“subdued.” Verse 25 has a couple words that have technical meanings relating to Greek magical arts (which we understand is actually part of the spiritual battle), that we must pay attention to in order to understand the verse. In every language, there are words that have a technical meaning as well as having a standard or usual meaning. In this verse, the Greek word translated “subdued” is epitimaō (#2008 ἐπιτιμάω), which usually means to express strong disapproval of someone: rebuke, reprove, censure; or to speak seriously, and thus warn in order to prevent or end an action; or “punish” (cp. BDAG Lexicon).
That is not its meaning here, however. For one thing, the demon would not respond to being “rebuked.” It is too arrogant to know, or it does not care, that it is doing evil. Jesus would have certainly followed the wisdom of Proverbs: “a mocker does not listen to rebuke” (Prov. 13:1. Cp. Prov. 9:7, 8; 15:5, 12; 17:10; 23:9; 29:9). In this context, epitimaō is used in the technical sense in which it is in Greek religion of gaining control over a spirit, a demon.
The technical sense is not common in the Greek literature that has survived to this day, and so does not show up in many Greek lexicons (cp. Bullinger, BDAG, Thayer, and Vine). That fact helps explain why not many Bible teachers are aware of the technical use of the word that refers to subduing rival powers in the spiritual battle between good and evil. Robert Guelich (Word Biblical Commentary: Mark) translates the opening phrase of verse 25: “Jesus subdued him....” and notes that in contexts like these, epitimaō is “a commanding word uttered by God or by his spokesman, by which evil powers are brought into submission.” (cp. A. Nyland, The Source NT). Greg Boyd writes: “...the term denotes an authoritative exercise of God’s power in subduing his enemies. It accomplishes what it speaks” (God at War; p. 207).
Epitimaō also occurs in the records of Jesus “rebuking” the storm on the Sea of Galilee, after which there was a great calm (Matt. 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24). Jesus subdued the storm by superior spiritual power. Greg Boyd writes: “It thus appears that, in “muzzling” this storm, Jesus is muzzling yet another demon” (God at War; p. 206). It seems clear that the storm was caused by a demon. Many of Jesus’ apostles who were with him on the boat when the storm came up were experienced fishermen and would not have risked their lives if the weather looked threatening. The Devil was trying to take advantage of Jesus being in a supposedly vulnerable position and kill him or the apostles by drowning them.
In the spiritual battle there are some spirits that are more powerful than others. Strength and authority are real among spiritual beings, just as they are real on earth among creatures of the flesh. In Daniel 10:1-13 there is a spiritual battle in which an angel of God is prevented by a demon from answering Daniel’s prayer until a stronger angel shows up and assists in the fight. Revelation 12:7-9 describe a war in heaven in which the Devil is the weaker one and loses the fight, resulting in his being thrown down to earth.
Describing the spiritual battle, or any spiritual reality for that matter, is difficult. Therefore the Bible uses vocabulary that describes the spiritual battle that the Greeks would be familiar with—sorcerer against sorcerer and god against god—so the people could understand that Jesus was subduing evil spirits by using greater spiritual power. Jesus wielded the power of the true God, and thus was able to subdue the demon by that power, expressed through words. Jesus did not gain control over the demon by virtue of some “magic words” or formula that he used, as if he was some sort of Greek sorcerer. “It is not a magical incantation...it is powerful Word of the Son” (Gerhard Kittle, Theological Dictionary, ἐπιτιμάω Vol. 2, p. 626). The power came from God and was used by Jesus, who then instructed the Twelve Apostles (Matt. 10:5-8), and the Seventy Two (Luke 10:1-17) in casting out demons in the spiritual battle. Every Christian has the inherent power through the gift of holy spirit to subdue and cast out demons.
“Be bound.” As with the word “subdued” (Mark 1:25 above), the Greek word phimoō (#5392 φιμόω) has a technical meaning in this context that relates to the spiritual battle. Ordinarily phimoō means to close the mouth with a muzzle or to silence. For example, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (1 Cor. 9:9). Phimoō is also used in Matthew 22:12 for the man who came to the wedding without the proper wedding clothes and upon being confronted was “speechless” (literally, “muzzled”) and not able to say a word. However, phimoō was used in Greek magic to denote the binding of a person with a spell. Moulton and Milligan write that it can refer to “the binding of a person by means of a spell, so as to make him powerless to harm” (The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament). Ann Nyland (The Source NT) writes in her footnote for Matt. 22:12 that phimoō is “a technical term from pagan magic. It was used…to denote the binding of a person by means of a spell…The verb is ‘Be muzzled!’ but translated as ‘bound’ in the magical texts. This is one of the 2 technical terms used for binding in Greek pagan magic.”
While it is true that the translation, “Be quiet” or “Silence,” which most versions have, is part of the meaning, the real force of the command, phimoō, is about binding the power of evil. Thus, the Greek conveys a spiritual power that binds evil and that is much better expressed by the command “Be bound,” than it is by the English, “Silence,” which does not convey any of the spiritual binding of evil that is the real point of the command. Jesus did not just command the demon to be quiet—although that is included in what he did—he bound it with the power of his word. That he commanded the demons not to speak can be gained from the sense of the word, the context, and scope of Scripture, as we see in Mark 1:34. Another indication that Jesus’ command was not an immediate demand for silence was that the demon came out with a shriek. If Jesus had in fact commanded by the power of God that there be “silence,” the demon would not have even shrieked.