Demonology

by Jerry C. Ray

Truth Magazine VI: 6, pp. 19-21, March 1962
Truth Magazine VI: 7, pp. 9-11, April 1962
Truth Magazine VI: 8, pp. 6-7, May 1962
Truth Magazine VI: 9 & 10, pp. 9-10, June & July 1962

Due to the limited information in the Bible on the subject of demonology, and in the absence of any other inspired and infallible source of information, we of the modern world know very little about demons. But if it were not for the reference of the Bible on this interesting subject we would be mystified and completely baffled in view of the absurd and conflicting ideas set forth by men through the ages, and we would probably conclude that the entire subject was mythology.

The information of the Old Testament concerning demons is negligible. To the New Testament we must turn for the major portion of our knowledge of demonology. Even here we find, including repetitions, only about 80 references. The limited information that we have in the Bible however does not invalidate the actuality of the existence of demons.

Concepts of Uninspired Men

By way of illustrating the conflicting ideas of men through the ages on demonology, and by way of introduction to demonology, let's notice what heathen writers, Hellenistic writers, and the "church Fathers" have written on the subject.

Heathen Writers

Heathen writers used the word "demon" with considerable latitude. In Homer's writings, where gods are but supernatural men, the word "daimon" ( Greek) is used interchangeably with "theos" (Greek word, translated "God"). Afterwards Hesiod used it to denote intermediate beings -- messengers of the gods to men. This became its general meaning, although in poetry and in philosophy "to daimonion" was sometimes used as equivalent to "to theion" for any superhuman nature. Aristotle applies the term to Divinity, Providence. Plato used the word in the distinctly limited sense. It was also believed that the "daimonia" became tutelary deities of individuals, hence "daimonion" was often used in the sense of "fate" or "destiny" of a man. McClintock Strong states:

  1. "Demons, in the theology of the Gentiles, are middle beings between gods and mortals,''
  2. "Demons were of two kinds; the one were the souls of good men, which upon their departure from the body were called heroes, were afterwards raised to the dignity of demons, and subsequently to that of gods," and
  3. "The heathens held that some demons were malignant by nature, and not merely so when provoked and offended."

Hellenistic Writers

In the Septuagint the word is employed to render different Hebrew words, generally in reference to idols in heathen worship. (Psalms 95:3) Also it is found in Deuteronomy 32:17 for "lords," in Isaiah 65:11 for "Gad, the goddess of fortune," and sometimes for avenging spirits, or evil spirits, as in Psalms 91:6 for "pestilence," and in Isaiah 13:21 for "hairy" and Isaiah 34:14 for "dwellers in the desert" in the sense in which the King James renders "satyrs."

Josephus used the word to refer "always of evil spirits" (McClintock & Strong, 11, p. 639), and says, "Demons are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them." He speaks of exorcism by fumigation (cf. Tobit 8: 2-3).

Philo uses the word in a general sense as equivalent to "angels," referring to both good and bad.

The Church Fathers

"By some they are represented as angels who, originally created holy, fell into rebellion and sin . . . while others represent them as the fruit of the intercourse of angels with women (Justin Martyr, Apol. 2: 5), and others that they are the souls of the giants whom the daughters of men bore to devils." (Ibid., p. 640) (Under the next section of this paper we will deal with the non-canonical writings of the Jews).

The Modernist's Position

The intellectually egotistical portion of the modern world has, in the absence of concrete proof of demons in the present age, attempted to explain away the reality of demons in Biblical times: "Demonology is the animism pertaining to malignant spirits which primitive man accepted as originators of disaster, disease, evil, etc. Its counterpart in Biblical literature is angelology, which deals with spirits that bring good to men." (Madelein S. Miller & J. Lane Miller, Harper's Bible Dictionary, p. 136). Thus the modernist (who denies all the supernatural in the Bible) rejects the reality of angels and demons.

How then does the Modernist explain the 80 New Testament references to demons?

