Evil Spirits - Round #1

Beginning Thoughts & Content on Unclean Spirits

The term ‘evil (ponēra) spirit(s)’ is found in but 6 passages (Matthew, Luke, Acts). There are 23 references to ‘unclean (akatharta) spirits’ (Gospels, Acts, Revelation), and these appear to be much the same. Thus in Lk. 11:24 ‘the unclean spirit’ goes out of a man, but when he returns it is with ‘seven other spirits more evil than himself’ (v. 26). Similarly, ‘unclean spirits’ and ‘demons’ are interchangeable terms, for both are applied to the Gadarene demoniac (Lk. 8:27, 29).

These beings appear to have been regarded in more than one light. They might cause physical disability (Mk. 1:23; 7:25). Indeed, on most occasions in the NT when they are mentioned it is in such cases. There appears to have been nothing moral involved, for the sufferer was not excluded from places of worship, such as the synagogue. The idea would appear to be that the spirit was evil (or unclean) in that it produced baleful effects. But the sufferer was not regarded as especially evil or as polluted in any way. Yet the spirit itself was not to be regarded in neutral fashion. Everywhere it was to be resisted and defeated. Sometimes we read of Jesus as doing this in person (Mk. 5:8; Lk 6:18), sometimes of such power being delegated to his followers (Mt. 10:1) or being exercised by them (Acts 5:16; 8:7). The spirits are apparently part of Satan’s forces, and thus are reckoned as enemies of God and of men.

Sometimes it is clear that the spirits are concerned with moral evil. This is so in the case of the ‘unclean spirit’ who goes out of a man and returns with others more wicked than himself (Mt. 12:43–45). The story indicates the impossibility of a man’s bringing about a moral reformation by expelling the demons within. There must also be the entry of the Spirit of God. But for our present purpose it is sufficient to notice that the spirits are evil and may bring about evil. The evil spirits ‘like frogs’ of Rev. 16:13 are also thought of as working evil as they gather the forces of wickedness for the great final battle.

Such passages indicate that on the biblical view evil is not merely impersonal. It is led by Satan, and, just as there are subordinate powers of good, the angels, so there are subordinate powers of evil. Their appearance is mostly concerned with the incarnation (with a resurgence in the last days) as they oppose the work of Christ.

Morris, L. L. (1996). Evil Spirits. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 349). InterVarsity Press.

“Unclean spirit” (pneumati akatharto) is a rare expression outside the New Testament. Whether the spirit itself was unclean or demon possession led to ritual uncleanness is a moot point. The effect of having an unclean spirit was to separate a person from the worshiping community of Israel and thus from God.

The spirits know Jesus because he had overcome them in his wilderness temptation. Verse 24b is in the vocative case and might be translated “I know who you are, you holy one of God” (cf. 1 Kings 17:18). Jesus silences the spirits with a common formula of exorcism (phimotheti, literally “be muzzled”) found in Hellenistic magic papyri to express the binding of a person by means of a powerful spell. Interestingly, after the spirit leaves the man, the crowd is amazed but responds in terms of Jesus’ “new teaching” (v. 27), not his exorcism. The point is that the teaching of Jesus with which the pericope opens has its authority confirmed by his ability to cast out unclean spirits. The result is “instant fame” (v. 28), and it is this fame (which begins in a well-known center) that will bring Jesus to the notice of the authorities (with the resulting conflicts).

In preaching the passage, there are two obvious “points of entry.” The first is the authority of Jesus, which can be approached by means of a bit of etymological work. The second has to do with demon possession or evil spirits. In The Screwtape Letters, the sensible C. S. Lewis notes that we make two mistakes in relation to devils. We either assume they do not exist or we manifest an excessive (even obsessive) interest in them. Certainly Mark’s Gospel proclaims Jesus’ victory over the dark forces of the spirit world. What are the “demons” that exclude persons from full participation in the worshiping community today? And how would Jesus respond to them?

The term "unclean spirits" plays a significant role in the New Testament, predominantly referring to demonic entities. The accounts involving unclean spirits serve to demonstrate various aspects of Jesus' ministry and the spiritual realities of the time.

These unclean spirits are frequently portrayed as the cause of numerous afflictions, both physical and psychological. They appear in narratives where individuals are tormented by various conditions, from muteness and epilepsy to mental instability. These afflictions are not simply relegated to the natural realm; they are indications of a more profound spiritual struggle, highlighting the pervasive influence of these malevolent spirits.
In the face of these malevolent entities, Jesus' authority shines brilliantly. He is frequently seen performing exorcisms, commanding these unclean spirits to leave the individuals they have possessed. These exorcism events are not merely displays of supernatural power; they are explicit demonstrations of Jesus' divine authority. Interestingly, these unclean spirits recognize Jesus and his divine authority, often expressing fear and acknowledging his status as the Son of God before being expelled.
The presence of unclean spirits in the New Testament underscores the reality of spiritual warfare, a theme that permeates the text. It highlights the battle between the kingdom of God, as embodied by Jesus, and the forces of evil. In this spiritual conflict, Jesus emerges as the victor, showcasing his power over all spiritual forces and underscoring his role as the deliverer of humanity.

Additionally, the unclean spirits' presence provides insights into Jesus' healing ministry's spiritual dimension. Jesus is not merely a healer of physical ailments; he addresses spiritual afflictions, freeing individuals from these malevolent entities' control. His ability to cast out these spirits further validates his teachings, confirming his authority and divine nature.
Moreover, the concept of unclean spirits provides a glimpse into the societal and religious dynamics of the time. Possessed individuals were often marginalized and excluded from the worshipping community, seen as ritually unclean and beyond redemption. However, Jesus' interactions with these individuals challenge this exclusionary practice. His willingness to engage with and heal these individuals underscores his inclusive approach, breaking down societal norms and religious barriers.

In conclusion, the mention of unclean spirits in the New Testament provides a multi-faceted understanding of Jesus' ministry. It highlights his divine authority, his role as a spiritual healer, his victory over spiritual forces, and his challenge against societal and religious norms. It brings to light the spiritual realities of the era while demonstrating the transformative power of Jesus' ministry.

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