Do Demons Really Exist?
By Larry White
In the churches of Christ there is, in most cases, an accepted doctrine of the non-presence of the Holy Spirit when speaking of his indwelling. It is the teaching that the Holy Spirit is not personally present in the heart of anyone living today, including sons of God. Since the basis of this teaching is the denial of any immediate contact between people living on the earth and the spiritual realm, a corollary doctrine has risen that claims that demons do not exist and the idea of anyone ever being demon possessed is a fiction – even when Jesus is casting out demons himself.
The strongman argument put forward for this teaching is the apparent absence of any references to Jesus ever coming upon a case of demon possession in Judea, when the rest of Palestine is suffering with numerous cases wherever Jesus went teaching. The challenge of this argument can be stated succinctly in the question: "What was so special about Judea that drove away demons?" Frankly, I feel that the answer to this question is obvious which I will answer and I will also refute this teaching by Mr. Snobelen in the following points.
Of the possible reasons why Jesus did not encounter demon possession in Judea we have the following:
1. The Argument from Unbelief
The argument asserts that there is no such thing as literal demons. An example of this view is stated by S. Snobelen who is quoted below. He believes that those demons that were encountered were only in Gentile controlled areas north of Judea and Jerusalem where superstition and ignorance made common sicknesses attributable to the agency of Satan and demons. Therefore, Jesus was simply accommodating the peoples’ fears by making his miraculous healings the rebuke or casting out of their fictitious “demons”. This would also mean that he allowed his disciples to continue believing the superstition by casting out the demons that they could not cast out by themselves and then misrepresenting the truth by giving instructions concerning the proper way to cast out the hard cases with fasting and prayer (Mt. 17:17-21). This, of course, would mean that his disciples were praying to God about beings that do not exist in the name of Jesus, which is something that the Light of the world would hardly condone let alone teach to his disciples.
The following is quoted from an article recently published in Kurt Simmon’s Sword and Plow.
“Because demon belief was much less common in the south (the above-cited scholarly source implies that it was virtually nonexistent among Judaean rabbis), then the demons did not exist either. Does all of this sound familiar? People who believe in ghosts, see ghosts. Those who don’t, don’t.
“Those who put their faith in televangelist healings are “healed” by televangelists. Those who do not, are not. Enthusiasts who believe in UFOs sometimes see UFOs. Those who do not are much more inclined to attribute unidentified flying objects to more mundane entitities like airplanes, unusual cloud formations and swamp gas. We can even extend this phenomenon across time. In eras when belief in ghosts, witches and devils was rife, sightings of all three were much more common. Yet no-one reported seeing a flying saucer, as such, until well into the twentieth century when alien life and technology had entered the popular consciousness. Now we can extend this pattern even further to our current topic. Those who believe in demons, experience or attribute demon possession. Those who don’t, don’t. Strange, anomalous happenings once attributed to ghosts, fairies and demons are now attributed to UFOs, the laws of chance and medical causes. People often see and experience what they believe—regardless of whether these things exist in reality. This also explains why one can talk to many evangelicals who have “seen” or “experienced” the devil, but one will be hard pressed to find a Christadelphian who has either seen the devil of orthodoxy or been demon-possessed. Why does the devil and his demons afflict those who believe in them and leave those alone who do not?” [S. Snobelen in Sword and Plow 06-16-13]
This is essentially Mr. Snobelen's main argument for the ministry of Jesus in the gospel accounts. Then he goes on to briefly deal with the rest of the New Testament scriptures.
“To summarize the rest of the New Testament, for Paul demons are worthless idols that have no existence in reality (1 Corinthians 8:4, 10:19-21, 12:2); he does not touch on the phenomenon of demon-possession in any of his writings.” [Ibid.]
He then again applies his argument of geography and superstition.
“Once again, the geographical distribution of demon-possession cannot be explained by literal demons.” [Ibid.]
