Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister


with 5 comments

I don’t really believe in demons. At least, not literal persons that pester the human race. I do however think the Bible was talking about something very real and very important that Jesus healed people of. I’ve recently been working on a new way to read those passages, and it’s serving me well. It makes sense to me both on a logical and an exegetical side. Here’s what I have so far.

In the ancient near east, particularly in the Hellenized world it was very common to personify ideas as a way to make them easier to talk about. Gods and goddesses were already personified, and represented certain needs, forces or virtues. When something which was not already a god was needed for discussion, say Pistis (faith) or Liberty we simply personified it. Nay, we personified "Her".

16_aphrodisias_museum_2The ancient world is full of depictions of gods and goddesses in the same plane with Caesars and soldiers and even personified land masses like Britania and Anatolia. All fighting, or falling in love, or interacting with one another in representative ways.

If we used the same system in the US today, we would talk about the Spirit of Trump, and of Socialism, and of Feminism, and Progress, and Liberty (some things never change) and these small gods would speak for themselves and squabble with each other and influence people.

When Jesus entered the scene as "The God" there was considerable consternation in the early church about the ramifications this would have on the other gods, or other spirits or “diamons”. (That’s the Greek spelling)

That word was used in ancient Greek documents to describe a kind of these small gods. One that might visit for a time and help you with your housework or your writing. Another, similar being was a "genius" who would come upon you suddenly and give you a great idea.

It did not make much sense for the early Christians to just deny these things these things. They could not imagine a way to talk which would describe these spirits as "not real". They are very real. They influence people. Some people are desperately paralyzed by them even. Socialism is real, Wisdom is real, Caesar is definitely real and present even to subjects who have never seen a royal parade.

So what’s an author to do? How do you make a theologically correct statement about Jesus among the Diamons. Is he prince of Diamons? No. But he has power over them and they respect him. And let me tell you about the people he helped….

When a child is raised in generational poverty they can be said to be oppressed by the spirit of that situation. When a person is subjected to so much violence and injustice that they see nothing else they may be possessed by that violent spirit. And yes, when a person has a debilitating irrational fear, it is not incorrect to pray that it be expelled or exorcised.

Those exorcisms may happen by prayer alone. They may come with application and administration of love, with welcome into community, or in some other way. “The Hunger” for instance is expelled with food. I think this is why you see so much variety in Jesus’ healings, it prevents us from trying to imitate Jesus exactly as a ritual, and invites us instead to do the right thing for the right person at the right time.


Written by RyanGaffney

April 27, 2016 at 6:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. Wow!

    Thanks for this. It is very clarifying. Your insights here help solidify some of my own thinking on this stuff. That is very useful.

    I remember reading an essay/chapter in a book by N.T. Wright several years ago where he examined Principalities and Powers/ Authorities etc and likened them to “forces” and hitched the rhetoric to modern day political rhetoric of “economic forces” or “political forces” – language that actually is used in modern talk etc. I think your work here dovetails nicely.

    Wright suggests that these forcers are not merely labels or easy ways to talk about complex things, but that they are created by God and actually have a personality after a fashion. They need to learn their proper place in creation and not run roughshod over humanity.

    One last thought…

    As for the kind that only come out by prayer, I note that in Mark’s account, this is the demon that throws the son of the father into fire and water etc to destroy him and that the disciples cannot cast this one out like they did the others. In Mark particularly, I see this one as narrativally counter balanced to the Legion tormenting the man in the land of the Garesenes. That demon is a particularly Roman demon that no one can bind even with chains and that makes the man live among tombs etc. If this is the very spirit/force of Rome, it is amazing that he comes crying for mercy and bowing before Jesus at all, much less at his commands as he gets out of a boat after crossing an apocalyptic sea! A lot of rich metaphorical seed bed there…

    Counter that with a demon that afflicts a very Jewish family. The son of the father. Another man in the gospels actually bears the name “bar Abbas”. This kid, though, is nameless, but set firmly in a Jewish setting as a son of a father! Once again, metaphorical seed bed. And the son has often been thrown into fire and water since his youth – a parallel with all of Jewish history before God – the Father of Israel (EXOD 4:22). And these disciples cant cast this one out! This demon lives in the proverbial “us”, I think. This one hits even closer to home than the Legion!

    It is easy for a good Jew to resist the Legion, but hard to see the plank in his own eye. It takes prayer to get that one out!

    And this counterbalancing is set in a story (Mark again) where the only human with insight into Jesus identity as the Son of God is a Roman centurion (15:39), None of the Jews, nor even the disciples, are able to gain this insight within that narrative account. Perhaps they still have some praying to do to get the demon causing their shortsightedness to be cast out!

    Somehow, I think you have a better concrete way of expressing the kinds of thoughts I am having on these things. I really appreciate your thoughtful and intellectually well disciplined blog. It is a blessing to me.


    Agent X
    Fat Beggars School of Prophets
    Lubbock, Texas (USA)

    Agent X

    April 27, 2016 at 8:02 am

    • You often have great stuff so say and I am sorry I have not had the time to reply to your last few comments. I have no argument. I am glad we can explore together


      April 27, 2016 at 7:58 pm

  2. Miss the posts… where’dya go?

    Agent X

    July 28, 2016 at 6:23 pm

  3. congratulations… take your time with that. priorities.

    Agent X

    August 26, 2016 at 9:34 am

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