Demonology of the New Testament

By Rev. John J. Owen, D. D., New York City


The difficulties which invest this subject, all will admit; its importance cannot be over estimated. If it be true that the great adversary of our race is surrounded by an innumerable band of wicked spirits, to whose wiles and machinations we are constantly exposed, we ought to acquaint ourselves, as far as possible, with this great agency of evil.

Of the existence of a great and mighty intelligence, the impersonation of evil, and in a special sense its author arid promoter, no one can doubt who reads and believes the Bible. Satan, the adversary of the Old Testament, and διάβολος, the accuser and calumniator of the New, from the opening to the closing chapters of revelation, from his triumph over man’s integrity in the garden of Eden, to the awful overthrow predicted of him in the close of the sacred canon, is made the prime actor in all that is bad and subversive of God’s authority among men. With those who can see no evidence, in the Bible, of the existence of such a malignant and powerful being, we have at this time no controversy. We are to look at this subject in an aspect which has perplexed many good men who have no doubt of the existence of the wicked one. We refer to the inferior agents of evil, spoken of in Scripture under the terms devil and his angels, the angels who kept not their first estate, demons, Beelzebub, the prince of demons, and the like. These varied forms of expression refer, we believe, to the same order of wicked beings, viz. the angels who fell with Satan from their state of holiness and happiness in heaven, and who are declared by Jude to be “reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” In this same class of evil spirits are to be reckoned the demons of the New Testament, the ejection of whom from the persons they had been permitted to enter, constituted some of the most stupendous miracles wrought by our Lord while on earth.

The existence of evil angels has been a matter of doubt with some who are staunch believers in the existence of evil spirits, the agents of Satan, in leading men astray. These evil spirits they suppose to be those of wicked men, who after death are employed, as the ministers of the great adversary, to afflict men, tempt them from the path of duty, and oppose the progress of truth on earth. To this class they refer the demons of the New Testament, who are to be regarded as the spirits of the wicked dead, commissioned by Satan, their lord and master, to enter into and afflict the bodies of men. As the sources of proof, by which they endeavor to maintain this view, are much the same as those resorted to, by the infidel, to overthrow the reality of demoniacal possessions, we shall discuss the subject in reference to the common objections which infidelity opposes to our acceptance of this most important truth of revelation.

Of the miracles of our Lord, no inconsiderable portion consisted in the ejection of demons. The fulness of detail with which some of them are narrated, the astonishment of the people in reference thereto, and the increased rage of his enemies at each successive miracle of this kind, show clearly that they are to be regarded as among the most wonderful exhibitions of our Saviour’s power. What then were these demons, which our Lord cast out? Were they veritable existences, which had taken possession of men? and if so, were they evil angels, or the wicked spirits of dead men? These are the questions before us, which, divesting the subject of all extraneous matter, pertaining much of it to idle curiosity and vain speculation, we shall endeavor to answer as briefly as possible.

In order to clear the subject of some of the difficulties which have been made to invest it, we shall advert, at first, to what these demons have been claimed to be, by those who deny them to have been veritable evil spirits.

1. They have been claimed to be natural diseases of a very malignant type, which popular superstition attributed to the agency of wicked spirits. But that these were not diseases merely, the cure of which constituted all the casting out of demons there was in the case, is almost too evident to require proof. What kind of disease was that which cried out: “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us (i.e. the disease) before the time? “When was a bodily disorder known to have begged permission to enter, and to have actually entered, swine, causing the immediate destruction of two thousand of these animals? How was it that the miserable persons, racked and tortured by these remarkable diseases, were so much in advance of them in the enjoyment of health and a sound mind, as to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the “Son of God,” and “Son of David?” The notion that the demons of the New Testament were only personifications of violent and incurable diseases, is too preposterous for a moment’s belief. It is true, indeed, that the possession of a human body, by one or more of these demons, was always attended, to a greater or less extent, with physical suffering. This is the reason why the word cure is so often employed to denote the dispossession of the demon. In every such instance, the bodily faculties were restored to their usual healthful functions.

