"Demon Possession and the Christian" (3)
By C. Fred Dickason
The following is the first of three chapters from the book "Demon Possession and the Christian" by C. Fred Dickason. It is published in the UK by Crossway Books, Eastbourne. (ISBN number 1-85684-015-8.) C. Fred Dickason is the Chairman of the theology department at Moody Bible Institute and the author of "Angels: Elect and Evil". These chapters are offered as research into the subject. They must not be copied, republished, recirculated or stored in any manner, either electronic or on paper. I encourage you to buy the book, as it is useful as a whole in studying this subject.
Certain passages of Scripture are cited as evidence that genuine believers may be inhabited by demons. We must consider some of these in the same way we treated passages against this thesis in the previous chapter.
PASSAGES INDICATING DEMONIC INFLUENCE
Chapter One presented the reality of demonic activity and its direction against believers. Here we would notice briefly the statements of direct influence upon believers. We must remember that demons are agents of Satan, and indications of his activity may be best understood as the work of demons for him. We should remember also that this influence is real and distinct from the enemies of the flesh and the world, though at times they may be intertwined.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:34
Though this passage speaks of the blinding of the minds of the unsaved so that they may not understand and receive the truth of the gospel, it indicates the opposition to evangelistic efforts of the Christian. We can expect direct demonic opposition in communicating the gospel and even personal attack when seeking to share the truth. This passage, however, says nothing about demonization either of the unbeliever or the believer.
Paul says that Satan thwarted him from coming to help the believers in Thessalonica. We have no information as to exactly how this was accomplished. That demons were involved we may surmise. There may have been human agents as well. However, this passage says nothing of demonization in any clear sense.
1 JOHN 4:1-4
This passage presents demonic spirits as operating in false teachers who deny that Jesus Christ is the God-man. This was evaluated in the previous chapter as a passage that precluded the demonization of believers. But there are some who suggest that these false teachers in the assembly were also believers:
John agrees with Paul that evil spirits will he actively working against Christians to the end of the age and can speak through the false prophets. These men appear to be Christians and maybe are or have been Christians. (1)
Here we must note first the lack of evidence that these false teachers are genuine believers. There is no statement to that effect. There is no mention of discipline for them. Believers are to reject them and regard them as aligned with the spirit of error (1 John 4:6). Note also the words "are or have been Christians". This implies loss of salvation. We have dealt with the issue of the security of the genuine believer in chapter 3.
We conclude that this passage does not present any sure evidence that believers can be inhabited by demons.
2 PETER 2:1-22
Peter warns about the influence of false teachers invading the assemblies of believers. They will be judged, just as the well-known biblical examples of sinning angels, the unbelieving world of Noah's day, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:4-6). Then there is another group, those who follow these false teachers (2:2). Peter describes the character and activity of the false teachers (2:10-19a). He then speaks of the followers who are overcome and enslaved by them (2:19~22).
Of the followers, Peter states,
"For It would he better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'A dog returns to its own vomit,' and, 'A sow after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire'. (2:21-22)
Following a brief survey of New Testament evidence, one source refers to this passage and states, "Christians stand in real danger of being tempted, attacked, and even controlled by evil spirits if they are not careful to be fully protected by the whole armor of God and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ." (2)
What does this passage say about the demonization of believers? First, we must note that direct activity of demons is implied rather than stated. Angels are mentioned in the context but are not directly connected to the false teachers or followers (2:4). Demonization is not specifically mentioned either. It may well be that demons and demonization are involved, but there is no certain evidence here.
Second, there is no clear evidence that either the teachers or the followers are Christians. In fact, the teachers are corrupt (2:10), are born as mere natural creatures (not born again, 2:12), and are reserved for punishment in the black darkness (2:17). The followers came to know the truth, evidently by previous good teaching, and then were ensnared by the false teachers who prevented them from coming into a true relationship with Christ. They knew the facts of the gospel, but never received the Savior. This is evidenced by the fact that they returned to their previous natural way of life. This is the meaning of the proverbs quoted in verse 22. The dog acts as a dog and a sow as a sow despite all the external changes. There has never been a change of nature either with the animals or with the followers. Their reversion indicates their lack of conversion.
We conclude that there is no sure evidence of the demonization of genuine believers available from this passage. Where there is a reasonable doubt of the certainty of the contribution of a passage, we cannot legitimately count on it.
1 CORINTHIANS 2:11
Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to forgive and restore to fellowship (not leadership, by the way) the disciplined and repentant person "In order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes."
This passage may be dealing with a man who had been influenced by Satan or demons, but there is no mention of such in the context here or in 1 Corinthians 5 where the same man may be in consideration. The man's own sin is under treatment there and his personal restoration here. There is the stern warning here, however, that Satan or demons might take advantage of the opportunity to cause difficulty of some sort. We are not specifically told what his action might be, but it may have been dividing the church over whether to restore this man involved in such a gross sin as incest. Whatever it might have been, we cannot clearly read from this passage any evidence that genuine believers can be demon inhabited. It falls to present any evidence, let alone conclusive evidence, along this line.
1 TIMOTHY 4:1
Paul warns, "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons."
Some suggest this indicates that believers come under the influence of demons to such an extent that they fall away from the truth and teach demonically inspired doctrines. The statement by Unger must be seriously considered:
These must be believers who turn and become heretics, for only such could leave true Christianity The result is that they get involved with "seducing [wandering] spirits" and land in "doctrine of devils [demons]," denoting teaching instigated by demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Departure from the faith does not necessarily mean defection from Christ, although apostates are no more excluded from this passage than are heretics. Rather, it suggests departure from revealed truth. This doctrinal deterioration allows for the various stages of contact with the powers of darkness in demonization depending on the severity of doctrinal lapse and the type of cult in which the victim is ensnared. Demon control is not unknown among believers who give themselves wholly to the demonic doctrines taught by the cults; witness the blindness and insulation against the truth that result. (3)
The demonic influence here described is serious. The verb used for "fall away" is apostesontai, which comes from a root that indicates a departure from a professed stand and a falling away from God (Heb. 3:12) It was used of the accusation by Jews that Paul was teaching men to depart from Moses (Acts 21:21). In noun form this word was used by Paul to describe the apostasy under the coming Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3). Whether in each case this can be shown to refer to genuine believers departing from Christ or the gospel, or whether it refers only to unbelievers backing away from a professed stand for Christ, is doubtful. But the departure in 1 Timothy 4:1 is due to the direct influence of demonic forces. Here is a mind-control effort by demons on men to lead them away from the truth and to demonically influenced teaching. Whether this is control from external demons or due to invading demons, the passage does not say.
Thus we have a passage that is unclear as to whether the teachers are Christians or not and as to whether the demons involved are outside or inside the false teachers. We must conclude that this passage does not contribute clear information as to whether demons can invade Christians.
PASSAGES INDICATING DEMONIC ATTACK
There is no doubt that Satan and demons attack Christians. They seem to be special targets of the enemies of God because they are the children of God and hated as God is hated. Some do not recognize the full range of activities leveled against the children of God because they think that salvation automatically protects us from all sorts of evil. This simply is not so. The Scriptures make it quite clear that God's children, upon entering their position in the heavenlies in Christ (Eph. 2:5-6), also enter a battle royal with the forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:10-12). Some adduce evidence from certain passages of the Bible that lead them to conclude that these attacks may include invasion of the person, or demonization. We must consider some of these passages also.
Finally, be strong in the lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (6:10-12)
This classic passage presents the warfare that every believer must face soberly in the real world. Does it present any evidence of invasion of believers? The question arises, What happens to the believer who does not avail himself of the Lord's strength and does not put on the complete armor? Paul does not specifically say but the passage gives some indications.
The battle seems to have mental as well as physical and external dimensions. There are obviously enemies on the outside of the Christian. But there is a sin nature within through which Satan can attack the believer. The terms in the passage indicate a mind-against-mind struggle - the mind of demons against the mind of the believer. The general term "schemes" (metbodeicis) indicates demonic craftiness or stratagems designed to deceive, defraud, and pervert. Here demonic minds are presented as seeking to lead human minds into error and sin so as to trap and defeat them. Some specifics of how this may be accomplished come to light in the rest of the passage. The armor includes the belt of truth, the system of truth in Christ to be mentally apprehended and morally applied (v. 14). The breastplate of righteousness seems best understood as mentally standing in the righteousness that Christ provided through His merits when we trusted Him and were justified. Trusting in the peace that God established through the blood of Christ seems to be the provision of the sandals of peace that prepare us for battle. These pieces of armor are also mentally perceived and applied.
The remaining three pieces of armor are also mental and moral concepts to be applied in battle. The shield of faith is confidence in God. The helmet of deliverance seems to speak of keeping in mind that we are on the winning side, remembering that if God be for us no one can be successfully against us. The sword of the Spirit refers to the appropriate sayings (brema) of Scripture, which are remembered and perceived as applying to the particular aspect of the battle at hand. These, too, are battles involving the mind.
The question remains: Are the thoughts that seek to intrude upon believers' minds from external sources or internal sources? Demonic forces seek to propagandize from whatever station they may take. Do these terms above speak of solely external mind-control games or internal also? Obviously the enemies desire some internal response from the believer. It may well be that some of the battle takes place from within the believer, but the passage does not specifically state the location of the demonic forces that seek the mind control. It is true that the same word used in Ephesians 6:11 for schemes is used also in Ephesians 4:14 to describe the devious means that human errorists use against believers, but that does not exclude its use of demons possibly within a person.
We conclude that though the passage speaks of attempted mind control by demonic forces, there is no definite evidence as to the location of the demons themselves. As far as we know at this point, they might be outside or inside. Evidence other than just this passage must be considered.
Paul warns believers, "Be angry and yet do not sin, - do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity"
This is representative of several passages that speak of Satan or demons taking advantage of believers due to some weakness or sin. Anger is an internal, mental attitude often expressed externally. Satan obviously takes advantage of unresolved anger according to this passage. What does that mean? Again, Paul does not specifically state exactly how or where demonic forces would operate. They may aggravate the mind of the angry believer to lead him to hate and bitterness, perhaps even to seek revenge. They may lead to division of brethren and interruption of fellowship, the hurt of relationships, and the hindering of God's work. But again we must limit our conclusions regarding the invasion of believers by demons. There is no specific evidence that this is the case in this passage or in similar passages, some of which we will yet observe.
Paul specifies some qualifications for the elders of the church: "not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."
The condemnation incurred by the devil refers to disqualification and dismissal from the place of fellowship and privilege. It does not refer to the loss of salvation. Satan never was saved by the grace of God and accorded the righteousness of Christ in which to stand blameless before God. His pride caused his fall into sin from which he could never be redeemed. Redeemed men can never be found in that condition. This passage speaks of reduction to uselessness for the office of elder.
The reproach and snare of the devil refers to that condition that Satan and demons seek to bring upon leaders of the church to disqualify them in the eyes of the public. The leaders of Christ's church must be blameless in the eyes of all (1 Tim. 3:2).
Just how all this is brought to bear by Satan is not specifically stated. Pride is a matter of the mind, and it can originate in the human mind, for all believers still possess an evil sin nature. Satan can seek to cultivate pride through various means. But this passage does not specifically state the exact influence or location of demonic forces who would attack the Christian leader.
We conclude that this passage does not support the concept that a believer may be inhabited by demons.
1 PETER 5:6-8
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Peter connects, by close mention, anxiety and the lack of casting our concerns upon the Father to the possibility of attack by Satan. He does not specify the exact type of attack. It may again be related to the furthering of over-concern and anxiety to the point of great depression and despair of life itself. Some are driven to suicidal thoughts and actions through such anxiety. It is just like the one who is called "the destroyer" ("Abaddon" and "Apollyon," Rev. 9:11) to seek to lead a person to suicide. (In my counseling of the demonically oppressed, I have found this to be so.)
What does Peter mean by the term "devour"? The Greek word is katapino and refers to drinking down or swallowing, such as an animal does his prey. It was used in translating the Hebrew of the Old Testament when referring to the fish's swallowing Jonah (Jonah 1:17) and when describing the sinking of Pharaoh's army in the sea (Ex. 15:4). It is used in the metaphorical sense of a man overwhelmed by extreme sorrow (2 Cor. 2:7) and of the mortal being swallowed up in life (2 Cor. 5:4) (6) Peter, then, may be using the word here of physical hurt or spiritual depression. How this is done is not specified. But the devil does seek to do it. The warning is not against something unreal or 'impossible. It could involve outward or inward attack, but the passage does not clarify
Unger comments on this warning:
Certainly this conveys the idea that the powers of darkness are able to make a very serious encroachment upon the life of a child of God. In fact, they go so far as to kill the body (Matt. 10:28). How dare a believer ignore this warning or naively tone down its terrifying implications? (7)
We conclude that though the enemy seeks a ravaging of the believer's life, the form is not specifically stated. This passage does not give sufficient evidence to conclude anything about the possible demonizatlon of a believer.
2 TIMOTHY 2:26
Paul instructs Timothy to correct with gentleness those who oppose the truth so that they might come by the grace of God to repent, "and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."
In this passage, it is the unbeliever who has been snared by demonic forces. He needs the liberating grace of God that leads him to repent and recognize the truth. He has not previously known the truth (2:25). So we are not considering the case of a believer. This snaring involves blinding to the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3A) and leading into a false life-style. It could involve idolatry and invasion by spirits, but the passage does not specify all that is involved.
Some understand verse 26, as in the New American Standard Bible, to refer to the devil's taking men captive at will. If it refers to the action of Satan, it merely states that they have been taken captive. The idea that Satan can capture them whenever he wishes is not stated here. Whenever he is allowed to do so, he captures them to get them to do his will. Others understand this verse to refer to God's setting men free from the devil so that they may do God's will.
We must conclude that this passage does not contribute evidence that believers can be demonized.
PASSAGES THAT MAY INDICATE INVASION OF BELIEVERS
The passages treated above indicate influence or attack upon believers, but the passages to be investigated here may possibly indicate demonization of believers. Some have taken them in such a fashion. Some passages imply invasion. Others speak of invasion as definite or nearly so. In the latter, we must consider whether the persons invaded were actually believers. All these portions of God's Word must be faced as objectively as possible to determine the contribution they make.
We will first treat passages that imply the possibility of believers' being demonized.
GENESIS 31:19, 34.35
Here we have the story of Rachel, Jacob's wife, stealing her father's household idols when Jacob fled secretly from Laban. The story tells of her theft and her subsequent deceit in hiding the idols and lying to her father to keep him from them. We will not dispute whether Rachel was a believer in God, but we can question whether the motivation to steal and lie was caused by inhabiting demons. We know that demons energize idol worship (Ps. 106:35-38; 1 Cor. 10:20), but we do not know if Rachel was externally or internally influenced by demons in this matter. Evidence is lacking for any sure conclusion here. What is clear is that it is difficult for those engaged in idolatry to break family and cultural influences and habits.
The case of Balaam presents some people with evidence of demonic invasion of believer. Says Unger;
The career of Balaam (Num. 22-24) offers a strange mixture of occultism and the worship and service of God. As a pagan divine of repute, Balaam of necessity was energized as a clairvoyant and soothsayer by demon power, as are all occultists who operate in the realm of evil supernaturalism.
Yet, despite the fact that he was contaminated by occult religion and an enemy of Israel, God raised him up at least temporarily to the status of a true prophet of the Lord. "The spirit of God came upon him" (Num. 24:2).
