Problem: Exorcism is or isn't a sign of true believers
Verses: Mark 9:38, Mark 16:17; Status: Weak

At one point, the disciples of Jesus witness someone using his name to cast out demons. This troubled them. Here's Mark 9:38-39:

John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. (ESV)

The implication seems to be that this man was not (yet?) a true believer, but was successfully performing exorcisms nonetheless. And yet, we are later told that such exorcisms are in fact a sign of true believers. This is Mark 16:17-18:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." (ESV)

So, is casting out demons a sign of a true believer, or not?

This problem doesn't strike me as difficult. Firstly, the verse in Mark 16:17 is part of the "Longer Ending of Mark", which is regarded by many scholars as suspect, and probably not part of the original gospel.

But even if we put that aside, is there really a contradiction? I think not. Jesus himself seems to imply that the man performing exorcisms was well on his way to becoming a genuine believer.

Updated: 2009-02-15

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