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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Demon, Demoniacal Possession, Demoniacs
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1. Nomenclature.-The word δαιμόνιον (or δαίμων, which, however, occurs only once in the NT in the best Manuscripts , viz. in Matthew 8:31, though some Manuscripts have it in Mark 5:12, Luke 8:29, and some inferior ones in Revelation 16:14; Revelation 18:2) is almost always rendered ‘devil’ in English Version , though Revised Version margin usually gives ‘demon.’ In the Revised Version of the OT ‘demon’ is found in Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalms 106:37, Baruch 4:7 (Heb. שֵׁד, Septuagint δαιμόνιον). Originally δαίμων had a somewhat more personal connotation than δαιμόνιον, which is formed from the adjective (i.e. ‘a Divine thing’); and both had a neutral sense: a spirit inferior to the supreme gods, superior to man, but not necessarily evil. Some trace of this neutral sense is found in the apostolic writings. Thus δεισιδαίμων, δεισιδαιμονία have probably not the bad sense of ‘superstitious,’ ‘superstition’ in Acts 17:22; Acts 25:19 -which at any rate would hardly suit the former passage, where St. Paul is not likely to have gone out of his way to insult the Athenians-but the neutral sense of ‘religious,’ ‘religion.’ This view is borne out by the papyri, where, Deissmann says (Light from Ancient East, 1910, p. 283), the context of these words always implies commendation. And similarly St. Luke’s phrase (Luke 4:33) ‘a spirit of an unclean demon’ would imply the existence of a pure demon, just as ‘unclean spirits’ imply the existence of pure spirits. The neutral sense is also found in the saying attributed to our Lord by Ignatius (Smyrn. 3; see Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers2, pt. ii. vol. ii. [1889] p. 296): ‘Lay hold and handle me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon’ (δαιμόνιον ἀσώματον), a saying clearly founded on or parallel to Luke 24:39, perhaps due to an independent oral tradition. But ordinarily in the NT δαιμόνιον has a bad sense, and signifies ‘an evil spirit.’ The expression ‘to have a demon’ (or ‘demons’), which occurs several times in the Gospels (ἔχειν δαιμόνιον [δαιμόνια], equivalent to δαιμονίζεσθαι, which is also frequent there), is the same as the paraphrases found elsewhere in the NT which avoid the word ‘demon’ (Acts 8:7 ‘had unclean spirits,’ Acts 19:12 ‘had evil spirits,’ Acts 10:38, etc.). In Christian writings the word ‘demon’ always means an evil being, though it is curious that, in the NT and (as far as the present writer has observed) in the Fathers, Satan himself is never called δαίμων or δαιμόνιον (‘demon’). Conversely his angels are never in the NT called ‘devils’ (διάβολοι), though in John 6:70 Judas is called διάβολος. The Fathers emphatically assert that all demons are evil: see e.g. Tertull. Apol. 22, Orig. c. Cels. v. 5, viii. 39 (the Son of God not a demon), Cypr. Quod idola dii non sint, 6f. By the time of Augustine even the heathen used the word ‘demon’ only in a bad sense (de Civ. Dei, ix. 19).

2. Conceptions about demons in apostolic writings.-Demons are regarded as the ministers of Satan-a host of evil angels over whom he has command. They are the ‘angels which kept not their own principality (ἀρχήν) but left their proper habitation’ (Judges 1:6), who ‘when they sinned’ were ‘cast down to Tartarus’ (2 Peter 2:4). They are described as the Dragon’s angels, forming his army (Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:9; cf. Matthew 25:41). That these angels are the same as the demons appears from the fact that Satan is the prince of the demons (Mark 3:22), and that demoniacs are said to be ‘oppressed of the devil’ (τοῦ διαβόλου, i.e. Satan [see Devil], Acts 10:38; cf. Luke 13:16). Thus there are good spirits and evil spirits which must be distinguished and proved: the spirit of the Antichrist must be distinguished from the Spirit of God (1 John 4:1).

St. Paul, in not dissimilar language, speaks of discernings of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:4) and of evil angels as being ‘principalities’ (ἀρχαί), ‘powers,’ ‘world-rulers (κοσμοκράτορες) of this darkness,’ ‘spiritual beings (πνευματικά) of wickedness in the heavenly [places]’ (Ephesians 6:12; the last phrase may be roughly rendered ‘in the sphere of spiritual activities’; cf. Robinson’s note on Ephesians 1:3 and see article Air); perhaps also as being ‘the rulers of this age which are coming to nought … the spirit of the world’ (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:12); or collectively as ‘all rule and all authority and power’ which are to be abolished (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:26, Ephesians 1:21 f.). That these are Satan’s hosts appears from the context of the last passage (Ephesians 2:2), which speaks of the Prince of the power of the air (see Air).

It would seem that St. Paul regarded the heathen gods as demons, having a real existence, though they were not gods. On the one hand, ‘no idol is anything in the world, and there is no God but one’ (1 Corinthians 8:4); on the other hand, the sacrifices of the heathen are offered to demons, not to God, and therefore Christians must not attend heathen temples lest they have communion with demons (1 Corinthians 10:20 f.; note the idea that sacrifice involves communion between the worshipper and the worshipped). So in the Septuagint Psalms 96:5 affirms that all the gods of the heathen are demons (Heb. אֱלִילִים, i.e. ‘vanities’; Vulgate daemonia); and Deuteronomy 32:17 (see above) both in the Heb. text and in the Septuagint clearly identifies the heathen gods with demons. And similarly in Revelation 9:20 the worship of demons is joined to that of idols.

