Science in Christian Perspective



A Psychological Profile of Biblical Demons:
The Fear of Death

Hope Evangelical Free Church
3658 N. Walnut Grove
Rosemead, California 91770

From: JASA 35 (June 1983): 84-91.
Special thanks to Cheryl C. Fuller, Ph.D., for her comments on this paper.

Traditional approaches to demonology have significant exegetical and practical limitations: exegetical, since none is able to fully answer certain questions about demons that arise in a study of them based on scriptural accounts; and practical, since they tend to be unconcerned either with twentieth century life or with scriptural truth. It is therefore suggested that a new approach, a psychological profile of demons based on such truth, provides more satisfying answers to these questions. Such a thesis has particular value in two areas: (1) the light it sheds on the nature of death fears; (2) its contribution to the debate over the reasons that biblical accounts of demon possession and present day psychopathology overlap so much.

Metaphysical and psychological questions about the actual nature of biblical demons1 are not popular queries in theological circles and have not been for many years. Theologians and psychologists alike may feel that even the consideration of such questions involves an unwise marriage of what should remain separate disciplines. Yet, the integration of theology with other disciplines is in fact a healthy sign of the maturation of evangelicalism. The present study is intended as a commencement of such a multidisciplined look at demonology, in this case, through the eyes of psychology and theology. I believe that the results of such an inquiry are significant for the life of the church.

It is of course legitimate to first ask whether there is enough biblical data from which one can construct any kind of sophisticated psychological profile of these beings. An affirmative answer is proposed in the context of an evaulation of previous approaches to demonology.

Previous Approaches to Demonology

Approaches to demonology can be effectively divided into those that do not take belief in personal evil beings as viable in the twentieth century, and those that do. Outside of conservative scholarship (defined here as the Position of those who accept the reality of personal evil spirits as found in biblical accounts), both psychologists and theologians treat accounts of demons similarly: as arising from a primitive hypostasis of evil, an attempt to relegate evil outside of the self, though still personalizing it.2 Rather than refer to such theorists as demythologizers as is usually done, let us be more specific in this paper and call them ademonologists. Most ademonologists would probably maintain that the idea of demons arose when a person had some unfortunate experience or illness but did not wish to find the origin of or responsibility for the experience within, and so created a persecutor or seducer in the form of a spiritual being. A typical theologian who advocates ademonism is Edward Langton, who wrote in his classic study of demonology: 3

We conclude therefore that the main factors accounting for demon possession as portraved in the Gospels are pathological conditions of body and mind, such as t hose that are associated with hysteria and epilepsy; a strong popular belief in the power of demons to take possession of persons; subconscious activitN of the mind; and the existence of a psychic state which can assume the appearance of individuality; together with some measure of hallucination and auto-suggestion.

Thus while one can safely assert that the belief in demons has been effectively exorcised from most theologians and psychologists, the etiology of their unbelief is not as simple as many conservative responses would lead us to think. Often the skepticism and psychologizing of modern ademonologists is dismissed simply as "sinful" unbelief that arises from an apriori denial of the supernatural. This is not always a sufficient and fair explanation, for some theologians seem to have abandoned belief in demons at least in part because study of the subject has remained in a medieval lifelessness, totally unrelated to the twentieth century Christian. Bultmann expresses this when he relegates Jesus's beliefs in such things as angels to the latter's adoption of the religious and moral values of his day, values which Bultmann himself obviously considers irrelevant and valueless in the present .4 And, in fact, ademonological theologies of demons clearly reflect an intense (and correct) concern over relevance, even though their methods of integration tend to elevate psychology over theology, treating the "demonology" of the biblical authors as entirely psychologically induced. Evangelicals have not yet made specific meaningful responses to Bultmann's assertions. 

It is my intention to confront directly the assertions of Bultmann and other ademonologists that belief in the reality of demons is irrelevant to the concerns of modern humanity. In so doing I depart from critical scholars by accepting the reality of demons, but I concentrate on the same concerns they have with the application of theology to life. At the present time this particular focus offers the best and most important apologetic that evangelicals can give, for its result does indeed leave skeptics with only a priori objections to the doctrine and none based on its supposed irrelevance. 5

Evangelical demonologies, of course, treat demons much differently than their critical counterparts. Thus while demons are dead in ademonological theologies, they are alive and well among evangelical theologians! One sometimes even hears warnings that devoting too much attention to the study of these beings may bring harm to the student. Karl Barth wrote of just such a danger:

Why must our glance [at demonology] be brief? Because we have to do at this point with a sinister matter about which the Christian and the theologian must know but in which he must not linger or become too
deeply engrossed.... Sinister matters may be very real, but they must not be contemplated too long or studied too precisely or adopted too intensively. It has never been good for anyone ... to look too frequently or lengthily or seriously or systematically at demons.... It does not make the slightest impression on the demons if we do so, and there is the imminent danger that in so doing we ourselves might become just a little
or more than a little demonic.... The very thing which the demons are waiting for, especially in theology, is that we should find them dreadfully interesting and give them our serious and perhaps systematic attention
.... A quick, sharp glance is all that is legitimate in their case.6

