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#1 Curt

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 06:42 PM

I have tried to view the subject of evil spirits in a way new to me. If they do not exist, and I lean that way, how do we explain verses such as the man in the Gaderenes? What happened there? If evil spirits do exist, then what is their purpose? The old testament verses are few that reference them and they are always under God's control. I would appreciate any help that anyone might give me. Thanks

#2 Richie

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 07:02 PM

Well the first thing to note is that the Bible was not written in the twenty-first century. They didn't speak of phenomena like the Gaderene demoniac using language that we use today. If Mark 2, or wherever it's recorded, had said "there was a man suffering from paranoia brought on by trichinosis" we'd question the authenticity of the text since those concepts didn't exist back then. What the Bible often does (and we do it today as well) is use phenomenological language. What that means is that often Bible stories are written from man's point of view, how he observes things. Today we use phrases like "the sun is rising in the west" even though the sun is not rising the west; in reality the earth is revolving around the sun. That's phenomenological language. So when an onlooker saw the Gaderene demoniac he would observe someone possessed with many demons, even though demons don't exist. When the swine ran crazily down the hill he would observe the demons leaving the man and entering them even though that's not actually what happened.
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#3 Mark Taunton

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 07:39 PM

It's Mark 5. Here's something I wrote about that a little while ago, updated slightly...

On Legion, it has been proposed by Stephen Palmer (a Christadelphian who has professional knowledge of the medical/biological issues - he is a qualified doctor, and a professor of epidemiology), that there was a specific medically identifiable condition involved. He suggests that Legion was infected with trichinosis, which is associated with pigs, and whose early stage form is carried in their faeces. This unpleasant creature apparently develops in the gut of someone who has swallowed it, and can then burrow into the region of the spinal column, and affect the nervous system and the brain in ways commensurate with Legion's obviously severely disturbed mental state.

But Stephen at the same time points out the spiritual significance of this (medical) point. Legion's physical infection - if that's indeed what it was - arose from contact with animals that were unclean under the law. In this respect, he symbolised the nation of Israel in their spiritual uncleanness. They had absorbed and become controlled in their own thinking by the spiritually corrupt thinking of the world and its false theologies. The first part of Isaiah 65 has a number of specific connections with the gospel accounts of Legion, which substantiate that interpretation: God condemns those in Israel who were spiritually unclean and corrupt, despite their claims of greater holiness than others, and mentions false worship, eating of pigs, and graves, in association with this defiled state.

Recently I found further connections in scripture, into a different context, which support the same understanding. These help to show that NT language about mental derangement, including the terms "demon" and "unclean spirit", is linked specifically with false theology (though that is obvious enough, e.g. in 1 Cor 10).

The Mark 5 account, of Jesus' encounter with and curing of Legion , shows several particular links with 1 Kings 18 and Elijah's confrontation with and destruction of the prophets of Baal, and also with specific elements of the law:

  • Legion was crying out and cutting himself, as the prophets of Baal had cried out and cut themselves in their attempts to rouse their God.
  • Cutting oneself is mentioned in relation to the dead, and is specifically forbidden, in the law (Deu 14:1). Legion lived in an unclean place, among the tombs, where the dead were buried.
  • His name Legion he explained as "we are many"; Elijah says of the prophets of Baal "ye are many".
  • Elijah encouraged the prophets of Baal to "cry aloud" (Heb "with a great voice"), which they did. Legion did the same (Grk "cried with a great voice") on meeting Jesus.
  • Legion is described as having an "unclean spirit". This same phrase is used once in the OT, in Zech 13:2, in conjunction with mention of the names of the idols (cf Baal) and the (false) prophets, all of which God will cause to pass out of the land. Elijah slew the 450 prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel, cleansing the land of them, and reducing the power of Baal at least for a time.
  • The prophets of Baal were caught by the people at Elijah's command and taken down to the river; there they died. Legion's legion of demons were sent out of him by Jesus' command, taken into the pigs, and went down rapidly to the water where they likewise met their end.
  • Numbers are given in both cases: 450 prophets of Baal; about 2000 pigs.
  • Detailed news of the event, of what the man of God had done and what happened to the prophets / pigs, was taken by witnesses to the nearby city - Jezreel, Gadara(?).
  • The reaction to the news, from those in authority there (Jezebel; the owners of the pigs) was negative - get out!
  • The man of God who had done the miracle was caused to leave the area immediately.
A further interconnection is between Mark 5:10 and Zechariah 13:2. Zechariah says that God will cause the idols, prophets and the unclean spirit to "pass out of the land". Legion requested Jesus not to "send them out of the country", but of course Jesus, in this miniature prefiguring of God's still-future work of cleansing for the nation of Israel, ignored that request and did so.

So the NT, in its use of "demon" terminology, is not simply reflecting contemporary culture and the pagan theology of Greek world of Jesus' time. The ideas go back into OT times, and find their significance in the worship of false gods, directed and controlled by the prophets of those gods, under the authority of the rulers of this world.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 12 July 2011 - 08:41 PM.


#4 Mark Taunton

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 08:53 PM

Curt, in summary, we could say that evil spirits don't exist - except in the minds of those who believe they are real, where they have devastating power, despite their non-existence!

Unclean spirits or demons are exactly aligned in sense and significance with idols and the false, non-existent gods those idols are supposed to represent. In Jesus' day, the Jewish people in the main no longer practised idolatry at the physical level. But internally, in their minds, the same sorts of errors had not really gone away.

Sometimes Jesus speaks as if there were evil spirits. Previous prophets of God in earlier times also spoke of the false gods using their names, but at the same time mocked their worshippers as deaf, mute and blind, just like the idols themselves. It's a way of speaking, used to try to get through to the deluded by not simply ignoring or dismissing something they are convinced of, but turning it against the false belief in order to highlight the error and break its hold on the idolater's confused mind.

As an example, consider Jesus and the claim made by his enemies that he was casting out demons by Baalzebul, "the prince of the demons". This is a direct use of OT idolatry / mythology: in 2 Kings 1, Baalzebub was the god of Ekron, that Ahaziah was enquiring of about his own sickness. But Jesus doesn't just say "Baalzebul doesn't exist", any more than Elijah says the same. Rather he breaks their argument by showing its inconsistency - he really was healing people, but if it was by Baalzebul then he was going against himself and couldn't succeed. In the OT, Elijah also does miracles to validate his own power, bringing fire upon the two lots of captain + fifty, in contrast with the powerlessness of men's invented gods.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 12 July 2011 - 08:57 PM.


#5 Curt

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 11:42 AM

Great connecting verses with 1 Kings 18! Thanks for the input. The doctrine of evil spirits can be a cruel wicked tool in the hand of those that teach it. It truly brings some of God's children into bondage with it's mental torment and subsequent false hope of deliverance.

It's Mark 5. Here's something I wrote about that a little while ago, updated slightly...

On Legion, it has been proposed by Stephen Palmer (a Christadelphian who has professional knowledge of the medical/biological issues - he is a qualified doctor, and a professor of epidemiology), that there was a specific medically identifiable condition involved. He suggests that Legion was infected with trichinosis, which is associated with pigs, and whose early stage form is carried in their faeces. This unpleasant creature apparently develops in the gut of someone who has swallowed it, and can then burrow into the region of the spinal column, and affect the nervous system and the brain in ways commensurate with Legion's obviously severely disturbed mental state.

But Stephen at the same time points out the spiritual significance of this (medical) point. Legion's physical infection - if that's indeed what it was - arose from contact with animals that were unclean under the law. In this respect, he symbolised the nation of Israel in their spiritual uncleanness. They had absorbed and become controlled in their own thinking by the spiritually corrupt thinking of the world and its false theologies. The first part of Isaiah 65 has a number of specific connections with the gospel accounts of Legion, which substantiate that interpretation: God condemns those in Israel who were spiritually unclean and corrupt, despite their claims of greater holiness than others, and mentions false worship, eating of pigs, and graves, in association with this defiled state.

Recently I found further connections in scripture, into a different context, which support the same understanding. These help to show that NT language about mental derangement, including the terms "demon" and "unclean spirit", is linked specifically with false theology (though that is obvious enough, e.g. in 1 Cor 10).

The Mark 5 account, of Jesus' encounter with and curing of Legion , shows several particular links with 1 Kings 18 and Elijah's confrontation with and destruction of the prophets of Baal, and also with specific elements of the law:

  • Legion was crying out and cutting himself, as the prophets of Baal had cried out and cut themselves in their attempts to rouse their God.
  • Cutting oneself is mentioned in relation to the dead, and is specifically forbidden, in the law (Deu 14:1). Legion lived in an unclean place, among the tombs, where the dead were buried.
  • His name Legion he explained as "we are many"; Elijah says of the prophets of Baal "ye are many".
  • Elijah encouraged the prophets of Baal to "cry aloud" (Heb "with a great voice"), which they did. Legion did the same (Grk "cried with a great voice") on meeting Jesus.
  • Legion is described as having an "unclean spirit". This same phrase is used once in the OT, in Zech 13:2, in conjunction with mention of the names of the idols (cf Baal) and the (false) prophets, all of which God will cause to pass out of the land. Elijah slew the 450 prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel, cleansing the land of them, and reducing the power of Baal at least for a time.
  • The prophets of Baal were caught by the people at Elijah's command and taken down to the river; there they died. Legion's legion of demons were sent out of him by Jesus' command, taken into the pigs, and went down rapidly to the water where they likewise met their end.
  • Numbers are given in both cases: 450 prophets of Baal; about 2000 pigs.
  • Detailed news of the event, of what the man of God had done and what happened to the prophets / pigs, was taken by witnesses to the nearby city - Jezreel, Gadara(?).
  • The reaction to the news, from those in authority there (Jezebel; the owners of the pigs) was negative - get out!
  • The man of God who had done the miracle was caused to leave the area immediately.
A further interconnection is between Mark 5:10 and Zechariah 13:2. Zechariah says that God will cause the idols, prophets and the unclean spirit to "pass out of the land". Legion requested Jesus not to "send them out of the country", but of course Jesus, in this miniature prefiguring of God's still-future work of cleansing for the nation of Israel, ignored that request and did so.

So the NT, in its use of "demon" terminology, is not simply reflecting contemporary culture and the pagan theology of Greek world of Jesus' time. The ideas go back into OT times, and find their significance in the worship of false gods, directed and controlled by the prophets of those gods, under the authority of the rulers of this world.



#6 Curt

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 11:44 AM

Thanks Richie.

Well the first thing to note is that the Bible was not written in the twenty-first century. They didn't speak of phenomena like the Gaderene demoniac using language that we use today. If Mark 2, or wherever it's recorded, had said "there was a man suffering from paranoia brought on by trichinosis" we'd question the authenticity of the text since those concepts didn't exist back then. What the Bible often does (and we do it today as well) is use phenomenological language. What that means is that often Bible stories are written from man's point of view, how he observes things. Today we use phrases like "the sun is rising in the west" even though the sun is not rising the west; in reality the earth is revolving around the sun. That's phenomenological language. So when an onlooker saw the Gaderene demoniac he would observe someone possessed with many demons, even though demons don't exist. When the swine ran crazily down the hill he would observe the demons leaving the man and entering them even though that's not actually what happened.