Balaam illustrates the fact that the Spirit of God may work in believers who are weak in faith and deficient in sound doctrine. (8)
Some hold that Balaam was a believer in the true God. He was visited by God (22:20), he sought the Lord's permission (22:8), he recognized he had sinned (22:34), and he was used of God to bless Israel (23:7-10). But he had so many questionable attitudes and actions that it is difficult to claim that he was a true and regenerate believer in God. He continued to seek loopholes so that he could make money in prophesying against Israel. He did not outrightly reject the monetary offer from Balak (22:8). God spoke to him, and he was afraid to continue (22:13), but he again sought some compromise (22:19). God's anger with him is obvious. As he sought to go up the mountain to curse God's people, God caused his donkey to speak and drew his attention to the angel of the Lord who came out against him because his way was against God (22:32).
Balaam is never commended by God and is always the example of a prophet out for his own good and against God (Rev. 2:14). In Jude 11, ungodly teachers who are headed for destruction and darkness are said to have "rushed headlong into the error of Balaam."
It may be true that Balaam was energized by demons and was given special powers by inhabiting demons, as are many in the occult; but it is difficult to prove that this ungodly man was a true believer. He was not necessarily a believer just because the Spirit of God came upon him. This is a case of God's overpowering him in sovereign fashion to keep his mouth from cursing Israel and to direct him to bless Israel.
We cannot allow this as good evidence that a believer may be inhabited by demons. (9) Unger makes reference to other Old Testament cases which he considers as evidence for the demonization of believers, but the cases have too many assumptions and speculations to be of any great weight. (10)
"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 text says there were many demonized, and He healed all who were ill. Are we to suppose, state some, that none of these who were treated by Christ were genuine believers? Did He minister only to unbelievers? Such could hardly be the case. Many would allow that believers could be sick but not among the demonized. The text makes no such division. Another point to be made here is that illness is not automatically relieved at salvation and never to be experienced thereafter. Why should we suppose that such is the case with demonizatlon?
This argument is from inference, and not from direct statement. It may be classified as an argument from silence. That is, since the text does not exclude believers from these groups, it must include believers in them. Such an argument is weak. Though the presence of believers might well be expected among those treated, we do not have explicit evidence to that fact. We must again say that the weight of the facts does not bring us to an inescapable conclusion.
The case here is of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, who sold their land to bring in money for the Christian community They had seen how Barnabas was recognized for such a generous deed. But they lied by saying that what they gave was the full price, keeping back some of the sale money Peter by God's wisdom said: "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?"
Unger presents this as a case of "satanic inworking":
The sin of Ananias and Sapphlra (Ac 5:1-11) furnished an inlet for the powers of darkness. But it is not easy from the data presented to define theologically precisely what took place.... Satan, the "liar, and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44, NASB), "filled" their hearts "to lie to the Holy Spirit" (Ac 5:3, NASB). The same word used of the believer who is "filled with the Spirit" (plero) is employed here of Ananias, whom the power of darkness "filled" (Eph. 5:18)." (11)
The least this can mean is that Satan (or demons) influenced the hearts of these believers to lie. The filling would be with the suggested scheme of self-glorification and deception. The most it could mean is that inhabiting demons controlled them, as they gave themselves to the scheme, to seek to deceive men and God. But as Unger states, the data does not allow us to define exactly what took place. The use of the same word for "fill" does not guarantee that it has the same connections or type of cause. The Holy Spirit does reside in the New Testament believer and can fill or control as the believer allows and co-operates with the Spirit's enabling. There is no definite indication that Satan or demons resided within either Ananias or Sapphira. This may be similar to what Jesus saw in Peter's remonstrance concerning His death. Peter was influenced by Satan and in a sense took his philosophy and gave it expression (Matt. 16:23) Would someone suggest that Peter was demonized? There is not a shred of evidence for that, nor did Christ ever seek to cast a demon out of the leader of the apostles.
We must again conclude that there is not sufficient evidence to determine if this is a case of believers being demonized. But it does show the terrible consequences of giving Satan room to work in one's life. Believers are not immune to his direct attacks, especially if they are living in sin.
Here is the unusual case of Simon the magician. His power and reputation had been well established for a long time among the Samaritans. He was called "the Great Power of God" (8:10-11). When the people believed the gospel preached by Philip, so did Simon. He, along with the group, was baptized. He continued listening and observing and being constantly amazed (8:12-13). The problem enters when Simon, observing the miraculous giving of the Spirit by the authority of Christ operating through the laying on of the apostles' hands, offered them money to obtain that power. The story continues:
But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money but have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may he forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity" But Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.
Here is an apparent believer under the influence of sin and perhaps demonic control left over from his pre-conversion activity in demonically empowered magic (comparable to the magical activity of Pharaoh's court magicians, who obviously worked by power other than illusion, (Ex. 7-8; see also 2 Thess. 2:8-9).
Some take the word of Peter regarding Simon's sinful attitude to indicate that his faith was not real and that he was still in the bondage of the unconverted heathen magician that he was. (12)
But there are reasons to think that he was a real believer who was still thinking in terms of his occult world view There is little reason to believe that Luke wants us to think that Simon's faith was unreal. The same terms used of other believers are used of him. The construction of the Greek text emphasizes that even Simon himself believed and was baptized, just like the other believers. He also attached himself faithfully (proskarteron) to Philip. (13) We might consider that he was genuine in his repentance and asking for prayer (8:24). And it is noteworthy that Peter did not say that Simon needed to receive Christ. He centered in on the particular sin regarding this matter of seeking to buy God's power, evidently for some self-centered purpose at least in part (8:22).