Strauss and the Mythical School

Some make the demonology of the Bible merely symbolic, without basis in fact -- "only a lively symbol of the prevalence of evil in the world, the casting out of the devils by our Lord a corresponding symbol of his conquest over the evil power by his doctrine and his life." (Op. cit., p. 641). This theory falls beneath the weight of its own assumptions in the light of the inspired record. The very manner in which the New Testament records the power of the demons and Jesus' casting out of demons negates the possibility of highly figurative language. "It would be as reasonable to expect a myth or symbolic fable from Tacitus or Thucydides in their accounts of contemporary history." (Ibid., p. 641).

Jewish Superstitions

The second theory is that Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke only in accommodation to the general superstitions of the Jews, without any assertion as to its truth or its falsity. It is concluded that since bodily diseases often accompanied demon possession, then demoniacs were simply people suffering from unusual diseases of mind and body. "Jesus accommodated himself to current demonology, and by the power of his word, presence, and prayer, readjusted the distorted to life." (Harper's Bible Dictionary, p. 136).

Such is ridiculous and an insult to the dignity and integrity of Jesus, the Son of God. It is completely inharmonious with His every word and deed. Jesus not only spoke of demons as personal evil spirits to the multitudes, but in private with his disciples, declaring to them the means and conditions by which power over them could be had. (Matthew 17 21) Twice Jesus distinctly connects demoniacal possession with the power of Satan, once in Luke 10:18, where he speaks of the success of the seventy in casting out demons as the "fall of Satan," and again in Matthew 12:25-30.

The case of the demons entering the swine at Gadara (Mark 5:10-14) is sufficient to show that either the gospel writers told the truth, or were guilty of base deception. The effect that the demons had upon the swine overthrows the assertion that Jesus and the gospel writers never asserted or implied objective reality of demoniacal possession.

McClintock & Strong again states the case with wisdom and emphasis: "With regard to this theory also, it must be remarked that it does not accord either with the general principles or with the particular language of Scripture. Accommodation is possible when, in things indifferent, language is used which, although scientifically or etymologically inaccurate, yet conveys a true impression, or when, in things not indifferent, a declaration of truth (I Corinthians 3:1-2), or a moral law (Matthew 19:8), is given, true or right as far as it goes, but imperfect, because of the imperfect progress of its recipients. But certainly here the matter is not indifferent. The age was one of little faith and great superstition; its characteristic the acknowledgment of God as a distant lawgiver, not an inspirer of men's hearts. This superstition in things of far less moment was denounced by our Lord; can it be supposed that he would sanction, and the evangelists be permitted to record for ever, an idea in itself false, which has constantly been the very stronghold of superstition? " (II, p. 641).

A Mistaken Belief

A third theory is that Jesus was himself mistaken and in error in believing in demons! "In all this there is no evidence that Jesus and His disciples consciously accommodated themselves to current beliefs they knew to be erroneous. They seem rather to have shared in the popular demonology, although they never committed themselves to the absurdities which marked some of the rabbinical teachers." (A New Standard Bible Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls Co., pp. 176-177). And so the modernists set aside the omniscience of the Son of God, the plain statements of Scripture, and claim for themselves superior knowledge to God's Son. This theory is answered in the main by the remarks relative to the preceding theory. Suffice it to say that for the believer of the Bible it is a simple choice in whether to believe the plain statements of Scripture or to accept the anti-scriptural theory of Jesus being in error and ignorance.

At this point let’s notice a basic fallacy in the Modernist’s denial of the existence of demons in Biblical times. He illogically reasons thusly: “I have never seen a demon. No one in this present age has ever seen, or been able to prove the existence of demons. Demons are beyond the range of experience of the present age, so they didn’t exist in Biblical times.” Such reasoning places everything upon the basis of experience. By such reasoning I could “prove” that Napoleon Bonaparte never existed. I nor anyone of this present world has ever seen Napoleon, so he must not have ever existed! McClintock & Strong says, “No one has a right to eviscerate the strong expression of Scripture in order to reduce its declarations to a level with our own ignorance.” (II p. 642.) Translated into simpler language, this simply means, “Your (the modernist) ignorance of demons, no matter how great, can set aside my (the New Testament writers) knowledge, no matter how small.”

