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Smith's Bible Dictionary [1]

Demoniacs. This word is frequently used, in the New Testament, and applied to Persons Suffering Under The Possession Of A Demon Or Evil Spirit, Such Possession Generally Showing Itself Visibly In Bodily Disease Or Mental Derangement. It has been maintained by many persons that our Lord and the evangelists, in referring to demonical 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, (such as dumbness,  Matthew 9:32, blindness,  Matthew 12:22, epilepsy,  Mark 9:17-27), or those seen in cases of ordinary insanity (as ill)),  Matthew 8:28;  Mark 5:1-5, the demoniacs were merely persons suffering under unusual diseases of body and mind.

But demoniacs are frequently distinguished from those afflicted with bodily sickness, see  Mark 1:32;  Mark 16:17-18;  Luke 6:17-18, the same outward signs are sometimes referred to possession, sometimes merely to disease, Compare  Matthew 4:24 with  Matthew 17:15;  Matthew 12:22 with  Mark 7:32, etc.; the demons are represented as speaking in their own persons with superhuman knowledge.  Matthew 8:29;  Mark 1:24;  Mark 5:7;  Luke 4:41, etc. All these things speak of a personal power of evil. Twice our Lord distinctly connects demoniacal possession with the power of the evil one.  Luke 10:18.

Lastly, the single fact recorded of the entrance of the demons 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. We are led, therefore, to the ordinary and literal interpretation of these passages, that there are evil spirits, 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.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [2]

This word is used to describe men who were possessed by demons, as revealed in scripture. In the N.T. those 'possessed' by demons were certainly under the control of the demons, even to casting them into the fire and into the water.

It has been argued that the persons said to be possessed were really lunatics, who imagined they were possessed; and to meet that fancy the Lord spoke to the supposed spirit and told it to come out! But this is simply an effort to deny the power of Satan and his emissaries over man, and also God's power in the miracles. The Lord spoke of the casting out of demons when he was not speaking to those possessed. The demons also knew the Lord to be the Son of God, answered Him, asked permission to go into the herd of swine, and feared he had come to punish them before the time. Those who were lunatics are mentioned along with, and as different from, those possessed with demons.   Matthew 4:24 . It is true that the father of a lad who was possessed by a demon called him a lunatic, and said the disciples could not cure him, in  Matthew 17:14-16; but in  Mark 9:17 he said his son had a dumb spirit, and in   Luke 9:39 'a spirit taketh him.' It was clearly a case of possession: the Lord rebuked the demon, and it departed from him.

In all cases the relief was experienced immediately the demon was expelled; the words used are too explicit to mean aught else than that the persons were possessed, and that the wicked spirits were cast out. The case of Judas Iscariot was somewhat different, inasmuch as it was Satan himself that entered into that wretched man.  Luke 22:3 . Here it was more than the mere question of power over man, it was the Adversary standing up against Christ.

Besides the permanent possession of men, there was the unclean spirit of lying prophecy. In the O.T. we have a remarkable instance of a spirit influencing 400 prophets. Ahab was to be enticed to go to war, and a spirit said he would accomplish it. He would go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. "Now therefore," said Micaiah, "behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee."  2 Chronicles 18:20-22 . We do not know the nature of this spirit, nor how he influenced the prophets.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [3]

Demoniacs, demonized persons, in the New Testament, are those who were supposed to have a demon or demons occupying them, suspending the faculties of their minds, and governing the members of their bodies, so that what was said and done by the demoniacs was ascribed to the indwelling demon.

The correctness of the opinion respecting those who are called demoniacs in the New Testament which prevailed among the Jews and other nations in the time of our Lord and his Apostles, has been called in question. On the one hand it is urged that the details of the evangelical history afford decisive evidence of the truth and reality of demoniacal possessions in the sense already explained, at least during the commencement of Christianity; on the other hand it is contended that the accounts in question may all be understood as the phenomena of certain diseases, particularly hypochondria, insanity, and epilepsy; that the sacred writers used the popular language in reference to the subject, but that they themselves understood no more than that the persons were the subjects of ordinary diseases. Here issue is joined—and it is to the evidence in this cause that our attention will now be directed.