We might conclude that this believer was still in the bondage of his pagan, occult world view and of his self-promoting scheming, as is the case with many former occultists we have encountered. His magic was formerly accomplished by demonic forces. But we cannot say for certain that he was still inhabited by wicked spirits, even though the attitude and actions of such bondage may be manifest here. The evidence is inconclusive, but the possibility exists that he was still demonized.
I CORINTHIANS 5:1-13
Paul directs the church to discipline the man who is living in an incestual relationship. He calls on the congregation to judge the man by excommunication from the fellowship:
In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may he saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (5:4-5).
Opinions differ as to whether this man was a genuine believer, but he is treated as though he were. He is judged as one within the church (5:12-13). He is disciplined as a brother (5:5). But the expression "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" gives some problems. If he is unsaved, why is he turned over to Satan that his spirit might be saved? That is not the New Testament norm for dealing with the unsaved. Why the reference to the future day of judgment when he could be saved by trusting Christ in repentance now? Could this be a reference to the judgment seat of Christ, where we shall give account of our life and works for Christ? This is the usual meaning of "the day of our lord Jesus," a reference to the bema at which Christ rewards believers (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Perhaps this discipline is for saving his spiritual usefulness so that he will not be Judged as completely unprofitable in Christ's evaluation.
The turning him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh may refer to the overcoming of the sin nature or to the taking of his physical life, the ultimate in discipline for God's children (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). Some see in this the allowing of demonic invasion that would lead the man ultimately to physical death. But the fact of demonization is not mentioned, and the terms used do not demand that understanding. All we can say is that God would have employed satanic forces to be used as part of the discipline to restore this sinning man. This man may be the one Paul urged the Corinthians to restore to fellowship upon his repentance (2 Cor 2:5-11).
The conclusion that this evidences demonization of a genuine believer is not warranted.
1 CORINTHIANS 1O.1~22
We have examined this passage in the previous chapter as evidence some use to prove that demons cannot inhabit believers. We found the argument to be inadequate. On the other hand, some use this passage to prove that believers can be demonized. They appeal to the danger of which Paul warns, the danger of actual fellowship with demons:
What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?
Here the apostle argues against participating in idolatrous feasts because it makes them to be fellowshipers (koinonous) with demons. This fellowship is considered to be a genuine possibility, not an impossibility That is the purpose of his stern warning. The language seems clear. The sharing in common with demons is a reality, a confusion, and a testing of God that may evoke dire consequences. (Note the treatment of this passage in some detail in chapter 6.)
Some see this fellowshiplng (10:20) as an evidence of the inhabiting of demons. We cannot lightly dismiss this possibility Participation in idolatry for these Corinthians was not new. They may have been invaded by demons in their giving themselves to idolatry and immorality in their previous pagan life. That such can lead to demonization is borne out by Scripture and by observation of individuals in pagan cultures. Now these believers were involved in practices inconsistent with their relationship to Christ, and they were in terrible danger. This may have included invasion by the demons they were worshiping.
But we cannot say for certain that they were demonized or in danger of demonizatlon from the language of this passage. Stem as it is, the passage does not speak certainly to this matter. The koinonia may be sharing with demons in the worship of idols and in seeming agreement with the pagans celebrating the feast. There may be a fellowshiping that is external in this sense. Again, we must decline the certainty of the conclusion that this passage teaches the possibility of demonization of believers.
2 CORINTHIANS 11:34
But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived live by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.
It is clear that Paul is warning against satanic and demonic influence that would turn the Corinthians from loyalty to the true Savior, the true Holy Spirit, and the true apostle (11:13-15). Regarding the danger involved, Unger states:
Christians have received "the spirit which is of God" (1 Cor 2:12). But they are in danger of receiving "another" spirit of a "different" kind (a demon spirit), especially when encountering satanic delusion working in the religious realm (1 Tim 4:1; 1 Jn 4:1-2; cf. 2 Th 2:2). This is exactly what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 11:4.... Only by another spirit, that is, a spirit "different" from the Holy Spirit (a demon spirit), could one preach another (different) Jesus and "another (different) gospel" (Gal 1:6-9) The expression "receiving another" or "different spirit" therefore means more than simply believing and receiving false teachers. It denotes believing and receiving the spirit "not of [from] God" (1 Jn 4:3), who energizes all false teachers. . . . In such a case he receives a spirit different in kind from the Holy Spirit. The conclusion is inescapable; he receives an alien spirit (14)
What Unger suggests must be considered. We know that demons often energize false teachers. We know that unwary believers may receive the false doctrine from the false teachers. The question, however, remains as to what it means to "receive a different spirit." Must this mean invasion by a demon in every case, or even in any case?
First, it may not be so that only by resident demons may one preach a different gospel. There is no way to assure that. Demons may promote false teaching from outside the teacher by influencing the mind. Second, to receive a different spirit may mean to receive the teacher influenced by the spirit. Yet to receive the teacher is in a sense to receive the demon influencing him. What is this receiving? Should it be directly compared with receiving the Holy Spirit? This is not specifically contrasted in the context. It could be merely the presence of the teacher in whom the spirit of a demon dwells. It seems that this may be Paul's emphasis: to receive the false teacher in the assembly may be to receive a demonic spirit into the assembly Paul does not speak so much to the individual believer as to the assembly of believers concerning their receiving demonically inspired false teachers. In fact, Paul speaks of the Galatians receiving him into their midst (Gal. 4:14). This does not require either that Paul was internally received into the individual or that the Holy Spirit was automatically received by an individual just because that one received Paul and heard his message. There is beyond that a wilful giving over to the message.