Regardless of all the other inaccuracies in the above examples, for there are many people who formerly did not believe in UFOs and ghosts who have since changed their minds after seeing them, and there are many old accounts of UFO sightings that are described quite well, although the witnesses failed to have a name for the phenomena. However, this article does misrepresent Paul in the scriptures which I would like to point out. Taking Mr. Snobelen's premise that things have to be believed to be seen, which is true, as Jesus says about the kingdom (Jno. 3:3), we could also say that things have to be believed to be understood. Could this doctrinal view of the non-existence of demons be caused by not believing in the unseen spiritual realm? We are assured by Kurt Simmons in his preface that this it is not the case. However unbelief like this is usually the result of a naturalistic philosophy based in materialistic views of the world, not being able to believe that anything can exist that is not made of quantum particles of matter. Some find it inconceivable that 99.9 % of the universe is below the iceberg of what we see and is not made of matter, or as the Bible says, “not made with hands” and “not of this building”, which exists superimposed over what we see, and inhabits the same “location” as the material world. If this is not the reason for his disbelief in what Jesus says, then I wonder what it could be. If Jesus says that demons exist, then why not believe him? There is an unstated reason for this unbelief which Mr. Snobelen's article does not reveal.
The Apostle Paul is here misrepresented in what he said to the church at Corinth. He did not say that demons were worthless idols, implying that they do not exist. Paul said that the things the Gentiles sacrificed were not sacrificed to God, but to demons. He said that when the Corinthians were worshipping idols that they were having fellowship with demons and that they cannot sit at the Lord’s table and also at the table of demons (1Cor. 10:14-22). If Mr. Snobelen quoted Paul accurately, he would have to help us conclude that just as Jesus promoted the superstitious belief in demons in Galilee, Paul also kept the ruse going in Corinth.
Paul also says that we are fighting against the spiritual armies of wickedness in the heavenly [places], i.e. the spiritual realm (Eph. 6:12). Who might these armies be? A materialist will interpret them as the Pharisees or church leaders like the Pope, which is true, but only by proxy. However, these rulers are already mentioned in this verse (v.12) and would not be armies.
Also the argument from silence, noting that Paul did not mention demon possession in any of his letters does not prove anything. The churches to whom he wrote did not have that issue, since Christians belong to Christ and could not be possessed by a demon. This was just one of the benefits of the kingdom coming and being under the rule of Christ as Lord.
When the kingdom came in the first century Satan and his demons were conquered and cast into the pit, (Rev. 20:1-3). What we see in the N.T. scriptures is just before that happened, during the forty years of longsuffering toward the Jews between A.D. 30 and A.D. 70. During this time Christians were translated into the kingdom of God, yet the coming of the kingdom along with Christ’s return with his holy angels in power would not happen until after the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt. 24:29; Mk. 13:24; Lk. 19:11; 21:25). This was part of Christ’s conquering of his enemies and putting down all rule and authority under his feet. The last enemy was death and was conquered in the subsequent general resurrection of the dead from Hades, which happened before the close of the first century A.D., the apostle John being a witness to it. (Jno. 21:22)
Therefore, what we have in the N.T. scriptures is a snapshot of life in the last days before the end of that age. The dead had not as yet been raised out of Hades and Satan was still having his way with those in the world who had not come to Jesus.
As concerning the requirement of belief in superstition to be able to see spirits and experience demon possession, and the supposed practice of calling common diseases the work of unclean spirits, we have the testimony of a medical doctor who was a Christian and he makes a distinction between sick people and people who were demon possessed.
“And he came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him, for power went out from him and healed them all.”
“As well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits” is a clear distinction made by this doctor.
Jesus also gave power and authority to his disciples to cast out demons in distinction to healing the sick.
“Then he called his twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.”
Of course, this reference does not hold any weight with someone in the church who does not believe what Jesus says.
If anyone knew about a common superstition concerning demon possession and that it was really a medical pathology, surely it would have been Luke the physician and he would have given us an accurate account. If someone does not believe Jesus or Luke, then how can they trust anything they say? Once unbelief has taken hold of someone’s thinking he will rather believe that all the New Testament writers were deceiving us and even the Lord Jesus himself, than to have faith in what the scriptures actually say.
2. The Argument from The Lepers
A second reason that could be presented as to why Jesus did not encounter unclean spirits in Judea, I would suggest, is that anyone who was demon possessed would not be tolerated to stay very long in Judea. Anyone that was demon possessed were most likely excommunicated and kicked out of Judea, just as the law allowed for lepers to be quarantined outside the camp. This may be another reason that cases of demon possession were limited to environs outside Judea.
The reason why some Judaean rabbis did not believe that demons existed is because they were Sadducees who did not believe in the existence of spirits at all and were as carnal in their thinking as “Jehovah’s Witnesses” are today. Sadducees also did not believe in a resurrection of the dead nor angels or any spirits (Acts 23:8). What would have happened if those who were tormented by demons had come looking for help in Jerusalem? Do you think a Jewish rabbi would have tried to be understanding and helpful?
We do have an instance where Peter healed people with unclean spirits in Jerusalem, but they had come into Judea from the surrounding cities to be healed (Acts 5:14-20). Now look who gets upset about it – the Sadducees, who do not believe in such nonsense. They arrested the Apostles and jailed them. I do not think that the Sadducees would suffer a demoniac to stay very long in Jerusalem. Besides, in his mind the malady from which he claims to suffer is impossible.
Jesus healed many lepers – can one be found in Judea? I found only one, Simon the leper living in Bethany who received Jesus on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. But most scholars agree that he is called the Leper, even after Jesus healed him, because that was his moniker and distinction from all the other men named Simon. Remember that Jesus told all the lepers to show themselves to the Priest and offer sacrifices, and that would bring them to Jerusalem. All that you should be able to find in Jerusalem are former lepers and former demoniacs. Mary Magdalene is one such case, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons and who accompanied him wherever he traveled, including Judea.
3. The Argument from The Temple
What is so special about Judea, that demons seem to avoid it? To someone with no faith, this would be an unanswerable question.
Answer: The Temple was in Jerusalem. The capital of the nation of God’s people was in Judea. One must understand and remember the nature of Heaven and Earth before the kingdom came. God’s “presence” was in the Temple and Satan with all his host of demons were still tormenting humanity.
We have indications from Jehovah himself that he was there in the Temple in some capacity. In ancient times, upon the completion of the Tabernacle, “the cloud” filled the tent of meeting (Ex. 40:34-35). Then again when the Temple built by Solomon was finished the cloud filled the house of Jehovah and the Priests could not minister because of the cloud, "for the glory of Jehovah filled the house of Jehovah" (1Kings 8:10-11; 1Kings 9:3). God consecrated the house which Solomon built to put Jehovah’s name there and he tells Solomon, “My eyes and my heart will be there perpetually.”
The O.T. Temple was a model of the real one, but it seems to have been a working model. Only the High Priest was allowed into the most holy place once a year with the blood of a sacrifice. He had to have bells on his robes so that he would be known as the High Priest, otherwise he would be killed.
Demons do not want to be close to God. James says, “they also believe – and tremble.” Obviously they would avoid him. Since Jehovah’s “presence” was in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, demons would have given him a wide berth. They treated Jesus the same way when he came to them and commanded that they leave the afflicted. They would cry out and say that they knew that he was Jesus the son of the most high God and ask if he had come to torment them before the time (Mt. 8:29; Mk. 5:7).
At this time in history the “kingdom” was in the possession of the Jews. Then it was taken away from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Christians) (Mt. 21:43). When the kingdom was taken away from the Jews, Jehovah forsook the Temple, the city and the nation. That left them open for invasion, not only of the Roman army but also every foul and evil spirit that cared to invade.
Josephus says that one of the portents of Jerusalem’s destruction was a voice that many heard from the temple mount, “Let us remove hence.” It was widely interpreted to mean that Jehovah was leaving (forsaking) his abode in Jerusalem. We also have the truly alarming report in prophesy from Isaiah 66:6;
“The sound of noise from the city!
