The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Part 7
We’ve now come to the biblical texts and arguments often cited to prove that it is possible for a Christian to be demonized.
I’ll begin with those texts that describe demonic activity and attack. In my opinion, most of these texts fail to prove the thesis that a Christian can be demonized because they fail to say anything about the location of the activity relative to the individual.
a.2 Corinthians 2:11 (“so that we would not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs”) – Certainly it is true that Satan seeks to divide and disrupt, to exploit disagreements, to intensify unforgiveness, etc. But nothing explicitly is said here about demonization.
b.2 Corinthians 11:3-4 (Satan is portrayed as possibly “deceiving” Christians and Christians are warned against “receiving” a “different spirit” from the one they received) – What does "spirit" mean? Is this a demonic being, or an attitude, an influence, a principle? And what does "receive" mean? Is it invasion and subsequent inhabitation, or perhaps tolerance, attentiveness, etc.' Most likely the Corinthians were tolerating the presence and influence of false teachers who were energized by demons.
c.2 Corinthians 12:7-8 (a “messenger of Satan” harassed Paul) – Although God used a demonic being to keep Paul humble, no one would wish to conclude that he was demonized! If he were, would he have rejoiced in its effects (vv. 9-10)?
d.Ephesians 4:26-27 (Paul warns us not to give “opportunity” [ESV] to the devil, especially through unresolved anger) – Here we see that the devil can exploit the relational strains and tension that develop in the Christian community. Page is correct to point out "that the devil is not credited with producing anger; that is, its source is apparently to be found within the person himself or herself. Nevertheless, anger can provide the devil with an opportunity to wreak havoc in the life of the individual and the community" (188-89). It seems reasonable that Satan's activity in this regard would extend to the other sins mentioned in the immediately subsequent context: stealing, unwholesome speech, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, malice, unforgiveness (see vv. 28-32).
Clinton Arnold points to Paul's use of the Greek term “topos”, translated "foothold" or "opportunity". He argues that this word is often used in the NT for "inhabited space" (cf. Lk. 2:7; 4:37; 14:9; John 14:2-3). Even more to the point, says Arnold, are passages that illustrate the use of topos to refer to the inhabiting space of an evil spirit, such as Lk. 11:24 and Rev. 12:7-8. Thus he concludes that "the most natural way to interpret the use of ‘topos’ in Ephesians 4:27 is the idea of inhabitable space. Paul is thus calling these believers to vigilance and moral purity so that they do not relinquish a base of operations to demonic spirits" (88).
e.Ephesians 6:10-18 – What happens to the believer who does not stand in the strength of Christ, who does not put on the full armor of God, who does not therefore "stand firm" (v. 13)?
f.1 Thessalonians 2:18 (here Paul says that “Satan hindered” us) – But this says nothing about a demon or Satan indwelling Paul or any believer.
g.1 Timothy 3:6-7 (Paul warns about falling into “the condemnation of the devil” and falling into a “snare of the devil”) – Does being "entrapped" or "ensnared" entail demonization?
h.1 Timothy 4:1 (“teachings [or doctrines] of demons”) – People often come under the influence of demonic doctrine, perhaps even a form of "mind control". But does this entail or require inhabitation?
i.2 Timothy 2:26 – Again, what does it mean to be in the devil's "snare" and to be "held captive" to do his will?
j.James 3:14-16 – Nothing is said about an indwelling demonic presence but only a warning concerning demonic “wisdom”.
k.1 Peter 5:6-8 – If we do not humble ourselves, if we do not cast our cares on him, if we are not sober and alert, we may well be devoured by the devil. "Devour" = to swallow up (Mt. 23:24; 1 Cor. 15:54; 2 Cor. 2:7; 5:4; Heb. 11:29; Rev. 12:16). Nothing, however, is said explicitly about how or from where this "devouring" takes place.