Those who contend that the demoniacs were really possessed by an evil spirit, urge the following considerations:—

1. The demoniacs express themselves in a way unusual for hypochondriacal, insane, or epileptic persons ; they possessed supernatural strength they adjure Jesus not to torment them; they answer the questions proposed to them in a rational manner; they are distinctly said to have 'come out of' men and to have 'entered into swine,' and that consequently the whole herd, amounting to about two thousand, ran violently down a precipice into the sea . The supposition which has been maintained by Lardner among others, that the swine were driven into the sea by the demoniacs, is irreconcilable with the language of the narrative, being also highly improbable in itself: madmen do not act in concert, and rarely pursue the same train of maniacal reasoning.

2. No mental diseases are predicated of the dumb , or of the blind and dumb . Do such diseases ever produce blindness?

3. It is admitted that the symptoms of the youth described;; , coincide precisely with those of epilepsy, but they are attributed to the agency of the demon in that very account.

4. The damsel at Philippi is said to have been possessed with a spirit of divination, which was the means of obtaining much gain to her masters, and to have understood the divine commission of Paul and his companions . Is this to be ascribed merely to an aberration of mind?

5. The demoniacs themselves confess that they were possessed with demons : the same is asserted of them by their relatives . The Apostles and Evangelists assert that persons possessed with demons were brought unto Jesus , or met him . Jesus commands them not to make him known as the Messiah (, margin); rebuked them . The Evangelists declare that the demons departed from their victims at his command ; and Jesus himself asserts it .

6. The writers of the New Testament make distinctions between the diseased and the demoniacs ; and Jesus himself does so (, etc.)

7. The demoniacs knew Jesus to be the son of God (;; ), and the Christ .

8. Jesus addresses the demons : so does Paul . Jesus bids them be silent to depart, and enter no more into the person .

9. In Luke 10 the seventy are related to have returned to Jesus, saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us through thy name;' and Jesus replies, , 'I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven.'

10. When Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, he argued that there could be no discord among demoniacal beings (, etc.).

11. Jesus makes certain gratuitous observations respecting demons (see ); which seem like facts in their natural history. In regard to the demon cast out of the youth, which the disciples could not cast out, he says, 'this kind (i.e. demons) goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.' Can these words be understood otherwise than as revealing a real and particular fact respecting the nature of demons ?

12. The woman which had a spirit of infirmity, and was bowed together , is, by our Lord himself, said to have been bound by Satan . In the same way St. Peter speaks of all the persons who were healed by Jesus, as being 'oppressed of the devil' .

13. It is further pleaded, that it sinks the importance and dignity of our Savior's miracles, to suppose that when He is said to have cast out devils, all that is meant is, that He healed diseases.

To these arguments the opponents of the theory of real demoniacal possessions reply, generally, that there can be no doubt that it was the general belief of the Jewish nation, with the exception of the Sadducees, and of most other nations, that the spirits of dead men, especially of those who had lived evil lives, and died by violent deaths, were permitted to enter the bodies of men, and to produce the effects ascribed to them in the popular creed; but the fact and real state of the case was, that those who were considered to be possessed were afflicted with some peculiar diseases of mind or body, which, their true causes not being generally understood, were, as is usual in such cases, ascribed to supernatural powers; and that Jesus and his apostles, wishing of course to be understood by their contemporaries, and owing to other reasons which can be pointed out, were under the necessity of expressing themselves in popular language, and of seeming to admit, or at least of not denying, its correctness. They further plead that the fact, admitted on all hands, that the demon so actuated the possessed, as that whatever they did, was not to be distinguished from his agency, reduces the question, so far as phenomena are concerned, to one simple inquiry, namely, whether these phenomena are such as can be accounted for without resorting to supernatural agency. They assert that the symptoms predicated of demoniacs correspond with the ordinary symptoms of disease, and especially of hypochondria, insanity, and epilepsy; that the sacred writers themselves give intimations, as plain as could be expected under their circumstances, that they employed popular language; that consequently they are not to be considered as teaching doctrines or asserting facts when they use such language; and that the doctrine of the agency of departed spirits on the bodies of men is inconsistent with certain peculiar and express doctrines of Christ and his apostles.

With regard to the symptoms related of the demoniacs, it is urged that such persons as were called demoniacs in other countries, and who seem to have labored under precisely the same symptoms, are recorded to have been cured by the use of medicines. Josephus and the Jewish physicians speak of medicines composed of stones, roots, and herbs, being useful to demoniacs. The cure of diseases by such methods is intelligible; but is it rational to believe that the spirits of dead men were dislodged from human bodies by medical prescriptions?

1. With regard to the two demoniacs at Gadara (or one, according to Mark and Luke), it is concluded that they were madmen, who fancied that there were within them innumerable spirits of dead men. Accordingly they dwelt among the tombs, about which the souls of the dead were believed to hover, went naked, were ungovernable, cried aloud, attacked passengers, beat themselves, and had in their frenzy broken every chain by which they had been bound. Strength almost superhuman is a common attendant on insanity. Their question, 'Art thou come to torment us?' refers to the cruel treatment of the insane in those times, and which they had no doubt shared, in the endeavors of men to 'tame' them. Both Mark and Luke the physician describe the demoniac as in 'his right mind,' when healed, which implies previous insanity (see also;;;;; ). It is true that these demoniacs address Jesus as the Son of God, but they might have heard in their lucid intervals that Jesus, whose fame was already diffused throughout Syria, was regarded by the people as the Messiah. They show their insanity, 'their shaping fancies,' by imagining they were demons without number, and by requesting permission to enter the swine. Would actual demons choose such an habitation? They speak and answer, indeed, in a rational manner, but agreeably to Locke's definition of madmen, they reason right on false principles, and, taking fancies for realities, make right deductions from them. Thus you shall find a distracted man fancying himself a king, and with a right inference require suitable attendance. Others, who have thought themselves glass, take the needful care to preserve such brittle bodies. It is true that Jesus commands the unclean spirit (so called because believed to be the spirit of a dead man), but he does this merely to excite the attention of the people, and to give them full opportunity to observe the miracle. It is not necessary to suppose that the madmen drove the swine, but merely that, in keeping with all the circumstances, the insanity of the demoniacs was transferred to them, as the leprosy of Naaman was transferred to Gehazi, for the purpose of illustrating the miraculous power of Christ; and though this was a punitive miracle, it might serve the good purpose of discouraging the expectation of temporal benefits from him. If the demoniac is represented as worshipping Jesus, it should be remembered that the insane often show great respect to particular persons.

2. The men who were dumb, and both blind and dumb, are not said to have been disordered in their intellects, any more than the blind man in John 5. The disease in their organs was popularly ascribed to the influence of demons. It is observable that in the parallel passage , the evangelist says the man was dumb.

3. The symptoms of epilepsy in the youth described , are too evident not to be acknowledged. If the opinion of relatives is to be pressed, it should be noticed that in this case the father says his 'son is lunatic.' it was most probably a case of combined epilepsy and lunacy, which has been common in all ages. Epilepsy was ascribed to the influence of the moon in those times. The literal interpretation of popular language would therefore require us to believe that he was 'moonstruck' as well as a demoniac.

4. The damsel at Philippi is said by Luke to have been possessed with a spirit of Apollo. It was her fixed idea. The gift of divination is said by Cicero to have been ascribed to Apollo. Insane persons, pretending to prophesy under the influence of Apollo, would be likely to gain money from the credulous. A belief among the common people that the ravings of insanity were sacred, was not confined to Egypt. The apostle, who taught that an 'idol is nothing in the world,' did not believe in the reality of her soothsaying. Many demoniacs are mentioned, the peculiar symptoms of whose diseases are not stated, as Mary Magdalene , out of whom Jesus cast seven demons, i.e.restored from an inveterate insanity (seven being the Jewish number of perfection), supposed to be caused by the united agency of seven spirits of the dead. Yet she is said to have been healed .

5. If Jesus forbade the demoniacs to say He was the Christ, it was because the declaration of such persons on the subject would do more harm than good. If He rebuked them He also rebuked the wind , and the fever . If it be said of them, they departed, so it is also said of the leprosy .

6. It may be questioned whether the writers of the New Testament make a distinction between the diseased and those possessed of demons, or whether they specify the demoniacs by themselves, as they specify the lunatics , merely as a distinct and peculiar class of the sick. It is, however, most important to observe that St. Peter includes 'all' who were healed by Jesus, under the phrase them that were oppressed of the devil, many of whom were not described by the Evangelists as subjects of demoniacal possession. Sometimes the specification of the demoniacs is omitted in the general recitals of miraculous cures , and this, too, on the important occasion of our Lord sending to John the Baptist an account of the miraculous evidence attending his preaching . Does not this look as if they were considered as included under the sick?

7. It cannot be proved that all the demoniacs knew Jesus to be the Messiah.

8. It is admitted that Jesus addresses the demons, but then it may be said that His doing so has reference partly to the persons themselves in whom demons were supposed to be, and partly to the bystanders; for the same reason that He rebuked the winds in an audible voice, as also the fever.

9. With regard to our Lord's reply to the seventy, it will not be urged that it was intended of a local fall of Satan from heaven, unless it may be supposed to allude to his primeval expulsion; but this sense is scarcely relevant to the occasion. If, then, the literal sense be necessarily departed from, a choice must be made out of the various figurative interpretations of which the words admit; and taking the word Satan here in its generic sense, of whatever is inimical or opposed to the Gospel, Jesus may be understood to say, I foresaw the glorious results of your mission in the triumphs which would attend it over the most formidable obstacles. Heaven is often used in the sense of political horizon . To be cast from heaven to hell is a phrase for total downfall . Cicero says to Mark Antony, You have hurled your colleagues down from heaven. Satan is here used tropically. Our Lord does not, therefore, assert the real operation of demons.

10. In the refutation of the charge that he cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, he simply argues with the Pharisees upon their own principles, and 'judges them out of their own mouth,' without assuming the truth of those principles.

11. The facts he seems to assert respecting the wandering of demons through dry places , were already admitted in the popular creed of the Jews. They believed that demons wandered in desolate places . Upon these ideas he founds a parable or similitude, without involving an opinion of their accuracy, to describe 'the end of this generation.' The observations respecting prayer and fasting seem to have relation to that faith in God which he exhorts his apostles to obtain. Prayer and fasting would serve to enable them to perceive the divine suggestion which accompanied every miracle, and which the apostles had not perceived upon this occasion, though given them, because their animal nature had not been sufficiently subdued.

12. The application of the term Satan to the case of the woman who had a spirit of infirmity, is plainly an arguing with the Jews on their own principles. It is intended to heighten the antithesis between the loosing of an ox from his stall, and loosing the daughter of Abraham whom Satan, as they believed, had bound eighteen years.

13. The objection taken from the supposed consequence of explaining the casting out of demons to signify no more than the cure of diseases, that it tends to lower the dignity of the Savior's miracles, depends upon the reader's complexion of mind, our prior knowledge of the relative dignity of miracles, and some other things, perhaps, of which we are not competent judges.

It has further been observed, that the theory of demoniacal possessions is opposed to the known and express doctrines of Christ and his Apostles. They teach us that the spirits of the dead enter a state corresponding to their character, no more to return to this world (, etc.; 23:43;; ). With regard to the fallen angels, the representations of their confinement are totally opposed to the notion of their wandering about the world and tormenting its inhabitants . If it be said that Jesus did not correct the popular opinion, still He nowhere denies that the phenomena in question arose from diseases only. He took no side; it was not His province. It was not necessary to attack the misconception in a formal manner; it would be supplanted whenever His doctrine respecting the state of the dead was embraced. To have done so would have engaged our Lord in prolix arguments with a people in whom the notion was so deeply rooted, and have led Him away too much from the purposes of His ministry. 'It was one of the many things He had to say, but they could not then bear them.' It is finally urged that the anti-demoniacal theory does not detract from the divine authority of the Savior, the reality of His miracles, or the integrity of the historians.