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The casting out of demons is one of the signs that Jesus promised would follow all believers:

Mark 16:17 (KJV):

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

In fact, these signs are examples of the power conferred to believers by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28, Acts 1:7-8, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, Romans 15:17-19).

However, although the Holy Spirit is the one giving the power, there appears to be some work to be done on the believer's side. Concretely, Matthew 17:16-21 (KJV) says:

16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Why do believers have to pray and fast to be able to cast out certain kinds of demons? In what manner do the praying and the fasting by the believer contribute to the outcome? Isn't the power of the Holy Spirit alone enough?

  • Where is Mark 16:17 in the original Codex Sinaiticus? Did Mark 16 not originally stop at verse 8? – חִידָה Oct 27 '20 at 15:03
  • The excerpt in your question confounds two similar versions of this story, one from Mark (9:14-29) and the other from Matthew (17:14-20). Jesus is quoted as saying “This kind can come out only through prayer” only in Mark (9:29). – Nhi Oct 28 '20 at 3:09
  • Sorry, but the expression "higher rank demons" used in your question is an illegitimate introduction of an information in the text of the New Testament, which information is not there, at least, directly. In fact, "this kind" can mean not any higher kinds of demons, but "this kind [of creatures]", implying the entire class of demons, all of them. You have first to make exegetical efforts to prove that "this kind" means a section of demonic population, and even that of an elite of that population, for it is not necessary that the demons needing fasting and prayer are elite and not plebs. – Levan Gigineishvili Oct 28 '20 at 14:49
  • @LevanGigineishvili good point, maybe "certain demons" would be more appropriate? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 28 '20 at 15:35
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator For me most plausible is the traditional interpretation that γένος here denotes the entire population of all demons. And it seems also logically more consistent, for Jesus can immediately expel all demons, but He also ordained human participation in this expulsion through prayers and fasting; now, as the immediate expulsion by Jesus relates to all demons, so also the human-participatory expulsion of demons from themselves, most plausibly, also relates to all demons. But I admit that some demons can be more vicious than others, no question about that! (cf Matthew 12:45) – Levan Gigineishvili Oct 28 '20 at 19:33
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Fervent prayer can build up faith. Fasting is a form of self-denial, training in self-discipline and righteousness.

Ninevites showed their repentance by national fasting. Fasting provides a favorable condition for faith to develop.

Jonah 3:5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

Belief and fast come together in this verse. They showed humility.

Moses fasted 40 days twice.

Deu 9:9 When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water.

Exo 24:18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

Moses broke the first set of tablets. Then he fasted again. Moses certainly saw the importance of it by repeating the practice.

Exodus 34:28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant--the Ten Commandments.

Jesus fasted 40 days before he faced Satan in the wilderness.

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Both Moses and Jesus received important specific words from God after fasting. Proper fasting could catch the attention of God.

Isaiah 58:4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Prayer and fasting are good practices for a person's spiritual development.

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Simple answer - they don’t. Jesus did not say that the reason these disciples could not cast this demon out was because they didn’t have faith but rather because they had unbelief. Demons are not driven out via prayer and fasting

This story recorded in Matthew and Mark has been traditionally misinterpreted namely to ‘fit personal doctrine/theology’. Let’s look a little closer.....

MAT 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

The disciples’ unbelief here was not a disbelief that God’s power could produce deliverance, but rather, it was a “natural” kind of unbelief that was more affected by their senses’, that is, what they saw (Mark 9:20) rather than to what they believed.

Neither was It because of lack of faith - you only need a ‘mustard seed size’ to move a mountain.

MAT 17:21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

The context for verse 21 is verse 20, that is, the ‘subject’ is unbelief. Prayer and fasting do not drive out ‘certain’ demons. This kind of ‘unbelief’, which originates from the 5 senses, can be overcome, driven out by fasting, which teaches you to deny what your senses are telling you.

  • So in a way prayer and fasting do help to cast out demons "indirectly" or "by transitivity". Prayer and fasting -> overcoming unbelief -> being able to cast out demons. Is this reasoning correct? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 28 '20 at 16:08
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator Prayer and fasting are always for ‘you’ - every time. Prayer and fasting simply can’t ‘move’, nor ‘change’ anyone/anything else - including God. That practice changes you. It’s for your benefit. – Dave Oct 28 '20 at 18:40
  • And by changing you they enable you to cast out demons you weren't able to cast out before, correct? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 28 '20 at 20:21
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator Yes. Comes down to faith - everything ‘comes’ and ‘works’ by ‘faith’. Everything. And faith can’t work with ‘unbelief’. Hence ‘fasting’ is still a valid practice. (Although these days dealing with demons should not necessarily be ‘modeled’ on what we see in the gospels - but that’s another topic.) – Dave Oct 28 '20 at 22:12
  • I'm a bit intrigued to know what you meant by your last parenthesis, if you don't mind of course. – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 29 '20 at 1:17
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In γένος all demons, their entire universe is implied, as the traditional interpretation has it. For instance, if I see a tennis player blaming everybody and everything except for himself for having lost a match, I can say: "This tribe always finds fault in others, not in themselves", I will mean in "this tribe" all tennis players without exception, and I know I am right, myself being one of that tribe also. Indeed, Jesus has authority to expel all demons at an eyewink, and He has given this same authority to His disciples to the effect that they also can expel all demons vicariously, for otherwise Jesus would not have reprimanded His disciples for their lack of faith and for not expelling the demon from the boy (Mark 9:19).

