Demon Possession : Are Believers at Risk?
by David Dunlap
The theme of the Bible from beginning to end
is the conflict between good and evil, between God and the devil. It begins
with the serpent in Eden in Genesis 3 and concludes with the devil being cast
into the lake of fire in Revelation 20. So it is not surprising that today
Christians are becoming more aware of their battle against demonic forces.
Many see that satanic worship is on the rise around us, increasing numbers of
teenagers are experimenting with witchcraft, and "new-age" bookstores are
becoming the resource center for those interested in the dark world of the
occult. The Christian church is also experiencing a growing interest in
combating demonic forces. Teaching on spiritual warfare is in great demand
today. A proliferation of books, with titles such as Bondage Breaker and
Victory Over the Darkness, spill over the shelves in Christian bookstores. The
doctrine that Christians can be inhabited by demons is popularly taught by
respected teachers across diverse theological lines, from the charismatic
movement to fundamental dispensational teachers. Non-charismatic Bible
teachers such as Neil Anderson, formerly of Talbot Theological Seminary, CA,
Timothy Warner of Trinity Evangelical Seminary, and C. Fred Dickason of Moody
Bible Institute have stepped forward to lead this area with popular books,
magazine articles and "Spiritual Warfare" seminars in local churches. The
question remains, can a Christian have a demon? This question is not merely
academic; the answer will determine our views on the sovereignty of God, the
authority of the Word of God, and whether personal experience will supersede
Demonic Experience as Evidence
For many who teach that Christians can be
possessed by a demon, the repeated experience of the demonic phenomenon is held
up as the most significant factor. Numerous cases are cited of people, who by
all appearances, seem to be genuinely manifesting characteristics of demon
possession. Merrill F. Unger writes,
"In Biblical Demonology I stated, 'to demon possession, only unbelievers are
exposed'. Later I wrote, 'Since the first publication of Biblical Demonology
in 1952, I have received many letters from missionaries from all over the world
who question the theory that true believers cannot be demon-possessed...The
claims of these missionaries appear to be valid.' "
However, personal experience must submit to the authority of the Holy
Scriptures. Where the Word of God clearly speaks, experience, irrespective of
its persuasiveness, must remain silent. Many of these occurrences may be
attributed to mental illness and also to the power of suggestion. In other
occurrences, it may be that the individuals in question were not truly
regenerate. How can one determine with 100% accuracy those who are genuine
believers (2 Tim 2:19)? We must conclude that to base biblical doctrine on
personal experience subjects a believer to spiritual harm. Counsel should be
given to others to proceed cautiously in basing their belief on the condition
of Christians who seem to be demon possessed, when the weight of biblical
doctrine leans against that view.
Re-Defining Demon Possession
How is demon possession of a Christian
defended in light of the teaching of Scripture? Within recent years it has
become popular for many to begin to translate "Daimonizomai" the Greek verb
meaning "to be possessed by a demon" with the phrase "to be demonized"
Opponents of this new term contend that this subtle change has crept in due
to the fact that the word "demonization" is unfamiliar to many Christians and
less emotionally charged than the older and more biblical term "demon
possession". Proponents argue that this is a proper translation because it is
based upon the verb's etymology. Etymology is the study of the root components
of a word. However, to base the doctrine of demon possession solely upon a
word's root meaning is to wrest the Scriptures of their true meaning. Many
Greek authorities warn against this danger. D. A. Carson, a professor at
Trinity Evangelical Seminary writes,
"One of the most enduring of errors is the etymology fallacy that supposes that
every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components.
All this is linguistic nonsense. ...Any specification of the meaning of a word
on the sole basis of etymology can never be more than an educated guess."
Nevertheless, it is obvious that this is a more attractive translation to
those who believe a demon can enter and inhabit the body of a believer. This
term avoids the controversy associated with demon-possession. This terminology
also blurs the biblical distinction between "demon-possession" and
"demonic-influence". There is a two-fold reason to understand and translate
"Daimonizomai", the Greek verb, as "to be possessed by a demon". Firstly, the
translation of "to be possessed by a demon" fits the context better in the
passages where this verb is found. In each of the 13 occurrences of this
participle, all in the gospels, it refers to the action of becoming possessed
with a demon; or, when it refers to the person rather than the condition of
being possessed, the person is called a "demoniac". Secondly, this word is
commonly translated in most lexicons and dictionaries as "to be possessed by a
demon". In one example, the Greek scholar W. E. Vine, translates this word as
"DAIMONIZOMAI signifies to be possessed of a demon, to act under the control of
a demon. Those who were thus afflicted expressed the mind and consciousness of
the demon or demons indwelling them."
The scriptures warn the believer about the danger of demonic activity. As
we shall see, demons can influence and attack Christians from without, but
they are not able enter, control and inhabit the believer from within.
Biblical Reasons Against Demon Possession of Believers
A comprehensive study of the Scriptures
should lead us to the belief that a true believer cannot be possessed by a
demon. The Word of God lays down certain truths and principles which support
this teaching. What are these biblical truths and principles? Firstly, the
Scriptures teach that a believer is kept by the power of God,
"The Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one"
(2 Thess. 3:3); also
"He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him"
(1 Jn. 5:18). One commentator writes,
"The word rendered haptomai 'toucheth', here signifies 'to lay hold of.' The
evil one assaults, but he cannot sever the vital connection between the
believer and Christ."
