Exorcism, Demons, Witchcraft, and Astrology
Many theories have been advanced to account for the origin of demons. Some say demons are the offspring of angels cohabiting with women (Genesis 6:1-4). But angels are sexless beings who apparently are incapable of such unions (Matthew 22:30). Instead, “sons of God” and “daughters of men” in Genesis chapter six is an idiomatic expression for the intermingling of good people with bad people—which inevitably results in moral corruption (1 Corinthians 15:33) [see Major, 1993].
Some say demons are the spirits of wicked dead men whom God permitted to leave the hadean realm to indwell some people in harmony with His divine purposes. Still others say demons are fallen angels who were allowed to escape their confinement (cf. Jude 6) to accomplish some divine purpose. The fact of the matter is, the Bible simply does not tell us where demons came from. No legitimate or useful purpose is served by dwelling on the matter.
On the other hand, the Bible does tell us many things about demons. For example, demons are spirits (Matthew 8:16; Luke 24:39). Demons are always depicted as unclean, evil, and malevolent. They are associated with Satan’s influence (Matthew 9:34; 12:24,43,45; Luke 11:15). Demons also are shown to be conscious, intelligent entities who possess true knowledge of God and Christ. In Mark 1:24, a demon spoke to Jesus, “I know who you are—the holy one of God.” Demons exercised volition and even locomotion (Matthew 12:44-45).
Demons frequently caused physical and/or mental illness. For instance, in Matthew 9:32, the victim of demon possession experienced “dumbness,” i.e., the inability to talk. Such illnesses were distinguishable from the demons themselves (Matthew 4:24). Some say demons have never actually existed, and that the Bible account of demons is simply the superstitious, pre-scientific explanation of epilepsy and other physical or emotional disorders. But in the New Testament, a clear distinction is drawn between demons and the illnesses that a demon might cause. Some demons had superhuman strength (Mark 5:4; Acts 19:16). No reason is given in the New Testament for why some individuals were singled out for demon possession. Included were men (Matthew 9:32), women (Luke 8:2), and even children (Mark 7:30).
What was the purpose of demons, and what was their relationship to God? It is clear from the Bible that God had ultimate control over them. For example, in Luke 10:17, the seventy returned from their preaching tour and said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us through your name.” A careful study of the New Testament will disclose the fact that demon possession was divinely permitted to show the supreme authority of Christ and His inspired representatives. During His earthly stay, Jesus demonstrated His power over: (1) nature and the created order (Mark 4:31); (2) disease (Mark 1:32-34); (3) physical substances (John 2:9); (4) death (John 11:44); and (5) the spirit realm and Satan (Mark 1:27). This supreme authority and manifestation of power set the stage for the establishment of His kingdom. In Luke 11:20, Jesus said: “But if I, with the finger of God, cast out demons, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” The reader is urged to study carefully John 12:31, Ephesians 2:2 and 4:8, Colossians 2:15, Acts 10:38, Luke 10:17-20, and Matthew 12:28-29. John explained that “he who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose, the son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). John’s statement correlates well with Hebrews 2:14, where the writer states: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
These passages show that when Christ effected His death, resurrection, and kingdom, Satan’s power was dealt a blow that resulted in a measure of limitation. He was restrained to the extent that direct, supernatural influence over a human being ended. Just as the ability to expel demons has ceased (Mark 16:17; 1 Corinthians 13:8-10), so the ability of demons to possess humans has ceased. When direct miraculous ability gradually ceased as the apostolic age drew to a close, so demonic activity also ceased.
That is the Bible picture. This picture is very different from the claims being made today regarding demon possession and Satanism. In the New Testament, Jesus expelled evil spirits publicly and in the presence of multitudes (Luke 4:36). But much of the work of exorcists today is hidden and only reported second hand. The alleged exorcisms by those who are daring enough to operate publicly are contrived and unconvincing.