But accumulative proof that these demoniacs were not simply maniacs, epileptics, hypochondriacs, and the like, is found in the direct address of Jesus to the demons themselves, asking their name, threatening them, commanding them to be silent, to.depart from the possessed person, and afflict him no further. His statement respecting the return of an unclean spirit, accompanied by seven other spirits, more wicked than himself, to the house which he had previously left, making the last state of the man possessed, worse than the first, is wholly inconsistent with the theory that diseases are referred to. When the seventy returned from their mission, and expressed their joy that even the devils were subject to them, at the mention of the name and authority of Jesus, he replied: “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The substitution of spirits for devils or demons, shows, beyond all question, that veritable spiritual existences are referred to, and not simply diseases. This appears the more conclusive when the eye takes in the previous context, especially v. 19. There is the promise of miraculous gifts, which our Lord cautions them, in v. 20, against regarding as the ground of their chief joy. They were to be endued with “power to tread on serpents and scorpions,” the literal sense of which, as a promise of protection from all dangers, even those most imminent and perilous, while it is not to be rejected, does not fully meet the demand of the context, which is evidently concerning “the old serpent, which is Satan,” and whose array of evil spirits and agencies for mischief may well be represented under the imagery of poisonous reptiles. That spiritual evil is mainly referred to, is evident from the next clause, over all the power of the enemy (i. e. of Satan, as is clear from the article in the original), which is both supplementary and explanatory of the preceding promise, including power over every form of evil. Then follows the words: notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; of which the latter clause is but a varied, and epitomized form of the more expanded promise in v. 19, and clearly shows that something far other than physical evil is referred to.

But an argument is sought for against the reality of demoniacal possessions from lunatics (literally, moonstruck persons). As these persons were not really moon-struck, this is advanced as a proof against the reality of the possession of persons by demons. But the cases are widely different. It is one thing erroneously to ascribe a disease to some agency of nature, and affix to it a name indicative thereof, which shall remain long after the error is exploded, as in the use of lunatic, and quite another to call a person demon-possessed, when we have the sure word of revelation that he was really thus possessed.

Closely allied to this averment, that demoniacs were such only as were afflicted with some strange and terrible disease, is the view taken by some, that the epithet demon was applied to the diseased person, when wrought up to so high a state of frenzy or mental hallucination, as to suppose himself possessed and controlled by another and more powerful being. This they seek to illustrate by the demoniac of Gadara. According to Mark (5:6), this maniac, when he came in sight of Jesus, having a sort of presentiment that help was nigh, ran and worshipped him. Olshausen and Alford regard this as the act of the man, in contradistinction from the demon within him, who would have sooner fled from Jesus, than come to meet him. But as soon as our Lord commanded the unclean spirit to depart from him, his condition was reversed. A violent paroxysm seized him, and, under its influence, he spake, with the suppression of human consciousness, in the character of the demon, and cried out: “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee, by God, that thou torment me not,” although he had just before sought Jesus with purely human feelings, seeking relief from his dreadful malady. Under the influence of this dethronement of reason, he fancied himself possessed by a legion of demons. The cure of this strange delusion, would be virtually the same, as the ejection from him of real demons.

But to this it may be replied, that, while in this paroxysm, in which he was so bereft of reason as, according to the theory above stated, to fancy himself the abode of a legion of evil spirits, he addressed Jesus as the “Son of the most high God,” thus manifesting an acquaintance with his divine character, far in advance of the most pious and enlightened persons in the whole nation. This theory, too, leaves wholly out of account the entering of the demons into the swine, which transaction, of itself, is sufficient to show the absurdity of supposing the possession of the man to have been only an imaginary one.

We come now to the consideration of an objection, put forth with an assurance which seems to challenge all contradiction, viz. that the evangelists employed the words δαίμων and δαιμόνιον in accordance with the superstition of the times, to denote a violent disease, caused by the possession of some departed human spirit. Thus Farmer and others, who deny the existence of demons and demoniacal influences, assume that these words, in classical Greek, are never applied to inferior deities, as fallen angels, but to the spirits or manes of such as had once been men, and who, being advanced to the rank of gods and demigods, had the supposed power of entering the bodies of men and causing frenzy or distraction.

But assuming this definition to be correct, the doctrine of demoniacal possession as taught in the New Testament, would not thereby be invalidated. The word θεός, in Greek authors, is used of any and every divinity; and yet no one presumes to maintain that, in its transfer to the Septuagint or New Testament, it retains its polytheistic sense. In like manner, if it were true that δαίμων and δαιμόνιον were employed, in the Greek classics, only of the deified spirits of the heroic dead, it would furnish no proof that such is their signification in the New Testament, when transferred to denote existences which were as unknown to the Greeks as Jehovah himself.

