Demons in General
1. General Information.
a. Basic Greek Terms and Their History.
(1) In the New Testament: The English word "demon" is anglicised form of the
Greek noun daimon and its variant, daimonion. It occurs uniformly in the American Standard Version of the New Testament, but is mistranslated "devil" in the King James Version. Daimon is the older of the two Greek forms, occurring only five times (Matthew 8:31; Mark 5:12; Luke 8:29; Revelation 16:14; 18:2) whereas the latter form occurs no less than 60 times. A cognate (related word) is the verb daimonizomai, to be possessed by a demon or demons, occurring 13 times. Another cognate is the adjective daimoniodes pertaining to or proceeding from demons, hence, "demoniacal" (American Standard Version, margin), or devilish, occurring one time, (James 3:15). That makes 79 times for the English word "demon" and its cognates.
In addition, the Greek word occurs a few times without being rendered "demon" in standard English translations. Once it is rendered "gods" (Acts 17:18). Twice it occurs in compound expressions. One is the adjective deisdiamonesterous, the comparative degree of deisdaimon, demon-fearing, in Acts 17:22, rendered "too superstitious" (King James Version), or "very religious" (American Standard Version). The other is the noun deisidaimonia, demon-worship, in Acts 25:19, rendered "superstition" (King James Version), or religion" (American Standard Version). That makes a total of no less than 82 actual occurrences in the Greek text, besides also being referred to as "unclean spirits" 10 times, and "evil spirits" six times, making a grand total of 98 occurrences and references combined.
(2) In the Old Testament (LXX): Only daimonion occurs, and only eight times – including Isaiah 65:3, where the expression "to demons" is employed but does not occur in our Masoretic or traditional Hebrew text, and not in standard English versions. The text of the latter, however, does speak of a rebellious people "burning incense upon the bricks," or "upon altars of brick," without spelling out to whom. The references may be to burning incense on the tiled or bricked roofs of their houses, as in Jeremiah 19:13; 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5 – and no doubt to forbidden objects of worship the same as in the latter passages ("Baal and other gods"), and expressed in Isaiah 65:3 of the LXX by dainoniois (dative plural of daimonion, demon) as an umbrella word.
The other seven times are translations of six different Hebrew terms by the Greek daimonion, as follows: (1) in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37, from shed, meaning a spoiler or destroyer, rendered "devils" in the King James Version and "demons" in the American Standard Version; (2) in Psalm 91:6, from keteb, meaning "destruction," and so rendered in both the King James and American Standard Versions; (3) in Psalm 96:5, from Leila, a thing of nothing, an idol, and translated "idol" in both respective versions (cf. 1Corinthians 8:4); (4) in Isaiah 13:21, from sair, hairy one, kid, or goat, rendered "satyr" in the King James Version and "wild goat" in the American Standard Version, referring to a legendary goat-demon; (5) in Isaiah 34:14, from iyyim, inhabitants of islands or sea shores, and rendered "wild beast" of such in both respective versions; and (6) in Isaiah 65:11, from gad, a troop, or invading force, translated "troop" and "Fortune" respectively in the versions cited.
(3) Etymology and History: The etymology of daimon (and its cognates) is uncertain – debated among the Greeks themselves before the time of Christ. Some took it to be from a root dai, to distribute, divide, rend, or tear, hence a destructive one. Others believed it more likely to be from a similar root, meaning to know, hence a knowing one – which is more in harmony with its general history.
(a) It was first used to denote "gods" and more especially but not exclusively the "lesser deities" (ranking between the supreme deity or deities and man in the flesh), all of whom were supposed to be more knowledgeable than living humans. In Greek mythology, these might be either good or bad characters.
(b) Later, in Stoic philosophy particularly, daimon became a term for "the divinely related element in man," particularly the mind or knowing faculty. And by many even the stars were called daimones (demons, or gods), nominative plural of daimon, because a part of God’s cosmos or universe and conceived as being characterized by mind, and thought of as deities – a widespread concept in the pagan world that, on a less sophisticated level, includes animism – a belief that within every object, mineral, animal or vegetable, resides an individual spirit or force that governs its existence, and from which sprung all sorts of imaginations and myths and superstitions – including transmigration of souls and reincarnation.
NOTE: All our English names of the days of the week are from Latin or Teutonic equivalents for heavenly bodies worshipped by pagans as gods or goddesses, as follow: SUNDAY, sun’s day; MONDAY, Moon’s day; TUESDAY, Tiw’s (Mars’) day; WEDNESDAY, Woden’s (Mercury’s) day; THURSDAY, Thor’s (Jove’s = Jupiter’s) day; FRIDAY, Frigg’s (Venus’) day [she the wife of Woden (Mercury)]; SATURDAY, Saturn’s day.
(c) The term "demon" was likewise used of humans of high intelligence. Aristotle (of the 4th century B. C.), for his great learning, was called a demon. The same had been true of the celebrated Thucydides (of the 5th century B. C.).
(d) Later the term, from indicating a knowing one, came to be used also of a human spirit divested of its body by death, because supposedly initiated into secrets of another world. Plutarch (who died A. D. 120) is quoted as saying: "The spirits of mortals become demons when separated from earthly bodies." (See A. Campbell, Popular Lectures and Addresses, pp.380, 381, 386.) That had become a popular belief in the Hellenistic or Grecian world before New Testament times.
