Practical Pointers

​Demons and demonic activity

Kwabena Donkor, PhD, is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

One of the victims of our modern worldview is the belief in the reality of demons and demonic activity. Evil spirit beings are reinterpreted psychologically as complexes, psychoses, libidinous pressures in our minds,1 or, at best, powerful social forces and structures.2 Simultaneously, and perhaps as a reaction to naturalistic scientific rationalism, there has been a renewed interest in the subject of demons and demonic activities.3

Five facts about demons are clear from Scripture.

1. Demons are real

In the Old Testament, while we do not find one single word used consistently to represent demons, the term shêd in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 has the primary meaning of “demon.” The 63 occurrences of the word daimonion in the New Testament are applied to spirit beings that are evil in nature, thus underscoring the evil nature of demons.4

2. Demons are fallen

The combined evidence from Ezekiel 28:14–18; John 12:31; and Revelation 12:4, 9 points to the fact that demons are the angels that rebelled with Satan and were thrown out of heaven during a primordial war. Additionally, Matthew 12:24–26 suggests that these fallen angels constitute a kingdom with Satan as their ruler. It is a kingdom that is fundamentally opposed to the kingdom of God and works to subvert it, thus suggestive of a war between good and evil (the great controversy).

3. Demons are active

The work of demons in the world may manifest itself in several ways:

Demonic possession. Questions remain as to whether the phrase demon possession should be applied to all cases of demon invasion or attack or only to the most enslaving forms, such as in the case of the demoniac of Gadara (Mark 5:1–20). The word that is usually translated “demon-possessed” is the Greek participle daimonizomenos, which is indicative of passivity (as in influence) more than possession (as in ownership). One who bears the name Christian but maintains no true connection with Christ (cf. John 15:1–7) risks the possibility of demonization.

Harassment. Sincere Christians may expect to be the object of demonic attacks, which may come in forms such as persecution, illness, or discouragement. Paul speaks of “a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7, KJV). Speaking of herself and her husband, Ellen White wrote, “I saw that we had been the special objects of Satan’s attacks, because of our interest in and connection with the work of God.”5 Such demonic activity may be termed demonic harassment, carried out by fallen angels or perpetrated by persons practicing divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and magic (Deut. 18:10, 11; Num. 23:23).6

4. Demons are defeated

Demons are real, but they are not omnipotent. James wrote, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NIV), and Paul admonishes Christians to put on the whole armor of God so that they can “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11, NIV).7

5. Demons are secondary

Programmatic approaches to demonic deliverance tend to involve particular strategies and methods. Some include interrogating the demons, using concoctions, hitting or pushing victims, and participating in questionable rituals that are difficult to justify biblically. “The apostles called upon Jesus’ name to free people from demons.”8 Scripture offers us prayer, not a prescription and faith, not a formula.

Ángel Manuel Rodríguez states, “In the New Testament exorcism is not listed among the spiritual gifts. No one was called by Jesus to establish a ministry of exorcism. He gave His disciples power and authority over demons, but not once did He suggest that would be their primary role. Their responsibility was the proclamation of the kingdom of God, the good news of salvation. He explicitly said: ‘As you go, preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, . . . drive out demons’ (Matt. 10:7, 8, NIV; cf. Mark 6:12; Luke 9:2). The proclamation of the kingdom of God is the mission of each believer. When in the fulfillment of that mission we confront demoniacs, we have been empowered by Christ to face them. But our primary call is to proclaim the gospel of redemption through Christ.”9

We conclude by emphasizing that the apostles called upon Jesus’ name to free people from demons. We can do no less.

  1. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1977), 209.
  2. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1957), 27.
  3. See Richard Gallagher, “As a Psychiatrist, I Diagnose Mental Illness. Also, I Help Spot Demonic Possession,” Washington Post, July 1, 2016, washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/01/as-a-psychiatrist-i-diagnose-mental-illness-and-sometimes-demonic-possession/; Steven Waterhouse, “How to Differentiate Demonic Possession From Schizophrenia,” Mental Illness Policy Org., accessed Feb. 27, 2020, mentalillnesspolicy.org/coping/demonic-possession-mental-illness.html.
  4. See Brempong Owusu-Antwi, “Demons and Demonic Activities in the Bible,” in The Church, Culture and Spirits: Adventism in Africa, ed. Kwabena Donkor (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2011), 51–67; see also C. Fred Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1987).
  5. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 347.
  6. See “ ‘Spiritual Warfare’ and ‘Deliverance Ministry’ and Seventh-day Adventists,” Biblical Research Institute, 1983, sdanet.org/atissue/warfare/index.htm. For an abridged and adapted version, see Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, “Freedom From Demonic Harassment and Possession in the Bible and in the Life of the Church,” Appendix 1 in Donkor, The Church, Culture and Spirits, 193–225.
  7. See “Growing in Christ,” Seventh-day Adventist Church, accessed Feb. 27, 2020, adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental-beliefs/salvation/growing-in-christ/; Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), 560.
  8. Ángel Manuel Rodriguez, “Is There a Ministry of Exorcism in the Bible?” Biblical Research Institute, June 2008, adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/theology-salvation/there-ministry-exorcism-bible.
  9. Rodriguez, “Is There a Ministry of Exorcism in the Bible?”
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Kwabena Donkor, PhD, is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

April 2020

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