| BIBLE Basics
Study 6: God and Evil
God and Evil | The Devil and Satan | Demons | Digressions (Witchcraft, What Happened In Eden?, Lucifer, The Temptation of Jesus, "War in Heaven") | Questions
The previous two sections have explained why we do not believe the devil or satan to be a personal being or a monster. If we accept that there is no such being, then it surely follows that demons, who are held to be the servants of the devil, also do not exist. Many people seem to think that God gives us all the good things of life, and the devil and his demons give us the bad things, and take away the good things which God gives us.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is the source of all power (see Study 6.1), and that He is responsible for both the good things and the bad things in our lives:-
Therefore when we get trials, we should accept that they come from God, not blame them on a devil or demons. Job was a man who lost many of the good things which God blessed him with, but he did not say, "These demons have taken away all God gave me". No; listen to what he said:-
Once we understand that all things are from God, when we have problems in life we can pray to God for Him to take them away, and if He does not, we can be assured that He is giving them to us in order to develop our characters and for our good in the long run:-
God: Source Of All Power
God is the source of all power:-
Such verses occur time and again throughout the Bible. Because God is the source of all power and the only God, He is therefore a jealous God, as He often reminds us (e.g. Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24).
God gets jealous when His people start believing in other gods, if they say to Him, 'You are a great God, a powerful God, but actually I believe there are still some other gods beside You, even if they are not as powerful as You'. This is why we cannot believe that there are demons or a devil in existence as well as the true God. This is just the mistake Israel made. Much of the Old Testament is spent showing how Israel displeased God by believing in other gods as well as in Him. We will see from the Bible that the "demons" people believe in today are just like those false gods Israel believed in.
Demons Are Idols
In 1 Corinthians, Paul explains why Christians should have nothing to do with idol worship or believing in such things. In Bible times people believed demons to be little gods who could be worshipped to stop problems coming into their lives. They therefore made models of demons, which were the same as idols, and worshipped them. This explains why Paul uses the words "demon" and "idol" interchangeably in his letter:-
"The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons...if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake..." (1 Cor.10:20,28). So idols and demons are effectively the same. Notice how Paul says they sacrificed "to demons (idols) and not to God" - the demons were not God, and as there is only one God, it follows that demons have no real power at all, they are not gods. The point is really driven home in 1 Cor.8:4:-
"As concerning ...those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol (equivalent to a demon) is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one". An idol, or a demon, has no existence at all. There is only one true God, or power, in the world. Paul goes on (vs.5,6):-
"For though there be that are called gods...(as there be gods many and lords many, [just as people believe in many types of demon today - one demon causing you to lose your job, another causing your wife to leave you, etc.]) But to us (the true believers) there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things (both good and bad, as we have seen from the earlier references)".
Further proof that people in New Testament times believed demons to be idols or 'gods' is found in Acts 17:16-18; this describes how Paul preached in Athens, which was a "city wholly given to idolatry", therefore worshipping many different idols. After hearing Paul preach the Gospel, the people said, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange (i.e. new) gods (demons): because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection". So the people thought that "Jesus" and "the resurrection" were new demons or idols that were being explained to them. If you read the rest of the chapter, you will see how Paul goes on to teach the truth to these people, and in v. 22 he says, "Ye are too superstitious" (literally: devoted to demon worship) and he explains how God is not present in their demons, or idols. Remember that God is the only source of power. If He is not in demons, then demons do not have any power because there is no other source of power in this universe - i.e. they do not exist.
