top of page
  • He Answered Them

The Demonic Doctrine

The problem of evil gets far more attention than the problem of good; mainly because we are a fallen people with a penchant for sinning. For humans, there remains a lurid fascination with the darker side of life. I will tackle the problem of evil later, but for now, let us look at general demonic presence. There are instances throughout scripture, particularly in Jesus’ Kingdom ministry, which brings us to the theological conclusion: you can’t believe in a personal God without believing in a personal evil!

Reformed Theology is in many ways a by-product of the Renaissance, a cultural shift in European intellectualism, that had far-reaching repercussions; these profoundly shaped the Church and life as we know it. The move away from the medieval view of faith and belief left a bit of a hole in the spiritual life of the Church. Reformed Theology, with its enlightenment ethos, tried to rationalise many of the stranger parts of scripture. In that same vein of thinking, but at a much later date, came Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). He was a Lutheran theologian with a close friendship to the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger; this influence led Bultmann to engage with the task of demythologizing the New Testament.

Bultmann’s form criticism and herculean efforts around the quest for the Historical Jesus, moved much of the Church away from the more supernatural elements found in scripture. This was carried over into much of reformed theology in the protestant movement, whereas Roman Catholic theology maintained the doctrine. I couldn’t find much statistical analysis for UK Christians, but this look at American stats show only 47% of Christians believe in the demonic: this causes issues, not only for followers of Catholicism, but also for professing protestants who take the five solae as the basis for their religion.[1]There are Demons in the Bible, to deny this makes your Christian life poorer, as much as it diminishes the need for the Church. Modern culture craves the metaphysical and supernatural, we can demonstrate this by recognising the number of people who identify as spiritual, over those who identify as religious. Let’s examine the biblical case for Demons

What are Demons?

Grudem gives the definition of a demon as: evil messengers or celestial beings who sinned against God and who now continually work evil in the world.[2] God created the heavens, and the Earth, and all its denizens in the beginning; in Gen 1:31 he pronounces the creation as very good: we must presume, therefore, that evil did not exist in the first period of God’s creation. In Genesis 3 however, we find the serpent tempting Eve to sin, and evil gains some ground. This serpent is the original rebel in heaven who first acts alone; but not content, begins a new campaign culminating in a rebellion in the angelic world, which sees some Sons of God turn against the Father (Gen 6). The apocryphal book of Enoch goes into greater detail, but the New Testament mentions it in two places: 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. These parts of scripture express that the sin of these creatures appears to have been pride, a refusal to accept their assigned place, which led to a hostility towards God’s created world. Jude 6 tells us about the ‘angels who did not stay within their own position’ were cast far from God to pits of nether gloom, where they can still maintain some influence over us.

There is a theological parallel in the descent of these angels and the descent of man, in that we are removed from the privileged position in the glory of God’s presence. Indeed, the Prince of Demons, is said to be Lord of this age (2 Cor 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, John 12:31) which implies we share a residence (either geographically or current space time) with him. God remains sovereign over us in this age, yet the devil is given some authority.

Who is the Prince of Demons?

The term the devil (from διαβολος- slanderer/treacherous informer) is not used in the Old Testament, but an adversary to Yahweh is depicted in the various Hebrew texts. The Hebrew word beliyya’al, meaning wickedness, is used in the Masoretic texts, pseudepigraphic literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The personified evil, Belial (angel of wickedness), is the most common name for the leader of the forces of darkness. He appears as Ba’al, in the book of Judges and 1 Kings, where he is the chief deity of the Canaanites; he is associated with the god of the Philistines Beelzebub/Beelzebul (Ba’al zebul-Prince Ba’al). He takes the form of Molech (from mot, the Hebrew word for death and the name given to the Canaanite god of death), in the book of Jeremiah and in Leviticus. Scholarship continues to debate whether these are all instances of the same deity or other examples of demonic presence in the ancient near East.

One place we can be certain of the devil’s appearance is in the book of Job where he is given the personal name Satan; this comes from the Hebrew word meaning adversary. Satan can also be found in 1 Chron. 21:1, and Zechariah 3:1.

Isaiah 14 is a possible reference to the fall of Satan and the events of Genesis 6:

‘How you have fallen from Heaven,

O Day Star, son of Dawn!