We must take the warning here into consideration. Paul may be speaking of the possibility of receiving a demon to inhabit, but the evidence does not support that conclusion without doubt.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:7-8
And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
There are those who may consider that the "messenger of Satan" was a resident demon allowed continually to trouble Paul. They view the "thorn in the flesh" as describing the location of the demon in the body Others see this as an external attack on Paul's body inflicted in some way by Satan himself or a demon. Bubeck sees this as an illustration of "obsession," which, in advance over "oppression," indicates "a more intense level of demonic attack which may be experienced by all believers". (15)
Actually there are several problems of interpretation that we must consider to understand the contribution of this passage to our question of whether believers can be inhabited by demons:
(1) the meaning of "thorn in the flesh,"
(2) the meaning of "a messenger [angel] of Satan," and
(3) the meaning of "buffet."
The word "thorn" (skolops) means a stake, thorn, or splinter, indicating some injurious foreign body' (16) H. A. W Meyer suggests that it is "the figurative conception of a thorn pressed into the flesh with acute pain" and should be understood as a Greek dative meaning "a thorn for the flesh." (17) If this is the case, the term does not emphasize the location as within or on the surface of the body but rather speaks of what it torments - the body. It also affected Paul's mental attitude, for it is obvious that it was God's design to prevent any spiritual pride over the great revelation God had previously given to Paul (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul knew it was allowed by God, even though instigated by Satan; for he seriously asked God three times for its removal, but God answered him three times that His grace would enable Paul to bear it and demonstrate God's power (12:8-9).
The word "flesh" (sarx) can mean the body or the sin nature. Meyer suggests it means "that part of my nature which lusts to sin (in specie, to self-exaltation)". (18) The problem here is, How can a thorn be fixed in the sin nature? Some might see this as the possibility of an angel from Satan dwelling inside the sin nature, a natural toehold for evil. (We might ask where the sin nature is located.) This seems far from what Paul is emphasizing. It seems far more natural in the context to take "flesh" as a reference to the physical body and the thorn as a physical malady brought upon the body by Satan.
The term "a messenger of Satan" (angelos satana) admits of more than one meaning, but there is only one that Paul had in mind. It could mean a demon sent by Satan, as he has angels who serve him (Matt. 25:41). In this case the demon could be considered as a constant or intermittent harassment to his body The term angelos may also refer to Satan himself (messenger of Satan could mean the messenger Satan). However, "the actual usage is against it, for Satan, so often as he occurs in the NT., is never named angelos (19) Though this is not the strongest argument, there is some strength to it. A second meaning might be that the demon actually dwelt in his body (or as some say in his sin nature). In this case he would have been demonized. There is no indication other than this phrase that would indicate that Paul had an inhabiting demon. This would bring his apostolic ministry under suspicion.
A third and most likely meaning is that Satan or a demon caused a bodily affliction or illness. In this case, there is no inhabiting of a demon. There are many attempted explanations of what this affliction might be. (20) Two reasonable possibilities are eye trouble, such as opthalmla, or a recurrent fever, such as malaria. It caused him such limitations that it weakened him and hindered his ministry to such an extent that he was very concerned to be relieved of it. However, the Lord said to him, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (12:9). We see that it is not always God's purpose to completely remove the effects of Satan's attack, but God can overrule it for good. It kept Paul humble and dependent.
The purpose of Satan, graciously overruled for good by God, was to "buffet" (kolaphizo) Paul. God would keep him from self-exaltation. The Greek word means "to strike with the fist, beat, cuff" or "to treat roughly" (21) The present tense of the verb indicates that this action was still continuing. It is not clear whether the action is that of the demon continuing his work or of the resultant affliction continuing to give Paul trouble. We cannot say for certain that the demon continued with Paul.
We do not have enough information to conclude what Paul had as a messenger from Satan" for a "thorn in the flesh." We cannot say it was a resident demon. We cannot say that a demon intermittently harassed him. Most likely we can say that it was a recurrent physical malady originally caused by Satan or a demon. God continued to use it as a spiritually healthy benefit for Paul.
The above passages may be used to imply that demons may inhabit a believer, but the evidence is not all that certain. The next cases involve persons that are most likely if not certainly demonized. Here the question is, Are they genuine believers?
THE CASE OF KING SAUL
The book of 1 Samuel presents the strange case of Saul, who had problems with the flesh and with a wicked spirit. Though Saul started his kingly career in fairly good fashion, he deteriorated in spiritual behavior due to his self-dependence and rebellion.
Some question whether Saul was even a believer. But there seems to be sufficient evidence of this. The Spirit of God came upon him mightily he was "changed into another man," and this was evidenced by his prophesying (1 Sam. 10:6-12). He later was empowered by the Spirit of God mightily to defend Israel (11:6-7). God chose him as king (at insistence of the people, 10:17-24) and enabled him on occasion. Never does Samuel question his relationship to God. He received Samuel's and God's approval (12:17-18). But his fellowship and obedience were faulty (13:8-14; 15:11, 22-23). Later Saul acknowledged the providence of God and confessed his wrong to David (24:16-22; 26:21-25).
