My religion professor explained to us that since epilepsy was not understood in ancient times, it was attributed to demons. Biblically, is there a difference? Am I reading the Bible the wrong way?
I am quite sure that many unknown phenomena were attributed to the demonic in ancient times--and in modern ones as well! But the scriptures refute this notion. Matthew 4:24 uses two different words to describe the demon possessed and the epileptics. Daimonidzomenos is the word for demon possessed, while seleniadzomenos is the word consistently rendered epileptic in nearly all Bible versions. So the two are probably not the same thing. Moreover, in the NT the demons spoke, were exorcized into a herd of swine, had preternatural knowledge of the world, and so forth.
Now if your professor was making a point about etymology, he/she would be right concerning seleniadzomenos, as it literally meant lunatic or moonstruck. Selene is the Greek word for moon, just as luna is the Latin one. That is, the ancients may have once believed epilepsy was caused or influenced by the action of the moon. This belief probably affected the word used in Greek for epilepsy.
But there is a world of difference between etymology and biblical doctrine. No biblical doctrine is affected by the etymology of the word. The writers seem to have been clear about the difference between epilepsy and possession.
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