Healing in the History of Christianity

By Amanda Porterfield | Go to book overview

1
Jesus: Exorcist and Healer

Among all the activities ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament gospels, exorcism and healing are among the most prominent. The Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel, presents Jesus as a prophet known throughout Galilee for exorcism and healing, and Matthew and Luke build on this depiction. John does not refer directly to exorcisms performed by Jesus but does emphasize Jesus' role as healer. Taken together, there are seventy-two accounts of exorcisms and healings performed by Jesus in the four New Testament gospels, forty-one of which refer to distinct episodes. These forty-one episodes involve a variety of different literary forms, an indication of their independent origins. And ten of them refer to crowds of witnesses, an indication of the gospel writers' understanding that Jesus' ministry included highly visible, public acts of exorcism and healing.1

Beginning with Mark, the gospel writers portray Jesus as a charismatic healer. The touch of his hand (or hands) is extremely powerful; early on in Mark's gospel, Jesus' touch heals Peter's mother-inlaw (Mark 1:31) and brings a girl back from death (5:41). At the same time, people want to touch Jesus; any contact with him is therapeutic. Sick people crowd around him, eager to touch him (3:10). Simply feeling "the fringe of his cloak" enabled a hemorrhaging woman to recover (6:56). Even more dramatically, Jesus confronts and expels demons and "unclean spirits" that possess people and drive them to distraction (1:24, 32, 34; 3:11; 5:2-10; 9:17-18, 20-22). In several

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