Spiritual Conflict in Biblical Perspective 1

The task of laying a biblical foundation for a theological discussion of spiritual warfare is an extremely difficult one. On the one hand, a comprehensive examination of the many relevant biblical texts would require much more time than can be allotted to this dimension of the issue at a consultation of this nature. (1) On the other hand, such an examination might generate an interpretation of the biblical text that is less than wholistic owing to the fact that this issue, as any other, is only one dimension of the biblical witness and undue attention to it might give a false impression of its significance. Thus, I shall attempt to offer one slice of the larger whole as a means of gaining leverage on this challenging issue.

The aspect of this topic on which I shall focus is the origins of illness in New Testament thought. Such an approach is especially suited for this consultation in that often discussions about spiritual warfare focus on the issues of infirmity and healing. By focusing on origins of illness, a better understanding of spiritual warfare may be attained as the role of the Devil and demons in afflicting individuals is seen alongside other origins of illness, thereby preserving the tension of the biblical text itself on this topic.

In a previous investigation I sought to discover NT thinking and attitudes about origins of illness by examining the various NT writings on their own terms. (2) That study attempted to allow the different NT voices to be heard in all their variety and diversity before putting them into dialogue with one another. In what follows, I shall share my thoughts on how the various voices might be placed into dialogue with one another in order to push toward the possible construction of a NT theology of the Devil, disease, and deliverance. (3)

Origins of Illness in NT Thought

An examination of relevant texts reveals that the NT identifies three primary causes of illness and/or infirmities: God, the Devil and/or demons, and what might most appropriately be called natural (or neutral) causes.

God as Source of Infirmity and/or Death

One of the points on which there is a great deal of agreement in the NT materials is that God is often attributed a role in the origins of illness. In fact, God is described as the direct or indirect source of infirmity by the majority of NT writers (James, Paul, John, Luke-Acts) examined, the lone exceptions being Mark and Matthew. Generally speaking, the NT writers show little of the reluctance many modern students of the NT exhibit in assigning to God an active role in the affliction of individuals with disease and/or death. God’s involvement in the origins of illness is not presented in a monolithic fashion but as multi-faceted. Specifically, infirmity and/or death can be used by God as a pedagogical device, an instrument of punishment, a source of sanctification, a means of spreading the Gospel, or an instrument of salvation. Each of these dimensions is explored briefly.

Infirmity and Death as Pedagogical Device

On more than one occasion and by more than one writer, God is described as sending an illness or death in an attempt to teach those identified as part of the Christian community that sin must not be tolerated but dealt with in an appropriate manner. On such occasions the affliction appears as God’s way of calling the believers’ attention to their sin. In these situations it is clear that a causal relationship exists between sin and affliction. However, unlike later theological reflection on the subject, there is no suggestion in these texts that the affliction is inherent in the sin. Rather, it is either implied or stated explicitly that the affliction comes directly from God himself as a result of the sin. For both James and Paul, in cases where God is the origin of an affliction the purpose is to draw the attention of the individual or community to the sin in question and the need for repentance. While James (5) does not indicate the precise nature of the sin which results in illness, other writers disclose the reason for the affliction. Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 11 that abuses at the Lord’s table have resulted not only in illness but even death. Luke’s description of Zechariah’s mute condition (Luke 1) is attributed to the unbelief he exhibits in response to the divine promise spoken by the angel Gabriel. Each passage implies that discernment on the part of the individuals and/or the community involved would result in avoidance of such culpable behavior. Consequently, had such discernment taken place these afflictions would not have occurred in the first place. In James 5 removal of such afflictions is assured by a combination of confession and intercessory prayer. The communal dimension is evident in at least the Jaocbian and Pauline texts.

On one occasion an affliction sent by God plays some role in the salvation of an individual. In the well known story of Saul’s conversion, the encounter with the risen Christ leaves Saul blind, evidenced by the fact that the former persecutor of the church must now be led by the hand in order to find his way (Acts 9:8-9). While it could be argued that the blind condition was simply a by-product of the brilliance of the Christophany, it would be odd indeed for the reader not to see the hand of God actively at work in this event. The blindness serves to provide Saul with a sufficiently solitary experience in which the significance of his encounter with Jesus might be adequately pondered. In that sense it might be appropriate to describe this affliction as a pedagogical tool by which Saul is brought to faith.

