Demons and Sickness

Yet in the New Testament we read of demons being cast out—in fact, the New Testament is written as if the common idea of demons is correct. I suggest that the answer to this paradox lies in an understanding of the way in which God uses language in the Bible. George Lamsa comments: “Cast out” is an Aramaic phrase which means to restore to sanity”1. The evidence given above is proof enough that demons do not exist. If the New Testament speaks as if they do exist, and the Bible does not contradict itself, it follows that surely the answer is to be found in an analysis of the way in which God uses language. If we are clearly told that God brings our problems and that He is the source of all power, then the Bible cannot also tell us that demons—little gods in opposition to the one God—bring these things upon us. It seems significant that the word “demons” only occurs four times in the Old Testament and always describes idol worship, but it occurs many times in the Gospel records. We suggest this is because, at the time the Gospels were written, it was the language of the day to say that any disease that could not be understood was the fault of demons. “So far as the [1st century] populace was concerned, any disease involving mental disturbance, delirium or spasms was attributed to demons, believed to swarm in the air”2. If demons really do exist and are responsible for our illnesses and problems, then we would read more about them in the Old Testament. But we do not read about them at all in this context there.

I observe a lot of confusion in the position of those who believe in demons as literally existing. They tend to see demons in a moral frame, speaking of how demons make people sin and proffer temptation. But the context surrounding the use of “demon” language in the Gospels is distinctly medical rather than moral. Symptoms of epilepsy or schizophrenia are described as demon possession. The demons supposedly make people dumb, cause seizures, make people run around naked, scream, cut themselves etc. There’s nothing morally wrong with any of these behaviours; they’re not part of any great struggle between good and evil. Rather are they expressions of medical conditions. 

To say that demons were cast out of someone is to say that they were cured of a mental illness, or an illness which was not understood at the time. People living in the first century tended to blame everything which they couldn’t understand on these imaginary beings called ‘demons’. Mental illness being hard to understand with their level of medical knowledge, the people spoke of those afflicted as ‘demon possessed’. In Old Testament times, an evil or unclean spirit referred to a troubled mental state (Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:14; 18:10); and in every Old Testament reference to evil spirits, they were sent by God, not an orthodox ‘Devil’. In New Testament times, the language of evil spirit/demon possession had come to refer to those suffering mental illness. The association between demons and sickness is shown by the following: “They brought unto him (Jesus) many that were possessed with demons: and He cast out the spirits with a word that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17). So human infirmities and sicknesses are described as being possessed by “demons” and “evil spirits”.

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Author: Duncan Heaster

Keywords: Sacred disease, Epilepsy, Epileptic, Demonology, Demons, Demon, demon cast out, Devils, Devil possession, Demoniac, Demon posession, Possessed of a demon, Possessed by a devil, Devil possessed, Demon possessed, Sicknesses, Illnesses, Illness, Sickness, Lunacy, Lunatic, Mental illness, Mental afflictions, Afflictions, Evil spirits, Devil spirits, Wicked spirits, Medicine, Accomodation, Demon accomodation, Ancient sickness, Ancient illness, Ancient sicknesses, Ancient illnesses, Exorcism, Moonstruck, Moon struck, Casting out demons, Casting out devils, Exorcize, Exorcise, Exorcize demons, Exorcise demons, Mental illnesses, Mental sickness, Mentally ill, Mentally sick

Bible reference(s): Matthew 4:24, Matthew 7:22, Matthew 8:16, Matthew 8:28, Matthew 8:31, Matthew 8:33, Matthew 9:32-34, Matthew 10:8, Matthew 11:18, Matthew 12:22, Matthew 12:24, Matthew 12:27-28, Matthew 15:22, Matthew 17:18, Mark 1:32, Mark 1:34, Mark 1:39, Mark 3:15, Mark 3:22, Mark 5:9, Mark 5:15-16, Mark 5:18, Mark 6:13, Mark 7:26, Mark 7:29-30, Mark 9:17, Mark 9:38, Mark 16:9, Mark 16:17, Luke 4:33-35, Luke 4:41, Luke 7:33, Luke 8:2, Luke 8:27-30, Luke 8:33, Luke 8:35-38, Luke 9:1, Luke 9:42, Luke 9:49, Luke 10:17, Luke 11:14-15, Luke 11:18-20, Luke 13:11, Luke 13:32, John 7:20, John 8:48-49, John 8:52, John 10:20-21, James 2:19

Source: “The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration.”

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