On what the Scriptures say about demons

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There are many kinds of illustrations which supposedly picture “demons”, sometimes with hoofs and tails or other similar attributes. But, as we all know, those things have nothing to do with reality. This article considers what the Scriptures say about demons. It is mostly the New Testament that mentions them. (Appendix 1 at the end of this article considers a number of Old Testament passages which might seem to refer to wicked spirits but which perhaps do not do that.)

The origin of the English word “demon” is that it comes from the old Greek nouns daimôn and daimonion.

The use of the words daimôn, daimonion and daimonizomai in the Greek text of the New Testament.

Here, it must be noted that in the Greek text of the New Testament, the nouns daimôn and daimonion and the verb daimonizomai are used in a way that is different from how they were used in the normal Greek of those days. There are some notes on this, in appendix 2 at the end of this article. Appendix 3 considers how the makers of the Septuagint version (LXX) used those words.

In the Greek NT text, those three words are often, but not always, connected to wicked spirits who had taken over humans bodies, “possessing” them (taking them in their power). The Gospels and even the other parts of the NT contain a number of accounts of how Jesus and the apostles freed people from the power of such capturers.

Matthew 8:28–32 records how some daimones, wicked spirits possessing human bodies, pleaded to Jesus that as he forced them to leave the human bodies which they had taken over, he would allow them to take their abode in some pigs that were in the vicinity. Jesus allowed that, but then, those pigs went into panic and ran into a lake and drowned. Whether it was Jesus who caused the end of those pigs, or whether it was the overtaking by those wicked spirits that caused the pigs to panic, we cannot know.

Who and what were those wicked spirits who in that way possessed human and then animal bodies? Also: Why did they do that? The Bible does not give us any direct answers to these questions, but it is obvious that those spirits no longer had bodies of their own. And yes, it appears that they needed bodies. Consider the fact that the wicked spirits of Matthew 8:28–32 were so desperate that they begged Jesus that he would allow them to live in a flock of pigs. In short: It is reasonable to assume that those spirits [no longer had bodies of their own and] needed bodies to dwell in, in order to stay alive.

Here, someone might say, “but spirit beings are immortal”. However, the Bible does not say so. A closer study of the Scriptures shows that not even angels are immortal in the meaning that they could not die. Only God is truly immortal. There are spirit beings who can live on without dying, but in their case, immortality is conditional. Several bible-passages indicate that at a coming time of judgment, those rebel spirits who still survive but will not repent, will face death. The article rda022.htm has some notes on this.

A note: The word “immortal” comes from the Latin immortalis which really means “not dying”, that is, under certain circumstances not subject to death. Please note that that is not the same as not being able to die.

But again: Who or what were those wicked spirits, for instance the ones mentioned in the above-mentioned Matthew 8:28–32? What was their background and origin? A careful study of the Scriptures indicates that those demons of NT times were spirits who had rebelled against God and were roaming the world, without any real goal or purpose. And, as was noted above, it appears that they needed some body to dwell in, in order to stay alive.

Again, the Bible does not tell us very much about those wicked spirits. But, Matthew 8:28–29 indicates that they were waiting for their doom.

Matthew 8:28 And when he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from among the tombs met him, very violent, so that no one was able to pass by along that road. 29 And behold, they cried out, saying, “What do you have to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (LEB, highlighting added)

“Before the time” – it appears that there was an already on beforehand appointed time of judgment for those rebel spirits. That might eventually refer to the still future time when Jesus returns, but this is speculation, for the Bible does not tell us when or where the in verse 29 mentioned event was to take place. It could even be that by now, those particular spirits have already been judged.

What more can we learn about demons, in the New Testament? Not much. One could do a study of all the NT passages where the Greek text contains the words daimôn, daimonion and daimonizomai, but that would not give much. There is also the word daimoniôdês (“demonic”) in the Greek text of James 3:15, but studying that verse would not make one any wiser in this regard.

In short: The NT and the Bible in general simply do not say much regarding the “spirit realm”. Why is that? Well, one way to look at that matter is that since it is clear that we normal, mortal humans are not able to cope with beings and forces in that realm, it is best that we keep away from them. Consequently, we should not spend very much time for studying such matters. God will take care of what needs to be taken care of, in regard to things and beings in the “spirit realm”, so, let us leave those things to him.

But, let us consider a New Testament passage where the word daimonion is used in the meaning “god” or similar. In that passage, the old Greek manner of using that word comes into expression. This is regarding an occasion when the apostle Paul was in Athens in Greece, and proclaimed the Good Tidings there.