But He also said that demons are to be expelled not immediately (which is also possible, as noted above), but through prayers and fasting. But what does it mean? To answer this question, we have to understand what it is to be possessed by demon? It is an intense form of being a slave of a sinful passion. In fact, our sinful passion is a pasture of a demon specialised in this sin. For instance, if we are sexually lewd and cannot overcome a desire to be engaged in lewd sexual exploits, then we are possessed also by a demon of lust. To give an example: if I put honey on a table, then it will attract flies; our sinful passion is a 'honey'-like attraction for demons who light upon our sinful passion as a fly upon a honey drop. Now, to eliminate this sinful "honey" in ourselves, this presence of attraction towards and delectation of sin in ourselves we need to engage in ascetic exploits of prayers and fasting, which attracts the working of divine Grace in us and this working gradually eliminates in us the sinful inclination. Now, if the sinful inclination is defeated in us, then demon cannot touch us for he has lost any pasture in us and this demon will go to light upon another human who will attract him (this demon) through his or her sinful passion.

Thus, even if demon can be expelled by God's miracle immediately, it is impossible even for a divine miracle to expel from us a sinful inclination unless we collaborate with God's working in us, and this is through prayers and fasting. Thus, unless this sinful inclination is defeated in us, we are always vulnerable for the demonic attack and presence. Moreover, even if God annihilates all demons, but we will not fight out our sinful passion through fasting and prayers, the non-existence of demons will not ameliorate our wretched condition even a tiny bit! We are in hell if we are under a power of sin and what difference there is if we stay in hell in a company of demons or without them, hell is hell with all that!

  • So are you saying that the one to pray and fast is the demonized? I thought Jesus' recommendation to pray and fast was aimed at those responsible for casting out demons, not the demonized themselves. – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 30 '20 at 19:17
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator If I cannot help cheating, then I do not have to bother about demons in other people, for I have myself a demon of lying in myself which I have to fight away through an ascetical practice of trying not-lying and praying for divine power to overcome it. If I defeat this passion in myself, gradually, then a demon of lying will be very much disappointed to have lost a pasture in me and will go to light upon another person, another victim of a passion of lying in whom he will find a good and appropriate host. – Levan Gigineishvili Oct 30 '20 at 19:26
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In the parable of the widow and the unjust judge Jesus teaches us to “pray always and not to lose heart (Lk 18:1-8). The question then is not when do we need to pray, but whether there is ever a time or situation that doesn’t call for our prayers. Like the unrelenting widow or the friend who knocks again and again on your door at midnight (Lk 18:1-8, Lk 11:5-8), we are called to pray always and with perseverance.

And we need to pray with faith. That faith doesn’t have to be great, and like the father of the boy, we may still harbor “unbelief,” but ours needs to be a faith that is living (Mk 9:24). Like the tiny mustard seed, it needs to be tended and given the right conditions to sprout and grow.

  • “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20)
  • Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” (Mt 21:21-22)

That faith and prayer go hand in hand seems hardly worth mentioning. Are they not central to the life of discipleship? Yet why does Jesus need to remind us to pray always, with faith and perseverance? Isn’t it because sometimes our faith is dry and lifeless and our prayers, lacking? At other times, life’s obstacles may seem unsurmountable or the demons in our life seem too great, and we “lose heart.” Like the father of the possessed boy, we might even wonder whether there is anything that God can do (Mk 9:24). At such times, we are called to follow Jesus’ example: “In his anguish he prayed more earnestly” (Lk 22: 44).

  • Good points. But how do prayer and fasting enter the picture? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 28 '20 at 15:45
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator I have edited my answer to include more references concerning prayer. I did not address "fasting" because it was not in any of the translations of Mark 9:29 that I could find. – Nhi Oct 29 '20 at 22:16
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An insight, some background, and a bit of supposition might bring some perspective in answer to this question.

And to simplify things, I'll focus on the Mark account.

The insight comes when we ask where prayer showed up in the expulsion of the demon. Jesus said that kind of demon can't come out but by prayer. Jesus then cast out the demon. So who prayed?

