As we look at the current state of pneumatology, there is very little discussion on other aspects of the spiritual realm. In some pneumatologies, it seems that there is no other spiritual realty besides God and human spirits. The current neglect of demons in academic studies of Holy Spirit can leave us unprepared on how to use our relationship with Holy Spirit to engage with evil spirits. Investigating ancient demonology can provide us wisdom on how to fully engage with the spiritual world. I will begin with an in-depth investigation of early Christian demonology and then bring it into conversation with modern resistance to demonology. Then I will consider what this means for my role as a youth minister.
Before we dive into the paper, there is need for some brief comments. I want to be upfront that I will be assuming the traditional position that Satan, demons, and evil spirits all exist. There is not space in this paper to engage in the philosophical, theological and biblical argumentations for this position. Such a topic would require its own paper and we will not have space to discuss much of that here. Also, when not speaking about the technical development of demons and evil spirits, I do use them as interchangeable terms.
Jewish Development of Demons
Given that Christianity has its roots in Judaism, early Christians inherited some traditional Jewish thinking around demons. Modern theological circles may rely on this reality too much, as many New Testament scholars understand demons as primarily an historical development influenced by Judaism, Manichaeism, and Gnosticism. Yet, it is still the case that ideas of demons and evil spirits within Judaism itself, has a development that is historically and culturally situated. It is likely that after an extended period of time exiled in the diaspora, Jews began to think maybe God was not the only spiritual being with influence over the world. This spurred further investigation and the rise of evil spirits and demons.
Further focus on evil spirits and demons in relation to their current situation, eventually led some to think God does not presently rule earth, but that Satan has the mantle. Given that Jews were surrounded by Persian culture in exile, their formation of good and evil powers became similar to Zoroastrian dualistic concepts and ideas. This similarity is not identical though, as Jewish people did not understand Satan as a serious contender or threat to God himself. This understanding of Satan would influence the thinking of the Cappadocian fathers and Christians after them. Demons were not understood to be a rival creative power to God since they themselves were created and under God’s power, but they still exerted power on earth right now.
It’s quite common place today to view demons and fallen angels as equivalent, yet that wasn’t a standard way of thinking for Christians until the 2nd and 3rd century. As we track the history of thinking around evil spirits, demons, and fallen angels, we find that these terms have had a development of meaning. In 1 Enoch, we see that evil spirits were thought to come from dead Nephilim, who were the children of fallen angels and human women. These spirits then tried to convince humans to sacrifice to demons. In this story demons, evil spirits, and fallen angels are not equated. This leaves all three as different species of being. This is contrary to current equating of demons and fallen angels.
In fact, ancient Hebrew had five or six different words for spiritual beings. In the LXX translations, all these words ended up being translated into the Greek word daemon. This Greek word had multiple meanings and could refer to a god or divine power, ideas like destiny or fate, spirits or souls of the dead; all of which could be understood to be either harmful or helpful. In translating multiple words into one word, this led to a flattening of the spiritual imagination and reality found in the Old Testament, even though this one word did have a wide range of meanings. This flattening comes into sharp formation when we look at how the Hebrew word for angel was treated and translated.
In contrast to the other Hebrew words translated into daemon, the Hebrew word for angel or messenger “mal’akh”, was never translated into daemon but into “angelos”. This translation decision thus gave the ‘daemons’ a negative connotation. It did not contain any connotation of good since all beings sent by God, were now referred to by a separate term. Although daemon would have been the obvious choice of translation for the Hebrew word mal’akh, it is possible the translators wanted to avoid potential confusion. The motivation was to be clear as possible that angels were not beings to be worshipped but seen as messengers and servants of God.
By the act of translation, the Hebrew spiritual realm has been reduced down to primarily two classes of spiritual beings, angels and demons. However, these two terms still have some ambiguity. It is still undecided what are the ontological, metaphysical, and moral statuses of these beings. On the ontological front, we first find the ontological equivalence being voiced by Philo. He felt that these were just two different words referring to the same cosmic being. He thought it was superstition that influenced people to view them as different morally as well. With Josephus, we don’t find much push back on the ontological considerations of Philo, but do find him drawing a moral distinction between angels and demons. From this point we will begin looking specifically at Christian thoughts on demonology. This look at the Jewish development of demons gives a reference point from where Christian thinking on this topic began.