How you are cut down to the ground,

You who laid the nations low!

You said in your heart,

“I will ascend to heaven;

Above the stars of God

I will set my throne on high;

I will sit on the mount of assembly

In the far reaches of the North;

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most High.”

But you are brought down to Sheol,

To the far reaches of the pit.

The KJV translates Day Star as Lucifer, a name meaning bringer of light. In the pseudepigraphal work, The Testament of Solomon, Beelzebul is associated with Hesperus; this is the Greek name for the planet Venus. After our Sun, Venus is the brightest natural object in the sky and is often seen in the daytime. So here we see the connections: Belial, Ba’al, Beelzebul, Lucifer and Satan.

What do Demons look like?

We are familiar with the modern iconography of demons: horns, forked tongue, glowing red eyes etc, this is likely derived from the pagan god Pan[3]; yet there is no description given in scripture. There are also few descriptions of angels - the image that you may have in your mind right now of winged human-like beings is not from a scriptural basis, it is most likely from paintings and representations found in Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The angel described in Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Seraphim[4], are far more terrifying: see below

Ontologically speaking, demons are evil spirits, which means they are not corporeal, they are spirit. Hebrew scriptures use a plethora of words to describe 1) terms that are associated with the realm of the dead, and 2) terms associated with geographical dominion by supernatural powers in rebellion against God[5]. Frequently the words elohim (divine entity) and ruhot (spirit) is used.

Elohim is often misunderstood as another name for Yahweh (i.e. God

of Israel), but the term identifies any member of the nonhuman, non-terrestrial world; there are other elohim that populate a spiritual world, but the biblical writers explicitly differentiate and emphasise them as lesser beings than Yahweh.[6]Thus demons are subject to God’s authority. They are at work in the Hebrew bible in three supernatural rebellions: the fall of man (Gen 3), the transgression of the Sons of God prior to the flood (Gen 6), and the events at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11).

The Mesopotamian Background to Gen 6; who are the Nephilim?

'When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years”. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.' (Gen 6:1-4)

The supernatural reading of this episode, stems from the Second Temple period Jewish writers.[7] ‘Sons of God’ was interpreted to mean divine beings; they take wives and have sexual relationships with the mortal ‘daughters of man’. The offspring of these forbidden liaisons are the Nephilim, giants partly divine in nature. Scripture may suggest this, but it may also point to the Nephilim already existing at the time of the second divine rebellion.

Augustine became a champion of the human view of the interpretation that Sons of God refers to the line of Seth (Adam and Eve’s son born after the murder of Abel) or some other human royal line. This view has been held by much of the Christian church since the 3rd century; however, Jewish targums (Aramaic translations of the Old Testament) clearly held the supernatural view first, and much of the Second Temple writings continued that trajectory.[8] Other ancient Near Eastern source text expand on the context in which Genesis emerged, and they too go some length to refute Augustine’s view.

In Amar Annus’ work on Mesopotamian religion,[9] the term apkallu is used in several cuneiform carvings for divine creatures endowed with great wisdom. Annus identifies a cuneiform tablet from Uruk, like the Sumerian King’s List, where seven apkallu are named and assigned to each prediluvian King; their role is to ‘ensure the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth’. They taught mankind wisdom (omens, magic, and medicine), social forms and craftmanship. After the Mesopotamian flood story, the epic of Gilgamesh (which the flood of Noah parallels), Mesopotamian text speak of four apkallu of human descent. The implication is that the prediluvian apkallu were completely divine and corresponded to the ‘sons of God’ who cohabit with human women; the offspring (divine human hybrids) remain on Earth after the flood of Noah.[10] The idea of the teaching of divine wisdom to humans is the basis for Enoch’s book of The Watchers; it is also the reason that God places a judgement on the divine beings involved. Further to this, the cohabitation and the production of offspring, creates living beings in a partly divine image, thus breaking Yahweh’s commandments on divine image making. Annus writes:

‘The Mesopotamian apkallus were demonized as the ‘Sons of God’, and their sons as Nephilim, who in later Enochic literature appear as Watchers and giants, illegitimate teachers of humankind before the flood.’[11]