Acts 17:18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” [a] (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) […] 22 And standing in the middle of the Areopagus, Paul said, Men, Athenians, I see how you in everything are fearful of gods [b] (NRSV, note signs added)

a In verse 18, the Greek text has xenôn daimoniôn dokei katangeleus einai which the above-quoted NRSV correctly translates as “he seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities”. And indeed, the apostle Paul was that: A proclaimer of a divine Power whom the Greek did not know and who thus was “foreign” to them.

b Verse 22: The Greek text has deisidaimonestêros, a form of deisidaimôn which refers to “reverencing the gods”.

Appendix 2 has some notes on how the words daimôn, daimonion and daimonizomai were used in ancient Greek.

‘Powers and principalities’.

‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott notes that the root of daimôn (“deity”) probably was the verb daiô in the meaning “to distribute destinies”. The ancient Greek thought that some spirits had power over the destiny of humans.

Here, it is worth noting that the New Testament mentions “powers and principalities”, “dominions”, “thrones” (“seats”), and so on, in the spirit realm. The Scriptures do not spell out these things in detail, but certain passages indicate that some spirits or “sons of God” had been given the planet Earth as their “domain” or something like that, with some powers (jurisdiction) over it and its inhabitants.

Unfortunately, at some point of time those beings became rebels and began doing things God did not want them to do. Their actions hurt, not only themselves but also humans and this whole world. We do not know the details or the background, but it is obvious that for some to us unknown reasons, “legal” or other, God could not simply do away with those rebels but instead had to ransom mankind from their power. This appears to be why God had to send his own Son to humiliation, suffering and death. In other words: The power-position or jurisdiction which those rebel spirits had, must be the reason why Jesus had to die, giving his life in place of others. The article rda062.htm has some notes on that subject, but right here, consider these scriptures:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (NKJV)

Hebrews 2:14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (NKJV, highlighting added)

That was regarding mankind’s salvation and liberation on the “legal level”. However, as anyone can see, on the practical level this world, the planet Earth, still remains in the hands of wicked powers of the kind that are mentioned in a number of scriptures. The Kingdom or Reign of God is not in effect here on Earth. In the future when Jesus returns, that will change. At that time, he will free this planet from the hands of wicked spirit powers, even on the practical level.

The article roa012.htm contains a study on the Kingdom of God – what, when and where it is. The article rwa012.htm has some notes on why God has allowed evil and suffering.

See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendixes below.

Appendix 1 – Old Testament passages which might seem to refer to wicked spirits, but which probably do not do that.

The following considers a number of Old Testament passages where some bible-translators have interpreted the Hebrew text as referring to wicked spirits. In some of those passages, that is probably not be the case.

A note: If you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that some particular bible-version has all things right and has no errors, make sure to read the article rsa032.htm.

Devils, or wild goats?

Some bible-versions have “devils” in Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15. The relevant word in the Hebrew text is the adjective saiyr which means “hairy”. In a number of translations, the word saiyr is instead interpreted as referring to “goats” or “goat-idols” or similar. Example: “They shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the he-goats” (Leviticus 17:7, ASV).

Devils, or mediums?

Some bible-versions have “devils” in Leviticus 19:31 and 20:6 and 27, Deuteronomy 18:11, 1 Samuel 28:3, 7, 8 and 9, 2 Kings 21:6 and 23:24, 1 Chronicles 10:13, 2 Chronicles 33:6 and Isaiah 8:19, 19:3 and 29:4. The Hebrew text the has owb. It appears that that word does not refer to wicked spirits but rather to those who consult or call upon such. That is, mediums and necromancers and the like. An example:

Deuteronomy 18:11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, [Hebrew owb] or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. (NKJV, comment added)

A spirit, or wind?

Some bible-versions have in Job 4:15 such wordings as “then a spirit passed before my face”, but it may be that the Hebrew text refers to a “wind gust” or similar. Like this:

Job 4:15 And when the wind passed by before my presence it made the hairs of my flesh stand up. (TRC)

The Hebrew word in question is ruwach. For instance the NASB95 renders ruwach, not only as “spirit” or “temper” but also as “air”, “blast”, “breath”, “wind”, and so on.

An evil spirit, or hate?

In some translations, Judges 9:23 says that God sent “an evil spirit” between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. But, that does not have to refer to a spirit being. It may be that those words refer to “disagreement” or “hate”, or similar.

