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Understanding the Dark World

Demon Possession:
Is it Biblical?

Paul J. Bucknell

We wonder how Christians can at times argue so vehemently about the presence of demons in our age. Some argue for their existence; some deny them.

It is much like the squabbles people had in the gospels. Remember how the Rabbis could callously be more concerned about their arguments than the needy people1(cf. John 8:1-11). They saw no need for genuine compassion. In the same way it seems that our theological discussions proceed while people continue to be oppressed by demons. While our 'important' arguments go on, this and that person are further devastated by the influence of a demon on their lives.

sad and demonic

We must protect ourselves from allowing our theological sterile conclusions to cause us to act differently than Jesus. Jesus cared so much for the people He met. In Matthew 17:16-21 Jesus actually rebukes His own disciples for their inability to heal the demoniac boy that was brought to them because of their lack of faith.

Much is written about the terror that demons bring upon their hosts in the scriptures. Those in advanced western countries have rejected such spiritual influences largely because of two reasons:

1)They are taught that there are no such things as evil spirits, and

2) Those under the influence of these demons actually are hidden away in hospitals and special homes and are subdued by powerful drugs. Terrorists seem to carry out their murderous plots on 'innocent' people because of demonic influence.

No doubt, there has been a reduction of what is called possession in countries espousing a constitution with a backing of the Ten Commandments.

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This has dampened the degree of influence of Satan's powers over individual minds, but it has not reduced his effort in trying to get control of them. In fact, modern man has rejected the spiritual world and denied any connection with the occult. It is no secret that those people who are not responsive to medical treatment are kept on strong drugs to keep them from harming others. No one sees these people and so the problem seems to be absent. But it is real. We suspect not a few people are locked up in mental institutions due to demonic influences.

You might notice that we have avoided the use of 'demon possession.' There are reasons for this. It is important that we understand the influence that the devil might have on people through demons. Once we understand the problem, we can better attempt to find a solution. God's Word gives us what we need to know to better help us understand the dark spiritual world. Let's look at the New Testament at see what demon possession might really mean.

NT Summary of Demon Possession

The New Testament speaks clearly of the presence of demons. 80 times the word 'demon'/'demons' is used. This is just the beginning. Another 22 times unclean spirit/spirits is used. One does not have to read far into the gospels to meet up with these people suffering under the influence of demons.

If a person denies demons, he also questions the work of Christ who regularly cast out and talked to demons.

Many translations use the phrase demon-possessed such as in Matthew 8:16

And when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.

This is unfortunate and has brought up a misunderstanding about evil spirits. Usually non-Christians do not talk about demons but spirits or ghosts. It is the Christians who know, or could know more about demons from the teaching of the scriptures. They for the most part have been thrown off in their understanding of demons by this phrase 'demon-possessed.'

A popular Christian theme for a paper or debate in the dorm room centers around, "Can a Christian be possessed?" To a large degree translators who have never met up with demons used the phrase 'demon-possessed' to translate a verb 'demonized.'

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We understand that Christians have the Holy Spirit and can't be possessed by an evil spirit. But this is the not real question. Those who have regularly counseled those who have been demonized realize that the issue is not whether a Christian has an evil spirit but whether he or she can be affected by or under the influence of one or more evil spirits.

The commonly used translation of the word 'daimonizomai' wrongly shapes the argument. Instead if we used the word rightly translated 'demonized' then we could ask as we should, "Can a Christian come under the influence of demons?" Note the William's NT translation of the same verse above (Matthew 8:16).

When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were under the power of demons (literally in the Greek 'demonized'), and at a mere word He drove the spirits out, and cured all who were sick.

This is the real question, "Can a Christian be demonized?" "Can a Christian come under the influence of demons?" A more perplexing followup question, perhaps is, "To what degree can a Christian be influenced by the evil one?" At this point, however, let us assume God's people can be persuaded by the evil one to say and do things that the demons suggest. C.S. Lewis popularized this correct concept in his 'Screwtape Letters.' We are not saying that everyone is aware of Satan's influence, but only that they at times listen to and follow the demons' suggestion.

Non-Christians and Demons

Observant pastors recognize the impact demons can have on the people they meet up with in their ministries. First of all, we should clarify that demons greatly influence non-Christians. They are not as demonized as they could be, but they are under the blindness of the evil one.

"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

The evil one blinds the minds of the unbelievers. My guess is that he uses demons, his agents, to accomplish this. The devil has limited resources and must use them as he decides best. Let's look at a few more verses that point out the vulnerability of non-Christians to the devil. In the following verse we will see that a mother rightly understood her little daughter's terrible problems due to an unclean spirit. Jesus would have been a poor Master if He made up the casting out of demons just because she believed in them.

"But after hearing of Him (Jesus), a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter." (Mark 7:25-26)

Although Jesus cast out demons in more severe cases, we should not conclude that demons did not affect a greater number of people in lesser ways. It was those who were terribly oppressed by demons that came to seek Jesus. Those who could bear with lesser side-effects did not recognize demonic influence and did not pursue Jesus' help. Just think of the number of people that don't go to Jesus to get out of Satan's grasp! Certainly there is great deception out there.

demon influenced
The non-Christian lives in the domain of darkness. However, we need to realize that even within this framework, there is an increase of control over the mind. The light of the conscience causes different responses which in turn have different degrees of control and delusion.

Christians and demons
Though the Christian has the Holy Spirit within him, he can be darkened within if he hides sin in his heart. Demons will delude and manipulate as much as the Christian tolerates. Praise God -- at any point he can repent, resist, and be cleansed by the blood of Christ.

Our judgment is greatly defective when we think Satan is only involved in the extreme cases. We must reject this all or nothing mentality as shown in the diagram above. We believe there is a graded level of influence. Because of this and the demons' cleverness, many people who are influenced by demons do not even realize it. This includes most every unbeliever. See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 above. Jesus said this differently but with equal impact.

"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

John the apostle says the same thing in a different context.

"But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:11)

"The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8)

Is it not true that the average Christian does not think of the demonic influence upon non-Christians? The result of this is a poor prayer life and less passionate evangelism. We need more purity in the church rather than gimmicks. Purity makes it more difficult for the demons to stay under cover.

Demons & Christians

The rest of this article is found in the Discipleship #3 Digital Library under the grouping of Dark World.

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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