Early Christian Development of Demons
Christianity began claiming that demons are real and can exert influence in the world. There are many commentators and theologians who are resistant to state Jesus fully believed this, and attempt to relegate his exorcisms to merely ‘signs’ and ‘miracles’ that indicate the closeness of God’s kingdom and his power. This to me is an untenable position, and may be influenced from an ungenerous understanding of ancient demonology.
As moderners, we tend to think of ancient peoples as superstitious and uncritical. Yet, as we will see, ancient people were quite sophisticated thinkers and didn’t think in the binary constructs we have for the sacred and secular, but allowed for those two realms to have a more fluid and intimate relationship. They commonly thought of illness and mental illness as a combination of naturalistic and demonic forces. Thus, we can see that Jesus’ engagement with, and discussions of demons and evil spirits was also spiritual and physical.
The demonic oppressions and possessions he encountered always had a spiritual and physical component. As Jesus cast out the demon, there was both spiritual and physical, cleansing and healing. Given the multiple accounts of Jesus casting out demons in the gospels, it would be hard to not see that exorcism was central to Jesus’ ministry for the early church, and Jesus himself. These exorcisms’ eschatological implications indicated that Satan was being bound up and taken out of control over this earth. The exorcisms and symbolic defeat of Satan was not so much a sign of the presence of God’s kingdom, as it was more of a necessary preparation for the kingdom. Exorcizing demons not only brought freedom but also cleanliness, which is a symbolic restoration of Israel’s purity before entering in God’s holy kingdom.
Following Jesus’ resistance to evil spirits, the early church and church fathers continued doing battle against the powers of darkness. The resurrection and Jesus’ ministry of exorcism influenced many to see that through the Spirit, we can overcome the devil. Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist who influenced many Christian leaders after him, particularly in the realm of demonology. He really pushed the understanding that fallen angels were demonic and exercised demonic influence. This helped him explain the origin and practice of Greco-Roman polytheism saturated in idolatry. These pagan “gods” exemplified the passions and vices Christians claimed demons try to trick humans into living in. This would serve as the fingerprints of demons in Greco-Roman pagan religions for Justin.
Along with Justyn Martyr, the Cappadocian fathers equated demons with fallen angels. They were defined by deception and mimicry. Pretending to be what they are not, and pretending to provide the opposite of what they really give. The Cappadocians followed Justin’s lead in placing demons as a source of religious error. They were quite comfortable to equate demons with pagan gods, thus reemphasizing Justin’s demonization of pagan religions. This theological move to place demons as a source for theological and spiritual error developed the practice of demonization that current pneumatology is directly challenging and reframing.
With the Cappadocian fathers and some early desert monks, we start to get a more filled out demonology. With the ascetics, demons were cited as trying to entangle monks in pleasure, to seek human praise and deny isolationism. This was largely influenced by their ascetic goals. Being focused on reflection and contemplation, ascetic introspection led some monks to say that all motivation either comes from demons, oneself, or God, and to discern between the three could be difficult.
Demons work to make this process even more difficult and try to distract us for finding blame in ourselves for error, but push us to look at external forces as the causes of our failings. Likewise, the Cappadocians picked up on this tactic of evil spirits. They felt that demons may often times be the responsible source for our passions, yet it is still our responsibility not to give in to them. This integrates well with ascetic understanding of maturing in your faith. The more you mature, the more demons will attack you and try to influence you to fall into sin. The Cappadocians also believed demons played a role in character development for humans as we resist, and overcome evil. If demons could be resisted, then their power was only temporary. In fact, the Cappadocians thought demons only manifested power when humans chose to cooperate with them. We can always resist and overcome demons if we call on Holy Spirit and tap into the power he provides us.
Ascetics and the Cappadocians did have their own unique perspectives on demons though despite their similarities. Ontologically speaking, demons not only represent, but embody the idea of division and separation for ascetics and are built into the cosmos as the principle of differentiation and division. They separate humans at the level of personality and community. For Cappadocians, their unique perspective is seen in their understanding of the liminality and paradoxical nature of demons.
Demons are paradoxical in that ontologically, they are superior to humans, yet morally inferior. Their wills completely oppose God, yet their nature was created good. This leads into their liminality. They are completely evil in the sense that they are commonly thought of as irredeemable and locked in choosing to do evil. Yet, if we see evil as not metaphysically real but only a privation of good, demons are only evil to the extent that they are a perversion of something good. Thus, for them to be evil they need to be connected to something good so as to deprive that good and be parasitic to it, which was thought to be their rational nature. In this way, they are good in having a rational nature, but wholly evil in that they fundamentally and wholly pervert and distort it and use it in every opportunity for the opposite intentions for why they were created with it.
From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
As we move forward into the middle ages, we find forms of demonology that has been taken over and popularized by Hollywood. A common belief during the middle ages, heavily inherited from Greek sources, was the existence of monstrous races who lived at the fringes of the known world. Unfortunately, this often aligned with instances where the white European world came in contact with differing ethnicities and cultures. This only served to exacerbate the demonization tradition. For example, Ethiopians were construed as a monstrous race because of their geography and black skin which was also seen as a demonic feature. As Europeans began to make contact with those on the fringes of their geographical knowledge of the world, the physical deformities of monstrous races began to fade, while the sub-human connotations for these new people groups persisted.
This led to affirmations and imagery showing non-Christians (especially Jews) as monsters. Their monstrous flaw was denying Christianity. Monstrosity has now been relegated from the outer physical realm to the inner spiritual realm, which made the demonization of other cultures more resistant to just surface level interaction with other cultures. As long as other cultures acted in strange, unfamiliar and “savagely” ways, it was clear demons have turned them into monsters. Undoubtedly, this paranoia of different cultures bled into hysterical reactions to social deviance from the main polis in the witch craze. Along with many other factors, a heightened demonology with a thin pneumatology allowed medieval imaginations to run rampant into all sorts of dehumanizing conclusions. Today, the situation seems to be reversed and may result in not dehumanizing, but leaving humanity vulnerable.
As the middle ages phase out into the Renaissance, we quickly find ourselves approaching the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking has proposed enormous challenges to demonology from its inception up to the present day. In many ways, this new found confidence in rational thinking and scientific inquiry was greatly developed by Renes Descartes. His cartesian philosophy influenced many intellectuals and eventually led some to reject demons and spirits altogether as the west began the process of disenchanting the world. Balthasar Bekker was an important step in this process arguing against Kuyper that evil spirits are either non-existent or impotent in the world. His strict cartesian dualism didn’t allow for physical and spiritual matter to interact in a causal way and so led him to this conclusion. Bouman later advanced Bekkar’s arguments and led the Collegiant, a dutch intellectual group, to deny the existence of demons, evil spirits, and angels in the mid-1690s. From here, we can see the slow process of enlightenment thinking eroding spiritual talk and influence in the world. Today it can be taboo to suggest that spirits of some sort influenced some event in the world, even in Christian circles.
Challenges for Demonology and Responses
Today in our western world, many Christians pay lip service to the existence of spirits in some way, but do not live as though spirits have influence in our world. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, the western world has allowed the enlightenment to take away our talk about spirits. If we look at other cultures though, we will see education need not take away religious talk or thinking. We can affirm and engage with scientific and philosophical advancements, while also maintaining that any world devoid of the spiritual element will end up being inadequate. This can be a challenge though given the thoroughness of science and our culture’s reverence of science.