But this assumption of Farmer’s definition, which we have made for the sake of argument, has no basis in the facts of the case. This will appear from the history of these words, as found in the best Greek authors.

There are two words in the New Testament, translated evil spirit, devil, viz. δαίμων and δαιμόνιον. The latter is a neuter substantive formed from the neuter of δαιμόνιος, of or belonging to a δαίμων. We shall therefore particularly consider the latter word, as containing the ground-signification of δαιμόνιον, etymologically derived from it. The etymological signification of δαήμων (a contraction for δαήμων, from δαῆναι, δάω, to learn) is one who is skilled, learned, knowing. Thus Plato (Cratylus, p. 398. B) says: ὅτι φρόνιμοι καὶ δαήμονες ἦσαν, δαίμονας αὐτοὺς ὠνόμασε, he (i.e. Hesiod) calls them demons because they are wise and intelligent. So also Tzetzes (Hist. xii. 871).: δαήμων τις καὶ ἔμπειρος. Archil. ap. Plut. Thes. c. 5: ταύτηές γὰρ κεῖνοι δαίνονές εἰσι μάχης. Hesychius defines: δαίμων, δαήμων. Some derive the word from δαίω, to divide or allot destinies. But this is supported by less worthy authorities, and furnishes a ground signification which does not ally itself so readily to the special uses of the word, as does Plato’s definition above given.

With the generic signification knowing, intelligent, skilled, the word δαίμων is applied, as might be expected, to any and every Grecian divinity, from the highest to the lowest: from Zeus down to the least deified, fortuitous influence which acts upon the life of man, and helps to shape or modify his destiny. In Homer, it is applied to the Olym-pean deities, both collectively and singly, in a sense equivalent to θεός. Thus it is said of Athene (II. i. 222): “ἡ δ᾿ Οὔλυμπόνδε βεβήκει δώματ᾿ ἐς αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς μετὰ δαίν=μονας ἄλλους, and she went to Olympus, to the mansions of the ægis-bearing Jove, among the other divinities. So in II. P. 98: ὁππότ᾿ ἀνὴρ ἐθέλῃ πρὸς δαίμονα φωτὶ μάχεσθαι, ὅν κε θεὸς τιμᾶ κ. τ. λ., when a man desires, in opposition to a demon, to fight with a hero, whom a god honors. The word Satpccop here refers, most unquestionably, to the same deity as θεός in the relative clause, and is translated, by all the commentators, in the sense of θεός, god. Similar to this is its use in Thucyd. iv. 97: ἐπικαλουμένους τοὺς ὁμωχέτας δαίμονας καὶ τὸν ᾿Απόλλω, invoking the demons (i.e. gods) worshipped in common there and Apollo. The Scholiast explains ὀμωχέτας δαίμονας by τοὺς συμμετέχοντας τῶν αὐτῶν ναῶν καὶ τῶν αὐτῶν ἱερῶν, sharers of the same temple and the same sacrifices. So also Photius: αυννάους θεούς, καὶ ὁμοροφίους, gods dwelling together in the same temple and worshipped there in common. There can be no doubt that Thucydides here uses the word δαίμονες for such of the higher divinities as, together with Apollo, were worshipped in the same temple; the expression, as both Suidas and Photius say, being in common use among the Bœtians, to denote associated deities. The word is used for θεοίl in Æsch. Prom. 85: ψευδωνύμως σε σαίμονες Προμηθέα καλοῦσιν, the divinities falsely call you Prometheus. Plato calls the ruler or moderator of the universe μέγιστον δαίμονα,, the greatest god.1 Citations from the Greek classics might be multiplied, where δαίμων is used in the sense of θεός.

From the ground signification of the word, intelligent, wise, prudent, which renders it a fit and expressive term by which to designate the superior divinities, we shall not be surprised to find it employed, in the Greek classics, in more subordinate senses, such as numen, divinity, with the epithet καλὸς, ἀγαθός (Diod. 4. 51), a good or propitious divinity; or with κακός or στυγερός (Odys. K. 64; Soph. Aj. 1215; Plut. Cæs. c. 69), an evil or adverse divinity. These latter epithets do not imply what we mean by an evil spirit, but one who is adverse or unpropitious. Thus Virgil represents Æneas as saying, in reference to his neglect of Creusa: Hic mihi nescio quod trepido male numen amicum confuasam eripuit mentem— “I know not what hostile deity deprived me of my prudence,” etc. It should always be borne in mind that there was no divinity, in the Greek which answered to the idea of Satan, or the evil spirits who fell with him.

