The New Testament Declares the Existence of Demons
One of the most perplexing features of Christadelphianism is the persistent tendency to want to expunge from the New Testament records the presence of demons. In view of the excellent treatment of Scripture we find in Christadelphian literature dealing with the Kingdom of God, the nature of man and the unity of God, this "demythologizing" is all the more remarkable.
Before beginning our discussion it will be helpful to insert a quotation from a 19th-century writer, Robert Hall, who observed that ideas which become part of a fixed system of theology are dislodged with the greatest difficulty. Christadelphians, along with the rest of us, must accept the need to verify all teachings against the scriptural standard, and realize that non-biblical tradition can be just as firmly settled in their denominational "family" as in any religious community. Robert Hall is right when he says:
"Whatever holds back a spirit of inquiry is favorable to error; whatever promotes it, to truth. But nothing, it will be acknowledged, has a greater tendency to obstruct the exercise of inquiry, than the spirit and feeling of party. Let a doctrine, however erroneous, become a party distinction, and it is at once entrenched in interests and attachments which make it extremely difficult for the most powerful artillery of reason to dislodge it. It becomes a point of honor in the leaders of such parties, which is from thence communicated to their followers, to defend and support their respective peculiarities to the last; and, as a consequence, to shut their ears against all the pleas and remonstrances by which they are assailed. Even the wisest and best men are seldom aware how much they are susceptible to this sort of influence" (Works, Vol. 1, p. 352).
Trying to Dispose of the Demons
It was Peter Watkins, a leading Christadelphian writer, who warned his brethren that in dealing with the demon question, "we must state categorically that it is not sufficient to say that the New Testament writers were using language that would have reflected current superstitions" (The Devil, the Great Deceiver, p. 65). Yet most Christadelphians do use that very argument. How else can they dispose of the demons which the New Testament describes as personal articulate entities quite distinct from the victims they influence? Peter Watkins is quite right to add that "it was not the limitations of language that compelled gospel writers to make such elaborate use of demon terminology, it was the spirit of God" (Ibid., p. 65). We can only encourage Christadelphians to take note of Peter Watkins' wise words.
It cannot, however, be right that Peter Watkins should be taken seriously when he states dogmatically that "the subject of demons must be thought of as one elaborate sustained parable" (Ibid., p. 64). We might just as well argue that all the miracles of healing were parables. The exorcisms and the healings are equally presented by the New Testament writers as facts of history.
Christadelphians should recognize that if the gospel writers did not believe that demons exist, the very last thing we would expect them to do is to use the term "demon" with such frequency! There are perfectly good Greek words for disease and madness (which appear in the New Testament). Yet the term "demon" appears throughout the story of Jesus' ministry and quite naturally in Paul's and James' and John's writings. It would be surprising to find the word "angel" used consistently by an author who did not think such beings existed. There is therefore the strongest prima facie evidence that if Luke speaks of demons, he means demons.1
Difficulty Not Shared by Luke
Another distinguished Christadelphian writer, Thomas Williams, who deals with the Kingdom of God and the mortality of man in a most logical manner, finds himself in serious difficulty when trying to explain the demons, while not believing in their existence. The section in question is headed "A difficulty" (The World's Redemption, p. 370). How to avoid the demons proves to be a greater problem than Thomas Williams can cope with. He says: "The greatest difficulty in understanding some of the New Testament accounts of casting out demons is in the fact that the language sometimes seems to make them appear to speak independently of the person whom they are supposed to possess" (emphasis mine). This analysis tells its own clear story. Williams shies away from facing the facts which would, if believed, force him to change his thinking. "Seems to speak"? "Supposed to possess"? Luke does not share Thomas Williams' uncertainty:
"Now there was a man in the synagogue who was under the power of an unclean demon, and he screamed with a loud voice, 'Leave us alone! What do you want with us, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are God's Holy One.' But Jesus rebuked him saying, 'Be quiet! Come out of him!' So the demon threw him down in their midst and came out of him without doing him any harm" (Luke 4:33-35).
This account simply states that Jesus addressed the demon as a personality distinct from the man ("Come out of him!"). It is also quite dear that the demon speaks as one of a class ("What do you want of us?"). The evidence before us shows that Jesus understood the demon, not the man, to be the author of the outburst, "Leave us alone! What do you want with us, Jesus, you Nazarene? I know who you are. You are God's Holy One."
Luke Believed in Demons
The student of Scripture who "trembles at the Word of God" must decide between a theory which denies the existence of demons, and Luke's account which presents Jesus as responding to a personal articulate being, the demon, who is not the human sufferer, though the demon speaks through the victim. A refusal to face the evidence of Scripture can amount to nothing but unbelief. If demons exist, no explaining is necessary; the narrative is in harmony with the facts. Tragically, the Christadelphians have mounted a theory by which the facts of Scripture can be avoided. The Christadelphian theory, however, implies that the biblical narrative is not in harmony with the facts. It places their own authority above that of the Bible, a technique which they have rightly detected in so much "theology" which avoids the Kingdom of God or even the resurrection. Ultimately the Christadelphian theory commits them to the belief that a being uttering articulate sentences and displaying intelligence and emotion does not exist!
In Luke 4:40-41 Luke makes his usual careful distinction between healing and exorcism, and reports that "demons were coming out of many people, [the demons] crying out and [the demons] saying, 'You are the Son of God.' But he was rebuking them [the demons] and would not let them [the demons] speak, because they knew that he was the Christ" (Luke 4:41). Once again Luke records intelligent speech on the part of the demons, as distinct from their victims. This fact is even more strikingly conveyed by the Greek text, in which the participles "crying out" and "saying" are neuter to agree with the demons which are grammatically neuter. These participles cannot refer to the people, who are grammatically masculine. It is also the neuter demons whom Jesus reproves, not their masculine victims ("he would not let them speak").
The Bible Says Demons Exist
These important texts will put an end to Thomas Williams' ambivalence when he says that the language "sometimes seems to make the demons appear to speak independently of the person they are supposed to possess." One might as well say that if I tell my child, "Give him the book" I seem to be in the presence of more than one person! Or that I appear to be addressing one person in the company of another! Language has no means of demonstrating the independent personality of the demons other than that employed by Luke (and other New Testament writers). Luke simply states that a demon speaks and that Jesus answers him, not the man under the demon's control. These are the facts of the Scriptural record, and they demand our belief. Demons do exist. The Bible says they do!
Faced with this overwhelming evidence Thomas Williams is frank enough to concede: "Allowing that this difficulty forces the conclusion that the demons were entities and that they actually did speak…" (emphasis mine). It is a relief to find him admitting that the evidence "forces that conclusion." But he is unable to face his own findings; he quickly sidesteps the conclusion to which, he says, the evidence points. It is exasperating that he then completes his sentence: "The question will arise, Why is the same phenomenon not to be found in similar afflictions today?"
That, of course, is a quite separate issue, and the assumption underlying the question is open to argument. The point to be underlined, however, is that the "difficult" evidence in Williams' words "forces the conclusion that the demons were entities and that they actually did speak…" This is to admit that Jesus and Luke believed in the existence of demons as creatures having the power of speech as well as intelligence, emotion and will. May Christadelphians bow before the Scriptures and abandon a theory which opposes the veracity of the inspired record. The Scriptural record is to be accepted, not explained away.
Jesus Believed in Personal Demons
In conclusion we note that Robert Roberts, another Christadelphian writer, wrestled unsuccessfully with the theory imposed upon him by his denomination. The widespread theory of "accommodation" by which Christadelphians (and many others) "read out" the demons from the New Testament is found in the work of Robert Roberts, whose verbal gymnastics have trapped the unwary (this is not for a moment to underestimate his lucid explanations of other biblical topics): "The statement that the devils (demons) made request, or cried out this or that, must be interpreted in the light of a self-evident fact that it was the person possessed who spoke and not the abstract derangement" (Christendom Astray, p. 126).
But this is precisely what Luke does not say. In Luke's account the demons are there as intelligent beings with supernatural knowledge of the Messiah. Roberts may say they are "abstract derangements." Luke does not. The demons utter coherent sentences as reasoning creatures, distinct from their victims (see also Acts 16:18). Roberts dismisses Luke's evidence as "rough popular forms of speech," but how does he know this? He then finds what he believes to be the truth in his own rationalizing theory, having made up his mind a priori that demons do not exist. The Christadelphian must choose between Luke and Roberts.
The self-evident facts of the gospel records are that Jesus believed in personal demons. They addressed him and he addressed them. Though invisible, they exist as beings no less real than any other person to whom Jesus spoke.
1 The favorite argument about our use of the word "lunatic" without thinking of the moon is not valid. If we addressed the moon and told it to cease its evil influence, it would be clear that we were taking the term lunatic literally. The New Testament writers do take demon phenomena quite literally. Much more is involved than just the single term "demon."
Return to Articles
Return to Home Page