About Demons

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Adapted from the article “Demon
in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

A demon is a spirit being who is unclean and immoral in nature and activities. When demons were created, how they came to be demonic, and their organizational structure are not given significant attention in Scripture because the focus throughout the Bible is on HaShem and his work in Christ rather than on the demonic attempts to demean that work.

In the Tanakh

References to demons in the Tanakh are relatively scarce. Their existence is never proven; it is simply assumed. The Tanakh focus is not on demons and their schemes but on HaShem and his sovereignty. Demons are not depicted as free, independent agents, but operate under HaShem’s direct control. Though they are not revealed as the malicious beings seen in the Apostolic Writings, there are still definitive commands for HaShem’s people to avoid them. The Tanakh word for demons (sed [dev]) appears only twice. They are “gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear” (Deut 32:17), and Israel is condemned by HaShem for sacrificing to them (Psalm 106:37). They are also called evil spirits sent from HaShem. After Abimelech treacherously killed Gideon’s sons, HaShem sent an evil spirit that divided him from the citizens of Shechem (Judges 9:23-24). HaShem also sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. David’s attempts to calm Saul by playing the harp (1Sam 16:15-16) are unsuccessful, as Saul, provoked by the spirit, tries to kill David (1Sam 16:14-23; 18:10-11; 19:9-10). A spirit from HaShem’s counsel volunteers to be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets (1Kings 22:19-23; 2Chron 18:18-22). The medium from Endor sees “gods” or “spirits” coming up from the ground (1Sam 28:13). An angel is delayed twenty-one days in bringing an answer to Daniel’s prayer by a prince of Persia, giving an indication of some organizational structure or ranking among demons (Dan 10:13). This also gives us one of the few glimpses behind the curtains of history into engagements between demons and angels. Other possible Tanakh references to demons include goat idols (Lev 17:7; 2Chron 11:15; Isa 13:21;34:14), night creatures (Isa 34:14), and idols (LXX of Psalm 96:5).

Demons during the Life of Christ

There is more recorded demonic activity during Yeshua’s life than any other time in biblical history. Though demonic confrontations are mentioned throughout the Gospels, we find only eight case studies of actual encounters. These include Yeshua's temptation (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13); the blind man (Matt 9:32-33); the blind and mute man (Matt 12:22-23; Luke 11:14); the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matt 15:22-28; Mark 7:24-30); the man in the synagogue (Mark 1:23-27; Luke 4:31-37); the Gerasene demoniac (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-37); the boy with seizures (Matt 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43); and the silencing of demons (Matt 8:16; Mark 1:32-35; Luke 4:40-41).

Other possible examples include the seven demons expelled from Miriam of Magdala (Luke 8:1-2), Yeshua’s rebuke of Satan’s suggestion through Peter (Matt 16:23; Mark 8:33), and his command to Y'hudah Sicarius after Satan had entered him (John 13:27). Additionally, we are told that the disciples (Luke 10:17-20) and even someone they did not know (Mark 9:38-40) saw demons submit to them, but we are not given any other details.

There are three main terms for demons in the Apostolic Writings: daimonion [daimovnion] (demon; 60 times, 50 in the Gospels); pneuma [pneu'ma] (spirit; some 52 times) usually with a qualifying adjective such as akatharton [ajkavqarto"] (unclean; 21 times) or poneron [ponhrov"] (evil; 8 times); and angelos [a [ggelo"] (7 times of demonic agencies). Daimon (demon), the term commonly used in classical Greek, appears only once (Mark 8:31).

Throughout Yeshua’ life we see his work against the devastating work of demons in the lives of people. The vocabulary of demonic activities against human beings is rich and varied, though it all shows movement toward the ultimate destruction of people. Demons troubled or annoyed people (Luke 6:18). They robbed a young boy of his speech (Mark 9:17,25), rendered a man mute (Matt 9:33; Luke 11:14), and froze the back of an elderly woman (Luke 13:11,16). They seized the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:29) and a young boy (Luke 9:39) in order to destructively overcome him.

Throughout the Gospel accounts, spirits evidenced control over human hosts. Several terms are used to describe this. Jesus warned in a parable of the possibility of multiple demons living in or indwelling a person (Matt 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26). Evil spirits were in the demoniac in the synagogue (Mark 1:23); the Gerasene demoniac was a person who was with a spirit (Mark 5:2; “[in the power] of an unclean spirit,” Amplified) that drove or impelled him (Luke 8:29). Many were described as having (echo [e [cw]) an evil or unclean spirit (Matt 11:18; Mark 3:30; 7:25; 9:17; Luke 4:33; 7:33; 8:27; John 7:20; 8:48,52; 10:20). Such a spirit entered the young boy (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30) and then mauled and convulsed him.

People who have demons are demonized (daimonizomai [daimoniVzomai] Matt 4:24; 8:16,28,33; 12:22; 15:22; Mark 1:32; 5:15,16,18; Luke 8:36; John 10:21). This term is generally translated as demon-possessed. However, daimonizomai [daimoniVzomai] does not convey the English concept of possession (either ownership or eternal destiny) as much as it does temporary control (“under the power of demons,” Amplified). This idea is seen in the elderly woman who was bound by Satan for eighteen years before being set free by Yeshua (Luke 13:16).

The Apostolic Writings describe physical, social, and spiritual symptoms of demonic control, though no exhaustive list is given. The physical symptoms include muteness (Matt 9:32-33; Mark 9:17; Luke 11:14), blindness (Matt 12:22), self-inflicted wounds (Mark 5:5; 9:22), crying (Mark 5:4), or screaming (Mark 1:26; 5:7; 9:26), convulsions (Mark 1:26), seizures (Matt 17:15), falling to the ground, rolling around, foaming at the mouth, grinding of the teeth, and rigidity (Mark 9:18,20), inhuman strength (Mark 5:3-4), and staying active day and night (Mark 5:5). The social symptoms include dwelling in unclean places (Mark 5:3; Luke 8:27) and going around naked (Luke 8:27). The spiritual symptoms include supernatural abilities such as recognition of the person of the Messiah and reaction against him (Mark 1:23-24; 5:7; Luke 4:40-41) and the ability to tell the future (divination Acts 16:16). None of these symptoms by itself should be seen as proof of demonization. Rather, they are examples of the types of manifestations that come with demonic infestation.

Yeshua came to set Satan’s captives free (Matt 12:22-29; Luke 4:18-21), and in all of his dealing with the demonized He demonstrated compassion for the people and authority over the spirits. He commanded the spirit in the Gerasene demoniac to come out (Luke 8:29) and ordered the demon out of the man in the synagogue (Mark 1:27) and the young boy (Mark 9:25). He did not have to be physically present to effect release, seen in the healing of the Canaanite woman’s cruelly demonized daughter from a distance (Matt 15:22-28). The people were amazed that he simply commanded the demons and they obeyed (Luke 4:36), as they were used to seeing elaborate exorcism rituals that were not always successful. The demons in the Gerasene demoniac needed Yeshua’s permission to enter the pigs (Mark 5:13; Luke 8:32) and he denied permission for demons to speak (Mark 1:34; Luke 4:41). He rebuked the demon in the young boy (Matt 17:18; Mark 9:25; Luke 9:42) and the man in the synagogue (Mark 1:25; Luke 4:35).

The term most commonly used of the expulsion of demons in the Apostolic Writings is “cast out” (ekballo [ejkbavllw]). In classical Greek and Tanakh usage it had the sense of forcibly driving out an enemy. In the Apostolic Writings, it is typically used of a physical removal (John 9:34-35; see also Mark 1:12). Demons were cast out by the spirit of HaShem (Matt 12:28; cf. Luke 11:20; “by the finger of HaShem”), and this was done by verbal command rather than the elaborate rituals of the exorcists. Yeshua’s authority to cast out demons was given to the Twelve (Matt 10:1,8) and others, who cast them out in Yeshua’s name (Mark 9:38-41; see also Acts 16:18). The disciples were successful in casting out demons, but needed a reminder to keep their priorities straight (Luke 10:17-20). With the young boy, however, they were unsuccessful because of lack of prayer (Mark 9:28-29).

There are several primary words employed in the Gospels to describe Yeshua’s healing ministry among the demonized. He released (luo [luvw]) the woman bound by demons for eighteen years (Luke 13:16). He saved (sozo [swvzw]) the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:36). He healed (therapeuo [qerapeuvw]) many (Matt 4:24; 10:22; 17:16; Luke 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 13:14), a word used of healing the sick (lame, blind, mute, maimed, deaf) as well as the demonized and even of satanic healing. Its use implied that the restoration of demoniacs was on the same level of ministry as other types of healing, all of which showed Yeshua’s mastery over Satan and sin. Yeshua also healed (iaomai [ijavomai]) many who had spirits (Luke 6:19; under the power of Satan), including the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matt 15:28) and the young boy (Luke 9:42).

Demons in Acts and the Epistles

In comparison with the Gospels, demonic encounters are relatively rare. Spirits are mentioned in only five instances in Acts. Those tormented by evil spirits were brought before the apostles in Jerusalem and healed (5:15-16). Philip, not an apostle, exercised Yeshua’s authority over demons in Samaria (8:6-7). Rav Sha'ul released a slave girl who had a fortune-telling spirit by simply commanding the spirit to leave (16:16-18). HaShem performed extraordinary miracles through Sha'ul in Ephesus, including the expulsion of demons (19:11-12). The final instance was between Jewish exorcists and a demoniac in which the exorcists were soundly beaten (19:13-17). When the local Messianic synagogue heard what happened, those who had not fully come out of their magical practices repented and publicly burned their expensive scrolls (19:17-20). The failure of the non-Messianic exorcists shows that in power encounters authority is the underlying issue. Interestingly, the term “exorcism” is not used of Yeshua’s ministry. An exorcism implies a particular ritual, and Yeshua, as well as the early Messianic community, relied on authority rather than ritual. It is not surprising, then, that nowhere in the Apostolic Writings is a Messianic ritual for exorcism seen.

The relative paucity of overt examples of demonic confrontation is one indication of a shift from a form of direct power encounter with demons to a focus on knowing and correctly applying the truth to thwart demonic influence. This is also seen in the emphasis on deception as a tool of Satan and his demons. They pretend to be friendly spirits to deceive people (2Cor 11:15) and blind the minds of believers (2Cor 4:3-4). They lead people astray from truth (2Tim 3:13; 1John 2:26; 3:7). They also lead people astray through the pursuit of pleasure or sensual gratification (Eph 5:6; Col 2:8; 2Thess 2:3).

The emphasis on truth in the Epistles does not mean that power encounters are unimportant or no longer viable today. Rather, the implication is that our day-to-day struggle with demonic forces will focus on truth issues without overlooking power issues. Appropriate truth encounter metaphors for spiritual conflict in the Epistles include walking in the light (1Jo 1:5-7), the stripping off of the old and joyfully putting on the new (Eph 4:22-29), our participation in a kingdom transfer (Col 1:13), which involves a transformation of our nature as people (2Cor 5:17), and our growth into the full measure of the stature of Messiah (Eph 4:14-16).

Believers are not immune from demonic attack. Demons seek to influence Believers through false doctrines and teachings (1Tim 4:1; 1John 4:1-4) as well as false miracles and wonders (2Thess 2:7-11; Rev 16:14). Sha'ul was buffeted (2Cor 12:7; see Matt 26:67; 1Cor 4:11; 1Peter 2:20; for the physical aspect). Though there can be no certainty as to how this buffeting was manifested, we do know that an “angel of Satan” caused it and that Sha'ul could not remove it through prayer. In the West, evangelicals have been preoccupied with the question of whether a true Believer can be demon-possessed. Such a conclusion, however, can only be an inappropriate translation of daimonizomai [daimoNIVzomai] because of the English connotations of possession with ownership, which is not in the original. Demons do not own or possess any Believers, who are HaShem’s sole possession (as are the demons themselves). Though Believers cannot be owned or have their eternal destiny controlled by a demon, this does not necessarily mean that they cannot be demonized or temporarily controlled by demons, or have demons temporarily indwell them. The evidence pointing against demonization of the believer includes Yeshua’s defeat of Satan on the cross (John 12:31; Col 2:14-15; Heb 2:14-15), HaShem’s presence in (2Cor 6:16), and protection of the believer (1Jo 5:18), and our status as being seated with Yeshua (Eph 2:6). Evidence in favor of the demonization of believers includes the statements of our need to know Satan’s schemes (2Cor 2:11) so that he will not gain a foothold on us (Eph 4:26-27), the reality of demonic attack against believers (2Corl 11:3; 12:7; Eph 6:10-12), and the commands to resist him (James 4:7; 1Peter 5:8-9). No one should doubt that Satan and his demons are able to influence Believers; the question is whether that influence can result in demonization. Further evidence in favor of the possibility of Believers being demonized are the instances of King Sha'ul’s torment from an evil spirit (1Sam 16:14-23), the daughter of Abraham being bound by Satan for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17), and Ananias and Sapphira having their hearts “filled by Satan” (Acts 5:3). None of these has been without dispute, but Scripture indicates that all were of the house of faith, and that all faced demonic attack. This parallels the experience of many people today. While experience is not the final arbiter of doctrinal formulation, our experience should be in accord with our doctrine. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Believers may be demonized, and that the warnings to stand against Satan are not just to stop his attacks against the Holy Community or his control over those who do not believe.

Whatever our conclusion on demonization of Believers, Messianics clearly have the identity (being in Messiah), the authority (being seated with Messiah), and the mandate to resist Satan and his demons. We do so not on the basis of our own goodness, but on the basis of Messiah’ finished work. Because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1Jo 4:4), we can successfully stand against demonic schemes. Our weapons in this ongoing struggle include our authority as seated with Messiah at the right hand of HaShem, far above every power (Eph 1:15-2:6), the name of Yeshua (Php 2:10), our spiritual armor (Eph 6:18), prayer (a must in some cases, Mark 9:29), simple resistance (Jas 4:7), forgiveness (Eph 4:26-27), and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23; Eph 4:22-29; 6:10-18).

Conclusion

The testimony of the Scriptures regarding demons is clear and cohesive. They are angelic entities who oppose HaShem’s sovereign control. They seek to work out their unholy rebellion through influencing people to live in a way contrary to HaShem’s expressed intentions. At the same time, they remain under his sovereignty and can be used of him to effect the divine plan. As Messianics we are to submit ourselves to HaShem and resist the attacks of Satan and his hosts. To do so, we must be aware of the basic truths presented in Scripture concerning not just the ontology of demons but their methods as they attempt to influence our lives. Once aware, we are to take our stand in Messiah and oppose the working of demons, whether personally, corporately, or in the structures and systems of society.

A. Scott Moreau

Bibliography

C. Arnold, Powers of Darkness
W. Carr, Angels and Principalities (1981)
C. F. Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil
_____, Demon Possession and the Christian
Billy Graham, Angels: God’s Secret Agents (1975)
J. W. Montgomery, ed: Demon Possession
H. Schier, Principalities and Powers in the New Testament (1961)
M. Unger, Biblical Demonology;
_____, What Demons Can Do to Saints
M. Wink, Naming the Powers
_____, Unmasking the Powers
_____, Engaging the Power

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