Of Demons, Demoniacs and Devils: Part I

What a truly strange topic to discuss in our modern world. Most educated people in western civilization categorize the idea of demons and possession as lunacy or delusion, not only in the present world but also especially in the past when people believed in the invisible forces of nature and worshipped gods and goddesses. For one who claims to be both sane and a Christ follower I should be prepared to make a defense of my beliefs since they are founded on the Bible which does speak of demons, evil spirits, and devils and the great Adversary, the Satan. Do I believe that demons and devils are at work in our world today? Do I believe people can be possessed or for that matter influenced by some evil, invisible spiritual identity? Does the Bible really speak of demonic possession?

Well, these are fair questions and ones that have disturbed me for years. If I am a conservative Christian and believe that the Bible is the infallible work of inspiration from God, what do I do with the existence of demons in the days when the New Testament was written and their seemingly minimal ‘invasion’ of our world today? Why are there no angelic visitations today for that matter? What happened to miraculous manifestations of God? I think I have asked too many questions already but I do have some ideas gleaned from the scriptures that answer well enough for my own contentment. In this study, I will look at the first question. Were demons real? Where did they come from? Where did they go? Why aren’t they hanging around waiting to possess someone today? Or are they? Let’s take it one step at a time.

First, if demons are real what does the Bible say of their origin? The short answer is that the Bible is silent about their origin but not about their existence. The word demon is used the Old Testament (OT) in only a few places, typically referring to the false worship of gods other than Yahweh, the God of the Jews. Moses records that His nation had

“… moved him (God) to jealousy with strange gods; With abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto demons, which were no God, to gods that they knew not, to new gods that came up of late, which your fathers dreaded not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that gave thee birth.” Deuteronomy 32:16-18.

And in another place where the Psalmist recorded the history of the nation’s disgraceful behavior, the false gods are called demons.

They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them,
but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.
They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan and the land was polluted with blood.  Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds. Psalms 106:34-39.

In several other places reminiscent of these two passages the language indicts the people of God as worshippers of devils, typically some form of idolatry and usually associated with a sacrifice – often child sacrifice. The devils or demons were the idols that the people worship. Other than the shameful and often murderous acts of sacrifice that these false gods demanded, they are not defined much in the way of personality: Satan being an exception to this observation. I’ll return to him at a later time. Please notice that no demonic possession is spoken of in the OT although there are some extra-biblical Jewish interpretations of such possession. It is however alluded to in Zechariah 13:2 (read the whole chapter to see it is Messianic). This is the very verse that tells of a day when the Lord would silence the prophets and remove the “unclean spirits” from the land. Whether the OT ancients were disturbed by demons we are not told. But the fact that they had prophets that would one day be silenced indicated that they had dealings with demons even before Christ came on the scene. Also, I should mention that there were occasions when “evil spirits” were sent from the presence of God to torment some vile ruler of God’s people; for example King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). But what made the spirit evil, the fact that the ruler was made unhappy by the influence of that spirit or that God made the spirit evil? I hold to the former view.

 

In the New Testament (NT) Paul quotes from some of these OT passages when referring to the sacrificial worship of non-Jewish nations – the Gentiles (see 1 Corinthians 10:20). However, in the NT, not only is personality attributed to demons but these spirits seem to require a host to manifest (Mark 5:3-15, Mark 3:11). Through possessed people, the evil spirit did evil things or caused unusual disease (Mark 1: 23-27, Matthew 17: 14-18, Matthew 12:22). They could speak and recognize who Jesus was and they knew of the Apostle Paul (Luke 4:41, Mark 1:34, Acts 19:15). They must have had names at one time as Jesus asked for their names (Luke 8:30-36). Besides blindness or dumbness or lunacy, the demons may have had predictive powers or some power to deceive people to think so, through their possession of another person (Acts 15:15-16). In certain cases, they also seemed to have given their host extra human strength (Mark 5:1-9, Acts 19:11-16). We are never told how the “evil spirits” took up residence in humans. But they spoke and shrieked and thrashed about through those they inhabited; preferring rather to be cast into a herd of swine (Mark 5:12) than to be tormented “before the time.” When cast out, their consciousness roamed the “waterless places” or desert places (Matthew 12:43). They drove their host to convulse and to seek refuge in tombs (Matthew 8:28). The NT often refers to possession by “unclean spirits” (Matthew 12:43-44). The meaning refers to their moral state rather than filth.

Today many scholars consider demonic possession as described in the Bible as a superstition brought on by ignorance and misdiagnosed medical maladies.  These were misinterpreted as spiritual forces of the unseen world. If such is the case even Jesus was ignorant of this misdiagnosis and what would that say of his claim to be deity? The NT always recognizes spirits, even unclean spirits, as personal beings. Diseases do not generally give a person the supernatural knowledge to speak as the demon did when they cried out to Jesus, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5:7). Diseases don’t bargain for a little more ‘earth time’ before the final judgment as Legion did in Luke 8:30-33! So as honest disciples we must deal with demons as real entities that blighted mankind at least for the period of time that Jesus walked the earth.

