SYNOPSIS – Unbelief hindered the ability of Jesus to heal some afflicted persons, not lack of fasting or other ritualistic practices – Mark 9:14-29.
While Peter, James, and John were seeing the vision of the Transfiguration, the rest of the disciples were ministering nearby. Apparently, whenever the disciples ministered when Jesus was absent, in short order, they found themselves in trouble. As soon as the crowd saw Jesus return from the mountain, they flocked to him seeking healing and deliverance.
In this instance, the disciples were not, necessarily, at fault. Previously, in Nazareth, Jesus had been unable to perform many miracles because of the unbelief of its inhabitants – Unbelief is the real problem in this story – (Mark 6:1-6).
The reference to the “faithless generation” is directed to the crowd more than to the disciples. The gospel of Mark uses “generation” five times and never applied it to the twelve disciples. Most often, it refers to the generation of Jews that was contemporary with Jesus – The one that rejected him (Mark 8:12 [twice], 8:38, 9:19, 13:30).
(Mark 9:14-29) – “And coming to the disciples they saw a large multitude around them, and Scribes discussing with them…And one out of the multitude answered him, Teacher! I brought my son to you, having a dumb spirit, and wherever it seizes him it tears him and he foams and grinds his teeth, and wears himself out; and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast it out and they could not. But he, having answered, said, ‘O faithless generation! How long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to me!…And when he had gone into a house his disciples privately were questioning him, ‘Why, were, we, not able to cast it out?’ And he said unto them, ‘This kind by nothing can come out except by prayer.’” – (Parallel passages – Matthew 17:14-21, Luke 9:37-42).
Some commentators suggest from the description that this was a case of epilepsy, not genuine demon possession. However, Jesus, as presented in the account, treated it as a genuine case of demon possession, and acted accordingly. Further, in the past, the unclean spirit had forced the boy to throw himself into fire or water in its attempts to destroy him. Typically, epileptics do not attempt to kill themselves when experiencing seizures when they are incapacitated.
The response by Jesus to the pleas of the boy’s father demonstrated the problem was not unwillingness or inability on his part to deliver the boy but unbelief – (“As for this, ‘if it be possible to you?!’, all things are possible to him who has faith,” and, “help my lack of faith!”).
There was doubt expressed in the words of the father and he pleaded for Jesus to help his unbelief.
Verse 29 reads, “This kind (of demon) can come out by nothing except by prayer.” The King James Version adds the words “and fasting” to the end of the statement – (“This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting”). These two words are missing from many of the most authoritative Greek manuscripts. It is all but certain that a later copyist added them to the original text. Moreover, the sudden introduction of fasting into this context is odd since the subject figures nowhere in the story.
The problem was the lack of faith, not any failure to fast or engage in other ritualistic practices. Jesus routinely exorcised demons by a simple word of command without verbal formulas or religious ceremonies. Prayer, taking one’s requests to God, is an expression of genuine faith.