Things that go bump in the night. Slithering or flailing people doing extraordinary things or knowing things that couldn't be known by natural means. Houses inhabited by demons that cause cabinets to open or things to fall off the walls. Have you experienced any of these kind of things? Not surprisingly many people would say yes.
Do demons exist? Are they fallen angels? Evil spirits? Do people in seances hear their dead mother speaking or is it just demons?
If demons are real, then where do they come from? There is actually no origin story to demons as they are never called fallen angels in the Bible.
If demons aren't real then how do we explain our experiences, our visions and Jesus' ministry of driving out demons? Are there alternative explanations. Are demons just another form of superstition?
First of all, the negative reflex of many is because they think I am saying that their experiences were not real, therefore it sounds as if I am saying they are lying. I am not.
I don't doubt your experiences, because I've had many of them myself. I have through the "discerning of spirits" seen things. I felt the shock of things suddenly and mysteriously falling off the walls. I've seen coins seemingly appear out of thin air supposedly to curse us because the date on the coin was associated with a tragedy that happened that year... which was to be part of a curse toward us of the same. I've been in the remote mountain villages of India were idol worship is strong and watched "manifestations" quelled by prayer and the name of Jesus. I've been in my bed at night when my wife and I both felt something unseen "crawling" in our bed, literally moving the mattress.
So, please, as we explore this topic, know I am not doubting your experiences. What I am doing is doubting our interpretation of the source of and reason for those experiences.
IT IS OBVIOUS RIGHT?
So let's go ahead and state the obvious. The Christian Bible does often use the word demon. Jesus cast/drove out demons. He commissioned those disciples (notice who he was speaking to... them not us) to cast out demons.
On the surface, it seems rather clear. Jesus believed in and was opposed to demons.
But I'm not one to take things at face-value. Did you ever notice that Jesus never tells us what demons are? Have you not wondered why there is no origin story of demons? Nowhere do we find that demons are fallen angels. Are you not curious that many of the ills associated with demons are known to have physiological explanations and they are cured today often by medication? Are we saying that medication drives out demons? As much "binding" of demons the charismatic Church has done, how is it that they still roam free to torment at will?
WHAT DID EARLY CULTURES BELIEVE ABOUT DEMONS?
Before exploring some valid alternative explanations let's take just a bit and discuss the history and use of the word demon or δαίμων.
As we will see, a demon in the culture of that day was simply understood as a "departed human spirit". We find that the Romans, the Greeks and Jews understood this to be so. The Greek word itself was not necessarily considered a negative word at all. According to one source, "The Greek terms do not have any connotations of evil or malevolence. In fact, εὐδαιμονία eudaimonia, (literally good-spiritedness) means happiness." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon).
Contrary to some opinions that the Jews were rabidly Aramaic in all their thought, Hellenistic Greek language and influence was pervasive in the time of Jesus. This is why we have the NT in Greek, because it was the most common language of the day. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) convert the Hebrew Old Covenant Scriptures into Greek for this very purpose.
So what was the Greek thought? John Epps has an excellent article called "The Devil: A Biblical Exposition of the Truth Concerning 'That Old Serpent, The Devil and Satan'" written in the 1800's. He wrote,
"Many such ―spirits of departed human beings the ancients deified and worshipped: and hence the word daimon meant to the Greeks, and those who used their language, human departed ―spirits raised to the rank of gods and deities. ―Homer calleth all his gods, daimones, and Hesoid the worthies of the golden age. (Leigh‘s Critica Sacra, article Daimon.) Hesoid maintains, indeed, that whenever a good man dies he becomes a demon: and Plato praises him for the sentiment." (p 31)
Again we find Plato saying, "All those who die valiantly in war are of Hesiod‘s golden generation, and become demons; and we ought for ever to worship and adore their sepulchres, as the sepulchres of demons." (Plato de Republica, c. v. 468, tom. ii., editio Serrani.) In other words, in Greek thought demons were the heroic spirits of the dead, often considered gods, who were worshiped while the idols simply represented them.
