In my last post, I considered the notion of exorcism in the 1st century Jewish mind. In this post I’d like to consider the exorcistic ministry of Jesus. It is acknowledged by scholars, that exorcism was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry. How does the Second Temple Jewish context illuminate our understanding of his exorcisms? In what ways was Jesus’ ministry of exorcism similar and different?
Jesus’ ministry of exorcism was in line with other Jewish exorcists in several ways. First, Jesus brought peace to victims by causing the demon to leave the person being tormented. Second, Jesus had power to command the demon to go to particular location after being exorcised (Eleazar instructed the demon to overturn a cup and Jesus sent demons into a herd of pigs in Mark 5:13). Third, exorcism was a recognizable mark of Jesus’ ministry, much like it was for Eleazar. These similarities show Jesus to be a partaker in the Jewish contextual practice of exorcism: Jesus was an exorcist.
While there were similarities between Jesus and other Jewish exorcists, there were also dramatic differences. First, Jesus never used fumes, smells or artifacts to exorcize demons. Second, Jesus never appealed to outside authority like David or Solomon to exorcise demons. Third, he did not use an ancient prayer or incantation, but simply commanded the demons to leave. Fourth, Jesus linked his exorcisms to the arrival of the kingdom of God.
These differences show that Jesus was unlike any exorcist of his day. By refusing to use a ritual linked to fumes or an ancient incantations, Jesus demonstrated that his very words possessed the power of God over demons. By not appealing to ancient authority like David or Solomon, Jesus showed his own immense authority and power: he himself was the true king of Israel and sent out his apostles to cast demons in his own authority (Mark 3:15). By linking his ministry with the arrival of the kingdom of God, he identified himself as the Messiah and the fulfillment of the promised hope of redemption. These differences point to a self-understanding of Jesus’ own authority and power, a power which belonged to God alone.
Abegg, Martin Jr., Edward Cook, and Michael Wise. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. New York: HarperSanFranscico, 1996.
Coogan, M.D., ed. The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. 3d. Oxford: University Press, 2001.
Evans, Craig. “Jesus and Evil Spirits in the light of Psalm 91.” Baptistic Theologies 1 (2 2009): 43-58.
Freedman, David Noel, ed. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Kuemmrlin-McLean, Joanne K. “Demons.” Pages 138-140 in vol. 2 of Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Anchor Bible Reference Library 2. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
Perrin, Nicholas. Jesus the Temple. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2010.
Reese, David George. “Demons.” Pages 140-142 in vol. 2 of Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Sanders, E. P. The Historical Jesus. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Sorensen, Eric. Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and Early Christianity. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002.
Twelftree, Graham H. In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007.
 E. P. Sanders, The Historical Jesus (New York: Penguin, 1993), 149; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (ABRL 2; New York: Doubleday, 1994), 646-677; Nicholas Perrin, Jesus the Temple (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2010), 154-169; Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus, 149.
 Mark 5:8; Matt 17:18; Luke 8:29.
 This is evidenced by the fact that even Jesus’ opponents were slandering him over his means of exorcism in Mark 3:22-29.
 Perrin, Jesus the Temple, 163; Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus, 47; Reese, ABD 2:141.
 Reese, ABD 2:141.
 Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus, 49.