There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Doctrines of Demons
Doctrines of Demons
By Günther Juncker
Regrettably, as the very existence of apologetics ministries attests, the need sometimes arises to “exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9) and to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The word “refute” is admittedly somewhat of an argumentative term, while the single word translated as “contend earnestly” was a technical wrestling term in ancient Greece for the intense struggle of the contestants. We can understand why they contended so earnestly, and also what a strong term Jude used in commanding us to defend the Faith, when we realize that the losers in such wrestling matches were often put to death. This task is occasionally overdone or done unlovingly, yet it is more often neglected or looked down-upon as an alleged barrier to unity though it is a scriptural command to every believer. In fact, F. F. Bruce, one of the greatest biblical scholars of the last century, notes that over 47% of the New Testament is apologetic or “negative” in nature, refuting and contending against errors of legalism, false doctrine, backsliding, sin, as well as against unbiblical requirements for salvation and progress in the Christian life (sanctification).
Before going on to address the specific reason for this inquiry, and after seeing the scriptural importance of contending earnestly for the Faith, let us clarify an important parameter we must keep in mind in level-headedly following this biblical command. The Bible in many areas of what is called “Peripheral Theology” allows for healthy differences of opinion, interpretation, and even personal or cultural preference. However, there are many other areas of “Central Theology,” as it is called, in which the Bible does not tolerate differences of opinion (see, for example, Gal 1:6-9). These areas deal, for example, with the Nature of God, with the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and with the Gospel. Because of their importance these cannot be treated with the same open-mindedness as areas of Peripheral Theology. But even in Peripheral Theology, where disagreement is generally acceptable, there are still boundaries beyond which disagreement can become sin or heresy. One example that comes to mind on which considerable disagreement is allowable is that of eschatology. One can be a Christian in good standing and hold to many different views of when Christ will return. Can one then conclude that in the area of eschatology anything goes? Hardly. For to take the view that Christ is not going to return at all, or that He is only going to return “spiritually” or “within the Church,” is at once to deny the Faith, the inspired Word of God, and the risen Lord.
Now we can see what clearly unites those who disagree agreeably (within biblical limits) from those who disagree outside of the limits. It is such people and their errors only that we must refute and contend against. In fact, to do so is to truly follow Christ. But to contend against or within the first group of acceptable beliefs is to be disobedient, unloving, and divisive.
THE ROOT ISSUE
The view questioned in this paper involves essential areas of theology. This view is known specifically as “Christian Possession” or, more positively (and therefore more deceptively), as “Christian Deliverance.” The common denominator is the root belief that a born again believer can “have a demon in them” that can be “cast out of them” in the name of Jesus. It is solely on this root belief that we are commenting, and we have defined it narrowly to avoid useless disputes and evasion of the root issue. This is necessary because those in “Deliverance” Ministries often incorrectly redefine the issue solely in terms of the total possession of Christians by Satan, which both sides of the debate deny; or they weaken the Greek term daimonizo by rendering it as “demonized” instead of as “demon possessed,” which goes against New Testament usage and the best Greek dictionaries; or they simply confuse the dividing line between external demonic oppression and internal demonic habitation and influence. Thus, without the root issue clearly in mind and clearly defined, those teaching this error can seem (even to themselves) to be saying orthodox things; while those denying this error can seem to be denying the existence or influence of the demonic altogether, which is hardly the case. The root issue is the location of the demon: Is it inside or outside of the believer? That is the only question that matters to the present inquiry.
THE KEY PASSAGE
The key passage in Scripture that deals with the root issue of whether or not a Christian can “have a demon in them” is 2 Corinthians 6:14-16:
“what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Satan, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, `I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE.'”
One of the first rules of sound biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) is that clear doctrinal passages have priority over parables, idioms and figures of speech, unclear historic references, Old Testaments types and shadows, etc. And here in Second Corinthians we have just such a clear doctrinal passage: a black-and-white passage, if you like, regarding the believer's intimate relationship to a holy God, and this holy God's non-intimate relationship to darkness, demons, Satan, and idols. To say or imply that such a Spirit-filled believer could have a demon dwell “in them” is essentially to say that righteousness has partnership with lawlessness, that light has fellowship with darkness, that Christ has harmony with Satan, and that the very temple in which God Almighty now dwells has agreement with idols. Such things are far indeed from historic Christianity.
And, as we should expect, there are many other clear doctrinal passages of Scripture agreeing with the passage quoted above and denying the view that Christians can have demons in them of which they can be or need to be “delivered.” We will give some of them below, but first let us address three ways in which the above passage is misunderstood or twisted to allow for the unbiblical view:
First, those holding the unbiblical view may say that of course a Christian cannot have a demon in their spirit (where, according to them, the Holy Spirit dwells); however, they can have a demon in their body or soul. This argument is either based on a misunderstanding of the biblical words for soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma)-terms that are essentially synonymous in the New Testament in that they refer to the same immaterial part of man-or it is based on a misunderstanding of the human person as in some way resembling the three-part Old Testament temple. That is, the Outer Court, Inner Court, and Holy of Holies of the Old Testament temple allegedly correspond to each believer's Body, Soul, and Spirit. Thus, in this view, God the Holy Spirit could dwell in a believer's spirit right alongside any number of unholy demons in the body or soul. But the Scripture does not allow for such fine anthropological or architectural distinctions and compartmentalizations as have arbitrarily been made here. For in the key passage in Second Corinthians, it simply and generically says that, as born again believers, “we are the temple of the living God” and also that God “will dwell in us.” Elsewhere it says, in case there is any doubt, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
These passages are just as black and white as they seem for the additional reason that the Greek word for temple in all these passages is “Naos,” which means “Holy of Holies” or “innermost sanctuary” of the Temple. Thus, Scripture nowhere limits the indwelling presence of God to the human spirit or in any way likens the believer to the three-level Old Testament temple. Instead, Scripture clearly teaches that the body of each believer is the very Naos, the Holy of Holies, of the Holy Spirit. The body of the believer is the innermost sanctuary in which dwells the very presence of God Himself. (Not to mention that the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Christ's death to symbolize the permanent abolition of the three-level Old Testament temple [Matt 27:50-51]). Again, the New Testament evidence is clear: the believer, that is, his whole body or self, is now the Holy of Holies which the Holy Spirit dwelling in us cannot and does not share with unholy demons.
Second, those holding the false view can argue that if light really cannot have fellowship with darkness, how then can the Holy Spirit live in a believer who still sins? Isn't sin darkness? They attempt to show that Christians can have demons in them. All they show, however, is that in their own hermeneutical “darkness,” they have inadvertently denied the saving work of the Savior along with the holiness of the Holy Spirit. Christ paid the infinite price of Calvary to atone for sin and open up fellowship with sinners. He made no such provision for demons from Hell. The believer and the believer's body have been bought and redeemed with an infinite price (1 Cor 6:19-20; 1 Pet 1:18-19). For this reason we can be the residence, sanctuary, and temple of the living God who says without reservation that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). How was this possible? Because, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:20) As a result, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:6, God has “seated us with Christ in the heavenly places.” It does not say that God has “seated us and maybe a couple or so demons from the pit of Hell with Christ in the heavenly places.”
Third, it is illogically argued that if believers cannot have demons dwelling in them then Satan and the demons could not have any influence at all on them. While it is obvious that demons can exert some influence on believers, it is neither obvious nor scriptural to say that they can only do this by dwelling in believers. For example, we ourselves can influence people around us in all kinds of physical, emotional, psychological, and verbal ways without ever once “dwelling in them.” Likewise, even the Holy Spirit convicts, guides, and influences people in all kinds of ways long before they are born again and actually indwelt by Him. Thus, demons can also influence or oppress believers without being inside them. A fine line? Yes, indeed-as fine as the line between light and darkness, truth and error, God and Satan. (See further Job 1-2, Ephesians 6:10-17, and 1 Peter 5:8-9, which all suggest that the devil is an external rather than an internal foe.)
THE PERSON OF CHRIST &
THE BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
It should be pointed out, both from what we have said above and from the Scriptures we have cited, that in this particular area of theology the Bible makes little or no distinction between the works of the three Persons of the Trinity. Thus, to deny the Person or work of one is effectively to deny them all. Note the following related sets of verses, which will clarify this easily overlooked point:
“God is in us”
2 Cor 6:16; 1 John 4:16
“We are in God”
John 17:21; 1 John 4:16
“Christ is in us”
John 17:23; 2 Cor 13:5; Col 1:27
“We are in Christ”
John 17:21; 2 Cor 5:17
“The Holy Spirit is in us”
1 Cor 3:16; 6:19
“We are in the Holy Spirit”
Rom 8:11; Eph 2:18
This intimate new relationship that believers have with God through the shed blood of Christ has serious implications for those who would say that God's New Testament temple, his new Holy of Holies, has demons dwelling in it. One such implication relates directly to the fact that we are now “in Christ” and He is now “in us.” It is found in Mark 3:28-30.