Passing on to the remoter significations of δαίμεν, we find it employed in the sense of fortune, which was always a deified personification, with both the Greeks and Romans. Thus in Hesiod. Sc. 94: αὐτάρ ἐμοὶ δαίμων χαλεποὺς ἐπετέλλετ ́ἀέθλους, but fortune has imposed upon me difficult labors; Æsch. Pers. 601: ὅτάν δ᾿ ὁ δαίμων εὐροῇ, but when Fortune shall go on well (i.e. be favorable); Plut. Æmil. c. 36: ἐδεδίειν γὰρ τὴν μεταβολὴν τοῦ δαίμονος, for I feared the change of fortune. Cf. Eur. Trao. 103; Eur. Ale. 561; Soph. Œd. Col. 1337, for this use of δαίμων, which is very common.

Akin to this is the use of δαίμων, in the sense of chance, a meaning of such frequent occurrence, that it were useless to cite passages where it is thus employed.

This word is found in many passages where we are obliged to render it by the word genius. Thus Plutarch (Artax. 15): ὁ δαίμων τοῦ βασιλέως, the genius of the king; (Cæs. c. 69): ὁ μέντοι μέγας, αὐτοῦ δαίμων, ᾧ παρὰ τὸν βίον ἐχρήσατο, καί τελευτήσαντος ἐπηκολούθησε, “the great genius which attended him (literally, which he used) through life, followed him after death.” In this, as well as its sense of numen, it is often accompanied by ἀγαθός, καλός, κακός, and στυγερός, according as the genius may be friendly or adverse to the person whom he attends. Under this head, in the sense of prosperously, we translate κατὰ δαίμονα, in Hippocr. Ep. ad Damag. p. 1279, 32, and σὺν δαίμονι, in II. A. 792, and O. 403.

Denham (Kitto’s Cycl., Art. Demon) says that demons, in the theology of the Gentiles, are middle beings, between gods and mortals; and adduces, in proof of this, Plato’s observation, πᾶν τὸ δαιμόνιον μεταξύ ἐστι Θεοῦ τε καὶ θνητοῦ, every demon is a middle being between God and mortal. But Plato does not assert this of the whole genus, but of that species only to which the δαίμων of Socrates belonged, and who were regarded as the beings who mediated between the gods and men. Every demon of this kind was a being inferior to the gods, but superior to men; and hence occupied a middle station, and were the instruments by which the prayers and supplications of men were conveyed to the gods, and the commands of the gods revealed to men. That the words of Plato are not to be taken in their strictest and most extensive sense, is evident from the application, in Homer, of δαίμονες to the great gods, such as Zeus.

Among these more remote significations of the word, and of much more infrequent occurrence, we find δαίμων employed to denote the manes or shades of the dead. Hesiod (Op. 121) calls the men of the golden age, who had departed life, δαίμονας, and says that they are φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων.2 Æsch. Pers. 620: τόν τε δαίμονα Δαρεῖον ἀνακαλεῖσθε; Luc. de luct. c. 24: ἔασον ἀναπαύσασθαι τοὺς τοῦ μακαρΐτου δαίμονας; Eur. Ale. 140: μάχην ξυνάψας δαιμόνων τῷ κυριῷ, where the Schol. explains: ἢ τῷ τῶν νεκρῶν κυριῷ: φασὶ γὰρ τοὺς νεκτοὺς δαίμονας. But our limits forbid our extending these citations any further.

We see from this hasty survey of the meanings of the word, as found in the Greek classics, that δαίμων is a generic term, applied to all the divinities, yet mostly to the inferior deities, since we find it used for θεός; but at no time, as far as our observation extends, θεός for it. In every instance where it is used, the etymological signification given it by Plato, is verified. It is employed always in reference to beings of superhuman knowledge, or knowing ones, sometimes of the great divinities; and at other times, and more frequently, of the lesser deities, such as presided more especially over the destinies of men, and among whom are to be classed, also, the souls of departed heroes.