Old Testament 'Demons' Were Idols
Going back to the Old Testament, there is more proof that "demons" are the same as idols. Dt. 28:22-28, 59-61 predicted that mental disease would be one of the punishments for worshipping idols/demons. This explains the association of demons with mental illness in the New Testament. But let it be noted that the language of demons is associated with illness, not sin. We do not read of Christ casting out demons of envy, murder etc. It must also be noted that the Bible speaks of people having a demon/disease, rather than saying that demons caused the disease. It is significant that the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) used the word 'daimonion' for "idol" in Dt. 32:17 and Ps. 106:37; this is the word translated "demon" in the New Testament. Psalm 106:36-39 describes the errors of Israel and likens the idols of Canaan to demons:-
Quite clearly demons are just another name for idols. Their worship of demons is described by God as worshipping their "own works...their own inventions" because their belief in demons was a result of human imagination; the idols they created were their "own works". So those who believe in demons today are believing in things which have been imagined by men, the creation of men, rather than what God has taught us.
Deuteronomy 32:15-24 describes just how angry God gets when His people believe in demons: Israel "lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they Him to anger. They sacrificed unto demons, not to God; to gods whom they knew not... whom your fathers feared not...And He (God) said, I will hide My face from them...for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities...I will heap mischiefs upon them"
So God describes demons as the same as idols, abominations, and vanities - things which are vain to believe in, which have no existence. Believing in demons shows a lack of faith in God. It is not easy to have faith that God provides everything, both good and bad, in life. It is easier to think that the bad things come from someone else, because once we say they come from God, then we need to have faith that God will take them away or that they are going to be beneficial to us ultimately.
New Testament Demons
But, you may say, "How about all the passages in the New Testament which clearly speak about demons?"
One thing we must get clear: the Bible cannot contradict itself, it is the Word of Almighty God. If we are clearly told that God brings our problems and that He is the source of all power, then the Bible cannot also tell us that demons - little gods in opposition to God - bring these things on us. It seems significant that the word "demons" only occurs four times in the Old Testament and always describes idol worship, but it occurs many times in the Gospel records. We suggest this is because, at the time the Gospels were written, it was the language of the day to say that any disease that could not be understood was the fault of demons. If demons really do exist and are responsible for our illnesses and problems, then we would read more about them in the Old Testament. But we do not read about them at all in this context there.
Demons In The New Testament
To say that demons were cast out of someone is to say that they were cured of a mental illness, or an illness which was not understood at the time. People living in the first century tended to blame everything which they couldn't understand on imaginary beings called 'demons'. Mental illness being hard to understand with their level of medical knowledge, the people spoke of those afflicted as 'demon possessed'. In Old Testament times, an evil or unclean spirit referred to a troubled mental state (Jud.9:23; 1 Sam.16:14; 18:10). In New Testament times, the language of evil spirit/ demon possession had come to refer to those suffering mental illness. The association between demons and sickness is shown by the following: "They brought unto him(Jesus) many that were possessed with demons: and He cast out the spirits with His word...that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet (in the Old Testament), saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:16,17). So human infirmities and sicknesses are the same as being possessed by "demons" and "evil spirits".
People thought that Jesus was mad and said this must be because He had a demon - "He hath a demon, and is mad" (John 10:20; 7:19,20; 8:52). They therefore believed that demons caused madness.
Healing The Sick
When they were healed, people "possessed with demons" are said to return to their "right mind" - Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35. This implies that being "possessed with demons" was another way of saying someone was mentally unwell - i.e. not in their right mind.
Those "possessed with demons" are said to be "healed" or "cured" - Matthew 4:24;12:22;17:18 - implying that demon possession is another way of describing illness.
In Luke 10:9 Jesus told His 70 apostles to go out and "heal the sick", which they did. They returned and said, v. 17, "even the demons are subject unto us through Thy name" - again, demons and illness are equated. Sometimes the apostles cured people in the name of Jesus and here we have an example of this (see also Acts 3:6; 9:34).
The Language Of The Day
So we see that in the New Testament it was the language of the day to describe someone as being possessed with demons if they were mentally ill or had a disease which no one understood. The contemporary Roman and Greek cultural belief belief was that demons possessed people, thereby creating mental disease. Those 'Christians' who believe in the existence of demons are effectively saying that the contemporary pagan beliefs in this area were perfectly correct. The Bible is written in language which people can understand. Because it uses the language of the day does not mean that It or Jesus believed in demons. In the same way in English we have the word "lunatic" to describe someone who is mentally ill. Literally it means someone who is "moon struck". Years ago people used to believe that if a person went out walking at night when there was a clear moon, they could get struck by the moon and become mentally ill. We use that word "lunatic" today to describe someone who is mad, but it does not mean that we believe madness is caused by the moon.
If these words were written down and re-read in 2,000 years' time - if Jesus had not returned - people might think we believed that the moon caused madness, but they would be wrong because we are just using the language of our day, as Jesus did 2,000 years ago. Similarly we describe a certain hereditary disorder as "St. Vitus's Dance" which is neither caused by "St. Vitus" nor "dancing", but in using the language of the day we call it "St. Vitus's Dance". It is evident that Jesus Christ was not born on December 25th; yet the present writer still uses the term 'Christmas day' when speaking of that day, although I do not believe that we should keep that day as a celebration of Christ's birth. The names of the days of the week are based upon pagan idol worship - e.g. 'Sunday' means 'the day devoted to worshipping the sun'; 'Saturday' was the day upon which the planet Saturn was to be worshipped, Monday for the moon, etc. To use these names does not mean that we share the pagan beliefs of those who originally coined our present language. 'Influenza' is likewise a term in common use today; it strictly means 'influenced by demons'. When Daniel was renamed 'Belteshazzar', a name reflecting a pagan god, the inspired record in Dan. 4:19 calls him 'Belteshazzar' without pointing out that this word reflected false thinking. I speak about 'the Pope' as a means of identifying someone, even though I think it wrong to actually believe that he is a 'pope' or father (Mt. 23:9).
There was a myth in Ezekiel's time that the land of Israel was responsible for the misfortunes of those in it. This was not true and yet God reasons with Israel, using the idea that was then popular, "Thus saith the Lord God, Because they say unto you, Thou land devourest up men, and hast bereaved thy nations; therefore thou (the land) shalt devour men no more...saith the Lord God" (Ezekiel 36:13,14). There was a common pagan notion that the sea was a great monster desiring to engulf the earth. Whilst this is evidently untrue, the Bible often uses this figure in order to help its initial readership to grasp the idea being presented: see Job 7:12 ( Moffat's Translation); Am.9:3 (Moffat); Jer.5:22; Ps.89:9; Hab.3:10; Mt.14:24 (Greek text); Mk.4:30. Assyrian mythology called this rebellious sea monster 'Rahab'; and this is exactly the name given to the sea monster of Egypt in Is.51:9.
Seeing that the Bible is inspired by God, it is impossible that the Bible is merely reflecting the pagan influences which were current at the time in which it was written. It must be that God is consciously alluding to contemporary beliefs, in order to show that He is the ultimate source of power; He is the one who controls the 'monster' of the sea, so that it does His will. God therefore corrected the fundamental error in these people's beliefs, which was that there were forces at work in the world which were not subject to God's control, and were therefore evil by implication. However, the Bible does not, in this instance, go out of its way to decry the folly of believing that there is a massive monster lurking in the sea, or that the sea is a monster.
Another example is in the description of lightning and storm clouds as a "crooked serpent" (Job 26:13; Isaiah 17:1). This was evidently alluding to the contemporary pagan belief that lightning and frightening cloud formations were actually visions of a massive snake. These passages do not expose the folly of such an idea, or attempt scientific explanation. Instead they make the point that God controls these things. The attitude of Christ to the prevailing belief in demons is identical in this regard; his miracles clearly demonstrated that the power of God was absolute and complete, unbounded by the superstitions of men concerning so-called 'demons'. Those who believe that the New Testament records of 'demons' prove that such beings do actually exist are duty bound to accept that the sea is really a monster, and that lightning is actually a huge serpent. This is surely a powerful point; there must be a recognition that the Bible uses the language of the day in which it is written, without necessarily supporting the beliefs which form the basis of that language. We have shown our own use of language to be similar. The Bible does this in order to confirm the kind of basic truths which we considered in Studies 6.1 and 6.2 - that God is all powerful; He is responsible for our trials; sin comes from within us - all these things can be made sense of by appreciating the greatness of God's power to save. The so-called 'higher critics' are constantly unearthing links between the language of Scripture and the beliefs and conceptions of the surrounding cultures in which the Bible was inspired and recorded. These are understandable, once it is understood that the Bible uses language which may allude to local beliefs, but does so in order to make the point that Yahweh, the only true God, is far greater than the petty beliefs of men which would have been known to those who first read the inspired words, fresh from the prophet's mouth.