This cry of warning and despair is a historical marker which points to the time of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy here. We also have a reference in Christ’s revelation to John wherein it is proclaimed from heaven that, “Babylon [Jerusalem]... has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird.” (Rev 18:1-2) This could not be, so long as Jehovah dwelled among them as he promised. But after he left them, the demons were free to move in and inhabit Judea and its citizens. Their protection was gone, for they were no longer God’s people, (Lo Ammi, Hosea 1:9). Those who believed in Christ Jesus had been told to "Come out of her, my people." (Rev. 18:4) From that point in Jerusalem's history even to the present day, physical Israel was no longer the people of God. Those who were his people were marked by faith in Christ Jesus who gave his Spirit to all those who obeyed God. (Acts 5:32)
References from Josephus, Tacitus, Eusebius and others concerning this point.
"Besides these [signs], a few days after that feast, on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, 'Let us remove hence'".
(Josephus, Wars, VI-V-3)
"Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations."
(Josephus, Book VII, Chapter 8, Section 7)
"...you may perhaps recover when you have reconciled yourself with the deity who destroyed you."
(Josephus, War 5.19)
“Josephus himself summed up the conviction of the many people who came to believe that God ‘had turned away even from his sanctuary’ (Wars, 2.539), and that the Temple was ‘no more the dwelling place of God’ (Wars, 5.19), because ‘the Deity has fled from the holy places’ (Wars, 5.412). (quoted in Sepher Yosippon, A Mediaeval History of Ancient Israel)
Other contemporary historians picked up on the story.
Tacitus (1st Century), the Roman historian, relating the same events, wrote: "In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightening flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure"
(Tacitus, Histories, v. 13).
“According to Eusebius the "Shekinah" Glory left
the Temple and hovered over the Mount of Olives during "the siege of Jerusalem" (A.D. 66
to 70). However, Eusebius was not the only observer who mentioned that the "Shekinah"
Glory left the Temple before the destruction of the Temple and hovered over the Mount of
Olives. A Jewish rabbi named Jonathan -- who was an eyewitness to the destruction of
Jerusalem -- said the "Shekinah" Glory left the Temple and for three and a half years
"abode on the Mount of Olives hoping that Israel would repent, but they did not; while a
Bet Kol [a supernatural voice from heaven] issued forth announcing, Return, O
backsliding children [Jer. 3:14]. 'Return unto me, and I will return unto you' [Mal.
3:7], when they did not repent, it said, 'I will return to my place.' [Hosea 5:15]"
If it were not for the Sadducees and their carnal denial of the spiritual realm, I wonder what would have become of a person possessed by a demon if they had come to the Temple in Jerusalem. If the person was free to go to the Temple and not be blocked, arrested and expelled by a Sadducee, then would the demon have allowed that one he was possessing to go there? I would suspect that the demon would have fled from the victim’s body than to actually be in the Temple of Jehovah. That may have been an important aspect of the Christ coming and healing the sick and casting out demons in every city but Jerusalem. If they could not come to God to be healed, then God would come to them – “and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
With this perspective it is easy to understand why Jesus spent so much time in Galilee teaching the common people and the outcasts.
I see this lack of faith residing in many churches today producing the same fruit as it did in the ancient Pharisees and Sadducees. Just like the Pharisees some now have a belief in God and the spiritual realm in theory, but their treatment of the New Testament scriptures as a law has stifled their understanding of spiritual things and especially the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. They think that they have no contact with the spiritual realm other than the reading of the scriptures. He exists for them but at a physically far distant place. They do not realize that they are, even now, sitting with Jesus in the heavenly realm, (Eph. 2). Because of a carnal practicing of law, they have chosen to redefine words and explain the Spirit away, thus making him powerless in their lives.
The hard cases now have logically progressed in their carnal viewpoint and much like the Sadducees, are doing the work of denying the actual words of God and casting denial and disbelief at the Lord Jesus Christ making him a charlatan pretending to do the impossible to non-existent spirit beings in order to put on a good show for the ignorant and superstitious, which it seems that only these men can recognize.
It is truly sad to find this unbelief in Christians.
