Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
Family Life






Christianity and Paganism Satan, Daemons and the Under-world

There is no mention of demons in the Hebrew scriptures. The entity Satan, is mentioned in only 15 verses of the Hebrew scriptures, 8 of those verses are in the book of Job, one in Chronicles, two in Zecharia and (debatably) Psalms 109.6. While there is no mention of demons in the Hebrew scriptures, there is mention of evil spirits (in seven verses, six of which refer to Saul, four of which are in one verse:  1 Samuel 16). In every instance where either evil spirits or Satan is mentioned, they are under the direct control of God; they are agents of God. A good example of this is the evil spirit that visited Saul (Samuel 16.14-23). That evil spirit was, in fact, sent by God to torment Saul; it was not a case where Saul somehow contracted an evil spirit through his evil actions.

Demons are mentioned 33 times in the Christian scriptures. Satan is mentioned 39 times, the devil 33 times, evil spirits 17 times. If we total up the references to "evil" entities in the Hebrew scriptures and compare them with those of the Christian, we see a marked difference in theological focus. The Hebrew scriptures contain 22 references, while the Christian scriptures contain 122 - almost six times the number of references!

Furthermore, the way the Christian scriptures portray the evil entities is entirely foreign to the Hebrew scriptures. They are portrayed as entities acting on their own volition apart from God - like the demi-gods of pagan religions. They are, in fact, rather than servants of God, enemies of God - challengers of God. This difference marks a significant deviation from the Hebrew cosmology where God is in control of everything. In the Christian view things are so out of hand that God has a civil war on his hands!

As the following verse from Job illustrates, in the Hebrew conception, Satan cannot do anything without God's direct approval:

Job 1.9-11:

So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing?   "Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  "But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Note well that Satan doesn't say, "Let me stretch out my hand and touch all that he has and he will curse You to Your face!" but rather, "stretch out Your hand [God] and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face." Clearly, even in this instance where Satan is a player in the demise of Job, it is God's doing, not Satan's. Satan suggests the test; but it is God who approves the test, and God who commands that it be performed. This view is not consistent with the Christian scriptures, as the brief outline of their teachings on "evil" entities reveals:

The nature of possession and its manifestation in the Christian scriptures are clearly not based on the Hebrew scriptures. No where in the Hebrew scriptures does an evil spirit possess an individual; they are sent by God to torment evil doers. In contrast, numerous cases of demonic possession and exorcisms by Jesus and his disciples are reported in the Gospels and Acts (the Epistles and Revelation are silent on these topics). Here is what the Christian scriptures teach, all of what follows is foreign to the Hebrew scriptures - it finds many parallels, however, in pagan literature of the day:

Cause of possession: In the Bible, victims of possession are never held responsible for their situation. There are no references in the Christian Scriptures which imply that their possession was caused by some sin in their life. None of the victims were criticized for having allowed themselves to become possessed. Contrast this with 1 Samuel 16, which clearly contends that God sent the evil spirit to torment Saul because of his actions. This is also true for the only other reference to an evil spirit (Judges 9:23).

Animals can be possessed: Matthew 8:30, and parallel passages, describe that demons can possess pigs.

Multiple possession: Various passages refer to possession of a single individual by multiple demons. Luke 8:30 describes a man who was possessed by many demons; he used the term "legion" which was a unit of 6,000 soldiers.

Gifts of demons: Demons can grant special powers to people. In Acts 16:16 a woman was given the power to foretell the future by her indwelling evil spirit.

Illnesses and disorders generated by demons: Luke 9:39 apparently describes a case of epilepsy caused by a demon. Luke 11:14 documents a person who was unable to speak because of an indwelling demon. Luke 13:10-13 describes a woman who had been unable to straighten her back for almost 2 decades because of a evil spirit.

Demonic speech: Numerous passages in the Bible describe indwelling demons speaking to the exorcist, presumably by taking control of the individual's vocal chords.

Demons' strength: Mark 5:4 describes how an indwelling spirit causes its victim to have superhuman strength, so that fetters and chains could not hold him.

Demons vary in wickedness: Matthew 12:45 describes how a spirit left a person, but returned with seven others who were more wicked than the original spirit was.

Exorcisms were usually easy to perform: With one exception, Jesus or an apostle simply ordered the evil spirit to depart, and the demon immediately complied.

Some exorcisms require special preparation: Jesus' disciples were unable to rid a boy of an evil spirit that was apparently causing the child to be both mute and epileptic. Jesus cured the child and explained that the only way to rid a person of this type of demon was through prior prayer and fasting.

Using items of clothing: Acts 19:12 described how items of clothing or facecloths that had once been used by Paul had magical powers and were used to cure people suffering from diseases or evil spirits.

Only Christians can perform exorcisms: Acts 19:13 describes how 7 non-Christians attempted to exorcise demons in the name of Jesus and Paul. They failed. All were attacked and beaten by the demon-controlled man who ripped their clothes off.

Commanding in the name of Jesus: After Jesus' execution, exorcisms were done in the name of Jesus. Using the name of a god to work magic or miracles is a very old practice that traces it roots to ancient Egypt:

Acts 16:16 described a slave girl who was possessed. Paul exorcised a "spirit of divination" from her. He commanded the spirit to leave "in the name of Jesus."

Acts 19:13 described how some itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to exorcise a demon saying "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." They were unsuccessful, apparently because they were not Christian believers.

Danger in exorcism: In Acts 19:13, the demon-possessed man exhibited superhuman strength. He turned on 7 Jewish exorcists, beat them, and expelled them from the house with their clothes ripped off. The evil spirit had apparently recognized that the exorcists were not Christian; and refused to follow their commands.

The sick went to the exorcist: The sick were brought to the apostles; the apostles did not seek out the sick. With one exception, all were cured, whether they suffered from demon infestation or physical illness.

Return of demons: Matthew 12:43 describes a demon who left a man, presumably because of an exorcism. He returned later with seven other evil spirits to repossess the person. However, there is no mention of any of the exorcisms by Jesus or his followers having produced only temporary cures.

Exorcism is dependent upon the victim's faith: In Mark 9:18, Jesus explained to a man that all things are possible, including the exorcism of his son, to those who believe.