With this in mind, it is surprising how many examples can be found in the New Testament of the language of the day being used without that language being corrected. Here are some examples:-
- The Pharisees accused Jesus of doing miracles by the power of a false god called Beelzebub. Jesus said, "If I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out?" (Matthew 12:27). 2 Kings 1:2. clearly tells us that Beelzebub was a false god of the Philistines. Jesus did not say, 'Now look, 2 Kings 1:2 says Beelzebub was a false god, so your accusation cannot be true'. No, he spoke as if Beelzebub existed, because he was interested in getting his message through to the people to whom he preached. So in the same way Jesus talked about casting out demons - he did not keep saying, 'actually, they do not exist', he just preached the Gospel in the language of the day.
- Acts 16:16-18 are the words of Luke, under inspiration: "a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of Python met us". As explained in the footnote in the Diaglott version, Python was the name of a false god believed in during the first century, possibly the same as the god Apollo. So Python definitely did not exist, but Luke does not say the girl was 'possessed with a spirit of Python, who, by the way, is a false god who does not really exist...'. In the same way the Gospels do not say that Jesus 'cast out demons which, by the way, do not really exist, it is just the language of the day for illnesses'.
- Lk. 5:32 records Jesus saying to the wicked Jews: "I came not to call the righteous...". He was inferring, 'I came not to call those who believe they are righteous'. But Jesus spoke to them on their own terms, even though, technically, he was using language which was untrue. Lk. 19:20-23 shows Jesus using the untrue words of the one-talent man in the parable to reason with him, but he does not correct the wrong words the man used.
- The Bible often speaks of the sun 'rising' and 'going down'; this is a human way of putting it, but it is not scientifically correct. Likewise illness is spoken of in the technically 'incorrect' language of 'demons'. Acts 5:3 speaks of how Ananias deceived the Holy Spirit. This, actually, is an impossibility, yet what Ananias thought he was doing is spoken of as fact, even though it was not.
- There are many Biblical examples of language being used which was comprehensible at the time it was written, but is now unfamiliar to us, for example, "skin for skin" (Job 2:4) alluded to the ancient practice of trading skins of equivalent value; a male prostitute is called a "dog" in Deut. 23:18. The language of demons is another example.
- The Jews of Christ's day thought that they were righteous because they were the descendants of Abraham. Jesus therefore addressed them as "the righteous" (Mt.9:12,13), and said "I know that ye are Abraham's seed" (Jn.8:37). But he did not believe that they were righteous, as he so often made clear; and he plainly showed by his reasoning in Jn.8:39-44 that they were not Abraham's seed. So Jesus took people's beliefs at face value, without immediately contradicting them, but demonstrated the truth instead. We have shown that this was God's approach in dealing with the pagan beliefs which were common in Old Testament times. Christ's attitude to demons in New Testament times was the same; his God-provided miracles made it abundantly plain that illnesses were caused by God, not any other force, seeing that it was God who had the mighty power to heal them.
- Paul quoted from Greek poets, famous for the amount of unBiblical nonsense they churned out, in order to confound those who believed what the poets taught (Tit.1:12; Acts 17:28). What we are suggesting is epitomized by Paul's response to finding an altar dedicated to the worship of "The Unknown God", i.e. any pagan deity which might exist, but which the people of Athens had overlooked. Instead of rebuking them for their folly in believing in this, Paul took them from where they were to understand the one true God, who they did not know (Acts 17:22,23).