Second Temple Jewish theology on the powers of darkness drew from both Old Testament sources and the wider ancient Near Eastern context. In Numbers 13:32-33, the giant Anakim (also called Rephaim and Amorites) are descendants of the Nephilim, they occupy the land of Canaan and remain an obstacle to God’s covenant of the promised land. King David, as a boy, will come to vanquish the last remaining giant, Goliath, in 1 Samuel 17. In this defeat we will see the true origins of demons in the Second Temple literature. Reed succinctly puts it:

“The birth of Giants is explored in terms of the mingling of spirits and flesh. Angels properly dwell in heaven, and humans properly dwell on earth, but the nature of Giants is mixed. This transgression of categories brings terrible results: after their physical death, the Giants’ demonic spirits ‘come forth from their bodies’ to plague humankind.”[12]

Demons are the spirit of dead Nephilim, and their origin begins with a rebellion in the divine realm and an asserting of their own will against God’s plan.

What do Demons want?

Demons oppose and try to destroy the work of God. As the original rebel tempted Eve the (perhaps?) same Satan tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11) to surrender his Messiahship and thus sidestep the events of the cross. Demons wish people to destroy themselves and will use the tactics of lies (John 8:44), deception (Revelation 12:9), and murder (Psalm 106:37); the Christian witness will be blinded through acts of temptation, doubt, guilt, fear, confusion, sickness, envy, pride, and slander.[13]

Does this opposition continue today?

A naturalistic worldview only perceives the reality of things that can be interpreted through the five senses; we have established biblical doctrine holds that demons are non-corporeal and therefore beyond the spectrum of the human senses. For many, belief in demons merely reflects the obsolete biblical worldview, but for Christians who place faith in the Bible it becomes surmountable to deny the existence of evil. The reality of the problem of evil is often used by people with atheistic beliefs to deny the existence of God; however, we find the toe of logic being stubbed by suggesting that we can remove the God of the Bible whilst maintaining the biblical reality of evil.

As an aside I feel it incumbent to mention one of the most widely known passages of the Bible, not only in the Christian worldview, but that of the secular worldview: the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13. You are likely familiar with the line ‘but deliver us from evil’. In the Greek texts πονηρου-from poneros, meaning evil, is used. This is an adjective, more importantly it is a substantive adjective, meaning it is standing in for a noun; the more correct translation, therefore, would be ‘but deliver us from the evil one’. As Daniel B. Wallace points out, God does not always keep his children out of danger, disasters, or the ugliness of the world. In short, he does not always deliver us from evil. But he does deliver us from the evil one. Biblical text does not teach that our lives will be a rose garden but that he will protect us from the devil himself (John 10:28-30; 17:15).[14]

In Matthew 12:28 Jesus explains that his power over demons is a distinguishing mark of his ministry which will ultimately bring about the Kingdom of God. This power is first given to the twelve disciples (Luke 9:1) then to the seventy-two (Luke 10:17). When Philip the evangelist (not one of the apostles), goes to Samaria in Acts 8 to preach the gospel he reports that ‘unclean spirits….came out of many who had them’. St. Paul uses spiritual authority over demons to cast the spirit of divination from the soothsaying girl (Acts 16:18).

Paul, in Romans 11:25, links the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ to the ultimate salvation of Israel and the day of the Lord. This means that evangelism efforts play a part in the spiritual warfare over the principalities of evil in this world. By the authority of the Holy Spirit, Christians are given authority over evil. So, we must infer those demons remain active in the world. Biblical doctrine highlights the differing stages in which demonic activity has occurred in the history of salvation:

  • The Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32; Psalm 106;1 Samuel 16)

  • During the ministry of Jesus

  • During the New Covenant age (as above, after the time of Pentecost)

  • During the Millenium- the future thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth (Rev 20)

We must be aware that not all evil stems from the demonic; a common way to summarise the three sources of evil in the life of the ordinary person is ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’. Humans, as mentioned previously, are prone to sinning so we may not require the ‘help’ of a demon.

Can a person be possessed?