If Saul was a believer (and we have good reason to hold this), then it seems fairly clear that at least upon occasion he was invaded by a wicked spirit that controlled his behavior:
"Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him" (16:14). The demon would also depart from him when David would play his harp to refresh him spiritually (16:18-23). If the demon invaded Saul, then it also left him on occasion or at least stopped his terrifying activity and retreated within. If the demon was merely terrorizing from outside his body then it left his presence. The same demonic activity occurred on two or three other occasions. These were the times when Saul was so aggravated by the demon that he actually tried to pin David to the wall with his spear. Note the passages:
Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul's hand. And Saul hurled the spear for he thought, "I will pin David to the wall." But David escaped from his presence twice. (1 Sam. 18:10.11)
Now there was an evil spirit from the Lord on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing the harp with his hand. And Saul tried to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night. (1 Sam. 19:9-10)
We must note that in the first passage, the harsh treatment from the demon caused a sustained behavioral change, introduced a murderous thought into Saul's mind, and moved Saul's body to throw the spear to kill David, God's anointed replacement for the king. This mind and body control exhibited by the demon seems fairly certain to be internal and could be compared to some of the similar characteristics of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-5; see the treatment of this demonized case in chap. 2). The second instance shows much the same type of control. Sudden change of personality and behavior is typical of those who are subject to demonic control from within. Harassment comes from outside, but mind and body control come' from within. This is recognized by perceptive evangelicals. (22)
From the evidence it is fairly certain that Saul was invaded on one or several occasions by a demon as a chastisement from God for his rebellion, which God regards as wretched as the sin of witchcraft or divination (1 Sam. 15:23). It also is quite certain that he was a genuine though carnal believer. Here is, then, a very probable case of a believer invaded by an evil spirit.
Some will object that this could indeed happen in that age, for the Spirit of God would come upon and leave believers in accord with His purpose of enablement. That is true. The Holy Spirit did not come to dwell permanently in all believers until after the cross and the giving of the Spirit in accord with the New Covenant (John 7:37-39; Rom. 8:9). The record further states that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and the evil spirit came to Saul (1 Sam. 16:14). So with this objection recognized, some deny that such an invasion could happen in this age of grace since Pentecost. This is based upon the supposition that the Holy Spirit and an evil spirit cannot dwell in the same person. This argument will be considered in the next chapter. We briefly point out here that such an argument may not be as strong as some suppose.
THE CASE OF THE WOMAN BENT DOUBLE
In Luke 13:10-17, we read of the Lord Jesus healing "a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all" (13:11). The Lord further describes her as "a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years (13:16).
This woman obviously was incapacitated by a demonically caused disease. It might be asserted that the spirit caused the bodily illness and then retreated, but it seems more in keeping with the idea of satanic bondage for eighteen years that the spirit continued in residence to aggravate the problem. It is obvious from the term used that she was inhabited by the demon. The expression in Greek is pneuma echous astheneias which actually should be translated as "having a spirit of illness." It may refer to a sickness or a weakness, but the expression "having a spirit" is equivalent to demonizatlon. There is no doubt that the woman was demonized.
The question is, was she a genuine believer? The following facts seem to indicate that she was. First, she was well known in the synagogue as a person plagued by demonic illness (no objection is lodged against Christ's diagnosis) and was probably a regular attender at the services (13:10-11). Second, she knew immediately that God had healed her; and she gave Him the glory (13:13), a seeming natural response of her heart.
Third, Jesus labeled her "a daughter of Abraham as she is." This expression "daughter of Abraham" could be ethnic in that she was Jewish. However, Luke's record shows Jesus applying this term to the newly converted and remade Zaccheus: "today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham" (Luke 19:9). We cannot understand this to mean that because he was of the lineal descent of Abraham he became saved. Jesus warned men not to think in this faulty way. The Jewish opponents of Christ were Abraham's offspring but did not possess the faith of their father Abraham (John 8:37A0). The proper conclusion is that Zaccheus became a believer in Christ that day and so salvation came (egeneto) to him and thus he became a son of Abraham. This, then, gives us the most likely meaning of the parallel expression used of the woman, "daughter of Abraham": she was a genuine believer. Further support is found in the expression "as she is" (Luke 13:16), a clarifying and affirming phrase meaning "truly" The Greek term, ousan, is similar to that used of widows who were truly widows, "widows indeed" (0ntos, 1 Tim. 5:3, 5).
Here we have a fairly clear case of a believer who has been demonized. The cause is not stated. The cure by Christ's authority and miraculous power is the major point. Again someone may say that demonizatlon of believers may have been possible in the day before the indwelling Spirit was given to all believers and that the presence of the Spirit forbids the presence of a demon in the same body As mentioned before, we will treat this question in chapter 8. But it cannot be properly held that no believer before Pentecost was permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There were some who had the Holy Spirit indwelling in Old Testament days. Consider David with whom the Spirit stayed alter the day of his anointing by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:13). This may have been the case with Daniel (Dan. 5:14). The Spirit also dwelt in at least some of the Old Testament prophets (1 Pet. 1:11). There may be others also. So why must we assume that this dear child of God, the woman with scoliosis, did not have the Holy Spirit within?
Though we cannot come to the settled conclusion that she was a genuine believer who was inhabited by a demon, the weight seems to balance in that direction.
THE CASE OF JUDAS ISCARIOT
Judas, the betrayer of the Lord Jesus, was a disciple into whom Satan had put thoughts to betray his teacher (John 13:2). Later in the upper room, John records, "And alter the morsel, Satan then entered into him" (13:27).
