What does the Bible teach about demons?
CHAPTER 4 – DEMONS
The majority of Christians believe in the existence of disembodied evil spirits commonly known as 'demons'. They were supposedly cast out of heaven along with their ringleader Satan the Devil. In a nutshell, they are his agents of destruction. It is commonly believed that demons roam about, take possession of various individuals and are responsible for many unexplained phenomena, including mental disorders, acts of madness, and other gruesome occurrences. Victims of these demons are termed 'demoniacs'.
This chapter sets out to examine this subject of demons and will attempt to shed some light of truth on a serious matter where Christianity has strayed and has kept many in darkness for centuries.
DEMONS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In the Old Testament of the Bible the singular word ‘devil’ will not be found even if one diligently searches through its contents. The plural word ‘devils’ is found four times but there is no mention of the word in its singular form. It is imperative for us to fully understand the meaning of the word ‘devils’, and the fact that it comes from a different root word than the singular word, devil. Please refer to the last section of this chapter for a full explanation of the word, 'devils'.
The closest term which we can arrive at in the Old Testament to suggest demon, is ‘evil spirit’. This phrase was used to describe Saul’s (first king of Israel) condition when he was rejected by God because of his refusal to follow an instruction given to him by God. As a consequence of Saul’s deliberate disobedience, God responded by immediately withdrawing His Holy Spirit (God's power) from Saul. This he replaced with an ‘evil spirit’ which tormented Saul. God’s Holy Spirit departed from Saul and was 'transferred' to David who later replaced Saul as king of Israel. Here is what transpired..-
"Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him (David) in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him." (1 Sa 16:13-14)
In this astounding incident, what is very significant to note from the outset, is that the spirit of God was replaced by an evil spirit from God Himself. Strange as this may sound, it is the Bible truth. It cannot be twisted to suit our own belief or interpretation. Saul no longer had a good spirit, but an evil spirit. But we must make the point here that the original Hebrew of 'evil spirit' is rah (evil, wicked) and ruwach, (breath, wind; figuratively, a state of mind; as in jealous spirit (Num.5:14), or sorrowful spirit (1Sam.1:15). God providentially worked on the jealous tendencies of Saul to bring about a depressed state of mind. The problem was in Saul’s own mind.
For many, this would be an inconceivable thing for God to have done, since He is regarded as the essence of only good. How can God ever be involved in anything which is considered to be adverse? This is the human perspective of God, but God Himself informs us that He created both light and darkness (Isa 45:7). Let us now consider two other passages which reiterate the fact that the evil spirit which tormented Saul truly did come from God..-
"And on the morrow an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul...” (1 Samuel 18:10 RSV)
"And there was war again; and David went out and fought with the Philistines, and made a great slaughter among them, so that they fled before him. Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house... " (1 Samuel 19:8-9)
What is significant to note, is that on both occasions we see that the evil spirit proceeded from God; it did not come from any other source.
However this is not the only occasion recorded in the Old Testament, where an evil spirit was dispatched by God.
It also happened earlier during the period of the judges, when Abimelech was king of Israel. God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Here is the exact incident..-
"When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:" (Judges 9:22-23).
These incidents recorded in the Old Testament are sufficient proof to validate the fact that evil (calamity, disaster) does come from God. If we carefully read through the Old Testament, we will find other occasions where it is said that evil spirits were dispatched by God. Although this may appear not to be the God we perceive Him to be, He is the only potentate and the fountain of all power. Although this appears to be a difficult fact to accept and digest, it should nevertheless not be interpreted that God is evil.
Calamity or disaster from God emanates from Him only when we denounce His authority and commands, or create and put another God before Him. Evil proceeds from God as the last resort, when His spirit can no longer strive with man and wickedness is blown out of all proportion. Consider this circumstance which led God to rain fire and brimstone upon the sinful and wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Though through the eyes of man, it may appear a hideous thing for God to do, He had no alternative action but to destroy those cities with its abomination.
For those who believe that God only accepts the consequences of evil (disaster or calamity), this is poor reasoning of the scriptures; for it was God himself who stated to the Jews of old that disaster or calamity (evil) originates from Him. (See Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6; Job 2:10). What clearer evidence do we now need than what is recorded in the Bible, for us to accept the Biblical fact that calamity or disaster comes from no other source – but God? He can become a satan (adversary, see pages 17-20) to us when we provoke His anger which is like a consuming fire. He demonstrated this righteous anger time and time again to the stubborn Jews of old who constantly rebelled and opposed Him.
If God does not get indignant as some believe, then why should David in the Psalms complain to him about his afflictions and also went on to entrust his enemies to God for their destruction? Here are the actual words of David..-
"Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them." (Psalm 69:24).
David could not make such a request to God, if he didn’t know that God avenges the righteous by bringing disaster or calamity upon the wicked and those who wilfully disobey his commands. (Isaiah 26:20-21)
ORIGIN OF DISEASES
Many believe that certain diseases, particularly those that are hard to explain are not an act of God, but an act of the devil and his associates, the demons. They cannot imagine why a holy and righteous God could be involved with such adverse conditions. We have already considered the loathsome disease that afflicted Job. But as we pointed out, Job informed his misguided friends that it was the hand of God who touched him. (Job. 19:21).
Another good example is Moses who complained to God that he was not eloquent enough to go to Pharaoh as God’s spokesman. Here is God’s reply to him..-
"…Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?" (Exodus 4:11)
As we can deduce from this response, God is the author of human disabilities as well as good health. He has made everything. He wasn’t just accepting responsibility for some infirmities which had been caused by another power. Clearly God was saying to Moses, if He created those disabilities, He has the solutions to them also.
This incident recalls to mind a statement made by a friend of mine while he was delivering a lecture. He said that God did not bring the plagues upon Egypt, but rather he allowed nature to take its course. It would be an indictment upon God’s character to associate Him with evil. I could hardly believe my ears at hearing such a statement, that God did not directly send the plagues, but only accepted the responsibility. If we take the Bible to be the Word of God, there is no way we can deduce from Exodus 8 and 9 that the plagues upon Egypt were from any other source but God! This would be questioning the omnipotence (or unlimited power) of God and deliberately elevating some other power above Him. When God had led Israel from Egypt, He further said to them..-
"If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord, the one who heals you." (Exodus 15:26, GNT)
This citation is sufficient proof that God was directly involved in inflicting the plagues upon the Egyptians. How can God accept the responsibility of an act, if He has not done it? It would be preposterous. He is El Shaddai, God Almighty.
Consider when Jesus was questioned by his disciples in relation to a man who was born blind, and the possible reason for his blindness. Jesus gave this reply..-
"Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." (John 9:3)
Doesn't this reply given by Jesus, endorse the fact that the man's blindness was the manifestation of the work of God? Was the devil or his associate demons responsible for the man being blind? Diseases such as this, are manifested in various individuals as a consequence of the disobedience of one man, Adam, who allowed sin to enter this world. God's response to sin manifests itself in various forms such as diseases, for example blindness or deafness.
DEMONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament, we very often encounter the words devil, devils (demons in modern versions) and unclean spirits, which are used to describe the phenomenon – demon possession. These terms were commonly used to describe mental disorders, epilepsy, arthritis, dumbness, deaf mutes and insanity. It was thought that they were caused by evil spirits or demons which had entered the body of the afflicted person. The Jews believed these ideas, having adopted them from the cultures of Babylon and the Persians and Greeks where they had spent time in exile. We previously mentioned the Persian religion called Zoroastrianism which held that there were two gods, good and evil (see page 37).
When Jesus began casting out demons (healing strange illnesses), the Jews confronted him and attributed his healing power to a heathen god called Beelzebub to whom they ascribed the sovereignty of demons. They believed that Jesus was in league with the god who controlled the activities of the evil spirits, hence his great power over them. Here is the account which baffled the scornful Jews..-
"And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils." (Luke 11:14-15)
It can clearly be seen from the narrative that the dumb devil which Jesus rebuked and cast out was the dumbness in the man. This can be deduced from the fact that after Jesus had rebuked the demon, the man spoke. It is illogical to believe that dumb devils exist in reality! If they did, what caused this particular devil to be dumb? Jesus knew the thoughts of his critics, and spoke the following parable to them..-
"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils." (Luke 11:21-22)
What this illustrates is, that the power of God which Jesus had was far superior to the supposed power of Beelzebub. Jesus used the language of the day without any attempt to refute false beliefs. He calmly carried on with his mission in bringing relief to all those who were oppressed by the power of sin which is the ‘devil’ or 'demon' within us. What was more important to Jesus, was to do his Father's will and not to contend with the stiff-necked Jews about Beelzebub being a pagan idol (see 2 Kings 1:2-3).
Here is another revealing episode about a boy thought to be the victim of demon possession..-
"And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him." (Luke 9:38-39)
This is a clear case of an epileptic seizure which the boy’s father thought was caused by an evil spirit, but which medical science can now explain. The boy was foaming at the mouth and throwing himself about. There are people today who have this disease. Jesus showed himself supreme over the demon (disease) which was cast out and the boy was fully healed, healed from his epilepsy which tormented him.
Here’s another popular reference for scrutiny..-
"Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour." (Matthew 17:15-18)
Was this boy really possessed by a supernatural entity (devil) simply because of his strange behaviour? The father identified the presumed nature of the illness to Jesus as being lunatic; in modern terminology, insane. Even his actions seem to confirm this.
What really needs clarification is the remark that “Jesus rebuked the devil (demon) and he departed from him.” Though it is evident that what Jesus healed was the lunacy, the boy’s madness, Matthew chose to use the word 'devil' (demon) which was the common language of the day to describe any incurable illness. In their ignorance of the nature of such diseases, the people described them in their only understanding of the cause – a demon.
Another example is recorded in Mark 7:26-30. A certain woman petitioned Jesus to heal her daughter who she supposedly believed was possessed by an unclean spirit - a demon. This is Jesus’ reply..-
"For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed." (Mark 7:29-30)
Jesus cured the woman’s daughter, but he himself uses the language of the times when he said, “Go thy way, for the devil is gone out of thy daughter.” It was the only explanation she would understand for her to fully accept that her daughter was completely healed. Any other reply may not have satisfied her.
There is another case of healing where Jesus used the word 'Satan' instead of the popular vernacular 'devil'. Here is the incident.
"And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God." (Luke 13:11-13, RSV)
But why did Jesus associate the infirmity of the woman with Satan’s doing?
"And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" Luke 13:16
Was the orthodox Satan responsible for this woman’s condition? With our modern knowledge of illnesses, this woman’s condition of being bent, would most likely be a severe case of arthritis. We now need to clarify the reason for Jesus associating the disease with the word, Satan. Keeping in mind that the word 'Satan' is Hebrew and means adversary, Jesus was possibly referring to the arthritis which had been a Satan or adversary to her for eighteen long years. Jesus had freed this woman from the effects of the power of sin in her life. We have shown in previous chapters that our greatest enemy is sin in the flesh and its binding effect upon our life. It is not the cause of a rebel angel called Satan.
There is a further case of demon possession we should examine and it is the most controversial. It concerns a man called Legion, supposedly tormented by a host of evil spirits or demons that had taken possession of him. We will quote the main verses of the rather long narrative, as follows..-
"And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him anymore, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones." (Mark 5:2-5, RSV)
When we first read this dramatic incident, it is easy to get the impression that this insane man was fuelled by superhuman forces. But was Legion really possessed by a host of evil spirits or demons? In a sense, he was, but not by the demons which are thought to be of supernatural origin. The affliction of this man was his multiple personality disorder, medically known as schizophrenia. The man’s name, Legion, suggests that his condition was multiple, and triggered his enormous strength.
It is now known that living among pigs and eating uncooked pork can cause a disease called cysticerosis, a parasitical disease which eventually causes acute mental derangement. It is also possible that Legion could be affected with this disease, hence his request that the demons be sent into the herd of swine feeding nearby. Jesus acceded to his request and simply transferred the insanity into the pigs. They stampeded and were drowned. Legion would see from this that his disease was gone forever. He was completely whole of his disease.
An important observation to note is that those supposed demons must have drowned with the pigs. So much for them being supernatural! No, the truth is that Jesus simply transferred the madness of Legion into the pigs. Verse 15 of Mark chapter 5, states the case clearly: “They see him that was possessed with the devil and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind.” This indicates that the man had been afflicted with insanity, but was now "in his right mind". Jesus truly was supreme over all illnesses. He had the Power of God, far greater than any supposed power of demons.
DEMONS – ARE THEY REAL?
From the above discussion it should be concluded that evil spirits or demons which were thought to inflict and terrorize certain individuals were not a supernatural force at all. Rather they were very unusual afflictions which the Jews were unable to diagnose and incapable of curing. Since they were powerless over these diseases, they attributed them to demons, which they believed pervaded the air and gained entry into certain individuals. The Jews had developed this belief from their past interaction with pagan nations such as the Persians, Babylonians, Greeks and Egyptians. The cases we have examined in the last chapter were cases of insanity, epilepsy, tetanus, arthritis and schizophrenia, which were mysterious in origin to the people of that era. It was the culture of the surrounding pagan nations, but does not prove in the least that demons were real beings. We can conclude that demons certainly are not real.
SUPERSTITION ABOUT DEMONS
The Jews of Jesus' day were greatly influenced by the Greeks who had a strong belief in various gods, such as Jupiter (Zeus), Mercury, Vulcan and also the existence of superhuman evil spirits (demons) which they believed were responsible for disasters. This resulted in the Jews associating all diseases which were unexplainable to be caused by demons. We have already referred to the other pagan nations who influenced the Jews with this superstitious belief which was so detrimental to them. This led the Jews to falsely accuse Jesus of being influenced by a diabolical force which enabled him to perform his cures, particularly the casting out of so-called demons. They treated Jesus as though he was insane or possessed! They couldn’t understand his sayings, especially when he stated that he was the good Shepherd (John 10:11), and so they remarked scornfully..-
“He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him?” (John 10:20, RSV)
But in making this unsavoury remark, they were admitting that having a demon is equivalent to being mad. They were so steeped in Greek mythology that even if Jesus had divulged the real truth to them, they still would not relinquish their belief, for they had already crystallized their opinion about Jesus. They couldn’t see the foolishness of saying that Jesus had a demon when he was actually 'casting out demons'! He was healing people, not entering in and making people sick! Apart from ridiculing them with a short parable, “if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3:24), Jesus left these pseudo-religious Jews to perish with their pagan idiosyncrasies. They were without remedy.
DEMONS IN APOSTOLIC TIMES
There are four cases of unclean spirits mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. We will begin with the interesting case of a young woman at Philippi who was thought to be possessed with a spirit of divination, giving her the ability to foretell the future. Through this, she made much money for her masters. She followed Paul and Silas and in her demented state repeatedly said..-
"These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation." (Acts 16:17)
Paul being grieved with her remark, turned and said to the spirit.
"I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour." (Acts 16:18)
She was healed within the hour! Some think there was a real demon involved because Paul addressed the spirit which is referred to as 'he'. The problem is that in Greek and Hebrew, there is no neutral gender 'it'. Everything is either masculine or feminine. This helps to clarify the usage of the pronoun 'he' in the citation. It should have been translated 'it', as the modern versions such as the English Standard and New American Standard versions have done. Paul addressing the spirit does not necessarily mean that he addressed a disembodied entity within the woman as many assume. Remember the dictionary meaning for the word spirit, renders the following..-
A person’s mind, feelings or character, as distinct from the body;
A person’s nature
Therefore, applying those meanings, it is logical for Paul to be addressing the seat of the woman’s (and her owners) belief that she had that power, that is, her warped mind. So Paul cured this woman whose mind was enslaved by her own deception. In the margin of the King James Bible, the spirit of divination is given as the spirit of Python. But would anyone in their right mind believe that it is possible for a person to be possessed by the spirit of a snake? In Greek mythology, Python was a huge serpent supposed to be guarding the Oracle of the Delphi in Greece. We have already established that the gods of the Greeks were myths, so her illness was a product of her own deranged thinking. Paul’s power in curing her was the real power of God at work.
Another case in the Acts which needs some explanation is this citation..-
"For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed." (Acts 8:7)
It appears from this verse that the unclean spirits are doing the crying out. We have already established many times that demons are pagan idols and imagery. It was simply the language of the day to attribute illness to these demons. The sick people themselves were crying out in their agony of pain, and also in their desperation to get the attention of the apostles. Insane persons often cry out involuntarily when under extreme pressure. They make signs and strange utterances and really do appear to be 'possessed' by an outside power which influence their actions. Sometimes they can perform abnormal feats which no one in their normal senses is able to do. However it is perceptible that the superstitious Jews regarded all those who were afflicted with strange diseases as evil spirits.
One final incident which should be discussed on this issue is the one related to the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest of the Ephesus synagogue. These seven sons practised exorcism, attempting to do so in the name of Jesus and Paul. They quoted Jesus and Paul to entice people to believe that what they did was authentic. Here is the incident..-
"And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded." (Acts 19:15-16)
This text is frequently used to support the real existence of evil spirits who dwell in certain individuals and torment them to the point of mental derangement. Much emphasis is placed upon the words “and the evil spirit answered and said…”, but in actual fact it was the tormented man who spoke and not an inner entity. This can be inferred from logical reasoning that it was the deranged man who spoke the words, “Jesus I know, Paul I know, but who are ye?” The man, even though tormented by insanity knew Jesus through the preaching of Paul himself. The latter he may have known personally. This isn’t far fetched, for Paul, we are told, preached Jesus. But the man did not know those vagabond Jews who pretended to be exorcists. They were impostors, hence the reason why the provoked insane man leaped on them and overcame them. If a comma is placed after the words "and the man”, and also after the word 'was' we should realise that it was not an inner entity within the man which leaped on those so called exorcists. It was the man himself who did so.
DO DEMONS CAUSE ILLNESSES?
Having discussed many healings by Jesus and the apostles, we have shown that the diseases arose from natural causes, but were unexplainable at that time and therefore were thought to come from demon possession. Many of these diseases are still very common in our society today; for example, epilepsy, tetanus, arthritis and schizophrenia, but now we have medical explanations and cures for them. This has caused the author to wonder if modern diseases such as cancer or AIDS had they existed then would have been considered at the time of Jesus to be the work of demons. Quite possibly they would have.
In Africa, most people believed until quite recently that malaria was the act of demons. There was no cure in sight for the rampant disease. But a cure was found and now malaria can be cured with the use of certain medication. Cerebral malaria if not detected in its early stages of development can severely damage brain cells and cause mental derangement. Africans ignorantly blamed this on evil spirits which they tried to appease through various incantations and enchantments. The use of amulets and other magic charms became very popular, and still are, as a form of protection to ward off demonic attacks.
In the Island of St. Lucia where the author resides, he can clearly remember when the diseases of cholera and bilharzia were fatal. But how many persons thought that these illnesses were caused by demons is left as food for thought. These diseases can now be controlled with the use of drugs.
When we reconsider the cures which Jesus the great physician of all time effected upon so-called demoniacs, every one of them was related to an illness which still exists today. We are never told in the Gospels that Jesus exorcised any demons through incantations or otherwise, but healed people. If we are to assume that all these cures performed by Jesus on demoniacs were real evil spirits being cast out, then why is it that those very same diseases today are cured by medication? Are the evil spirits/demons subject to treatment by various drugs?
If it is to be accepted that diseases are not caused by demons, where then do they originate? Though again, it may be a mixture of vinegar and gall to swallow, surprisingly, the only source is our Maker, the supreme Creator of all that exists. Diseases and calamities are brought upon us by God as a consequence of the curse, for our sinful ways and blatant refusal to keep His commandments. Perhaps we should meditate upon what God said to stubborn Israel when they left Egypt..-
"If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee." (Exodus 15:26)
Here we have God’s reminder to Israel. If they strayed away from Him, he would bring upon them the same diseases with which he afflicted the Egyptians. The choice is yours to conclude whether diseases are caused by demons or not, but the Words of scripture still prevail and cannot be altered to suit our ideas.
The fact that diseases come from God was revealed to the twelve apostles by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, after they questioned him about a man who was born blind. They were baffled about the cause of the man’s situation, so they enquired from Jesus. Here is the record of this incident.._
"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." (John 9:1-3)
Note carefully the answer which Jesus gave. It was perhaps a big surprise to the apostles to discover that the man’s blindness was an act of God in order to manifest His power. This reply by Jesus shows that God is in control of diseases that come upon men. No power or powers can exist apart from the one and only reserve of all power – God Himself.
Thus we have demonstrated that demons are not real, but the product of Greek and pagan mythology. The belief that demons are capable of inflicting diseases should be considered a myth, and dismissed. Many words, such as lunatic (moonstruck) and St. Anthony’s fire, are outdated and no longer used to describe disorders, so too demons and devils should no longer be used to describe agents of calamity. It is sad that enlightened minds today still hold on to the pagan idea that demons inhabit the air and go around creating havoc by taking possession of certain individuals. This is an untruth which the author hopes will be uprooted through the careful consideration and understanding of the facts presented.
WORSHIP AND SACRIFICE TO DEMONS
It would not be prudent to complete this chapter without giving a brief insight into the usage of the plural form of the word 'devil', which is devils. It may surprise you to know that while the singular 'devil' is derived from the Greek word 'diabolos', the plural word 'devils' is actually the plural for 'daimonian' which has a completely different meaning from 'diabolos' (devil). 'Daimonian' when translated into English is 'demon' which refers to 'spirits' which the pagan Greeks thought were responsible for good and evil existing in the world. Note that modern versions of the Bible now use 'demons' instead of 'devils' – having noted incorrect translations of earlier versions.
Wherever the word 'devils' appears in the Old Testament it refers to idols or false gods which the pagan nations elevated and worshipped in place of Yahweh. The nation of Israel adopted this abominable practice of worshipping demons as early as the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. They adopted the worship of the surrounding nations of Egypt, Babylon and Persia, and later the Greeks. They too became saturated with the same pagan idolatry. Consider the following quotations..-
"They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not." (Deuteronomy 32:17)
"And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations." (Leviticus 17:7)
"And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils," (Psalm 106:36-37)
From these verses we can see that Israel left the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses and served false gods of wood and stone which became a snare to them.
In the New Testament, 'devils' usually refers to demon possession which the Jews strongly believed in and which we have been considering in this chapter. However there are a few instances in the New Testament where 'devils' refers to idol worship as in the Old Testament. Paul wrote to the Corinthians as follows..-
"But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils." (1 Corinthians 10:20-21)
No explanation is needed for this quotation, as it is obvious that the false gods of the Gentiles are being referred to. Paul was reminding the Corinthians that they were not to mix the worship of devils (idols) with the service of the remembrance of Christ. He had already pointed out to them in 1 Corinthians 8:4, "we know that an idol (demon) is nothing in the world, and there is none other God but one."
But the following quotation from James is often used by people to prove the existence of evil spirits or devils..-
"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2:19)
This verse usually engenders comment, but one needs to observe that if James was referring to literal devils (evil spirits) they would neither believe nor tremble at the Word of God. It wouldn’t have the slightest effect on them! What then does this passage mean? The context is a discussion about faith and works. (James 2:17-26) The 'faith man' says that even devils, that is, demon-possessed maniacs, believe and tremble; as in the case of Legion who knew who Jesus was, and Jesus healed him. (see Matthew 8:29) In contrast, the 'works man' says that salvation is by works, as in keeping the law as a set of rules. Unless believers demonstrate their faith in appropriate works, their professions of faith are in effect no better than those of a demoniac.
We can also refer to Felix, the Roman procurator, before whom Paul was brought for trial. Though he ruled Caesarea in a mean, cruel and profligate manner, he trembled after hearing Paul's evidence and reasoning on righteousness, temperance and the impending judgement (Acts 24:25). In this sense, considering the cruel seditions of Felix we can deduce that he was (to use the word that James used in his epistle, quoted above) a 'devil' who believed and trembled on hearing the word of God. Perhaps if he had sufficient faith and good works he may have been converted.
Here is one final passage using the word 'daimonia', devils..-
"And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:" (Revelation 9:20)
Quite clearly, the word 'devils' used in this verse is descriptive of idols. Plagues came upon these worshippers of idols, but they still did not repent of their deeds. It is a sad state of affairs that worship of idols was adopted by so-called Christians and has been accepted by many as a form of pure worship. God abhors such idolatrous practices.
Although the popular belief in the existence of a personal Devil/Satan has been fully explained, many may scoff and vehemently oppose the ideas presented. However, it is not what the majority believes and accepts that make a teaching authentic. The important issue above all is the true interpretation of what the Bible presents, and intends for us to believe.
Yahweh, the God of the Bible, makes it abundantly clear that He is the one and only Potentate. Beside Him, there is no other power..-
"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me," (Isaiah 46:9)
If we truly believe and understand this statement, then why is it that we continue to harbour the belief in a demi-god called Satan the Devil who controls other lesser gods called demons who are his agents for inflicting evil? In this regard, we make God a liar and the truth is not in us since we make His word null and void. The Devil and Satan of popular belief are personifications of sin in the human flesh in its various manifestations, individually and collectively. The god of this world, as some claim the devil to be, is really sin which dwells within us, and is our personal devil and satan and not a fallen rebellious angel. What we need to liberate ourselves from is the sin which besets us. This is what Jesus died to destroy.
We have also shown that demons are not real and are not responsible for unusual diseases. Similarly, the idea of demons originated in the pagan cultures of Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Greece and was adopted into Jewish and Christian thought. The true meaning of Christ’s mission and sacrifice is greatly distorted by the false teaching that there is a supernatural devil. When Jesus died on the cross he "destroyed him that hath the power of death, that is the devil." So for the Lord Jesus Christ, the devil has been destroyed. For those who believe in him, who in their lives are "dead to sin" and keep his commandments, a crown of life is promised.
May God continue to guide and enlighten us as we search the Scriptures in our quest and thirst for His Truth.
- Andre W. George, St. Lucia, West Indies