.' The expression, 'What between us and Thee, Jesu Nazarene,' contains a well-known Hebraism.
21. This seems the more correct rendering.
But this was not all. He had come not only to destroy the works of the Devil. His Incarnation meant this - and more: to set the prisoners free. By a word of command He gagged22 the confessions of the demon, unwilling made, and even so with hostile intent. It was not by such voices that He would have His Messiahship ever proclaimed. Such testimony was wholly unfitting and incongruous; it would have been a strange discord on the witness of the Baptist and the Voice Which had proclaimed Him from heaven. And, truly, had it been admitted, it would have strangely jarred in a Life which needed not, and asked not even the witness of men, but appealed straightway to God Himself. Nor can we fail to perceive how, had it been allowed, it would have given a true ground to what the Pharisees sought to assign as the interpretation of His Power, that by the Prince of Demons He cast out demons. And thus there is here also deep accord with the fundamental idea which was the outcome of His Temptation: that not the seemingly shortest, but the Divine way must lead Him to the goal, and that goal not Royal proclamation, but the Resurrection.
22. This is the real meaning of the expression rendered, 'Hold thy peace.' It stills the raging of the powers of evil just as, characteristically, it is again employed in the stilling of the storm, St. Mark 4:39.
The same power which gagged the confession also bade the demon relinquish his prey. One wild paroxysm - and the sufferer was for ever free. But on them all who saw and heard it fell the utter stupor and confusion of astonishment.23 Each turned to his neighbour with the inquiry: 'What is this? A new doctrine with authority! And He commandeth the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.'24 Well might they inquire. It had been a threefold miracle: 'a new doctrine;' 'with authority;' and obedience of the unclean spirits to His command. There is throughout, and especially in the account of the casting out of the demon, such un-Jewish simplicity, with entire absence of what would have been characteristic in a Jewish exorcist; such want of all that one would have expected, if the event had been invented, or coloured for a purpose, or tinged by contemporary notions; and, withal, such sublimity and majesty, that it is difficult to understand how any one can resist the impression of its reality, or that He Who so spake and did was in truth the Son of God.
23. The Greek term implies this. Besides its use in this narrative (St. Mark 1:27; St. Luke 4:36, in the latter in the substantive form), it occurs in St. Mark 10:24, 32; Acts 9:6; and as a substantive in Acts 3:10.
24. This seems the better rendering.
From the Synagogue we follow the Saviour, in company with His called disciples, to Peter's wedded home. But no festive meal, as was Jewish wont, awaited them there. A sudden access of violent 'burning fever,'25 such as is even now common in that district, had laid Peter's mother-in-law prostrate. If we had still any lingering thought of Jewish magical cures as connected with those of Jesus, what is now related must dispel it. The Talmud gives this disease precisely the same name ()trymc )t#), Eshatha Tsemirta), 'burning fever,' and prescribes for it a magical remedy, of which the principal part is to tie a knife wholly of iron by a braid of hair to a thornbush, and to repeat on successive days Exod. 3:2,3, then ver. 4, and finally ver. 5, after which the bush is to be cut down, while a certain magical formula is pronounced.26 How different from this, alike in its sublime simplicity and in the majestic bearing of Him Who healed, is the Evangelic narrative of the cure of Peter's mother-in-law. To ignore, in our estimate of the trustworthiness of the Gospels, this essential contrast, would be a grave historical mistake. Jesus is 'told' of the sickness; He is besought for her who is stricken down. In His Presence disease and misery cannot continue. Bending over the sufferer, He 'rebuked the fever,' just as He had rebuked27 'the demon' in the Synagogue, and for the same reason, since all disease, in the view of the Divine Healer, is the outcome of sin. Then lifting her by the hand, she rose up, healed, to 'minister' unto them. It was the first Diaconate28 of woman in the Church - might we not almost say, in the world? - a Diaconate to Christ, and to those that were His; the Diaconate of one healed by Christ; a Diaconate immediately following such healing. The first, this, of a long course of woman's Diaconate to Christ, in which, for the first time, woman attained her true position. And what a Sabbath-meal it must have been, after that scene in the Synagogue and after that healing in the house, when Jesus was the Guest, they who had witnessed it all sat at meat with Him, and she who had been healed was the Deaconess. Would that such were ever our Christian festive meals!
25. Such is the meaning of the Greek word. I cannot understand, why the corresponding term in St. Luke should have been interpreted in 'The Speaker's Commentary' as 'typhoid fever.'
