Friday, May 20, 2016

Evil / unclean spirits in the New Testament.


In an earlier post we have discussed the evil spirits in the Old Testament. In this one we will examine the passages where evil spirits are mentioned in the New Testament.

The expression evil spirit(s) is used 5 times in the New Testament.
  • The source of the evil spirit is not specified. 
  • Is it likely that God who used to send evil spirits to human beings in the Old Testament handed over that function to someone else while it came to the New Testament?
  • Those with evil spirits were healed along with those who were suffering with various ailments and disorders.(Luk 7:21; Acts 19:12).
  • In some of the previous posts, we have seen that what is termed as possessed by "dumb a spirit", "bound by Satan" and "possessed with the devil" are cases of neurological and psychiatric disorders like epilepsy, conversion disorder, and schizophrenia. Some of those who had evil spirits were healed along with those who were having infirmities and "demon possession" - which we have proved were mental disorders.

The man with an evil spirit from Acts 19

If we observe the man with an evil spirit, mentioned in Acts 19, behaved almost like King Saul, in his violent attack on the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest.
Act 19:14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
Act 19:13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
Act 19:15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
Act 19:16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Act 19:17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
Please note that the man with an "evil" spirit, glorified and testified for Jesus and Paul. If the evil spirit were from Satan/Devil, would it have done so? Also, note that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ was magnified in the process. If the evil spirit were from Satan / Devil, would it have done anything that that magnifies the name of Jesus Christ?

Unclean spirits of the New Testament

The expression unclean spirit(s) is used 20 times in the New Testament. In none of the passages it is stated that the source of the unclean spirit is Satan or Devil.

Jesus authorized his disciples to heal people of unclean spirits, just like any other ailment.
Mat 10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
Those with unclean spirits were healed exactly like those with other ailments, with the only difference that those with unclean spirits made a little bit of drama by shouting and screaming.
Luk 6:18 And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed.
Act 5:16 There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
Act 8:7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

The only instance where the expression "unclean spirit" is associated with "demon possession" is in the case of LEGION, which we have seen is a case of schizophrenia.

Do unclean spirits dwell in dry places?
There is much fables built upon the following statement by Jesus.

Mat 12:43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
Mat 12:44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
Mat 12:45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. (See also: Luke 11:24-26)
Many commentators say that Jews used to believe that the deserts of Syria and Egypt are haunted by demons. This does not make sense, because Israel spent 40 years in those deserts after coming out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and there is no mention of encountering any demons during those 40 years.

The context of the passage is that of Jesus healing a crippled man on Sabbath day and the Jewish religious leaders accusing Him of healing with the help of Beelzebub. As the next step, they ask Him for a sign, but He refuses, saying other than the sign of Jonah, none would be given to that generation - the first century Jews. Please note that He warned his audience that they would be scattered if they are not gathered to him. (Mat 12:30). In the next step he says how the people of Nineveh and the queen of the south would rise up against that generation and testify against them in judgment.

Again, notice that Jesus concluded his statement with the affirmation Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. So, whatever be the meaning of His statement, it had to with the generation that Jesus was addressing. It appears that Jesus was using parabolic language to portray the state of apostasy that was prevalent among the first century Jews. In all probability, it is about about Jews accepts Christ and then backslides. I do not claim that this to be the accurate interpretation of the parable, but all that I can say is: it makes no sense to say that unclean spirits or demon dwell in waterless places. In fact ⅙ of the world population, nearly a billion people, live in waterless places, and neither are they demons, nor do they encounter demons.

It is not absolutely necessary for a Biblical scholar to know the meaning of each and every figure of speech that is found in the Bible. Neither can anyone know everything, because the Bible was written in the cultural context of the people who lived in the Middle East in the first century. The most honest thing a student / scholar in the word of God can do is to admit his/her ignorance, rather than to cook up some theory that cannot stand the scrutiny of scriptures and common sense.

  1. There are scriptures that say evil spirits are sent by God. There are none that say evil spirits come from Satan / Devil.
  2. Most of the cases of evil spirits can be healed like any other disease. If something could be healed by medicine, surgery or shock therapy ... it cannot be from Satan / Devil.
  3. Many of these cases of evil spirits may be proved to be mental disorders. (Especially, by those who are knowledgeable in respective areas - unlike laymen like me.)

In Christ,
Tomsan Kattackal

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