Evangelism and Missions – Spiritual Warfare – Deliverance and Exorcism
Exorcism is traditionally defined as the act of driving out demonic entities from people that have become possessed. Deliverance in the Bible parallels this understanding, but is usually more broadly defined as the rescuing from bondage or danger. We find many examples in the ministries of Jesus Christ, His disciples and the believers in the Church in reference to the casting out of demons and deliverance.
This subject branches out into other areas or Biblical topics such a spiritual warfare, spiritual oppression and various aspects of Christian living. This article will also address some of the theological misunderstandings about this topic by looking at what the Bible teaches specifically on this issue and separating it from many presumptions and ideas that have developed since the first century.
Here we will look at some of the Hebrew and Greek words used to describe these accounts in the Bible and their definitions.
Exorcism & Deliverance
Biblical Accounts of Casting out Demons & Deliverance
The following is a list of demonic encounters throughout the New Testament. These encounters teach us several various aspects concerning the casting out of demons.
Healing and deliverance was foretold by the Prophets concerning the coming Messiah. That He would be the one to take our sickness and bring an end to the oppression of spiritual darkness (Ps 107.16, Isa 45.2, Eph 4.8).
Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? – Matthew 12.22-23
We find numerous accounts of those who were spiritually possessed had accompanying supernatural manifestations that surrounded their possession. In fact, every demonic encounter recorded in the New Testament had accompanying supernatural manifestations of some type. These manifestations are seen as follows:
- Divination or hidden (occult) knowledge; many of the demons recognized Jesus for who He was, and Jesus commanded them not to speak or tell anyone.
- Supernatural Strength; Like the man in Matt 8.28, he broke chains of iron and fetters.
- Unnatural or supernatural movements, displacement (pushing), torment; like the boy in Matt 17.14, who was often thrown into water and fire by the demon.
- Unnatural illness – many of those whom had demons cast out had healing to some part of their body the demon was somehow manipulating. Since many received healed, sight or movement after the demon had left.
- Violent Removals – most of the removals of spirit resulted in convulsions, spasms, unconsciousness, foaming of the mouth, etc.
– Mark 9.20-27 [parallel in Matt 17.14-21, Luke 9.37-42]
Possessed by Satan
Luke 22 records the event when Judas betrayed Jesus, and here we see that even Satan himself can and does enter people, just as he entered into Judas.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. – Luke 22.3
Jesus Instructs and Authorizes His Disciples to Cast out Demons
When the Lord Jesus begins His ministry, He commanded His disciples to go and proclaim the kingdom of Heaven, to heal the sick and cast out demons. At the end of Mark the Lord proclaims that all those who believe in His name will cast out demons.
We know that when the disciples were casting out demons during Jesus time on Earth, the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out and made to indwelled within believers (John 7.39, Acts 2.33). The Holy Spirit came once Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father. However, the Holy Spirit did move, fill and assist the prophets and God’s people throughout the Old Testament.
The Lord gave authority to the disciples. The term for authority is used as a legal type of terminology for jurisdiction or privilege. It is interesting when dealing with spiritual warfare and possession we encounter terms that are synonymous with types of legal authority, authorization, and ownership. We see this in Acts 7.24, 10.38 along with the powers and principalities in heaven places mentioned in Ephesians 6.
The Lord teaches His disciples not to rejoice that demons are subject to them, but rather rejoice that their names are written in Heaven. This means the focus should never be on the enemy, but rather rejoicing in the things of God. Jesus taught His disciples not to rejoice in the casting out of demons and miraculous works because this is not a sign of your own salvation, or even that you belong to God. Miracles are done, by God, because God is a gracious and compassionate God, to everyone, to the wicked and righteous (Matt 5.45). God loves mercy and He will be merciful to whom He desires to be merciful (Rom 9.15).
God attests to his message as He chooses, by His will, with signs (Acts 2.22, 14.3). There is power in the name of Jesus, so much that even those who practice iniquity can use His name and miracles happen. We know this because Jesus said there will be many that think they belong to God because they healed in His name or cast out demons, but Jesus will tell them He never knew them because they were workers of iniquity (Matt 7.21).