In reply to the Modernist’s flat assertion that demons didn’t exist in New Testament times, and Jesus did not really cast out demons, we simply say, “Vas you dere, Charlie? “

Non-Canonical Writings of the Jews

The Modernist makes a great deal of the absurdities of the non-canonical Jewish writings concerning demonology. The modernist states that Jesus got his doctrine of demonology from His Jewish heritage. He further states that since the Jewish superstitions are so absurd as to be patently false, then the New Testament writings concerning demons is likewise merely superstitions of an ignorant age and people.

Let’s give ourselves to an examination of these objections presented by the Modernist and see if they are so.

It is absolutely correct that the Jews (as well as the Gentiles) had many absurd and ridiculous ideas concerning demons, but their misconceptions in no way invalidate the actuality of the existence of demons, no more than the existence of many false religions would invalidate the divine origin of Christianity, or the Book of Mormon invalidate the truth of the Bible. In fact, a study of the Jewish ideas as compared with the New Testament teaching on demonology will only serve to prove the validity of the New Testament testimony.

To say that Jesus’ teaching concerning demons came from the Jewish ideas is absolutely false. The difference in the Jewish concepts and His is as the difference between black and white. Alfred Edersheim stated, “Those who contend that the representations of the Evangelists are identical with the popular 3ewish notions of the time, must be ill acquainted with the latter.” (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, I, p. 482.) He adds, “Greater contrast could scarcely be conceived than between what we read in the New Testament and the views and practices mentioned in Rabbinic writings.” (Ibid., II p. 776.)

The statement that Jesus and his disciples were mistaken in their belief in the existence of demons that they “seem rather to have shared in the popular demonology, although they never committed themselves to the absurdities which marked some of the rabbinical teachers.” (A New Standard Bible Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls Co., pp. 176-177), leaves the wrong impression. It was not a matter of “some” of the rabbis teaching errors. The whole rabbinical library is “riddled” with absurdities and errors.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume II, gives an excellent contrast in four different points between noncanonical writings and the New Testament testimony on demonology. This I shall present with additional materials from other sources.

“The most marked and significant fact of New Testament demonology is that it provides no materials for a discussion of the nature and characteristics of demons.

The presence among New Testament writers of an influence curbing curiosity and restraining the imagination is of all things the most important for us to discover and emphasize. In four of its most vital features the New Testament attitude on this subject differs from all popular conceptions:

  1. in the absence of all imaginative details concerning demons;
  2. in the emphasis placed upon the moral character of demons and their connection with the ethical disorder of the human race;
  3. in the absence of confidence in magical methods of any kind in dealing with demons;
  4. in its intense restrictions of the sphere of demoniacal operations.”

(Louis Matthews Sweet, I. S. B. E., II, p. 828.)

The Contrast

The Origin, Nature, Characteristics or Habits of Demons

The New Testament tells us practically nothing. In contrast with this reticence of New Testament writers is not only the heathen writers, but the non-canonical writings of the Jews, and even the church Fathers (see article one). The Book of Enoch states that demons are fallen angels, while Josephus holds that they are the spirits of the wicked dead. In rabbinical writings speculation has run riot as to their origin, nature and habits. Demons “are represented as the offspring of Adam and Eve in conjunction with male and female spirits, as being themselves sexed and capable of reproduction as well as performing all other physical functions. Details are given of their number, haunts and habits, of times and places where they are especially dangerous, and of ways and methods of breaking their power. Full sweep is also given to the imagination in descriptive narratives, oftentimes of the most morbid and unwholesome character, of their doings among men.” (Ibid.)

Edershiem mentions, from among the rabbinical writings, that “their number can scarcely be limited, since they propagate themselves, resembling men in this as well as in their taking of nourishment and dying… like the Angels they have wings, pass unhindered through space, and know the future… they are produced by a process of transformation from vipers, which, in the course of four times seven years, successively pass through the forms of vampires, thistles and thorns, into Shedim (demons).” (Edersheim, Op. cit., II, p. 710.) These Shedim may take the form of man, but they will not reflect the same likeness as of a man. Some of the Shedim have defects. Those who live in the caper bushes are blind. Trees; gardens, vineyards and ruined and desolate houses are their favorite abodes, and they especially like dirty places. Nighttime and before the cock crowing are their favorite time of appearance. It is dangerous to go to their habitations alone, and dangerous to sleep in a house alone. They are especially dangerous on the eves of Wednesday and the Sabbath. But they have no power over that which has been counted, measured, tied up and sealed. They could be conquered by the “Ineffable Name” and they could be banished by the use of certain formulas, which, when written and worn, served as amulets.

