Satan, Demonic, and Evil Spirits
Satan, the Hebrew word means oppose, obstruct, or accuse.
SATAN—adversary; accuser. When used as a proper name, the Hebrew word so rendered has the article “the adversary” (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7). In the New Testament it is used as interchangeable with Diabolos, or the devil, and is so used more than thirty times.
He is also called “the dragon,” “the old serpent” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30); “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2); “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4); “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). The distinct personality of Satan and his activity among men are thus obviously recognized. He tempted our Lord in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11). He is “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils” (12:24).
He is “the constant enemy of God, of Christ, of the divine kingdom, of the followers of Christ, and of all truth; full of falsehood and all malice, and exciting and seducing to evil in every possible way.” His power is very great in the world. He is a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Men are said to be “taken captive by him” (2 Tim. 2:26). Christians are warned against his “devices” (2 Cor. 2:11), and called on to “resist” him (James 4:7). Christ redeems his people from “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Satan has the “power of death,” not as lord, but simply as executioner. Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Demons in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the term demon is used to describe wicked demonic spirits. These entities defile and bring evil to human subjects. Their intent seems to be physical affliction more than moral persuasion.
Demons in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles
The primary context in which demons are found in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles is in relation to their negative and harmful effects on human beings. These include physical violence (e.g., Matt 8:28–33; Mark 5:2–5, Luke 4:34–36; Acts 8:7), muteness (Matt 9:32–33), blindness (Matt 12:22), torment (Matt 12:43–45; Luke 6:18; 11:24–26), and sickness (Acts 19:12).
In addition to these maladies, other conditions manifest themselves in those who are overtaken by demons or evil spirits. These include: self-destructive or isolating behaviors, insanity, sudden outbursts, convulsions, crying out, grinding teeth, foaming at the mouth, and becoming stiff (Matt 17:14–17; Mark 9:17–29; 5:1–20; Luke 9:39–43).
In the Gospels, the term “spirit” is often employed to designate demonic or unclean spirits (Mark 3:22, 30; 7:25–26). This is due in part to their habitation. Demons are associated with specific locations such as deserts, tombs, and desolate places (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27; 11:24). These places were thought to make a person ritually unclean.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke refer to the ruler of the demons as Beelzebul (e.g., Matt 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22) and Satan (e.g., Matt 12:26; Mark 3:26; Luke 13:11, 16). The book of Matthew mentions the future judgment of demons (e.g., Matt 25:41).
In the Gospels, Jesus frequently helps those possessed by demons. Most exorcisms conducted during Jesus’ day were done in conjunction with elaborate rituals such as incantations. The historian Josephus (ca. AD 37–101) tells of a Jewish exorcist by the name of Eleazer who cured many demon-possessed people by means of a root set in a ring. The root was held under the victim’s nose and the demon was drawn out (Josephus, Antiquities 8.46–49). In the book of Tobit, Tobias burns the heart and liver of a fish as part of an exorcism (Tob 6:5–6; 8:2–3).
In contrast to these elaborate remedies, Jesus cast out demons on His own authority—the Spirit of God working through Him (Matt 12:22–13; Mark 3:22–27; Luke 11:14–23). Others also perform exorcism in Jesus’ name: the twelve disciples (Mark 3:15), Philip (Acts 8:7), Paul (Acts 19:12), and one unnamed individual outside of Jesus’ circle of disciples (Mark 9:38).
The Gospels do not give any indication of how one becomes possessed by a demon. Some ancients believed that the mouth or nostrils could be a passageway for entering or leaving a person (e.g., Josephus, Antiquities 8.46–49).
Demons in the Rest of the New Testament
There are relatively few references to demons or evil spirits in the remainder of the New Testament. For Paul demons were a real, but defeated power—in the sense that Jesus’ resurrection overturned the power of evil, but not in the sense that they no longer exist. In one passage he warns the Corinthians to abstain from any idolatrous sacrifices, for they were comparable to the ones offered to demons by the Israelites in Deut 32:17 (1 Cor 10:20–21). Further, Paul believes that demons were actively involved in deceiving humanity, leading to corruption about the teachings of Scripture (1 Tim 4:1).
Revelation describes demonic, evil spirits appearing as frogs, which will come out to seduce the kings into battling on the great day of the Lord (Rev 16:13–14). It was believed there would be an increase in demonic activity in the last days (2 Bar 27:9).
Seal, D. (2016). Demon. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.