Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


Additional Links

(δαιμονιζόμενος, rendered "possessed with a devil;" also δαίμονα ἔχων ), a term (in the Gr.) frequently used in the New Test., and applied to persons suffering under the possession of a daemon or evil spirit, (See DAEMON), such possession generally showing itself visibly in bodily disease or mental derangement. The word δαίμονᾶν is used in a nearly equivalent sense in classical Greek (as in AEsch. Choeph. p. 566; Sept. c. Theb. p. 1001; Eurip. Phoen. p. 888, etc.), except that as the idea of spirits distinctly evil and rebellious, hardly existed, such possession was referred to the will of the gods or to the vague prevalence of an ῎Ατη, or fury. Neither word is employed in this sense by the Sept., but in our Lord's time (as is seen, for example, constantly in Josephus) the belief in the possession of men by daemons, who were either the souls of wicked men after death or evil angels, was thoroughly established among all the Jews, with the exception of the Sadducees alone. Daemonized persons, in the N.T., are those who were spoken of as having a daemon or daemons occupying them, suspending the faculties of their minds, and governing the members of their bodies, so that what was said and done by the daemoniacs was ascribed to the indwelling daemon. Plato (apud Clem. Alex. Strom. 1:405, Oxon.) affirms that "daemoniacs do not use their own dialect or tongue, but that of the daemons who have entered into them." Lucian says "the patient is silent; the daemon returns the answer to the question asked." Apollonius thus addresses a youth supposed to be possessed: "I am treated contumeliously by the daemon, and not by thee" (comp. Matthew 8:28; Matthew 8:31; Mark 5:2; Mark 9:12; Luke 8:27; Luke 8:32). With regard to the frequent mention of daemoniacs in Scripture, three main opinions have been started.

1. That of Strauss and the mythical school, which makes the whole account merely symbolic, without basis of fact. The possession of the devils is, according to this idea, only a lively symbol of the prevalence of evil in the world, the casting out of the devils by our Lord a corresponding symbol of his conquest over that evil power by his doctrine and his life. This notion stands or falls with the mythical theory as a whole: with regard to this special form of it, it is sufficient to remark the plain, simple, and prosaic relation of the facts as facts, which, whatever might be conceived as possible in highly poetic and avowedly figurative passages, would make their assertion here not a symbol or a figure, but a lie. It would be as reasonable to expect a myth or symbolic fable from Tacitus or Thucydides in their accounts of contemporary history.

2. The second theory is, that our Lord and the evangelists, in referring to daemoniacal possession, spoke only in accommodation to the general belief of the Jews, without any assertion as to its truth or its falsity. It is concluded that, since the symptoms of the affliction were frequently those of bodily disease (as dumbness, Matthew 9:32; blindness, Matthew 12:22; epilepsy, Mark 9:17-27), or those seen in cases of ordinary insanity (as in Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1-5); since, also, the phrase "to have a devil" is constantly used in connection with, and as apparently equivalent to, "to be mad" (see John 7:20; John 8:48'; 10:20, and perhaps Matthew 11:18 Luke 7:33); and since, lastly, cases of daemoniacal possession are not known to occur in our own days, therefore we must suppose that our Lord spoke, and the evangelists wrote, in accordance with the belief of the time, and with a view to be clearly understood, especially by the sufferers themselves, but that the daemoniacs were merely persons suffering under unusual diseases of body and mind.

With regard to this theory also, it must be remarked that it does not accord either with the general principles or with the particular language of Scripture. Accommodation is possible when, in things indifferent, language is used which, although scientifically or etymologically inaccurate, yet conveys a true impression, or when, in things not indifferent, a declaration of truth (1 Corinthians 3:1-2), or a moral law (Matthew 19:8), is given, true or right as far as it goes, but imperfect, because of the imperfect progress of its recipients. But certainly here the matter was not indifferent. The age was one of little faith and great superstition; its characteristic the acknowledgment of God as a distant lawgiver, not an inspirer of men's hearts. This superstition in things of far less moment was denounced by our Lord; can it be supposed that he would sanction, and the evangelists be permitted to record for ever, an idea in itself false, which has constantly been the very stronghold of superstition? Nor was the language used such as can be paralleled with mere conventional expression. There is no harm in our "speaking of certain forms of madness as lunacy, not thereby implying that we believe the moon to have or to have had any influence upon them; . . . but if we began to describe the cure of such as the moon's ceasing to afflict them, or if a physician were solemnly to address the moon, bidding it abstain from injuring his patient, there would be here a passing over to quite a different region, . . . there would be that gulf between our thoughts and words in which the essence of a lie consists. Now Christ does everywhere speak such language as this" (Trench, On Miracles, p. 153, where the whole question is most ably treated). Nor is there, in the whole of the N.T., the least indication that any "economy" of teaching was employed on account of the "hardness" of the Jews' "hearts." Possession and its cure are recorded plainly and simply; daemoniacs are frequently distinguished from those afflicted with bodily sickness (see Mark 1:32; Mark 16:17-18; Luke 6:17-18); even, it would seem, from the epileptic (σεληνιαζόμενοι, Matthew 4:24); the same outward signs are sometimes referred to possession, sometimes merely to disease (comp. Matthew 4:24, with Matthew 17:15; Matthew 12:22, with Mark 7:32, etc.); the daemons are represented as speaking in their own persons with superhuman knowledge, and acknowledging our Lord to be, not, as the Jews generally called him, son of David, but Son of God (Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Luke 4:41, etc.).

All these things speak of a personal power of evil, and, if in any case they refer to what we might call mere disease, they at any rate tell us of something in it more than a morbid state of bodily organs or self-caused derangement of mind. Nor does our Lord speak of daemons as personal spirits of evil to the multitude alone, but in his secret conversations with his disciples, declaring the means and conditions by which power over them could be exercised (Matthew 17:21). Twice also he distinctly connects daemoniacal possession with the power of the evil one; once in Luke 10:18, to the seventy disciples, where he speaks of his power and theirs over daemoniacs as a "fall of Satan," and again in Matthew 12:25-30, when he was accused of casting out daemons through Beelzebub, and, instead of giving any hint that the possessed were not really under any direct and personal power of evil, he uses an argument, as to the division of Satan against himself, which, if possession be unreal, becomes inconclusive and almost insincere. Lastly, the single fact recorded of the entrance of the daemons at Gadara (Mark 5:10-14) into the herd of swine, and the effect which that entrance caused, is sufficient to overthrow the notion that our Lord and the evangelists do not assert or imply any objective reality of possession. In the face of this mass of evidence, it seems difficult to conceive how the theory can be reconciled with anything like truth of Scripture. But, besides this, it must be added that, to say of a case that it is one of disease or insanity, gives no real explanation of it at all; it merely refers it to a class of cases which we know to exist, but gives no answer to the further question, how did the disease or insanity arise? Even in disease, whenever the mind acts upon the body (as e.g. in nervous disorders, epilepsy, etc.), the mere derangement of the physical organs is not the whole cause of the evil; there is a deeper one lying in the mind. Insanity may indeed arise, in some cases, from the physical injury or derangement of those bodily organs through which the mind exercises its powers, but far oftener it appears to be due to metaphysical causes, acting upon and disordering the mind itself. In all cases where the evil lies not in the body, but in the mind, to call it "only disease or insanity" is merely to state the fact of the disorder, and give up all explanation of its cause. It is an assumption, therefore, which requires proof, that, amid the many inexplicable phenomena of mental and physical disease in our own days, there are none in which one gifted with "discernment of spirits" might see signs of what the Scripture calls "possession."

The truth is, that here, as in many other instances, the Bible, without contradicting ordinary experience, yet advances to a region where human science cannot follow. As generally it connects the existence of mental and bodily suffering in the world with the introduction of moral corruption by the Fall, and refers the power of moral evil to a spiritual and personal source, so also it asserts the existence of inferior spirits of evil, and it refers certain cases of bodily and mental disease to the influence which they are permitted to exercise directly over the soul and indirectly over the body. Inexplicable to us this influence certainly is, as all action of spirit on spirit is found to be; but no one can pronounce a priori whether it be impossible or improbable, and no one has a right to eviscerate the strong expressions of Scripture in order to reduce its declarations to a level with our own ignorance. (See CONDESCENSION).

3. We are led, therefore, to the ordinary and literal: interpretation of these passages, that there are evil spirits, (See DAEMON), subjects of the Evil One, who, in the days of the Lord himself and his apostles especially, were permitted by God to exercise a direct influence over the souls and bodies of certain men. This influence is clearly distinguished from the ordinary power of corruption and temptation wielded by Satan through the permission of God. Its relation to it, indeed, appears to be exactly that of a miracle to God's ordinary Providence, or of special prophetic inspiration to the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. Both (that is) are actuated by the same general principles, and tend to the same general object; but the former is a special and direct manifestation of that which is worked out in the latter by a long course of indirect action. The distinguishing feature of possession is the complete or incomplete loss of the sufferer's reason or power of will; his actions, his words, and almost his thoughts are mastered by the evil spirit (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Acts 19:15), till his personality seems to be destroyed, or, if not destroyed, so overborne as to produce the consciousness of a twofold will within him, like that sometimes felt in a dream. In the ordinary temptations and assaults of Satan, the will itself yields consciously, and by yielding gradually assumes, without losing its apparent freedom of action, the characteristics of the Satanic nature. It is solicited, urged, and persuaded against the strivings of grace, but not overborne.

Such possession, however, is only the special and, as it were, miraculous form of the "law of sin in the members," the power of Satan over the heart itself, recognized by Paul as an indwelling and struggling power (Romans 7:21-24). Nor can it be doubted that it was rendered possible in the first instance by the consent of the sufferer to temptation and to sin. That it would be most probable in those who yielded to sensual temptations may easily be conjectured from general observation of the tyranny of a habit of sensual indulgence. The cases of the habitually lustful, the opium-eater, and the drunkard (especially when struggling in the last extremity of delirium tremens) bear, as has often been noticed, many marks very similar to those of the scriptural possession. There is in them physical disease, but there is often something more. It is also to be noticed that the state of possession, although so awful in its wretched sense of daemoniacal tyranny, yet, from the very fact of that consciousness, might be less hopeless and more capable of instant cure than the deliberate hardness of willful sin. The spirit might still retain marks of its original purity, although through the flesh and the demoniac power acting by the flesh it was enslaved. Here, also, the observation of the suddenness and completeness of conversion seen in cases of sensualism, compared with the greater difficulty in cases of more refined and spiritual sin, tends to confirm the record of Scripture.

It was but natural that the power of evil should show itself, in more open and direct hostility than ever, in the age of our Lord and his apostles, when its time was short. It was natural also that it should take the special form of possession in an age of such unprecedented and brutal sensuality as that which preceded his coming, and continued till the leaven of Christianity was felt. Nor was it less natural that it should have died away gradually before the great direct, and still greater indirect influence of Christ's kingdom. Accordingly we find early fathers (as Just. Mart. Dial. c. Tryph. p. 311 B.; Tertullian, Apol. 23, 37, 43) alluding to its existence as a common thing, mentioning the attempts of Jewish exorcism in the name of Jehovah as occasionally successful (see Matthew 12:27; Acts 19:13), but especially dwelling on the power of Christian exorcism to cast it out from the country as a test of the truth of the Gospel, and as one well-known benefit which it already conferred on the empire. By degrees the mention is less and less frequent, till the very idea is lost or perverted. (See EXORCIST).

Such is a brief sketch of the scriptural notices of possession. That round the Jewish notion of it there grew up, in that noted age of superstition, many foolish and evil practices, and much superstition as to fumigations, etc. (comp. Tobit 8:1-3; Joseph. Ant. 8:2, 5), of the "vagabond exorcists" (see Acts 19:13), is obvious and would be inevitable. It is clear that Scripture, does not in the least sanction or even condescend to notice such things; but it is certain that in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 19:31; 1 Samuel 28:7, etc.; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Kings 23:24, etc.), as well as in the New, it recognizes possession as a real and direct power of evil spirits upon the heart. (See POSSESSED) (with a devil).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Daemoniac'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: