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Bible Encyclopedias
Communion with Demons; Devils

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

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dē´monz , (dev ´'lz ):

I. Use of Term

The actual expression "communion with demons" (κοινωνοὶ τῶν δαιμονίων , koinōnoı́ tō̇n daimonı́ōn ) occurs but once in Scripture (1 Corinthians 10:20 ) where its figurative meaning is evident, but it is implied in the English version of a number of passages by the terms "one who has" or "those who have" "familiar spirits" (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6 , Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:11; 1 Samuel 28:3 , 1 Samuel 28:7 , 1 Samuel 28:8 , 1 Samuel 28:9; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Kings 23:24; 1 Chronicles 10:13; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 29:4 ). These passages seem to be somewhat incongruous with Paul's statement, but are in reality so intimately related to it as to give and receive light through the connection.

II. Teaching of Scripture

To begin with, we may safely say, in general, that there is no ground for asserting that the Bible admits the possibility of conscious and voluntary communion with spirits. This is an essential element of popular demonology in all ages, but it is absent from Scripture. Even in the passages mentioned above which refer to necromancers and wizards, while, as we shall see, the words indicate that such practitioners professed to rely upon spirits in their divinations, the Scriptures carefully refrain from sanctioning these claims, and a number of features in the various passages serve to indicate that the true scriptural view is quite the opposite. As this is not a prevalent opinion, we should do well to examine the passages with some little care.

1. The New Testament

(1) We may first deal with the New Testament. In the Gospels the demoniacs are consistently looked upon and treated as unconscious and helpless victims (see DEMON , DEMONOLOGY ). The frequent use of this term "demonized" ( daimonizómenoi ) together with all that is told us of the methods of treating these eases adopted by our Lord and His apostles (see EXORCISM ) indicates the belief of the New Testament writers that the control of demons over men is obtained outside of or below the region of conscious volition and that the condition of the sufferers is pathological.

(2) The same must be said of the Lydian maiden whose cure by Paul is recorded in Acts 16:16 . This is the one instance in the New Testament where divination is connected with spirits. The account emphasizes the excitable neurosis of the patient; and the belief on the part of the apostles and of the writer of Acts that the girl was not the conscious accomplice of her masters, but their unfortunate victim through her mysterious malady, is clear. She was treated, as the other eases recorded in the New Testament, not as a conscious wrongdoer, but as a sick person to be healed.

2. The Old Testament

(1) Turning now to the Old Testament, the instance which requires the most careful treatment, because it holds the key to all the rest, is the narrative of Saul's visit to the Witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28:3-25. The Hebrew word 'ōbh which is usually translated "one who has a familiar spirit" (see list of passages at beginning of article) occurs in this narrative four times (1 Samuel 28:3 , 1 Samuel 28:7 twice, 8). According to the ordinary interpretation it is used in three different senses, two of which occur here. These three senses are ( a ) a person who controls a spirit, (b ) the spirit controlled, (c ) the power to control such a spirit. This meaning appears to be altogether too broad. Omitting to translate the word we have: (1 Samuel 28:3 ) "Saul had put away 'ōbhōth , and yı̄dh‛ōnı̄m ̌ "; (1 Samuel 28:7 ), a woman, a mistress of an 'ōbh ; (1 Samuel 28:8 ) "Divine unto me ... by the 'ōbh ̌ ." It is extremely unlikely that the same word should be used in two senses so far apart as "person who has a spirit" and the "spirit itself" in the same context. In the last passage mentioned (1 Samuel 28:8 ) there is a double indication that the word 'ōbh cannot have either signification mentioned. Saul says: "Divine unto me by the 'ōbh and bring me up whomsoever I shall name unto thee." The expression "divine by" clearly points to some magical object used in divination. Control of a spirit through some magical object is familiar enough. The rest of Saul's statement confirms this view. The result of the divination is the calling up of a spirit. A spirit would hardly be used to call up another spirit. This conclusion is confirmed by the etymology. The word 'ōbh is supposed to mean "one who has a familiar spirit," from its root-significance of hollow and its primary meaning of wineskin . According to this derivation the word is applied to a necromancer on the supposition that the spirit inhabits his body and speaks from within. The transference to spirit is extremely unlikely and the explanation is not consistent with primitive ideas on spirit manifestation (see Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament , אוב , end).

(2) We, therefore, hold with H. P. Smith (International Critical Commentary , "Samuel" in the place cited.), though partly on different grounds, that the word 'ōbh has the same meaning in all the passages where it occurs, and that it refers to a sacred object or fetish by which spiritistic divination was carried on.