An evil spirit, or spirit of sadness?

Some bible-versions have in 1 Samuel 16 wordings which make it seem that “an evil spirit from God” troubled Saul. The relevant word in the Hebrew text is rah which was used in many different meanings, among them “bad” and “evil”, but also “trouble”, “displeasure”, “misery”, “sad” and so on. Consider this translation:

1 Samuel 16:14 And the Spirit of Jehovah turned aside from Saul, and a spirit of sadness [Hebrew rah] from Jehovah terrified him; 15 and the servants of Saul say unto him, ‘Lo, we pray thee, a spirit of sadness [rah] from God is terrifying thee; 16 let our lord command, we pray thee, thy servants before thee, they seek a skilful man, playing on a harp, and it hath come to pass, in the spirit of sadness [rah] from God being upon thee, that he hath played with his hand, and it is well with thee.’ (YLT, comments added)

‘An unclean spirit’, or spirit of uncleanness?

Some bible-translators have put “an unclean spirit” into Zechariah 13:2, but some others have interpreted the Hebrew wording as referring to “spirit of uncleanness”, which does not have to refer to a literal spirit being of any kind.

Appendix 2 – On how ancient Greek writers used the words daimôn, daimonion and daimonizomai.

A note: In the Greek texts of the New Testament and the Septuagint (LXX), those words are used in a way that is different from how they were used by ancient Greek writers.

In ancient Greek, the noun daimôn was often used in such meanings as “god”, “goddess”, “the gods”, “deity” or “divine power”. At times, it was used in a similar way as the noun theos. (The people of ancient Greece did not know the God of the Bible. They used the word theos of their own “gods”.)

Ancient Greek writers used the word daimôn also as a reference to “the power controlling the destiny of individuals” – “fate”, “fortune”. ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott notes that the root of daimôn (‘deity’) probably was the verb daiô in the meaning “to distribute destinies”. The Greek used the noun daimôn even in the meaning “spirit being” or “(semi-)divine being”. Sometimes it referred especially to an evil spirit, or a genius (a spirit that was thought to be connected to a person).

The longer form daimonion had basically the same meaning as daimôn.

The related verb daimonizomai meant, not only “to be under the influence of a daimôn” but also “to be deified”, and it could eventually be that it was sometimes used in reference to mental illness. Consider this passage:

Matthew 4:23 And he went around through all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 And a report about him went out throughout Syria, and they brought to him all those who were sick with various diseases and afflicted by torments, demon-possessed [c] and epileptics and paralytics, and he healed them. (LEB, note sign added)

c The Greek text of verse 24 has daimonizomenous, a form of the verb daimonizomai. It could refer to demon possession, but again, it could be that it was sometimes used in reference to mental illness.

Appendix 3 – The words daimôn and daimonion in the Greek text of the Septuagint version.

(The Septuagint or LXX is an ancient Jewish translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language.)

In Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalms 106:37 (105:37), the makers of the Septuagint used the Greek noun daimonion as a translation of the Hebrew shed which occurs only in those two passages, apparently referring to idols of some kind.

In Psalms 96:5 (95:5), the Septuagint version uses the word daimonion as a translation of the Hebrew eliyl. For instance the NKJV translates eliyl mostly as “idol”.

In Isaiah 13:21 and 34:14, the Septuagint has daimonion and some English versions “satyr”, but the Hebrew text appears to refer to hairy animals such as wild goats. The article rda032.htm has some notes on this.

The Septuagint has the word daimonion even in Psalms 91:6 (90:6) and Isaiah 65:3, and daimôn in Isaiah 65:11. A note in that connection: The ancient Septuagint version has sometimes wordings that are different from those in the present-day Hebrew text.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga022.htm

Do angels have absolute immortality, so that they cannot die? → rda022.htm

What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → roa012.htm

Colossians 1:26, “the mystery of the ages”. How Jesus conquered and spoiled certain principalities and powers. → rda062.htm

Why does God allow evil, sickness, pain, war and suffering? → rwa012.htm

What does the Bible say about Satan the Devil? A study on what the Scriptures tell us about mankind’s arch-enemy. → rda042.htm

On the “dragons”, “satyrs”, “unicorns”, “flying serpents” and other odd creatures that appear in some bible-versions. → rda032.htm

On 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning. Did the apostle Paul mean that the saints could eat and drink things that were dedicated to idols? → rha023.htm

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