When I was seventeen I volunteered to work for a couple weeks at a camp for kids with mental illnesses. The camp was a welcomed blessing to the parents of these kids. Each counselor had to be within sight of their designated child at all times. The kid I was assigned to took special pleasure in hitting me and running away. He would wake up in the middle of the night and try to wander off towards the highway. After peeing his pants one morning at 5 am, I was responsible for getting him fresh clothes and taking him down the men’s bathroom to get cleaned up. The experience was sobering, but it gave me a whole new appreciation for parents with mentally ill children.
Even at seventeen, I understood that most of these kids had either under-developed or hyperactive regions of their brain. Most of them had simply lost the genetic lottery, while others had suffered some form of physical trauma. But when one child fell over and began convulsing on the ground, I had no idea how to react. I had never witnessed epilepsy before and the first thought that popped into my head was that Satan was toying with this poor kid. I shouted for help, and then began to pray! “Where was God?” I wondered. The camp nurse rushed to his side and immediate began to see to the boy. Each year, over 50,000 people die from seizures in the US alone.¹ That day, thanks to the nurse’s prompt response and thorough training, this child did not boost that statistic.
One day, when reading through my Bible I came to a verse in the book of Matthew in which a father was begging Jesus to heal his child, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.” (Matthew 17:15). This seemed normal, but a couple verses later surprised me, “And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.” A similar story in Luke 9:42 also attributed epilepsy to evil spirits, “the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him.”
The problem I had with these verses was that I knew epilepsy was a medical condition. Convulsive seizures result from unusual or hyperactive firing of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. This is demonstrably visible on any modern-day EEG (electroencephalogram). Epilepsy is normally genetic, but can result from brain trauma/injury, tumors or strokes, genetic mutation, or even abuse of alcohol or drugs. It made sense to me that two thousand years before modern medicine, seizure would be attributed to evil spirits, but in modern times, when an estimated 65 million – often devout – people are affected by epilepsy² (mostly in areas of the world where access to proper medication is low), I had no choice but to be skeptical of demonic attribution.
After all, if some of these 65 million epileptics are like the man in Mark 5:9 who was host to an entire legion of demons, then there are an awful lot of demons on planet earth. If heaven is great, and God is all-loving, why did 65 million of his angels opted for hell-fire? And if demons are the cause of epilepsy, then why do roughly three fourths of deaths from seizures occur when a person is lying on their stomach?³ Are metaphysical, mind-controlling, demonic forces, easily thwarted by just sleeping on your back? Do they save non-stomach-sleepers for the extra strong demons?
When proper science is absent, mysticism runs rampant. Three hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Greek philosopher Hippocrates would postulate that a person’s health and well-being was attributed to their four temperaments (fluids) being in alignment. These included black and yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. This idea, known as Humorism, became a widely adopted theory in the field of anatomy for centuries. But there was nothing humorous about Humorism. Its adoption led to the horrific practice of blood-letting, for over two millennia — a practice which, tragically, has been responsible for the deaths of thousands, including George Washington and Charles II.
The authors of the gospels lived in these mysterious early days of Humorism when little was known about anatomy, and mysticism was equivocal to medicine. After reading of Jesus and the epilepsy demons, I discover that the word epilepsy came from the Greek word ἐπιλαμβάνειν (epilamvanein) which literally means to possess, take hold of, or afflict. Without modern medicine, physical ailments had to be explained somehow. This is where God should come in, right?
After all, if God is the author of the gospels (“All scripture is God-breathed” – 2 Timothy 3:16), and he is all-knowing, knowing even the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30), shouldn’t he also know what seizures are? Us mortals, with limited but expanding scientific understanding, figured it out. It’s not demons.
With all of this in mind, one of three scenarios exist:
- God is not all-knowing and was as confused as Hippocrates when the gospels were written, and thus God and his book lack any credibility in modern times.
- The Bible has changed since God inspired its authoring, and because it is no longer in its original form, the book cannot be trusted.
- The gospels were written by ancient men with primitive understandings of anatomy, and are thus man-made and not divine and therefore have no legitimacy in the information age.
Whichever scenario is the correct one, the Bible lacks legitimacy, and cannot be treated as an accurate source of insight by anyone who wishes to be taken seriously in this science-governed universe. With modern medicine and our knowledge of science growing in leaps and bounds, anatomy has triumphed over superstition; science over mysticism. We’ve come a long way since the ancient times of demon haunted worlds. The fairy tales of our past were perhaps suitable for the infancy of our species, but those days are passed. It’s time to leave the cradle. It’s time to grow up.