Questions for Unbelievers
If there is no such thing as demon possession and
the rabbis in Judea knew it, then why did they accuse Jesus of casting them out by
Beelzebub the prince of the demons? And why did Jesus treat the blasphemy by the Jews as
a serious charge? (Lk. 11:14-26)
First he shows them that their accusation is illogical; that if Satan casts out demons then his kingdom would not last long. A house divided against itself falls and so would Satan’s kingdom.
Second, he asks how they can ascribe to God the temporary and often ineffective exorcisms that their own countrymen, their sons, perform while slandering the perfect and permanent cures of Jesus as the power of Satan. The only alternative is that Jesus is casting out demons by the finger of God (a finger, probably to show with what ease he accomplishes the cure). If this is so, then the kingdom of God is come upon them and their blasphemies, which is an extremely serious matter.
Jesus is no mere exorcist but is stronger than Satan and is able to bind him so that he can spoil his house. He doesn’t just send the demons away, but sends them into the Abyss from which they cannot return. The ineffective Jewish exorcists cast them out for a while but then they ultimately return with seven more demons more wicked than the first one and the poor victim is worse off than he was before their treatment. If the exorcists are not working with Jesus, then they are hindering his work and scattering the afflicted people rather than gathering them to their Lord.
Now those in the church who deny the existence of demons are joining in with the blasphemies by implying that Jesus here is really telling a whopper about a fictitious cure. But Jesus, in his description of the way demons are handled and from his divine perspective, speaks as a person who knows what is happening in the spiritual realm and gives warnings from his position of authority. It has the ring of truth, not charlatanism.
Thirdly, he warns the Jews of the terrible consequences of their blasphemies against things of the spirit (Mt. 12:31-37). Since they were saying that the demons were being cast out by Satan the prince of the demons, then they were very close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit, by whose agency Jesus was casting them out. Jesus says that he will forgive any blasphemy against himself but speaking against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. He warns that every idle saying that men speak on the earth, they will give an account for in the day of judgement. These are serious matters. There is very little room here to claim that Jesus was just accommodating their ignorant superstitions.
How has our tree in the church born such fruit as to deny the power of Christ over the spiritual realm by denying its existence and then charging the Lord with misrepresenting reality by pretending to cast out fictitious demons? There is one who misrepresents reality, living in illusion and lies, but it is not Jesus our Lord, and he never lies. While Jesus was in the world he was the light of the world and never allowed any lie, misconception or superstition to continue in his presence.
I have a few more questions for the unbelievers. Concerning the demoniac in the coasts of the Gadarenes who was possessed by the demons called Legion in Luke 8; if the man was just a lunatic, as Mr. Snobelen thinks, and demons don’t really exist, then how did he know that this man who was healing him was Jesus, the son of the most high God and that he was going to send the “demons” into the Abyss?
Here we learn the fate of demons cast out by Jesus which any other Jewish exorcist was unable to do; he sent them into the Abyss. We also learn that the Abyss involved torment, (Ibid., v. 28). However, if Legion was fictitious, explain why there had to be such a show for this healing and the slaughter, putatively by Jesus, of thousands of pigs, which no doubt ruined his ability to continue his work there, being that the whole population of the area was afraid of him and asked him to leave. Why not just heal the man of lunacy?
A question for believers to put on the back burner is, why did the demons want to be sent into the dying pigs rather than into the Abyss and why did Jesus allow it? Consequently, we know that they were not sent into the Abyss, nor were they just cast out of the man to wander “in dry places, seeking rest” and possibly repossessing the victim. Rather, they were allowed to enter the pigs and die. What happens to a demon when his victim dies? At this point, I’m not sure; but for the demons, it is obviously preferable to the other fate and it is good for the man that they are out of commission for any further possessing of victims, otherwise Jesus would not have allowed it. I suspect that this healing was a fairly important event - and "known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." (Acts 15:18)
The important issue we are dealing with is not
demons, but faith and the veracity of the Lord Jesus Christ. This whole question is not
born of an honest reading of the scriptures but seems to be motivated by another
study which then seeks to defend
itself with a categorical search of the scriptures. That is not the way to study the