What Are Demons?

October 15th, 2012

In the twenty-first century Western world, believing in demons or evil spirits seems almost quaint and superstitious. Malevolent supernatural beings are thought by some to only exist in legends, ancient religious texts, mythology, Hollywood horror flicks, and paranormal fiction. But plenty of people believe in these entities, and various religions acknowledge the existence of evil spirits. So what exactly are these beings we call demons?

One theory is that demons are the fallen angels that followed Satan (Lucifer) in his rebellion against God. This view seems to be the most popular in Christian circles, especially among evangelicals. Others believe that demons are the disembodied spirits of a pre-Adamic race of beings under some kind of judgment by God. Some entertain the idea that evil spirits are the spirits of the Nephilim, the offspring of angels and humans mentioned in Genesis 6. Finally, there’s the view that some of these evil beings are the spirits of unredeemed human dead which have reached a certain level of depravity. There are probably other theories, but these are the ones that seem to be the most popular.

I’m not sure it’s helpful to get too caught up in nomenclature, because it’s quite probable that there’s more than one type of evil spirit. The Bible sometimes uses other terms instead of demon, like unclean spirit, or evil spirit. In certain parts of the New Testament, for example, we read about principalities and powers, and in others we read about depraved entities that seem to crave a body to inhabit, to the point of being willing to possess an animal rather than remain disembodied. This leads me to believe that perhaps many of the ordinary demons encountered in exorcisms aren’t fallen angels at all, but some other category of evil spirit. I can’t figure out why an angel of any level, even in a fallen state, would want to inhabit a physical body that badly. But it’s quite conceivable that a disembodied evil being would want a body to occupy, especially if this enabled the spirit to commit sinful acts that would be impossible for a non-physical being. As Christians, we believe so much in transformation and redemption that it’s hard for us to really grasp the depraved nature of an evil spirit.

The evil spiritual forces that interact with humanity could actually include many different categories of malicious beings, including fallen angels, evil human spirits, and the other possibilities I mentioned earlier. Perhaps some of these spirits influence events more on a cosmic level (e.g. principalities and powers, high ranking fallen angels) while others cause problems at ground level (lower level angels and/or other classes of spirits that harass, oppress and “possess” individuals).

If we believe that evil spirits are real, that opens the door to a number of questions:

  • In what ways can unclean spirits influence people?
  • What makes a spirit evil?
  • What does it mean to be possessed by an evil spirit?
  • Can Christians be demon-possessed?
  • What is an exorcism?
  • What’s the difference between mental illness and demon possession?
  • What is spiritual warfare?

I’ll be addressing these questions and others in follow-up posts over the next several days. I’m no expert on the subject of evil, but I’ve occasionally encountered situations that have led me to research this topic quite thoroughly over the years. I believe the church desperately needs balance in this area. Some Christians think they see demons everywhere. Others don’t believe evil spirits exist at all. The reality is somewhere in the middle.

Supernatural October Series: For the rest of the month, I’ll be blogging about topics like ghosts, demons, exorcism, spiritual warfare, death, Hell, witchcraft, Satanism, the occult, psychics, vampires, and Halloween. If you have any ideas or experiences you’d like to share, send a message to feedback@ministrymatters.com.

Read additional posts from this series.

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