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THEOLOGY > Sin > Reality of Satan > Demons > Demon Possession 


The Bible speaks of “those who were demon-possessed” (wording of NKJV) or of “those oppressed by demons” (wording of ESV), depending on the translation chosen for Matthew 4:24. The Greek word in question is daimonizomai. How is it to be translated?

The root word is daimon (appears five times in Gr. NT), which originally referred to a deity, a lesser god, some divine power, or the spirit of the deceased; in philosophy the daimon was one of the intermediaries between God and man. A kindred word is daimonion, which consistently means “demon” and is used most of the time in the New Testament when demons are referred to (appears sixty times in Gr. NT).

Kittel translates daimonizomai (appears thirteen times in Gr. NT) as “to be possessed by a daimon,” noting that the greatest frequency is in Matthew—in addition to Matthew (4:24; 8:16, 28, 33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22), the word appears in Mark (1:32; 5:15, 16, 18), Luke (8:36), and John (10:21). Not much material related to demons is found in the Old Testament; in fact, no demon possessions are recorded in the Old Testament unless one occurred in connection with Saul (I Sam. 16:15-16; 18:10; 28:13).

What exactly is meant by “possession” of a person by a demon or demons?

To be possessed is to have a demon, that is, to be demonized; it is to be under the control of an evil spirit, who is a living being. To be possessed is to be under the power of a demon, such that the demon influences or has power over the functioning of the body, the speaking of the mouth, and the thinking of the mind. To be possessed by a demon is to be oppressed by a demon, so oppressed that the demon is in control of the person.

The Scriptures speak of demons entering into a person, dwelling in a person, and being cast out of a person. If this is understood literally then a spirit being is inhabiting the physical body of an individual, and the Scriptures do seem to present emphatically this as the precise condition. Is it possible that the entering, the dwelling, and the casting out is the Biblical way of giving emphasis to the fact that a person said to be possessed by a demon is literally under the total control of the demon—the state of being demonized?

This approach tends toward making possession more of a moral issue rather than a physical issue. Possession does result in physical manifestations, but the foundational concern is the moral state that made possible the possession and the resulting moral state because of the possession. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, has the following quote:

The term “possession” is misleading and is not the best translation for the Greek word daimonidzomai, which literally means “to be demonized” and can often best be translated as “to have a demon” (p. 611).

The manifestation of demonic control and oppression will take numerous forms, such as madness, dumbness, deafness, hysteria, violent actions, sickness, unusual displays of physical strength, and other bizarre and depraved practices. Note the following Biblical examples:

Mental problems (Matt. 8:28; Acts 19:13-16);

Muteness (Matt. 9:32; 12:22; Mk. 9:17, 25; Lu. 11:14);

Blindness (Matt. 12:22; Jo. 10:21);

Acts of self-destruction (Matt. 17:15);

Convulsions/fits (Mk. 1:26; 9:26);

Supernatural strength (Mk. 5:4);

Unnatural voice (Mk. 5:7);

Deafness (Mk. 9:25);

Deformity (Lu. 10:13-17).

Though it would be insensitive and unbiblical to attribute demons to any specific manifestation of bodily or mental illness, it is not improper to make the general and Biblical affirmation that any specific affliction of either body or mind may be the work of demons. While any sickness may be the doing of demons, it is unwise to make the assertion that a particular sickness is the work of demons. At times the Scriptures are careful to make a distinction between sickness and demon possession (Matt. 4:24; Mk. 1:32; Lu. 6:17-18); they can be separate but they can also coincide.

Demons can “demonize” both men (Mk. 5:2-10) and animals (Mk. 5:13), causing them to act unnaturally and diabolically. More than one demon may demonize a person; Mary Magdalene had seven demons (Lu. 8:2; see: Matt. 12:45) and the man affected by Legion was under the demonization of many demons (Lu. 8:30).

Possession was neither permanent nor irrevocable; a command from Christ or His disciples would cast the demon or demons out of the individual (Matt. 8:16; Mk. 1:25; 5:8; 7:25-29; 9:25, 29; Lu. 10:17; Acts 16:18). There is no account of Christ or His disciples touching the individual or laying hands on the one possessed, nor of the speaking to the demon being done with passion or with anger—just a simple word of command that the demon must obey and did obey. In fact, Jesus at times cast out demons without even being present with the possessed individual (Lu. 7:25-29).

Demon possession is an attack on the Imago Dei. It must be remembered that the image of God is not something man has but something man is—man himself is the image of God (see: Image of God and Nature of the Image). When a demon takes possession of a man, the demon is taking possession of the image of God. Perhaps this explains the rationale for demonic possession of a person; it is a total attack on God’s image on the earth. Through the attack on man, there is an attack on God.

That which is the image of God comes under the influence and control of a demon or demons, and this is in addition to the state of corruption that has already been visited on man because of the sin of Adam. Demon possession compounds the evil state that has existed since Eden. Man, who is already depraved, becomes even more twisted and convoluted in his body and mind when he has a demon—consider the man of the Gadarenes (Mk. 5:1-20).

Did Jesus merely accommodate Himself to the view of His day which attributed the cause of some diseases (epilepsy and insanity, for instance) and physical afflictions (deafness or dumbness) to the direct influence of demons? Did He know better or was He confused? Was the thinking of Christ merely reflective of the mentality of His day?

Either of these options brings into question the authority of the text, meaning the normative nature of the text. Can the text be trusted to teach Truth, or is it a combination of some truth and some error, an error that reflects the thinking of men regarding a particular issue? Should not the text be considered accurate in all details because it is a Revelation from above, not a musing from beneath?

This is to affirm that the Bible constitutes the Word of God, a verbal word communicated from God to man, such that the content of Scripture is God’s speaking, and not merely the refined thinking of the man who is writing (see: Significance of Truth and Starting Point).

When the Biblical text affirms the following—the existence of demons, the interaction of demons with humans, the depraved nature and deeds of demons, and the ultimate demise of demons—the text must be accepted.

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