The Greek text of the New Testament speak of people who ‘have a demon’ (Matt 11:18; Luke 7:33, 8:27; John 7:20,8:48-52, 10:20); they also mention people who suffer from demonic influence (δαιμονιζομαι) but the term demon possessed is never used. Perhaps the strongest example in the Bible, of someone who is completely under the dominion of demons and unable to assert any of their own will, is the Gerasene Demoniac who identifies themselves as ‘Legion’ (Mark 5:1-20). It becomes clear that there are differing degrees of demonic attack: Romans 6:14 tells us that sin can have no dominion over us since we have been raised with Christ; so, we remain able to choose to do right and to obey God. Yet some attacks can be strong and in place for some time: In Luke 13:16 we meet the daughter of Abraham whom ‘Satan bound for eighteen years.’

Gathering statistics on annual Exorcisms is near impossible due to the confidential nature of deliverance ministry. Yet, the Roman Catholic Church, The Anglican Church in the U.K, and the Episcopal Church in North America maintain the ministry. Anecdotal press reports speak of an increase in the numbers seeking the ministry with Italy reporting some half a million requests being made last year.

Spiritual Authority in Ministry.

Jesus gave all believers the authority to rebuke demons and command them to leave. Effectiveness of this may be dependent on our own spiritual condition: when Jesus casts out the demon of an epileptic boy, Jesus heals him instantly; the disciples come to him afterwards and ask, ‘why could we not cast it out?’ Jesus says to them ‘because of your little faith’ (Matt 17:18-20). Marks gospel reports that Jesus said, ‘this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer’ with some ancient manuscripts adding ‘and fasting’. The disciples at this time are weak in the power of the Holy Spirit having not spent enough time in prayer.

Paul tells Christians of their authority in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: ‘for though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’. James tells the many readers in the early Church to ‘resist the devil and he will flee’ (James 4:7); similarly, Peter tells the churches of Asia Minor ‘your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith’. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Despite the authority given, Paul tells us that we should be ‘infants in evil’ (1 Cor 14:20), that we should not become preoccupied or overly fascinated in evil despite its allure. Ultimately scripture points to the events of the cross as the moment that Satan and the dark forces of evil were defeated decisively. Hebrews 2:14 states that Jesus took on flesh and blood, ‘that through death he might destroy the one who has power over death, that is, the devil’.

[1] Sola Scriptura (scripture alone); Sola Fide (faith alone); Sola Gratia (grace alone); Solas Christus (Christ alone); Soli Deo Gloria (to the Glory of God alone). [2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (London: IVP, 2020) p533 [3] In the ancient Greek and Roman religions, Pan with his goats’ horns, hindquarters, cloven hooves is God of the Wilderness: there is considerable evidence in the Old Testament that an intimate relationship exists between the concept of “wilderness” and the primordial chaos before God created. The part of reality which cares not for human life and provides no sustenance [4] The relationship to the Hebrew words Nahas and Saraph (where we get Seraphim from) is very important: The Hebrew root N-Ch-Sh means shinning one so we can find a parallel to Lucifer; it is translated in Genesis 3:1 as serpent, the idea that the scales of a serpent shine as it moves. Saraph is used in scripture in Number 21:6 and Deuteronomy 8:15 to mean serpent; it literally means to burn indicating the venomous nature of the serpents. It is used as The Burning Ones (seraphim) in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel’s vision. Seraphim are regarded as the highest form of angelic being [5] Michael Heisner, Demons: What the Bible really says about the powers of Darkness, (Lexham Press: Washington, 2020) p6 [6] Michael Heisner, ‘Does Deuteronomy 32:17 Assume or Deny the Reality of Other Gods?’ Bible Translator, 59.3 (July 2008) p137-45 [7] Sometimes called intertestamental period as it includes writings from in between the Old and the New Testaments; these texts are considered non canonical but are used in some denominations as important historical Church texts with valuable moral teachings. [8] Enoch, Jubilees, and The Wisdom of Solomon texts. [9] Amar Annus, ‘On the Origins of The watchers: A comparative study of the antediluvian wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions’, JPS (19.4) 2010 p277-320 [10] Heisner, Demons p121 [11] Annus, Origins of the Watchers. P289 [12] Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) p46 [13] Grudem, Systematic Theology p536 [14] Daniel B. Wallace, Basics of Biblical Greek, (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1993) p79

38 views0 comments


bottom of page