Following Barth's advice, evangelicals have in my opinion neglected, and only recently in scant numbers begun to show an interest in, a creative integration of the theology of demons with life in the church. For example, Berends (1975)7 attempted to isolate the biblical criteria present in all cases of biblical demon possession, and has been followed by others in the difficult task of distinguishing between demon possession and psychopathology.8 These, however, are pioneers in a largely uncharted wilderness, and it is especially disappointing to note how few theologians are numbered among the explorers. 9

The primary energy of evangelicals has rather been directed toward apologeties" and what has been called "descriptive" theology "-espousing only what the biblical authors thought, with little sophisticated consideration of what this biblical theology has to say to the church today.12

Kallas, for example, writes a passionate plea for a new acceptance of the reality of Satan and demonic powers, yet when he encounters Bultmann's objection of irrelevance, he tells us that he nevertheless chooses to write a (safer) "descriptive" theology of the biblical position, rather than an "applicational " one.13

This paper, then, is an attempt to build upon the traditional
statements of conservative demonologies to find intersections between them and the life we live. The most significant of  these points lies not in the psychology of demonology that critical theologians offer, nor in the "psychology of critical theologians" that evangelicals apologetically offer, but in a psychology of demons themselves.

The Biblical Portrait of Demons

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, evil spirits and demons are most noted for their attempted destruction of individuals and their relationships with God. One first reads of the serpent seducing Eve to her own death (Genesis 3:1-7); later, of Satan's physical attack of job (job 1:2); then Saul, under the influence of an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14-16), lives his last days in pursuit of David-God's anointed king-to kill him (I Samuel 18 ff.). One reads of Satan moving David to number Israel (I Chronicles 21:1), resulting in the deaths of 70,000 men; and of the devil's desire to accuse Joshua of sin, and so ruin his relationship with God (Zechariah 3:1).

in the Gospels, physical suffering is often attributed to the work of demons. Thus dumbness (Matthew 9:32-33), blindness (12:22), insanity (Luke 8:26-36), suicidal mania (Mark 9:22), personal injuries (9: 18), and physical deformities (Luke 3:11-17) have been attributed to the work of demons. Physical destruction is also attributed to the work of demons, though to a lesser extent, in the epistles (I Corinthians 5:5; Hebrews 2:15).

Spiritual ruin is also a part of their work. It is Satan who, in the parable of the sower, comes and removes the seed of the word from the new believer (Mark 4:15), and who wishes to " sift" Simon like wheat (Luke 22:31). It is demons who inspire false doctrines in the last days (1 Timothy 4:1); and it is against spiritual attack that believers must arm themselves (Ephesians 6:10-16).

Thus the activity of demons as reported in Scripture is consistently destructive in nature. Foerster writes, "The power of evil [in the Synoptic Gospels] is regarded as a single power working towards a specific objective. This objective is the destruction of man in every respect."14

Why do the biblical authors record the destructive activity of these beings? Most theologians give a very complex answer. If there is one major purpose, however, it is to highlight the ancient and persistent hostility between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, that the forces of God and the forces of Satan are locked in mortal combat during the present age.

To go beyond the above theological reason for demons' destructiveness, however, and to ask metaphysical and psychological questions about their motives is quite unfashionable. To ask, for example, what relationship there might be between Satan's destructive work and his nature is generally treated as too speculative, even medieval in its level of sophistication, especially since the biblical authors themselves showed no interest in the subject. Foerster writes, "The traditions preserved in the Synoptic Gospels do not offer any fully developed Satanology ... but they do [pass on the important aspects of] the work of the evil one. No attempt whatever is made to depict the devil's being, origin, or work.... Here is a mystery which no effort is made to solve.15 However, cognizance of the nature of demons significantly contributes to an understanding of their consistently destructive activity.

A Psychological Profile of Demons

Speculation regarding the nature of evil spirits has a long history. Early Jewish thinkers attributed the destructiveness of demons to their jealousy of humans.

Angels had in vain opposed the creation of man. The fact that he was able to give names to all creatures, which the angels had failed to do, had proved his superiority to them, and led them to conspire against Adam in order that by his fall they night gain the supremacy.16

It was at that time, according to Jewish thought, that they were cast out of heaven.

To go beyond the theological reason for demons' destructiveness and to ask metaphysical and psychological questions about their motives is quite unfashionable.

Early church fathers, like biblical authors, primarily emphasized the activity of Satan rather than his nature, though, as we shall see, they did indulge in some speculation on the subject. Medieval thinkers became increasingly speculative, considering such questions as the velocity with which the angels originally fell from heaven, the true color of the devil, and his true physical form. At one time it was even thought that the tritone, a certain musical interval, was demonic in origin, and so it was dubbed diabolus in musica.

Is there internal biblical support for a quest to understand the nature of demons? Is there in fact sufficient biblical data to justify a study of the character of demons? One might, for example, object by stating about the Scriptures as a whole what Foerster observed about the Gospels: they do not directly address the issue of the emotional makeup of demons. While we shall show that such a statement cannot honestly be widened to include the entire Bible, nevertheless even if true, the lack of direct evidence does not in itself form a substantive criticism of the present study. After all, the objection that the Bible does not address an issue has never yet been a stumbling block to the work of theologians (!), part of whose task of synthesis consists precisely in the construction of doctrinal hypotheses based on legitimate implications, not necessarily direct statements, of Scripture (e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity). The true question is whether enough biblical data exist to support conjectures about any given doctrine.

Turning now to the biblical data themselves, one must first admit that in the case of so-called "elect" or "good" angels, there are numerous allusions to their emotional attributes. They, at least in the past, felt lust (Genesis 6:1-4);17 wonder or curiosity (I Peter 1:11-12); and joy (Luke 15:10), all of which imply emotional normalcy. Finally, in the conversations and actions of angels as preserved in Scripture there is every indication that they experience life through the same kind of emotional grid as humans. Thus there is good evidence that the psychological profile of angels roughly parallels that of humans. And if one accepts that elect angels have an intrapsychic makeup at least roughly parallel to that of humans, then can it be a very long distance from harps to pitchforks, emotionally speaking?

While it is true that nowhere in the Bible is there any extensive treatment of the nature of demons, an initial justification for the study arises from some passages which do provoke interest in and questions about the topic. This writer, in fact, first became interested in the subject during a study of the Gospel of Mark, whose author shows a great interest in the demonic. In certain passages, questions seemed to emerge from the material itself for which Mark nevertheless provided no answer.

Let us first consider the only two extant conversations (excluding the Temptation) between Jesus and demons. The first, Mark 1:24 (Luke 4:33-37), occurs in the synagogue, and the second, Mark 5:7, Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39) occurs by the sea. For our purposes, the most significant observation is that in both cases the demons implore Jesus not to destroy them. Most scholars argue-convincingly in this author's opinion-that these incidents are primarily recorded in order to demonstrate both the superiority of Jesus over demons as well as the approaching judgment of the latter.18 However, if these conversations do reflect the real character of demons,19 then the above view, while probable, does not provide an exhaustive explanation of their theological significance. The reason is that, regardless of how the Gospel writers used these conversations in their respective theologies, the overlooked fact remains that the demons, in fearing their own proximate demise, were wrong. Read it again. They were mistaken. On two occasions they betrayed an egregious misunderstanding of Jesus's intentions, fearing immediate judgment by him. Yet, according to the Gospel records, he gave no evidence that he had come to destroy them, and in fact actually indicated the contrary when he repeatedly predicted his approaching death, an event which at least at the level of immediate experience militates against any reason for the demons fear. Yet despite all of the evidence to the contrary, demons' continued to fear their own destruction at the first advent of Christ. Why? A purely "intra-Gospel" theological exegesis of these fears does Dot provide an adequate answer to this question, even though the authors' own recollections of the conversations encourage us to ask it.

To state the problem differently, if the recorded dialogues between Jesus and demons have historical validity, then the reason(s) for the latters' mistaken expectations is (are) at least  a valid historical inquiry. But if, with the help of other biblical passages, a portrait of the character of demons can be painted that can account for-even predict-such misunderstandings then the search for the reason demons mistaken attains theological validity. The Gospels have therefore sent us in search of other biblical criteria to explain the demons' misunderstandings. Let us follow their lead. This search unearths many similar mistakes on the part of demons.

Sometime in the primordial past there was a hopeless rebellion against God himself (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), doomed to failure but carried out anyway (and still being enacted). Did these beings mistakenly hope to be victorious? Further, Satan predicted the unbelief of job, not once, but twice (job particularly useful here if read psychologically. 1:11-12; 2:4-6). Wrong again. The Gospels, then, are not alone in presenting a picture of inconsistency on the part of demons. One final glaring inconsistency is noted by Russell:20 "Curiously, Christ calls Peter the Devil for attempting to avert the Passion, and Judas the Devil for working to bring it about21 (Mark 8:33; Luke 22:3-6).21

The above are some of what have, through the ages, encouraged a certain amount of speculation about the character of the devil and demons, speculation that Scripture itself encourages by its record of their activities. The question is how do we account for such inconsistencies? The very early but spurious "Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians," for example, attempted a kind of psychological synthesis to solve the Peter/Judas inconsistency noted above: "For the leader of all wickedness assumes manifold forms, beguiler of men as he is, inconsistent, and even contradicting himself, projecting one course and then following another"22 Does biblical evidence exist, that the demons' behavioral inconsistencies arose from some psychic confusion? Certain passages do point us in that direction. Satan is called the "father of lies" by Jesus (John 8:44; 14:1), which can provide evidence for a psychic disorder if the latter is supported elsewhere. Interestingly, Jesus is accused of having a demon in John 7:20 because he made the "inaccurate" claim that some were trying to kill him, and in John 8:52 they make the accusation again because he makes the "absurd" claim that those who keep his word will not see death. It almost seems as though it was common to try to recognize Satanic inspiration by the subject's over statements and inaccuracies.