The activity of demons towards man is great. Though, after a fashion, they believe-not with the Christian’s faith, which is born of love, but with faith compelled by fear (James 2:19 : they ‘shudder’)-yet with the ingenuity which is peculiarly their own (James 3:15 σοφίαδαιμονιώδης), they try to draw man away from his belief: they are ‘seducing spirits,’ whose teaching is called the ‘doctrine of demons’ (1 Timothy 4:1 f., so most commentators); their captain is called the ‘spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2, where, however, ‘spirit’ is in apposition to ‘power,’ not to ‘prince,’ perhaps by grammatical assimilation; see Robinson’s note ad loc.). The demons accordingly instigate evil men against the good; they are ‘unclean spirits, as it were frogs’ coming ‘out of the mouth of the dragon … for they are spirits of demons,’ instigating the ‘kings of the whole world’ to the ‘war of the great day of God’ (Revelation 16:13 f.). If we identify them with the ‘rulers of this age’ of 1 Corinthians 2:6 (see above), they instigated our Lord’s crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:8). See also Devil.

Demons are able to work miracles or signs (σημεῖα, Revelation 16:14), as Antichrist can (2 Thessalonians 2:9); they attract worship from men (Revelation 9:20; cf. Deuteronomy 32:17 above), and have their temples and tables (see above). Rome, the corrupt capital of the heathen world, designated ‘Babylon,’ is the habitation of demons, the prison of every unclean spirit, the prison of every unclean and hateful bird (Revelation 18:2).

Just as the fruits of the working of the Holy Ghost in man are called the spirit ‘of power and love and discipline’ (2 Timothy 1:7) and ‘of truth’ (1 John 4:6), so those of the demons are ‘the spirit of bondage’ (Romans 8:15), and ‘stupor’ (κατανύξεως, Romans 11:8), and ‘fearfulness’ (2 Timothy 1:7), and ‘error’ (1 John 4:6).

3. Demoniacal possession.-This subject is much less spoken of in the writings which are here dealt with than in the Gospels. The evangelistic records depict a much stronger activity of evil in Palestine during the earthly life of our Lord than that which, as the rest of NT would lead us to suppose, existed elsewhere and at a later time. Yet in four passages of Acts we read of possession by unclean or evil spirits: at Jerusalem (Acts 5:16); in Samaria, where they were expelled at the preaching of Philip (Acts 8:7); at Philippi, where the ventriloquist maiden is said to have a spirit, a Python (Acts 16:16 : πνεῦμα πύθωνα is the best reading); and at Ephesus, where by St. Paul’s miracles the evil spirits were expelled (Acts 19:12). In this last passage we read of the evil spirit speaking out of the possessed man’s month, and of the man’s actions being those of the evil spirit (Acts 19:15); also of Jewish exorcists who endeavoured to expel him (the seven of Acts 19:14 become in all the best Manuscripts two at Acts 19:16; probably there were seven brothers, but only two took part in this incident). The word ‘exorcist’ does not occur elsewhere in the NT. The passage about the Python (Acts 16:16) is very remarkable. The name is derived from Pytho, a district near Delphi where the dragon (called Python) was slain by Apollo. The title was thus given to a diviner: both Apollo and the Delphic priestess were called ‘the Pythian’ (ὁ Πύθιος, ἡ Πυθία). Ventriloquists were regarded as being under the influence of demons, and as being able to divine; they were, as Plutarch tells us (Moralia, ed. Xylander, ii. 414 E, quoted by Wetstein on Acts 16:16), called πύθωνες, πυθώνισσαι. Here, then, we have the conception of something other than ordinary madness being a possession by evil spirits; and this incident may be considered as a stepping-stone to the conception found in some NT writers of physical disease as being, at least in some cases, also a possession. This is the case especially in the writings of Luke the physician. Thus the woman who was ‘bowed together’ is said to have had ‘a spirit of infirmity’ (πνεῦμα ἀσθενείας, Luke 13:11) and to have been bound by Satan (Luke 13:16); our Lord ‘rebuked’ (ἐπετίμησε) the fever of Simon’s wife’s mother (Luke 4:39), as if it were an unclean spirit; a deaf-mute is said to have a ‘dumb spirit’ or ‘a dumb and deaf spirit’ (Mark 9:17; Mark 9:25).

There is nothing which leads us to suppose that the conception of demoniacal possession which we find well established in the four Gospels, especially in the Synoptics, was not shared by the other NT writers; but it is noteworthy that, as the subject is only glanced at in the Fourth Gospel (with reference to the charge against our Lord, John 7:20; John 8:48 ff; John 10:20 f.), so it is not dealt with at all by St. Paul, though we could perhaps hardly expect that it should be spoken of in epistolary writings. We may, however, remark that the language of the famous passage Romans 7:14-25, in which the Apostle speaks of the power of sin in the Christian-for we can hardly think that he is speaking of himself only before his conversion-bears a close likeness to that used to describe demoniacal possession.

Literature.-This article has dealt only with the period from the Ascension to the end of the 1st cent.; for this reference may be made to H. St. J. Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, London, 1900, ch. vi. For demoniacal possession see R. C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of our Lord9, London, 1870, § 5 (‘The Demoniacs in the Country of the Gadarenes’). On the subject in general see H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament, London, 1909, Appendix C; A. Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, Eng. translation 2, 1908. i. 125ff.; O. C. Whitehouse in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Demon, Devil’; W. O. E. Oesterley in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , article ‘Demon, Demoniacs’; R. W. Moss in Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , articles ‘Devil,’ ‘Possession.’ For post-apostolic conceptions at demonology see H.L. Pass in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , article ‘Demons and Spirits (Christian)’; for those of other nations see the various articles under the same title in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics .

A. J. Maclean.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Demon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​d/demon.html. 1906-1918.
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