Existence of Demons: Real or Mythological?

  (1) Widespread Belief in Reality: Belief in demons and the possibility of demon possession is dependent first of all on belief in a spirit world – which likely goes back to the beginning of man, and was universal down to the time of Christ, except among the Sadducees. They were a sect of the Jews that denied the reality of angels, spirits, or resurrection (Acts 23:8), whose disbelief was refuted by Jesus.

  Belief in demons and demon possession continued to hold an important place in the life of Christian people until the end of the 18th century. Since then belief in spirits has somewhat diminished in civilized countries because of an increasing tendency toward extreme materialism, with a belief demons (ghost) becoming more generally regarded as superstitious. Even some who claim to believe the Bible, as well as skeptics, have considered that demons never really existed and that belief in them as well as in demoniacal possession was indeed superstitious. On the other hand, in recent times (beginning not later than the 1970s) there has been a resurgence of interest and claims with reference to various aspects of occultism, even in sophisticated circles.. And in a sort of sub-culture "Satanism" has reared its ugly head.

  (2) Mythological Theory: One theory among professed believers is that the whole scripture account of demons is mythological, and symbolic of the prevalence of evil in the world; also, that the accounts of casting out demons by our Lord and his apostles are symbolic of their conquest over evil by their doctrine and life. But the plain, simple, prosaic narration of events as if fact, makes their assertions not symbolic or figurative, but false, if not literally true. Christ did once speak what is confessedly a parable involving unclean spirits (Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:20-26). Yet it symbolized neither the prevalence of evil in the world nor his power over it, but expressly illustrated the worsening state of that evil generation.

  (3) Accomodational Theory: Another theory is that Christ and his evangelist spoke of demons and demoniacal possession only in accommodation to the general belief of the Jews, without any assertion as to its truth of falsity, with a view to being clearly understood, especially by the sufferers themselves, but that "demoniacs" were merely suffering under unusual diseases of body or mind (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Vol.1, p.585). But accommodative language is properly used only of things indifferent and when not conveying a false impression. And the scripture narratives do convey a false impression if demons are not reality – which can hardly be a matter of indifference, in belief in demons being the underlying source of much superstition and abhorrent conduct.

  Furthermore, though bodily or mental disease is represented as often accompanying demon possession or resulting from it, Jesus nevertheless distinguished between them: "In my name they shall cast out demons; … they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:17-18). "And he ordained twelve, that they should … have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). This is not in harmony with accommodative language.

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