“Legions of demons lay in waiting for any error or failing on the part of man. Their power extended over all even numbers. Hence, care must be had not to drink an even number of cups, except on the Passover night, when the demons have no power over Israel.” (Ibid., p. 762.)

“As Shedim have cock’s feet, nothing more is required than to strew ashes by the side of one’s bed, when in the morning their marks will be perceived.” (Ibid., p. 763.)

The Talmud gives the infallible means whereby one can see the demons. “Take the afterbirth of a black cat which is the daughter of a black cat–both mother and daughter being firstborn–burn it in the fire, and put some of the ashes in your eyes. Before using, the ashes must be put into an iron tube, and sealed with an iron signet.” (Ibid.)

Ethetics

In the New Testament the demon is an ethically evil being. Contemporary Jewish and Gentile writings pictured demons as “mischievous fairies” with no particular allegiance to, nor connection with Satan and his forces of evil. In the New Testament demons are of the kingdom of Satan, and Christ’s power is shown to extend over these evil spirits.

Magic Rites

New Testament demonology differs from all others in its negation of the power of magic rites to deliver the afflicted from his affliction. Many ancient Babylonian incantations have been discovered. Likewise among the Jews was found the idea of expulsion of demons by magic and magical rites.

Jewish Magic

The Jews were strictly forbidden to practice magic, but by the traditions of the Jews it had been declared lawful to practice magic, under certain circumstances, even on the Sabbath. Egypt was regarded as the home of magic. “In connection with this, it deserves notice that the Talmud ascribes the miracles of Jesus to magic, which he had learned during His stay in Egypt, having taken care, when He left, to insert under His skin its rules and formulas, since every traveler, on quitting the country was searched, lest he should take to other lands the mysteries of magic.” (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, p. 772.) It should be noticed that the Jews did not deny the miracles of the early church, but simply attributed their source to magic.

The Jews had six classes of magicians.

  1. The conjuror of the dead, who evoked a voice from under the armpit, or from other members of the dead body, the arms or other members being struck together to elicit the sound. Necromancy might be practiced in two ways. The dead might be called by a method in which the feet would appear upwards. This must not be practiced on the Sabbath. The second method: by means of magic, a skull might be made to answer. This could be practiced on the Sabbath. Or a demon might be called up to speak by means of incense.
  2. Yideoni uttered oracles by putting a certain bone into their mouth.
  3. Then there were the serpent charmers.
  4. The Meonen could indicate the days or hours, which were lucky.
  5. The “searcher after the dead” remained fasting on graves in order to communicate with an unclean spirit.
  6. The Menachesh knew what omens were lucky and what unlucky.

Many, varied, and ridiculous were the magical formulas, cures, incantations and methods of exorcism. We reproduce a few as illustrative of their general nature: They are taken from Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, p. 775.

“To ward off any danger from drinking water on a Wednesday or Sabbath-Evening, when evil spirits may rest on it, it is advised either to repeat a passage of Scripture in which the word Qol (‘Voice’) occurs seven times (Psalms 29:3-9), or else to say this: ‘Lul, Shaphan, Anigron, Anirdaphin – between the stars I sit, betwixt the lean and the fat I walk!’

“Here is an incantation against boils: ‘Bas, Baziyah, Mas, Masiya, Kas, Kasiyah, Sharlai and Amarlai – ye Angels that come from the land of Sodom to heal painful boils! Let the colour not become more red, let it not farther spread, let its seed be absorbed in the belly. As a mule does not propagate itself, so let not this evil propagate itself in the body of M. the son of M.”‘

In the apocryphal book of Tobit, chapter 8, verses 1-3, we have a legend of exorcism by means of fumigation: ” When they had finished eating, they escorted Tobias in to her. As he went he remembered the words of Raphael, and he took the live ashes of incense and put the heart and liver of the fish upon them and made a smoke. And when the demon smelled the odor he fled to the remotest parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him.”

