Questions, comments and answers should be submitted to:
Dr. J. T. Naismith, 1121 Hilltop St., Peterborough, Ont., K9J 5S6
Can a true believer in Christ be possessed by a demon?
We are indebted to Mr. David Boyd. Long, of Toronto, formerly of Angola, for the following answer to the above question:
Before entering on the subject of whether or not a Christian can be possessed by a demon, it should be clearly established from Scripture that there are demon powers, and that they do invade the world of men. That they do so, the Gospels make clear. In Luke 7:21 and Matthew 10:1, they are called “evil” and “unclean” spirits. Some are also referred to as “dumb” spirits, and some as “deaf and dumb”. (Mark 9:20, 25).
In Acts, only four cases are directly referred to. Of these, two are called “unclean” (5:16 and 8:7), one “evil” (19:13-16), and one a “spirit of divination” (16:16). This latter was “a spirit of python”, originally the serpent or dragon of Greek mythology and connected with idolatry. Later the name was transferred to diviners and soothsayers. (See W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary - “Divination”).
So the reality of demons or evil spirits is established in the Gospels and the Acts. They appear to be the angels who fell with Satan in his original sin, since he is their “prince”. (Matthew 9:34; 12:24-27; etc.). They are always recognized as quite distinct from physical illnesses, though sometimes causing them (Mark 3:15, etc.). They are evil in their character, origin and designs; and unclean in their influence. In the Gospels and the Acts, there is not a single instance of demon possession of a follower of the Lord. Indeed, those delivered from such affliction are often presented as His liberated disciples: Mary of Magdala, the demoniac of Gadara, etc.
In the Epistles, there are only three direct references to demons by that name:
James 2:19, where they are said to believe and tremble.
1 Corinthians 10:20, where Gentile idolatry is said to be actually worship of demons—from which Christians are commanded to separate themselves in the strictest way.
1 Timothy 4:1, where, in “latter times”, men will give attention to, or follow, “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons”. From this last passage, we learn four things: 1. The ultimate source of false and destructive teaching is Satanic and demonic. 2. Such teaching is seductive, deceptive and alluring, rather than shocking or at first sight repelling. 3. It is a special characteristic of “latter days”. 4. It is not merely individual fancies or aberrations, but a formulated and systematized body of teaching.
It goes without saying that such teaching is a real danger, both to Christians (Ephesians 6:12-16) and also to those disobedient to the Gospel (Ephesians 2:2).
One other slightly different reference to those spirits appears in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, where the apostle suggests that deceptive teaching that could lead them into error could come to the Thessalonians from a spirit. We may assume that some kind of message purporting to be from the Holy Spirit but actually from a totally different kind of spirit is in the mind of the apostle. This would fit in with John’s warning in his first epistle, chapter 4 verse 1, where he says his readers are “not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world”. If this was necessary in those days, how much more so now!
The only other mention of demons in the New Testament is in Revelation 9:20, where we are told they will be worshipped under the rule of the Beast, earth’s last great human dictator, immediately before the return of Christ as Judge, to set up His own kingdom. And again, in much the same strain, in Revelation 16:13-16, we are told that unclean spirits emanating from the Devil and his two representatives on earth, the Beast and the False Prophet, will delude men into the final battle of Armageddon.
In Revelation 9:1-11, it would seem that we have a reference to demons, although not specifically so stated. There, as a judgment from God, the bottomless pit is opened and tormenting powers come out in a horde of such numbers that they darken the whole earth like a pall of smoke. Numerous as locusts, horrible as scorpions, they have a leader over them who is “the angel of the bottomless pit, called in Hebrew Abadon, and in Greek Apollyon”—both of which names mean “Destroyer”. This woe is immediately followed by another, connected with a great swarm of warriors from the Orient, the traditional home of the occult, and it is at this point that the verses already referred to appear, in which are mentioned “demon worship, idolatry,… murders (ritual?), sorceries, and fornication” (also ritualistic, as in Satan churches today).
These are the only New Testament references to demons or evil spirits, at least directly or by these names, and it is abundantly clear that in not one of them is there a hint that a believer is or can be “demon-possessed”.
It is true, of course, that many now try to evade the issue by using the word “oppressed” instead of “possessed”, and we have heard some affirm that “possessed” is not a Biblical word. These latter have obviously overlooked Acts ‘8:7 and 16:16, where the word “possessed” is used to translate “echo”, which in the King James Version is rendered 607 times “to have” as well as “to hold” and to “hold fast”. But even if the word “possessed” were not there, it seems futile to argue against the idea, when the cases are considered. A man so dominated and overpowered by a host of demons that no one could bind him even with chains, and who wandered naked, demented, and self-mutilated among the tombs; a youth who could be thrown into the fire in self-destructive frenzies with no human hope of breaking the power. If this is not “possession” then what is it? And the question basically is “Can a Christian be thus possessed, controlled, overpowered, or whatever equivalent word we wish to use, by an evil spirit?”
So we conclude, from a negative viewpoint, that, since there is no reference in the New Testament to a believer possessed or oppressed by demons, nor even to any possibility of this or warning against it, the burden of proof for the opposite rests squarely with those who insist that it can or may be true.
NOTE: In the next issue of “Focus” Mr. Long will continue his answer to this question from a positive viewpoint.