It was of course Satan who seduced Eve into thinking that she would not die by eating the forbidden fruit; a lie, to be  sure, but is it not possible that he himself also believed the lie? He apparently believed such a lie when he looked on his own standings,  were beauty and rebelled against God (Ezekiel 28:17).23 In both of  these instances he was of course wrong. In all of these cases  there are very significant theological implications, to be sure, but, if we accept the reality of the biblical portrayal of Satan,  is there not also ample room to speculate on what a "person" would have to be like to fit this portrait? Indeed, are we not invited by these accounts to engage in some speculation? It is undeniable that the Bible consistently portrays Satan as a malicious being whose interpretation of life is deluded. Foerster's comment on Hellenistic demonology, that ". . . falsehood belongs to the very essence of demons,"24 thus useful here if read psychologically.

The Fear of Death

 A more specific hypothesis of the nature of these beings begins to take shape when we place the activities of demons  side by side with the previously mentioned accounts of their conversations. Their single intention, as we have seen from the biblical citations above, is to destroy. Yet from their conversations with Jesus, we are able to see that at their core they themselves fear destruction, even misinterpreting the purpose of Jesus's mission. Putting these together, the profile  is that of beings who avoid their own guilt and fear of destruction by themselves destroying. This dynamic, easily recognizable among humans, has received the psychological
label, paranoid psychosis. Becker refers to this when he chillingly writes, "only scapegoats can relieve one of his stark death fear: 'I am threatened with death-let us kill plentifully."25 

The paranoid denies or avoids his own personal feelings of guilt by claiming that there are people seeking to punish him;  he denies or avoids his own personal fears of death by  claiming that there are people "out to get him. " This disorder  becomes psychotic when the subject is unable to control these  defenses; when, for example, the subject so believes that  others are "out to get him," that he actually kills to protect  himself, as in the case of the demon-possessed King Saul, cited above.

Turning now to demons themselves, the psychotic intensity of their paranoia is revealed by their willingness (need?) to destroy in order to avoid their own personal fears of destruc

J. William Fuller is a graduate of Southern Methodist University (philosophy) and Dallas Theological Seminary (Semitics). He has published articles in his primary field of interest, New Testament, both here and in Europe. He also writes for more general audiences, including articles on pastoral concerns, and a novel in progress. He has been the senior minister at Hope Evangelical Free Church in Rosemead, CA for several years, and this Fall will begin doctoral work in New Testament at Claremont Graduate School.

These defenses are enervated, and the fears surface, only when Jesus confronts the demons and their destructiveness through exorcism and healing; now their terror is uncovered-a terror very similar to that of a paranoid whose denial of his own guilt and anger takes the form, not of attack, but of a panicked accuser trying pathetically to locate these feelings outside of himself. Meissner describes this similarly as "a form of superego projection in which the critical agency is located outside the subject."26 Now listen for the demons' confused accusations when confronted by (the earthly) Jesus.

for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. And just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, "What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-The Holy One of God! (Mark 1:22-24)

And seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and crying with a loud voice, he said, "What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me! (Mark 5:6-7

The above outbursts do indeed reveal confusion, panic, and paranoia on the part of the demons-probably a form of theophobia.

Assuming a basic psychological community between angelic beings and human beings, how might demons react to the knowledge of their own approaching "death," their probable guilt, and the meaninglessness that derives from the lack of an object "big" enough to provide an ontological reference point outside of themselves? Is not madness possible-even likely?

While the intention of demons is clearly to destroy, it seems quite possible that they are motivated in this vocation by an uncontrollable need to protect their own haunting fear of destruction (pathetically manifested, we might again point out, in their only two verbal statements ever recorded, apart from those of Satan!). Paranoia is, of course, manifested in just such a panic.

The above theory becomes probable when we take into account explicit biblical statements about the nature Of demons. For it is actually not quite accurate to say that the nature of demons is never directly addressed in the Bible. There is one emotion that is directly attributed to them. That emotion is fear. It is explicitly stated that the demon-possessed Saul was motivated to kill David out of his own (paranoid) fear of him (1 Samuel 18:12)-a fear which we know was paranoid from David's later acts of loyalty. Significantly, Saul lived out the rest of his life animated and possessed by an intense paranoia. In James 2:19 we read further of demons "shuddering" (phrissousin). Langton points out that this word "properly means' to be rough' or 'to bristle', and like the Latin 'horreo' it is used of the physical signs of terror, and especially of the hair standing on end."28 He continues, " among pagans, Jews, and Christians of earlier times demons were physically conceived, and were regarded as being capable both of inspiring terror and of being terrified and put to flight"29 (emphasis added).

