DO MATTHEW 17:15, MARK 9:17-18, AND LUKE 9:39 CONTRADICT?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Matthew 17:15 says: “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.”
Mark 9:17-18 reports: “And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.”
Luke 9:39 says: “And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.”
For brevity’s sake, we will neither quote nor look at the contexts. We will simply look at these few verses. Are they contradictory? We will take some time and consider it.
Matthew writes that this man is a “lunatick,” greatly troubled by illness. Lunacy here refers to insanity, a mental impairment. He is not thinking properly, and is thus unable to function as God intended. His mental condition causes him to often fall into the fire and into the water. (Even today, people who suffer from poor mental health can engage in self-injury.)
Mark reports that a “dumb” spirit, a devil, possesses this man and prevents him from speaking. This evil spirit also convulses him. Furthermore, the man foams at the mouth and he gnashes his teeth. His condition is growing worse.
Luke says that this man is troubled by an evil spirit that takes control of him, so that he cries out (like shouting or wailing), shakes violently, foams at the mouth, and harms him before barely leaving him.
If we look at the above points, and their correlative verses, we have every reason to believe they are supplementary, not contradictory, to one another. It is the same man (if you must know, please look at the surrounding verses of all three passages). We must look at Matthew, Mark, and Luke to get the full picture. An evil spirit has overtaken him. Consequently, he loses control of his body, is not thinking clearly, is unable to speak, harms himself, foams at the mouth, and gnashes his teeth. In short, the man has a very poor quality of life. He is the perfect picture of Israel who is bound in Satan’s chains and unable to function as God intended! You can read how the Lord Jesus Christ healed and delivered that man, a perfect picture of Israel liberated by God to serve Him without sin and Satan impairing her!
In conclusion, we must remember that the Four Gospels do not read word-for-word in every account. They all focus on the same earthly life of Jesus Christ, true, but we must also bear in mind that they are seen from four different vantage points. Just as four people looking at the same object from four different perspectives see various details; so Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John view unique details and comment on them. Even if they are commenting on the same event, there is room for variation of events or people. The Holy Spirit chose the emphases each of the Four Gospels bear, and the verses in question here are best understood in this manner. Matthew 17:15, Mark 9:17-18, and Luke 9:39 are describing the same man. They must be conflated (combined) if we are to see the entire scenario. They are supplementary, not contradictory.