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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

Note on Demons.

While John does not give a single account of the casting out of devils, or demons more correctly, he refers in no less than four places to demoniac possession. In chapter 7:20, the multitude exclaim, |Thou hast a devil (demon): who goeth about to kill thee?| In 8:48, his enemies insult him by declaring: |Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil.| In 8:52, they exclaim: |Now we know thou hast a devil,| and in 10:20, they say, |He hath a devil and is mad.| In all these places the Greek term is demon (daimonion), not devil (diabolos). It is the same term that is constantly used by the other Evangelists when they speak of demoniac possession. The subject is one that requires, to a correct understanding, more than a brief note, and I will add the substance, condensed, of what has been said by Trench (Miracles), Alford and Smith (Dictionary of the Bible) upon the subject. There has been presented no less than three theories of demoniacal possession: 1. Strauss and his school hold that there was nothing of the kind and that all language that seems to imply it is to be spiritualized. The possession of devils is only a lively symbol of the prevalence and power of evil in the world, and the casting out of devils is a corresponding symbol of our Lord's conquest of evil by his spiritual power. This theory is a part of that mythical explanation of everything miraculous in the life of Christ of which Strauss is the expounder. It is a sufficient answer to say that it is utterly inconsistent with the plain, matter of fact narratives of the New Testament.2. The second theory holds that our Lord found a general belief in demoniacal agency, which attributed to demons various diseases, including some forms of lunacy, and epilepsy, that he did not combat this belief, but healed the diseases by miraculous power, and that there is really no such thing as demoniacal possession. The principal argument advanced is that we are not able to discover demoniac possession now, and hence, we ought to conclude there never was anything of the kind. To this view I will let Alford answer: (1) The Gospel narratives are distinctly pledged to the historic truth of these occurrences. Either they are true, or the Gospels are false. The accounts are too explicit, the details are given too fully, and the recognition of the demons by the Savior is too clear to admit of doubt. (2) Not only are the |demons,| |evil spirits,| |unclean spirits| recognized by the writers of the Gospels, but by the Savior himself. He speaks of them, to them, and commands them. His recognition is such that he has given testimony to their reality. If they are unreal he did that which is wholly at variance with the Christian idea of truthfulness. (3) The possession by demons was more than bodily disease. It is distinguished from sickness, lunacy and palsy by all being mentioned together (Matt.4:24). It is shown not to be epilepsy by the spirits recognizing Jesus as the Son of God, pleading with him not to torment them before their time, speaking of their number, and passing from men into a herd of swine. It is shown to be a demoniac power by emphasis of the need of great spiritual power to control it (Matt.9:29). (4) As to the statement that there is no such thing now that cannot be proved. One of the miraculous gifts was |discerning of spirits,| and it is possible if this gift was restored we would be able to explain many a mysterious case by reference to this cause. It is known that insanity often cannot be traced to any physical cause and there are cases that can be explained most easily by reference to such a possession. We often, too, meet with cases where there seems, as in the possessed of the New Testament, to be a kind of a double will power, a feeble struggling against some force that sustains the man and leads him to a life that his other nature abhors. Perhaps, too, there may sometimes be something in the claims of writing and trance mediums, who insist that they are controlled by spirits. There are millions who believe in spiritualism, and it may not be entirely delusion. If there is any basis for their belief the whole system is ancient demonology in our age. Still it is not strange if demons should have less power now than 1800 years ago. Then was the |hour and power of darkness.| The leaven of Christianity has been infusing itself through the world and has, no doubt, immensely limited the power of Satan.

3. What is this possession? The demons are described as |evil spirits,| |unclean spirits,| |the powers of the air,| etc. Satan, the same as Beelzebub, is spoken of as the |prince of demons.| He, a fallen angel, drew after him |angels that kept not their first estate| and is the spiritual chief of a realm of wicked spirits. These, doing his bidding, when they find a human heart prepared for their reception, enter in, take possession, sway the will and control the actions of the unfortunate being. The possession sometimes manifests itself in physical, and sometimes also in mental infirmities, nor can we reject the existence of demons unless we deny the existence of the world of spirits altogether.

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