by Allon Maxwell
Both Old and New Testaments describe the unique form of mental affliction or torment, sometimes accompanied by physical disability, which is attributed to, variously, a "demon", an "evil spirit", or an "unclean spirit". In several parallel references these terms appear to be interchangeable.
The Bible uses the word "spirit" in many ways. Not all of these refer to a personal being.
For instance, when joined with the word, "Holy", it refers to the divine energy by which God performs His work, or maintains His personal presence within the minds and hearts of His servants.
Sometimes it refers to a person's own inner "essence", which decides the nature of the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
In other places it refers to the teaching and influence of a human person who shapes the thoughts and actions of others.
In many places the word means nothing more than "breath" or "wind".
The Bible also describes the possible influence on false prophets and false Christians, of "lying spirits" or "another spirit", or "the spirit of Antichrist", or "the spirit of error".
These cases describe influences on the human mind which, in some way, attempt to counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they appear to have personality. Most often they do not.
THE PERSONALITY OF DEMONS
In those cases where "spirits" or "demons" are used as alternative names for the same thing, the Bible certainly does appear to attribute personality to them.
In some cases, demons are described as acting and speaking in personal ways. They are able to take over the mind and body of those they afflict, causing them to speak and act as though they are under the control of some other being.
Behaviour is abnormal, attention seeking, and often bizarre. It is clearly quite out of character, when compared with the person's normal behaviour, in their own right mind.
This is not "ordinary" mental illness, in which behaviour, though abnormal, is clearly the product of the person's own distorted mental perceptions.
Nor is the loss of sight, speech, or hearing, which sometimes occurs, the same thing as that which results from "ordinary" physical or psycho-somatic causes.
This mental affliction is characterised by the clearly recognisable presence of an additional alien personality which is quite separate and distinct from the person themselves. Someone else or something else is visibly in control.
This invading personality is the "demon". If this "other" control cannot be observed, there is no demon present.
When the demon has gone, the person is immediately healed and in their right mind.
The condition does not require any special spiritual gift of "discernment" to diagnose it. Even the ordinary layman of Jesus' day could recognise the condition for what it was and bring the afflicted to Jesus for help.
WHAT ARE DEMONS?
The Bible does not clearly reveal exactly what demons are, or where they come from.
The popular theology that demons are fallen angels, or immortal beings with almost unlimited power, has no basis in Scripture.
That theory comes from pushing several Scriptural references far beyond what is actually said.
One common view of the day, found in the writings of the historian Josephus, was that demons are actually the earthbound spirits of dead evil men, who wander the earth seeking and sometimes finding, another human body to replace the one lost in death.
Of course, this theory cannot be true, for contrary to popular theology, the Bible makes it quite plain that the dead are really dead, with no conscious existence at all.
However this information from Josephus does perhaps throw some light on the subject, allowing for a much more intellectually satisfying speculation than the "fallen angel theory".
THE BIBLE MENTIONS THIS PAGAN BELIEF
In a few places, the Bible does take note of the mistaken pagan belief that the dead go on living in another plane.
According to Moses, God unequivocally forbids any attempt to communicate with the spirits of the dead through mediums with "familiar spirits". The Old Testament says repeatedly that this is a sin, greatly offensive to God. The penalty is death.
Although it is clearly impossible to communicate with someone who no longer has any conscious existence, and although most mediums are eventually exposed as frauds, the Bible does recognise the existence of "something" to which some of those Old Testament mediums could gain access through their "familiar". This "something" whatever it is, impersonates the dead, deceiving those who commit this sin, and separating them from God. It is communication with these impersonating "spirits", whatever they are, which is so strongly forbidden by God.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul refers to idols as "demons". This appears to be another use of the word which reflects the language of the belief mentioned by Josephus.
The idols are of course, the product of mythology surrounding the deeds of long dead men and women, who over a period of time, eventually came to be deified and worshipped.
Christians, Paul tells us, may not share in any partnership at all, with the demons who lie hidden behind these dumb idols of the pagan religions. Although the idols themselves are unquestionably nothing at all, it seems that the occult practises of some of their devotees can tap the same demonic spiritual forces which are found at work in mediums.
In some of these pagan religions, (such as modern voodoo) the ultimate experience of worship occurs when the devotee becomes "possessed" by the god.
