Demon possession is mentioned in the Bible. It is mentioned: 8 times in Matthew (4:23-25; 8:16; 8:28-34; 9:32-34; 12:22; 12:43-45; 15:21-28; 17:14-28); 8 times in Mark (1:21-28; 1:32-34; 1:39; 3:10-12; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-29; 16:17-20); 9 times in Luke (4:31-36; 4:40-41; 6:17-19; 7:21; 8:26-39; 9:37-42; 11:14-15; 11:24-26; 13:10-17); 5 times in Acts (5:16; 8:4-8; 16:16-24; 19:11-12; 19:13-20). There are 12 general references to demon possession (Matthew 4:23-25; 8:16; Mark 1:32-34; 1:39; 3:10-12; 16:17-20; Luke 4:40-41; 6:17-19; 7:21; Acts 5:16; 8:4-8; 19:11-12). There are 9 specific cases of such recorded [1. Man in synagogue (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37); 2. Man to swine (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39); 3. Mute (Matthew 9:23-34); 4. Blind and mute (Matthew 12:22; Luke 11:14-15). 5. Daughter of Greek woman (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30); 6. Son with convulsive attacks (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42); 7. Woman with a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:10-17); 8. Girl with a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-24); 9. Man who attacked some would be exorcists (Acts 19:13-20)].
What Was Demon Possession?
Some have suggested that “demon possession” was simply a superstitious way to explain physical and mental illness, and strange behavior. It is true that “demon possession” is associated with physical illness (Matthew 9:32-34; 12:22; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 13:10-17), and not being in a right mind (Luke 8:26-29; 9:37-42). However, such is an inadequate explanation. Demons spoke (Mark 1:24; 5:7-8; Acts 16:16-18; 19:15). Demons knew Jesus and His servants (Mark 1:24; 5:7-8; Acts 16:16-18; 19:15). Demons believe in God and tremble before Him (James 2:19). Roy Lanier Sr. commented on Mark 5 saying, “I am not a physician, but I do not know of any human disease which could so quickly be contracted by hogs that would cause the hogs to jump into the sea… I am unaware that insanity can be transferred from a man to hogs” (Lanier, 20 Years of the Problem Page, Vol. 1, p. 124).
Some have suggested that demons are fallen angels. Fallen angels are mentioned in the Bible (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Moreover, demons are a part of’ the kingdom of Satan (Luke 11:14-23). Torment awaited demons (Matthew 8:29).
Some believe that demons are disembodied spirits of wicked men. Guy Woods said, “So strongly did Alexander Campbell believe this that in his lengthy and intricate discussion of the theme in his ‘Lectures and Addresses’ he wrote ‘we conclude that there is neither reason nor fact – there is no canon of criticism, no law of interpretation – there is nothing in antiquity, sacred or profane – that in our judgment weighs against the evidence already adduced in support of the position that the demons… were the ghosts of dead men, and as such have taken possession of men’s living bodies, and have moved, influenced and impelled them to certain courses of action.’ This was the view of the Jewish historians Josephus and Philo… Early Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, and many others may be cited to this same effect… and brother McGarvey, in his commentary on Matthew and Mark says that, ‘In the Jewish usage of the term it is applied exclusively to departed spirits of wicked men. This usage was adopted by Jesus and the Apostles, and consequently all that is said of demons in the New Testament agrees with it” (Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 1, pp. 232-233).
Many are unsure. Rex Turner Sr. remarked, “Man probably will never know in this life for certain just who demons are. The two greatest likelihoods are that they are either fallen angels, or the departed evil spirits of the present order of creation. Of these two the latter is the more likely…” (Turner, Systematic Theology, p. 100).
The Effects of Demon Possession
Demon possession sometimes brought much suffering. It could cause physical illness [1. Muteness (Matthew 9:32-34; 12:22-23; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 14:14-15); 2. Deafness (Mark 9:25-29); 3. Blindness (Matthew 12:22-23); 4. Convulsions (Mark 9:14-29)]. It could cause strange and self-destructive behavior (Mark 5:1-20; 9:14-29). The effects seem to have been, at least sometimes, intermittent (Mark 9:17-18).
Why Did God Allow Demon Possession?
Why did God allow demons to possess people? Dave Miller has suggested, “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” (Miller, Exorcism, Demons, Witchcraft, Astrology, Transcript for “The Truth in Love” Television Program). This does seem to be the answer (Luke 11:20). It is interesting that the Old Testament does not mention such [Note: When Saul had the Holy Spirit removed from him (1 Samuel 16:13-14 cf. 1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6-7; Psalm 51:11), a distressing spirit troubled him (1 Samuel 16:14). This distressing Spirit could be calmed with music (1 Samuel 16:15-23); at least sometimes (cf. 1 Samuel 18:10-12; 19:9-10). I do not think that this is demon possession but madness. If this is demon possession, it is the only example of such in the Old Testament.] Such seems to have begun near the time of Christ.
Does Demon Possession Still Occur?
Does demon possession still occur today? First, Zechariah 13:1-2 speaks of a time when Jehovah would “cause the prophets and unclean spirit to depart from the land.” Homer Hailey commented, “once the foundation was laid and the new revelation was complete, the need for prophets would cease… Likewise, unclean spirits, the antithesis of the prophets, would cease. In the conquest of Christ over Satan and his forces, unclean spirits have ceased to control men as they did in the time of the ministry of Christ and the apostles” (Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 392). Franklin Camp agreed writing, “In the passing away of the miraculous, there also would be the cessation of demon possession” (Camp, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, p. 312). Second, it should be remembered that it took miraculous power to cast out demons (Mark 6:14-15; 16:17-20).
Strange behavior, today, is sometimes attributed to “demon possession.” However, many times this behavior is not how the Bible describes demon possession. “Modern demoniacs frequently are described as uttering ‘fierce curses’ and ‘burst of blasphemy.’ In the New Testament record, demons are always very respectful of deity (Mark 1:24; 3:11). There is not a solitary case of a demon blaspheming either God or Christ in the biblical narrative” (Wayne Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 394). Some today claim that it takes many hours, days, or months to exorcise a demon. However, “The Lord could expel evil spirits with but a word, and the effect was immediate (Luke 4:36; Matthew 17:18)” (ibid). Yes, people can live under the control of Satanic influence today (cf. Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 2:13), but such is not the same as demon possession.