Matthew 17:15 Lunatic or Epileptic ?
Matthew 17:15 KJB - "Lord, have mercy on my son: for HE IS A LUNATICK, and sore vexed:” for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.”
ESV (NKJV, Holman, NET, Jehovah Witness NWT, Catholic New Jerusalem) - “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is AN EPILEPTIC and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.”
Matthew 4:24 KJB - “And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those that were possessed with devils, and THOSE WHICH WERE LUNATICK, and those that had palsy; and he healed them.”
ESV (NKJV, Holman, NET, Jehovah Witness NWT, Catholic New Jerusalem) - “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, EPILEPTICS, and paralytics, and he healed them.”
The word “LUNATICS” (modern spelling) is found only two times in the entire New Testament. The King James Bible and many others translate it as “lunatics” and many modern versions (but not all of them) translate it as “EPILEPTICS”.
The meaning is not at all the same. The two words are not synonyms. Lunatics are mentally unbalanced or crazy, but they do not necessarily or even usually suffer from Epilepsy. And Epileptics are not usually lunatics or crazy. They are just afflicted with epilepsy.
In Matthew 17:15 this man's son was possessed of a devil, which caused the young boys mental illness. Jesus then casts out the devil and the boy is cured in that very hour.
And in Matthew 4:24 there were people who were sick, others were possessed with devils and still others were lunatics.
The word correctly translated as LUNATIC is the Greek word from which we get the word "moon" or "luna". Thus in English we have the lunar cycle. Lunatick means literally "moon-struck”. It comes from the Latin word “lunaticus” which in turn comes from “luna”, meaning “the moon”. Being a lunatic has to do with mental illness or madness. It is not the physical affliction of epilepsy.
Their is a very direct relation in the Greek from which the King James Bible is translated between “moon” and “he is a lunatic”.
The Greek word for “moon” is seleenee (σεληνη) and the Greek word for “he is a lunatic” is seleeniazomai (σεληνιαζεται). They are directly related both in Greek and in the English language to the word “moon”.
The word lunar means pertaining to the moon. The word comes from the Latin word lunaris, meaning the moon. We have the lunar cycle and a lunar landing. You can also see this relationship in the Spanish word for Monday, which is Lunes.
And in English the word Monday itself means Moon Day. The English word “moon” comes from the Middle English and the Anglo Saxon word “mona” meaning both “month” and “moon”. And in turn, the English word Month itself is derived from the word “moon”.
Merriam Webster Dictionary - Lunatic
a : affected with a severely disordered state of mind : insane
b : designed for the care of mentally ill people a lunatic asylum
Bible versions that correctly translate this word as Lunatick (older spelling) or "lunatic" are the Vulgate in 425 A.D, Wycliffe 1395 “for he is lunatike”, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, the Bishop's Bible 1568 - "for he is lunaticke", Douay-Rheims 1582, the Geneva Bible 1587 -“for he is lunatike”, the Beza N.T. 1599, Whiston’s N.T. 1745 -"for he is lunatick", Wesley's translation 1755, Worsley’s N.T. 1770, Thomas Haweis N.T. 1795, Webster's 1833, the Living Oracles 1835, The Pickering N.T. 1840, both Etheridge 1849 and Murdock’s 1852 translations of the Syriac Peshitta, Julia Smith Translation 1855, Sawyer N.T. 1858, Noyes Translation 1869, The Alford N.T. 1870, The Revised English Bible 1877, Darby 1890, Young's 1898, Rotherham's Emphasized bible 1902, Godbey N.T. 1902, Worrell N.T. 1904, the Moffatt N.T. 1913, H. Anderson's N.T. translated from the Sinaitic Manuscript 1918, Riverside N.T. 1923, the Douay Version 1950, J.B. Phillips N.T. 1962 -“for he is a lunatic and is in a terrible state.”, the American Bible Union N.T. 2008, the KJV 21st Century 1994, The Lawrie N.T. 1998, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, God's First Truth 1999, the Tomson N.T. 2002, Green's Modern KJV 2005, A Conservative Version Interlinear 2005, The Mebust Bible 2007 - "for he is a lunatic", the Jubilee Bible 2010 “for he is a LUNATIC”, The Hebrew Transliteration Bible 2010, The Work of God's Children Bible 2011, The Far Above All Translation 2014 and The Open English Bible 2014.
The NASB is interesting in that from 1960 to 1972 it translated this word as "for he is AN EPILEPTIC", with a footnote telling us that the word literally means moonstruck. But then in 1977 and again in the 1995 Update, the NASB now reads "he is a LUNATIC".
The New Life Version of 1969 reads: “He is very sick and at times LOSES THE USE OF HIS MIND.”
The Living Bible 1971 says: “for he is MENTALLY DERANGED”
The Pickering New Testament 2005 - "for he is MOONSTRUCK"
Foreign Language Bibles
Foreign language Bibles that also say “for he is A LUNATIC” are Luther’s German Bible 1545 and German Schlachter Bible 2000 - “denn er ist mondsüchtig “ = “for he is a lunatic”, the French Martin 1744, French Louis Segond - “qui est lunatique”, the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1549, Cipriano de Valera 1602 and Reina Valera 1909-2011 - “que es lunático”, the Italian Diodati Bible 1649, Riveduta 1927 - “egli è lunatico”, the Portuguese A Biblia Sagrada and the Almeida Corregida 2009 - “que é lunático”, the Romanian Cornilescu Bible and the 2014 Romanian Fidela Bible - “căci este lunatic”, the Russian Synodal Version 1876 “помилуй сына моего; он в новолуния беснуется “, the Hungarina Karoli Bible - “mert holdkóros és kegyetlenül szenved” and the Tagalog Ang Biblia 1905 “sapagka't siya'y himatayin, at lubhang naghihirap”
Many modern versions tell us the boy was an EPILEPTIC, including the NKJV, RSV, ISV, Holman Standard, NET, the Jehovah Witness New World Translation, the Catholic New Jerusalem bible 1985, the 2009 Catholic Public Domain Version and the ESV.
The NIV in 1973 and 1977 said: "he is an EPILEPTIC", but then in 1984 and 2011 changed this to “HE HAS SEIZURES.”
The Catholic Connection
The older Catholic versions like the Douay-Rheims 1582, the Douay 1950 and even the St. Joseph New American bible 1970 all have "lunatic" in both places, but the Catholic New Jerusalem bible 1985 now has EPILEPTIC in Matthew 4:24 and "HE IS DEMENTED" in Matthew 17:15.
I recently discovered something that I think is very interesting about how modern scholars are changing the definitions that words once had. I have in my study two different printings of the well known Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon. One is from 1887 and the other one is from 1976, which claims to be a reprint of the previous edition.
The 1887 Liddell and Scott edition page 632 clearly defines this word σεληνιαζεται as "to be moon struck or LUNATIC.” But the 1976 edition now has as the definition - "to be moonstruck, i.e. EPILEPTIC”. Obviously Liddell and Scott were not alive in 1976 to make this change themselves, so who did?
Strong’s Concordance tells us the Greek word is derived the the word for “moon” and means “to be moon-struck, i.e. to be crazy, to be a lunatic.”
And Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon lists both meanings for the word σεληνιαζεται “to be moon-struck, lunatic; to be epileptic (epilepsyy being supposed to return and increase with the increase of the moon)”
In case you missed the obvious, a lunatick is not the same thing as an epileptic. This boy's lunacy was a mental disorder caused by a foul and evil spirit. In Mark 9:17 the father of the boy told Jesus that "he hath a dumb spirit”, and Jesus soon speaks directly to the foul spirit and says: “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.” And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him.” Mark 9:25-26.
Epilepsy is a physical disease, and epileptics are not considered to be lunaticks nor under the influence of devilish spirits.
We know the unbelieving world mocks the Bible and the Christian faith, but consider for a moment which translation better serves to verify the truth of the Bible and which would only serve to make it appear the product of ignorant superstition, even to Christians?
Christians do believe that God, angels, devils, foul spirits, Cherubim and Seraphim, archangels and the Devil himself exist. The Bible clearly tells us many times over that all these spiritual entities exist and we believe it.
But which is more reasonable to assume within the Christian faith? That this young boy was a lunatic and mentally unbalanced because of a harassing devil and foul spirit, or that the disease of epilepsy is caused by demons? What do you think?
All bibles do not say the same things, but with different words. The King James Bible is right, as always. Accept no substitutes.
All of grace, believing the Book,
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