In the face of this challenge, contemporary theologians are proposing ways to bring the demonic into the world in light of scientific advancements. Reaching back to the ancients, we can see how there has always been a Christian trend to not see spirits as antithetical to nature but to be working in tandem with it. 19th and 20th century spiritual practitioners often incorporated contemporary psychiatric, neurological, and epidemiologic knowledge as part of a general attempt to make sense of their supernatural experiences. This is a fruitful example for us to explore in trying to show there need not be a necessary conflict between demonic influence and science and medicine. Another example is the discovery of the unconscious mind. It is thought of as the perfect medium for demonic influence, and demonic possession began to be talked as a form of mental parasitism. We need to be careful of a ‘God of the gaps’ type of solution here though.
Discussion of mental health and demons has become a hot topic. It is argued that the new testament pairs demon possession with illness and physical impairment, and exorcism with healing. As true as this may be, it is also the case that some mental health issues have physiological manifestations. If Jesus’ encounter with Satan tells us anything it is that Satan will attack our psyche and thoughts to gain control. It is also true that early Christian emphasis on the personal responsibility for people to not give into to demonic suggestions has been used as a way to blame people for mental health problems. This is a problem because it tries to suggest that sin is somehow responsible for possession or mental health issues. Everyone is a sinner and gives in to sin but not everybody has a mental health disease. Being aware of scientific understandings of brain chemistry and genetics, it is clear that many times mental health is hardly the person’s fault. Yet, we should still allow habits, emotions, and beliefs to play a role in developing mental health symptoms, and these are the exact areas that evil spirits attack humans.
After looking at how demonology can interact with modern science, we need to look at the next resistance to demonology. I think some ways contemporary pneumatologies are being formed are actually hindering our ability to talk about the full scope of the spiritual world. I do think that current pneumatology is providing good content and an avenue for us to engage in more alive conversations about interactions with the spiritual world. In the contemporary view of pneumatology, Holy Spirit is becoming all encompassing. Holy Spirit is beginning to fill all the spiritual space and squeezing out the existence of other spirits in the minds of theologians like Moltmann. This does not seem to accurately capture the world of new testament thinkers who warned us to be aware of spirits trying to lead us astray.
Too frequently we recognize the social, political, cultural, institutional spirits in things but are wrongfully ignoring or rejecting the metaphysical reality of spiritual beings involved in the situation as well. Holy Spirit’s presence is everywhere and is working everywhere, but this need not negate that evil spirits are also working. Here, we would benefit from influence by non-western worldviews that sees the world enchanted by spirits. In doing this, we will have to come to grips with the way spiritual beings can and do interact in our world. Other worldviews are aware that evil has agency beyond human control. Yet, they also have an understanding how Holy Spirit is still our source of life and means of victory.
Introducing a varied and vibrant spiritual world would be a challenge though because currently we are poor at discerning spirits. We will need to begin educating people deeply in the practice of discernment. This practice is difficult because it requires not just intellectual maturity but also experiential maturity and requirement that we trust others subjective experiences. We will need to get back to using Jesus as the criteria for discerning spirits. Spirits that are not leading people back to Jesus are not sent from God (1 John 4:1-3). Robust pneumatologies that identify Holy Spirit as the source of life and pointer towards Christ will help us discern and reject malign spirits that act contrary to Holy Spirit’s nature. This level of discernment needs to be applied at all levels of existence from personal and communal, to societal and cultural, to political, to intellectual and religious.
Lastly, there seems to be a high sensitivity to demonization of the ‘other’ and a fierce attempt to avoid that at all cost. As such, there is more talk about the presence of Holy Spirit in other religions, which I believe to be true, and less of the offensive conversation suggesting that other religions may have demonic influences in them. Holy Spirit is now being seen as profoundly involved in non-Christian religions to the extent that we may be neglecting some of the error in these religions. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. If we understand the deceitful nature of evil spirits, we will see that important truths of Christianity have been twisted and distorted in other religions. In line with early Christian thinking, there is reason to see the source of religious error as a combination of human error and demonic deception.
This does not mean that we completely negate all the ways Holy Spirit is present in other religions or is working through other religions. Nor does it suggest that we should view people of other faiths as Satan worshippers. I am quite sympathetic to concerns about wrongly identifying something as demonic when it really was just a misunderstanding because some aspect of one’s perspective, or even the concerns about maintaining interfaith relationships when proclaiming part of another’s religion as demonic. There is also the vast amount of abuse and hate that have come from demonization.
I only suggest that Satan and his demons want to create confusion and deception in all areas of the world. This means in the minds of individual person, communities, and even worldviews, cultures and religions. For we must conclude that Satan has had his hand in deceiving Christians on an institutional level, working with evil in human hearts to convince them of perverse and anti-Christian doctrines. If Satan can deceive Christians of fundamental Christian beliefs on ethics and even on the nature of God himself, surely, he could have brought deception in other faith systems around central understandings of the nature of God and how we relate to him.
Relevance for my Context
As a youth minister, this paper has some quite challenging implications. Ultimately, they all boil down to the fact that acknowledging demonic powers prepares us to combat evil in all of its manifestations. We are prepared to root out injustice at the very core of its being and source, which often times can be traced back to influences from demonic beings. I think the first implication though is that I need to begin incorporating talk of evil spirits in my discussions about sin and brokenness. This must be done thoughtfully and by Holy Spirit’s guiding given the modern resistance to demons. It is also important to be done wisely as I don’t want to bring them into discussion as a way to scare people into a relationship with Christ. However, if I want my students to be prepared to fully follow God, they need to be aware that there is a legitimate enemy that is trying to pull them out of that relationship with God.
It also needs to be done in a way that does not diminish personal responsibility, nor provide shame or guilt for falling to the deception of demons. Talk about sin is not always productive and can be quite overwhelming and off putting for young people. However, resisting and fleeing from sin is absolutely critical to our walk with Jesus and following Holy Spirit. We always have a duty to resist sin and choose life, and sometimes those desires and passions for sin do come from outside ourselves. This can actually be an edifying realization to find out that not all your passions for sin are from your brokenness. Although we may always have desire for sin because of our broken nature, we can improve in our desire for God and repudiation for sin. In this growth, we may still have a high level of desire for sin, but in our growing repudiation for sin, this desire is coming from an external force and not ourselves, giving us assurance that Holy Spirit is actually transforming ourselves to be more like Christ.
From reflection of my own life and wisdom from writers like C.S. Lewis, demonic influence typically is done very subtly with nuance. This is why we need to have our mind renewed daily (Romans 12:1-2). As a youth minister leading kids, if I’m not conscious to renew my mind and defend myself against spiritual attacks, I will fall into teaching and displaying error and deception. Not only do I need to be vigilant against demons for my own spiritual faith, but because as a teacher, I will be judged more harshly (James 3:1). My own personal brokenness is enough to cause me to mislead one of Jesus’ little ones, and if I’m not aware that demons are also trying to bring me to deceive and misled, I will have no hope to faithfully represent Christ to those I’m leading. I believe it is important for there to be continued study of demonology for us to interact in an ever-changing world. As the world changes, evil spirits will try to exploit ambiguities in new ethical, philosophical, spiritual, religious, and theological territories to lead us away from Christ.
As I think about moving forward in my job, this adds to the absolute necessity of prayer in my life as a youth pastor. Discernment and following Jesus would be hard enough if I just had to deal with my own sinful nature. Adding on the activity of evil spirits only intensifies the reality that I need to be relying on God to show me where He is leading and how to know and see where He is moving. Without continue reaching out for God, the deception of evil spirits many times can be indistinguishable in appearance from what God is doing. The spiritual nature of demons requires us to be spiritually equipped to deal with their tactics, of which prayer and listening would be our chief response.
Current pneumatology is doing fantastic work in opening our eyes to the ways that Holy Spirit is present and moving in all people at all times. It is increasing our sense of common humanity and protecting against demonization of people and people groups. However, its neglect of other spiritual beings may leave us naïve to the work of evil spirits. This can leave us susceptible to the ever so subtle deception of demons that lead us away from affirming Christ in his fullness. Continued study of demonology in tandem with pneumatology is needed to guide us in fully participating with spiritual realities as we strive to be fully human and participate in God’s divine nature.
 Hiers, Richard H. 1974. “Satan, Demons, and the Kingdom of God.” Scottish Journal of Theology 27 (1): 35–47. 40.
 Hiers, Richard H. 1974. “Satan, Demons, and the Kingdom of God.” 41.
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. “Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20 (2): 179–211. 184.
 Martin, Dale B. 2010. “When Did Angels Become Demons?” Journal of Biblical Literature 129 (4): 657–77. 657
 Martin, Dale B. 2010. “When Did Angels Become Demons?” 657.
 Martin, Dale B. 2010. “When Did Angels Become Demons?” 652.
 Ibid. 665
 Ibid. 672
 Ibid. 672
 Hiers, Richard H. 1974. “Satan, Demons, and the Kingdom of God.” 35-36.
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology. 182.
 Hiers, Richard H. 1974. “Satan, Demons, and the Kingdom of God.” 38.
 Ibid. 42
 Ibid. 43
 Reed, Annette Yoshiko. 2004. “The Trickery of the Fallen Angels and the Demonic Mimesis of the Divine: Aetiology, Demonology, and Polemics in the Writings of Justin Martyr.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12 (2): 141–71. 144.
 Reed, Annette Yoshiko. 2004. “The Trickery of the Fallen Angels” 144
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology. 207.
 Ibid. 206.
 Ibid. 205.
 Brakke, David. 2001. “The Making of Monastic Demonology: Three Ascetic Teachers on Withdrawal and Resistance.” Church History 70 (1): 19–48. 34.
 Brakke, David. 2001. The Making of Monastic Demonology. 38.
 Ibid. 28.
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology. 198.
 Brakke, David. 2001. The Making of Monastic Demonology. 36.
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology. 186.
 Ibid. 202.
 Brakke, David. 2001. The Making of Monastic Demonology. 31
 Ibid. 30.
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology. 192
 Ludlow, Morwenna. 2012. Demons, Evil, and Liminality in Cappadocian Theology. 193
 Ibid. 189
 Strickland, Debra Higgs. 2000. “Monsters and Christian Enemies.” History Today 50 (2): 45. 45.
 Strickland, Debra Higgs. 2000. “Monsters and Christian Enemies.” 47.
 Ibid. 48.
 Fix, Andrew. “Angels, Devils, and Evil Spirits in Seventeenth-Century Thought: Balthasar Bekker and the Collegiants.” Journal of the History of Ideas 50, no. 4 (1989): 527-47. 540.
 Fix, Andrew. Angels, Devils, and Evil Spirits in Seventeenth-Century Thought. 528
 Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti, Amos Yong, Kirsteen Kim. Interdisciplinary and Religio-Cultural Discourses on a Spirit-Filled World: Loosing the Spirits. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2013. 60
 Theron, Jacques Petrus Johan. 1996. “A Critical Overview of the Church’s Ministry of Deliverance from Evil Spirits.” Pneuma 18 (1): 79–92. 83.
 Hayward, Rhodri. 2004. “Demonology, Neurology, and Medicine in Edwardian Britain.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78 (1) (Spring): 37-58. 39.
 Hayward, Rhodri. 2004. “Demonology, Neurology, and Medicine in Edwardian Britain” 54.
 Webb, Marcia. 2012. “Toward a Theology of Mental Illness.” Journal of Religion, Disability & Health 16 (1): 49–73. 62.
 Webb, Marcia. 2012. “Toward a Theology of Mental Illness.” 55.
 Ibid. 59.
 Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti, Amos Yong, Kirsteen Kim. Loosing the Spirits. 60
 Ibid. 47.
 Green, Gene L., Stephen T. Pardue, and Khiok-Khng Yeo. The Spirit over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World. Carlisle, Cumbria: Langham Global Library, 2016. 128.
 Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti, Amos Yong, Kirsteen Kim. Loosing the Spirits. 32.
 Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016. 211.
 Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love 206
 Ibid. 208.