In the New Testament, expulsion of demons was achieved by a word with immediate results. For example, “Jesus rebuked the demon; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour” (Matthew 17:18). Read also Acts 19:12. But exorcism today is a long, drawn-out process in which multiple attempts are made. In the New Testament, demon possession caused the malfunction of otherwise normal body traits. You simply do not find in the New Testament the theatrical manifestations alleged by those who affirm demon possession occurs today—fire from the mouth, bulging eyes, transparent teeth, green slime spewing forth, and electricity emitted from fingers.
Another significant difference between demon possession in the Bible and alleged demon possession today is that in the New Testament, demons were respectful of deity and acknowledged Jesus as the “holy one of God” (Mark 1:24; 3:11). Demons knew that Jesus ultimately would banish them to torment (Matthew 8:29). They did not blaspheme deity. But claims today include curses and blasphemy directed against God.
In view of these biblical facts, what must we conclude? Demons do not possess people today. The Old Testament predicted that demon possession would cease in the first century.
In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. And it shall come to pass in that day says the Lord of hosts that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land and they shall no more be remembered; and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land (Zechariah 13:1-2).
In addition, the Bible everywhere condemns those who practice spiritualism, sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, and all other forms of divination. Moses warned the Israelites as they were about to enter Canaan:
When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the lord; and because of these detestable things the lord your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, NASB).
To God, all of these magical arts were an abomination.
Isaiah declared that all of Babylon’s sorceries and spells would be unable to avert the punishment that God would inflict against her (Isaiah 47:8-15). This observation points to a significant conclusion. The Bible repeatedly portrays those who claim sorcerous powers as fakes and counterfeits (e.g., Genesis 41:8; Exodus 7:10-12; Daniel 2:2-11). Even the action of the so-called “witch of Endor,” who actually is identified in the text as a “medium” (NKJV) or having a “familiar spirit” (KJV) [1 Samuel 28:3ff.], must be deemed fraudulent for three reasons: (1) she was surprised that a spirit actually appeared (vs. 12); (2) she thought the spirit was elohim—the Hebrew word for God or gods (vs. 13); and (3) she did not recognize Samuel, but had to describe him to Saul who in turn recognized him (vs. 14). In the New Testament, the claims of both Simon in Acts 8 and Elymas in Acts 13 also were bogus. All these sorcerers and astrologers were fakes who had no real power—though they fooled a lot of people into thinking they did.
Astrology, witchcraft, sorcery, spiritualism, and yes, those who claim to be “psychic mediums,” are all condemned by God. Why? Because these practices implicitly present themselves as substitutes for God, the one and only true power of the Universe, and His Word, the one and only valid spiritual guide. No wonder witchcraft is listed as a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). No wonder the Bible declares in no uncertain terms that “sorcerers...shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). The only “crossing over” that is actually occurring is by those whose spirits exit their bodies (i.e., they die) and who then are transported to the hadean realm to await the Day of Judgment and eternity. Their abode is fixed and unchanging (Luke 16:26-31).
The Bible speaks decisively and definitively on the subject of demon possession, witchcraft, astrology, sorcery, divination, enchantment, and wizardry. With a united and concerted voice, God’s Word condemns it and pronounces it false. People could be possessed by demons for a brief period of time in the first century. But this phenomenon has ceased. Those who wish to be Christians—those who wish to be pleasing to God—will give no credence to such claims today. No doubt, many of us like to break open that fortune cookie at the oriental restaurant and read the note inside; we might even occasionally glance at our horoscope in the newspaper—but only as a source of amusement, because there is absolutely no validity to it. The moment a person puts trust in such, and thinks that the future is determined by such, he or she is trusting in something other than God, and is sinning.
The only reliable guide in life is the Bible. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). The Word of God is living and active, quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). By that Word we will be judged one day (John 12:48). May we set aside all other claims to guidance and rely solely and strictly upon the Bible, wonderful words of life—the all-sufficient and authoritative Word of God.
Major, Trevor (1993), “Genesis 6:1-4 and the ‘Sons of God,’” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/pdfs/reprints_pdf/sonsgod.pdf.