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?
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
|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
• 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?
• 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.
Spirit of God
24. The Devil and Satan: Old Testament
25. The Devil and Satan: New Testament