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18. And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10.17-18 [Matt 10.1]
The Church Casts out Demons
Once Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit (Eph 4.7). The Holy Spirit empowers believers to do many works, including the casting out of demons, as we find throughout the book of Acts.
Miracles with Objects
God worked many different signs and miracles through the apostles and in some cases even some of the objects they touched where able to heal and cast out demons.
God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. – Acts 19.11
Here in the book of Acts we have an account of non-Christian exorcists attempting to cast out demons by the name of Jesus Christ and Paul. However, since they were not believers, the demon was able to attack and overpower them. We know the demon was able to overpower them due to the fact they were unbelievers as evidence in verse 15.
13. Some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.
15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.– Acts 19.13-16
Does this conflict with the idea that those who practice iniquity and think they are believers are able to cast out demons as seen in Matt 7.21? It may be inferred here that this was an account of experiencing a more powerful being. As Jesus taught to His own disciples in Matt 17.21, that even believers will have trouble with certain encounters of more powerful, or different kinds of beings.
Disciples Could Not Cast Our Demons
There are a few accounts in the New Testament in which the disciples where not able to cast out evil spirits. Jesus explains that some are not able to come out except by prayer and fasting. [Matt 17.14-20; Mark 9.28; Luke 9.40]
Forbid not Others from Casting out Demons
Jesus teaches His disciples not to rebuke those who cast demons out or whom do any mighty work in His name, for ‘whoever is not against you is on your side.’ Jesus tells us that whoever does a mighty work in His name cannot speak ill of Jesus soon after.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39. But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40. For the one who is not against us is for us. – Mark 9.38-40 [Luke 9.49]
This may also be taken as a teaching or warning for false teachers, that when someone speaks falsely (ill) about Jesus or has a false teaching, it may be accompanied with false wonders (as described in 2 Thess 2.9). Jesus also alludes to this after rebuking the Pharisees concerning binding the strong man (the Devil), saying he that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathers not, scatters abroad (Matt 12.30).
Jesus is Accused of Casting out Demons by the Devil
Jesus is accused of casting out devils by the prince of devils. [Matt 9.34, 12.24–30; Mark 3.23; Luke 11.14-20] Jesus explains very clearly in these verses that the devil does not attack his own kind, for no kingdom set against itself can stand. Only God truly casts out demons.
However due to our human limitations and without discernment from the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to tell the difference between the true and false miracles, false miracles that that would employ the tactics of false deliverance from demons. False miracles are described in 2 Thess 2.9 that accompany false teachers (2 Peter 1.19).
The Bible teaches us to test all spirits (1 John 4.1), and test everything (2 Thess 5.21-22). It is blasphemous to say Jesus had an evil spirit, or to talk about the Lord Jesus that way in a heart of rebellion (calling evil good and good evil – Isa 5.20). However to question or be cautious of any fallible man, is to be Biblically minded. Only those who arrogantly want you to believe them will not want you to challenge them. Only a man of pride will equate himself with Jesus, saying that if you question him you are acting like the Pharisees that questioned Jesus.
Does this idea violate Jesus statement that Satan does not cast out Satan? To question if a false deliverance has occurred? Absolutely not, for we know that the Devil tries to counterfeit everything God does. A false deliverance will only keep people in bondage, for they will be trapped in turmoil as long as they believe in a false gospel, which will never have the power to deliver them. They will forever be learning, never able to come to knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 3.7).
Exorcisms in Other World Religions
There are various accounts of different world religions performing exorcisms, various tribes throughout the world that practice folk magic has recorded exorcisms and the casting out of evil spirits. How do we explain non-Christian exorcisms? It is true that God is merciful to whom He desires to have mercy.
However if someone has to continually come back to a shaman for deliverance from an evil spirit, that person is no better off the when they first began, can you say they were truly delivered? Without the Spirit of God dwelling in their life, they will be subject to more wicked spirits returning to them at some point in their life (Matt 12.45).
These shamanistic rituals parallel practices we see in some so called Christian Deliverance Ministries or some Catholic exorcisms. Some people believe they need continual deliverance from some evil spirit, returning multiple times without any change in their life. Some people are taught they need to depend on the deliverance minister that teach a false gospel of deliverance; which depends on more the just the simple finished work in Christ. The warning against false gospels is the very thing Paul shares (2 Corin 11.4, Gal 3.3).
