Today I am starting a series of articles on a little studied and often feared topic in Christendom, demonology. In this series we are planning on taking a deep look at everything from the originis of the demons to possession and finish up with what has been called “spiritual warfare” or simply how to defend against demons. Ultimately, my goal with the series is to help fellow believers to
…Be alert! Your enemy the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
How can we be alert for an enemy that we do know? An enemy that is a wolf disguised as a sheep? We must know the enemy’s methods, to be cunning as serpants but as harmless as doves. The Lord wants us to put on the full armor of God, and that requires using them well against our enemy. We can’t use them well if we are not familiar with the enemy’s weapons. The goal of this study on demons is to expose the brethren to a biblical history of demons and how to best defend against their spiritual attacks.
Where do demons come from?
So naturally we begin this study with the question of where do the demons come from? This is a question that we have wondered about for centuries now. Demons don’t really appear in the Old Testament, at least not in a clear way. Then when we start reading the Gospels, demons are just there and Jesus is going around casting them out of people and talking to them. The Bible almost just assumes we already know what a demon is and that has created confusion which in turn leads us to speculate.
The most popular of this speculations, in fact the default position, is that the demons are fallen angels. The story goes, some time before Adam and Eve fell, Lucifer, an angel of light, rebelled in heaven, and convinced one third of all the angels in heaven to follow him. Together they started a war against God and the rest of the angels. The rebels lost the great battle, and were banished from heaven and after that Lucifer became the devil, and the others became his demons.
Here’s the thing though, this traditional view is not exactly biblical. This view is more derived from John Milton’s 17th century poem Paradise Lost than it is from the Bible, and there are two big problems with this story. First off, there is no person called “Lucifer” in the Bible. In a passage that we believe to be about Satan, Isaiah 14:12 the prophet uses the phrase helel ben shakhar (shining one, son of the dawn). Later (about 1,000 years) shinning one is translated in the Latin Bible as Lucifer, (meaning Venus the planet, or morning star) and finally the King James Bible made the weird decision to keep the term Lucifer instead of translating it into the English “morning star.”
The second major problem with the classical theory is that the only place in all of scripture which says anything about a war in heaven is Revelation 12:7-9, but this battle doesn’t happen before creation, or before Adam and Eve. Revelation 12:1-6 is about the birth of Jesus, look it up and see. The words that connect verse 6 to verse 7 are, “and then…” If we are reading this in the most natural way (chronologically),then that would mean that the war in heaven happened in the first century, around the time Jesus was born. Maybe it was the last stitch effort to stop the messiah for coming to earth and fulfilling his mission, but that’s just speculation the Bible doesn’t specifically say this. And after all that is exactly my goal in this article, not to give in to speculation or tradition but to really look at what Scripture says about the origin of the demons.
Now please don’t think I’m saying the traditional answer to the origin of demons is completely wrong, because in reality the answer to the question, where did demons come from is fallen angels but it is more complicated than just that. Actually there have been multiple times that angels have rebelled against God and it gets complicated pretty fast.
The First Rebel
Satan was the first rebel, he first appears in the book of Genesis 3 with the Hebrew name “nachash” a word that might have a double meaning, it means snake but depending on context it could also mean “shining one” when makes sense when you think of the passage in Isaiah 10 or Paul’s words when he warns Satan can appear as an angel of light. Satan is the one who corrupted the world by tempting Adam and Eve, he introduced sin and created the mess that Jesus came to clean up. It isn’t until the passage in Isaiah cited above when we learn that Satan was originally one of God’s angels who, because of his pride, wanted to be like God, and was banished from heaven.
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”
Seemingly, before he was the devil, Helel ben Shakhar was a light bearing angel who thought he could do a better job than God and he made a power grab. This didn’t end well and he fell from heaven, and as a jab at God he came to bring sin and by sin death into God’s new creation, earth. Jesus calls the devil the father of lies (John 8:44) and his first born lie was to Adam and Eve telling them they could be like God if they sinned against him. Funny how that lie also seems to be a deep wish fulfillment on the devil’s part he has told himself the lie that he can become God so many times that he must believe it himself.
So Satan was once an angel of God, maybe very high ranking, and he has become a twisted shadow of his former self. He is currently on earth (or in the spiritual world if you will) he is a real, and very active to this day. He is the Lord of the dead and prince of the demons.
The Rebellion of Genesis 6
In Genesis 6 we are presented with a very well known, and very confusing passage that describes a second rebellion of angels.
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went into the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
Now we can’t talk about this passage without first addressing the fact that there have been multiple readings of it throughout history. The reason for the alternative interpretations seems to be because there are believers out there who are uncomfortable with the clearest and most natural reading of this passage. I won’t argue the point here, I will simply say that I find it ironic that people who believe Jesus Christ rose from the grave and conquered death in the process would also find it hard to believe in a supernatural interpretation of Genesis 6.
These four verse of scripture describe an event where a group of beings called the sons of God who were angels were enticed into leaving the spiritual world and took daughters of men (in other words human women) as their brides. The result of these unions were a race of people called the Nephilim, who in other parts of the Bible are described as very tall, sometimes even giants. This is the Biblical explanation for some of the heroes of the ancient mythology. At least some of them actually existed and were mighty warriors because they were descended of these angels who left heaven. Terminating the Nephilim is part of the reason for the great flood in the book of Genesis.
It is important to note here that these sons of God who fell in Genesis 6 are not the demons of the New Testament and they are no longer players in the spiritual battle (although there is another group of angels called Sons of the Most High who will become demons but more on this later). Jude and Peter both tell us about how God didn’t spare these angels for their sins, rather he bound them in a place called the abyss or tartarus which is kind of like a special prison cell in hell where these angels are being kept until the final judgement. The Book of Revelation describes a scene where the abyss is opened up at the end and the beings bound there are allowed to run free for a time.
So, if the sons of God in Genesis 6 are not currently in the picture and did not become the demons why do I mention them in this essay about the origin of the demons? Because they are not the demons, but their offspring are.
The souls of the Nephilim became demons
Now I am fully aware how weird this sounds but it is my firm conviction based on an examination of the scripture that at least some demons, maybe the majority of them are the twisted up and left over souls of the Nephilim and other tribes that descended from them.
Now first of all you are probably asking yourself what I mean by ‘other tribes descended from the Nephilim.’ Weren’t all the Nephilim wiped out in the flood? Did God fail in His goal of terminating them? Well first off Genesis 6 itself seems to suggest a few if not many Nephilim survived the flood “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—” Second, we are not told how they survived we are only told that they did.
In Numbers 13 when the Israelites finally make it to the promised land after leaving Egypt, Moses sends 12 spies into the land. The spies come back and and tell the people of a beautiful land overflowing with wealth and blessing but 10 of the 12 spies are discouraged by who they saw in the land. They report seeing a group of people who were the sons of Anak (or Anakim) who were very tall and mighty people. Then Numbers 13:33 tells us without question,
“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
The people are discouraged that they will have to defeat the Anakim in order to take the promised land and for their lack of faith God sends them to wander in the desert for 40 years.
But the Anakim are not the only group of unusually tall people mentioned. Different regions and different tribes had their own word for the same race of people. Another name for the groups of tall warriors is Rephaim Deuteronomy 2:10-
11 says The Emim—a large and numerous people, as tall as the Anakim—had formerly inhabited it. 11 Like the Anakim, they are usually considered as Rephaim, though the Moabites call them Emim.”
The people of Ammon had still another name for the same group is they called them Zamzummim (Deut 2:19–20).
The term Rephaim is used and connected with numerous people groups and regions of the land of Israel. And so the followers of Moses under Joshua slowly, city by city, conquer and exterminate the tribes that were connected to the Rephaim. And at the end of the conquest Joshua defines his success by the fact there were no more Anakim in the land (Joshua 11:22).
The Bible tells us that all the surviving descendants of the Nephilim that weren’t killed by the Israelites moved into the areas of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Goliath was from Gath and he is not the only unusually tall person said to have come from that area (II Samuel 21:20–22). And the large Philistines at Gath are said to be descendants of Rapa (1 Chr 20:6) which just like Anak seems to be the name of an ancient Nephilim ancestor who the Rephaim are named after. Ultimately in the time of David the last of the Rephaim were killed.
OK, now that’s all cool to know but what exactly do these groups have to do with the demons? Stick with me here because this is where things get really weird because the souls of the Rephaim didn’t go away, in the rest of the Old Testament there is a hand full of mentions of them still existing in the spirit world. Here’s one example.
“Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you?”
What’s that you says? You didn’t see anything about the disembodied souls of a race of human angel hybrids in that verse? Well it is right there, we just need to put our Hebrew glasses on to find it. Let’s look again.
Ta’aseh (Will you preform) pele (wonders) halam methim (for the dead) rephaim (will the spirits) yakumu (rise) yovducha (and praise) selah (You? Selah.)
