42. Lunatic? Matthew 17:15
What is a lunatic?
Just think for a moment.
What do you think when you hear of someone described as a lunatic?
I’ve heard people say things like: “are you some kind of lunatic?” or “you drive like a lunatic!” Describing someone irresponsible or stupid that should be called to order. But I have never found anybody using the word in a serious way or the sense of real illness.
On the other hand would you describe someone who “falls to the ground, rolls around and foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid…” as a lunatic?
That brings me to the question of what could have been wrong with the son brought to Jesus as recorded in Mat.17:15?
Bible translators struggle with how they should describe this problem. The KJV says he was a “lunatic”. The Amplified version (AMP) speaks of “epilepsy”. The Bible in Basic English (BBE) says “he was off his head”, while the NIV rather describes what was happening to the child: “he had seizures”.
The Greek word used, “selyniazetai” contains the word selyne which indicates something of the brilliant sparkle of the moon. But when we look at what happened to the boy, it looks rather like the seizures that we associate with epilepsy. In the time of Jesus, common thought was that seizures of that type were caused by demonic oppression and/or the influence of the moon.
Why is it important to try and discern what had been the particulars of the case recorded in Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-43? I ask you, should we not learn from Jesus and do likewise?
The question then arises whether we should see all seizures that display what happened to the boy, as demonic oppression linked to the moon? Should we try to drive demons from an epileptic who suffers likely seizures? This clearly could not be the case. On the other hand it is possible that the boy in fact was not an epileptic at all. He could have been demon possessed and that the demon caused the boy to have seizures very likened to what we now know as epilepsy. Of course Jesus knew exactly what the matter really was, and acted upon it accordingly. To us this Godly knowledge is not readily available. With serious prayer we should wait on the Holy Spirit and then act as He leads.
Back to the question of translation, is it better to translate the word according to its common meaning, without interpretation and end up with “lunatic”? This leaves the word of God open to individual interpretation with as many definitions as there are readers! Or should translators and experts of antique culture and literature prayerfully submit themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and look at all the possibilities. Should their choice merely translate the word or help us understand and apply the meaning in our circumstances?
If you had to translate, what would be your choice?