This same superstition is found among the seven sons of Sceva mentioned in Acts l9, who thought that Paul’s “magic words” were adjuration in the name of Jesus. But these men learned a lesson the hard way. See Acts 19:13-16.

Now, notice the contrast in New Testament demonology. “While the New Testament furnishes no data by which to learn the views of Jesus or of the evangelists regarding the exact character of the phenomenon, it furnishes the fullest details as to the manner in which the demonized were set free. This was always the same. It consisted neither in magical means nor formulas pf exorcism, but always in the Word of Power which Jesus spake, or entrusted to His disciples, and which the demons always obeyed. There is here not only difference, but contrariety in comparison with the current Jewish notions, and it leads to the conclusion that there was the same contrast in His views, as in His treatment of the ‘demonised.”‘ (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, I, p. 482.)

Activities

In the New Testament the range of activities attributed to demons is greatly restricted. In the Babylonian writings demons are said to be lurking everywhere, watching for their prey. This same exuberance is found in the non-canonical writings of the Jews. The writings attribute “all kinds of ills of mind and body to innumerable, swarming hosts of demons lying wait for men and besieging them with attacks and ills of all descriptions. Of this affluence of morbid fancy there is no hint in the New Testament.” (Sweet op. cit., p. 629.)

From this summary study the contrast is so abundantly evident that no serious charge of similarity between the New Testament demonology and that of uninspired literature could be entertained by anyone. To the contrary there is a great gulf between the sane and subdued doctrine of demonology as found in the Bible and the absurd superstitions that have flowed from the prolific imaginations of countless uninspired men.

The New Testament on Demons

There are in the New Testament, including repetitions, only about 80 references to demonology. There are many things not said concerning this subject that the natural curiosity of man would desire to know, but which God has not seen fit to reveal. In view of the limited information that we have, we should be careful in the conclusions we draw. For this reason this writer shall not attempt to argue some of the knotty problems surrounding this subject. I shall not even try to explain what the writers intended to express in some of their statements, but shall simply state the passage, and leave the exegesis upon the reader.

As to the origin of evil spirits, there is controversy as to whether the demons are fallen angels (Dr. William Smith, Smith's Bible Dictionary) or the departed spirits of wicked men. (As a sub-heading under this it might be noted that some argue that demons are the disembodied spirits of a Pre-Adamic world.) To the latter view (departed spirits of wicked men) brother J. W. McGarvey subscribed in these words: "In the Jewish usage of the term it is applied exclusively to the departed spirits of wicked men. This usage was adopted by Jesus and the Apostles, and consequently all that is said of demons in the New Testament agrees with it." (Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 78.) Josephus spoke of demons as "the spirits of the wicked that enter into men that are alive." (War of the Jews, 7:6:3.)

The writer of the article on "demon" in McClintock & Strong holds to the former view as being more likely and gives the following reasons. He is called the prince of the demons; the demons whom our Lord cast out are collectively called Satan (Matthew 12:24-29; Luke 13:16). The phrase "unclean spirits" which is applied to them (Matthew 10: 1; Mark 3:11; 6:7) is applied also to fallen angels (Revelation 16:13; 18:2), and even in the singular to Satan himself (Mark 3:30, cf. v. 22). From this the writer inferred that the demons are of the same class as Satan himself, and that they must be the same as "the angels of the devil." (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:7,9).

The New Testament writers believed in the existence of demons. They speak of their existence (James 2:19; Revelation 9:20), describe their nature (Luke 4:33; 6:18), and their activity (I Timothy 4:1; Revelation 16:14), mention their expulsion from human bodies (Luke 9:42), suggest their organization under Satan (Matthew 12:26; Ephesians 6:12), indicate their abode (Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:11), and point out their final doom (Matthew 25:41). Christ likewise indicated the same belief. He commanded his disciples to cast out demons (Matthew 10:1), cast them out Himself (Matthew 15:22, 28), rebuked them (Mark 5:8), had complete power over I them (Matthew 12:29), and viewed his conquest over them as over Satan (Luke 10:17-18).

