Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary defines the Greek compound verb ἐκβάλλωas meaning ‘to cast, drive, expel, send or thrust out of’. The word is a composite of 2 Greek words, namely, the preposition ‘ἐκ’ meaning ‘of’ or ‘from, out’ and the verb ‘βάλλω’ meaning ‘cast, drive etc’. Once the various personal endings have been accounted for, the verb occurs 81 times in the Greek New Testament. The majority usage of ἐκβάλλω and βάλλω in the New Testament are mainly within the synoptic gospels, with a dozen or so occurrences spread across John’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In addition ἐκβάλλω also appears once in Galatians, whilst βάλλω occurs several times in Revelation. For the main part ἐκβάλλωis translated as ‘cast out’ in the New Testament. It is exclusively the verb used when Jesus or his disciples ‘cast out’ demons. Consider the following examples:
- That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. (Matt 8:16
- And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marvelled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” (Matt 9:33)
- And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:34)
- “And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:18-20)
The clear implication here is of a forceful or driving action. It may be seen as a clash of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, a power struggle that has but one winner. It is Jesus driving out demons with power and authority, expelling demonic entities from people’s lives, in a manner that is shocking to those who observe these incidents simply because such a display of authority is unprecedented.
There are however a few occurrences of ἐκβάλλω in the synoptic gospels which are generally translated as a more moderate ‘sent out’ rather than a dynamic ‘drive/cast out’. Three such occurrences, [two of which are in the same passage,] are:
- And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. (Luke 10:2-3)
- Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matt 9:38)
It is clear from the above that Matthew and Luke are alluding to the same issue; that of Jesus sending out disciples into the ‘harvest’ field’ of evangelistic effort. The translation of ἐκβάλλω as a softer ‘send out’ in these verses appears more appropriate in context than a more dynamic translation of ‘drive/cast out’. After all it would surely seem strange to conclude that Jesus drove or cast his disciples out into the harvest field. Or does it?
Those who are the object of the verb in the above verses, ie. the disciples, are in fact the very same individuals whose evangelistic efforts in the ‘harvest field’ are recorded by Luke in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’. Once again in Acts 1:8 Jesus commissions and sends his disciples out with the task of evangelism; yet if we switch those chapter and verse numbers and read Acts 8:1 we note that the going out into the ‘harvest field’ was achieved by all except the original disciples, and that certainly not as conscious obedience to an act of divine ‘commissioning’.
- But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)
- And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1)
Crucially, it is evident that even those who were scattered with the purpose of evangelism appear to have been ‘driven out’ in response to persecution. It is certainly a dynamic event, a forceful action, a clash of kingdoms. Perhaps then when Jesus commissioned his disciples as described in Matt ch 9 & Luke ch 10, he did engage in an action a little more forceful than a simple commissioning. On reflection this does make sense. I suspect the disciples would have been far more agreeable with the notion of sitting and listening to Jesus speak words of life, than they would with the notion of being sent out into a world hostile to the gospel message.Likewise, it is often so much easier and appealing for us to gather with other Christians to sit and listen to scripture being expounded, or some other ‘Christian activity’ than it is to go out and face a hostile world, as ‘lambs in the midst of wolves’.
Matthew and Luke’s careful use of the term ἐκβάλλωremains instructive.I suspect in these verses it means something stronger than ‘sent’ but perhaps not as strong as ‘forced’. It includes the sense of being sent, but perhaps something stronger too. To drive someone includes the concept of sending that person, whereas to send does not necessarily include the concept of driving that person. In these verses the use of ἐκβάλλω perhaps alludes to a driven earnestness. Jesus still commissions his disciples today. The command to ‘go’ and to spread the good news remains. If Christians fail to fulfil this commission then Jesus is still able to perform a few forceful actions if required.