The significance of this conclusion is that the misleading expression "familiar spirit" disappears from the text, for Dr. Driver's interpretation of the companion word yidh‛ōnı̄m (see International Critical Commentary , Commentary on Deuteronomy in the place cited.) will scarcely be maintained in the face of this new meaning for 'ōbh ̌ . The prohibition contained in the law (Leviticus 20:27 ) against 'ōhbōth , and those using them, places them in the same catalogue of offense and futility with idol-worship in general.

(3) This opinion is confirmed by two separate items of evidence. (a ) In the Witch of Endor story Samuel's appearance, according to the idea of the narrator, was due to a miracle , not to the magic power of the feeble and cheating old woman to whom Saul had resorted. God speaks through the apparition a stern message of doom. No one was more startled than the woman herself, who for once had a real vision (1 Samuel 28:12 ). She not only gave a loud cry of astonishment and alarm but she described the figure which she saw as "a god coming up out of the each." The story is told with fidelity and clearly indicates the opinion that the actual appearance of a spirit is so violently exceptional as to indicate the immediate power and presence of God.

(b ) In Isaiah 8:19 the 'ōbhōth and yidh‛ōnı̄m are spoken of as those who "chirp and mutter." These terms refer to the necromancers themselves Septuagint translates 'ōbhōth by eggastrómuthoi = ventriloquists) who practiced ventriloquism in connection with their magical rites. In Isaiah 29:4 it is said "Thy voice shall be as an 'ōbh , out of the ground." Here 'ōbh is usually interpreted as "ghost," but it is far more probable (see Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament sub loc.) that it refers as in Isaiah 8:19 to the ventriloqustic tricks of those who utter their oracles in voices intended to represent the spirits which they have evoked. They are stamped in these passages, as in the Witch of Endor narrative, as deceivers practicing a fraudulent article. By implication their power to evoke spirits with whom they were in familiar intercourse is denied.

3. The Meaning of Idol-Worship

This leaves the way clear for a brief consideration of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:20 in connection with cognate passages in the Old Testament.

(1) He argues that since idol-worship is really demon-worship, the partaking of heathen sacrifice is a communion with demons and a separation from Christ. It is usually taken for granted that this characterization of heathen worship was simply a part of the Jewish-Christian polemic against idolatry. Our fuller knowledge of the spiritism which conditions the use of images enables us to recognize the fact that from the viewpoint of heathenism itself Paul's idea was strictly correct. The image is venerated because it is supposed to represent or contain an invisible being or spirit, not necessarily a deity in the absolute sense, but a super-human living being capable of working good or ill to men.

(2) In the King James Version the term devils is used in four Old Testament passages (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:37 ). In the Revised Version (British and American) "devils" has disappeared from the text - the word he-goats appears in Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15 , while "demons" appears in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 . The translation of se‛ı̄rı̄m as "he-goats" is literally correct, but conveys an erroneous conception of the meaning. The practice reprobated is the worship of Satyrs (see SATYR ) or wood-demons supposed to be like goats in appearance and to inhabit lonely places. The same word is used in Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14 . The word translated "demons" in the Revised Version (British and American) is shēdhı̄m , a term used only twice and both times in connection with the rites and abominations of heathen worship. It is interesting to note that the word shı̂du is applied to the beings represented by the bull-colossi of Assyria (Driver, Dt in the place cited.). Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament holds that the word shēdhı̄m is an Assyrian loan-word, while Briggs (ICC , Psalm 106:37 ) holds that shēdhı̄m were ancient gods of Canaan. In either case the word belongs to heathenism and is used in Scripture to describe heathen worship in its own terminology. The interpretation of these beings as evil is characteristic of Biblical demonism in general (see DEMON , etc.). The worship of idols was the worship of personal beings more than man and less than God, according to Jewish and Christian ideas (see Driver op. cit., 363). Septuagint translates both the above words by daimónia .

4. Conclusion

The term "communion with demons" does not imply any power on the part of men to enter into voluntary relationship with beings of another world, but that, by sinful compliance in wrongdoing, such as idol-worship and magical rites, men may enter into a moral identification with evil powers against which it is their duty to fight.


The Dictionaries and Commentaries dealing with the passages quoted above contain discussions of the various aspects of the subject. Jewish superstitions are ably treated by Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (8th edition), II, 771, 773.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Communion with Demons; Devils'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​c/communion-with-demons-devils.html. 1915.
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