Infirmity and Death as Punishment

Closely related to the idea of affliction as pedagogical device is that of affliction as punishment by God. In cases where illness or death are the result of divine punishment, they are said to have resulted in relation to a variety of reasons. John (5:14) indicates that the infirmity of the man at the pool of Bethesda is the result of sin and that the continuation of sin might result in a worse physical calamity. While Jesus’ warning about ‘something worse’ might serve a pedagogical function, there is no suggestion that the previous infirmity played such a role. On this occasion, the nature of the man’s sin is not disclosed. The Book of Acts tells of three deaths attributed to the hand of God. The first two deaths are the result of attempts to counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit within the early Christian community (Acts 5:1-11). Such punishment is all the more significant because it comes to those within the believing community, Ananias and Sapphira. In this passage the only pedagogical value comes through the fear in the community and beyond – fear evoked from knowledge of their deaths. God’s hand of judgment is certain.

Opposition to the Gospel also can result in divine punishment. Both Herod (Acts 12:19b-23), who is killed by the Angel of the Lord, and Elymas the magician (Acts 13:6-12) are smitten by God. In the case of Herod, the affliction primarily functions as a punitive act, while Elymas’ blindness may carry with it the hope of salvation for the magician, as Paul’s own blindness serves as a catalyst in his move toward faith in Jesus. It may be significant that most of the examples of God’s punitive acts occur in the book of Acts.

Affliction and the Spread of the Gospel

God is presented not only as one who sends affliction as a teaching or punitive device, but also as one who can use affliction to further the spread of the Gospel. Two NT texts present God as using infirmity in precisely this manner. Both the blind man in John (9) and Paul, who suffers from a weakness in the flesh in Galatians (4), experience infirmity in order that God might accomplish his purpose through the revelation of his message. With the blind man the reader is told that this condition exists in order that the works of God might be revealed. Such a statement is a response to the disciples’ question about the origin of the man’s condition and at the same time a sign that such an action on God’s behalf is not viewed as something distasteful by John. Clearly this statement conveys the sense that God may send (or use) affliction to suit his purpose, in this case the manifestation of his works, in order to generate the faith that leads to eternal life. In similar fashion, Paul’s illness described in Galatians (4) results in the preaching of the Gospel to the Galatians. This illness, which could have proven to be a stumbling block or obstacle to the Galatians, turns out to be the very occasion for them to hear the message of salvation about Jesus Christ. The implication is that God’s hand can be seen even in this illness, for it serves his ultimate purpose.

Affliction and Sanctification

A final category of affliction attributed to God concerns Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 7-10). If the thorn is understood to be a physical ailment rather than a reference to Paul’s opponents, it becomes a clear reference to God’s use of affliction to work his purpose in the life of his servant. Specifically, Paul explains that the thorn, which comes from a messenger of Satan, is for his ultimate good. Despite Paul’s petitions for it to be removed, the thorn is an instrument of sanctification in Paul’s life, as it is designed to keep Paul from being conceited, owing to the greatness of the revelations disclosed to him. In this case, then, an infirmity, even one which has Satanic connections, can be sent by God and used by him to accomplish his desire in his messenger.

Conclusion

Far from being viewed simply as a source of healing, God, in the view of many NT writers, can be depicted as the origin of infirmity or death. When he is described in such a way there always seem to be specific reasons for his actions. Thus, God is seen to be sovereign, one who may act in ways that will achieve his will, a God who is to be approached with (a holy) fear. Such evidence suggests that the NT writers did not always attribute infirmity to Satan, but worked with a more dialectical world view, a world where God could also afflict. Such an understanding suggests that God is not only able to use suffering indirectly to accomplish his purposes, but he can also take a direct role in this activity.

The Devil and/or Demons as Source of Infirmity

It comes as little surprise that several NT writers attribute infirmity to the Devil and/or his demons. What is somewhat unexpected is that not all writers make such attributions, and some writers who make this attribution offer fewer examples than one might be led to expect. While there is a certain amount of diversity in views on the role of the Devil and demons in the sending of affliction, one might attempt to put the evidence together in the following manner.