This may explain Paul's oblique reference to spiritual forces experienced by some members of the Corinthian Church, which he relates to the time when they were "led astray after dumb idols". Whatever it was that moved them then, it was certainly not the Holy Spirit, and he did want not them to remain ignorant about the difference between the real thing and the demonic counterfeit.
A further similar use of language is found in the prophecy in the Revelation 16,13-14, which speaks of the influence of "spirits of demons", which deceive the world to gather the nations to the final great battle of Armageddon.
It might not be an unreasonable speculation to regard this as a reference to such long dead men as Mohammed, Karl Marx, Voltaire, and many mainstream "Church Fathers", whose words (spirits) still influence the actions of the living in our generation, breeding hatred in the hearts of men who live without Jesus.
A very significant proportion of the politics and religion of the world, is controlled by the spiritual descendants of these men. It may well be their lasting influence, about which the Apostle John speaks, which, in the prelude to Armageddon, will be accompanied by miraculous signs, manifested in ways yet to be revealed.
All of that still leaves me ignorant of what a demon really is. Like others, I can speculate, but I must emphasise that since the scriptures are silent about this, it can be NO MORE THAN SPECULATION.
My personal SPECULATION is that demons are "spirit beings" of some sort. I think this is clearly indicated by the language of the Bible when it discusses their behaviour. It seems to me that it requires a great deal of intellectual dishonesty to decide otherwise.
However, that really leaves me no further ahead. Since the Bible does not clearly tell me exactly what such a "spirit being" is, I am unable to go much beyond that fairly meaningless speculation.
This much I do know (and only this much) :-
Whatever it is that impersonates the dead in a seance; whatever it is that can believe God and tremble; whatever gives rise to the bizarre behaviour of the "possessed"; or occasionally produces unexplained supernatural occult manifestations; THAT is what the Bible calls a demon.
THE IMPORTANT ISSUE
It is not what the Bible leaves open to speculation which matters. There are other things which the Bible does reveal about demons, which are much more important.
The Bible does tell me what these "spirits" can do, and how to recognise the problem.
It also tells me how to deal with the problem, and most important of all, how to find the AUTHORITY necessary to deal with the problem in the same way that Jesus did.
That is useful information! (assuming of course that we do find a REAL case of someone with the problem and that there are Biblical grounds for dealing with it.)
THE DANGER OF THE COUNTERFEIT
The Bible gives a clear description of the behaviour of a number of cases of those afflicted with the condition.
These recorded symptoms define the Biblical limits for diagnosing the condition.
This contains a warning for the cautious, who value the truth of the Bible. It has become common, especially amongst Pentecostals, to attribute a multitude of other problems, not mentioned by the Bible in this context, to demon influence. I have heard famous preachers of this persuasion claim that almost anything is the result of demon influence, including disease, physical injuries, bad habits (such as smoking or nail biting), and worst of all, even unconquered sin.
This is dangerous ground. Many have been deceived and damaged by such ministries. In countless cases, people ignorant of what the Bible really says, have been led astray. Even though the problem is not demonic at all, they are persuaded to open themselves as mediums or hosts for an evil spirit. They are persuaded to submit themselves to "deliverance ministry", in which prolonged noise, hyper-ventilation and other mind bending techniques, are used to induce the appearance of a demon.
Some of the techniques encountered are disturbingly similar to those used by mediums and Voodoo priestesses. Sometimes it takes hours to produce results. Sometimes the demon appears almost immediately. Either way, it seems that in such cases, the consent of the victim can actually open the door for the entry of a demon, which was never there in the first place.
This is NOT Biblical "deliverance".
It is a modern form of the sin of trafficking with spirits , described in the Old Testament.
God says that those who practise it are an abomination to Him. It can lead to some spectacular manifestations, greatly satisfying to the ego of those involved, but it does nothing of any real worth for either the minister or the victim.
The worst feature of this particular deception, is that those who are persuaded to blame their sins on the influence of a demon close the door to true repentance.
Forgiveness for sin and victory in temptation require that we accept personal responsibility to deal with the inner desires that, unchecked, lead to sin. Love for God, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is called "self control", is the cure for sin.
Casting out a demon is not ever mentioned anywhere in the Bible, in this context.
HOW DO DEMONS GAIN CONTROL?
Apart from those cases where mediums make themselves willing hosts for demons, the Bible mentions only two other cases which explain how demons gain control of their victims.
In one an evil spirit is SENT BY GOD, to torment the back-slidden King Saul.
