By Jerry C. Ray,
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.
1. 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: (l) “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.”2. Hellenistic writers. In the Septuagint the word is employed to render different Hebrew words, generally in reference to idols in heathen worship. (Psa. 95:3) Also it is found in Dt. 32:17 for “lords,” in Isa. 65:11 for “Gad, the goddess of fortune,” and sometimes for avenging spirits, or evil spirits, as in Psa. 91:6 for “pestilence,” and in Isa. 13:21 for “hairy” and 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.
3. 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?
1. 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).
2. 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. (Mt. 17 21) Twice Jesus distinctly connects demoniacal possession with the power of Satan, once in Lk. 10:18, where he speaks of the success of the seventy in casting out demons as the “fall of Satan,” and again in Mt. 12:25-30.
The case of the demons entering the swine at Gadara (Mk. 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 (1 Cor. 3:1-2), or a moral law (Mt. 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? ” (11, p. 641).
3. 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.The next article will deal further with the fallacy of the Modernist’s Position, and with the absurdities of the non-canonical writings of the Jews concerning demonology. Another article will then deal with the teaching of the New Testament on demonology.
(The major portion of this article is taken from McClintock & Strong, 11, 639-642).
Truth Magazine VI: 6, pp. 19-21