The expulsion of evil spirits. It was the belief in the 1st cent. CE, and long afterwards, that evil spirits could take possession of a person and cause mental and physical illnesses, especially epilepsy. By exorcism, which could take the form of an incantation, the demon might be expelled and the sufferer cured. Jesus cast out spirits (Mark 1: 25; 9: 25) and the disciples were given the same power (Matt. 10: 1, 8), which they made use of (Acts 19: 13–16), though exorcism is not included by Paul in any of his lists of spiritual gifts. Some of the Pharisees, however, were exorcists (Matt. 12: 27), and Paul attributes some human ailments to Satan (2 Cor. 12: 4).
Indeed belief in demons and demon‐possession was common amongst Jews of the 1st cent. CE, and in Hellenistic literature there are accounts of exorcists extracting a demon from the nose of a demoniac with a ring. Jesus' exorcisms were effected by word only, and are not mentioned in the gospel of John. Not being unique, they could not be ‘signs’ but the undoubted fact of this aspect of Jesus' ministry witnesses his historical humanity. There has nevertheless been a revival of the practice of exorcism in some modern churches of a conservative outlook; sometimes there is cooperation with medical and psychiatric opinion.