Although a believer is subject to the attacks of Satan, his status as a child
of God and a possession of God sets limits as to what the world of demonic
forces can do. Secondly, a believer is called the
"temple of the living God"
(2 Cor. 6:16). At conversion the Holy Spirit indwells a believer and makes
him a temple of the living God. In this temple, light has no agreement with
darkness, and there is no concord between Christ and Belial. The apostle John
"Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world"
(1 Jn. 4:4). How then would God, who is greater than Satan, allow a demon to
reside along with Him in this sanctified temple?
Theological Arguments Advanced
Although many proponents of "demonization",
on the one hand, reject the idea of "demon possession" of believers,
nevertheless they bring forth specious theological arguments in defense of
demons inhabiting and controlling believers. One argument says that demons can
reside within a believer's soul, but not within the spirit where the Holy
A close scrutiny of the Scriptures reveals that, while there is a fundamental
distinction between the soul and spirit, it is noteworthy that many times these
terms are used interchangeably (Matt. 20:28/27:50, John 12:27/13:21).
Therefore, the careful Bible student should not base his interpretation solely
upon this distinction. However, the heart of the issue does not concern itself
with the soul or the spirit, but rather, whether or not Satan and God can
coexist in the believer's body. Another argument that has been advanced states
that God allows demons to enter the bodies of believers as a form of
discipline. Proponents explain, in the case of continued sin in the life of a
believer, that God will use demons as agents of divine chastisement.
Matthew 18:34-35 is marshalled forth to buttress this theory. In this
parable of the unjust debtor, v. 34 states that because of unforgiveness,
"he was delivered to the tormentors".
it is asserted, are a picture of demons. Then v. 35 follows,
"So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye, from your
hearts, forgive not everyone his brother."
truly a picture of demons or simply a reference to keepers of the
prison(v.30)? Concerning the the identification of the
one commentator writes,
"The jailers, here called the 'tormentors', have instructions not merely to
keep him safe in prison but to make his life as miserable as possible, by the
place of imprisonment, instruments of pain, diet, sleep, etc."
By such an interpretation of Matthew 18:34-35, the proponents of demon
possession clearly appear to be stretching and twisting the Holy Scriptures to
fit their point of view. Moreover, the majority of biblical commentators
agree that there is nothing in this passage that even remotely suggests demonic
activity or demon possession.
The True Focus in Spiritual Warfare
Increasingly, Christians today seem to be
getting caught up in preoccupation with Satan and demonic forces.
Sensationalistic teachings are replacing sound biblical doctrine concerning the
Christian's spiritual battle. True spiritual warfare is primarily focused on
the world and the flesh, and not on a preoccupation with Satan. The spiritual
battle emphasizes the preaching of the cross, the believer's victory through
growth in sanctification, and the irresistible power of God in protecting
every child of God against Satan. The clarion call today should be to allow
the Scriptures to direct our battle plan. As spiritual soldiers we must be
submissive to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. We have seen that the Bible
teaches that a believer cannot be inhabited by a demon. Furthermore, we should
not trust in undiscerning teachings for deliverance, but rather we should rest
completely upon God's resources in our warfare against the world, the flesh,
and the devil.
(1). Merrill F. Unger,
Demons in the World Today,
(Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 117
(2). C. Fred Dickason,
Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective,
(Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1987), 38-39
Neil T. Anderson,
The Bondage Breaker,
(Eugene, OR:Harvest House, 1990), 174
Merrill F. Unger,
Demons in the World Today,
(Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 101
(3). D.A. Carson,
(Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Book House, 1989), 26,32
(4). W.E Vine,
Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
(Old Tappan:NJ Fleming H. Revell Company, 1981),. 291
(5). W.E. Vine,
The Epistles of John,
(Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan Publishing House, ND), 107-108
(6). Mark I. Bubeck,
(Chicago, IL:Moody Press, 1975), 88-89
(7). Timothy M. Warner,
(Wheaton, IL:Crossway Books, 1991), 104-105
C. Fred Dickason,
Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective,
(Chicago, IL:Moody Press, 1987), 140-142
(8). W. L. McLeod,
Demonism Among Evangelicals,
(Saskatoon, Sask.:Western Tract Mission, 1975), 106
(9). A. B. Bruce,
Expositor's Greek N. T. : Matthew,
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Co, 1967), 244
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which we fall about demons. One
is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an
excessive and unhealthy interest in them. The Devil is equally pleased by both
C. S. Lewis
"There are two ways which the ememy has power; first by temptation and secondly
by terror. However, it is the written word Christ ever uses and Satan is
powerless. Jesus does not reason with Satan--a single text silences Him when
used in the power of the Spirit."
J. N. Darby
"'...that wicked one touches him not' (1 John 5:18). Satan will viciously
assail the believer, but his slimy fingers will never regain an abiding grip on
the redeemed soul. "
D. E. Hiebert
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