An often discussed biblical subject is whether demons can possess people today and whether certain religious leaders can perform exorcisms. The Catholic priest, John J. Nicola, who was the adviser to the 1973 film “The Exorcist” gave what is perhaps the best definition of demon possession: “In the case of demonic possession the use of free will and intellect has been suspended. The person is no longer responsible for his or her actions.” What about demon possession and exorcisms today?
When someone does something horrible, like the recent shootings that have taken the lives of innocent people, are they possessed by demons? Is this a risk for you and I in today’s world? I have personally witnessed exorcisms and have talked to people who sincerely believed they had been demon possessed. This discussion is not about whether or not these things happened in the time of Christ and the apostles. Miracles and events the Bible describes cannot be repeated and tested. Demon possession and exorcisms are among them. The question is whether they occur today. What does the Bible actually say about this subject?
Demon possession was a New Testament phenomenon and is not present in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for demon is “shaidim” and is only used twice in the Old Testament – in Deuteronomy 32:17 and in Psalms 106:37. The context of both of these passages is about idols. In the New Testament the Greek word used is “deimonion” and is used several times to describe many symptoms – some violent and some passive such as in Acts 16:16-19. People sometimes notice these descriptions sound like things that happen today, such as epileptic seizures or mental illness.
At the beginning of the Church, the apostles needed to demonstrate that they had knowledge of and authority over all realms of human experience. That included the spiritual world. When people tried to provide fake exorcisms, the results were catastrophic. (See Acts 19:13-16). Once the Bible was available to answer spiritual questions, there was no need for exorcisms or miracles for that matter.
The prophecies of the Old Testament and the statements of the New Testament indicate that demon possession and exorcisms would end. (See Zechariah 13: 1-4, Colossians 2:15, and 1 John 3:8.) First Corinthians 13:8-10 indicates that when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. Second Timothy 3:15-17 says that the Word of God is perfect. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that we don’t have to wait until we are in heaven to have contact with God’s perfect will.
Demon possession and exorcisms have no place in the lives of people today. A careful study of the Bible and some common sense make that clear. You and I are not in danger of being taken over by a demon with the power to remove our ability to choose our actions. There are six reasons why that is true, and we will examine those reasons tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton