Demons and ghosts Refs
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God is all-powerful; he alone rules in the universe. There is no place in God’s creation for a horde of malicious demons whose purpose is to torment human beings. So what does the Bible mean when it refers to demons and evil spirits?

Mark 5:1–20

Jesus was with his disciples on the east side of the Sea of Galilee when he came across a man who lived in a graveyard and who was badly hurt from repeatedly gashing himself with stones.

1. List the terms used to describe this man’s problem. What did he believe his problem to be? What did his neighbours believe his problem to be? What do you think Jesus believed the man’s problem to be? If this man were admitted to a psychiatric hospital today, would the diagnosis be the same?

2. Would the gospel writer, speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus himself, knowingly refer to demons and evil spirits if they were not the cause of mental illnesses like this one?

What are demons, evil spirits and ghosts?
For thousands of years, people in many cultures have thought that demons or evil spirits bring sickness and disaster on human beings. In Old Testament times, Israel’s pagan neighbours worshipped many false gods, each thought to have its own special powers and areas of control. Some gods were thought to bring earthquakes or storms, others could bring sickness if not appeased. In New Testament times, it was commonly thought that evil spirits or demons could “possess” a person and cause various kinds of illness.

The Old Testament uses the term “demon” to describe false gods or idols and speaks of “demons” and “idols” interchangeably.

They [Israel] worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan . . . (Psalm 106:36–38)

Such gods have no existence or power. See Deuteronomy 32:16–17 To worship them or acknowledge them as having power is sin—God alone has such power.

Evil spirits are often used in the Old and New Testaments to describe some form of mental affliction. 1 Samuel 16:14 For example, God himself sent an evil or distressing spirit upon King Saul.

Ghosts are supposedly the disembodied spirits of the dead. Mythology and popular ?ction cast them in a similar role to demons, wreaking havoc and working mischief. Ghosts simply do not exist—they are the product of superstition. The Bible teaches that there is no conscious existence after death. See Chapter 18. Death.

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; . . . Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished. (Ecclesiastes 9:5–6)

The source of disaster and sickness
In New Testament times, serious handicaps that had no visible cause were often attributed to demons. It was also believed that the afflicted person must have done something to deserve the handicap.
John 9:1–2 The disciples asked Jesus about what caused a man’s blindness—was it because he had sinned, or because his parents had sinned? Jesus replied that no-one’s sin had caused the disability, but that he was blind so that Jesus could reveal God’s work by healing him.

Sometimes God sends bad events for reasons of punishment or for discipline, but his reasons for a specific disaster are not always obvious. God says

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7.)

Job acknowledged God as the source of his many troubles, even though he did not know why God had brought the evil upon him:

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

When God sends problems or adversity upon his own people, it is for their long-term good. Hebrews 12:5–8 explains that God loves those he disciplines, as a loving father must discipline his children, so God disciplines his people.See Chapter 49. suffering.

Individual disasters may be specifically brought by God on a person. This could be as punishment, or as a form of discipline to improve the person’s faith and character. In most cases, God does not choose to provide a reason for every individual calamity. We can be glad that God himself is ultimately in control of all that happens in our lives, good or bad, and that we are not at the mercy of a band of malicious demons.
When bad things happen, can we ever know whether it is punishment or discipline? See Luke 13:1–5.

Casting out demons
The Bible sometimes uses the language and common beliefs of the time, even when they are false.
If sickness is caused by demons, why do many disorders respond to drugs and other therapies? The people of Jesus’ day had very strong superstitious beliefs. To try to refute them would have been confusing and irrelevant. Two examples of apparent endorsement of wrong or simplistic ideas are:

• the after life and the bosom of Abraham; Luke 16:19–31
• God’s dwelling place (heaven) is “up” in the sky somewhere.
John 6:38; Romans 10:6

Belief in demons was well-entrenched as the accepted explanation for disease which had no visible cause, especially mental disease and serious disabilities such as being mute or having epilepsy. e.g. Matthew 9:32–33; 12:22; 17:15–18; Luke 11:14 Jesus healed without stopping to discuss medical definitions or to correct irrelevant false thinking. He was more interested in a person’s faith and in bringing them into his kingdom.

Healing “Legion” was the first step to saving him. Legion needed visible evidence of his healing, both for himself and those around. Jesus was showing that he had absolute power over sickness and that he was willing to do whatever was required to develop healthy faith. Healing Legion eventually led to the saving of many in the area.
Mark 5:20; 6:53–56

Demons in Greek mythology
The idea that demons are supernatural evil spirits is found in the mythology of the Greeks, Babylonians and other nations which influenced Israel. One Greek philosopher, Plutarch, describes demons as “the servants of the gods” and “roving avengers” (Oracles in Decline, 417). Plato taught that demons were the souls of dead heroes who served as messengers for the gods. The Jews of New Testament times were greatly influenced by these ideas.

God the source of all power
Deuteronomy 4:24,35; Isaiah 44:8; 45:5–7.
God brings calamity
Exodus 32:14; 1 Kings 21:21, 22:23; Job 1:21; 2:10; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12; Hebrews 12:5–8.
Demons are powerless idols
Deuteronomy 32:17,21; 1 Corinthians 8:4–6; 10:19–21; Revelation 9:20.
Sickness
Deuteronomy 28:60–61; Matthew 8:16–17; John 9:1-2; 11:3–4, 1 Corinthians 11:29–30.
Unclean/evil spirits from God
Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:14–16.
Temptation comes from within
Genesis 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:18–19; James 1:13–15.


• In the Old Testament, and sometimes in the New Testament, demons were idols.
• Demons and evil spirits were thought to cause some diseases and illnesses.
• The Bible uses the language of the day to describe illnesses.
• God brings disaster and trouble, demons do not.
• Ghosts are the product of superstition. There is no conscious existence after death.


1. On some occasions, Jesus was accused of having a demon (e.g. John 7:20, 10:20–21) or to be acting with demonic power (Matthew 12:24). How does Jesus respond and what are the implications of these accusations?
2. What sorts of diseases and illnesses are usually attributed to demons or unclean spirits by people in Bible accounts? Why are these diseases singled out?
3. What should our attitude be towards the following?

• exorcism
• seances
• tarot cards
• ouija boards


1. How does God use disasters, sickness and other sorts of hardship to better prepare us for his kingdom?
2. A common belief in biblical times was that people who suffered were being punished for some particular sin, while people who prospered must be receiving rewards for being good. Find some passages in Scripture to refute this idea.


• BB Section 6.3
• Demons, magic and medicine by Andrew Perry (published by Willow Publications, 1999). 269 pages. A very thorough study of the subject including information about Jewish, Greek and other beliefs.
• The Christadelphians: what they believe and preach by Harry Tennant (published by The Christadelphian, 1986), Chapter 17 “Demons”. 10 pages.


8. The Spirit of God
16. Temptation
24. The Devil and Satan: Old Testament
25. The Devil and Satan: New Testament
49. Suffering

 
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