Exorcisms have exploded into some Christians circles recently. Often so-called “deliverance” meetings or “spiritual encounters” have more hype and hysteria surrounding them than the emotional frenzy seen in tween girls at a popular boy band concert.
Like a skilled conductor who brings the entire orchestra to the a peak of a crescendo so an expert exorcist can with ease bring his crowd of eager spectators to the edge of emotional sanity.
Sadly the cunning teaching and unscriptural practices of certain unscrupulous teachers have gulled their listeners into believing a lies through careful manipulation of Biblical texts, mixed with extraordinary stories of supernatural encounters. This mangled breed of theology and practice inflicts great damage in the life of the Church and individual believers.
Lest you think that I do not believe in Satan or in that his demons can “possess” a person let me simply state the following:
I believe demons and Satan exist and that they have a limited influence our world.
I have participated in exorcisms.
I have seen violent and clear demon possession.
That being said this article will not be based upon my experiences with the demonic world.
Because I have seen far too much teaching based upon man’s experience. Stories of demon possession are a dime a dozen. Most who call themselves “exorcist” also enjoy entertaining their audiences with stories of their past encounters with demons.
While they may have seen real demon possession the problem is that they then base their teaching and their practice upon their own subjective experiences. Rather than interpreting their experiences through the prism of God’s Word, they begin to look at God’s Word through the distortion of their own experiences.
My goal here is not to share with you my personal encounters with demons but rather to simply show you exactly what God’s Word says.
How the New Testament Talks about Demons and Exorcisms
Let’s first make sure we have a basic understanding of demon possession in the the New Testament.
The main word used to refer to the evil spirit beings is simply “Demon” (Greek= Diamonion), which is found 60 times. Other places use the phrase “unclean spirit” (24 times) and once “python spirit” (Acts 16:16).
Commonly when we talk about manifestations of demons in people we call it “demon possession,” however this terminology does not exist in the New Testament. There are two common ways that the authors of Scripture refer to situations where people exhibited some sort of demonic behavior. First, they are called “demonized” (Greek daimonizomai). Second, they are described as having or being with an unclean spirit or demon.
Twice people are referred to as lunatics or moonstruck. It is unclear whether this is a result of demonization in Mat 4:24 but in Mat 17:15 Jesus later casts a demon out of the boy who was moonstruck.
When exorcisms were performed it is often says they “came out” which leads us to the understanding that the demons were spatially in the person.
In the rest of this article I will use the Biblical term demonized or demonization instead of demon possession.
Signs of Demonization
- Blindness (Mat 12:22)
- Deafness (Mat 12:22)
- Dumbness (Mar 9:32)
- Convulsions (Mar 1:26)
- Unusual strength (Mar 5:3-4)
- Screaming, crying loudly (Mar 5:5)
- Self-harm (Mar 5:5)
How Jesus dealt with Demons
Jesus’ approach to demons was not always the same, it depended on the context. However as we look at how Jesus dealt with demons we can see a few common factors.
There are only 6 occasions in the Gospels that describe a specific instance where Jesus cast demons out of someone.
1. Man with an unclean spirit at the synagogue Mar 1:23-20, Luke 4:33-37
2. Man who was mute Mat 9:32-33, Luke 11:14
3. Man who was mute and blind Mat 12:22-23
4. Demoniac of Gadarene Mar 5:1-20, Mat 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39
5. Greek woman’s daughter Mark 7:25-30, Mat 15:21-28
6. Boy with deaf and dumb spirit Mar 9:17-29, Mat 17:14-21, Luke 9:37-43
There are other general references to Jesus casting out demons but because they don’t include details of the exorcisms they are not as useful for this study.
Here are a few common factors that we see in every case of exorcism that Jesus did.
1. Jesus never sought the demon possessed, they came to Him.
And evening having come on, they brought to Him many having been possessed by demons. And He cast out the spirits by a word, and He healed all those having illness,(Mat 8:16)
2. Jesus was not violently aggressive towards demonized individuals.
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that won’t let him talk or hear—I command you to come out of him and never enter him again!” (Mar 9:25)
3. Jesus never used “holy” objects to drive the demons out.
4. Jesus did not make a “show” out of the exorcisms.
5. Jesus didn’t speak much with the demons.
6. All exorcisms were immediate and complete.
Jesus’ didn’t spend a long time trying to cast out demons, he did it completely and immediately. When the disciples couldn’t exorcise a demon notice that Jesus didn’t tell them to use more holy water, try to break more of the generational curses, or yell a little louder in Jesus name. No, instead Jesus simply said,
“This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” (Mar 9:29)
There is no Biblical evidence that we are to engage in prolonged “spiritual” battle of this kind, yelling at demons and demanding this and that in the name of Christ. Further-more there is no Biblical precedent to spend hours investigating the past life of a demonized person and then individually casting out different demons and breaking past “generational curses.”
If a demonized person is not immediately healed we are called to simply fast and pray. Unfortunately, fasting and praying doesn’t usually attract such a crowd and it’s certainly not interesting to watch on YouTube and that’s probably way we don’t see many contemporary exorcists taking this Biblical approach.
7. All those from whom Jesus exorcised demons exhibited clear signs of demonization well before they met Jesus.
The secret to spiritual freedom
But the servant of the Lord must not strive, but to be gentle to all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose, if perhaps God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they awake out of the snare of the Devil, having been taken captive by him, so as to do the will of that one. (2Ti 2:24-26)
Below are a few resources I’ve found helpful on the topic of demon possession and demonic/spiritual authority.
Bob DeWaay of Critical Issues Commentary has a number of good teachings related to demon possession, check out his lecture below and also look on his website for more material.
Dr. Phil Fernandes speaks more specifically about some of the flawed exorcism methods used commonly by the Catholic Church. He also touches on a few of the things I mentioned in this article like “holy objects.”