When the above biblical attributions of fear to demons are placed beside their mistaken, apparently panicked notions of a premature judgement, is this not at least similar to a classic case of paranoia, in which the destruction of others serves as a defense against the fear of one's own destruction; in which the accusation of others (Revelation 12:10) is a defense against facing up to one's own guilt? Paraphrasing Freud, Becker writes, "The death instinct represents the organism's desire to die, but the organism can save itself from its own impulsion toward death by redirecting it outward. The desire to die, then, is replaced by the desire to kill. "30 Rank writes similarly, "The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice, of the other; through the death of the other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed. "31

The present construction of a psychological profile of demons is with just such a dynamic. Generally, the reality of their approaching destruction is denied or replaced by an insatiable appetite to kill. It is only when, in those brief confrontations between them and the Holy One of God,32 preserved in the Gospels, that their defenses are penetrated and reality intrudes upon the demons' psychotic rage; the resulting outburst is one of mixed reality and fantasy judgement Day has come!

A further element present in classic paranoia is delusions of grandeur. But the demons' thought that Jesus's mission was to destroy them demonstrates just such delusions-that the purpose of his first advent focused on them. And is it not true that such a projected delusion (theomania) formed the essence of Satan's temptation of Eve ("You shall be like God," Genesis 3:5), as well as the explicit delusion manifested in his temptation of Christ ("Worship me," Matthew 4:9)? More significantly, was it not his own preoccupation with his beauty and splendor-a kind of delusion of grandeur together with his self -apotheosis, that originally brought about his own fall? Significantly, I Timothy 3:6 ("Conceited . . . the condemnation of the devil") may be a direct reference to this delusion, and the author asks us to learn from it. Finally, we continue to see this tbeomania in the present activities of demons as they inspire humans to worship them (I Corinthians 10:20). Thus while it is impossible to know when or why demons became paranoid in the primordial past, many of the peculiarities of their behavior in the present age as preserved in the Bible are more understandable given this thesis.

Other odd statements about demons also become meaningful given this thesis. Often, for example, one finds demons living an eremitic existence in locations devoid of life-even in tombs (Mark 5:2-5; for their haunts in deserted places see Leviticus 16:10; Isaiah 13:21; 33:14; Luke 14:1-2). Thus Langton writes, "Burial grounds, and any places of filth or refuse, were especially associated with demons."33n the context of our thesis, does this not appear to be an acting out of their own "buried" preoccupation with death and destruction? An outright denial of real death fears results only in a less direct manifestation of them, such as living in lifeless regions and among the dead! One even wonders in this light whether the fact that demons always destroy their host is more than just the rage which always possesses the paranoid, and is actually a form of self-destructive activity (i.e., tearing down their own "body" or "home") characteristic of some forms of paranoid psychosis in which the guilt that is present sometimes turns the rage inward toward the self resulting in suicidal behaviors. 34 

Having suggested and attempted to defend a thesis of paranoid psychosis in biblical demons, one final step remains, that is, to document independent support for this view. However, since this thesis breaks new ground, no other actual studies of the question can be cited in support. There are, however, some supportive statements that are relevant.

Beginning with the earliest references, it is interesting to observe that in Canaanite magical/ incantation and related texts, demons inflicting disease and death are described by adjectives translated "fierce," "furious," "raging," "ferocious," "overbearing," and "savage,"' thus attributing to these beings the emotional explosiveness of a psychotic paranoid. This view of ancients, that the emotional structure of demons is akin to that of humans, is supported in the West by Empedocles, Plato, Xenocrates, Chrysipus, Posidonius, Plutarch, Apuleius, and the Neo-Platonists. 36

As noted earlier, the church fathers did not generally show any unusual interest in the nature of demons. One exception is Lactantius (c. 240-320), who wrote of the "fury" (Latin, furore) of demons thrown against Christians. 37

More recently, Barth used terms like "hate" and "rage" when describing demons.38 Merrill F. Unger also made an interesting comment in his study of them:

As Satan's vast though finite wisdom became corrupted when he sinned (Ezek 28:12, 17), it is reasonable to conclude that the great wisdom which characterizes angelic beings in general (2 Sam 14:20) was in the case of the multitude of angelic collaborators who followed him, likewise

Unger did not follow up on this idea, and the question of how Satan's wisdom was corrupted has until now remained unaddressed. if, though, his wisdom was corrupted as Ezekiel 28:17 states, is it too surprising to find this corruption implied in later biblical accounts, and is it unreasonable to theorize about the specific manifestations of that corruption? 

Finally, Sall wrote an essay some years ago, alluded to above, attempting to differentiate between demon possession and psychopathology, in which he wrote, "demons spoke in a rational manner... They stated where they did and did not want to go. They communicated in a logical manner."40 Many elements of Sall's basic argument were challenged later by Bach who, like this author, observed to the contrary a certain ack of logic in the verbal statements of demons. Bach writes, for example, of "the [Gerasene demoniac's] notably paranoid request of Jesus, 'Do not torment me' (Luke 8:29), or the dissociative, perhaps epileptic manifestations of the dumb spirit described in Mark 9:17-25 1141 (emphasis added). Another of his statements is, "the Gerasene demoniac behaves not unlike a paranoid schizophrenic' 42 (emphasis added). Thus this paper's thesis of paranoid psychosis in biblical  demons is not entirely without previous support.