The Nature of the Evidence

The attribution of infirmity to the Devil or demons is primarily confined to three NT documents, Matthew, Luke, and Acts. Neither James nor John gives any hint that the Devil or demons have a role to play in the infliction of infirmity. In Paul, where there appears to be one attribution, the thorn in the flesh, it is perhaps not insignificant that, despite the close connection between the thorn and the messenger of Satan, God is identified as the ultimate origin of the thorn. The only other attribution of an infirmity to a demon, outside Matthew and Luke-Acts, is found in Mark 9, where a demon-possessed boy is afflicted by a “dumb” spirit which, among other things, seeks to kill him. While this text is similar to some of those found in the other synoptic gospels, it is at least noteworthy that Mark does not make such a connection clear in other places where its synoptic counterparts do.

The Relationship of Demon Possession to Infirmity

There are numerous accounts in the NT of demon possession as a malady. The victims of demon possession are described as being dominated by the demon or unclean spirit to the extent that they lose the ability to control or perform normal bodily functions. At times, the convulsions and other body or motor responses prove to be so violent and uncontrollable that they place both the victims and those near them in danger of physical harm.

In contrast to claims made both at the scholarly and popular levels, the NT writers generally make a clear distinction between demon possession and illness. For example, Mark is very careful to keep the lines of demarcation between the categories distinct, with Mark 9 being the only occasion where demon possession and infirmity converge. This cautious approach, along with the attribution of several infirmities to God and the fact that many accounts of healing in the Synoptics give no hint as to the origin of the infirmity (let alone attribute the illness to a demon), suggests that for the NT writers there was no simple equation between infirmity and the demonic. To make such a dubious equation the starting point for an explanation of the origins of illness in the NT errs methodologically by not paying sufficient attention to the NT documents themselves. On such a view, pride of place is given to a world view or Sitz-im-Leben constructed from evidence outside the NT itself, against which the NT documents are then read. The result is a reading predetermined by the ‘historical’ construct. Unfortunately, when such an approach is taken, the NT documents are not heard on their own terms but often are forced to fit the construct, thus denying a hearing to the distinctive thought of the NT writers.

In addition to the numerous cases of demon possession in which infirmity does not play a role, there are a number of occasions in the Synoptics and Acts in which infirmities of various kinds are attributed to demon possession. These maladies include deafness, muteness, blindness, and epilepsy. It may not be insignificant that some of these very same infirmities also appear in contexts with no connection to demonic activity. A reading of the NT texts reveals that, while not all demon possession is directly related to infirmity, there is a connection at several places in Matthew and Luke in particular. In these accounts, it is evident that there would be no infirmity if not for the demon possession. On occasions such as these, the remedy for the malady is brought through exorcism. In this regard, it should be observed that Mark 9 suggests the existence of different classes of demons, some of whom are more difficult to exorcise than others.

Although careful to distinguish between demon possession and illness, Matthew seems to regard certain forms of demon possession as a category of illness, in that he lists demon possession alongside epilepsy and paralysis as major infirmities which Jesus healed (Mt. 4:24). As such, Matthew occasionally uses healing language where one might expect the vocabulary of exorcism. Luke blurs the lines of demarcation further, not only failing to distinguish between demon possession and infirmity but also leaving the reader unable to be as certain about the origins of illness as do other NT writers. However, it is interesting that in Acts, while the lines continue to be occasionally blurred in summary statements, there is not a single concrete example of an illness being directly attributed to demonic activity.

However the evidence is read, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the Synoptics and Acts regard a number of infirmities as being the direct result of demon possession.

Demonic Affliction Distinct from Demon Possession

In addition to the attribution of infirmity to demon possession there are also two or three occasions where an infirmity is attributed to demonic activity without any suggestion that the afflicted person is under the (complete) control of the unclean spirit or is regarded as demon possessed. These specific cases include Paul’s thorn in the flesh, which is identified with a messenger from Satan, Luke’s account of Simon’s mother-in-law, and the woman with a spirit of infirmity. In each of these accounts the individual sufferer is afflicted by a spirit but the signs of demon possession are absent. In fact, aside from the affliction, there is nothing in the texts to suggest that the reader is to view the sufferer in anything but a positive light. Thus the reader is led to the conclusion that there is a category of demonically inflicted infirmity separate from demon possession proper. Individuals who suffer in this way are not described as being in need of exorcism (or deliverance) as much as healing, which would involve the removal of the cause of the affliction.