In the other, a "lying spirit" RECEIVES PERMISSION FROM GOD to deceive false prophets and those willing to receive their lies.
In these cases, "spirits", clearly, are subject to God's control. (The Devil is NOT mentioned!)
THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS
This information about the source of the problem explains the authority and ease with which Jesus dealt with these cases. A simple command spoken with the authority vested in Him by His Father, reversed God's permission for the demon to inhabit the mind of the afflicted person, producing the same immediate result as if God Himself had spoken.
Certainly there were sometimes loud cries, foaming at the mouth, and violent bodily reactions, but the demon, whatever it was, left. The person was instantly in their right mind, fully restored and healed.
There is no warrant anywhere in scripture for the long, loud, and exhausting verbal battles described in some of the highly questionable, but popular books of our time.
DELEGATED AUTHORITY FOR DISCIPLES
Jesus has delegated authority to true disciples to recognise and deal with this problem, in a Biblical fashion, where it is appropriate.
THE WARNING FROM JESUS
Lest we come under the same rebuke as the seventy, let us remember that it is much, much more important that our names are written in Heaven, than that we are able to cast out demons. If we fail to observe that priority, ability to cast out demons is worthless.
We are also told that there will be false prophets who claim to have cast out demons, who Jesus will refuse to recognise in the Day of Judgement, because of their evil deeds.
It is also not unlikely that there will be others, whose presumption will lead them into the same instant retribution as those Jews who used the names of Jesus and Paul, without really knowing what that meant.
CAN A CHRISTIAN HAVE A DEMON?
This particular form of mental affliction is not unique to pagans or unbelievers.
The case of King Saul indicates that it also seems to be an affliction visited on sinners who have removed themselves from the protection of God. Saul's rebellion against God caused the Holy Spirit to depart from him, leaving place for the evil spirit sent by God.
However let us be clear about this case. It did not happen easily or casually, for minor sin. This was no ordinary sinner. This was a man gone far, far, away from God.
The example of King Saul shows us that it would certainly be possible for a Christian to backslide in the same way, with the same consequences.
However, there is not one case in the Bible where a Christian, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and walking in the Spirit, was ever subject to this affliction.
It is far beyond the warrant of Scripture to teach that the Holy Spirit can or will dwell side by side with an evil spirit, in the mind and body of a real child of God.
THE DANGER OF TOO MUCH
There are those who claim much more than the Bible says, in their theology about demons.
That is very dangerous, since it often leads to disastrous consequences for victims of wrong actions, based on wrong foundations.
"Deliverance Ministry" can in fact be a SIN involving occult practises, which separates those who do such things from the Kingdom of God.
THE DANGER OF TOO LITTLE
There are others who deny the reality of the Bible's words about demons, explaining it all away as the superstition of the ignorant and a figment of the imagination of the sick mind.
Jesus, they say, was simply accommodating Himself to the superstitions of time, using language which He did not believe Himself, to trick the unfortunate victims of the demon into believing that they had been cured of a problem which did not really exist!
That, however, is totally unacceptable, for it would make Jesus a deceiver.
Further, it requires a great deal of intellectual dishonesty to manipulate the Scriptures to reach this conclusion.
More important still, that conclusion offers no answers at all for those who suffer this torment.
Whatever it was that sought permission from Jesus, then left the Gadarene demoniac, entered a herd of some two thousand swine, and then destroyed them in suicidal frenzy, ..... whatever THAT was, ..... it was certainly NOT the product of mere superstition, nor was it a figment of anyone's imagination!
THE GOSPEL IMPLICATIONS
Jesus did have an answer for this affliction of the human mind. That answer is described clearly in the Gospels.
The healing of demoniacs was, Jesus said, a work of the Holy Spirit and clear proof that the Kingdom of God had come upon the Pharisees. In the face of that proof, their rejection of Him as the Messiah, amounted to the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
That is a lot to claim, if what Jesus did was based on something He did not believe Himself!
The problem of demons is less common in our western culture than it was in Israel in the first century. It is also far less common than some of our Pentecostal brethren would have us believe.
However Jesus did say that it would be one of the signs by which He would confirm the preaching of the Gospel by those who are truly sent by Him.
It is a sign given by Jesus, to follow those who believe the Gospel in truth, live the Gospel in truth, and preach it in truth.
The Gospel preached by Jesus has not changed.
It must still be true today that the Good News about Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, contains the same hope of release for the victims of this affliction, as it did then in the first century.