​“Come out, in Jesus’ name!”

Does demon possession mean that a demon owns a person?

Conrad Vine, DMin, is president of Adventist Frontier Missions, Inc., Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

Deliverance ministry (DM) is a complex topic, fraught with potential areas for conflict, misunderstanding, and misapprehension.1 To the victims of demonic harassment, the debate about the validity of DM can often ignore their desperate need for freedom in Jesus Christ.

What is deliverance ministry?

Three terms are used in the New Testament (NT) for demons: demon (Matt. 8:31), unclean spirit (Mark 1:23), and evil spirit (Luke 11:24). These terms are used interchangeably to refer to fallen angels (i.e., demons). The King James Version often translates “demon” as “devil,” which can be misleading. The English word devil comes from the Greek word diabolos, which means “slanderer,” which has no relation to the underlying Greek word for demon, daimonion.

Derek Prince argues that the NT repeatedly uses the verb daimonizo to refer to the influence of an evil spirit or a demon on a human being (Matt. 4:24; 8:16; Mark 1:32).2 This verb is often taken as referring to “demonic possession,” whereas this verb only occurs in the passive form, and the best translation for it is “to be demonized.” The English language phrase demon possession can erroneously imply that an individual is fully possessed by, owned by, and subject to, a demon. However, there is no basis in the NT Greek to make this conclusion. Daimonizo is best understood as referring to someone who is subject to demonic influence (which may happen in varying degrees).

The most common verb in the NT for delivering individuals from demonic influence is ekballo, which means “to drive out” or “to cast out” (Matt. 10:1). However, this should not be taken to imply that demons possess or own an individual but, rather, it should be understood that the minister of the gospel is acting under the authority of Jesus Christ to cast out the demon, with its malign influence, from the life of the individual who turns to Jesus for help. In this context, DM may be best understood as delivering an individual from the influence of personal, malevolent, fallen angels.

What are demons?

Demons are fallen angels (Rev. 12:3, 4; see also Rev. 9:1; Luke 10:18) operating under Satan’s leading. They were originally unfallen angels in heaven who joined with Satan in his rebellion against God (Rev. 12:7; see also Job 38:7). Angels are called spirits in Scripture (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:14), and so are demons (Matt. 8:16; Luke 4:36). Demons are often referred to in Scripture as being with Satan: “the devil and his angels” (Matt. 12:24; 25:41; Rev. 12:7). Like Satan, they are able to enter and control people to differing degrees, depending on the situation (Matt. 17:14–18; Mark 9:17–27; Luke 11:14, 15; 22:3).

Demons are creatures with characteristics of personhood. They are referred to by Jesus using personal pronouns (Luke 8:30). They refer to themselves using the first-person personal pronoun (Luke 11:24). They communicate with each other (Luke 11:24–26) and through humans (Matt. 8:28–34; Mark 5:1–10). They live in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12); however, they prefer to reside in a human and will reside in animals also (pigs, for example, Mark 5:12). They have a will and can make decisions (Matt. 12:44). They experience emotions (James 2:19). They have an intellect (Mark 1:24) and self-awareness (Mark 5:9).

Distance poses no problem for demons to carry out their mission of deception. Recall how Satan was able to be in heavenly councils (Job 1:6). Demons may even enter and remain in houses of worship with the physical presence of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:21–28). Mark 5:1–12 and Luke 11:24–26 indicate that demons can act separately and in cooperation with each other and have varying degrees of wickedness. Both fallen and unfallen angelic beings appear to be highly ordered. The fallen angels speaking through the demoniac referred to themselves as “Legion” (Mark 5:9), suggesting a military-type organization and possibly a hierarchy of angels on both sides that may match military formations (2 Kings 6:17; Matt. 26:53; Rev. 19:14).

The witness of the Old Testament

The apostle Paul referred to the pagan sacrifices of his era as being made to demons (1 Cor. 10:20, 21), and church members were not to participate in any such pagan rituals. By implication, Old Testament (OT) pagan idolatry may also be understood as being the worship of demons. This implication is reflected by both Moses in Deuteronomy 32:17 and the psalmist in Psalm 106:37. Interestingly, the Septuagint (LXX) references the pagan gods as being “demons,” and Psalm 106:37 speaks of the sacrifice of sons and daughters to pagan idols.

Leviticus 17:7 refers to the pagan deities before whom the Israelites prostrated themselves, and to whom they prostituted themselves, as being “goat-demons.” The false worship established by Jeroboam included high places, golden calves, and “goat-demons” (2 Chron. 11:15). Isaiah referred to goat demons inhabiting the desolate places of Babylon and Edom after God’s judgments had fallen (Isa. 13:21; 34:14). Given the constant tendencies of the Israelites to fall back into idol worship, we may conclude that they were, in fact, prostrating themselves before demons in the physical form of the idols. Thus Dagon, Ashtoreth, Moloch, and Baal are, in fact, names for demons worshiped by Israel and the surrounding nations.