Prompted by a study of certain biblical accounts of demonic activity, we have asked, "What psychological dynamic  might account for the confusion and mistaken fears of  destruction on the part of demons when confronted by Jesus?  Is there a psychological profile that would predict the consuming desire demons have to destroy and deceive?" The  answer that we have suggested is that the impulses and defenses (dynamics) known to be operative in paranoid  psychosis predict the demonic behavior abundantly attested  to in the Bible. This means that demons are driven by subconscious feelings of guilt and rage. It is not necessary to

The profile of demons is that of beings who avoid their own guilt and fear of destruction by themselves destroying. This dynamic, easily recognized among humans, has received the psychological label, paranoid psychosis.

 assert that paranoid psychosis is the only set of psychological  dynamics operative in demons. There may be others; nevertheless, it does appear that this is the dominant personality disorder which either resulted from or else contributed to, the primordial fall of angels (Ezekial 28:17), since it is consistently supported by the behavior of demons preserved in both  the Old and New Testaments.

Demonic Paranoia and the Christian Life

 One might conceivably ask of this thesis, "So what?" it is an interesting psychological theory, but the analyst who reads this paper cannot put a psychotic demon on his couch (and no doubt would not wish to). So what is the relevance of this

One fairly obvious practical benefit is apologetic: the onus of demonic inconsistency is taken off of the Bible and placed  upon demons. When Satan is alternately said to have tried to avert Jesus's death and to have inspired it, the inconsistency is his, not Christ's or the Gospel authors'.43

A second application for evangelicals is that while Christians are often told to beware of Satan's power, it is rare that we focus on our victory (Colossians 2:15). This thesis encoures a balance between the Christian's fear of Satan and a  realization of the devil's limitations and creatureliness. Paranoid psychotics are both dangerous and pitiable! The devil's pathetic moral condition is now clearer. When Deuteronomy 32:17 calls demons "not-gods," implying a wholly negative ontology, we understand this metaphor better. Demons exist
  only because they deny that God exists; they are to what shadows are to their objects.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Barth writes, "What is the origin and nature of the devil and demons? The only possible answer is that their origin and nature lie in nothingness." Further, "They are, but only in their own way; they are, but improperly."" Luther's statement, that the devil is always God's devil, is particularly piquant here.

Satan, then, is not a master, but a slave. The Bible recognizes that death brings fear to creatures (Hebrews 2:14-15), and Satan too is a creature who fears death and is a slave to his own fears. His raison d'etre-destructiveness-now appears to be a direct result of the fear of his own inevitable conclusion, and it is this fear which screams out the one proposition he most vehemently tries to deny, namely, that the Lord is God and judge. In his own pathetic way his essence proclaims the contradiction of his message. Stated in another way, Satan's pathology reduces his vociferous contention of his own apotheosis to the level of a pitiable, ultimately impotent, Walter Mitty perspective of the world. The awesome Wizard of Oz now is unveiled as a lowly professor with lofty imaginings. The devil's importance in the universe is, after all, derived rather than self-perpetuating, so that in spite of himself, his ontology contradicts his gospel.

The Christian therapist can look beyond the inadequacy and superficiality of secular etiologies of death fears, and can assert that there is to the fear of death and to paranoia a spiritual dimension-an insight and perception that separates him immeasurably from his secular co-worker.

This thesis also has two messages for psychotherapists. There have been numerous attempts in recent years to distinguish demon possession from psychosis, indicating the difficulty of this enterprise. Bach writes with cautious optimism of maintaining the distinction: "The two [i.e., demon possession and psychosis] can be expressed in a fashion which is confusingly intertwined (cf. John 9:2), but can nonetheless be held conceptually distinct."' In fact, our thesis suggests that it may be impossible to meaningfully distinguish the two, at least empirically. The possessed individual behaves like the psychotic individual because Satan himself possesses psychotic dynamics. The problem is that in the literature on the subject of demon possession and psychosis, the therapist's couch has hosted, until now, only the possessed and not also the possessor. This insight, if accepted, would mean that psychotherapists need not any longer carry the burden of proposing observable differences between the effects of possession and those of psychopathology. Perhaps that distinction can only be made mystically (the subject of another study; cf. I John 4:1-3).

Secondly, and most significantly this thesis suggests a distinction between the Christian psychotherapist and his secular counterpart. It is the contention of many secular theorists that the fear of death arises naturally from humanity's biological limitations, from the fact that humans are flesh and blood and will die .46 This explanation, it now appears, is inadequate, and its inadequacy is such that only the Christian can see it. Demons are not biological creatures who will die biologically, yet they fear death (destruction) terribly. They are spiritual creatures, whose fear is likewise grounded in spiritual realities hidden from the natural eye. Fear of death, the Christian therapist realizes, is not rooted in the flesh and blood of this life alone, but also in spiritual realities. The Christian therapist can look beyond the inadequacy and superficiality of secular etiologies of death fears, and can assert that there is to the fear of death and to paranoia a spiritual dimension-an insight and perception that separates him immeasurably from his secular co-worker. Physical death and its accompanying fear is only a parable of a deeper and more significant type of death (and fear thereof). The non-Christian therapist cannot, in dealing with death fears, encourage healing on this deeper level. Only the Christian therapist can recognize that the resolution of death fears does not rest in the resolution of fears about physical death. Only the Christian therapist can point the client toward the emotional resolution of spiritual death fears whose origin is not rooted, ultimately, in flesh and blood alone.


1Unless otherwise indicated, we use "demons," "Satan," the devil," "evil spirits," and other such terms for denoting evil spiritual beings in the Bible synonymously to refer to any or all of such beings; i.e., they are treated as a class. For a defense of their synonymity within the NT, cf. H. Kruse, "Das Reich Satans," Biblica 58 (1977), pp 29-64, esp. pp. 29-37.

2See J.13. Russell, The Devil (Ithica and London: Cornell U. 1977), entire book, for a purely psycho-historical etiology of the idea of the devil. Also see A.J.W. Taylor, "Possession or Dispossession?" (Expository Times 86 [19751,pp. 359-363) for skepticism regarding the whole notion of demon possession as an acceptable explanation of any phenomenon.

3Edward Langton, Essentials of Demonology (London: Epworth, 1949), p. 155,

4R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols.: New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951), pp. 1, 3-7.

5Obviously, Bultmann's objections are rooted in questions arising from significant philosophical issues which need to be addressed in any truly valuable evangelical polemic, questions which go far beyond the scope of this paper. For an introduction to these questions, see R. Johnson, The Origins of Demythologizing (Leiden: G.J. Brill 1974).

6K. Barth, Church Dogma ties (3 vols.: Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1960), 3, 3, p. 519. Others could be cited as well.

7W. Berends, "The Biblical Criteria for Demon-Possession," Westminster
37 (1975), pp. 342-54. '

Millard J. Sall, "Demon Possession or Psychopathology?: A Clinical Differentiation," Journal of Psychology and Theology 4 (1976), pp. 286-90; H.A. Virlder and M.B. Virkler, "Demonic Involvement in Human Life and Illness," Journal of Psychology and Theology 5 (1977), pp. 95-102; P,J. Bach, "Demon Possession and Psychopathology: A Theological Relationship," Journal of Psychology and Theology 7 (1979), pp. 22-26; M.J. Sall. Response to Demon Possession and Psychopathology: A Theological Relationship," Journal of Psychology and Theology 7 (1979), pp. 27-30. Finally, note the careful approaches to the subject by theologians and a psychiatrist in several articles in Churchman 94 (1980).

9It should be observed that it is Christian novelists and storytellers like C.S. Lewis, D. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and, more recently, Walter WaDgerin, who have used their imaginations to clearly expose the opposition between the cosmic forces of heroism that accompanies the human struggle against the latter.

10Virtually every conservative publication on demonology contains some apologetics; cf., e.g., M.F. Unger, Biblical Demonology (Wheaton, Ill.: Scripture Press, 1952; 9th ed. 1971), pp. 1-40; C.F. Dickason, Angels 

Human beings who accept a dualistic view of themselves are indeed alienated from everything: themselves, their fellows, and creation as a whole. Never before has there been a time in which the need for courage and introspection was greater. The great question of our age is: "What changes are necessitated in order for humans to once again focus on accepting the gift of wholeness from God?"

Human Health

The changes we accept in our ways of talking and thinking about human nature are related to the problems we have to solve (Dueck, Note 3). Reverting to the biblical model of understanding human beings as whole units in relation to God is imperative to the resolution of the problems that have emanated from the dualistic milieu. only through a renewal of emphasis upon the holistic person, who is called into God's salvific covenantal family, can expectations for genuine renewal by concerned Christians be realized within the churches.

 and Evil (Chicago: MoodyPress, 1975), pp. 17-23,115-19,150-54; also see J. Wilkinson, "The Case of the Bent Woman in Luke 13:10-17," Evangelical Quarterly 49 (1977), pp. 195-205. Unfortunately, the apologetics offered do not usually correspond to the questions that ademonologists ask.

11J. Kailas, The Satanward View: A Study in Pauline Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), pp. 9-10.

12Most would probably admit that evangelical attempts at relevance have usually taken the form of pointing out what elements of twentieth century culture (such as the occult) rnay be influenced directly by demons. While not unimportant, and even biblical (c.f. I Cor 10:20), what has not been explored are the More subtle implications, or symbols, of demonology for other, less directly related areas of the Christian life. Often it is not the stone itself dropped into the water that affects me, but rather, the effect that it has on the water around it. Exploring the effects of demonology, not just demons, on my life, requires more work, but it also yields more exciting results.
13Kailas, Satanward, pp. 9-10, 133-52. Kailas made no further attempts at applicational" theology in his second book, Jesus and the Power of Satan (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), and even argued that "descriptive" theology is needed more that the former. However, it is more precise to say that an appreciation for what the biblical authors thought is what is needed; can that be encouraged by stating, however eloquently, only what they thought?

W. Foerster, Satanas," TDNT 7 (1971), p. 160. Langton (Essentials, p. 192) essentially says the same thing about Pauline thought.
Ibid. cf. also Langton, Essentials, p. 192; O.A. Miranda, "The Work and Nature of Angels According to the New Testament" (unpublished ThD dissertation, Princeton University, 1961), p. 2.

16Langton, Essentials, pp. 55-56.
17As D.J.A. Clines notes, "the majority of scholarly opinion supports the identification of the 'sons of God' as heavenly beings" ("The Sigmficance of the 'Sons of God' Episode [Genesis 6:141 in the Context of the 'Primeval History' [Genesis 1-11]," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 13 [19791, p. 34).

18Cf. 0. Cullmann, Christ and Time (London: SCM Press, 1952; rev. ed. 1962), p. 41.

19Notice that this condition does not necessitate the conversations' actual occurrence in history. On the other hand, J.D.M. Derrett has recently argued that at least in the case of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20), the events of the story are "marvellously plausible" (Spirit-Possession and the Gerasene Demoniac," Man 14 (1979), entire article.
Russell, The Devil, p. 239.
21A New Testament scholar might object to citing two different Gospels to achieve the desired inconsistency, pointing out that the differences simply arise because of differences in the authors' respective theological concerns. The debate among evangelicals continues about whether and to what extent Gospel writers embellished or changed stories for such purposes; however, that is not the issue here, because in this case we are dealing on the level of the theological interpretation of events. Mark says that Satan was behind Peter's actions; Luke tells us that Satan was in Judas. Accepting differences in accounts of stories to achieve a Gospel's theology is quite different than accepting a difference in theology itself. Perhaps it was Satan who was inconsistent, not the Gospel writers

22Ignatius to the Philippians, IV.
Your heart was filled up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor" (NASB). Isaiah 14, the other Old Testament passage sometimes associated with the original fall of Satan, is more disputed in that interpretation than Ezekiel 28:11-19, though the latter's being a reference to Satan is also debated. Among those opposing any hint of Satan in Ezekial 28 is W. Eichrodt, who views the passage as "[sketchiDgi the evil in man in the lineaments of a demonic cosmic power" (Theology Of the Old Testament [2 vols; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 19611, 1, p. 378; also see 11, pp. 223-28. Among those supporting the passage as a (mythologically-dressed) reference to Satan are R.E. Morosco, "Conceptions of Spiritual Powers in the Pauline Corpus" (unpublished ThD dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1974), p. 63; L. Sabourin, "The Miracles of Jesus," Biblical Theology Bulletin 4 (1974) 156; and, albeit reluctantly, L,E. Wright, "Are Demons Outmoded?" Journal of Religious Thought 18 (1961), pp. 5-22. In the NT, of course, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 are the two specific references to this event.

24Foerster, "Daimon," TDNT 2 (1964), p. 5.
25E. Becker, Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973), p. 149.

William W. Meissner, The Paranoid Process (N.Y. and London: Jason Aronson, 1978), p. 281.
28Langton, Essentials, p. 199,
30Ernest Becker, Denial, p. 98.
Otto Rank, Will Therapy and Truth and Reality (N.Y.: Knopf, 1936; one vol. ed., 1945), p. 130.
This is their choice of titles-Mark t:24.
33Langton, Essentials, p. 5.
34Meissner, ibid., pp. 85-86, 341.

Hayim Tawil, "Azazel the Prince of the Steepe: A Comparative Study," Zeitschrift filr Altestamentliche Wissenschaft 92:1 (1980), p. 57.
Foerster, "Daimon," p. 5.
Lactantius, The Divine Institutes XXII, "Of the Rage of the Demons Against Christians, and the Error of Unbelievers."
Barth, Dogmatics, 3/3, p. 523.
39M.F. Unger, Biblical Demonology, Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press, 1952 p. 67.
Sall, "Demon Possession," p. 288.
41Bach, "Demon Possession," p. 24.
42 Ibid., p. 25,

It might be stated at this juncture that ademonologists would have to view this paper as a revelation of projected paranoia from the biblical authors onto mythological beings. The difficulty of this (anthropological) approach to the data would seem to be that of accounting for such a subtle theme (rarely openly stated) that was nevertheless perpetuated over many centuries, if not millenia.
Barth, Dogmatics 3/3 pp. 522-23. But he goes too far in asserting the negative ontology of demons when he rejects any notion of a "fall of angels." Therefore, for the sake of his theology, he must deny any significant impact of apocalyptic literature on New Testament angelology, and he must call 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 "too unclear" to provide support for such a primeval fall. It appears that his theology has triumphed over the Scriptures.
45Bach, "Demon Possession," p. 25.
46See, e.g., Becker, Denial, pp. 11 ff.