Merrill F. Unger in his book, Biblical Demonology, states concerning the intellectual nature of demons:

"That evil spirits are believed to possess superhuman knowledge, especially foreknowledge, is attested by the widespread practice of seeking oracles from them. If Plato's etymology of daimon from an adjective signifying "knowing" or "intelligent" is correct, it hints at intelligence as the basic characteristic in the conception of demons. Scripture, moreover, uniformly emphasizes their perspicacity: they know Jesus (Mark 1:24), bow before Him (Mark 5:6), speak of Him as the 'Son of the Most High God' (Mark 5:7), realize that there can be no fellowship between light and darkness, between Him and them (Luke 8:28), entreat favor of Him (Luke 8:31), obey Him (Matthew 8:16), withhold knowledge of His incarnation and finished sacrifice: (1 John 4:1-3), prevent and corrupt sound doctrine (I Timothy 4:1-3), discern between those sealed by God and those unsealed (Revelation 9:4), and comprehend the future, and their own inevitable doom" (Matthew 8:29). (Page 66.)

And,

"Coupled with their superhuman intelligence and moral viciousness is an amazing strength. They have power over the human body to cause dumbuess (Matthew 9:32-33), blindness (Matthew 12:22), insanity (Luke 8:26-36), suicidal mania (Mark 9:22), (Urger's interpretation of this passage I question. JCR) personal injuries (Mark 9:18), and various physical defects and deformities. (Luke 13:11-17.) They are represented as being of various degrees of wickedness. (Matthew 12:45.) Their titanic energy is seen in the supernatural strength they can impart to the human body" (Luke 8:29). (Pages 67-68.)

Is there a clear-cut distinction made in the New Testament between mental and bodily illness and demoniacal possession? Or is the Modernist right when he says demonology was "merely a Jewish hypothesis to account for bodily and mental diseases and for the visible effects on body and will of enslavement of sin." (John D. Davis, A Dictionary of the Bible.)

I think the Bible does make a distinction. To what has preceded in this series of articles I add the following testimony.

There are about 80 references, including repetitions, to demonology in the New Testament. "In 11 instances the distinction between demon-possession and diseases ordinarily caused is clearly made. (Matthew 4:24; 8:16; 10:8; Mark 1:32-34; 6:13; 16:17-18; Luke 4:40-41; 9:1; 13:32; Acts 19:12). The results of demon-possession are not exclusively mental or nervous. (Matthew 9:32-33; 12:22). They are distinctly and peculiarly mental in two instances only (Gadarenes maniac, Matthew 8:28 and parallels, and Acts 19:13f). Epilepsy is specified in one case only. (Matthew 17:15.) There is a distinction made between diseases caused by demons and the same disease not so caused." (cf. Matthew 12:22; 15:30). (Sweet, I.S.B.E., 11, p. 829.)

One of the many interesting questions that comes up in a study of demonology is whether demons exist in this present age, with the powers they had in the first century, and if they do not exist today with these powers, when did this "age" cease. This writer does not feel qualified to answer this question. Many contend that this passed away with the miraculous age of the first century. While unable to answer the above-mentioned question, I do feel safe in saying that if demons are operating in the world today as they did in Biblical times, there is no one with power from God to cast out such demons, since this miraculous power passed away in the first century, with the death of the apostles and those upon who they laid their hands. (I Corinthians 13:8-10, James 1:25, Acts 8:18.)

There are those who answer the above question affirmatively. In Lard's Quarterly of 1865, 11, p. 288, L. B. Wilkes sets forth his reasons for believing that demons still influence the affairs and the bodies of beings here on this earth. We refer you to this article for further study of this particular point.

In conclusion I quote from brother J. W. McGarvey: "In what way these wicked spirits gained possession of men; under what condition of mind or body a person was exposed to the possession; what degree of natural consciousness was still retained by the demoniac; and at what periods of history this strange phenomenon began and ended (if it is ended, JCR), are questions which remain as yet unchanged. That the phenomenon was, however, as it is represented on the sacred page, . . . is proved by the manner in which Jesus dealt with the demons," (Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 78.)

I am sure that this will stand as the persuasion of those who believe the Bible to be indeed the word of God.

Footnote:

The major portion of this article is taken from McClintock & Strong, II, 639-642.