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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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MADNESS.—It is somewhat remarkable that the OT ideas about madness should differ so much from those of the Gospels. In the OT madness is due to the influence of a spirit from God (1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Samuel 18:10), in the Gospels to a demon; in the OT it is conceived of as being closely connected with the ‘spirit of prophecy’ (which likewise came from God); this is clear from such passages as 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10-13; 1 Samuel 19:23-24, Hosea 9:7, 2 Kings 9:11, Jeremiah 29:26; there is no sign of this in the Gospels.* [Note: See, however, Acts 16:16 ff.] It was, no doubt, owing to the belief that madness was a sign of the indwelling of a spirit from God that a madman was looked upon (in the OT) as, in some sense, sacred;† [Note: This is still the case in the East.] in the Gospels the reverse of this seems to be the case, if one regards the demoniac described in Luke 8:26-39 as a madman [see Demon].

There are very few references to madness in the Gospels; in Luke 6:11 the word ἄνοια is used (the (Revised Version margin) renders it ‘foolishness’), its meaning is certainly nearer to ‘foolishness’ than to the modern notion of madness; perhaps its meaning is best expressed by the German ausser sieh, lit. ‘outside of oneself,’ resulting in a temporary loss of mental balance; in 2 Timothy 3:9 the same word is translated ‘folly,’ which, taken with the words ‘corrupted in mind’ in the preceding verse, brings out the sense more fully. Another expression, used in Matthew 4:24; Matthew 17:15, is σεληνιάζεσθαι ‘to be lunatic,’ or ‘moonstruck,’* [Note: Macalister (in Hastings’ DB iii. 328a) quotes Vicary, who says of the brain that ‘it moueth and followeth the mouing of the Moone: for in the waxing of the Moone, the Brayne followeth upwardes: and in the wane of the Moone the Brayne discendeth downwardes, and vanishes in substance of vertue …’; according to the Jewish conception, which connects epilepsy with demoniacal possession (Matthew 17:18), the light of the moon drove demons away. [See Demon].] but from the context in the second passage there can be no doubt that this was epilepsy. Neither of these expressions answers to modern ideas of madness. There is, however, one other word (μαἰνεσθαι, John 10:20) which seems to correspond with what would be understood by madness nowadays, viz. to be bereft of reason; in the passage in question it is certainly used in this sense; at the same time it must be remembered that μαίνεσθαι is connected with μαντεὐεσθαι, which implies possession by some supernatural being.† [Note: See Trench, Synonyms of the NT11, pp. 21, 22, cf. Acts 16:16-18.] The same word, as well as μανία, is used in Acts 26:24-25, where ἀλήθεια and σωφροσύνη are placed in opposition to it, which confirms the meaning implied in John 10:20.‡ [Note: A somewhat similar meaning belongs to παραφρονῶν in 2 Corinthians 11:23 and ταραφρονια in 2 Peter 2:16.] [See, further, Demon, Lunatic].

On two occasions in the Gospels we find madness or insanity definitely attributed to our Lord Himself. Once by His own friends, among whom, apparently, His mother and brethren were included (Mark 3:21, cf. Mark 3:31). We read that ‘they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself’ (ἐξέστη). Commentators are for the most part agreed that in this passage ἐξέστη denotes insanity, or at least a mental excitement bordering upon it (cf. a similar use of the word by St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:13). The other occasion is that already referred to, when, according to St. John, certain of ‘the Jews’ said of Jesus, ‘He hath a devil, and is mad’ (δαιμόνιον ἔχει καὶ μαίνεται, John 10:20). In this case the madness is evidently ascribed to Satanic possession, and is not regarded merely as a derangement due to overwork and excitement. It is worth noting, however, that μαίνομαι is applied to St. Paul in a less offensive way (μαίνῃ, Acts 26:24) by Festus. Authorized Version renders, ‘Thou art beside thyself,’ which Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 consistently changes into, ‘Thou art mad,’ to correspond with ‘I am not mad (οὐ μαίνομαι), most excellent Festus,’ in the next verse. The charge of madness brought against Jesus is characteristic and significant, and has many parallels in the history of Christ’s followers in the early (cf. Acts 2:13 as well as Acts 26:24-25, 2 Corinthians 5:13) and in the later Church. It is an illustration of the inability of the natural man to receive the things of the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 2:14; cf. John 15:18; John 17:16).

W. O. E. Oesterley and J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Madness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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