Some ministers employ tactics of hypnotism and mass manipulation to get their followers to perform or believe that they are possessed, some may actually be possessed. We are warned about following the doctrines of Demons that depend on human teachings (Col 2.8), with an appearance of godliness but denying its power. The power of the finished work of Christ in the gospel (2 Tim 3.5), for those who are set free by the Son are free indeed, and it is Jesus whom ‘possessed’ (holds) us (John 10.28).
It may be notated here that no example in the Bible had any individual seek out deliverance for themselves. Jesus and the disciples had to go to those who needed demons cast out, or their family members had to go to the disciples to request this act. This should go without saying that a demon would do everything possible to keep their host away from a place that would cause them to be cast out.
Even the demoniac ran from a distance to Jesus in fear that they where going to be punished before the time (Matt 8.29), however it was Jesus that was passing through that region. This should be another precaution when finding these churches that are filled with so called believers that are full of demons.
Bind the Strong Man
Jesus explains some spiritual principles about spiritual warfare in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
– Matt 12.25-29
– Luke 11.19-22
Jesus shares this parable in conjunction with the accusation of being in league with the devil. He elaborates the point ‘or how can someone enter a strong man’s house,’ (Matt 12.29) pointing to the statement before this. This it is by the Spirit of God that He is casting out demons. Therefore, Jesus is the one binding the strong man (Satan) and plunders his house (v.29). Jesus teaches that before you can take the strong man’s goods; he must first be bound up. Jesus binds the strong man, the devil.
Jesus is the only whom can bind the Devil, who can do this, and He has done it already, this is how he set the captives free, by binding the strong man. Jesus has already bound Satan (Luke 10.18, John 12.31), removing his authority (Ps 82.8, 1 John 5.4, 18) and rendering him powerless to believers. Jesus has plundered Satan’s house (Hell – 1 John 5.19, Eph 4.7-8), taking his defenses and armor, and freeing the captive’s held hostage by Satan (Luke 4.18, John 17.15, 2 Tim 2.23-26).
Demonic Possession & Oppression
There are many examples throughout the New Testament of people being demonically possessed. The question comes to mind, what causes a person to become demonically possessed? This answer is not specifically stated in the Bible, however certain inferences made be made. Some base their understanding of this question from modern day or historic writings on accounts. However neither Jesus, nor any disciple ever asked the demons they encountered how or why they entered into a person. Neither is there any teaching in scripture on how demons enter people.
We find it insinuated in scripture that demons enter people to torture and hurt them, like the woman that was oppressed for 18 years by Satan (Luke 13.16). Even though the term ‘possession’ is used, the Bible teaches us that all people, that the entire world, is captive by the devil, taken prisoner to do his will (Eph 2.1-3, 2 Tim 2.26). That the devil possesses (owns or has authority) over the entire world and all the children of disobedience.
It could be interpreted that it is not specific people that get ‘possessed’ but rather all the children of disobedience are already either possessed or under the control of the devil (2 Corin 4.4), therefore are automatically subject to demonic entities, their power, influence or will. Jesus came into the world, and one of the things he did was set all people free from all the power and authority of the enemy (Luke 4.18).
Can Christians Become Possessed – Deliverance for Believers
One question many people ask is whether a Christian can be demonically possessed. However, this question automatically infers that all Christians are true believers and are followers of Christ in truth. Christianity has become a religion that many say they are a part of, unfortunately for many, without there being any truth behind their words. Many people claim to be Christians without ever having put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Free Indeed – Devil has No Authority
The Bible makes it clear that for those whom Jesus has truly set free, are free indeed. Those who are free are not bound to anything nor is anything bound to them. Believers have already been rescued, redeemed, and delivered, from the world to Christ.
(Jesus said) The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.– Luke 4.18 – Our Lord reading His mission as prophesied by Isaiah
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”– John 8.31
For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, And from the deadly pestilence.– Psalms 91.3
All of a Believer Belongs to God – Soul, Mind and Body
We also find that all aspect or parts of a believer, and their lives, belongs to God; their heart, mind, soul, and body all belong to God. The devil no longer has any authority over any part of their lives. In fact, believers are the holy temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells within your body with your spirit.