In its numerous and varied significations, it is one of the most flexible and prolific words to be found in the Greek language; and to claim for it any prevailing or special sense, except such as may be fairly made out by the nature of the subject under discussion, and the usus loquendi of the writer who employs it, is a violation of every sound principle of interpretation.

It will be seen from this hasty glance, how unwarranted is the assertion that δαίμων and its kindred word δαιμόνιον, are employed primarily and principally of human beings, who were deified after their death. We have seen that this is a subordinate and comparatively infrequent use of the word, and more remote from its great and prevailing signification.

We find these words δαίμων and δαιμόνιον applied, in the New Testament, to spiritual existences of an unclean and malignant nature, who had taken possession of human beings, and who were thence ejected by the mighty power of Jesus Christ. Shall we resort to Grecian mythology, and seek to ascertain the character and grade of these demons from the various classes of divinities designated by these words in their original use? Shall we claim them to be paralleled by the greater Grecian divinities, because Homer tells us that Athene ascended to Olympus and sat among the other δαίμονες, such as Zeus, Here, Apollo, Ares, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and the like? Or shall we regard these New Testament demons as corresponding to the Greek chance, fortune, fate, in which senses δαΐμων was so often employed by the Greek writers? Or, if this does not seem to suit their character, are they to be regarded as the counterpart of the household gods, the lares, those kind, benignant, genial companions of each family, who accompanied them from place to place as presiding, tutelary genii, far unlike the unclean, malicious demons brought to our notice in the New Testament? And once again, shall we presume to compare these demons, ejected by Christ, actuated by such restless and hellish malice, with the deified heroes and virtuous men of the seculi aurei of Greece? How utterly do we fail in tracing any resemblance between these crafty, malignant, and impure demons, and those beings to whom this name is applied in classical mythology! There is but one kindred or family lineament existing between them, and that lies in the generic sense of the word, which renders it applicable to any being, good or bad, who is superior in knowledge and, by implication, in power to man.

Why were these words selected for their New Testament use? Evidently for the reason that θεός was already appropriated to designate Jehovah, the only living and true God; ἄλλελος was applied to those good superior beings, who are the attendants and messengers of Jehovah; διάβολος was the very translation of the Hebrew שָׂטָן. There were no words left to designate the evil angels, but δαὶμων and δαιμόνιον, which, as we have seen, were employed in a variety of significations, yet all based upon the idea of beings of superior wisdom and intelligence.

We must not look, then, to the Greek uses of these words to ascertain their special New Testament sense, any more than to the Greek use of θεός to find out the character of Jehovah, to whom, in its transferred use, it is applied in the Septuagint and the New Testament. In both cases, their special meaning is to be learned from the Scripture itself. What, then, does the New Testament teach respecting those demons represented as under the authority and direction of Satan, who is styled their prince?

In the first place, we have no authority from Scripture for regarding them as the spirits of dead men, who, while living, were notoriously bad, and thus, after death, became the fit agents of Satan for carrying out his evil designs upon men. There is no intimation, in the Bible, that the spirits of wicked men revisit this earth on such an agency. The dead are represented as descending to Sheol or Hades, and there reposing in silence and forgetfulness (see Job 14:12, 21. Eccles. 9:5, 6). Such expressions as to sleep with one’s fathers, to be gathered to one’s people, to go to one’s fathers, are not to be referred to the mere burial of the body, but to the state of rest and companionship which characterize the condition of the dead in Sheol. In Isa. 14:4, 20, the mighty dead, who had been the chief ones on earth and kings of the nations, are represented as reposing in state, each in his own seat, and as being stirred up at the entrance of the king of Babylon into Sheol. Making all allowance for the boldness of the imagery, this passage is certainly opposed to the idea that the shades of these mighty dead are roving to and fro upon the earth, on their agency of mischief and ruin.

The rich man (Luke 16:19–31), whose antecedents upon earth were such as would have rendered him a highly suitable one to be pressed into this demoniacal service, is represented by our Lord as having his fixed and unchangeable abode in Hades, and so anxious for the welfare of his brethren as most earnestly to entreat that Lazarus might be sent to warn them of their danger. How opposed is this to the idea that he was possessed of that hellish malevolence which characterized the evil spirits of the New Testament.