(4) Popular Notions and Fears: It was also a common notion in the Greek world (and pagan world in general) that demons often appear in all kinds of places, at all possible times, especially those of uncanny beast, and are manifested in the most diverse mischances. Happenings were often mysterious until recognized as the work of a demon. Some demons were believed to be benign, only wanting the sacrifices due them, others to be hostile and harmful – even violent, and had to be countered by the most drastic means. Demon possession, resulting in illnesses, had also become a part of popular belief. And so had the practice of endeavoring to expel or exorcise them by magical formulas. (Most of the above would come under the category of "Superstition," discussed later.)
"In sum, we may say that in popular Greek belief the daimon is a being, often [but not always or exclusively] thought of as the spirit of the dead, endowed with supernatural powers, capricious and incalculable, present in unusual places at particular times and at work in terrifying events in nature and human life, but placated, controlled or at least held off by magical means." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament , Vol. II, pp.6-8).
(5) Daimonion Versus Daimon: The alternate Greek form, daimonion, is alone used in the LXX in its rendering of certain Old Testament terms as already noted in (2) above; but the New Testament uses both it and daimon – the latter only five times, however, as mentioned at the offset, and the former 60 times – with no detectable difference in meaning or application. Daimonion was the later term, and originally the neuter of the adjective daimonios, but gradually became used as a noun – as a diminutive of daimon, some believe (lesser than chief deities), but others not.
Daimon continued to be used in its earlier broad sense, but daimonion came to be used predominantly though not exclusively in a more restricted sense of a hostile spirit, and especially in the spirit of a wicked dead. For example, Josephus (A. D. 37-95?), a Jewish historian who moved in the world of Hellenistic usage and conceptions, wrote of "demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them" (wars VI, 6:3). And the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states that Josephus, with only a single exception, is "strikingly consistent in calling evil spirits daimonia (nominative and accusative plural of daimonion), even though he uses daimon in the Hellenistic sense" (op. cit., p, 10) – that is, in a broader sense than wicked spirit, which, in popular usage, had come to be referred to predominately as daimonion.
The pagan world at large held views similar to popular Greek beliefs with reference to spirits. That concept embraced the forces which mediate between the higher gods and man, including the spirits of the dead, much as angels are represented in the Old Testament as doing between Jehovah and man. But the Old Testament writings forbade the people of God to adopt the beliefs and practices of the pagans, as later the New Testament did and does; and the LXX used the term daimonion as a contemptuous expression for heathen gods, and not daimon. But the New Testament in its few uses of daimon makes no distinction between it and its frequently employed daimonion, as already noted.
b. Additional Related Terminology. References are made in both Old and New Testaments to various pagan practices and beliefs in relation to demons that include not only worship but also many concomitants that involve additional terminology, with which we need to acquaint ourselves for adequate understanding. This can be demonstrated (but not exhaustively) by the following single Old Testament passage addressed to the nation of Israel (the forbidden items of which he have numbered), as follows:
"When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found with thee (1) any one that maketh his son or his daughter pass through the fire [an act of worship to certain pagan gods, hence demons], (2) one that useth divination, (3) one that practiceth augury, or (4) an enchanter, or (5) a sorcerer, or (6) a charmer, or (7) a consulter of a familiar spirit, or (8) a wizard, or (9) a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah: and because of these abominations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before thee. For these nations, that thou shalt dispossess, harken unto them that practice augury, and unto diviners; but as for thee, Jehovah thy God hath not suffered thee so to do." (Deuteronomy 18:9-14.)
Still more terminology gleaned from both the Old and New Testaments include the following: (10) soothsaying, (11) magic, (12) witchcraft (which embraces the concept of "wizard", listed above, as well as "witch", (13) astrology, (14) monthly prognosticators, (15) exorcism and (16) superstition; also (17) idol (and kindred terms); and (18) imposture (reason for which will be explained later).
There is considerable overlapping of meaning among the foregoing words, as indicated by the following array of Hebrew and Greek terms (consisting of three groups of cognates and one single term), translated either as "sorcerer," "sorceress, or (to use) "sorceress":
Kashshaph, a wizard, sorcerer (Jeremiah 27:9).
Kashaph, 3, to use witchcraft or sorcery (Exodus 7:11; Daniel 2:2; Malachi 3:5)
Kashaphim, Witchcraft, sorceries (Isaiah 47:9,22).
Anan, 3a, to observe the clouds (Isaiah 57:3).
Mageia, magic (Acts8:11).
Mageuo, to use magic (Acts 8:9).
Magos, a magician (Acts 13:6,8).
Pharmakeia, enchantment with drugs (Revelation 9:21. 18:23).
Pharmakeus, enchantment with drugs (Revelation 21:8).
Pharmakos, an enchanter with drugs (Revelation 22:18).
Though none of the other terms numbered above is translated from as great a variety of Hebrew and/or Greek words, we shall not attempt a similar analysis of them, but usually only one synthesis, without necessarily indicating all their occurrences. Moreover, we shall not follow the same numerical sequence, but shall, as far as possible, arrange them according to related and/or overlapping meanings – with the beginning term of each general category being typed in CAPITAL letters. Some will also be treated much more fully than others, according to seeming need: Numbers (1), (2), and (3) particularly.Go To Top Of The Page