One source notes, "An apostle of Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot, companIed with Him up to the last night of His life, yet Satan entered into him. He betrayed the Son of God into the hands of His enemies." This same source presents this as evidence that "believers in God have been at some time invaded by evil spirits." (23) Here the writers' theology has led them to a faulty conclusion regarding the type of evidence. They seem to believe that a genuine believer in Christ can lose his salvation. This is invalid, as we have shown in chapter 3, where we treat the security of the genuine believer. Besides, there is no good evidence that Judas ever really trusted Christ. The Lord Jesus called Judas "the son of perdition," the one belonging to ruination (John 17:12), who was obviously pointed out beforehand by the scriptures to be a betrayer (John 13:18). Judas was lost, never saved, and cannot be adduced as evidence that a believer can be demonized.
THE CASE OF THE CORINTHIAN TONGUES SPEAKER
The Corinthian believers were confused by a strange incident in their assembly. Among them came a person who under the influence of a spirit, probably claiming the power of the Holy Spirit, spoke in a foreign language saying, "Jesus is accursed" (1 Cor. 12:3). How could this person with a language supernaturally induced say such a thing? How were they to understand this in the light of the fact that God was in that day giving the gift of tongues? If the Holy Spirit gave the gift of tongues, how could this man curse Christ?
The Corinthians were not only confused, but they were also naive and presumptuous. They supposed all miraculous tongues were of God. Paul reminded them that they should have been aware of demonically induced tongues, having observed them while in their former pagan life: "You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed'" (1 Cor. 12:2-3). (This supernatural phenomenon is well known today among pagan religionists.) Notice the passive verbs describing their being led astray; these indicate control from demons who energized the idolatrous worship. This question sent to the apostle by letter from the assembly in Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1) gave him the occasion to put the whole subject of spiritual gifts in perspective. The Corinthians needed this, since they were occupied with the more spectacular gifts and not the edifying gifts. Paul also concentrated on their error in overemphasis on the gift of tongues, which caused neglect of the greater edifying gifts and gave Satan the occasion to infiltrate these believers with a demonic counterfeit.
It is quite commonly accepted that the control of the mind and the voice is a symptom of demonization, as is the case of many of the demoniacs in the gospels. Such is the case today as well. Kurt Koch gives three examples of demonic tongues, and then warns us:
These examples should serve as a warning to all those who put so much stress on speaking in tongues. There are so many possessed people, spiritistic mediums, and magicians in the world today with an ability to speak in tongues derived from demonic sources rather than from the Holy Spirit, that seeking this gift for ourselves can he a very dangerous occupation. (24)
It seems quite clear that the Corinthians regarded the tongues speaker as a believer, for they allowed him to be in the congregation and expected him to lead them in praise to God through the gift of tongues. Here, then, is a case of a person most likely recognized as a believer who was speaking in a demonically controlled tongue.
We have considered the major passages and cases from Scripture that have been used or may be used to support the concept that genuine believers may-be demonized. Most of these cases cannot be considered valid evidence for various reasons in the context or from other biblical information. However, there are some passages that present evidence that cannot be lightly dismissed but must be considered as fairly strong evidence, such as the daughter of Abraham with a spirit of illness and the Corinthian tongues speaker. However, there still may be legitimate doubts that these are genuine examples of New Testament believers inhabited by demons. Thus we cannot conclusively say that the Bible clearly presents evidence that believers may be demonized.
In the previous chapter we came to quite a definite conclusion regarding the opposing position. The Bible does not evidence that believers cannot be demonized. Thus we are left to look for other types of evidence that may contribute to answering our question: Can genuine believers be demonized?FOOTNOTES
- Grayson H. Ensign and Edward Howe, Bothered? Bewildered? Bewitched? (Cincinnati: Recovery 1984), p.133.
- Ibid. p.135.
- Merill F. Unger, "What Demons Can Do To Saints" (Chicago: Moody 1977), p.91.
- William F Arndt and F Wilbur Glngrich, "A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament" (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1952), p.126.
- Ibid. p.500.
- Ibid. p.417.
- Unger "What Demons Can Do To Saints" p.92.
- Ibid, p.119.
- Ibid, pp.119-21. Unger develops a contrary case with some practical insights on how God may use errant believers in some limited ways.
- Ibid., pp.118-19, 124-27. The case of Saul is more substantial (pp.120-23).
- Ibid., p.116.
- R. J. Knowling, "The Acts of the Apostles," ed., W Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), 2:215.
- Arndt and Gingrich, p.722.
- Unger, "What Demons Can Do To Saints" pp.92-93.
- Mark I. Buheck, The Adversary" (Chicago: Moody 1975), pp.84-85.
- Arndt and Gingrich, p.763.
- H. A. W Meyct, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, trans. David Hunter, vol.2, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. William P. Dickson and William Stewart, (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1879), p.475.
- Ibid, p.476.
- Arndt and Gingrich, pp. 441-42
- Henry A. Virkler and Mary B. Virkier "Demonic involvement in Human Life and illness", Journal of Psychology and Theology 5, No.2 (1977) 95-102.
- Ensign and Howe, p.134.
- Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1970), p.134. See also Virkier and Virkler p.100
© 1995-2013 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website: http://www.banner.org.uk/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.