That these demons were not the souls of departed men, appears very clear from their address to our Lord when coming into his presence: “What have we to do with thee?” What common interests have we, or why should we come together, there being no bond of intercourse between us? Could this be said by any of the human family, living or dead, who knew that the being whom they thus addressed, was the Son of God, who had become incarnate to save the race from eternal perdition? But hear them still further: “Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” The word rendered time, is not χρόνος but καιρός, a fixed, convenient, suitable, appropriate time. There can hardly be a doubt, that the time here referred to, is the judgment of the great day, to which Jude says the angels that kept not their first estate, are reserved, in everlasting chains, under darkness. At the approach of the Son of God, whom these demons well knew, they were seized with sudden fear, lest the time of their exemption from the full measure of suffering was to be cut short. This would be strange language to be used by souls of the wicked dead, but highly natural when regarded as spoken by beings who were under such fearful apprehensions of increased suffering.

We have thus endeavored to show upon how slight a foundation rests the theory that the demons of the New Testament were the manes of ungodly men. We venture the assertion that such a view would never have been broached and defended, had it not been regarded, by the enemies of truth, as throwing discredit upon the reality of demoniacal possessions. Infidelity seldom attempts to storm, openly, the citadel of truth. Its more usual mode of attack is gradually to sap its foundations.

But what then were these demons, of whom we have been speaking? The only answer must be, the evil spirits, or wicked angels associated with Satan in his rebellion against God, and, since then, his agents and abettors in extending his pernicious sway over men. There is abundant evidence, in the Bible, of the existence of this order of wicked spirits. The “devil and his angels” in Matt. 25:41, is manifestly antithetic to Jehovah and his holy angels, implied in the words: “Son of man … and all the holy angels with him,” in v. 31. This, however, is not the only antithesis in the passage before us. The wicked, on that day, are to be consigned to the place of torment, prepared for the devil and his angels; so that there is a double antithesis: one, as has been mentioned, between the good and bad angels; the other, between the doomed souls and the wicked angels, in whose torments they are henceforth to participate. The obvious inference is, that these bad angels belong to a different order of beings from the wicked dead, and are the attendants and ministers of Satan, as the good angels are of Jehovah.

In Ps. 78:49, the plagues and desolations of Egypt are referred to the agency of evil angels: “He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.” The force of this remarkable passage is not to be evaded by regarding it as a varied form of expression for the plagues. These have been referred to specifically, and in their order, in the preceding verses; and to repeat them under a different term, in this verse, would be a flat tautology. But if it be so interpreted as to refer these plagues to the agency of evil spirits, sent by Jehovah to do this work of destruction, and to add to its horrors, then the sense is climacteric, and the passage becomes one of awful import. Besides, what license have we, from any well-established law of hermeneutics, to refer these evil angels, whom God is declared to have sent upon Egypt, to the plagues or agencies of nature, commissioned to do this work of destruction? Ernesti says that we are not to depart from the literal signification of a word unless impelled thereto by a violent reason. Does any violent reason compel us here, to depart from the literal interpretation of the words evil angels? Is there anything more improbable that God should let loose the powers of darkness upon Egypt, than that he should commission one of his elect angels to destroy the host of Sennacherib (2 Chron. 32:21), or, at another time, to afflict with pestilence the city of Jerusalem (1 Chron. 21:15)? “Would not the principle of interpretation, by which we refer these evil angels to the plagues brought upon Egypt, compel us to regard the good angels commissioned of God to execute his judgments upon Jerusalem and the Assyrian king, as mere personifications of pestilence, or the deadly blast of the simoom? How unsafe, as well as unsound, would be such an interpretation. It meets every sound hermeneutical law, to regard them as veritable evil angels, while the opposite view is a gross violation of the same.

An additional argument in favor of the literal interpretation of the passage above referred to, is drawn from the promulgation of the law on Sinai. As this event is related in Exodus, and subsequently referred to in Deuteronomy, nothing is said of the agency of angels; and yet in Acts 7:53. Gal. 3:19. Heb. 2:2. it is clearly intimated that such an angelic ministration was employed. Now who would venture to refer the word angels, in the text, “the law was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” to the thunderings and lightnings of Sinai, or to any of the dread manifestations of Jehovah’s presence on that occasion? Is it not equally erroneous to pervert the expression evil angels, in the text before us, to mean simply the plagues which God brought upon Egypt? We cannot consent to surrender this great proof-text of the existence of evil angels, the more valuable as being found in the Old Testament, which has of late been discovered, in certain quarters, to be so very barren in all things pertaining to the unseen world, that we should scarcely wonder if Jehovah himself should be soon declared to be a mere myth, like the Grecian Zeus.

