What is the Origin of Demons?

As one begins to read the New Testament, they will observe that there are numerous references to “demons” and “demon possession”. The term “demon” comes from the Greek diamon and dimonion, and is used over sixty times throughout the New Testament. The scriptures make clear that there is only one Satan (or Devil), but there are many demons. However, despite some speculative literature from antiquity, the New Testament remains largely silent concerning the origin of demons. Nevertheless, scholars and theologians have speculated to their origins for centuries. Therefore, for today’s post I will pose the question: What is the Origin of Demons?

The term “demon” itself comes from a Greek root form meaning “to know” and is derived from daemon, which means “knowing”, thus “demon” means “a knowing one”. Therefore we can conclude that demons were intelligent beings that “knew” certain truths. One may rightfully ask: What truths?

From the scriptures we know that demons believed in God, moreover, that there was only one God (James 2:19). However, their knowledge was never accompanied with obedience to God. In other words, their belief was a dead belief, or dead faith. Moreover, their goal is aimed to deceive others, and lead people to abandon their faith (1 Timothy 4:1). Additionally, we know that demons both knew, and acknowledged, that Jesus Christ was the “Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24), and at his mere presence they cried out, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11 and Luke 4:41). Thus they knew Jesus was divine, and the Son of God. Something that sadly too many liberal theologians today seem reluctant to profess. To that point, demons also concede the divine authority of Jesus Christ, and on one occasion pleaded with Jesus that he not command them into the abyss (Luke 8:31). Illustrating that demons clearly know one day Jesus will actually do so. This is demonstrated when demons on one occasion  asked if he had come to “torture” them “before the appointed time” (Matthew 8:29). What is remarkable from this passages, is that demons recognize that at a certain fixed time, they will be held to account for their rebellion and wickedness. Finally, demons both know, and do not deny, the existence of hell — as they knew that “torture” is in their future (Matthew 8:29). It should in fact disturb those of us of faith, that too many fellow believers today (mostly liberal) exhibit less knowledge and faith than that of demons. In any event, we can conclude for certain that demons are intelligent beings, who know many truths, but are nevertheless creatures whom the scriptures make clear are evil spirits (or beings). They are also neither human, nor divine, but somewhere in between.

Now that I have provided some background concerning what we can say about demons, it is time to get back to the question at hand: What is the Origin of Demons? As stated in the opening of this post, scholars and theologians have speculated and debated the origin of demons for centuries. Below is a brief summarization of some of the various theories:

  1. One view was that demons were spirits of the dead. Specifically, dead men (spirits) who were either allowed by God to leave Hell to aide in the implementation of his divine plan of redemption, or released by Satan for his own nefarious purposes. Jewish historian Josephus subscribed to this theory, and claimed that demons were the “spirits of the wicked” who would enter into (posses) men that were still living to “destroy them”, unless they could receive help against them. However, there is no scriptural support for this view of their origins, and to my knowledge it has very little (if any) mainstream support today.
  2. Others claim that demons are the disembodied spirits of a pre-Adamic race of man, who once lived on the earth during an alleged “gap period” that supposedly occurs between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. However, there are some major fallacies with this theory. First, there is absolutely no evidence that there was ever a “historical gap” between the first two verses of Genesis. In fact, the “gap theory” was hypothesized in an attempt to harmonize Genesis with some scientist arguments for an older age of the earth. Second, there were no people on the earth before Adam, who is clearly identified as the “first” man (1 Corinthians 15:45). Once more, after creation everything was “good” (Genesis 1:31). Thereby demonstrating there could have been no pre-Adamic race that turned against God, and left behind their evil spirits after God’s “destruction” and “reformation” of the earth as alleged between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Nevertheless, some theologians still hold this view.
  3. Another view traces the origin of demons to an alleged union between fallen angels and human women from the pre-Flood era (Genesis 6:1-8). The children of this union were called the Nephilim, which can mean the “giant ones”. It is hypothesized that after the flood killed these creatures, their spirits continued to roam the earth as demons. Meanwhile their fathers, the fallen angels, were imprisoned in hell. This idea was a popular one in antiquity, and has many variations associated with it. There is also a non-canonical book titled “Enoch” that recounts such a tale.  Jude 1:6 is often cited as possible biblical support for this interpretation of Genesis 6. However, theologians to this day highly debate this interpretation of Genesis, and it is far to lengthy a topic to discuss here. Perhaps I may post “pro” and “con” arguments on this theory at a later date.
  4. It was also once argued by some from antiquity, that demons were a rival race to mankind born to an alleged “first wife” of Adam. This belief that Adam had an earlier wife took root due to a supposed gap in the Creation account. Specifically, some viewed the creation of the first woman from Geneses 1:27, as a different woman than Eve from Geneses 2:22. However, the vast majority of both Jewish and Christian theologians today do not see two accounts of the creation of woman from Genesis, but rather a macro and micro account of the same story. Nevertheless, some Jewish scholars from antiquity did, and used the ancient practice of Jewish midrash to fill in the gap. They connected this alleged unknown “first wife” of Adam with a demon named Lilith, mentioned in some Hebrew translations of Isaiah 34:14. Lilith, they argued, rejected both Adam and God to become a demon, and she would become the “mother of demons” who joined league with Satan as the adversary (rival) of man. This is a fascinating legend to be sure (perhaps I may post on it sometime), and it became popular in some circles in the middle ages, but there is NO real solid scriptural support for this theory at all.
  5. Finally, we come to the view that demons are to be identified with the fallen angels mentioned in the scriptures, e.g. 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. Additionally, other scriptures speak of “the devil” and “his angels” (Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:7). Once more, Satan is also referred to as the “prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24). In other words, Satan, who is a fallen angel as referenced throughout scripture, was followed by other angels in his rebellion (Revelation 12:3-4), these angels then became known as demons after their fall. This view by far is the most popular hypothesis regarding this matter, and the one with the most biblical support. It is also the view I hold on this subject, for whatever it is worth.

In conclusion, that demons are real beings that exist and operate in the world is not in question, at least not to anyone that takes the Bible seriously. That said, no absolute conclusion can be reached concerning their origin. However, the scriptures do offer us a few clues to their identity as discussed briefly in this post. To that end, the view with the most biblical support is: that demons are the (fallen) angels who followed Satan in his rebellion.

Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this post insightful.

JDN

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