Does the Bible teach that mental illness is really devil possession?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Sometimes, people assume that the Bible considers mental illness as nothing more than devil possession. Even today, some dismiss God’s Word as “unscientific” because they suppose its human writers did not understand intellectual disabilities and bodily illnesses. The Bible writers—so-called “benighted bumpkins”—explained every physical affliction with the wanting description of “devil possession.” However, there is a verse that corrects the critics’ misunderstanding. The Bible writers are not confused; the Bible critics are.

Matthew 4:24 is just that verse: “And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.” But, first, before we address this Scripture, we want to ask a question. Why were these healing miracles so vital to Christ’s earthly ministry? Were they designed to simply give suffering people relief, to remove difficulties from their lives?

Matthew 4:17 tells us at the very beginning of His ministry: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Lord Jesus Christ traveled the highways and byways of Israel in Matthew through John and preached and healed every type of bodily affliction, disease, and disability. Matthew 9:35 reports, “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease among the people.” In order to validate His preaching of the Good News of the Kingdom—God’s earthly kingdom now within Israel’s grasp—the Lord Jesus performed numerous miraculous demonstrations. Jesus Christ was God manifest in human flesh, and He was proving Himself to be just that to Israel!

Luke 8:1 says, “And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing [demonstrating by miracles] the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,….” And, Matthew 12:28: “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” You may also check Matthew 8:16-17 (cf. Isaiah 53:4), Matthew 10:5-8, Matthew 11:4-6 (cf. Isaiah 35:3-6), Mark 16:16-20 (especially verse 20), Luke 4:18, and Acts 2:22 for additional references.

Hebrews 2:3-5 summarizes: “[3] How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; [4] God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? [5] For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.” Finally, Hebrews 6:4-5: “[4] For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, [5] And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,….”

These physical deliverances (miracle healings and casting out devils) were foretastes, or previews, of the worldwide liberations that would occur when Jesus Christ would return at His Second Coming to reign over Israel in the Earth (see Isaiah 33:24 and Zechariah 13:2). This kingdom is yet future—we know of it as “the Millennium,” or “the 1,000-Year Reign of Christ.” Now that we understand the purpose of the miracles of Christ’s earthly ministry (and the ministries of His apostles), we can address the issue of mental illness and devil possession.

The word “lunatic” is not in technical usage today, but it is still commonly applied to someone suffering from mental illness. You have probably already noticed the word resembles “lunar”—as in, the Moon. Friend, you would be correct in making that connection. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the word “lunatic” originated from Old French lunatique, from late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna ‘moon’ (from the belief that changes of the Moon caused intermittent insanity). The word first appeared in the 1300s, so it has been around for quite a long time.

Religious people, usually bound by superstition, or those who hear and believe them, may say that those suffering mental illness (or even physical illness) are really just “devil possessed.” However, the Bible would disagree. If we return to Matthew 4:24, notice: “And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.”

The Bible writers—in this case, Matthew—some 2,000 years ago knew there was a difference between “those which were possessed with devils” AND “those which were lunatick.” Being devil-possessed and being mentally ill were obviously not the same affliction according to the Spirit of God. There is even a demarcation between those “sick… with divers diseases and torments” AND “those which were possessed with devils.” Physical illness is not necessarily related to devil possession.

God’s Word cannot be shamed here. It is in perfect accordance with what we understand today.

Also see:
» Why did Jesus Christ heal on the Sabbath day?
» Is there “healing in the Atonement?”
» Can you explain Paul’s ministry during Acts?