In the case of the woman with a spirit of infirmity Jesus simply pronounces her well, laying his hands upon her, and she immediately straightens up (Luke 13:10-16). When encountering Simon’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39), he rebukes the fever and it leaves. If the fever is to be viewed as demonically induced (as appears likely), it is significant that Jesus does not engage the demon in conversation, as he had done in the previous pericope, but simply rebukes it. That the remedy in cases such as these is not as clear cut as in those of demon possession is demonstrated by the case of Paul whose petitions for the thorn’s removal are met with a revelation that the thorn is there to stay; the messenger of Satan will continue his work, for in this messenger, God is himself working on Paul’s behalf. Thus, it appears that the NT knows of a category of demonic activity separate from demon possession in which individuals who appear to be in a positive relationship with God suffer infirmity.

Attack by Sinister Forces

A final observation should be offered before concluding this section. There is some evidence within the NT that a messenger of God could be attacked by sinister forces in an attempt to thwart the preaching of the Gospel. The place in the Acts narrative which describes Paul’s snakebite on Malta (28:1-6) suggests that the reader of Acts would see more than coincidence in this event, especially given the previous promises by Jesus about the protection and authority of his followers who encounter all manner of opposition (Luke 10.17-20). Despite this attack, God’s messenger is preserved from harm in order to complete the mission to which he is called.

Infirmity and Natural Causes

A number of infirmities in the NT might best be described as owing their origin to neutral or natural causes. This observation is based on several facts. First, the vast majority of NT references to infirmities do not give any indication as to the origin of the particular malady in question. Such references occur in every NT writing which contains reference to an infirmity. While it is theoretically possible to attribute all these infirmities to the Devil, or a world estranged from God, or the effects of sin in the world, etc., the texts themselves do not explicitly offer support for such a view. In point of fact, despite the frequent appearance of such views in contemporary theological explanations of the origins of illness, it is interesting that in NT discussions about the origins of illness the writers never explain the presence of infirmity as being simply the result of living in a fallen sinful world. Second, on more than one occasion it is explicitly stated that sin is not the cause of certain infirmities (cf. esp. John 9 and James 5). James 5 leaves open the prospect of the origin of illnesses which are not the result of sin. Third, in two Lukan texts (13:1-3, 4-5) Jesus makes clear that calamities are not necessarily a gauge of one’s spirituality. Fourth, in discussing Paul’s co-workers who are ill (Phil. 2:25-30; 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20), the Pauline literature never suggests that there is anything sinister behind their condition. This attitude suggests that Paul regards such illness in a somewhat neutral fashion. Therefore, it is fair to say that certain, if not the majority of, infirmities are treated by NT writers as neutral in terms of origin.

Responses to Illness

Given the various origins of and purposes for infirmity in the NT, it comes as no surprise that responses to illness take a variety of forms. However, here too one finds a significant amount of overlap in the responses to infirmity as recounted in the NT writings examined. This portion of the presentation is devoted to a presentation of the various NT responses to infirmity based upon the previous reading of the relevant texts.

Prayer

One of the more common responses to infirmity in the NT is prayer. Not only does the evidence of James 5 indicate that prayer plays an integral role in the healing of the sick, but Paul’s practice in 2 Cor. 12 also indicates that prayer may have been his own habit in the face of infirmity. In fact, the evidence from this latter passage suggests that it may have been Paul’s habit to continue in prayer about a specific infirmity until either healing occurred or he ‘heard from God’ (as Paul says that he did) that the malady is not to be removed but is to serve a purpose in keeping with the divine will. It may not be going too far to suspect that prayer had a place in the ministry of those with the gifts of healings and perhaps accompanied the practice of the laying on of hands. Mark 9 indicates (as does much of the Marcan narrative) that prayer plays a crucial role in the casting out of demons, as the disciples are there told that “this kind of demon” comes out only by prayer. The idea of prayer in the face of infirmity is also found in Luke-Acts. Thus, it is fair to say that part of the NT response to infirmity ordinarily includes some form of prayer.

Discernment

Given the diverse origins of infirmity and the fact that the same malady may be attributed to as many as three separate causes respectively on different occasions in the NT, it is clear that discernment plays a crucial role in the process of responding to infirmity. This point may be illustrated by the two attested categories: 1) infirmity that results from sin and 2) infirmity that results from demon possession.