“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”-because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Because the Persons of the Trinity are so closely related and because, as shown above, we are “in Christ” and “He is in us,” to say that a born again believer can have a demon in them is virtually indistinguishable from the clearly defined sin of Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit-that Christ had a demon in Him. This is especially true in light of Christ's own words on this very subject in John 14:30 which say, “the ruler of the world [Satan] is coming and he has nothing in Me.” And while we still personally happen to believe that the error of Christian possession or “deliverance” can be distinguished from Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, it is not an error that we would not wish to make or to condone. Rather, this is par-excellence a deceiving doctrine of demons that denies the Person and work of Christ-a doctrine that we must contend against to the extent that we love Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit whom He has sent to dwell in us. Note that the Holy Spirit not only dwells within us but he also seals us for the day of redemption (Eph 1:13; 4:30). Who is powerful enough to break this seal and get to what is inside in order to infest and indwell it? Is Satan? Are unholy demons? Not if the Holy Spirit is holy. And not if he is omnipotent God, the third Person of the Trinity.
Moreover, Jesus explicitly said in John 14:16 that the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) whom He would send to dwell in us would be “another-of the-same-kind” as Himself (the Greek word for “another” being “allos” as opposed to “heteros”). Thus, if Satan has nothing in Jesus he most certainly has nothing in the Holy Spirit who was sent to carry on the work of Christ. In fact, Jesus said in John 16:7 that it would be better for us if He left and sent the promised Holy Spirit to dwell in us forever. Perhaps this is one such way in which we are better off.
DELIVERANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?
Having thus noted several clear doctrinal passages which deal with the root issue of whether or not a Christian can have a demon in them that can be cast out of them in the name of Jesus, let us now look at some other kinds of passages that will show how Scripture is typically twisted or allegorized in order to support this unscriptural doctrine of demons. Below we have selected two such representative areas, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.
Unfortunately, we cannot give a clear Scripture reference for the first because it covers in one imperialistic sweep the entire Exodus and entry of God's people into the land of Canaan. It is argued that this is an allegory, a type and a shadow of each individual believer's life. The “Canaan Land' in this view is actually each believer's physical body, over which he or she must now take dominion by casting out all the evil “Canaanites” and “uncircumcised Philistines,” which are actually . . . demons. God becomes personally responsible for this state of affairs because, by the clear light of the (types and) shadows, He deliberately left some of “the Canaanites” (=demons) in “the Promised Land” (= our bodies) so that “the next generation” (=Born-again believers) would learn the necessary art of “War” (=deliverance and spiritual warfare), and so that God could test us to see if we would obey Him (see Judges 3:1-4).
Apart from having missed or ignored the clear doctrinal passages regarding the believers personal New Testament relationship with God, such interpreters of the Old Testament have also conveniently not noted (for example in Judges 3:5 and following!) that the “next generation” of Israelites, as well as “later generations” for centuries, continuously relapsed into intermarrying with “Canaanites,” “uncircumcised Philistines,” etc., being conquered by “Canaanites,” “uncircumcised Philistines,” etc., and idolatry of the grossest kind. Thus to be totally consistent with their fanciful allegory of typifying the individual believer's life on that of the nation of Israel, they would have to condemn all born again Spirit-filled believers to the most horrendous spiritual life imaginable. (Indeed, “the Canaanites” have returned seven times worse!) For a more Biblical approach to the Canaan Land and other Old Testament types and shadows see 1 Cor 10:6, which suggests that such material exists to provide examples for Christians rather than complex allegories about Christians. And, specifically, see Heb 4:8-11 which contrasts the inadequacy of Joshua and the Canaan Land with the infinite adequacy of Christ who gives us true deliverance and Sabbath Rest in the Kingdom of God, our Promised Land. In the New Testament the Promised Land is never the individual believer's body but a type or picture of salvation and eternal life.
DELIVERANCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?
Before losing our objectivity in the face of these hermeneutical antics, let us move on to a typical way in which the New Testament has also been used to lend “Scriptural” support to the doctrine of demons being questioned here. Those in “Deliverance” Ministries often use the following biblical-sounding terminology in explaining their work: they say that in order to deliver a Christian from demons, the one doing the deliverance must first “bind the strong man.” This, for them, means that demons almost always come in related groupings or hierarchies under such headings as “lust,” “rebellion,” “greed,” and even “mind idolatry” and “independent thinking.” Within each grouping of demons there will always be a “strong man” or ruling demon which must first be “bound” before the and the rest of the lesser demons can be “plundered” or cast out in Jesus name.
