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Article 41 - Demons
Jon Gary Williams
Demons are widely mentioned in literature contemporary with the New Testament. Demons meant different things to different cults and religions. They were given all types of grotesque forms and were thought to be everywhere. All sorts of things were attributed to them: unexplained illnesses, toothaches, outbursts of anger and natural disasters. However, in the Bible we have a different picture of demons. The Greek word is "daimonion," meaning "evil being" (figuratively, "evil spirit"). Thayer renders the term as, "A being inferior to God, superior to man."
What were demons?
A few widely accepted views include 1) myths and superstitions, 2) the offspring of angels and women and 3) a form of some "pre-Adamic" race and fallen angels.
A more rational and sensible view is that demons were spirits of deceased men. Many early writers, including Josephus, Philo, Plutarch and Justin Martyr, understood demons in this light. Many reliable Bible scholars have held this view, as did most scholars of the Restoration.
From Luke 8:31 the suggestion is that demons were from the "abyss" ("deep" KJV). Paul equates the "abyss" with the realm of the dead (Rom. 10:7). Thayer says demons were "the spirits of wicked men deceased." Whatever they were, God allowed them a degree of freedom, even to dwell in physical bodies. Their existence allowed Jesus and the apostles the ability to show power over the demonic world of Satan.
Attributes of demons
Demons were conscious, responsible beings, having the ability to perceive, reason and speak. They demonstrated attitudes of rage and hate. They could harm their victims. They were under Satan's control (Mk. 3:22,23). They uttered false doctrine (I Tim. 4:1). They knew their eventual doom (Mt. 8:29). They could believe and tremble (Jam. 2:19). They could demonstrate unusual strength (Mk. 5:4; Acts 19:16).
In regard to Jesus, demons knew Him (Mk. 1:24; Acts 19:16); worshipped Him (Mk. 5:6); called Him "Son of the Most High God" (Mk. 5:7); entreated Him (Lk. 8:31); were rebuked by Him (Mk. 1:25); were cast out by Him (Lk. 9:42); and were kept from speaking about Him (Mk. 1:34).
Of the more than one hundred instances demons are mentioned in the New Testament, twenty-six of these deal with demon possession. Demons had the ability and desire to inhabit human bodies. They possessed men (Matt. 8:28), women (Acts 16:16) and children (Matt. 15:22). They even possessed multiple human bodies at once (Mk. 5:8,9). They evidently preferred the bodies of pigs rather than inhabiting nothing at all (Mk. 5:12). Scripture tells us that "many" were possessed with demons (Matt. 8:16).
The possession of demons caused wild, fierce actions (Matt. 8:28-34), blindness and dumbness (Matt. 12:22; 17:14-18), personal injuries (Mk. 9:17,18), divination (Acts 16:16) and attacks (Acts 19:13-16).
Demon possession was not mental illness. Rather, demon possession was real. A distinction is made between mental illness and those actually possessed with demons. In Matthew 4:24 we read that Jesus healed, "...those which were possessed with devils and those which were lunatic..."
That demons were actually cast out is a matter of record
In the great commission Jesus said that this would occur (Mk. 16:17). Peter cast out demons (Acts 5:16). Philip cast out demons (Acts 8:7). Paul cast out demons (Acts 16:16-18; 19:12).
Casting out demons is not to be confused with so-called "exorcisms" of modern times. When Jesus and the apostles cast out demons, those beings departed immediately. The event was not prolonged for many days. Demons did not come out of their victims as "frogs," "bats," or "green blood." Demons did not argue or revile against Jesus and as seen in the modern depictions of demons, but rather were submissive and obedient.
Demons do not exist in the world today
Since the gifts of the miraculous age (including the power to cast out demons) have ceased (I Cor. 13:8-10), it follows that demon possession has also ceased. If they did exist today, of necessity the gift of casting them out would also still exist. But it does not! With the passing of the age of miracles and since the completion of the New Testament (God's final message to man), such things as demon possession and the miraculous appearance of angels no longer have a place in God's work. If demons were present today, there would be no doubt about it. No one could question it! Most everyone would have witnessed them.
Demons were real and they existed for a specific purpose - so Jesus and the apostles could show their power over the forces of Satan. (See I John 3:8) Demons no longer exist.