I had today an interesting conversation with a woman of faith concerning a Christian man who did not believe in demon possession in the Bible. This concerned the woman, who came and asked me what the Greek said. As you might guess, I obliged (because I love Greek). She was curious to see the Greek text of Luke 8.1-3, the healing of Mary Magdalene, among others.
So, here's the text she about which she asked, along with my translation:
8.1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ καθεξῆς καὶ αὐτὸς διώδευεν κατὰ πόλιν καὶ κώμην κηρύσσων καὶ εὐαγγελιζόμενος τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ οἱ δώδεκα σὺν αὐτῷ, 2 καὶ γυναῖκες τινες αἳ ἦσαν τεθεραπευμέναι ἀπὸ πνευμάτων πονηρῶν καὶ ἀσθενειῶν, Μαρία ἡ καλουμένη Μαγδαληνή, ἀφ᾽ ἧς δαιμόνια ἑπτὰ ἐξεληλύθει, 3 καὶ Ἰωάννα γυνὴ Χουζᾶ ἐπιτρόπου Ἡρῴδου καὶ Σουσάννα καὶ ἕτεραι πολλαί, αἵτινες διηκόνουν αὐτοῖς ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐταῖς.
8.1 And soon after this he was also going about from city to village preaching the good news of the reign of God, and the twelve were with him, 2 and some women who were healed from evil spirits and illnesses—Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza (the manager of Herod's household), Susanna, and many others—who ministered to them from their own possessions.
Now that I've got some Greek out of my system, let's move on.
When this lady told me a rather brief version of the situation, I had a few questions:
- Is it significant that there are so many exorcisms in the New Testament?
- If there weren't really any demons being removed from these people, to what was Jesus talking and why did they talk back?
- Didn't Ancient Near-Eastern Jewish (and other) societies attribute many illnesses to the actions of vile spirits, as do some contemporary African societies?
- Does the New Testament have anything specific to say about demons and evil spirits?
- Does the position against demon-possession arise out of a post-Enlightenment logic that deems the existence of such creatures as being ancient, mystical nonsense?
As for answers, I have very few. I have guesses, but the only question I feel I can answer with any amount of confidence is the fourth, and this answer isn't very good, I'm afraid.
First, in Jude 8-10, the author makes a brief reference to the Testament of Moses by bringing up a conversation between Michael and the Devil. Here, Michael is unwilling to deal directly with his opposition, instead invoking the name of the Lord. My gut instinct here is that, while we do not worship it, one should have a healthy respect for the evil which the Archangel himself was not willing to rebuke. (Ergo, even angels don't wear those 'Satan is a Nerd' T-shirts.)
Second, the author of 1 John is under the assumption that spirits who do not work directly for God's purposes exist. This assumption is seen in 4.1-3, where he explains the differences between spirits who claim Christ's coming in the flesh and those who do not. If spirits are to be tested, then they first have to be.
Third, in James 2.19, James makes the claim that demons too believe in God, for it appears that he himself believed in demons as much as in God. However, their actions did not reflect faith in God.
As for the fifth question, there is some lingering doubt in my mind. There are many Christians who are willing to admit that, where science and the Bible conflict, science wins. For example, if the Bible infers in some of its texts the earth is flat, but such has been proved to be otherwise, then science trumps Bible. However, it is possible to prove the earth's spherical shape, because of such things as the bend of the horizon and photos of the planet from outside of it. It is not in the same way possible to disprove the existence of demons. This is admittedly a weak argument: it makes just as much sense to argue that a penguin turns on and off the light in your refrigerator when you're not looking. If you look, then he disappears. There is no way to prove the nonexistence of a thing or a condition which is impossible to test.
Finally, I want to ask you what you think. Leave thoughts in a comment, as well as other questions, outside materials for consideration, etc. It would be arrogant of me to think I've covered every possible aspect of this issue, so tell me what you think!
Grace and peace.