I believe the father prayed when he asked Jesus to cast out the demon (Mark 9:17-18). Jesus is God. When the man didn't find help from the disciples, he went directly to Jesus. That's the prayer.

Based on this insight, a preliminary answer to the question, why prayer and fasting are necessary, is that there are certain kinds of demons that only God/Jesus can cast out, not the disciples. So ask God to do it, don't ask men.

Now, some background. When Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, he doesn't make us as powerful as God, as if every demon including Satan must quake in our presence. Indeed, I think it all makes sense more when we look at exorcism as a matter, not of power, but of authority.

In Mark 6:7, in preparation for the Galilean ministry, Jesus gave his disciples authority over evil spirits.

Authority.

He didn't give them muscles, he gave them rank. Evil spirits would still be more powerful in a tug-of-war, or in bringing sickness, or foaming at the mouth; but the disciples now were given, so to speak, Colonel rank whereas most evil spirits were Sergeants and Privates.

When considering authority, it is conceivable that the disciples might encounter an evil spirit with a higher rank, so prayer in those cases is needed to appeal to Christ, who has the highest rank/authority of all. Consider Michael in Jude 9, who was doing God's will, who was properly authorized to a task, but was either outranked, or of equal rank with Satan, so he called on God to rebuke Satan rather than using his own authority.

The supposition, then is to fit faith into this situation. I think that greater faith would not result in greater authority. No, the authority had been given by the Lord. He didn't dole out authority based on faith (or presumably, Judas would not have been given any authority to cast out demons, and doubting Thomas may have been given only meager authority). No, Jesus gave an assignment, then gave authority equal to the task.

Lack of faith could certainly keep someone from using his authority, however. Faced with an evil spirit who shrieked, convulsed the child, then made it appear that the child was dead (Mark 9:26), it would be easy to think the task was too great. (They had authority to cast out demons, not raise the dead?) Lack of faith looks at the powerful storm waters, and forgets spiritual authority, which is the command of Jesus to step out of the boat. Faith looks past the powerful flooding Jordan, and steps into the water with the full authority of God, then watches the waters part. So faith may be necessary to keep us focused to use our authority in obedience to Christ.

A second way lack of faith would matter, is the case where our authority seems to be insufficient to the task. In those cases lack of faith would lead to failure and despair, but faith would lead us to call out to God for help - in other words, prayer. In the same way that faith led the father to come to Jesus for help, even after the disciples' failure, and that was his prayer; even so the disciples, after their failure, could have called out to God in prayer, to receive God's help.

  • It's a good answer - very nearly upvoted this, but it's currently weighted too heavily on "insight" and "supposition", and lacks sources. If you could supply other passages or early Christian sources supporting this interpretation, you could shape this into a more conclusive answer. – Steve Taylor Oct 30 '20 at 6:30
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"The casting out of demons is one of the signs that Jesus promised would follow all believers:"

"In my name they shall cast oute devyls and shall speake with newe tonges" (Mark 16:17; Tyndale Bible of 1526)

It is interesting to compare Mark 16:17 in the different Bible translations. The Tyndale Bible of 1526 clearly links the casting out of devils with speaking with new tongues, which could be important.

"this kind does not come out, except by fasting and prayer" (Mat 17:21; Lamsa Bible)

The Lamsa Bible and other Peshitta based Bible translations has fasting before prayer, which is very interesting. Provided "prayer", in Mat 17:21, is the activity that casts out the oppressing devils, it sure seems that the logical order is the one of having fasting come first.

The synthesis of the two above quoted Bible verses could then be that the right order is: 1. fasting; 2. speaking in tongues; 3. eviction of oppressing devils.

Fasting could refer to a mourning and a longing for a state of holiness.

Speaking in tongues could refer to the spiritual warfare of swinging the sword of the word of God, through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the resulting

Eviction of oppressing devils.

  • I have always wondered why certain individuals get booted out from churches? Why can't the leaders just drive out the demons that are within these guys? – Constantthin Jan 10 at 5:40
  • Not everyone who sins is demon possessed... – curiousdannii Jan 11 at 6:22
  • @curiousdannii. Oppressing spirits can also be within a person, although in lesser control then what possessing spirits would be. Right? – Constantthin Jan 12 at 0:06
  • I don't know, I don't have much thoughts about demons. But I do know that the main cause of sin is internal to a person. We sin because we are sinners, not because of anyone else. We are fully culpable. And so most cases of church discipline will have nothing to do with demons or exorcisms. – curiousdannii Jan 12 at 0:09
  • @curiousdannii. You said: “I do know that the main cause of sin is internal to a person”. We can at least agree about that. Were we seem to differ is on the cause of sin. I am claiming here that sin mainly is of demonic origin. While you seem to hold that demons are innocent bystanders. I believe that in the millennium when Satan gets bound the flesh loses its driving force. – Constantthin Jan 13 at 10:41

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