That’s right the word translated in Psalm 88 as “spirits” is the Hebrew word Rephaim. Now in Biblical Hebrew the normal word for a dead person is methim, this is the word you’d use for great grandma or Moses or Abraham Lincoln or anyone else who has passed on. But, then in several passages where it’s clear we’re talking about beings in the spiritual world, the word Rephaim is used instead. And this just one example of several uses of the word others include Isa 26:14 says “They are dead (methim), they will not live; they are shades (rephaim), they will not arise.” In Job 26:5–6 we find out that the Rephaim are in the underworld.
Isaiah 14:9 says that the underworld is waiting for someone to die and the Rephaim are described there as “all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones” The same word for leaders in this passage literally means “goats” and it’s used to describe Gog and Magog (Ezek 39:18) who were both Rephaim.
Bible Scholars have debated and puzzled for years over why the same word that describes the giant tribes is also used in other passages to describe souls that are in the underworld. I would like to humbly suggest that the reason the same word is used in these two different contexts is because we are talking about the same beings. In other words after the conquest and defeat of the Nephilim tribes, their souls didn’t just go to Sheol like other human souls and they weren’t locked in hell like their fathers. Rather their souls were transferred to what we could biblically call the “dry places” and they continued to exist there and the biblical authors knew about them.
At what point did these spirits of the Nephilim, Rephaim, Anakim etc. become the same demons that Jesus would later cast out of many people in the gospels? To be honest we are not told exactly how they came under Satan’s power or how they started to pester humans through possession. Just like the doctrine of the Trinity we do not have a single verse that spells out the doctrine but rather it is the only reasonable conclusion when we understand all of scripture together and equally. The same way there is not a single verse of the Old Testament that tells us exactly that the Rephaim became demons but it seems to be the only logical conclusion from taking all of scripture for what it says.
It is also worth mentioning that during the Second Temple period, when demon literature become very popular and exorcism began to be practiced most of the Jewish people believed that the demons were the leftover souls of the Rephaim. The non-cannonical Book of Enoch, which is not part of the Bible but is useful because it tell us what Jews at the time of Jesus believed, says this about the Rephaim/Nephilim
And now the giants, who have been begotten from body and flesh, will be called evil spirits on earth, and their dwelling-places will be upon the earth.
- Evil spirits proceed from their bodies; because they are created from above, their beginning and first basis being from the holy watchers, they will be evil spirits upon the earth, and will be called evil spirits.
The Rebellion in Duet 32
And finally the last group of demons and the most dangerous of all come from yet another angelic rebellion. There will no doubt be someone out there who takes issue with me calling these angels “gods” and that is totally reasonable, so let me just get this out of the way. I believe that Yahweh the God of Israel is totally unique. He and He alone is creator of the whole universe, including the other gods. He alone is all powerful, all knowing, all good and He alone is worthy of human worship. He exists from eternity past in the community of the Father, Spirit and Son. And if it makes you feel better, feel free to mentally insert a parenthetical statement like the apostle Paul “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”)”
So now that we’re on the same page, the fact still remains that there is one final group of angels who God himself refers to as gods. See for example in passages like “
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. Exodus 12:12”
Also notice the language of the first commandment “You will have no other gods before me.” This verse does not deny the existence of the other gods, it merely tells us that we are not to follow them.
Now when I go explaining all of this you no doubt get famous monotheism passages in mind like, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, Isaiah 45:5” and yes in one sense this is true because the Lord himself is the only true God, and he created all the other beings that are referred to as gods. What He’s saying here is not that the other gods are imaginary but actually that He is the only being that is self-existent, all knowing, all powerful, all good and He is the only one being who could rightly be called God.
So is what I’m saying here that Ra of the Egyptians, Zeus of the Greeks and Thor of the Scandinavians are real? Yes that is exactly what I’m saying. The reason that Ba’al and his worshipers were so dangerous in the Old Testament is because there was a real spiritual enemy behind the religion.
But what happened, where did these so called gods come from, how did they come to possess the other nations and when did they fall? Well the explanation for that is actually right in the running text of the Bible, we just need to connect together several passages that on the face of it don’t seem like they have anything in common. Let’s start at the tower of Babel.
In Genesis 11 after being told to spread over the whole earth, all the people stayed in one place and were one in language. They built a city for themselves and a tower that was most likely for religious worship. God, as a punishment for their disobedience and potentially building a tower for a religion he didn’t approve of, supernaturally divides people by giving them different languages.
So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
With their ability to communicate and work together severely hindered the people of the earth are separated out into individual nations. The rest of Genesis 11 is called the table of nations and it describes the 70 nations that were born out of the Babel event. But the story is actually much deeper than just that. God didn’t just give the people new languages to divide them, at Babel He also gave them over to angels to be their guiding spirits. If you’re looking for this idea in Genesis you won’t find it but if you look at how the book of Deuteronomy describes the same events it’s very clear what happened.
Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you. 8 When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God; 9 the Lord’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.
Now sometimes this verse gets translated as “he divided mankid… according to the number of the sons of Israel” but this is just simply a bad translation because if we think about it logically for just a second, there was no Israel yet. The dividing of the nations happened before even Abraham was born.
There we have it, God divided up the nations according to the “sons of God” which is that same phrase used to describe a different group of angels in Genesis 6. The Greek translation of the Old Testament made, before the time of Jesus, translates this passages as “according to the number of the angels of God.” So it’s pretty clear here that God put angels in charge over the nations in order to be their “gods” or guiding spirits. He did this in reaction to the people rejecting Him and having a relationship with Him, “Fine, you don’t want to follow me then you can have these guys!”
This idea of the nations having guiding angels is also shown to us in Daniel 10:13 where we find out that Michael is one of the angels over Israel and he had a conflict with the “prince of Persia” or the angel over Persia.
Something really amazing is the fact that there is more than one person in the ancient world who agreed with the Bible. Other cultures believed in one high God who assigned the other gods to their nations. Plato, the very famous Greek philosopher, for example has this to say,
Well then, tradition tells us how blissful was the life of me in that age, furnished with everything in abundance and of spontaneous growth the cause of this is said to have been this. Kronos [the most high] was aware of the fact that no human being as we’ve seen is capable of having irresponsible control of all human affairs without being filled with pride and injustice. SO pondering his fact he then appointed as king and ruler for our cities not men, but beings of a race that was nobler and more divine, namely demons. He acted as we now do in the case of sheep and herds of tame animals. We do not set oxen over oxen or goats over goats but we who are of a nobler race ourselves rule over them. In the same way, the God in his love for humanity set over us at the time the nobler race of demons, who with much comfort to themselves and much to us took charge of us and furnished peace for us and modesty and orderliness and justice without stent and thus made the tribes of men free from fued and happy.” Platon’s Laws 4:713
In this incredible passage Plato, a Pagan, describes how the highest God saw that men could not govern themselves without becoming corrupt so he put divine beings whom Plato himself calls demons, over the tribes of people to be their kings and rulers.
The deeper you dig into ancient history the more evidence we find to support the dividing of the nations at Babel. For example just look at the origins of the word demon itself. When God divided the nations one of the original language families he created would have been what we call Indo-Eurpoeapn. We call it this because this language is the ancestor of all languages from Europe to India. In Indo-European the word to divide is *da and the word *dai-mon, meaning providing spirit is derived from the root “to divide” later on *dai-mon when it entered the Greek language became daemon a word that originally referred to a lesser god or guiding spirit before it came to be used by us Christians to refer to the evil spirits. So what we can see here is that the very word demon itself when we track its roots most likely comes from the time when God divided the nations up and gave them different spirits as their guides.
Now that we’ve seen that the gods of the nations were in fact angels whom God places in authority over the people, let us take a look at the rebellion that turned them into enemies of God as described in Psalm 82.
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? 3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” 8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
In this short Psalm we are presented with a very incredible scene. Yahweh takes His place in the council of all the other so called gods to pass judgement over them. They were supposed to be just rulers, they were supposed to be righteous in how they guided the nations. But they have not done this, at some point in time they stopped following God and wanted to be gods in and of themselves and became unrighteous and corrupt judges. I would say that verse 6 is probably the most amazing part of the Psalm God tells these other guys, “you are gods, sons of the most high.” here God identifies the group He is speaking to as the the sons of God, the same group he placed over the nations and then he promises that their corrupt rule is coming to an end and even that they will die like humans. What a powerful thought, God the true Lord of all the earth has been robbed of what is rightfully his by his once loyal followers and now promising that he will reclaim what is his and destroy those who took it from him!
All through the rest of the Bible the focus is not only a battle against human sin but it also become a battle between God and the gods. A battle between the sons of God and Jesus, the Son of God for the hearts and affection of not only the Jewish people but the people of the whole earth.
So what exactly have we learned in this first entry into the field of demonology? We’ve seen that the most well known and accepted view about the origin of demons is flawed but not without some truth to it. The trouble is that the traditional origin is too simplistic and what we should have actually been looking for is the origins of the demons. First one angel fell and became Satan in Gen 3 later other angels fell and through their sin they created a new race of beings who would later become demons. Lastly at the time of the Tower of Babel God split the people of the earth into different nations and gave them angels to be their national guide. But these angels went astray and became the gods of the other wold religions, twisting scriptural truth to fit their own ends. With this as our foundation we are now set to move on to the next installment where we will be taking a look at the metaphysics of demos – that is what are demons made out of and where do they exist.