- Eph.2:2 speaks of "the prince of the power of the air". This clearly alludes to the mythological concepts of Zoroaster - the kind of thing which Paul's readers once believed. Paul says that they once lived under "the prince of the power of the air". In the same verse, Paul defines this as "the spirit (attitude of mind) that...worketh" in the natural man. Previously they had believed in the pagan concept of a heavenly spirit-prince; now Paul makes the point that actually the power which they were formally subject to was that of their own evil mind. Thus the pagan idea is alluded to and spoken of, without specifically rebuking it, whilst showing the truth concerning sin.
- Acts 28:3-6 describes how a lethal snake attacked Paul, fastening onto his arm. The surrounding people decided Paul was a murderer, whom "vengeance suffereth not to live". Their reading of the situation was totally wrong. But Paul did not explain this to them in detail; instead, he did a miracle - he shook the snake off without it biting him.
The miracles of Jesus exposed the error of local views, e.g. of demons, without correcting them in so many words. Thus in Lk. 5:21 the Jews made two false statements: that Jesus was a blasphemer, and that God alone could forgive sins. Jesus did not verbally correct them; instead he did a miracle which proved the falsity of those statements.
- It was clearly the belief of Jesus that actions speak louder than words. He rarely denounced false ideas directly, thus he did not denounce the Mosaic law as being unable to offer salvation, but he showed by his actions, e.g. healing on the Sabbath, what the Truth was. When he was wrongly accused of being a Samaritan, Jesus did not deny it (Jn. 8:48,49 cp. 4:7-9) even though his Jewishness, as the seed of Abraham, was vital for God's plan of salvation (Jn. 4:22).
Even when the Jews drew the wrong conclusion (wilfully!) that Jesus was "making himself equal with God" (Jn. 5:18), Jesus did not explicitly deny it; instead he powerfully argued that his miracles showed him to be a man acting on God's behalf, and therefore he was NOT equal with God. The miracles of Jesus likewise showed the error of believing in demons. Christ's miracle of healing the lame man at the pool was to show the folly of the Jewish myth that at Passover time an angel touched the water of the Bethesda pool, imparting healing properties to it. This myth is recorded without direct denial of its truth; the record of Christ's miracle is the exposure of its falsehood (Jn. 5:4).
- 2 Pet.2:4 talks of wicked people going to Tartarus (translated "hell" in many versions). Tartarus was a mythical place in the underworld; yet Peter does not correct that notion, but rather uses it as a symbol of complete destruction and punishment for sin. Christ's use of the word Gehenna was similar (see Study 4.9).
Do Demons Really Cause Illnesses?
Everyone who believes demons exist has to ask themselves the question: "When I am ill, is it caused by demons?" If you think the New Testament references to demons are about little gods going round doing evil, then you have to say "yes". In that case, how can you explain the fact that many diseases blamed on demons can now be cured or controlled by drugs? Malaria is the classic example. Most people in Africa believed until recently that malaria was caused by demons, but we know that malaria can be cured by quinine and other drugs. Are you then saying that as the demons see the little yellow tablets going down your throat they become frightened and fly away? Some of the diseases which Jesus cured, which are described as being the result of demon possession, have been identified as tetanus or epilepsy - both of which can be relieved by drugs.
A friend of mine comes from a village just outside Kampala in Uganda. He told us that people used to believe malaria was caused by demons, but once they saw how the drugs controlled it so easily, they stopped blaming the demons. However, when someone had cerebral malaria (causing serious mental illness) they still blamed the demons. A doctor came from the nearby town and offered them strong anti-mal drugs as a cure, but they refused because they said they needed something to fight demons, not malaria. The doctor returned later and said, "I have a drug which will chase away the demons"; the sick person eagerly took the drug, and became better. The second tablets were just the same as the first ones. The doctor did not believe in demons, but he used the language of the day to get through to the person - just like the "Great Physician", the Lord Jesus, of 2,000 years ago.