The passages,his which have been plundered are found in Luke 11:14-26 and Matt 12:43-45. These passages clearly contradict this interpretation of the demonic realm. For here we learn that Jesus is the “stronger man,” and He alone has bound the “strong man” who is none other than Satan. Satan, in other words, is the only strong man the Bible talks about-and Jesus is the stronger man who has already bound him. Jesus bound and plundered Satan in His earthly ministry. The proof of this was his ability to cast demons out of people, and perhaps also the fact that he had already seen (past tense) Satan falling from the sky like lightning (Luke 10:18). Jesus cast demons out of people to manifest the presence of the Kingdom of God, which had come in his person, the King, and to demonstrate his infinitely superior power over Satan and demons. Jesus entered Satan's kingdom (=the world), he bound the strong man Satan, and he plundered Satan by delivering those whom Satan and his demons had infested. But here is the most important thing: those who believe in Jesus enter into His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, the moment that they believe and are born again. “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). For Satan or demons to indwell believers (believers who have already been delivered from darkness and who are now living in the Kingdom of God) they must first enter into that Kingdom to get at the believers where they live. But this they cannot do. Then they must bind the Stronger Man, Jesus, which they also cannot do. And then, and only then, can they infest or re-infest those who are in His Kingdom. In other words, only by first defeating Christ can they invade His kingdom and inhabit His possessions. This, as Dr. Richard Collier of Toccoa Falls College has pointed out, is the essence of New Testament Kingdom theology. And it is a theology that is evidently not well understood by those who claim that Christ's possessions, born again residents of the Kingdom of God, can have demons in them that need to be cast out of them in Jesus name.
Note further that Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” No more of a divided house can possibly be imagined than a house in which the Holy Spirit from heaven and unholy demons from the pit of hell are simultaneously dwelling. Jesus then adds that when a demon is cast out of a “house,” that is, a person, if it returns to find the house empty, it will bring seven other demons with it to live in that house and the state of such a man will be worse than before. But the passage in Matthew makes clear that by this Jesus was referring only to unbelievers, to people who clearly reject Him. Their houses were empty, they were whitewashed tombs, and their final state would be worse for having rejected Him and the message of His Kingdom. However, and this is the very essence of the Gospel, no one who believes in Jesus has an “empty house.” Their house is now a temple (Naos) filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. And should any demon be foolish enough to return to his old house, he will find God Almighty Himself answering the door! For this reason alone, Scripture can tell us in 1 John 4:4 that each believer has “already overcome” the false prophets and the deceiving demons because “greater is He that is in us than he [Satan] who is in the world [i.e. not in us!].” It was not by anything we or any self-appointed human “deliverer” could do, but by the free gift of our great God and Savior who personally “delivered us [past tense] from the dominion of darkness and transferred us [past tense] into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). There is indeed deliverance ministry in the New Testament, but of a very different kind than that promoted by so-called “Deliverance” Ministries, for it is a deliverance that has already been accomplished by our glorious Savior and Redeemer and Deliverer, Jesus Christ.
AN ARGUMENT FROM SILENCE
If demonic deliverance is as true and important as it is claimed, or even half as true and important, it is very strange indeed that no deliverance of any kind is mentioned or taught or practiced on any born again Spirit-indwelt believer in the New Testament. And not only is it very strange indeed, it positively strains credulity to think that such an absolutely indispensable means of progress in the Christian life can be found nowhere in the New Testament. Nowhere! Not in the Gospels, not in the Epistles, not anywhere. If the New Testament contains all that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and for equipping the Saint for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17), then deliverance is at best completely irrelevant and unnecessary. The argument from silence is not necessarily a strong one, philosophically speaking, unless there is silence where one expects speech or noise-and lots of it-as is clearly the case here. Spiritual progress, sanctification, and increasing godliness and separation from evil are dominant themes everywhere in the New Testament and especially in Paul's Epistles. Yet the first and most important thing is the very thing that is nowhere mentioned-how to get the filthy swarms of demons out of born again Spirit-indwelt believers. How can a believer possibly make progress in the Christian life if he or she has demons living inside them and influencing them from the inside out?
One can debate whether people in the Gospels prior to the Resurrection were delivered of demons in order to make them believers or whether a few of them were in some limited sense believers already. (The term “belief” in the Gospels refers to all manner of saving and non-saving beliefs about Jesus.) But this has no direct bearing on us today. We live after the Resurrection when God changed the way He seals believers and indwells them the moment they believe and are born-again. It was, we may recall, at the death of Jesus that the veil was torn that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. And it was only after the death and resurrection of Jesus that he sent the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). To miss or ignore this fact or to compare our relationship with the Holy Spirit today to that of believers in the Old Testament-or even to believers in the Gospels prior to the resurrection-is to misunderstand the role of the Holy Spirit and much of the New Testament as well.