“We might refer, in further proof of the existence of evil angels, to Rev. 12:7”And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the devil and Satan (see Rev. 20:2), which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Here two things are worthy of especial notice: (1) that the dragon is the same as Satan, the arch deceiver of man and enemy of God, who is so called from the form he assumed in the first temptation of man, or from the hideous appearance of the dragon, as described by Homer and other Greek poets, which renders it a suitable appellation for Satan; (2) that he is accompanied by angelic attendants, who fight for him and do his bidding, as their acknowledged head and chief. What becomes of the antithesis between the angels of Michael and those of the dragon, if the latter are the spirits only of the wicked dead? Does not this text array, in hostile opposition, the powers of light and darkness, existing before the creation of man, and fighting with fresh animosity to effect, on the one hand, the salvation, and on the other the ruin, of this more recent creation? And here with what force and appropriateness may be cited the great texts in 2 Pet. 2:4, and Jude 6; texts so plain and direct as to place the existence of evil angels beyond any question. In Peter this great truth is thus referred to: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” In Jude it is revealed with even greater fulness and explicitness: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” That the spirits of the wicked dead are not here referred to, is evident from the context in Peter, where the argument of the certainty of divine vengeance on the ungodly, is carried forward from the fearful punishment which overtook these angelic transgressors, to the destruction of the old world by the flood, and of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire, being thus illustrated and confirmed by instances of divine retribution drawn from the whole history of God’s dealings with the enemies of good, from the angels who first fell, to the wicked antediluvians and the inhabitants of the cities of the plain. With equal clearness does the context in Jude point to these “angels who kept not their first estate,” as a higher and earlier order of intelligences, whose example and doom are brought forward together with that of the guilty inhabitants of Sodom, in confirmation of the certain punishment which shall overtake the ungodly in every age. Language more explicit, and confirmed and illustrated by a clearer context, can hardly be found in support of any biblical truth, than that employed by Peter and Jude in regard to the awful doom of the angels who rebelled and fell with Satan.

There remains, now, but one point to establish, and that is the identity of these evil angels with the demons of the New Testament. The fact which we hope we have established by our previous argument, that these demons were veritable spiritual existences, and yet not the souls of dead men, would of itself leave us no alternative to referring them to bad angels. But we have corroborative proof of this from the word of God. When the Pharisees accused our Lord of collusion with Beelzebub in the ejection of demons, he answered this malicious charge by showing its absurdity: “If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself” (Matt. 12:26). In the first clause Satan is, of course, the prince of demons; in the second, the word is put, collectively, for the demons under his control. If .these were merely imaginary beings, and not veritable evil spirits, where would be the absurdity which our Saviour intended to fasten upon their charge? and how would the dispossession of these mere creations of fancy, be the division of the kingdom of Satan against itself? But, further: “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” Here two things are to be noted: (1) Our Lord avers that he casts out devils by the Spirit of God (i.e. by divine power). This averment is, indeed, not directly made, but the supposition implies it; for the hypothetical form if I, etc., does not imply doubt or contingency, but the logical condition on which the result, stated in the next clause, depends. (2) The display of divine power, in the expulsion of demons, was unquestionable proof of the near approach of the kingdom of God, and that men were to receive Jesus as the accredited messenger of God and to obey his instructions. How could either of these assumptions be true, if the demons ejected were other than those mighty and malignant spirits banded together, under Satan, to destroy our race? As to the objection noted by Denham (Art. Demon, Kitto’s Cycl.), that if this proves anything, it proves that Satan is equivalent to δαιμόνιον. it makes our argument still stronger and more conclusive; for if Satan is a demon, it follows, as an irresistible conclusion, both that demons are not the spirits or souls of the wicked dead, but are of the same class of beings as Satan himself.