Saul lost God’s favor because he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Chron. 10:13). Manasseh sacrificed his son before demons (2 Chron. 33:6). Micah rebuked the practice of witchcraft among God’s preexilic people (Micah 5:12). The tendency among Israelites to contact demons in the form of worship, childsacrifice, divination, sorcery, and mediums, lasted from the Exodus to the Babylonian exile (Ezekiel 11; Jeremiah 44), and disappeared from the Israelite experience only in the era of the postexilic prophets.

Paralleling this constant demonic contact by the Israelites, God repeatedly warned against any involvement with witchcraft, mediums, idol worship, and divination (Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:10–14; 1 Sam. 15:23; Isa. 47:8–14). Reforming kings of Judah would periodically destroy the physical cult manifestations of idol worship and draw the people back to YHWH. These periodic cleansings and rededications to YHWH within Judah functioned as a form of DM, for in destroying the idols and high places, the kings were removing the physical manifestation of demons from the nation’s life.

Ministry in Jesus’ name

The Gospels present general summaries of Jesus’ DM, often in transition points, from one specific narrative to another (e.g., Matt. 4:24; 8:16; Mark 1:32, 34, 39; 3:11; 6:13; Luke 4:41; 6:18; 7:21). The Gospels also present detailed narratives of seven specific instances of DM (Matt. 8:28–34; 9:32–34; 12:22–29; 15:21–28; 17:14–21; Mark 1:21–28; 3:22–27; 5:1–20; 7:24–30; 9:14–29; Luke 4:31–37; 9:37–43; 11:14–22; 13:10–17).

The repeated transitional summaries and narratives of specific deliverances indicate that the ministry of Jesus consisted of proclaiming the good news, healing diseases, and casting out demons. The deliverance of Satan’s captives was a tangible sign of the truth of Jesus’ preaching: the kingdom of God had arrived! That arrival meant that the “strong man” (Satan) had been bound in the wilderness showdown, and Jesus could, therefore, deliver Satan’s captives (Mark 3:27). The deliverance of Satan’s captives was a confirming sign for the Jewish community of the Messianic authority of Jesus’ teachings (Mark 1:27, 28).

In His teachings on prayer, Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Rescue us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13, NRSV). We are to pray for deliverance from a personal, malevolent evil being—Satan—who makes war on God’s children (Rev. 12:9, 17;
1 Pet. 5:8). Jesus gave the Twelve explicit authority to cast out unclean spirits (Matt. 10:1, 7, 8; Luke 9:1; Mark 6:7), which they then did (Mark 3:15; 6:13; 9:14–29, 38). He also commissioned the Seventy to prepare communities for His arrival, a task that involved DM (Luke 10:1–20). In His final commission to His disciples, Jesus specifically stated that DM, in His name, was to be an ongoing feature of their ministry (Mark 16:17).

Apostolic ministry to the demonized

The book of Acts presents the ministry of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8) as being the prototypical pattern for NT evangelism. To the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip preached Jesus (Acts 8:35). To the inhabitants of Samaria, he preached Christ (Acts 8:5). Luke records Philip’s evangelism in Samaria in Acts 8:5–8, where his preaching was accompanied by the signs of healing and deliverance, resulting in belief, baptism, and the establishment of new congregations of disciples. The apostles cast out unclean spirits (Acts 5:16) in Jerusalem and on their evangelistic journeys (Acts 16:16–18). In Ephesus, Paul was unsuccessfully imitated by Jewish exorcists (Acts 19:14–17). Clearly, success in the ministry of deliverance does not depend on a formulaic approach but on the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Paul lists the “discerning of spirits” as one of the gifts of the Spirit to His church.

Faith is the victory

Every disciple will face attacks from demons on what the apostle Paul calls “that evil day” (Eph. 6:13, NRSV). Evil in the form of personal, literal, fallen angelic beings does reach into the lives of Jesus’ disciples and seeks to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10, TLB). The apostle Paul counsels disciples of Jesus Christ to put on the armor of God precisely so that we can withstand “that evil day” when it comes (Eph. 6:13, NRSV). Spiritual preparation before and faith during the “evil day” are, therefore, the keys to surviving spiritual battles.

Commenting on the admonition, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, KJV), Vaughn Allen writes, “The gospel is to be preached right up to the second coming of Christ, or at least until probation closes just before Jesus returns. Since the gospel commission applies until the second advent, the signs that accompany the preaching must also apply until Christ comes. And among the signs and promises is the one that says devils will be cast out wherever the gospel is preached.”3 Victory in the battle today is possible—but not in our own strength.

  1. For deliverance ministry from an Adventist perspective, see setfreeinchrist.org for Christian resources.
  2. Derek Prince, They Shall Expel Demons: What You Need to Know About Demons, Your Invisible Enemies (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 1998), 16.
  3. Vaughn Allen, Victory on the Battlefield: Setting Captives Free (Brushton, NY: Teach Services, 1993), 17.

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Conrad Vine, DMin, is president of Adventist Frontier Missions, Inc., Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

April 2020

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