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Mark 5:2 ESV

"And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit."

What does "unclean" tell us about the "spirit" mentioned here?

Mark 5:7

"Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"

The spirit ackowledges who Jesus is.

Mark 5:12

"and they begged him, saying, "Send us to the pigs; let us enter them."

Jesus not only listened to the unclean spirits but granted their request.

Mark 5:13

"So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out,"

Jesus gave permission and the "unclean" spirits obeyed that permission.

[The unclean spirits did not say to Jesus, "We are unclean. We do not have to obey you."]

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"Unclean" as in an "unclean spirit" (Greek: pneuma akatharton) is a term used frequently in the NT as this link shows, as well in some ancient Jewish texts. Even Jesus was thought to be influenced by an unclean spirit (Mk. 30:30). In a general sense, the term is synonymous with "evil spirit" but can also be translated as "spirit of impurity."

The latter sense of the term is particularly relevant for the case of Mark 5, which describes a man who had been wandering in the tombs:

Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.

In this case the term "unclean spirit" implies not only an evil spirit, but a spirit that drove its victim to constant ritual impurity, for this man habitually wandered among the graves, a practice which would render him "unclean."

Numbers 19:16

Everyone... who touches a human bone or a grave will be unclean for seven days.

The fact that the spirits that possessed this man eventually entered a herd of swine is a further connection to ritual impurity as well as moral depravity.

Conclusion: an unclean spirit is basically an "evil spirit." In this particular case it is also associated with ritual impurity.

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    Thanks. You say "an unclean sprit is basically an "evil spirit". Right, but can we further define "evil" if these unclean/evil spirits acknowledge who Jesus is, make requests to Him which He agrees to and obey Him? Would it be a hermeneutic consideration of the word "unclean" to consider if these unclean spirits do serve God but in a different way to other spirits?
    – C. Stroud
    Nov 23, 2023 at 9:35
  • I think this goes beyond the question of what the word itself implies. There were many exorcists who were reportedly able to command evil spirits. Your question brings to mind the "evil spirit from God" (1 Samuel 16:14) and the lying spirit of (1 Kings 22:22), but the unclean spirits cast out by Jesus and the apostles don't seem to have a providential purpose of that kind. Nov 23, 2023 at 15:05
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The adjective ἀκάθαρτος (akathartos) literally means "uncleansed" or, "unpurged" and is closely related to our English word, catharsis.

Its meaning in the NT can be divided (see BDAG) into just two closely related meanings:

  1. cultically or ceremonially unclean or ceremonially impure, eg, Acts 10:28, 11:8, 1 Cor 7:14, 2 Cor 6:17. This includes unclean foods, etc.
  2. Morally unclean, ie, evil. In almost all cases, this meaning occurs when used in the phrase, "unclean spirit" or "unclean devil", ie, an evil spirit/devil. For example, Matt 10:1, 12:43, Mark 1:23, 26, 27, 3:11, 30, 5:2, 8, 13, 6:7, 7:25, 9:25, Luke 4:33, 36, 6:16, 8:29, 9:42, 11:24, 8:7, Eph 5:5, Rev 16:13, etc.

Thus, the OP's verses discuss evil spirits or demons. This is the only meaning in all the four gospels.

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