Holman Bible Dictionary
The Scripture writers are careful to distinguish between demon possession and disease. In Matthew 4:24 demon possession is listed with a variety of symptoms of other diseases including pain, epilepsy, and paralysis. The Gospel writers could distinguish between demon possession and these other diseases.
The features demonstrated by those who are demon possessed are incompatible with a theory of mere bodily or mental illness. The healing of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5:1 had fatal effects upon a nearby herd of swine ( Mark 5:11-13 ). The same demoniac made an assertion of Christ's deity when the disciples of Jesus had not as yet shown any recognition of this fact (Mark 4:41 ; Mark 5:7 ). Epilepsy and insanity would not cause such effects as these.
Descriptions of the experience of demon possession do not separate the actions of the possessed person from the actions of the demon (Mark 1:23 ; Luke 8:28 ). The power of the demon dominates the personality of the possessed person. Such bizarre behavior as masochism (Mark 5:5 ) and an unnatural voice (Mark 5:7 ) stems from the demon's control of the individual's self-expression.
Jesus treated the cases of demon possession as realities. He was neither putting on a performance nor pretending to agree with superstitious attitudes of the Jews. In His discussions with the Jews He assumed the reality of demon possession when He affirmed that His casting out of devils showed that the kingdom of God had come to His hearers (Matthew 12:23-27 ). The Jews of Jesus' time superstitiously believed that demons were lurking at every corner. They thought they could find them in rivers, seas, and on mountaintops. Demons were blamed for toothaches, headaches, broken bones, and outbursts of jealousy and anger. By way of contrast to this practice, the response of Jesus and the New Testament writers is very restrained.
The cure for demon possession in the New Testament is always faith in the power of Christ. The New Testament never shows Jesus or the apostles using magical rites to deliver the afflicted from demon possession. Whenever Christ spoke the word, the demons were forced to obey Him (Mark 1:27 ; Luke 4:41 ). Jesus entrusted this same power of exorcism to His disciples as they went out on mission for Him (Matthew 10:8 ).
Missionaries and Christian workers in foreign countries have encountered the biblical type of demon possession in some of their work. Those individuals who have experienced a release from demon possession by spiritual means have been able to lead normal healthy lives. Psychiatrists would describe demon possession in terms quite different from the Bible. The most useful solution to the problem will assume that the evil of human nature renders the mind especially susceptible to the influence of personal agents of evil.
Thomas D. Lea
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Demon Possession'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/d/demon-possession.html. 1991.