The Origin of Demons
The strange practices and beliefs surrounding demon possession need an answer from the sound Christian, for our society is permeated with images of the supernatural and foolish ideas about demons and evil spirits. Are we still in danger of demon possession today? Does Satan send out his fallen angels for the purpose of confounding and distressing otherwise peaceful, mentally sound individuals? From movies like The Exorcist (1973) and its sequels, spin-offs, and similar treatments of the subject of demon possession, people today have become infatuated with the troubling idea of the evil spirits that supposedly roam the world looking to torment us. Our most important question, though, is: Does demon possession still happen today in reality, or is it a hoax? What has Jesus Christ, the Son of God, done to the pantheon of evil spirits to prevent them from harming us now?
To begin, let us consider the supposed origin of the demons. The Bible is silent as far as any overt explanation of their existence and blatant evil goes. We have only minor details and passing references to this in the scriptures, so much of our conclusions have to fit in the realm of conjecture. For example, many Christian leaders throughout the years have believed that demons are the souls of fallen men, taken captive in death by Satan and forced into service. Alexander Campbell (1830) and Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, both believed this view. Contemporary with Jesus of Nazareth, the Pagans and Greeks believed that demons were the souls of their greatest heroes. Unfortunately, both of these interpretations fail to recognize that the dead do not have a part in the affairs of the living realm. Hebrews 9:27 states that man dies once, and judgment comes immediately. Also, Luke 16:31 clearly shows the rich man being tormented in death, unable to return to his living relatives. He is held captive not by Satan in death, but by the righteous God. Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Job 14 also show that the dead exit this life into a conscious realm wholly separate from the living world. The Gentiles believed that demons could be both bad and good, depending on the outcome of the possession, and the Athenians even claimed to be “demon-worshipful”, willingly exalting their spiritual assailants. The Jews generally accepted the existence of demons (Luke 4:36). There are even allusions to demons in the Old Testament, contrary to the belief of some that they were only manifested in the days of Jesus. Deuteronomy 32:17 and Leviticus 17:7 both make note of the way sinners often look to demon worship for fulfillment, and how abominable it is in the eyes of God, and Psalm 106:37 also makes a passing reference to it.
Most likely, based solely on the simple nature of the Bible, it seems that demons are fallen angels, created beings who once were partakers in the service of the Father. Because even these beings have free will, some of them became infatuated with the allures of Satan and were overcome by his wiles. Thus led into transgression, they became workers of darkness in the administration of the devil’s primary mission: wreaking havoc and leading human souls into the bondage of sin. To be sure, the devil has angels (Revelation 12:7-9), but their origin is difficult to tell. “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…” (2 Peter 2:4). “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). The only problem with this explanation is that it does not take into account the power of God in keeping beings under bondage. While the verses make it clear that angels can sin, and many have fallen away, both references make it clear that God has held them without reprieve. Could it be that these verses teach that by the late first century A.D., when both epistles were written, the power of demons had ceased and all of them were then captured, never to wreak spiritual or physical havoc again? If so, this would be consistent with the assertion that demon possession no longer happens today.
What does it mean to be demon-possessed?
The task at hand is to consider whether or not legitimate demon possession occurs today, such as we see in literature, movies, and many religious circles. If we are, in fact, still in danger of being taken captive by these beings to do the evil will of their master, the devil, then we must know how to combat them. But if demon possession has ceased, then we need to have appropriate Biblical responses to those who claim to be personally involved in such activities. Have they deluded themselves into believing such things? Has emotionalism, fervor, or fanaticism led to some individuals taking on the characteristics of demon possession? There must be an explanation for what we see happening today, for God is not one who confuses, and many Bible verses lead us to believe that He has shut up the demons for all eternity and Satan must work in other ways to deceive us.
Demon possession must first be understood in the following ways. That demons are different from the devil himself should be clear. There is only one devil, the Greek word for whom being “diabolos” (diabolos), or, “an accuser, slanderer.” There is another Greek word for the demons, “daimonion” (daimonion), or, “a knowing one.” Matthew 25:41 clearly makes the distinction between the two in the phrase “The devil and his angels,” referring to their end in eternal damnation. Possession comes from the Greek word “daimonizomai” (daimonizomai), which means literally, “To be under the power of a demon.” This power was manifested in different ways in the examples found in the New Testament. Some demons were made up of multiple individual spirits, such as Legion, who possessed the man in the land of the Gerasenes in Luke 8:26-39. This demon had the power to physically control the man’s body, giving him superhuman strength. He broke chains, ran about the tombs naked, and abused his body by cutting himself on jagged rocks. Other demons had superhuman strength, as well, such as the demon possessed man who fought off the seven sons of Sceva. Some demons caused epilepsy, with powerful convulsions and fits of writhing and screaming. Others caused blindness or inability to speak. All of the demons share a commonality, and that is the ability to harm in some way. They never helped their bearers with wealth or good fortune, or magical powers that could be used to improve the human’s life. They only hurt people, destroyed their physical bodies, and wreaked great havoc on them spiritually, socially, and mentally. In some ways, the demon possession of the Bible is very similar to the popular impression of it in the media. Demons are evil, and they are never presented in a positive light. Their entire purpose is to destroy people, and upset the balance of a life in service to God.