While the Bible is silent concerning the origin of demons, evil spirits if you will, there are some hypotheses that make sense. Both apocryphal writings and Jewish interpretations of the scriptures may shed light on their origin. The Book of Enoch speaks of fallen angels, spiritual beings who left their first habitation and came down as the “Sons of God” to take women as wives (Genesis 6). The text suggests that their progeny were a race of mixed breed; half human and half divine. The Bible speaks of their children as the Nephilum, men of renown. The word Nephilum is a mystery and most suggest it connotes giant human beings. I have often wondered if the Greek myths of the demigods did not proceed from a reality known to the ancient people of that day. Men like Hercules and Perthius and the Sumerian King Galgamesh (a real person) are considered by non-Jewish ancestors as demigods and were heroes of the ancient mythology. The Book of Enoch details the names of some of the leaders of the angels that left their heavenly abode. Not only did these beings breed with humans, having left the spirit world and taken on flesh and blood, but they taught mankind how to mine for minerals and metals, make implements of war and showed women how to make medicinals. Enoch also says these “sons of God” taught the women cosmetics, and charms and introduced the use of drugs. He says the world was changed by the introduction of these beings recorded:

… “The spirits of the Angels who were promiscuous with women will stand here; and they, assuming many forms, made men unclean and will lead men astray so that they sacrifice to demons as gods. And they will stand there until the great judgment day, on which they will be judged, so that an end will be made of them.” (Book of Enoch 9.1)

It is an odd consideration that heavens holy inhabitants would have left that life for the sensual pleasures of human sexuality. But even the NT suggested, in the early days of the church, that women were to continue to veil themselves in modesty as godly women under the authority of their husbands to hide the glory of their hair “…because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10-15). As though through Christ the church, being redeemed back to God, brought humans  to proximity of angelic beings. For that reason women needed to maintain all modesty because of the angels. It is a difficult passage but indicates modesty in the church was important even to those in the spiritual realm. After all, as Paul pointed out to the early disciples it was the purpose of God to unite heaven and earth through the sacrifice of his son:

“… in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Ephesians 1:4-10

What has any of this to do with demons? Only that the Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures leaned heavily on the idea that supernatural beings visited this planet in such form as to procreate out of lust for women. They also taught men to sacrifice to them as gods. These “gods” were demons according to Enoch. Hence a possible origin of demons may be found in the pages of ancient Jewish philosophy. If you continue to read the 60 chapters of the Book of Enoch you will find these rebels die in the flood and imprisoned as spirits in the gloom of the underworld. Furthermore their offspring are left to roam the voids, never to possess either spiritual form or human flesh of their own. It has been suggested that these free roaming intelligences, the demigods, are the ones that possessed humans in the days when Jesus walked the earth.

The NT further indicates that certain evil angels who did not keep their first habitation (does this mean they left heaven and came down to earth?) were at some point bound (Jude 6). Those who sinned (yes, apparently angels can sin) were kept in Tartarus (Tartarus is the spiritual prison for the dead who are destined for condemnation at the judgment) to be kept in gloom to wait their punishment (II Peter 2:4). The sin of these angelic beings is alluded to by Jude as some kind of sexual uncleanness similar to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority (first estate), but left their proper dwelling (own habitation), he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 6-7.

The sin of those angels seems to be associated with the great flood in Noah’s day when Peter says,

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority ” (2 Peter 2:1-10).

A brief study done by Charles Smith of the Miami Bible College was written on the origin of demons entitled, The New Testament Doctrine of Demons, that I find worth noting. In his examination of the NT’s revelation of the nature of demons, he noted that the words used to refer to such entities signified superhuman powers, lesser deities and strange gods. The demons are called spirits and described as unclean (Matthew 10:1), evil (Luke 7:21), mute (Mark 9:26), diviners (Acts 16:16), deaf (Mark 9:25) or infirmed (Luke 13:1). As already noted, these “evil spirits” are shown to have intellect as they could recognize people like Jesus (Mark 5:7) and had emotions as they pleaded to avoid torment (Mark 5:7, Matthew 9:31). They trembled at the idea of their own final judgment by God (James 2:19).

We can establish that the Bible does accept and describes demons and demonic possession as a real problem, particularly as we see in the days of Jesus’ ministry. There are many other theories concerning the origin of demons and devils but all point to angels who rebelled against God who created them. Christians are familiar with this theme. Another theory suggests the Nephilum were men possess by fallen angels (demons) and that this was how the angels were able to engage in forbidden sexuality. To a large degree we simply don’t know how demons came to be, how they inhabit humans and why they were so abundant in the days of Jesus’ ministry. Although it does appear that the end of the OT age and the ushering in of the NT brought on, not only wars in our world, but in the spiritual world as well.

To summarize all this: angelic beings left their authorized positions in the spiritual realm, cohabited with women – a type of unlawful contact much like the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, to produce a mixed race of powerful human beings. After which, all humanity, save 8 persons, were destroyed in the flood. The rebel angels were confined to a prison in the spiritual realm but their offspring were left to exist in some kind of void. The angels demanded worship as gods; their offspring as roaming intelligences may have become the demons of the last days of the Old Testament age during the final battle between the spiritual hosts of wickedness and the disciples of the New Way of Christ now called Christianity (see Ephesian 6:11-13).

Yes, I know the Book of Enoch offers some strange stuff and it is not a Bible doctrine but an opinion on a very strange subject that bewilders most of us in this modern day. However, as we move forward, it should be noted that even Jude, the Lord’s half brother and a prophet in the church wrote a single book of the NT. In it he quoted, verbatim, from Enoch chapter two. If anything this may validate only that chapter as sacred text. On a more liberal note it may validate the entire book as having biblical authority… or at least add to our understanding of Bible times as do the contributions of the Jewish Historian Josephus. But this gets us off track.

In part two of this series the great Adversary of God and men will be discussed. Satan is rarely mentioned in the OT. Incidentally, this is also true of heaven, hell, the resurrection and the concept of eternal life. The NT is replete with references to Satan, his goal, his dominion and his demise. In part three I would like to look at the effects of Christ’s ministry, his death and his resurrection again as they pertain the end of the OT, the emergence of the NT and the ramifications of His current reign over all the kingdoms of the world on demons, demoniacs and the Devil.

 

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