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What Are Demons?

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Biblically Accurate Angels, Explained

Most people assume that the Bible has a lot to say about demons. But while the Bible frequently mentions them, there isn't as much detail as you might expect.


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Demons Aren't What You Think

Most people assume that the Bible has a lot to say about devils and demons, and that’s somewhat true. But while the Bible frequently mentions demons, there isn’t as much detail as one might expect. So, in this video, you’ll find out what demons actually are from the point of view of the Bible.

Old Testament

Though most references to demons occur in the New Testament, there are four in the Old Testament that start to paint a picture of what demons are — those references are always in the context of idolatry. For example, Deuteronomy 32 says that instead of worshipping the true God, God’s people “sacrificed to demons that were not god, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom [their] fathers had never worshipped.” In this case, the demonsgods, and new gods are all referring to the same thing — pagan idols, which weren’t actually real, unlike the living and almighty God of the Israelites.

New Testament Gospels

However, by the time we get to the New Testament gospels, we frequently read about Jesus healing those “possessed with demons.” This is where most people will tell you that demons are evil spirits who can enter into people’s bodies to control and deceive them. But it’s interesting to note that whenever Jesus cast out demons, he never made a point of giving further instructions to the people he healed. You would think that if demons were supernatural beings from the Devil’s underworld that have the power to invade and control people, Jesus, at the very least, would have wanted to teach people how to protect their minds from them. Yet he never does.

You’ll also notice that whenever these possessive demons are mentioned, they always appear alongside a mental infirmity or sickness. They are also never seen causing any sins to occur nor carrying out punishment for sins (proven by the fact that some demons were around since infancy). In fact, the gospel writers describe demons in such commonplace terms, suggesting that they understood demons to be somewhat ordinary or unremarkable. The healing, not the demon, was the extraordinary part!

So, it seems that biblical ‘demons’ are better understood as references to various infirmities that people faced. This would make sense if you take into account the general lack of understanding at the time of Jesus concerning physical and mental illnesses, of which science today has a much better grasp. This would also explain why Jesus would choose to heal those with unclean spirits. Jesus never healed anyone except to prove that not only did he have the power to heal, but he also had the power to forgive sins. His healing was a tool to bring attention to his forgiveness and salvation, not simply a way to conquer so-called evil spirits.

Now, you might say if demons are better understood as mental infirmities or sicknesses, then why did Jesus speak to them? How did they respond? And why does it say that when they were cast out, they departed from the people they possessed?

This is where we start to notice superstition in the record. Even before the Bible, superstitious and pagan religions throughout history have thought that demons were supernatural beings of evil; clearly, this doctrine had been introduced to Israel so that if someone was mentally ill and told that a demon was possessing them, this would be how they came to understand their illness. So Jesus was speaking to the infirm on their level. Christ mentioned no exorcism, no explanation of Satan or Beelzebub, no spirits of the dead or underworld, and no association with superstitious, pagan gods. He simply came, spoke, and healed. 

With what we know today about mental health problems, it is indeed miraculous that Jesus could communicate so clearly with those in mental states of illness. But again, this was so that we could believe that, ultimately, he has the power of forgiveness and salvation, not just the power to heal.

New Testament Epistles

As we move on from the gospels, it becomes clear that belief in demons was a very abstract concept in the time of the apostles. For example, Paul warned Timothy to watch out for people who departed from the faith because they were “giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1 RSV).

Once again, you can see how one could construe this to mean that demons deceive people into believing false doctrines. Essentially, what Paul is saying, though, is that deceitful false doctrines were just as dangerously superstitious as the belief that a demon-possessed the sick! This is further emphasized by the fact that, again, there is no teaching on how to fight these demons but rather how to fight the false doctrines themselves and find the truth. The superstitious doctrines stemming from both were antagonistic to His true message of faith and forgiveness that both Jews and Gentiles alike misunderstood. 


Overall, demons are connected to false beliefs. In Old Testament times, they were another term for an idol or a false god. In the New Testament times, with the introduction of Greek thought, the idea of a demon had morphed so that they were seen as beings that brought about sickness and disease––but once again, they functioned as a false god, supernatural beings that somehow had power apart from the one God who rules everything. 

In reality, there is only one God. There is only one source of power. As God explained through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me, there is no God…I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:5, 7). Indeed, when one understands God’s centrality in the universe, there is no place for supernatural demons. Just like false gods, they don’t really exist.

The lessons of demons in the Bible can become a fantastic source of hope and truth for us if we read scripture closely. We can see the true message of God and His power to forgive and save us!

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Study Notes

What Are Demons?

Most people assume that the Bible has a lot to say about demons. But while the Bible frequently mentions them, there isn't as much detail as you might expect.

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