Questions From Readers
● Why does the New World Translation read “epileptic” at Matthew 4:24, whereas some translations say “lunatic”?—P. K., U.S.A.
In the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures this verse reads: “And the report about him went out into all Syria; and they brought him all those faring badly, distressed with various diseases and torments, demon-possessed and epileptic and paralyzed persons, and he cured them.”—Matt. 4:24.
The Greek word translated “epileptic” at Matthew 4:24 and Mt 17:15 is seleniazomai, meaning literally “to be moon struck.” Many older Bible translations have used the corresponding word “lunatic,” from the Latin luna, meaning “moon.” Does “lunatic” adequately convey the correct meaning though? No, it does not, for scholars generally agree that the malady intended is not mental derangement or insanity, but rather the chronic disease of the central nervous system now termed epilepsy. And this understanding is borne out by the use of this Greek word in ancient non-Biblical literature.
At one time people believed that “the epileptic seizures supposedly followed the phases of the moon.” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A. T. Robertson, Vol. 1, p. 37) Whether that thought was current when Matthew wrote his Gospel is not known. However, his use of this common Greek term does not mean that he felt that the moon caused or aggravated epilepsy, any more than people today, when they use the words “lunacy” and “lunatic,” think that the moon causes madness.
In view of the significance of the Greek word involved, many modern translations use “epileptic” at Matthew 4:24 or in a footnote. (Note The Jerusalem Bible in French, Spanish and English.) Thus, the rendering of Matthew 4:24 in the New World Translation reflects an interest in conveying in modern speech the exact meaning of the Bible.