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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Demon

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This word is used by heathen writers with great latitude, being applied by them, 1. to every order of beings superior to man, including even the Highest; 2. it is applied to any particular divinity; 3. to the inferior divinities; 4. to a class of beings between gods and men. Of these latter some were habitually benevolent, and others malignant. To the former class belong the tutelary genii of cities, and the guardian spirits of individuals, as the demon of Socrates. 5. By an easy metonymy it is used to denote fortune, chance, and fate. Since no distinct ideas of the ancient Jewish doctrines concerning demons can be obtained from the Septuagint, we next have recourse to the heathens, and from their writings, owing to the universal prevalence of belief in demons, ample information may be obtained. The following is offered as a summary of their opinions.

1. Demons, in the theology of the Gentiles, are middle beings, between gods and mortals. This is the judgment of Plato, which will be considered decisive: 'Every demon is a middle being between God and mortal.'

2. Demons were of two kinds; the one were the souls of good men, which upon their departure from the body were called heroes, were afterwards raised to the dignity of demons, and subsequently to that of gods. It was also believed that the souls of bad men became evil demons. The other kind of demons were of more noble origin than the human race, having never inhabited human bodies.

3. Those demons who have once been souls of men were the objects of immediate worship among the heathens (;; ), and it is in contradistinction to these that Jehovah is so frequently called 'the living God' (, etc.).

4. The heathens held that some demons were malignant by nature, and not merely so when provoked and offended. Plutarch says, 'It is a very ancient opinion that there are certain wicked and malignant demons, who envy good men, and endeavor to hinder them in the pursuit of virtue, lest they should be partakers of greater happiness than they enjoy.' Pythagoras held that certain demons sent diseases to men and cattle.

In later times Josephus uses the word demon always in a bad sense, as do the writers of the New Testament, when using it as from themselves, and in their own sense of it. 'Demons are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them.'

It is frequently supposed that the demons of the New Testament are fallen angels; on the contrary it is maintained by Farmer, that the word is never applied to the Devil and his angels, and that there is no sufficient reason for restricting the term to spirits of a higher order than mankind. They who uphold the former opinion urge that our Lord, when accused of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, replies, How can Satan cast out Satan (, etc.)? It is further urged, that it is but fair and natural to suppose that the writers of the New Testament use the word demons in the same sense in which it was understood by their contemporaries, which, as it appears from Josephus and other authorities, was, that of the spirits of the wicked; and that if these writers had meant anything else they would have given notice of so wide a deviation from popular usage.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Demon'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/d/demon.html.

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