What does Matthew 17:15 mean?
ESV: said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.
NIV: Lord, have mercy on my son,' he said. 'He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.
NASB: Lord, have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.
CSB: "Lord," he said, "have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire and often into the water.
NLT: Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.
KJV: Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
Three of the disciples have returned, with Jesus, from His "transfiguration" on top of a nearby mountain (Matthew 17:1–13). Christ approaches the other nine disciples to find them in an argument with some Jewish scribes. In Mark's account (Mark 9:14–29) this father approaches after Jesus asks what they are arguing about. The man pleads on behalf of his son who suffers from seizures which often cause him to fall into fire or water. Mark and Luke are more direct in ascribing these symptoms to a demon: "…a spirit that makes him mute…throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid" (Mark 9:17–18). And "it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him" (Luke 9:39). Many commentators have described these symptoms as a form of epilepsy brought on by the evil spirit. The detail included here by Matthew strongly implies this is not "just" epilepsy. As the father notes, it so often happens in especially dangerous moments. This fits with the self-destructive nature of demon oppression.
While Jesus was gone, this man brought his son to Jesus' nine remaining disciples. The source of the argument with the scribes seems to be their inability to cast the demon out of the boy. Jesus will explain why they were unsuccessful.
Matthew 17:14–21 finds Jesus and three of the disciples returning from the mountain, to find a crowd gathered around the remaining nine. A desperate father pleads on behalf of his demon-afflicted son who has seizures and often falls into water or fire. The disciples could not cast the demon out (Mark 9:14–29). Jesus, exasperated by the doubt of His disciples, rebukes the demon and heals the boy. When they ask, Jesus tells the disciples their faith was too small to cast out the demon. Even faith as small as a mustard seed is enough to move a mountain. Verse 21 nearly duplicates Mark 9:29 but is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain. There, they see Him "transfigured" into a shining, divine form. They also see Christ speaking with Moses and Elijah but are commanded not to speak of this event until later. Jesus heals a demon-afflicted boy after the disciples cannot cast the demon out. Jesus very clearly tells the disciples He will be delivered into the hands of men, killed, and raised on the third day. After explaining why He is exempt from a temple tax, Jesus agrees to pay it and tells Peter to find the money in the mouth of a fish.
Matthew 17 begins with the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction at the end of the previous chapter: that some of those present would not die before seeing Him coming in His kingdom. Jesus casts out a demon, predicts His death, and commands Peter to pay a temple tax with a coin from the mouth of a fish. This leads Matthew back to extensive records of Jesus' teachings, continuing through chapter 20.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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