#7 Richie

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 01:24 PM

You're welcome. Not sure if it's been mentioned already but evil spirits and demons only existed in the New Testament in Gentile areas and in the north of the land of Israel. Jesus only ever cast out demons in those places, but in the south, in Judea and Jerusalem, despite healing many people he never cast out demons. Why? Because only in the north and Gentile areas was there a history of belief in demons (false gods). They only exist where people believe in them. It's like ghosts of UFOs: only people who believe in them see them.
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#8 Curt

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 10:09 PM

Interesting point on where spirits were cast out. I have also noticed that the gospel of Mark is filled with references to demons more than the other gospels.

You're welcome. Not sure if it's been mentioned already but evil spirits and demons only existed in the New Testament in Gentile areas and in the north of the land of Israel. Jesus only ever cast out demons in those places, but in the south, in Judea and Jerusalem, despite healing many people he never cast out demons. Why? Because only in the north and Gentile areas was there a history of belief in demons (false gods). They only exist where people believe in them. It's like ghosts of UFOs: only people who believe in them see them.



#9 Mark Taunton

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 09:19 PM

You're welcome. Not sure if it's been mentioned already but evil spirits and demons only existed in the New Testament in Gentile areas and in the north of the land of Israel. Jesus only ever cast out demons in those places, but in the south, in Judea and Jerusalem, despite healing many people he never cast out demons. Why? Because only in the north and Gentile areas was there a history of belief in demons (false gods). They only exist where people believe in them. It's like ghosts of UFOs: only people who believe in them see them.

Interesting, but not 100% accurate. You're right about Jesus' own activity in this regard: the gospels only mention him casting out demons and evil spirits in parts away from Judea and Jerusalem. But Acts 5:16 is a counter-example to the geographical distribution you propose. It says that some described as vexed with unclean spirits were brought to Jerusalem to be cured by the hands of the apostles from the cities round about, i.e. in Judea.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 14 July 2011 - 09:20 PM.


#10 Mark Taunton

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 10:55 PM

As I've just been looking at another case that links NT language concerning mental illness with false worship in the OT, I thought it might be helpful to summarise it.

In Matthew 17, as Jesus and the 3 descend from the mount of transfiguration where Moses and Elijah had appeared, a man brings his "lunatic" (Greek: 'seleeniazomai', "moon-possessed") boy, asking for help, and calling Jesus "lord". What is notable is the boy's behaviour in his illness: he falls often into the fire and often into the water. The man has brought him to Jesus' (other) disciples but they could not cure him.

Jesus at this point responds with surprisingly harsh language, speaking of a "faithless" and "perverse" generation. Nonetheless he goes on to cure the boy by rebuking the demon, which goes out of him. When the disciples who had been waiting ask why they could not cure him, he says it was because they too were faithless: they had the same problem as the people.

This miraculous cure is a re-enactment in an individual case of a spiritually sick condition that had earlier afflicted the whole nation. The parallels run very deep, and I believe help explain why the record in Matthew is put as it is. In the following, I won't spell out or identify all the points of connection, but I hope they should be apparent from reading and comparing the relevant passages together.

Israel had been in bondage in Egypt, where they had worshipped the gods of Egypt (Jos 24:14, Eze 20:5-8). God had shown them his mighty power in the plagues on Egypt, acting against those false gods to demonstrate their emptiness and worthlessness. He made the people pass through fire and water in releasing them from their afflictions (Ps 66:10-12), yet they did not really leave the idols behind. In their hearts, those same gods still had power - they continued to think about Egypt and its ways.

Now consider the events of Exodus 32, and the later report of them in Deuteronomy 9, along with the words of the song in Deuteronomy 32.

Moses has not been seen for a long time, having gone up the mountain. In his absence, Israel act on their imagination and want to make gods for themselves, to replace him. To do this, they consult Aaron, telling him to make gods to go before them. Despite the authority vested in him in Moses' absence (Exo 24:14), Aaron fails utterly in his responsibilities. Instead of speaking the truth in their ears, reminding them of God's mighty acts towards them, Aaron tells them to remove the golden earrings from their ears and bring them to him. These were no doubt the same jewels the Egyptians had pressed upon them as they were leaving Egypt (Exo 11:2, Exo 12:35-36).

