WHAT IS A “LUNATICK?” IS IT AN “EPILEPTIC?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
The King James Bible employs the word “lunatick” in only two passages, both in the Book of Matthew.
- Matthew 4:23-24: “ And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.  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.”
- Matthew 17:14-16: “ And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,  Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.  And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”
As the name implies, “lunatick” literally means “moonstruck.” It is not a mistranslation, as the Greek is “seleniazomai,” with “selene” meaning “moon.” This strange English name, dating back to the 14th century, was derived from the now-antiquated idea that the moon’s phases temporarily caused mental instability. Most modern English versions, however, retranslate it to mean “epileptics” (NKJV, HCSB, NASB, et cetera), “those having seizures” (NIV, ESV, et cetera), or the like. However, epilepsy seems unlikely because the ancient Greeks knew nothing of it. We should retain the King James reading and not change the Word of God, lest we lose the following insight.
“Lunatic” (KJV, “lunatick”) is not a technical word, but it was once commonly applied to anyone suffering various mental illnesses. The lunatics Jesus healed represented spiritually-insane Israel: Israel is not thinking properly, as she has refused and still refuses to let God’s Word transform her mind. We are warned not to fall into the same trap! “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). Sound Bible doctrine—especially Romans through Philemon—will guard us against spiritual lunacy!
As touching Christ’s earthly ministry, for many centuries now, the Jews have focused on pagan idols, empty works-religion, materialism—anything and everything but JEHOVAH God and the revelation He gave them! They are “filled with madness,” Luke 6:11 reports, to the point of attempting to kill the Son of God. In fact, they are so insane they accused Jesus of craziness (John 10:20)! Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul before salvation, was another “mad” man against Christ and His followers (Acts 26:11). For more information, see our Luke 6:11 companion study linked below.
» What is the “madness” of Luke 6:11?
» What is a “demon?” Is that the same as “devil?”
» How could Jesus say His killers knew not what they were doing?
» Why could the disciples not cast out the devil in Matthew 17:14-21?
» Does the Bible teach that mental illness is really devil possession?