The text translated says something to the effect

“For he was saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭

Which would cause one to assume Jesus said it once only

But is there enough in the Greek to indicate that the present tense verb indicated a continual or repeated action on the part of Jesus and that in fact He commanded the legion multiple times to leave? Or are we to understand it was definitely only once?

ελεγεν γαρ αυτω εξελθε το πνευμα το ακαθαρτον εκ του ανθρωπου

  • Biblehub lists ἔλεγεν Strong 2036 as 'imperfect indicative active - 3rd person singular'. Both KJV and YLT translate this as 'he said'. Jesus was speaking and the demonic spirit interrupted him, is how I understand the situation.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 17, 2019 at 18:56
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    I remembered John 1:29.
    – Betho's
    Dec 17, 2019 at 20:42
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    Mark's use of ἔλεγεν and ἔξελθε elsewhere support Jesus saying "come out" once. (Not sure how Luke works in your revised question as παρήγγελλεν and ἐξελθεῖν are used.) But I am not sure that is much of an answer as the verse is in the midst of a two party dialogue (assuming you consider the unclean spirit as singular) where one party is "many" but always addressed as singular and did not immediately come out (individually or collectively) when commanded (i.e Mark 9:25). Rather "he" asked permission for "them" to leave a single man and enter a herd of 2000 pigs. Dec 29, 2019 at 7:56
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    IOW, even if you ignore the prior events and can say with absolute certainty Jesus spoke the words only once, it is clear the words did not bring about the immediate requisite action ("come out"). Instead he/they "negotiated" how he/they would "come out." Dec 29, 2019 at 8:04
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    I'm not seeing enough in the Greek (using my United Bible Society Greek New Testament, 3rd edition) to speak definitively to the question. The English (NASB) passage in Mark suggests He may have been giving a continuous command, which could be interpreted as plural, but the NASB Luke passage reads as a one-time command. I would suggest that the proper answer would then have to be evaluated based on its' consistency with other demon activity in the New Testament, and of the authority of Jesus' commands over them.
    – Papa Pat
    Dec 29, 2019 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


In some instances ἔλεγεν and other verbs in the form of imperfect do not really convey a past continuous sense, but a sense of an instance and a singularity of action, like aorist. Here is a salient example: Mark 9:24. “Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said (ἔλεγεν), “I believe; help my unbelief!”, here ἕλεγεν simply cannot have a notion of continuity (see Bill Mounce's very nice blog on various usages of imperfect from where I took this example https://www.billmounce.com/monday-with-mounce/how-can-the-imperfect-be-instantaneous). As to this particular instance, it seems that even though it is in an imperfect form, the meaning must be an aorist and instantaneity, for it is illogical if Jesus said once to the unclean spirit(s) to depart the man, what on earth could have held poor fallen spirit(s), who tremble in divine presence (James 2:19) in him after that?! If even Paul needed only one sentence (in form of the aorist εἶπεν) to expel demon from a woman (Acts 16:18), how much less Jesus who gave to Paul this ability (while Himself possessing this ability properly and inseparably), could have needed more than one sentence!

If ἔλεγεν here has a continuous significance, then the only explanation can be that He said it not several times, but that He was in the process of telling this one sentence to demons, who, understandably, immediately left the man as soon as He finished this only sentence. It is a blasphemy to even think that any of the demons could have kept in the man after Lord has once commanded them to leave the man.

  • thank you for responding. I can concur with the idea that Jesus the Lord and God, housed in a limiting human body is superior to Paul but there are other things at play. OT in Daniel’s vision the man said Michael battled the principality over Persia, NT also Paul says we wrestle against principalities. Jesus Himself says some demons require prayer and fasting. Evidently this praying and fasting was done prior to the incident. So it’s quite possible that Jesus needed but ONE sentence but it’s not blasphemous to consider there was wrestling in the heavens prior. Satan fought for Moses’ body Dec 29, 2019 at 23:52
  • I appreciate the link included, though in all the examples he used to claim instantaneous imperfect including the example you quoted with the father and son it is not difficult to see the father repeating that phrase over and over in his desperation. I especially can see Jesus repeating and pleading for a whole hour the phrase Father please remove this cup from me. I know I’ve found myself repeating a sentence in prayer when in very deep anguish. Sometimes it’s because it’s all I can manage. So while I’m not sold on your response if you are the only response I’d be glad to grant you the bounty Dec 30, 2019 at 0:02
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    Thanks Nihil Sine Deo. I care not for bounty but for truth, bounties have 0 to do with eternity, grammar and logic through which we arrive to truth, do. In the instance of the father to suggest that he was continuously asking Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief” will be so mercilessly strained and by the logic of event unnatural, that not a single translator translates it in such way in any language. As to the prayers and fasting and Michael, yes, humans and angels - finite creatures -could need a process for overcoming demons - fallen finite creatures - but the eternal Word does not. Dec 30, 2019 at 4:38

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