Equally explicit is the concurrent testimony in Luke 10:17–20, when at the report of “the seventy,” that in their missionary tour, even the devils were subject unto them through his name, he replied: “I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven; “which was in effect saying, that this expulsion of his agents was the precursor of the downfall of his kingdom, which would be as palpable and decisive as the falling of a thunderbolt from the skies. But how is the infliction of this blow upon the kingdom of darkness to be explained, if the demons which were dispossessed, were not to be reckoned with those malignant spirits which form the retinue of Satan, and are the arm of his power to do mischief? We find another instance, where Satan is used as a convertible term with “a spirit of infirmity,” in Luke 13:11–16, where our Lord, having released the woman from the diabolical agency which had bowed her together for eighteen years, said to the cavilling and fault-finding Pharisees: “Ought not this woman whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”

We might refer to Peter’s assertion (Acts 10:38), that our Lord “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (here διάβολος, which sets the matter at rest), but our limits will admit of no further quotations. Enough has been advanced, we think, to satisfy every intelligent and candid mind that Satanic agency, collectively considered, comprises an innumerable band of mighty spirits, who fell with their head and leader in his first transgression, and, under his sway and direction, are employed in leading astray from truth, and vexing in various ways, the human family; and that demoniacal possession, in our Saviour’s time, was the entering into the human body, of one or more of these unclean and malignant spirits, to torment and, if possible, effect the final ruin of the unhappy subject of possession. This theory satisfies all the conditions of this moral phenomenon, and is the only one which will stand the test of a thorough biblical examination. There may be points of obscurity in this subject (as what subject relating to the unseen world, can be named, in which there is not much that is dark and mysterious to us in our present state?), but the great truth remains so intact as to challenge our full and hearty belief, and if we falter here, there are no limits to the downward tendency which will result from our scepticism.

The question may be asked: Why there were so many demoniacal possessions in the time of Christ, and none now? But how do we know that demons are not, at the present time, exercising their fell influence upon the physical condition of men? Why may not those strange and violent maladies, which we sometimes witness, be legitimately attributed to their agency? The knowledge of this does not fall within the province of our senses; and we can, therefore, indulge only in a conjecture of its truth. But in the light of revelation, it appears quite probable. The agency of Satan in afflicting Job, of which we should have been wholly ignorant, had it not been revealed to us; the delivering of an erring brother to Satan, at Paul’s direction, “for the destruction of the flesh “(i.e. to be visited and brought low by some fearful malady), “that his soul might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus “(1 Cor. 5:5); the words of Peter, to which reference has already been made, respecting Christ’s healing those that were oppressed of the devil; in short, the whole demonology of the New Testament, show that an untoward physical agency is exerted, by evil spirits, upon men. This physical agency is, indeed, restricted within proper and prescribed limits. Satan could do no more to Job, in the trial of his integrity, than he was permitted to do. But that such an agency, to a greater or less extent, is exerted by evil spirits upon men, no one who reads and believes the Bible can well deny.

But if this be deemed unsatisfactory, and the inquiry is still pressed, why so many were possessed with evil spirits in the time of our Lord, the same reply may be made as to the question why Pharaoh was raised up, “that God might show his power in him, and that his name might be declared in all the earth” (Rom. 9:17). It was to show forth the power of our Lord in destroying the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and to illustrate and attest his divine mission. Every such deliverance from physical suffering produced by demoniacal agency, was an earnest of the greater deliverance from spiritual thraldom to the adversary, effected by Him who came to save, from sin and death, all who put their trust in him.

But that there were in reality more demons, engaged in the work of tormenting men in the time of our Lord, than at any other age of the world; or that they were then more active and malevolent, is a matter of conjecture, which, to say the least, is not very probable. Satan and his hosts are always active in the work of death. Of their spiritual presence and power, the Bible leaves no doubt. From the earliest history of man to the present time, they have been working in the children of disobedience. We are commanded to watch against them, to put on the whole armor of God, and especially to take the shield of faith, that we may quench all their fiery darts, to resist them continually, and to remember that our struggle is not with flesh and blood merely, but with principalities and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, and with spiritual wickedness in high places. No doubt should enter our minds, that we have a great adversary, who seeks every opportunity to lead us astray, and that he has at his command innumerable spirits, ready to do his bidding and further his wicked designs upon mankind.


1) Plato here adds the epithet greatest, because he distinguishes the δαίμονες from the superior gods, or rather he includes the superior gods in δαίμουνες as the more generic term. He therefore finds it convenient to represent the superior divinities by οἱ μεγίστοι δαίμονες, while the inferior deities he simply denominates δαίνονες.

2) Here it is to be noted, that Hesiod refers to such persons of the golden age as were good and virtuous men, and not such monsters of wickedness that they cannot rest in their graves, but return, as evil spirits, to torment their fellow men.