Mark 1:23 Commentary | Demonic Interruption

Mark Commentary

Text & Translation

23 καὶ εὐθὺς ἦν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ καὶ ἀνέκραξεν1

And straight away, in their synagogue, there was a man with a defiling spirit and it cried out (Mk 1:23, AT)

Defiling (Unclean) Spirit

Defiling (ἀκάθαρτος | akathartos) literally means “unclean”,2 “impure”.3

This could refer to a physical impurity,4 but here likely refers to “moral impurity”5 or “ceremonial… or spiritual defilement” (cf. Zec 13:2).6

Something/someone that was ceremonially unclean/defiled could not be used in service to God, but had to be kept away from His Presence and anything that is holy.7

To be holy essentially means to be set apart for God’s special purpose. To be unclean is not about hygiene.8

The man is possessed by a spirit that makes him unclean.9 In Jewish society, being ritually unclean often led to being an outcast.10

So, it’s ironic that we come across him in a synagogue!11 One might that would be the last place a demon would want to be. Perhaps the spirit is proked by the presence of Jesus.12

People who are possessed are usually described as not having control of themselves (Mk 5:1-20; 9:14-27; esp, Mk 9:17-18).13 The spirits seek to do harm14 and oppose God’s purposes.15

Demons were also called “unclean spirits”16 (cf. Mk 1:34).17

Mark uses “unclean spirit” and “demon” interchangeably (cf. Mk 1:34, 39, 3:22; also see “evil spirit” in Lk 7:21, 8:2;20 cf. Mk 3:30).21

“The expression “an unclean spirit” serves essentially as a synonym for the more Greek “demon” (δαίμων, daimōn). In Mark each expression occurs eleven times (“unclean spirit,” [Mk 1:23, 26, 27; 3:11, 30; 5:2, 8, 13; 6:7; 7:25; 9:25]; “demon,” [Mk 1:34 (2×)], [Mk 39; 3:15, 22 (2×)]; [Mk 6:13; 7:26, 29, 30; 9:38])…”22

These demonic, unclean spirits are on the side of Satan who is also called Belial, Beliar (cf. 2 Cor 6:15)23 or Beelzebul (Mk 3:22)24 – who is their leader (cf. Mk 3:22-26).25

Jesus’ ministry is an “attack upon these evil powers”.26

As we’ve said, in His earthly ministry, Jesus was not just a good teacher who taught good things. He proclaimed the inbreaking kingdom of God and then demonstrated its manifestation with awesome acts of divine authority — including new teaching and exorcisms.

Demons & Disease

Many New Testament accounts of demon possession appear to look like serious mental disorders.27 However, demon possession and disease are distinguished.28

One condition is spiritual; one condition is spiritual.29 As we see just a few verses later:

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. (Mk 1:32, NIV; Garland, 80)

There is a distinction between those with physical illness and those with spiritual illness.

Demon possession is not simply a disease30 nor a “primitive misdiagnosis”.31

In the 1st century, people did not necessarily view every instance of illness as demonic. Nor can 21st century medicine account for everything non-spiritually (e.g., psychosomatic illness,32 near-death experiences, etc.).

That being said, ancients reasoned that one’s spiritual condition can influence one’s physical, emotional, and/or mental condition.33

In any case, Jesus does not see various forms of uncleanness as contagious. He ministers to those who are troubled spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc.34

Furthermore, demonic possession is evil but not sinful.35 The demon-possessed are not offered forgiveness.36 Yet, demonic possession require divine intervention.37

As we shall see, all demonic powers must “submit to the greater power of Jesus“.38

Though there is still a struggle (Eph 6:12), perhaps we see less demonic activity today because of Christ’s victory on the cross39 (Col 2:15; Eph 1:19-23).


While Jesus is teaching with divine authority in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man with a defiling spirit (i.e., a demon) interrupts. In the New Testament, physical disease and demonic possession are distinguished; the latter requires divine intervention from a higher divine authority (i.e., Jesus).

Nonetheless, both Christ’s healings and exorcisms are manifestations of the inbreaking kingdom of God He proclaimed (cf. Mk 1:15).

For more commentary on Mark, please visit the Book Study Overview page. For the sources cited, please see the bibliography.


  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:23.
  2. NIDNTTE, 568; BDAG, 34
  3. EDNT, 218; NIDNTTE, 568; BDAG, 34
  4. UBS, 48
  5. BDAG, 34
  6. UBS, 48; cf. Hurtado, 32; Brooks, 50; Garland, 80; Edwards, 57; cf. Schnabel, 58; Strauss, 91
  7. Strauss, 91
  8. Strauss, 92
  9. UBS, 48
  10. Witherington, 95
  11. Bock, 412; Witherington, 90; Cole, 114; Strauss, 92
  12. Witherington, 90
  13. Hurtado, 33; cf. Garland, 70
  14. Bock, 412
  15. Garland, 80
  16. Keener, 131
  17. Evans, 95; Guelich, 56.

    “‘Unclean spirit’ is a favorite expression of Mark (eleven times) for evil spirits, occurring roughly the same number of times as “demon” (thirteen times), both of which occur only in the first half of the Gospel (Edwards, 57)

  18. Hurtado, 32; cf. Brooks, 5018 Mk 7:26, 28, 30;19Guelich, 56; cf. Edwards, 57; Schnabel, 58; Strauss, 91.
  19. Stein, 87
  20. Stein, 87 cf. Bock 412
  21. Evans, 95
  22. Evans, 95
  23. Hurtado, 32; English, 55; Strauss, 91
  24. Hurtado, 27 cf. Bock, 412; Witherington, 90
  25. Hurtado, 33
  26. English, 56; Witherington, 90; Lane, 74
  27. Garland, 80
  28. Witherington, 91
  29. Garland, 79
  30. English, 56
  31. Witherington, 95
  32. Witherington, 95
  33. Garland, 80
  34. Garland, 80
  35. Garland, 80
  36. Garland, 80
  37. Brooks, 50
About @DannyScottonJr 241 Articles
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