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dem’-mon, de-mo’-ni-ak, de-mon-ol’-o-ji (daimonion, earlier form daimon = pneuma akatharton, poneron, "demon," "unclean or evil spirit," incorrectly rendered "devil" in the King James Version):

I. Definition.

The word daimon or daimonion seems originally to have had two closely related meanings; a deity, and a spirit, superhuman but not supernatural. In the former sense the term occurs in the Septuagint translation of De 32:17; Ps 106:37; Ac 17:18. The second of these meanings, which involves a general reference to vaguely conceived personal beings akin to men and yet belonging to the unseen realm, leads to the application of the term to the peculiar and restricted class of beings designated "demons" in the New Testament.

II. The Origin of Biblical Demonology.

An interesting scheme of development has been suggested (by Baudissin and others) in which Biblical demonism is brought through polytheism into connection with primitive animism.

1. The Evolutionary Theory:

A simple criticism of this theory, which is now the ascendant, will serve fittingly to introduce what should be said specifically concerning Biblical demonology.

(1) Animism, which is one branch of that general primitive view of things which is designated as spiritism, is theory that all Nature is alive (see Ladd, Phil. Rel., I, 89 f) and that all natural processes are due to the operation of living wills.

(2) Polytheism is supposed to be the outcome of animism. The vaguely conceived spirits of the earlier conception are advanced to the position of deities with names, fixed characters and specific functions, organized into a pantheon.

(3) Biblical demonology is supposed to be due to the solvent of monotheism upon contemporary polytheism. The Hebrews were brought into contact with surrounding nations, especially during the Persian, Babylonian and Greek periods, and monotheism made room for heathenism by reducing its deities to the dimension of demons. They are not denied all objective reality, but are denied the dignity and prerogatives of deity.

2. Objections to the Theory:

The objections to this ingenious theory are too many and too serious to be overcome.

(1) The genetic connection between animism and polytheism is not clear. In fact, the specific religious character of animism is altogether problematical. It belongs to the category of primitive philosophy rather than of religion. It is difficult to trace the process by which spirits unnamed and with characteristics of the vaguest become deities-- especially is it difficult to understand how certain spirits only are advanced to the standing of deities. More serious still, polytheism and animism have coexisted without close combination or real assimilation (see Sayce, Babylonia and Assyria, 232; Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 75 f) for a long course of history. It looks as if animism and polytheism had a different raison d’etre, origin and development. It is, at least, unsafe to construct a theory on the basis of so insecure a connection.

(3) This theory breaks down in another still more vital particular. The demonology of the Bible is not of kin either with primitive animism or popular Sere demonism. In what follows we shall address ourselves to New Testament demonology--that of the Old Testament being a negligible quantity.

III. New Testament Demonology.

The most marked and significant fact of New Testament demonology is that it provides no materials for a discussion of the nature and characteristics of demons. Whitehouse says (HDB, I, 593) that New Testament demonology "is in all its broad characteristics the demonology of the contemporary Judaism stripped of its cruder and exaggerated features." How much short of the whole truth this statement comes will appear later, but as it stands it defines the specific direction of inquiry into the New Testament treatment of demons; namely, to explain its freedom from the crude and exaggerated features of popular demonism. The presence among New Testament writers of an influence curbing curiosity and restraining the imagination is of all things the most important for us to discover and emphasize. In four of its most vital features the New Testament attitude on this subject differs from all popular conceptions:

(a) in the absence of all imaginative details concerning demons;

(b) in the emphasis placed upon the moral character of demons and their connection with the ethical disorders of the human race; (c) in the absence of confidence in magical methods of any kind in dealing with demons;

(d) in its intense restrictions of the sphere of demoniacal operations.

A brief treatment under each of these heads will serve to present an ordered statement of the most important facts.

(b) It is also clearly to be noted that while in its original application the term daimonion is morally indifferent, in New Testament usage the demon is invariably an ethically evil being. This differentiates the New Testament treatment from extra-canonical Jewish writings. In the New Testament demons belong to the kingdom of Satan whose power it is the mission of Christ to destroy. It deepens and intensifies its representations of the earnestness of human life and its moral issues by extending the sphere of moral struggle to the invisible world. It clearly teaches that the power of Christ extends to the world of evil spirits and that faith in Him is adequate protection against any evils to which men may be exposed. (For significance of this point see Plummer, Luke (ICC), 132-33.)

(c) The New Testament demonology differs from all others by its negation of the power of magic rites to deliver from the affliction. Magic which is clearly separable from religion at that specific point (see Gwatkin, Knowledge of God, I, 249) rests upon and is dependent upon spiritism. The ancient Babylonian incantation texts, forming a surprisingly large proportion of the extant documents, are addressed directly to the supposed activities and powers of demons. These beings, who are not trusted and prayed to in the sense in which deities are, command confidence and call forth prayer, are dealt with by magic rites and formulas (see Rogers, op. cit., 144). Even the Jewish non-canonical writings contain numerous forms of words and ceremonies for the expulsion of demons. In the New Testament there is no magic. The deliverance from a demon is a spiritual and ethical process (see Exorcism).


A summary of the entire material leads to the conclusion that, in the New Testament cases of demon-possession, we have a specific type of disturbance, physical or mental, distinguishable not so much by its symptoms which were often of the most general character, as by its accompaniments. The aura, so to say, which surrounded the patient, served to distinguish his symptoms and to point out the special cause to which his suffering was attributed. Another unique feature of New Testament demonology should be emphasized. While this group of disorders is attributed to demons, the victims are treated as sick folk and are healed. The whole atmosphere surrounding the narrative of these incidents is calm, lofty and pervaded with the spirit of Christ. When one remembers the manifold cruelties inspired by the unreasoning fear of demons, which make the annals of savage medicine a nightmare of unimaginable horrors, we cannot but feel the worldwide difference between the Biblical narratives and all others, both of ancient and modern times, with which we are acquainted. Every feature of the New Testament narratives points to the conclusion that in them we have trustworthy reports of actual cures. This is more important for New Testament faith than any other conclusion could possibly be.

It is also evident that Jesus treated these cases of invaded personality, of bondage of depression, of helpless fear, as due to a real superhuman cause, to meet and overcome which He addressed Himself. The most distinctive and important words we have upon this obscure and difficult subject, upon which we know far too little to speak with any assurance or authority, are these: "This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer" (Mr 9:29).


(1) The most accessible statement of Baudissin’s theory is in Whitehouse’s article "Demons," etc., in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes).

(2) For extra-canonical Jewish ideas use Lange, Apocrypha, 118, 134; Edersheim, LTJM, Appendices XIII, XVI.

(3) For spirit-lore in general see Ladd, Phil. Rel., index under the word, and standard books on Anthropology and Philosophy of Religion under Spiritism.

(4) For Babylonian demonology see summary in Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 144 ff.