|Teleman Square, Ferrier Estate, in London England|
A priest in an Episcopal Church I visited recently read from Mark 6:7-13. It was the Gospel passage from the Lectionary for that Sunday.
"And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey,"
However, the King James version is different.
"And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey,"
You don't get, "...and gave them power over unclean spirits..." from her version.
What's the harm? Does it change our understanding of the passage? If we understand the passage the same either way, I think we might be missing something. I listened to her sermon and it was meaningful and engaging but I still wondered, "Why le
ave it out?"
I started going through Mark looking up references to "spirit." I found 10 references to "unclean spirit." In a couple of places, "unclean spirit" was used interchangeably with "devil," so, I looked that up and found 16 references to "devil" in Mark's Gospel. From chapter 1 through chapter 9, every other chapter in Mark describes Jesus' confrontations with these bodiless beings. Chapter 6 describes the disciples carrying on his work in a similar manner.
Early in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is directly challenged and defied by Satan himself.
Mark 1:12-13 - And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
Soon after that, there was this incident in a synagogue in Capernaum.
Mark 1:22-26 - And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
Mark continues in chapter 3.
Mark 3:11-12 - And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.
Mark's description of incidents and events involving Jesus and unclean spirits seem to get longer, wilder, and more detailed. He mashes the accelerator in chapter 5 while we're saying, "Slow down Mark!"
Mark 5:1-15 - And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
Calling these spirits the devil in these confrontations brings a dimension of personal drama to the conflict between Jesus who was "in the beginning"
and he who once was "son of the morning." The stage is bigger and scarier than most of us want to admit.
Mark 7:25-30 - For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
In Mark 9, Jesus refers to a spirit as "foul" and "dumb and deaf" th
at his disciples could not cast out. His disciples ask him, "Why could not we cast him out?"
Jesus responded saying, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."
Once again, Mark includes more mystery and detail.
Here are some reasons why someone might omit this passage.
1. They are afraid of spiritual extremism and they're trying to keep it out of the church.
I believe God is less concerned with innocent extremism than we are. I've seen ministers react to people getting carried away, by closing themselves off from what's inspiring the extremism, as if that's supposed to bring balance. I knew a minister who wouldn't read from the book of Revelation in church because of all the crazy interpretations being thrown around. I think it would have been more helpful if she would read it and demonstrated a balanced view of the book. Just because some take praying for the sick to a desperate extreme, are we going to stop praying for the sick? Just because some preach on giving as part of an unbalanced prosperity message, do we stop giving?
2. They weren't going to mention "unclean spirits" in their sermon, so that passage was irrelevant.
The Bible was not given to provide inspiration for sermons. The Bible is more important than the sermons it inspires.
3. People only believed in spirits back then because they didn't understand disease and pathological behavior as we do today. Enlightened people don't believe in that stuff.
Science can neither explain our deepest problems nor provide the cures we most deeply long for. We need Jesus to touch and heal us at our core.
4. Talking about "unclean spirits" only serves to distract us from living out the true message of the Gospel.
I suspect this is where she was coming from. However, I don't believe we can walk in love until God works in our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit and drives far from us all wrong desires.
5. Someone might be so focused on cooperative solutions, that they are uncomfortable with a reference to people having power over anything. This is a variation of the perspective, "If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
I think some people have a problem thinking of power and authority as a good thing. Even though Christianity is about humility and cooperation within the family, God opposes the eternally defiant with complete authority and power. Some people have been hurt by authority figures and it's hard to recover from that. It may be difficult for some to think or read the word "authority" regardless of any other words in the sentence. No matter how bad our experience with human authority, we need to learn to humbly accept Christ's authority over us and over what prevents us from walking in freedom in Christ.
6. Talking about the devil and spirits is spooky and scares people.
When my son was young, his mother took him to some extreme churches that spoke of the devil and Satan too much. He grew fearful and started having nightmares. You can definitely overemphasize this stuff; especially with children.
Here are some reasons I thought she should have read it.
1. So someone like me wouldn't be wondering why she left it out.
2. Because it's in the Bible.
3. Because the Lectionary directed us to read that passage on that particular day.
4. Because the Gospels often describe Jesus' authority over the devil and unclean spirits.
5. It shows that ministry involves a calling and an endowment of grace.
I'm very uncomfortable with deciding what to read from the Bible and what to leave out. Let's just read it all. The Holy Spirit will breath life into the words that take root in our heart. Maybe He'll show us something we never considered before and make it part of our lives.
The Holy Spirit is the air we breathe.
The Word of God in our heart our lungs.
Our faith, in all its rich expression, causes our lungs to expand and contract, and the Holy Spirit rushes in and out, revealing and exalting Christ.
Photo above © Copyright John Salmon
and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence