The Bible: Evil Spirits and Dæmons

What Does the Bible Teach? - by Russel Noonan | 27th December 2020

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Medical Disclaimer: Whilst this presentation addresses some therapeutic practises to address mental health conditions, if you ever have any questions about any medical matter, including mental health, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay. If you think you are experiencing any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

Many people are wrong footed when considering this subject by bringing their own preconceptions to the fore rather than let the passages of scripture which treat on these matters speak for themselves. The only sure way to avoid this is by comparing spiritual things with spiritual, to ensure that a circumspect picture of the whole scenario is built up. Is it not always necessary to let the Bible set out the matter for itself? The task of a concerned reader should be to examine what is written and to put previous prejudices behind them. 

Jesus was accused of using the power of Beelzebub to cast out evil spirits by the superstitious classes of the day. What did they say and how did he respond? Matthew 9:32-35 details one such incident: “As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil (dæmon) and when the devil was cast out the dumb spake and the multitude marvelled saying never so seen in Israel. But the Pharisees said he casteth out devils through the prince of the devils. And Jesus went about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” 

No follower of Jesus would agree with the Pharisees against the position of the Lord himself. The Holy spirit, in context, aligns this miracle with healing every sickness and disease. Being dumb was regarded as being sick. The Greek words used here are “nosos” (νόσος) and “malakia” (μαλακία). "Nosos" means infirmity or sickness and interestingly is used in 1 Timothy 6:4 for mental illness where it has been translated as “doting” sick (about questions and strifes of words): someone so given over to false information he has made himself ill. 

Elsewhere in Luke 13:11-13 it records the incidence of a woman bowed over unable to walk upright as having a spirit of infirmity. The physician Luke, under inspiration, avoided the use of casting out devils or evil spirits in such a scenario but instead explains things using different words – “Woman thou art loosed from thine infirmity...and immediately she was made straight”. She had a spirit of infirmity because she was infirm, not because she was possessed by another person. An example of this would be to say: “the music possessed her”; this is understandable as a metaphor and does not infer that “music” is a person. In a similar way, "spirit" does not imply a person but a power or force emanating from something or about something. 

"Malakia" is only used three times in all the New Testament and always in the gospel of Matthew, see 4:23, 9:35 & 10:1. This last verse details the giving of power or authority by Jesus, over unclean spirits with the healing of every sickness and every disease, to the 12 disciples. This is inclusive language, there being no exceptions to this comment, “every” is repeated in the Greek before each word. If a person was made better from an infirmity (a valid alternative word for sickness), then this must include the dumb man. Dumbness is a sickness or infirmity just as much as a broken arm or a viral infection. Viruses come from outside and need a host to survive and multiply. Are New Testament readers to understand that dumbness is caused by literal evil spirits? If so, they should not seek any medical help but instead seek after an exorcist! 

In Mark 3:15, it says “to have power to heal sicknesses (nosos) and to cast out devils”. Matching up these two passages it is noticeable that to exercise this power is a miraculous gift, however doctors and other medical professionals can also heal sicknesses and diseases, so it is not the exclusive remit of those with spirit gifts. It should also be noted that the word translated to heal, Greek: Iaomai (ἰάομαι), is used of spiritual healing not just physical healing in passages such as John 12:40

Returning to what was said about Jesus and looking at Luke 11, he is not only accused of using the power of the prince of the devils, as in Matthew, but a name is attributed to this chief – Baalzebub. Is this information accurate? In 2 Kings 1:2 Baalzebub is described as being the god of Ekron. 1 Corinthians 8:5 explains that even though some things are called gods, there is only one God, who is named elsewhere as Yahweh. Baalzebub then is an invented deity, not a real person, not a prince of the daemon world, else there are other lesser gods than God, no, it is only called such. Baalzebub means lord of the flies, so the negative connotation with corruption is seen, although the inclusion of flies is a physical not a moral association with badness. The testimony from the Hebrew prophets is that Baalzebub was a false local deity, not a prince in the hierarchy of evil demons. The King of Israel was a fool to seek remedy from that direction because it was not an actual power at all, he had fallen into idolatrous nonsense as so many people do, even the rich and powerful. Jesus knew this and goes on in the passage in Luke to ridicule the very notion that evil or unclean spirits are real things, instead he believed they were not anything but a form of expression as his development of argument makes clear. When examined in no way is he expecting people to understand him literally. 

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he [it] walks through dry places seeking rest and finding none he saith I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh he finds it empty swept and garnished [Greek: kosmeo (κοσμέω) {eng: cosmetics}]. Then he goes and takes to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself and they enter in and dwell there and the last state is worse than the first.” 

If this is meant to be understood literally then what is Jesus teaching about unclean spirits? 

  1. That they can easily return from whence they came. 
  2. That they avoid damp places. 
  3. They walk so they have legs. 
  4. They get tired and need to rest. 
  5. People can sweep and garnish the place where such spirits dwell inside us. 
  6. These spirits are graded in wickedness. 
  7. Removing one can often make it several times worse unless we are untidy. 
  8. People are really houses, for unclean spirits to dwell in. 
If, however we accept that Jesus is speaking metaphorically then houses, walking, legs, cosmetic appearances and such like all make perfect sense. If we leave our minds empty and unfilled by positive influences, then a multitude of negative influences will fill us up instead. We are empty vessels, and it is dangerous to leave ourselves vacant, religions that teach otherwise are dangerously misguided (yoga, transcendental meditation etc). The message of Jesus is understandable, once we engage with it and logically break down what he actually said. The alternative view of literal dæmons is a babel of nonsense and superstition outside of Bible light where other works are required to educate and inform about such a world of evil. The Bible does not illuminate any such existence. 

Consider if unclean spirits were free to roam around seeking new hosts, if they are real evil entities, is it not the self-sacrificing thing to do, to take such entities inside ourselves, as believers in God so that other people do not get possessed by such evil being, thus sparing those who are less capable of handling them, like that poor boy with convulsions? That theology is not only wrong, it is half-baked. 

In only one incident is there any mention of destroying these dæmons once ejected, that of Legion in Matthew 8:28-34, and parallel passages in Mark and Luke. These many dæmons were apparently tricked by Jesus to go into a herd of swine, which they could not control, so they all perished after running violently down a steep place into the sea! Not very capable or discerning dæmons these then, rare foolish a bit like the idiots they are supposed to have first duped themselves. Why not just wander for a bit outside their host and return when Jesus was no longer about? There is no logical sense in any such alternate reality of distinct dæmonic existence! It is all just a metaphoric description and used by Jesus as such to help people escape their fears of mental instability. It was kind of Jesus to allow the man to have a visual event, to attribute to his newfound permanent recovery from his awful affliction, even at the cost of many pigs dying, Jesus knew the relative value of man versus animals. 

It should be remembered that Jesus was sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24) he was not sent to re-educate pagan Greek and Roman society, if he had been sent to do this, perhaps he would have invested more time in clearing up these linguistic anomalies. As he had to put up with their limitations, so do we when reading about these first century events. Once this is realised there are no inconsistencies or strained issues of understanding meaning. 

Taking Luke 10:17-18 in a similar vein, is this passage literal or metaphorical: “And the seventy returned again to him with joy saying Lord even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” 

When his disciples healed people, it was devils or dæmons, that were talked about. However, Jesus did not literally see Satan [Hebrew: satan (שָׂטָן) {eng: adversary}] fall as lightning from heaven, when this work of healing was done, as lightning does not fall, it flashes and actually starts at the ground where the negative charge is and ascends higher to the positively charged clouds. It is wrong to say that lightning can or does literally fall. Also is satan subject to gravity? How did he survive such a fall if he is a literal person? If he can fly, why did he not do so when he most needed to? Why not just teleport away to somewhere else as he is alleged to do all the times, millions of times every day? What injuries did he sustain in the fall? Was he pushed or did he just lose his balance? Why doesn’t God just push him around more often if it worked then? Framed like that Jesus words are a challenge to the popularly held beliefs of pagan theologies. So as elements of this are obviously metaphorical, why not all of it? 

So, did first century Jews believe in literal evil spirits such as Beelzebub? Or was this just the language of the day to describe certain phenomena? It would seem that, like so much else, the nation of Israel had become infested with false doctrine on many levels, so dæmons had infiltrated the Jews! The Bible uses this language in Revelation 16:14, where it is not devils/dæmons themselves, but the spirits of dæmons which are said to work the confusion of miracles at that future time. If these are verses are literal, then devils can do miracles and have power beyond the mundane (hence a miracle) and could be legitimately revered as creatures of power. The Bible does not warn believers to avoid such things because they have any actual power, but that these things should be avoided always and without exception notwithstanding because they are shown to be to believers as powerless phantoms because they do not exist, being only the inventions and projections of the mind. Isaiah 45:5. Isaiah 46:1-2. Psalm 115:4-8. Israel had taken on the reasoning of apostate gentiles. 

His disciples seem to have got catch up with the prevailing views of that day and generation, so Jesus had to correct them for thinking he was a phantasma (translated in the King James Version as "spirit") see Matthew 14:26 & Mark 6:49. This Greek word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament and therefore cannot be cited to support the literal existence of spirits or ghosts! It was not a spirit they saw but a real person, Jesus walking on the water! They were wrong. So, we can be wrong as well, but if we are faithfully corrected by another who speaking the Truth to us, seeks to free us from remaining constrained under lies or ignorance. Do we have the humility of mind to accept the overwhelming weight of scripture when its evidence is brought down upon our carefully constructed mental edifices we delight so much in shaping? Remember “no lie is of the truth1 John 2:21 and ignorance separates from the life of God, Ephesians 4:18

In the Hebrew Old Testament, evil spirits and devils are spoken about much less. The Greek and Roman pagan concepts had less hold in former times, it was a later corruption. During the reign of Saul, the record informs that “But the spirit of the LORD departed from Saul and an evil spirit form the LORD troubled him. And Saul’s servants said unto him, behold now an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our lord now command thy servants which are before thee, to seek out a man who is a cunning player on a harp and it shall come to pass when the evil spirit from God is come upon thee, that he shall play with his hand and thou shalt be well.1 Samuel 16:14. Good music played by a cunning hand does not chase away literal evil spirits, but a spirit of melancholy can be eased by restful harmonies! Let it be emphasised that this evil spirit CAME FROM YHWH not anyone else! So, this lopsided theology of Satanic minions is not the teaching of scripture here, but rather that God is the author of evil as well as good, Isaiah 45:7, it was He who sent the evil spirit upon Saul. Evil spirits in the Bible are not always in antagonism with God. 

In their desperation to find something to cling on to, some given over to erroneous views, seek to find any form of words that they believe supports their contentions. One passage to which they often resort to defend their views as to the existence of literal evil spirits is 1 Kings 22:19-23. But upon any proper reflection this passage cannot be used to support their contention, as again the “lying spirit” mentioned here, was said to be sent from the LORD and was not sent from an anti-god of evil! Is then the God of the Bible some miscreant trickster who takes delight in fooling others by sending His angels to lie? Or is this again not supposed to be understood literally, but is instead is a metaphorical representation that the God who hates lies (Proverbs 6:16-19) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2) nevertheless permits the lies of others to advance His purposes? See also 2 Thessalonians 2:11For this cause, God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie.” Similarly, in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 that passage informs that even if God does not initiate the emergence of false prophets and dreamers who pervert the divine message, He nevertheless uses such to prove who are the faithful! There is no room in this for a hierarchy of evil minions working against the omnipotent deity. If He is indeed omnipotent then when does He just not destroy them all now? Is he using beings of unadulterated evil to achieve His own goals, what a God that makes Him become! 

Jesus often taught in parables specifically to require those that heard him to engage beyond the superficial and dig beneath the surface to obtain that which was of enduring value. Hearing the preaching of a parable quickly, can often cause the various layers of meaning to be missed by those in a hurry to more on to something more exciting and stimulating to the senses. So it is, with the issue of dæmons and unclean spirits. Unless the reader is prepared to research more widely, the relevance of what is being communicated might be lost in their preconceptions and bias, a common problem with humanity, an error that is often repeated. 

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus healed a lunatic! The KJV uses a word which literally means, struck by the moon, however this was not meant to be understood literally. The Greek word is seleniazomai (σεληνιάζομαι) which also has reference to the moon, but the heavenly body in orbit around the earth does not actually cause the person to fall into the fire or into water! In modern times the affliction of convulsions is called by the term epilepsy and is not dependant on the phases of the moon but rather chemical imbalances in the brain, sometimes brought on by stress and anxiety, there are many different causes. Some people are born with this affliction others can develop it after a head injury. 

The disciples struggled to cure the poor boy whose father was so anxious about him. Jesus explained that “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Some evil spirits then are unaffected by prayer and fasting? Is that what we are supposed to understand from Jesus’ words? What other kinds of devils are there? Why was Jesus silent as to how to treat them? How were his disciples to discern what type of devil they were up against? Were they to be provided with an almanac to steer them through such a dangerous field of the correct identification of evil? Go online, you can pay good money for such literature but no where is this detailed in the Bible! If it was literally true that dæmons are evil beings then God has singularly failed in providing much assistance in countering them, unless He wants us to pay these third parties for their “research” to make up for His relative silence. 

Fasting has an effect on the chemical balances of the blood and hence influences the brain. Psychotic drugs should be treated with care as no one really understands all the issues that are involved when they are taken. Jesus provided a method of approach in seeking to counter a certain kind of brain malfunction in this passage, highlighting the positive effects of prayer and fasting for some, but not all such incidents. 

Various medical studies have taken this link on board being initiated from this Bible teaching about fasting in context with seizures. See Ketogenic diet therapy for epilepsy – John Hopkins University for more information. 

The Bible is not a medical journal, but it is medically accurate. 

In Luke 9:42 there is an equivalence with the removal of the devil or unclean spirit with being healed. “And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the child and delivered him again to his father.” Is this to be understood as fully literal? No, it cannot be so. If the devil/unclean spirit is a literal entity, literally inside the person, then it cannot literally throw the host down, it must have caused the host to do this to himself, so the language is not totally literal. Also, with the taring, this was not the internal devil actually taring him, as it was inside and had no physical ability to “tare” its host. Once this is realised any insistence to take these words literally is immediately compromised. Accordingly, it is intellectually dishonest and or lazy to continue any insistence on it being fully literal. Instead focus should be redirected on to the fact that this explanation given by the Holy Spirit is about healing. If it is metaphorical to say that the dæmon threw him down, then it is perfectly logical to understand Jesus “commanding” unclean spirits and “casting out” dæmons, as also being metaphorical language, there must be some consistency in treating this subject. 

The accuracy of language has been commented upon by many others. Take the word submarine. These are sophisticated machines of many generations of intense and expensive development, designed by top scientists and engineers. However, the word submarine is inaccurate as these machine pass through the sea, and do not travel under (sub) the sea (marine). To argue that these designers are careless frauds because they use that inaccurate word would be bizarre, but that is what Bible critics do about demonic language in the scriptures in their desperation to undermine its authority! Any Bible believer will draw back from such unsound indulgence. 

If all the various passages are considered which speak of these dæmons or unclean spirits, then it will be noticed that the majority of them are to do with some form of what we today would call medical issues. These include epilepsy, dumbness and deafness, Matthew 17:15 Mark 9:25, all of which affect the brain either directly or through processing the senses. In the Bible, leprosy and other physical illnesses are never directly attributed to being “possessed” with unclean spirits, although some feel that Mark 1:39-40 might imply such. 

When reading the passage in Luke 4:33-36 it is better not to stop at verse 36 but to also read at the same time verses Luke 4:38-39And he arose out of the synagogue and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever and they besought him for her. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever and it left her and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.” There are no clamours to believe that fevers are sentient entities just because it is said that Jesus “rebuked the fever.” Admittedly this is one example not many, but the point remains that the treatment of language is so strikingly similar in the context of devils, that it seems wholly intentional of the Spirit to place it so and not in another separate chapter remote from the casting out of unclean spirits. There is enough information provided throughout the pages of scripture to see pass the preconceived bias if the reader avoids the mere superficial argument and does their own analysis. Is not the Bible always written so, it being the honour of kings to search out a matter (Proverbs 25:2)? 

Luke 4:33 lists an occasion of a man having “a spirit of an unclean devil”, which implies that some devils can be clean, just as not all spirits are unclean, hence the need to have the spirit of Christ. In the alternative theology this is just not possible! 

In James 2:19 it says: “Thou believe that there is one God, thou doest well, the devils also believe and tremble.” How is this passage to be understood in light of these considerations? Either literal devils believe in God and are therefore not given over unto unconditional evil, but there is even hope for them as believers; or these devils are metaphorical and refer to those who are mentally afflicted, in which case the reader is reminded that having such an affliction is not a total barrier to spirituality, but that they also can be believers in the true God, if that trembling manifest is indeed the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7)! If devils are literal and they are intelligent enough to tremble under their acceptance of God, by believing in Him, can they not be forgiven for any foolishness previously committed by the God of love? Such an issue is passed over by those looking for someone else to blame apart from themselves. It seems it is for this reason that such erroneous beliefs are so popular. 

The word Devils can also be used to describe something else than those afflicted with mental illness. In 1 Corinthians 10:19-21 the Apostle, speaking under inspiration denies that the sacrifices to idols in the times of the pagan Greeks and Romans, touches upon anything that is actually real, but using his words - is not anything. Those who participate in idolatry do so in ignorance as to any true knowledge about such matters, they have been deceived. Any idols to false deities are not dangerous totems linking the worshippers with that which is worshipped and therefore needs to be feared, but rather are the icons of deluded fools, such people should be avoided because they are liars and uninformed, their hallowed objects are just wood or clay or metal, carved and shaped by the imagination of men’s hearts to conform to some wayward opinion. Avoid such people, remembering that it is difficult to disentangle them from their folly into which they have become entrapped; have no fellowship with them, share no tables with them, do not eat and drink with such people, lest you compromise your stance for the Truth. These “devils” are those that have been taken in by the mental delusion of false doctrine, and suffer that particular affliction, often self-induced. 

In Paul’s day many charlatans paraded themselves as being something they were not, one such was “Sceva, a Jew and chief of the priestsActs 19:14. Now this man was perhaps a Jew, but he was certainly not chief of the priests, as the High Priest had temple obligations and was not resident in pagan Ephesus! The term “chief of the priests” should be in quotation marks, just like “exorcists” should be, which literally means one who administers an oath. He was not chief of the priests but an imposter. That this imposter and his sons were exposed by someone suffering an affliction is a moral comment. Which is actually worse to be mentally ill and branded as unwelcome or to be given over to deceit and the exploitation of others? Even using the names of Jesus and Paul was insufficient to cure this afflicted individual, who jumped on seven of them and in his heightened state, overpowered them all and sent them packing, epileptics have been known to show great almost inhuman strength whilst under the power of their convulsions. “Paul and Jesus” were not spells to be chanted to bring about some magical healing, the spirit gifts did not work in that way. This incident was surely cited by the Holy spirit to illustrate the foolishness of such phoney exorcism, not to demonstrate that the name of Jesus lacked power. The Holy spirit did not inspire the afflicted man to say these things, but the Holy Spirit has infallibly recorded the incident to teach others about such matters and the absurdities of men like Sceva.

 Even today, when any belief in evil spirits as the cause of mental illnesses and other infirmities, including epilepsy deaf and dumb and such like, is no longer prevalent, people talk about such things as “he has succumbed to the demon drink”, and “leave him to face his own demons”. We know what is meant by the use of this type of language. There is no difficulty in saying this type of expression, unless our minds are cluttered with the garbage of believing in literal Greek dæmonia or other pagan deities which obscure the real meaning behind such language. If dæmons are real forces of personalised evil, then the Bible should have taught this more clearly and also how to counter such beings, instead Jesus warns that at their whim seven devils worse than the first can enter in and make things even worse for us, hardly a hopeful message if these are real evil entities out to get you! But as a metaphorical teaching that is another matter. 

There is never any advice in the Bible as to how to prevent getting possessed by unclean spirits. If this was indeed a real danger to be avoided because of the unadulterated evil of such alleged beings, then God and His son have failed to provide adequate precautions, they have let everybody down. Nor is there any moral condemnation even hinted at, to those who had dæmons inside them, instead there is always a sympathetic interaction by Jesus and his disciples to provide relief to any such afflicted. All the Bible informs in such scenarios is that the people were healed, and the symptom of “possession” had been cured. 

In Mark 7:14-23 just before Jesus cast out the devil from the Syro-phenician woman’s daughter, he explains in some detail that all defilement is from within, not from outside, which is disingenuous if unclean spirits bring evil and defilement from the outside into people. 

In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 the Apostle Paul explains that he altered his approach to fit in with those he wished to help. “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews, to them that are under the law as under the law that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak that I might gain the weak I am made all things to all men that by all means I might save some.” Is there an element in the adoption of this approach in the use of this language to speak about mental illness and deranged minds in the New Testament? It is an accurate historical record of what actually took place, not a list of rules and dictates to the initiated. By using the language and concepts of the day it is grounded in a reality, not present in any world inhabited by disembodied dæmons. 

We should be warned that mental illness is an unpredictable and dangerous affliction, which is unpleasant but part of the fallen state of creation where the adversary of human nature is set in opposition to the God of heaven, and can be treated by prayer and fasting but carries no moral censure. It will not last forever but in the time to come all such dæmons will be cast out! Mental illness must never be an excuse for forgetting God, as these devils (dæmonia) can also believe! Keeping hold in faith in God is often the only way back from those who go through such trials.

 However, we must not become entangled with any belief in pagan devils as lesser gods, which the Bible says do not actually exist, but are only called gods by those who do not know any better. No Beelzebub the prince of the dæmons, for those who have read their Bibles.

Russel Noonan | 27th December 2020