But was this the view of the Jews? The LXX only translates two instances of "demons" in the OT and never as something by which one would be possessed. Let me give an extensive quote from John Epps again,
Opinions, similar to those held by the Greeks and the Latins, were entertained by the Jews. Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian, asserts that those called daimonia are the ―spirits of wicked men who enter the living, and kill those who receive no help (De Bell. Jud., lib. vii., 2, 6, § 3). Very early in the history of the Jews they had become acquainted with the gods of the heathen, and showed a lamentable proneness to adopt the principles and the practices of their superstitious and idolatrous neighbours. The philosophy of the east was greatly studied and admired by the Jews, and they came to regard persons possessed as possessed by the same ―spirit as those which their neighbours regarded as the possessing.
So strongly was this opinion rooted in their minds, and so generally diffused among the people, that when the Saviour casts out daimonia, the Pharisees observed, ―He casteth out daimonia by Beelzebub, the Prince of daimonia‖ (Matt. 9v 34), a statement at which no astonishment was expressed; which, had not the knowledge of the doctrine of possessions by ―departed human spirits‘ been general among the Jews, would have excited astonishment.
Who, then, was this Beelzebub, the prince, not of devils, as the Common Version renders the word, but of demons? We read in the Old Testament that one of the kings of Israel, namely, Ahaziah, ―sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, inquire of Beelzebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover of this disease? (2 Kings 1 v2). This Beelzebub was esteemed a god - that is, a daimon: that is, a deified human ―spirit, which ―spirit the Jews, like other nations, believed to possess people. The meaning of the word zebub or zebul is a fly, the god which the Ekronites worshipped.
History informs us that those who lived in hot climates, and where the soil is moist (which was the case with the Ekronites, who bordered on the sea), were exceedingly infested with flies. These insects were thought to cause contagious distempers. Pliny makes mention of a people, who stopped a pestilence which these insects occasioned, by sacrificing to the flyhunting god. (Pliny. Nat. Hist. lib. x. c., 28 § 40).
Influenced by this prejudice, Ahaziah, instead of applying to the true God, Yahweh, applied to this god of Ekron for deliverance, or for a knowledge of his state in reference to the disease, which he most likely considered to depend upon the influence of these flies; and that, on this ground, Beelzebub could inform him of the result. (Beelzebub was, most likely, Jupiter, who is described by the Greeks as muiodes, the god of flies, and the inuiagros, the fly hunter). The fact of Ahaziah applying to Beelzebub shows at what an early period the Jews were acquainted with the demonology of the surrounding heathen nations, and how they had adopted the notions regarding the power of these demons: a fact which explains the use of the phrase daimonion so frequently in the gospels. The existence of these daimones, as possessing and influencing human beings, was recognised so fully among the Jews, that Josephus, already quoted, who was nearly contemporary with the apostles, dwells much upon the expulsion of demons: he gives an instance of successful expulsion when tried by a Jew in the presence of Vespasian: and further declares, no doubt with the view of elevating the great monarch of the Jews, Solomon, that God instructed Solomon in the anti-demoniac art." (p 34-35)
As you can see, the Gospels should not be interpreted outside its historical context and the audience to which Jesus was speaking and ministering.
So then... how are we to understand the ministry of Jesus in casting out demons, and if demons were not fallen angels, then what was Jesus doing? Why didn't Jesus explain or clarify what demons were? We will examine this in our next blog...
Are you SURE you know who/what satan, devils and demons are?
Have you been involved in "spiritual warfare" movements where the more you focus on the devil, the more warfare you actually get or where there is more talk to the devil than Jesus?
I'm not an outsider, pointing the finger, but an insider who has been through all kinds of "spiritual warfare" over the years. From extensive study, personal experience and insight into this beautiful gospel, I want to share with you THREE HOURS of material that was presented by me at a recent event.
What if you have been shadow-boxing an enemy that doesn't even exist?