Mark 9,38-41, and the Validity of Protestant and other Unauthorized Exorcisms

Authored By: CRNET


In the Gospel of Mark (9,38-41) we read [in my translation from the Greek]:

9,38 John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone who was trashing demons in your name, and we were hindering him because he was not accompanying us." 39 But Jesus said, "Do no hinder him. For no one who will work a deed of great power in my name will immediately be able to speak evil of me; 40 for he who is not against us is for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you are Christ's, 'Amen,' I say to you, that he will certainly not be without his recompense."

If we were to read back into this Gospel the present state of the Mystical Body of Christ, what with Catholic and non- Catholic Christians, it would then seem that Jesus intended any and all who sincerely invoked His name to be able to cast out demons, those who were and are duly authorized by Catholic ecclesiastical authority and those who were and are not so deputed.

However, at the time of this event Jesus had not yet even given the command to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Who was a Christian and who was not was much more loosely defined. Those who were disciples of Jesus could express this by being "for" Jesus and not "against" Him, demonstrating this by invoking His name when relieving the suffering of the besieged or simply by giving a drink of water to a disciple because he was a disciple of Christ. It was not necessary to follow Jesus and the disciples everywhere.

Within a few years however, in order to be "for" Jesus, to be a disciple, to do anything in His name, one would also have to be baptized into His name. Those who would be so sincere as to give a cup of water to a disciple of Jesus because he was a disciple of Jesus would certainly not have a problem in receiving the watery sacrament. Those who were insincere in using Jesus' name to cast out demons were soon to be exposed and crushed for not being disciples of Jesus, and this by the demon himself, as we see with the sons of Sceve: "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?" (Acts 19,15ff). These itinerant exorcists certainly knew by the time this happened that it was insincere to use Jesus' name but not belong to the family of faith in the way He wanted people to belong to it -- by baptism. And at that time it was only baptism into Catholic, that is, "universal" Christianity.

Note that the passage in question is 9,38-41, and that the apostles had been given the authority to cast out demons, and only they, back in 6,7. This, however, does not demean the authority of Jesus and His ability to delegate this authority the way in which he wants. We have to understand that Jesus was able then, just as He is able now, to discern when someone was doing something in His name. He had the freedom to permit the action to be carried out in His name or to let it be carried out without the benefit of the action having the power of His name behind it. Jesus Himself grants the power behind His name. No one can just use His power without His permission, as if using His name was some sort of magical formula enabling one to tap into the power of Jesus without Him knowing anything about it.

Jesus accepted the sincerity of the lone exorcist, but not that of the sons of Sceve. They were miserably unsuccessful. The lone exorcist obviously did not know of Jesus' restrictions ("he was not accompanying us"). It was a good thing for Jesus to enable the man to cast out demons and demonstrate the tremendous power of Jesus, that He is able to work through others by the authority that He gives to them (not something anyone else can do). This was a valuable lesson in a Christology which had direct consequences for a proper understanding of ecclesiology: Jesus instructs the disciples that He has direct contact with all, something which does not undermine their authoirty, but which rather reminds them where that authority comes from, not themselves, but from Him alone.

The authority needed for exorcism is not essential to the proper management of the Church, although it is extremely useful. Jesus can give this authority to anyone as He sees fit. However, in the normal course of affairs, it is the prudence of Jesus at this time, as expressed by the Church which He founded upon Peter, that only those who are delegated by hierarchical authority are able to have this authority to cast out demons. This is not necessarily prejudicial to the case of someone who, in not knowing the need for such authority, simply goes ahead and does an exorcism. It is not guaranteed that Jesus will grant the authority of His name to such a person, although there is that possibility. And those who would otherwise try to use Jesus' authority against His will, as expressed by the Church, are in for an unpleasant surprise.


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