Common Theories About Demons
Many theories exist about demons. Some assert that they are simply presented in a mythical light in the Bible for the purpose of elucidating some grand theme. Others say that demons still exist today in a less potent form. Others will loudly proclaim the idea that demons in the Bible can be explained away as diseases. But is a demon the flu? Is it just epilepsy? Is it just insanity? Or does the Bible present demons as being the literal angels of the devil, with the power to possess, destroy, and thrash the human soul?
The Mythical Theory – David Friedrich Strauss has been credited with advancing the theory that demons in the Bible are only mythical. They are a metaphor for something deeper, and are only symbolic of the presence of evil. He argued that when one of these “demons” was cast out by Jesus, it simply represents His triumph over evil by both doctrine and life. This theory seeks to take away some of the potency of the literal Bible and tame it, making it easier to stomach by those who are hesitant to believe in some of the more fantastic manifestations of spiritual things. The only problem with this idea is that it undermines the value of the Bible by accusing its writers of lying? If their intention was to show Jesus triumphing over evil, is it really that necessary to mask it in such an obscure and fantastic way? “This theory stands or falls with the mythological school of interpretation. To consider claimed historical events as myths is to accuse the penmen of lying. To accuse evangelists of fabrication is to arraign the Almighty and His Spirit of deception” (www.bible.ca/su-demons.htm, Steve Rudd). If demons are only mythical, then is the Flood? What about creation in six days? And Jonah could not have possibly spent three days in the belly of a giant fish! If demons are only myth, then perhaps the entire story is and Jesus was never raised from the dead. The consequences of that conclusion are too destructive to the cause of Christ to accept (1 Corinthians 15:13-17).
The Accommodation Theory – This is one of the most widely accepted views. Advocates of the theory contend that Jesus and His disciples only discussed demons and demon possession in accommodation to the popular ignorance of the day. Because superstition held that demon possession was real, Jesus spoke in terms that the common people would understand. It is argued that supposed demon possession was only natural illnesses and diseases. One writer states this theory in the following way, “The reality of demoniacal possession is a matter of doubt. The serious argument against it is, that the phenomena are mostly natural, not supernatural. It was the unscientific habit of the ancient mind to account for abnormal and uncanny things, such as lunacy and epilepsy, supernaturally. And in such cases, outside of the Bible, we accept the facts, but ascribe them to natural causes. Another serious difficulty is that lunacy and epilepsy are common in the East, as elsewhere, and yet, unless these are cases, we do not find Jesus healing these disorders as such, but only cases of demonical possession in which these were symptoms. The dilemma is very curious. Outside the N.T., no demoniacal possession, but only lunacy and epilepsy, in the N.T., no cases of lunacy and epilepsy proper, but only demoniacal possession” (www.bible.ca, Gould). But this theory assumes too much, and it is based on prejudice against the supernatural. If one takes the Bible for what it says, and has faith enough to believe it, then there is no difficulty in the text. There is no evidence that leads one to believe that the Jews considered all maniacs, epileptics, and melancholic persons to be under evil spirits. In fact this theory suffers because the weight of evidence is against it. While we must admit that there are no specific cases of epilepsy healed by Christ without attributing it to an evil spirit, there are examples where certain maladies were attributed to demons in one instance and not in another. For example, on one occasion, Jesus healed a man afflicted by a spirit that made him dumb (Matthew 9:32) and also on another occasion an evil spirit made a man dumb and blind (Matthew 12:22). However, it is clear that the Jews did not consider every dumb or blind person to be possessed by a spirit, because there are other people in the Gospels healed of these afflictions without the presence of a demon at all (Mark 7:32). It is evident that the inspired writers purposely made a distinction between those possessed and those afflicted by natural disorders, even in cases with the same symptoms. Second, the theory is based on a false assumption, because Jesus did not accommodate a superstition of the time, as some believe, but specifically addresses the issue of evil spirits to the masses (Matthew 17:19-21). It is interesting that our Lord would spend such a great amount of time throughout His ministry dealing with possession if it was only a superstition. Finally, demon possession could not have possibly been just natural diseases because the theory does not account for the demons’ entrance into the herd of swine in Mark 5:10-14. Do diseases talk? Do diseases reason? Do people with the flu speak words of prophecy? Do people with epilepsy confess belief in the Son of God?
The Hallucination Theory – A third theory about demon possession is that it was just the result of hallucinations by the ones believing themselves to be held captive by a spirit. That is, it was all in their imaginations, the result of a mental instability. If the demon possession is just a manifestation of a psychological delusion, then even modern day exorcism seems to be a real event. In the same way psychotherapists deal with split personalities, repressed memories, or phobias, Jesus “healed” people of their “evil spirits.” Two things shatter this theory, though. First, how can a person, bereft of reason, can in same instant manifest a knowledge of the deity of Jesus (Mark 5:7) far in advance of even the most pious individuals of the day? The demons in the Gospels knew more about Jesus than His disciples, so are we to believe that a mental disorder or psychological delusion can lead to more exact knowledge of the Christ than a personal relationship and obedience? This theory also does not explain the possession of the herd of swine, previously referred to. This example alone demonstrates the absurdity of supposing that demon possession is only imaginary in the mind of the possessed.
Demons Are Not Diseases
We should take note of the examples we have in the Bible of demon possession to see quite clearly that the evil spirits cast out by Jesus and His apostles were not just diseases, as some argue, but were actual spirit persons. In Acts 16:16-19, for example, Paul is being followed by a certain slave girl who had been abused by her masters because of an unclean spirit in her. This spirit gives the girl the ability to foretell the future, as well as recognize the servant of God, much to the chagrin of Paul. When he becomes thoroughly frustrated by her constant interruptions, he heals her of the spirit and sends her away completely relinquished of her spiritual bondage. Her masters see that their source of profit is gone and become infuriated with Paul. There are a few lessons we can learn from this story. First, this could not have been any disease, even MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder), because no such illness exists that allows the infirmed to foretell the future. It is not that Paul cleansed her from her sins here, either – the evil spirit merely representing the evil in her heart – or else then we are faced with the dilemma of forced righteousness. The truth is that she had the legitimate ability to see into the future, and her masters had been using this for profit. When her power was taken away, she was no longer useful to them. Furthermore, demons can reason (Matthew 12:43-45). Demons knew of coming judgment against them (Matthew 8:29). Evil spirits recognize Jesus, and believe in God (James 2:19). These are not the signs or symptoms of a disease!
Do evil spirits inhabit our bodies today?
We have nothing to fear today about unclean spirits. Our culture’s curiosity with them is a fruitless endeavor, and, while intriguing, the subject has little practical bearing on the Christian. There are several important points that must be made about demon possession that will show quite clearly that we need not worry about them now.
“In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity. And it will come about in that day… that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land” (Zechariah 13:1-2). This is the irrefutable prophecy, spoken by God Himself, concerning the cessation of the age of demon possession. While Satan ran rampant in the world, evil spirits abused and molested God’s creation. But the power of Jesus conquered them all, and Jesus “led captive a host of captives” (Ephesians 4:8). God promises, without any stipulations, that the day would come wherein the spirits would cease and the false prophets would have no more power.
Second, demon possession is not a concern anymore because Satan and his angels are bound for a figurative thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6). When Jesus was resurrected from the grave, and He poured forth the Holy Spirit on the world, He disarmed “the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:5), and even stated at one point that He witnessed “Satan fall like lightning from the sky” (Luke 10:18). Third, we are given specific commands from God to resist the devil (James 4:7), but if we are powerless against demon possession, than such an exhortation is without meaning or practical application. We will never be tempted beyond what we are capable of bearing, and that is a promise given by God in the Christian age (1 Corinthians 10:13). Demon possession in modern times denies this truth as well.
Modern day “unclean spirits” are nothing like the kind we find in the Bible. In the movie The Exorcist, for example, the demon swears profusely, and profanes symbols of Jesus. Yet we never find an example of this in the Bible. The demons in the scripture seem to speak with great reverence for Jesus and His power, recognizing His authority over them. The demons plead with Jesus, try to bargain with Him, and submit themselves to His commands. “I know who You are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24, 3:11, 5:7). Even more astounding is the claim that Christians today can be possessed by demons. Amongst Pentecostals, it is common for evil spirits to be cast out of professed believers. But it is despicable to assert that the power of a demon is able to overcome the power God, who indwells our souls (Ephesians 3:7).
While demons no longer possess our souls and force us into harmful situations, what we should worry about is their influence. Satan may not have all his most potent tools available to him anymore, but we must remember that he does not need to possess us to condemn us. All he needs is to harden hearts against repentance, and that is a task much easier than demon possession. Satan’s angels still have influence over us for evil, causing our eyes to look with lust, our hearts to be angry in selfishness, our souls to be blackened by bitterness, and our minds to be poisoned by false doctrine. Apostasy stems from evil demons (1 Timothy 4:1-2), so we must not become so casual toward them that we do not recognize their power even amongst the most pious believers. Even without overt demon possession, Satan can still trap us, capture us, and lead us astray with great power and ease (2 Timothy 2:24-26).Be on guard, brethren, and look to the Lord for strength. He will never let us be overcome by Satan if we constantly depend on Him and the grace of Jesus Christ. Love never fails, and the love of God far surpasses the hatred of S