THE NEW TESTAMENT SPEAKS
It can hardly be a coincidence that when the New Testament does speak, it with one loud voice ascribes to the deeds of the flesh all of the names and attributes of the demons that allegedly need to be cast out of believers. The flesh, however, cannot be cast out. The sin nature cannot be cast out. The “old man” cannot be cast out. The flesh and its deeds must be mortified and crucified and “put off,” as Paul says, but never exorcised or cast out. The New Testament model for progress in the Christian life is diametrically opposed to the “devil-made-me-do-it” deliverance model. In fact, the deliverance model is, in practice if not in theory, a virtual denial of the flesh or sin nature. For, according to the New Testament, our evil thoughts and intentions arise from the human heart and not from indwelling demons that can be conveniently cast out:
“That which proceeds out of the man, this is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Quite frankly, even if Christians could have demons in them, those demons would have precious little to do given the pervasive evil that arises without their ever lifting a finger! In a word, the New Testament model for sanctification and progress in the Christian life is in every way opposed to the deliverance model for the simple reason that the problem being solved in the New Testament is a very different problem from that which is allegedly being solved by the “deliverance” model. It is the flesh and its deeds that need to be overcome, not the devil and his demons that need to be cast out. In fact, people who think that the evil thoughts and desires in them are coming from demons have not yet begun to read their Bibles as it speaks of human (not demonic) sin. “The heart [not the demon!] is desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). To solve this problem one must stop listening to teachings that tickle the ears and start the painful process of taking up one's cross daily. And one must read and take seriously not what modern authors and self-styled human “deliverers” would say but what Paul says by divine inspiration about the fruit of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh.
In light of the above non-exhaustive but conclusive evidence there is no need to digress into irrelevant passages about Satan filling the heart of Judas, for according to John 6:64, 70-71; 12:6; 13:10-11; 17:12 Judas was never saved. Nothing could be clearer. How ironic it is, then, that the one whom the New Testament calls “a devil” and “the son of hell” has become a model and test case for born-again, Spirit-filled, Spirit-sealed, Kingdom-dwelling believers having demons. There is also no need to digress into non-literal figures of speech such as “you are of your father the devil” (referring to disobedient Jews who were acting murderously); or “get behind me Satan” (referring to a disobedient disciple who, to say the least, was never the object of any “Deliverance” Ministry, but whose rebuke of Christ resembled Satan's temptation of Jesus to gain the kingdom's of the world by avoiding the Cross); or “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Meaning that the behavior of Ananias and Saphira-for which they alone were responsible and for which they were not candidates for “Deliverance” Ministry-imitated the known modus operandi of the Father of Lies).
We thus stand firm in maintaining that those who sincerely teach that Christians can have demons in them that can be cast out of them in Jesus name are sincerely mistaken and are at this point (though not necessarily in others) in nothing less than demonically-inspired spiritual darkness: for they “know neither the Scripture nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24), nor do they understand the difference between bondage and the true biblical deliverance that Christ our Deliverer has already won for us.
Just after Jesus warns us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves,” He tells us that, “Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not . . . in Your name cast out demons'” (Matt 7:15-22).
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the Faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).
A Four Part Critique of Neil Anderson's influential book on “deliverance” titled The Bondage Breaker
, a critique previously published in the CRI Journal under the title “The Bondage Maker,” is available through the Christian Research Institute's web site www.equip.org
as also is the article “Can a Christian Be `Demonized'?” by Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller. These resources are free and may be downloaded from the CRI web site.
Another detailed critique of Anderson and the unscriptural view of “deliverance,” a critique previously published in the PFO Quarterly Journal, can be found at the web site of Personal Freedom Outreach http://www.pfo.org/wdemons.htm
A brief but helpful pastoral response to the often-divisive deliverance issue by Calvary Chapel Pastor Chuck Smith is available on line as chapter 7 of his “Answers for Today” resource at
The Assemblies of God position paper titled “Can Born-Again Believers Be Demon Possessed?” is available through Gospel Publishing House www.gospelpublishing.com
for $.59 each.
Originally written for The Apologetics Resource Center, Sacramento, CA.
Revised edition ©2002 by Günther Juncker.
Dr. Günther Juncker is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Toccoa Falls College, Toccoa Falls, GA 30598. Ph.D. in New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.