... continued from here
Another activity that Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us about Jesus doing is casting out demons, exorcism. Not only did they bring Jesus the sick, but the demon possessed as well (e.g., Mark 1:32). Interestingly, this is one aspect of Jesus' earthly ministry that John tells us nothing about, but it permeates the synoptic gospels.
Situations in the gospels where people are possessed by spirits are different from those where they are healed of sickness. In almost every case, the evil spirits speak and they are beings distinct from the person whose body they inhabit. Jesus heals many people where no connection is made to an evil spirit, and most of the times where a demon is mentioned there is no clear physical sickness involved.
There are only a couple instances where we might wonder if something was described as demon possession that we might describe differently today. For example, on one occasion Jesus heals a man who was mute (Matt. 9:32-33). The demon does not speak. In another well known instance, a boy has symptoms that would make us think of epilepsy (Mark 9:17-20). The boy has seizures and foams at the mouth. Again, the demon does not speak.
The important point is that Jesus healed them more than their precise diagnosis. Were there instances where the people Jesus healed were schizophrenic rather than truly demon possessed? The reason I ask this question is because we know that there are people today who speak in voices who are mentally ill rather than demon possessed. At the same time, Christians in the two-thirds world continue to report numerous incidents of demon possession where people act in ways that seem well beyond normal schizophrenia.
We do not have to pick one or the other. We can believe both in schizophrenia and in demon possession. But we must be very careful. Very few if any individuals reading this blog are qualified to make this sort of diagnosis. Throughout history, numerous individuals have been put to death who were mentally ill rather than possessed.
We should exhaust every possible medical avenue before we conclude someone is possessed. We do not need to know exactly what is wrong with a person to pray for them, even to lay hands on them. God knows the precise diagnosis, and it is the Spirit who does the healing or performs the exorcism. This issue should not be something that causes you to have doubts, nor should we ever hesitate to pray for someone no matter what their problem...