Slaves to Whom We Obey
Sin was once the master of all men; now true believers are free to serve God. Whoever we obey, we are servants to that/them.
Spiritual Warfare – Spirit vs. Flesh Struggle
The Bible teaches us that believers will still deal or battle with the carnal nature within us. This is the part of our nature that is dying, however our new nature, the spiritual nature, is alive in us from the moment we believed and are spiritually born again.
Our spiritual nature and carnal nature are at war within us, attempting to take control of our own will, i.e. selfish vs selfless desires, fruit of the flesh vs fruit of the spirit.
This battle will take place within us until our physical bodies die. However, our spirits are already alive and will live forever with Christ (John 5.24). The Bible tells we will experience this spiritual war against our own flesh and the Devil, however as believers all we have to do is resist the Devil, and that we have already overcome the world by faith.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it – 1 Corinthains 10.13
Believers are to Practice Self-Control
The Bible teaches us that we are to control ourselves at all times. That one of the fruits of spirit is self-control. Those who belong to God will practice self-control, and the lack thereof is evidence of carnal activities. This would contradict the notion that any other spirit besides the spirit of self-control (the Holy Spirit) would oversee your body.
No Instruction in the New Testament
Besides the number of verses above that show that the Spirit of God dwells within believers, that the authority of God is now over a believer’s life instead of the Devils, and that believers are slaves to righteousness; we can see that the Bible infers that true believers cannot become demonically possessed. This does not negate the struggles every believer has with the enemy of their soul.
The New Testament never addresses Believers needing deliverance from demons, specifically that need to be cast out of them once they begin walking with God. In fact, it tells us those who are free are free indeed, to resist the devil and he will flee from you and that we are no longer under the devil’s authority. Jesus sets His people free from all sin and all the power of the devil and the world. We are given power to overcome carnality and the desires of the flesh.
There is no instruction given in the New Testament for exorcising demons from believers. However, there is continual instruction for dying to yourself (your carnal nature) and living a life worthy of your calling (Eph 4.1). This message of repentance, continual turning from sin and sanctification in Christ with a renewed mind (Rom 12.2) is what the devil tries to get Christians away from, attempting to get God’s people focused on various traps of deception (2 Corin 2.11).
Deliverance Ministry Theology (Modern)
There have been various teachings within ministries that focus on deliverance, teachings that need some clarification and examination. First of all it is very important to never go beyond the scriptures (1 Corinthians 4.6), and to carefully handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2.15) as the Bible warns us about doing.
We are to understand that the Bible is sufficient for every good work (2 Corinthians 9.8, 2 Tim 3.16), including the casting out of demons, this means that we do not need to learn any doctrine, teaching, prayer or tactic that exists outside of the Bible to cast out demons.
Learning about demons can become a trap for those who go into this kind of ministry, for the Devil is very crafty, and the desire to learn about demons can easily lead into occult teachings and doctrines, which are the deceptive doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4.1). Believers are to be simple concerning knowledge about evil and wise about the things that are good (Rom 16.19).
The Bible has equips all believers with everything they need to know about the casting out of demons and deliverance, and the primary key to deliverance is the gospel, for it is the gospel alone that sets people free. When you put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ and He sets you free, you are free indeed. You become a part of His kingdom and the kingdom of darkness has no dominion over you at all.
This is the simplicity of the gospel, that all you need is Jesus, to walk by faith in Him (2 Corinthians 11.3). The devil tries very hard to get people to believe that they need something more than the gospel, such as the continual need to go to a deliverance minister. Anytime we add anything to the gospel, we risk falling from grace (Gal 5.4) for we are saying to God that His grace and free gift is not sufficient enough (Gal 2.11-16). Faith in the gospel (the good news that Jesus died for our sins) is about putting our faith in Jesus alone and nothing else (Gal 3.1-9) is all we need (2 Corin 11.3).
There have been many books over the centuries that have been written; books on demonology, books on Roman Catholicism exorcisms written by Catholic priests, along with many events and testimonies by experienced exorcists. Writings on their experiences and information they have learned from these exorcisms or deliverances along with information gathered from the exorcised demons or possessed persons. Some information contradicts, some is very consistent, however why would anyone want to learn about anything that came from the father of lies?