In cases of sin as the cause of an illness several things are said. a) James 5 seems to assume that when sin is the cause of an illness such a sin would be readily known to the individual sufferer. This same assumption appears to be present in John 5:14, where Jesus warns the man recently made whole to ‘stop sinning lest something worse come upon you’. b) At least one text reveals the role of the community in the discernment of sin. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians with regard to the illness and death in the community (1 Cor. 11) shows that members of the community should be active in discerning the reason for the presence of such in the church. If they had discerned (judged) themselves, the Corinthians would not have come under the judgment of the Lord as they had. It is not clear whether Paul’s words apply to individual as well as corporate conduct, although it is difficult to distinguish between the two on this occasion. The discernment advocated in this text might well have been expected to come from those in the community with the gift of discernment. c) Several texts testify to the fact that a vital role in the discernment process is played by leaders in the community. Of course, one of the primary examples of such discernment is the role played by Jesus. He is not only able to detect when the presence of sin is behind an infirmity (John 5:14) but he is also able to discern when this is not the case (John 9:3; Luke 13:1-5). In addition to Paul’s ability in this regard, mentioned earlier, Peter also detects (through the Holy Spirit) the presence of sin among those in the community when he prophesies judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. From the reader’s vantage point, another leader – the narrator of Luke’s Gospel – displays the ability to discern the presence of sin in the account of Zechariah’s unbelief and resulting punishment.

In the discernment of demonic activity standing behind an infirmity, the NT discloses two primary categories. a) Demon possession seems to be readily identifiable by most anyone close to the individual so afflicted. This observation is based on the comments made by the father of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9, the mother of the demon-possessed girl in Matthew 15, and the actions of those who bring to Jesus demon-possessed individuals who suffer infirmities owing to the presence of demons (cf. esp. Matthew 9:32; 12:23). b) In addition to discernment of this more general nature, the NT also testifies to the ability to discern the presence of demonic activity behind an infirmity which might not otherwise be known. Such appears to be the case with Paul’s knowledge of the Satanic nature of his thorn, as well as Jesus’ disclosure about Satan’s role (through a spirit of infirmity) in the affliction of a woman who for eighteen years had not been able to stand up straight (Luke 13:11, 16). To these examples might be added the narrators who often inform the readers as to which infirmities are from demonic sources and which are from other sources.

While other observations could be made with regard to this topic, these examples are enough to indicate that discernment is extraordinarily important in the NT responses to infirmity. Given the various references to the practice of discernment in the NT, it is probably safe to assume that the practice of discernment within the various NT communities was informed by the examples contained in the narratives and letters examined. In other words, it is likely that the NT communities implied by these documents made similar distinctions with regard to origins of infirmity.

Confession and Intercession

When sin stands behind an infirmity in the NT, one of the responses called for is confession. Although implied in other texts, this response is made explicit in James 5. In this text, when it is determined that sin is the cause of an illness, those individuals are called upon to confess their sin. This confession is to be made to one another (other members of the community) for the express purpose of intercession. The implication of this admonition is that such confession is to result in forgiveness and healing. In fact, it is probably fair to say that when sin is viewed as the cause of an illness, confession would normally be thought to end in healing.

It is significant that confession does not stand alone in James 5 but is to be accompanied by intercession. Intercessory prayer is described as efficacious and has roots deep in NT spirituality, which is filled with admonitions which presuppose mutual accountability among believers as a given in the early Christian world view. Of course, it goes without saying that intercession is difficult without confession.

Exorcism

When an infirmity is the result of demon possession, the only response found in the NT texts examined here is exorcism. It is perhaps significant that the exorcisms examined in this study are performed only upon those `outside’ the believing community. (4) There is no account of an exorcism within the church itself. The picture of Paul that emerges from the letters which bear his name and from the book of Acts illustrates this point. In the letters Paul never makes reference to exorcism, while in Acts exorcisms are attributed to him. While it is possible to explain this situation as simply the difference in Luke’s Paul and the Paul of the Pauline literature, it may also be that the context determines the content. That is to say, perhaps there is no mention of exorcism in the letters because there is no evidence that exorcisms occurred inside the believing community, while Luke’s account of Paul focuses on Paul’s missionary activity outside the believing community where exorcisms are said to have taken place. This observation may be supplemented by the fact that there is no mention of exorcisms in the NT outside the Synoptics and Acts. Such evidence might suggest that in NT thought exorcism occurred solely in a missionary or evangelistic context.

The nearest NT analogies to the occurrence of an exorcism inside the community of faith are found in that category of infirmity caused by demons but distinct from demon possession proper. In these few cases it is true that the affliction is attributed to Satan or a demon, but there are significant differences as well. Only in the story of Simon’s mother-in-law is there anything remotely resembling an exorcism and there the resemblance is simply the rebuke of the fever and its departure. In the case of the woman in Luke 13, the condition (aside from its description as a spirit of infirmity – a binding by Satan) and healing (the laying on of hands – no speech directed to the spirit) resemble what is seen in other non-demonic infirmities and cures. With Paul’s thorn, it is extraordinary that if exorcism were needed to expel this messenger of Satan, God’s response is that Paul can live with the condition. As with the other two texts, this passage bears little resemblance to demon possession and none to exorcism. Thus, even with this additional category of infirmities inflicted by Satan and/or his demons, the NT evidence for the presence of exorcisms within the believing community is very slim if not non-existent.

As for the methods of exorcism, (5) it would seem that prayer, at least before the event, is essential. The disciples experience failure at just this point (cf. Mark 9). In the NT accounts of exorcism there is little if any physical contact between the deliverer (Jesus, the Twelve, Philip, or Paul) and the possessed. Aside from the possibility that the laying on of hands occasionally accompanied exorcism (in Luke’s Gospel alone), a point that is not altogether clear, the closest one comes to such is the account of contact with pieces of cloth that had touched Paul’s body being used to effect healings and exorcisms (Acts 19). Instead of physical contact the NT texts depict a conversation, at most, between the deliverer and the demon or unclean spirit. Ordinarily such conversations include the cry of the demon, in which there is an acknowledgment of Jesus’ true identity (and authority). On one occasion, Jesus asks an evil spirit to reveal its name (Mark 5: 9), but ordinarily Jesus simply silences the demons, refusing to let them speak, and drives them out with a word. On most every occasion, the effect is immediate. (6) Judging from Matthew 12:43-45 and Luke 11:24-26, those delivered from demons are expected to follow up their exorcism with acceptance of the Gospel in order to ensure that the expelled demons would not return, for such a return would result in a condition worse than the former state.

Medicine

In addition to the responses just described there is one indication in the NT texts that medicine might also be viewed as an appropriate response to an infirmity in certain situations. This comment is based on 1 Tim. 5:23 where Timothy is admonished to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake on account of his frequent illness (1 Tim. 5:23). The context, which is concerned with Timothy’s health, makes clear that the wine is here being prescribed as a medicinal aid. Thus, while perhaps representing only a small strand in NT thought, the use of medicine as a response to infirmity cannot be ignored altogether.

1. This paper is a slightly revised version of J.C. Thomas, The Devil, Disease, and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought (JPTS 13; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), pp. 296-309.

2. For this attempt cf. Thomas, The Devil, Disease, and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought.

3. It is, of course, possible to take a minimalist approach to this issue. In such a case the enquiry is complete with the examination of the last set of NT writings. On this view the most one can hope for is a better understanding of the distinctive voices contained in the NT. To go farther is to violate the integrity of the documents themselves, which were not necessarily written with an eye on the others, with the possible exception of the synoptics and perhaps James and Paul. In the instances where such is the case, part of the purpose may very well have been to correct rather than to confirm.

However, at least two things suggest that pushing beyond a hearing of the various voices is not an altogether illegitimate enterprise. First, even for those who might be called minimalists, there is an acknowledgment of an essential unity of thought in the NT as a whole even if it be ever so slight. [For example, cf. J.D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1990), pp. 369-88.] In the case of the origins of illness, this examination has revealed that on a number of issues there is a fair amount of overlap of thought. In other words, this examination suggests that a certain unity of thought does exist on this issue in the NT itself. Second, although to push in this direction may go beyond what some NT writers would have themselves envisioned, the fact that these documents are part of the NT canon and as a result have been and continue to be read within that broader context suggests that such an interpretive move is not inappropriate but may be a necessary one. [On this approach cf. esp. J. Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Cf. also J. Reumann, Variety and Unity in New Testament Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

4.By “believing community” I mean those whom the early Christians themselves would have viewed as being in a right relationship with God.

5. On this topic cf. esp. Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), pp. 143-56.

6. The account of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5:1-20 is one example of an exorcism that does not seem to be successful on the first attempt.

Date: 22 Aug 2000

Gathering: 2000 Nairobi

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