Thank you for your question. Using the Bible’s own built in dictionary is the best method for defining its own terminology. First off, the word dumb in the Scriptures does not mean lacking intelligence but rather the inability to speak. Luke 1:20 – “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed.” Ezekiel 24:27- “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb.”
Next, if we look at the parallel passages in regard to this event (Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:17-29) we can see that this dumb spirit is also referred to as a deaf spirit, a foul spirit, an unclean spirit and a devil. We know from the Scriptures that there are three basic classes of spiritual beings in direct opposition to God: the devil, fallen angels and devils. Out of these three, only the devils are never described as having a bodily form of their own. Also, it is these disembodied spirits that are the only ones that ever show a desire to inhabit a body. If you would like to learn more about their origin then see the question and answer entitled "Fallen Angels" on our site.
Comparing Scripture to Scripture we can deduce the following traits that marked these devil possessions:
- These unclean spirits have the ability to afflict their host with a vast array of physical abnormalities such as dumbness (Matthew 9:32-33), blindness (Matthew 12:22), personal injuries (Mark 9:18), physical defects, deformities (Luke 8:29) and impart super human strength (Mark 5:5, Acts 19:16).
- The psychological side effects of these possessions ranged from insanity (Luke 8:26-35), suicidal mania (Mark 9:22), self-mutilation, nakedness (Mark 5:5) and excessive crying (Luke 8:27,28, Mark 5:5).
- They have an affinity for warm, wet places (Mark 5:13, Matthew 17:15).
- These devils have knowledge of their future condemnation and judgment (Mark 5:7, Matthew 8:29).
- They acknowledge the deity and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1:24, James 3:19, Mark 5:6-7).
- Once control is obtained over a human body they can come and go at will (Luke 11:24-26, Mark 9:25 - Note the Lords command here in Mark for the unclean spirit not only to come out but also not to re-enter).
- It also is apparent that one or many devils could inhabit a body simultaneously Mark 5:9-13, Luke 11:24-26 (A Roman legion typically consisted of several thousand soldiers).
- They preferred human bodies to inhabit but were also willing to dwell in unclean animals (Mark 5:12).
In closing we have learned this boy was possessed by a devil that caused him to be both deaf and unable to speak (dumb), vexing him with fits of lunacy and self-mutilation. And that none could heal him but “he that hath healing in his wings” and none could deliver him but “he that has all power and authority.” I hope this study will be both a blessing and help in your Christian growth and service.