26. Shabb. 37 a. 27. The word is the same in both cases.
28. The term is the same. See the remarks of Volkmar (Marcus, pp. 99, 100).
It was evening. The sun was setting, and the Sabbath past. All that day it had been told from home to home what had been done in the Synagogue; it had been whispered what had taken place in the house of their neighbour Simon. This one conviction had been borne in upon them all, that 'with authority' He spake, with authority and power He commanded even the unclean spirits, and they obeyed. No scene more characteristic of the Christ than that on this autumn evening at Capernaum. One by one the stars had shone out over the tranquil Lake and the festive city, lighting up earth's darkness with heaven's soft brilliancy, as if they stood there witnesses, that God had fulfilled His good promise to Abraham.29 On that evening no one in Capernaum thought of business, pleasure, or rest. There must have been many homes of sorrow, care, and sickness there, and in the populous neighbourhood around. To them, to all, had the door of hope now been opened. Truly, a new Sun had risen on them, with healing in His wings. No disease too desperate, when even the demons owned the authority of His mere rebuke. From all parts they bring them: mothers, widows, wives, fathers, children, husbands - their loved ones, the treasures they had almost lost; and the whole city throngs - a hushed, solemnised, overawed multitude - expectant, waiting at the door of Simon's dwelling. There they laid them, along the street up to the market-place, on their beds; or brought them, with beseeching look and word. What a symbol of this world's misery, need, and hope; what a symbol, also, of what the Christ really is as the Consoler in the world's manifold woe! Never, surely, was He more truly the Christ; nor is He in symbol more truly such to us and to all time, than when, in the stillness of that evening, under the starlit sky, He went through that suffering throng, laying His hands in the blessing of healing on every one of them, and casting out many devils. No picture of the Christ more dear to us, than this of the unlimited healing of whatever disease of body or soul. In its blessed indefiniteness it conveys the infinite potentiality of relief, whatever misery have fallen on us, or whatever care or sorrow oppress us. He must be blind, indeed, who sees not in this Physician the Divine Healer; in this Christ the Light of the World; the Restoror of what sin had blighted; the Joy in our world's deep sorrow. Never was prophecy more truly fulfilled than, on that evening, this of Isaiah: 'Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.'30 By His Incarnation and Coming, by His taking our infirmities, and bearing our sicknesses - for this in the truest and widest sense is the meaning of the Incarnation of the Christ - did He become the Healer, the Consoler of humanity, its Saviour in all ills of time, and from all ills of eternity. The most real fulfillment this, that can be conceived, of Isaiah's rapt vision of Who and what the Messiah was to be, and to do; not, indeed, what is sometimes called fulfillment, or expected as such, in a literal and verbal correspondence with the prediction. An utterly mechanical, external, and unspiritual view this of prophecy, in which, in quite Jewish literalism, the spirit is crushed by the letter. But, viewed in its real bearing on mankind with its wants, Christ, on that evening, was the real, though as yet only initial, fulfillment of the world's great hope, to which, centuries before, the God-directed hand of the prophet had pointed.31
29. Gen. 22:17, 18. 30. Is. 53.
31. I can scarcely find words strong enough to express my dissent from those who would limit Is. 53:4, either on the one hand to spiritual, or on the other to physical 'sicknesses.' The promise is one of future deliverance from both, of a Restorer from all the woe which sin had brought. In the same way the expression 'taking upon Himself,' and 'bearing' refers to the Christ as our Deliverer, because our Substitute. Because He took upon Himself our infirmities, therefore He bore our sicknesses. That the view here given is that of the N.T., appears from a comparison of the application of the passage in St. Matt. 8:17 with that in St. John 1:29 and 1 Pet. 2:24. The words, as given by St. Matthew, are most truly a N.T. 'Targum' of the original. The LXX. renders, 'This man carries our sins and is pained for us;' Symmachus, 'Surely He took up our sins, and endured our labors;' the Targum Jon., 'Thus for our sins He will pray, and our iniquities will for His sake be forgiven.' (Comp. Driver and Neubauer, The Jewish Interpreters on Isaiah liii., vol. ii.) Lastly, it is with reference to this passage that the Messiah bears in the Talmud the designation, 'The Leprous One,' and 'the Sick One' (Sanh. 98 b).
So ended that Sabbath in Capernaum: a Sabbath of healing, joy, and true rest. But far and wide, into every place of the country around, throughout all the region of Galilee, spread the tidings, and with them the fame of Him Whom demons must obey, though they dare not pronounce Him the Son of God. And on men's ears fell His Name with sweet softness of infinite promise, 'like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth.'
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