Two observations: (1) If given the opportunity, Satan or demons can make a serious encroachment on the life of a believer. Simply being a Christian does not automatically insulate you from this sort of potentially devastating attack. (2) On the other hand, if we "resist" the devil, we are assured of victory.
l.1 John 4:1-4 (“he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”) – This text is relevant only if some of the false teachers "in whom" the spirit of antichrist operated were Christians. This, however, is highly unlikely. On the other hand, it does sound strange to suggest that the one “who is in the world” could also be “in” the believer. Would the one (God) who is already in the believer and is greater than he who is in the world allow this to occur?
We must also look at several texts that describe the experience of certain individuals.
a.Balaam (Num. 22-24) – Was Balaam a believer? Whatever answer we come to, nothing is said here about an indwelling demonic presence in his life.
b.Saul – Was Saul a believer? Probably (1 Sam. 10:9). Because of his rebellion and sin he came under demonic attack (1 Sam. 16:14-23; 18:10-11; 19:9). However, the evil spirit is said to come "upon/on" him, not "into/in" him. Does the fact that this happened prior to Pentecost have any bearing on how we interpret it?
c.the woman bent double (Luke 13:10-17) – Her condition has been identified by some as "spondylitis ankylopoietica" (which produces fusion of the vertebrae). Two questions: (1) Was she a believer? She "glorified" God immediately on being delivered (v. 13) and is called "a daughter of Abraham" (v. 16; cf. Lk. 19:9). The latter may simply mean she was Jewish. (2) Was she demonized? The NASB reads, "had a sickness caused by a spirit," whereas it literally reads, "she had a spirit of sickness (or of infirmity)," which is similar to the language of demonization ("to have a spirit"). See also v. 16. Others have argued, however, that this narrative reads more like a simple healing than an exorcism. But even if true, that doesn't answer the question of whether or not the demon indwelt her.
d.Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) – Certainly they were both believers. It seems unlikely that the example of their deaths would have any relevance for the church if they were not (cf. v. 11). Were they demonized? Satan is said to have "filled" their heart. This verb "filled" is the same one used in Eph. 5:18 for being "filled" with the Holy Spirit. But with what did he fill them? Did Satan fill them with himself, i.e., so as to indwell them? Or did Satan fill their heart with the temptation or idea or notion to hold back the money?
Two observations: (1) At minimum, this is the case of a believer coming under powerful Satanic influence. (2) Notwithstanding Satan's influence, they were responsible for their sin. They were disciplined with death. See vv. 4b,9 ("you"). The point is that they could have said "No" to Satan's influence.
e.the man in 1 Cor. 5 – This probably refers to the excommunication or expulsion of a Christian man from the fellowship of the church. To "deliver to Satan" = to turn him out into the world, back into the domain of Satan. "Destruction of the flesh" does not refer to physical death but to the anticipated effect of his expulsion, namely, the mortification or crucifixion of his carnal appetites so that he may be saved on the day of Christ.
Here we see yet another example of Satan intending one thing in a particular action (no doubt he wanted only to ruin this man) while God intended something entirely different (salvation).
Finally, we must look closely at the special case of 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
Clearly, Paul thought it possible for a Christian to become a "sharer" or "partner" with demons. The word he uses here is “koinonia” = fellowship, communion with. It is the same word used in v. 16 for our sharing in or fellowshipping with Christ at his table! What does this mean? Is he referring merely to "agreement with" or the "holding of a common purpose with" Christ and/or a demon? Is it merely a description of external attendance at a pagan feast? Or does Paul have in mind a more active sharing of an internal spiritual bond or link or fellowship with a demon?
His point seems to be that when you sit to worship at the table of the Lord, or conversely, in the presence of idols, you open yourself to the power and influence of one or the other. There is a sharing of an intimate spiritual experience, an association of sorts, a relationship that is personal and powerful. But does it entail inhabitation by a demon?
The eighth and final installment in this series will focus on some concluding observations.