Blessed to be a Blessing

In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians – Graham H. Twelftree

Twelftree’s work on exorcism among early Christians is as deep as it is wide. His book surveys the varying perspectives on Christian exorcism, and its practice among the New Testament through 200 CE. He states his thesis early 51EUUbKCP1L__SS500_on in the book, “Hence I have two principle aims in this study. My chief aim is to determine the place as well as to describe the practice of exorcism among early Christians reflected in the New Testament documents. Secondarily, I will attempt to explain the variety of approaches to exorcism in the New Testament Canon.”[1] To do this he describes and discusses exorcism and exorcists during the first century, including Christian and Non-Christian. Then, he takes a chronological approach to examining what writers of the New Testament have to say about the practice among early Christians. Finally, he considers extra-Biblical sources including the Apostolic Fathers and critics of Christianity to examine their views of the practice up to the year 200 CE.[2] After his vast historical study, Twelftree comes to the conclusion that, “I am obliged to recognize that it (the New Testament) has provided the church with a range of options for understanding and dealing the demonic.”[3] The early Christians were “remarkably restrained”[4] in their interest and imagery of exorcism and that when techniques are discussed it stands in contrast to other ancient sources for its “extreme brevity.”[5] Twelftree’s final conclusion is that the New Testament writers believed “exorcism was a confrontation between the divine and the demonic in which the demonic was defeated”[6] and the defeat was not through any power from the Early Christians but “because they brought about a confrontation between Jesus and the demonic.”[7]

The major strength of Twelftree’s book is his depth of content and research. This is not just a survey of mentions of exorcism in the New Testament but a deep study of the social-historical context and views on exorcism of many different groups during the time that he research. He often includes detailed translation notes and information from other writers and commentators that give solid scholarly depth to his work. It is also to his strength that he limits the scope of his study to 200 CE and focuses on just the early Christians so that the reader can get a picture of early Christian history that is not influenced by stores and traditions that came after 200 CE whose historicity is sometimes doubted. One weakness in his writing is his frequency of offering conclusions based on small amounts of evidence and including conjecture in his conclusions; practices that “may have been known”[8], inferring conclusions from little evidence[9], grammatical contrasts based on what “could be”[10], and writing “although these important conclusions have a slender base”[11]. Twelftree’s should have left these comments out as they may cause the reader to doubt the author’s confidence in his own work.

[1] Graham H. Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2007, 29.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Ibid. 293.

[4] Ibid, 294.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 295.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 41.

[9] Ibid, 61.

[10] Ibid, 70.

[11] Ibid, 76.

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