World beliefs and Biblical concepts
Topics covered in this essay:
Many religions in different parts of the world teach the existence of demons. Some examples
||In Central America, the Mayans exorcised indwelling demons through use of some rather
gruesome mortification rituals - e.g. piercing the tongue of a possessed person with a
||In North America, the Sioux believed in Iya, a spirit being who sometimes took the form
of a hurricane and who "devours or maims people and animals."
||In Australia, Aboriginals believe in evil demons who eat human beings; one even eats his
||In Japan, the Shinto religion teaches that there are many good and bad Kami (local
These are minor land-based and not celestial deities. The evil ones bear some resemblance
to demons as seen in Judeo-Christianity, but play a minor role in the world.
||In India, the Tamils believe in the Peys, "hirsute demons who suck the blood of
the dead at night."
||In Europe, the Serbs feared Psezpolnica, the "Woman of Midday." She
materialized during harvest and either drove humans mad or chopped off their heads, arms
But it is in 1st century Palestine that the Jews and early Christian
movements fully developed the concept of an all-evil spiritual entity, surrounded by
hordes of demons at his beck and call.
As recorded in the King James Version of the Christian Scriptures, demons:
||Act as Gods and Goddesses of non-Christian religions. This has
led to some very conservative Christians considering religions from
Asatru to Zoroastrianism as forms of Satan worship.
||1 Corinthians 10:20-21: "...the things which the Gentiles
sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have
fellowship with devils." (devils are normally translated as demons
in other Bible versions)
||Can reside inside a person, can generate mental illness and influence the individual's
behavior. Jesus is described as expelling demons many times during his ministry (e.g. Matthew
15:22 and 15:28; Luke 4:33-35; listed below). Jesus empowered his
disciples to also expel demons (Matthew 10:1; listed below).|
||Are also capable of dwelling within animals:
||Mark 5:7-13: "Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a
great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the
swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean
spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep
place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea."
||Recognize the existence of God, and fear him.
||James 2:19: "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest
well: the devils also believe, and tremble."
||Recognized that Jesus is the "Holy One of God," and "Son of
||Luke 4:41: "and devils also came out of many, crying out, and
saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak:
for they knew that he was Christ."
||Mark 1:24: "...what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of
Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God."
||Will influence some Christians to abandon their faith and teach lies:
||1 Timothy 4:1: "...in the latter times some shall depart from
the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils"
||Are in a state of war with Christian believers:
||Ephesians 6:12: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,
[human beings] but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the
darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
||Will persuade people to sin:
||Acts 5:3: "But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled
thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost..."
The title "Satan" comes from a Hebrew verb "satan"
(root word "s'tn") which means "to oppose." The term
was used to refer to any person who acted as an enemy or an accuser. English versions of
the Bible often translate satan as adversary, opponent, etc. Satan is
also used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to a celestial being: either as a type of a
district attorney in a heavenly court, or as a messenger/trouble shooter of God. Satan is
not described here as an all-evil supernatural being who opposes God and roams the earth with
hordes of demons, seeking to destroy humans. He is rather depicted as a servant of God.
When major destruction of life is to be accomplished, as in great plagues, the Noachian
flood, the destruction of cities or genocides, the Bible often describes God himself as the perpetrator.
The King James Version of the Bible often used the term "devils" in
the Hebrew Scriptures, which some readers assume are Satan's demons. Other translations
use "heathen gods," "idols," etc. In reality, they
simply refer to the Gods worshipped by Pagan tribes (or the
idols that represented those Gods). Indwelling, evil spirits also appear in the Hebrew
Scriptures. But they were not dispatched by Satan; they were sent
by God to torment people:
Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures differ"
||According to religious liberals, during the last three centuries before Christ's birth, when the books of
Daniel and Esther were written, the Jewish portrayal of Satan
underwent a major change. Dualistic concepts had been borrowed from the
Zoroastrian religion of Persia while the
Hebrews were held captive in Babylon. God became viewed as wholly good; Satan as profoundly evil
History was seen as a battle between these two great forces. No longer was Satan simply God's
prosecuting attorney, helper, or lackey. Satan, and his demons, were now humanity's and
God's greatest enemies. Other concepts imported from Zoroastrianism include the immortality of the soul,
angels, and bodily resurrection. Of the 3 largest divisions of Judaism (Essenes, Pharisees, Saducees) in 1st century
BCE Palestine, the Essenes' belief seems to have focused
more than any other Jewish group
||Religious conservatives interpret the Hebrew Scriptures differently. They
view all biblical references to Satan and his demons as consistent throughout
the Bible and into the present time. Satan and his demons circulate through the
world looking for people that they may destroy.
The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek was widely used in the
early Christian church. They translated the Hebrew word "satan" into
the Greek word "diaboloc," from which we derive our English term "devil," "diabolic,"
||Most religious liberals believe that, by the 1st century CE, the concept of an all-evil Satanic
supernatural being and his army of demons had been well developed within Judaism. Satan was
visualized as a spiritual being who had much more restricted powers than God. For example, he could only
be in one place at one time. Thus, in order for him to be an effective worker of worldwide
evil, he needed countless helpers. Satan and his demons (also known as evil spirits,
devils, unclean spirits) are portrayed as forming a secret, invisible army of subversion
and possession, totally dedicated to the torment and destruction of humans.
The authors of the Christian scriptures and the other inhabitants of 1st century
lived in a pre-scientific age. What we now call physics, astronomy, psychology and other
sciences were essentially undeveloped. Lacking a scientific understanding of natural
happenings, they looked for supernatural causes. They mistakenly believed that an person could
be possessed by one or more demons, and exhibit strange behavior. They
attributed demonic possession and
demonic activity as the cause of various forms of mental illness and disorders, bad weather,
lightning, thunder, unfortunate accidents, dreams of nocturnal seduction, etc.
Reflecting these early 1st century beliefs, one of the main thrusts of Jesus' ministry is
described in the gospels as the healing of mental and physical problems. The Gospels, the
book of Acts, Revelation. and writings of Paul contain many references to:
Again, most fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians, as well as
Roman Catholics, accept the
pre-scientific views of 1st century Palestine on demons and Satan
as accurate. 2,3,4,5,6,7
G. Messandé, "The History of the Devil", Newell, London, England,
C. Fred Dickason, "Demon Possession and the Christian," at:
"Demonic Possession," at:
David Dunlap, "...about Demon Possession and Believers," at:
"Demonic Possession," at:
J.F. Cogan, "Demon Possession Handbook for Human Service Workers,"
Timothy S. Morton, "Christians and Demon Possession: Can a Christian be
Demon Possessed?," at:
© 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1999-JAN-27.
Last update: 2008-APR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson