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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

A human being whose volition and other mental faculties are overpowered and restrained, and his body possessed and actuated by some created spiritual being of superior power. Such seems to be the determinate sense of the word; but it is disputed whether any of mankind ever were in this unfortunate condition. That the reader may form some judgment, we shall lay before him the argument on both sides. I. Daemoniacs, arguments against the existence of. Those who are unwilling to allow that angels or devils have ever intermeddled with the concerns of human life, urge a number of specious arguments. The Greeks and Romans of old, say they, did believe in the reality of daemoniacal possession. They supposed that spiritual beings did at times enter into the sons and daughters of men, and distinguish themselves in that situation by capricious freaks, deeds of wanton mischief, or prophetic enunciations. But in the instances in which they supposed this to happen, it is evident no such thing took place. Their accounts of the state and conduct of those persons whom they believed to be possessed in this supernatural manner, show plainly that what they ascribed to the influence of daemons were merely the effect of natural diseases. Whatever they relate concerning the larvati, the cerriti, and the lymphatici, shows that these were merely people disordered in mind, in the same unfortunate situation with those madmen, ideots, and melancholy persons, whom we have among ourselves.

Festus describes the larvati, as being furiosi et mente moti. Lucian describes daemoniacs as lunatic, and as staring with their eyes, foaming at the mouth, and being speechless. It appears still more evident that all the persons spoken of as possessed with devils in the New Testament, were either mad or epileptic, and precisely in the same condition with the madmen and epileptics of modern times. The Jews, among other reproaches which they threw out against our Saviour, said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? The expressions he hath a devil, and is mad, were certainly used on this occasion as synonymous. With all their virulence, they would not surely ascribe to him at once two things that were inconsistent and contradictory. Those who thought more favourably of the character of Jesus, asserted concerning his discourses, in reply to his adversaries, These are not the words of him that hath a daemon; meaning, no doubt, that he spoke in a more rational manner than a madman could be expected to speak. The Jews appear to have ascribed to the influence of daemons, not only that species of madness in which the patient is raving and furious, but also melancholy madness. Of John, who secluded himself from intercourse with the world, and was distinguished for abstinence and acts of mortification, they said, He hath a daemon.

The youth, whose father applied to Jesus to free him from an evil spirit, describing his unhappy condition in these words, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic, and sore vexed with a daemon; for oft times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water, was plainly epileptic. Every thing, indeed, that is related in the New Testament concerning daemoniacs, proves that they were people affected with such natural diseases as are far from being uncommon among mankind in the present age. When the symptoms of the disorders cured by our Saviour and his apostles as cases of daemoniacal possession correspond so exactly with those of diseases well known as natural in the present age, it would be absurd to impute them to a supernatural cause. It is much more consistent with common sense and sound philosophy to suppose that our Saviour and his apostles wisely, and with that condescension to the weakness and prejudices of those with whom they conversed, which so eminently distinguished the character of the Author of our holy religion, and must always be a prominent feature in the character of the true Christian, adopted the vulgar language in speaking of those unfortunate persons who were groundlessly imagined to be possessed with daemons, though they well knew the notions which had given rise to such modes of expression to be ill founded, than to imagine that diseases which arise at present from natural causes, were produced in days of old by the intervention of daemons, or that evil spirits still continue to enter into mankind in all cases of madness, melancholy, or epilepsy.

Besides, it is by no means a sufficient reason for receiving any doctrine as true, that it has been generally received through the world. Error, like an epidemical disease, is communicated from one to another. In certain circumstances, too, the influence of imagination predominates, and restrains the exertions of reason. Many false opinions have extended their influence through a very wide circle and maintained it long. On every such occasion as the present, therefore, it becomes us to enquire not so much how generally any opinion has been received, or how long it has prevailed, as from what cause it has originated, and on what evidence it rests. When we contemplate the frame of Nature, we behold a grand and beautiful simplicity prevailing, through the whole: notwithstanding its immense extent, and though it contains such numberless diversities of being, yet the simplest machine constructed by human art does not display greater simplicity, or an happier connection of parts. We may, therefore, infer by analogy, from what is observable of the order of Nature in general to the present case, that to permit evil spirits to intermeddle with the concerns of human life, would be to break through that order, which the Deity appears to have established through his works; it would be to introduce a degree of confusion unworthy of the wisdom of Divine Providence. II. Daemoniacs, arguments for the existence of. In opposition to these arguments, the following are urged by the Daemonianists. In the days of our Saviour, it would appear that Daemoniacal possession was very frequent among the Jews and the neighbouring nations.

Many were the evil spirits whom Jesus is related in the Gospels to have ejected from patients that were brought unto him as possessed and tormented by those malevolent daemons. His apostles too, and the first Christians, who were most active and successful in the propagation of Christianity, appear to have often exerted the miraculous powers with which they were endowed on similar occasions. The daemons displayed a degree of knowledge and malevolence which sufficiently distinguished them from human beings: and the language in which the daemoniacs are mentioned, and the actions and sentiments ascribed to them in the New Testament, show that our Saviour and his apostles did not consider the idea of daemoniacal possession as being merely a vulgar error concerning the origin of a disease or diseases produced by natural causes. The more enlightened cannot always avoid the use of metaphorical modes of expression; which though founded upon error, yet have been so established in language by the influence of custom, that they cannot be suddenly dismissed. But in descriptions of characters, in the narration of facts, and in the laying down of systems of doctrine, we require different rules to be observed. Should any person, in compliance with popular opinions, talk in serious language of the existence, dispositions, declarations, and actions of a race of beings whom he knew to be absolutely fabulous, we surely could not praise him for integrity: we must suppose him to be either exulting in irony over the weak credulity of those around him, or taking advantage of their weakness, with the dishonesty and selfish views of an impostor.

And if he himself should pretend to any connection with this imaginary system of beings; and should claim, in consequence of his connection with them, particular honours from his contemporaries; whatever might be the dignity of his character in all other respects, nobody could hesitate to brand him as an impostor. In this light must we regard the conduct of our Saviour and his apostles, if the idea of daemoniacal possession were to be considered merely as a vulgar error. They talked and acted as if they believed that evil spirits had actually entered into those who were brought to them as possessed with devils, and as if those spirits had been actually expelled by their authority out of the unhappy persons whom they had possessed. They demanded, too, to have their professions and declarations believed, in consequence of their performing such mighty works, and having thus triumphed over the powers of hell. The reality of daemoniacal possession stands upon the same evidence with the Gospel system in general. Nor is there any thing unreasonable in this doctrine. It does not appear to contradict those ideas which the general appearances of Nature and the series of events suggest, concerning the benevolence and wisdom of the Deity, by which he regulates the affairs of the universe.

We often fancy ourselves able to comprehend things to which our understanding is wholly inadequate; we persuade ourselves, at times, that the whole extent of the works of the Deity must be well known to us, and that his designs must always be such as we can fathom. We are then ready, whenever any difficulty arises to us in considering the conduct of Providence, to model things according to our own ideas; to deny that the Deity can possibly be the author of things which we cannot reconcile; and to assert, that he must act on every occasion in a manner consistent with our narrow views. This is the pride of reason; and it seems to have suggested the strongest objections that have been of any time urged against the reality of daemoniacal possession. But the Deity may surely connect one order of his creatures with another. We perceive mutual relations and a beautiful connection to prevail through all that part of Nature which falls within the sphere of our observation. The inferior animals are connected with mankind, a nd subjected to their authority, not only in instances in which it is exerted for their advantage, but even where it is tyrannically abused to their destruction. Among the evils to which mankind have been subjected, why might not their being liable to daemoniacal possession be one? While the Supreme Being retains the sovereignty of the universe, he may employ whatever agents he thinks proper in the execution of his purposes; he may either commission an angel, or let loose a devil; as well as bend the human will, or communicate any particular impulse to matter.

All that revelation makes known, all that human reason can conjecture, concerning the existence of various orders of spiritual beings, good and bad, is perfectly consistent with, and even favourable to, the doctrine of daemoniacal possession. It is mentioned in the New Testament in such language, and such narratives are related concerning it, that the Gospels cannot be well regarded in any other light than as pieces of imposture, and Jesus Christ must be considered as a man who took advantage of the weakness and ignorance of his contemporaries, if this doctrine be nothing but a vulgar error; it teaches nothing inconsistent with the general conduct of Providence; in short, it is not the caution of philosophy, but the pride of reason that suggests objections against this doctrine.

See the essays of Young, Farmen, Worthington, Dr. Lardner, Macknight, Fell, Burgh, &c. on Daemoniacs;

Seed's Posthumous Sermons, ser. 6: and article Daemoniac in Enc. Brit.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [2]

 Matthew 9:32 Mark 9:17-27 Matthew 8:28 Mark 5:1-5 Mark 1:32 16:17,18 Luke 6:17,18 Matthew 8:29 Mark 1:23,24 5:7 Acts 19:15

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

( Δαιμονιζόμενος , rendered "possessed with a devil;" also Δαίμονα Ἔχων ), a term (in the Gr.) frequently used in the New Test., and applied to persons suffering under the possession of a daemon or evil spirit, (See Daemon), such possession generally showing itself visibly in bodily disease or mental derangement. The word Δαίμονᾶν is used in a nearly equivalent sense in classical Greek (as in Aesch. Choeph . p. 566; Sept. C. Theb. p. 1001; Eurip. Phoen. p. 888, etc.), except that as the idea of spirits distinctly evil and rebellious, hardly existed, such possession was referred to the will of the gods or to the vague prevalence of an ῎Ατη , or fury. Neither word is employed in this sense by the Sept., but in our Lord's time (as is seen, for example, constantly in Josephus) the belief in the possession of men by daemons, who were either the souls of wicked men after death or evil angels, was thoroughly established among all the Jews, with the exception of the Sadducees alone. Daemonized persons, in the N.T., are those who were spoken of as having a daemon or daemons occupying them, suspending the faculties of their minds, and governing the members of their bodies, so that what was said and done by the daemoniacs was ascribed to the indwelling daemon. Plato (apud Clem. Alex. Strom. 1:405, Oxon.) affirms that "daemoniacs do not use their own dialect or tongue, but that of the daemons who have entered into them." Lucian says "the patient is silent; the daemon returns the answer to the question asked." Apollonius thus addresses a youth supposed to be possessed: "I am treated contumeliously by the daemon, and not by thee" (comp.  Matthew 8:28;  Matthew 8:31;  Mark 5:2;  Mark 9:12;  Luke 8:27;  Luke 8:32). With regard to the frequent mention of daemoniacs in Scripture, three main opinions have been started.

1. That of Strauss and the mythical school, which makes the whole account merely symbolic, without basis of fact. The possession of the devils is, according to this idea, only a lively symbol of the prevalence of evil in the world, the casting out of the devils by our Lord a corresponding symbol of his conquest over that evil power by his doctrine and his life. This notion stands or falls with the mythical theory as a whole: with regard to this special form of it, it is sufficient to remark the plain, simple, and prosaic relation of the facts as facts, which, whatever might be conceived as possible in highly poetic and avowedly figurative passages, would make their assertion here not a symbol or a figure, but a lie. It would be as reasonable to expect a myth or symbolic fable from Tacitus or Thucydides in their accounts of contemporary history.

2. The second theory is, that our Lord and the evangelists, in referring to daemoniacal possession, spoke only in accommodation to the general belief of the Jews, without any assertion as to its truth or its falsity. It is concluded that, since the symptoms of the affliction were frequently those of bodily disease (as dumbness,  Matthew 9:32; blindness,  Matthew 12:22; epilepsy,  Mark 9:17-27), or those seen in cases of ordinary insanity (as in  Matthew 8:28;  Mark 5:1-5); since, also, the phrase "to have a devil" is constantly used in connection with, and as apparently equivalent to, "to be mad" (see  John 7:20;  John 8:48'; 10:20, and perhaps  Matthew 11:18  Luke 7:33); and since, lastly, cases of daemoniacal possession are not known to occur in our own days, therefore we must suppose that our Lord spoke, and the evangelists wrote, in accordance with the belief of the time, and with a view to be clearly understood, especially by the sufferers themselves, but that the daemoniacs were merely persons suffering under unusual diseases of body and mind.

With regard to this theory also, it must be remarked that it does not accord either with the general principles or with the particular language of Scripture. Accommodation is possible when, in things indifferent, language is used which, although scientifically or etymologically inaccurate, yet conveys a true impression, or when, in things not indifferent, a declaration of truth ( 1 Corinthians 3:1-2), or a moral law ( Matthew 19:8), is given, true or right as far as it goes, but imperfect, because of the imperfect progress of its recipients. But certainly here the matter was not indifferent. The age was one of little faith and great superstition; its characteristic the acknowledgment of God as a distant lawgiver, not an inspirer of men's hearts. This superstition in things of far less moment was denounced by our Lord; can it be supposed that he would sanction, and the evangelists be permitted to record for ever, an idea in itself false, which has constantly been the very stronghold of superstition? Nor was the language used such as can be paralleled with mere conventional expression. There is no harm in our "speaking of certain forms of madness as lunacy, not thereby implying that we believe the moon to have or to have had any influence upon them; . . . but if we began to describe the cure of such as the moon's ceasing to afflict them, or if a physician were solemnly to address the moon, bidding it abstain from injuring his patient, there would be here a passing over to quite a different region, . . . there would be that gulf between our thoughts and words in which the essence of a lie consists. Now Christ does everywhere speak such language as this" (Trench, On Miracles, p. 153, where the whole question is most ably treated). Nor is there, in the whole of the N.T., the least indication that any "economy" of teaching was employed on account of the "hardness" of the Jews' "hearts." Possession and its cure are recorded plainly and simply; daemoniacs are frequently distinguished from those afflicted with bodily sickness (see  Mark 1:32;  Mark 16:17-18;  Luke 6:17-18); even, it would seem, from the epileptic ( Σεληνιαζόμενοι ,  Matthew 4:24); the same outward signs are sometimes referred to possession, sometimes merely to disease (comp.  Matthew 4:24, with  Matthew 17:15;  Matthew 12:22, with  Mark 7:32, etc.); the daemons are represented as speaking in their own persons with superhuman knowledge, and acknowledging our Lord to be, not, as the Jews generally called him, son of David, but Son of God ( Matthew 8:29;  Mark 1:24;  Mark 5:7;  Luke 4:41, etc.).

All these things speak of a personal power of evil, and, if in any case they refer to what we might call mere disease, they at any rate tell us of something in it more than a morbid state of bodily organs or self-caused derangement of mind. Nor does our Lord speak of daemons as personal spirits of evil to the multitude alone, but in his secret conversations with his disciples, declaring the means and conditions by which power over them could be exercised ( Matthew 17:21). Twice also he distinctly connects daemoniacal possession with the power of the evil one; once in  Luke 10:18, to the seventy disciples, where he speaks of his power and theirs over daemoniacs as a "fall of Satan," and again in  Matthew 12:25-30, when he was accused of casting out daemons through Beelzebub, and, instead of giving any hint that the possessed were not really under any direct and personal power of evil, he uses an argument, as to the division of Satan against himself, which, if possession be unreal, becomes inconclusive and almost insincere. Lastly, the single fact recorded of the entrance of the daemons at Gadara ( Mark 5:10-14) into the herd of swine, and the effect which that entrance caused, is sufficient to overthrow the notion that our Lord and the evangelists do not assert or imply any objective reality of possession. In the face of this mass of evidence, it seems difficult to conceive how the theory can be reconciled with anything like truth of Scripture. But, besides this, it must be added that, to say of a case that it is one of disease or insanity, gives no real explanation of it at all; it merely refers it to a class of cases which we know to exist, but gives no answer to the further question, how did the disease or insanity arise? Even in disease, whenever the mind acts upon the body (as e.g. in nervous disorders, epilepsy, etc.), the mere derangement of the physical organs is not the whole cause of the evil; there is a deeper one lying in the mind. Insanity may indeed arise, in some cases, from the physical injury or derangement of those bodily organs through which the mind exercises its powers, but far oftener it appears to be due to metaphysical causes, acting upon and disordering the mind itself. In all cases where the evil lies not in the body, but in the mind, to call it "only disease or insanity" is merely to state the fact of the disorder, and give up all explanation of its cause. It is an assumption, therefore, which requires proof, that, amid the many inexplicable phenomena of mental and physical disease in our own days, there are none in which one gifted with "discernment of spirits" might see signs of what the Scripture calls "possession."

The truth is, that here, as in many other instances, the Bible, without contradicting ordinary experience, yet advances to a region where human science cannot follow. As generally it connects the existence of mental and bodily suffering in the world with the introduction of moral corruption by the Fall, and refers the power of moral evil to a spiritual and personal source, so also it asserts the existence of inferior spirits of evil, and it refers certain cases of bodily and mental disease to the influence which they are permitted to exercise directly over the soul and indirectly over the body. Inexplicable to us this influence certainly is, as all action of spirit on spirit is found to be; but no one can pronounce a priori whether it be impossible or improbable, and no one has a right to eviscerate the strong expressions of Scripture in order to reduce its declarations to a level with our own ignorance. (See Condescension).

3. We are led, therefore, to the ordinary and literal: interpretation of these passages, that there are evil spirits, (See Daemon), subjects of the Evil One, who, in the days of the Lord himself and his apostles especially, were permitted by God to exercise a direct influence over the souls and bodies of certain men. This influence is clearly distinguished from the ordinary power of corruption and temptation wielded by Satan through the permission of God. Its relation to it, indeed, appears to be exactly that of a miracle to God's ordinary Providence, or of special prophetic inspiration to the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. Both (that is) are actuated by the same general principles, and tend to the same general object; but the former is a special and direct manifestation of that which is worked out in the latter by a long course of indirect action. The distinguishing feature of possession is the complete or incomplete loss of the sufferer's reason or power of will; his actions, his words, and almost his thoughts are mastered by the evil spirit ( Mark 1:24;  Mark 5:7;  Acts 19:15), till his personality seems to be destroyed, or, if not destroyed, so overborne as to produce the consciousness of a twofold will within him, like that sometimes felt in a dream. In the ordinary temptations and assaults of Satan, the will itself yields consciously, and by yielding gradually assumes, without losing its apparent freedom of action, the characteristics of the Satanic nature. It is solicited, urged, and persuaded against the strivings of grace, but not overborne.

Such possession, however, is only the special and, as it were, miraculous form of the "law of sin in the members," the power of Satan over the heart itself, recognized by Paul as an indwelling and struggling power ( Romans 7:21-24). Nor can it be doubted that it was rendered possible in the first instance by the consent of the sufferer to temptation and to sin. That it would be most probable in those who yielded to sensual temptations may easily be conjectured from general observation of the tyranny of a habit of sensual indulgence. The cases of the habitually lustful, the opium-eater, and the drunkard (especially when struggling in the last extremity of delirium tremens) bear, as has often been noticed, many marks very similar to those of the scriptural possession. There is in them physical disease, but there is often something more. It is also to be noticed that the state of possession, although so awful in its wretched sense of daemoniacal tyranny, yet, from the very fact of that consciousness, might be less hopeless and more capable of instant cure than the deliberate hardness of willful sin. The spirit might still retain marks of its original purity, although through the flesh and the demoniac power acting by the flesh it was enslaved. Here, also, the observation of the suddenness and completeness of conversion seen in cases of sensualism, compared with the greater difficulty in cases of more refined and spiritual sin, tends to confirm the record of Scripture.

It was but natural that the power of evil should show itself, in more open and direct hostility than ever, in the age of our Lord and his apostles, when its time was short. It was natural also that it should take the special form of possession in an age of such unprecedented and brutal sensuality as that which preceded his coming, and continued till the leaven of Christianity was felt. Nor was it less natural that it should have died away gradually before the great direct, and still greater indirect influence of Christ's kingdom. Accordingly we find early fathers (as Just. Mart. Dial. c. Tryph. p. 311 B.; Tertullian, Apol. 23, 37, 43) alluding to its existence as a common thing, mentioning the attempts of Jewish exorcism in the name of Jehovah as occasionally successful (see  Matthew 12:27;  Acts 19:13), but especially dwelling on the power of Christian exorcism to cast it out from the country as a test of the truth of the Gospel, and as one well-known benefit which it already conferred on the empire. By degrees the mention is less and less frequent, till the very idea is lost or perverted. (See Exorcist).

Such is a brief sketch of the scriptural notices of possession. That round the Jewish notion of it there grew up, in that noted age of superstition, many foolish and evil practices, and much superstition as to fumigations, etc. (comp.  Tobit 8:1-3; Joseph. Ant. 8:2, 5), of the "vagabond exorcists" (see  Acts 19:13), is obvious and would be inevitable. It is clear that Scripture, does not in the least sanction or even condescend to notice such things; but it is certain that in the Old Testament (see  Leviticus 19:31;  1 Samuel 28:7, etc.;  2 Kings 21:6;  2 Kings 23:24, etc.), as well as in the New, it recognizes possession as a real and direct power of evil spirits upon the heart. (See Possessed) ( With A Devil ).