Any information from the enemy will only lead to confusion and deception for that is their goal, and to ultimately lead people away from the truth of Christ and the simplicity of the gospel, trying to get people to accept another Jesus, another gospel or another spirit (2 Corinthians 11.4). Spiritual experience, like science, history or testimonies, may be useful, but should always be examined prayerfully, never taken as truth equal to scripture (1 Thess 5.21)!
Deliverance (Healing) is the Children’s Bread
One of the teachings of modern deliverance ministry is the idea that deliverance is only for and belongs to the children of God; specifically the casting out of demons is only for the children of God. That deliverance is not to be done for non believers.
This idea comes from Matthew 15.21-28:
– Matthew 15.21-28
Proponents of the ‘deliverance is for Christians,’ theology proposes the following argument from this verse:
At this time Jesus was sent only to the house of Israel. The woman (v.22) asked Jesus to deliver her daughter from the evil spirit. Jesus told her that it is not good to give the children’s bread to the dogs (v.24). Therefore the thing she was asking for (deliverance) is the bread that belongs to the children.
This understanding does not take the broader context of Jesus ministry, scripture or the parable of ‘the children’s bread,’ as defined by scripture into context. This understanding only takes the narrow view of exactly what Jesus said and attempts to match it up with what the woman was asking for.
A better interpretation of this verse is as follows:
Jesus gives a more meaningful definition of ‘true bread,’ or ‘the bread that belonged to the children of Israel’ later in the gospels. Jesus explains in John 6.32-38 that He is the true bread from heaven. The bread that God gives is Jesus, and when Jesus came He first belonged to the Israelites, that is why it was not right to give Him (his word, ministry, teachings, power, healings, etc.) to anyone but the Children of Israel first.
It is true that true deliverance is for God’s people, since only those who come to faith and live in Christ will truly experience true deliverance, as discussed earlier. However, to push the idea that this verse means that believers need to be delivered from demons on a regular basis is not Biblical.
Was Apostle Paul Demon Possessed?
There is a teaching that takes the verse in 2 Corinthians 12 as a statement that the Apostle Paul was demon possessed. The verse is:
Some scholars believe this thorn was an opponent in his ministry, as Paul earlier refers to those men who oppose him, those who thought of themselves as ‘super apostles’ (2 Corin 11.5).
There may be a clue given in verse 9, as to what the thorn was, Paul mentions that he will boast in his infirmities in Greek the word is Astheneia; which means disease, sickness or weakness. This is why many scholars reference this verse to Galatians 4.13-15, when Paul again mentions his infirmity, which God used to bring them together for the first time.
He may have called it a messenger of Satan, but it was the irritation or infirmity that caused the issue for him, and it was for a purpose that God allowed it, to humble him.
Messiah Prophesies and Exorcism in the Old Testament
The Jewish people understood that the Messiah was a healer as portrayed in the Old Testament, however it seems that the people also understood the Messiah to be an exorcist of demons as well. This is not directly seen in Old Testament scripture but is a concept understood indirectly by the destruction of the false gods (demons) and their authority.
In the New Testament we find that when Jesus began to cast out demons, people understood this as a sign of the coming Messiah, as seen in Matt 12.23, when they recognized this to be a sign of the Son of David (another name for the Messiah).
The concept of the Messiah casting out demons is also seen throughout Second Temple Jewish literature [extra Biblical literature], as the son of David. The Dead Sea Scrolls 11Q5 column 27 contains a reference to a Psalms of David, a song to perform over the possessed. This is believed to be one of the Psalms referenced in 1 Kings 4.29-34. Column 19 line 15, David says do not let Satan rule over me neither let an evil spirit.
Psalm 91 in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint verse 5 tells us those who take refuge in the Almighty will not fear ‘the terror of the night,’ which is believed by many scholars to be a Jewish term for a demonic entity. In the Septuagint this verse is translated as the evil spirit at noonday or ‘mid-day demon or noonday demon.’
Early Church & Historic References to Casting out Demons
The following are some reference from various writings of early Church Fathers in regard to exorcisms and casting out demons.
– Lactentius, The Divine lnstitutes, Book II, 16
– Lactantius , The Epitome of the Divine Institutes, Ch. 51