The people bring the gold to Aaron, but he does not do anything good with it. He should have rebuked the people for their foolish proposal, but instead he goes along with them and makes the golden calf. Although it was the very same sort of idol the Egyptians served, which Yahweh had mightily overcome in order to release them, they then identify it as "mighty gods" that had brought them up out of Egypt. The madness is manifest, as Aaron calls a feast to Yahweh, while the people sing and dance, eating, drinking and worshipping the golden calf in idolatry and fornication.

When Moses is still up the mountain, God tells him that his people are corrupted. He appeals to God to show mercy. But when he comes down the mountain, accompanied by Joshua, it is exactly as God has said.

Moses becomes extremely angry. The golden calf is taken, burnt in the fire, ground up and spread on the water of the brook, which the people are made to drink. Thus the manifestation of their own madness in idolatry itself passes first through fire and water as they had done, but then through the stomachs of its former worshippers, highlighting their own folly.

Israel at that time were indeed a crooked and perverse generation, children in whom was no faith. They did not believe God or his servant Moses, but instead followed the corrupt thinking of their own hearts. They were truly mad. This kind of inner mental sickness can only be cured by prayer and fasting. So Moses prays for them, and fasts 40 days, beseeching God to show mercy; God hears his appeal.

Moses also rebukes Aaron for his folly. Although Aaron at this time calls his younger brother "lord", it is feigned subjection, as he has certainly not done the will of God in Moses' absence. He is deeply in error, and must be recovered from it. He is afflicted with the same spiritual sickness as the people. But Moses prays for Aaron too, and God accepts him in consequence, later granting him the tremendous privilege of being anointed as high priest to Yahweh.

Thus, through the one man who knows God, believes and trusts him, and lives by faith, the demon is cast out, and a nation is brought back from its insanity, to be led onwards in the way they should go.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 17 July 2011 - 11:12 PM.


#11 Phil

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Posted 18 July 2011 - 01:06 AM

Hi Mark & Curt,

I think in connection with Deut 32 it's worth quoting specifically the verses which are relevant to the "crooked and perverse generation" in Matthew.

Deut 32:5 & Deut 32:17 should do the trick. Oh maybe i shouldn't rely on the bible tagger:

Deu 32:5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Deu 32:17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.


That last verse of Deut 32 particularly links up with 1 Cor 10:20.

Edited by Phil, 18 July 2011 - 01:06 AM.

"I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless i live; yet not i, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which i now live in the flesh i live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
- Gal 2:20

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#12 Mark Taunton

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Posted 18 July 2011 - 07:12 AM

Thanks, Phil. Just to add to that, see also a later verse in that song Israel were taught, which I alluded to but gave no explicit reference for. The NET Bible that the Bible tagger shows rather obscures the verbal connection, but the KJV brings out the sense of the Hebrew:

Deu 32:20 And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.

That clearly lines up with the first adjective in Jesus' phrase "faithless and perverse generation" (Matt 17:17), and his words to his disciples "because of your unbelief" (Mt 17:20).

And the next verse joins up with verse 17 that as you pointed out is quoted by Paul in regard to demons. Again, the KJV more precisely brings out the detail of the Hebrew than the NET does here:

Deu 32:21 They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities ...


Edited by Mark Taunton, 18 July 2011 - 07:31 AM.


#13 Jon D

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Posted 18 July 2011 - 11:54 AM

As I've just been looking...


This post was terrific Mark - thanks.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus


#14 Richie

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Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:02 PM

Acts 17 is another classic passage for dealing with NT demonology. And if my hard drive hadn't fried I could write up my notes on it. Suffice it to say Paul equates the Athenians' worship of idols with worship of demons. The Athenians even use the term demon to describe gods.
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#15 Curt

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Posted 18 July 2011 - 08:40 PM

Thanks for these thoughts. They are new to me. I will give them some study .




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