Demons Are Idols
In 1 Corinthians, Paul explains why Christians should have nothing to do with idol worship or believing in such things. In Bible times people believed demons to be little gods who could be worshipped to stop problems coming into their lives. They therefore made models of demons, which were the same as idols, and worshipped them. This explains why Paul uses the words "demon" and "idol" interchangeably in his letter:-
"The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons...if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake..." (1 Cor.10:20,28). So idols and demons are effectively the same. Notice how Paul says they sacrificed "to demons (idols) and not to God" - the demons were not God, and as there is only one God, it follows that demons have no real power at all, they are not gods. The point is really driven home in 1 Cor.8:4:-
"As concerning ...those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol (equivalent to a demon) is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one". An idol, or a demon, has no existence at all. There is only one true God, or power, in the world. Paul goes on (vs.5,6):-
"For though there be that are called gods...(as there be gods many and lords many, [just as people believe in many types of demon today - one demon causing you to lose your job, another causing your wife to leave you, etc.]) But to us (the true believers) there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things (both good and bad, as we have seen from the earlier references)".
Further proof that people in New Testament times believed demons to be idols or 'gods' is found in Acts 17:16-18; this describes how Paul preached in Athens, which was a "city wholly given to idolatry", therefore worshipping many different idols. After hearing Paul preach the Gospel, the people said, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange (i.e. new) gods (demons): because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection". So the people thought that "Jesus" and "the resurrection" were new demons or idols that were being explained to them. If you read the rest of the chapter, you will see how Paul goes on to teach the truth to these people, and in v. 22 he says, "Ye are too superstitious" (literally: devoted to demon worship) and he explains how God is not present in their demons, or idols. Remember that God is the only source of power. If He is not in demons, then demons do not have any power because there is no other source of power in this universe - i.e. they do not exist.
Going back to the Old Testament, there is more proof that "demons" are the same as idols. Dt. 28:22-28, 59-61 predicted that mental disease would be one of the punishments for worshipping idols/demons. This explains the association of demons with mental illness in the New Testament. But let it be noted that the language of demons is associated with illness, not sin. We do not read of Christ casting out demons of envy, murder etc. It must also be noted that the Bible speaks of people having a demon/disease, rather than saying that demons caused the disease. It is significant that the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) used the word 'daimonion' for "idol" in Dt. 32:17 and Ps. 106:37; this is the word translated "demon" in the New Testament. Psalm 106:36-39 describes the errors of Israel and likens the idols of Canaan to demons:-
"They (Israel) served their idols; which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and daughters unto demons, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan...Thus they were defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions".
Quite clearly demons are just another name for idols. Their worship of demons is described by God as worshipping their "own works...their own inventions" because their belief in demons was a result of human imagination; the idols they created were their "own works". So those who believe in demons today are believing in things which have been imagined by men, the creation of men, rather than what God has taught us.
Deuteronomy 32:15-24 describes just how angry God gets when His people believe in demons: Israel "lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they Him to anger. They sacrificed unto demons, not to God; to gods whom they knew not... whom your fathers feared not...And He (God) said, I will hide My face from them...for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities...I will heap mischiefs upon them"
So God describes demons as the same as idols, abominations, and vanities - things which are vain to believe in, which have no existence. Believing in demons shows a lack of faith in God. It is not easy to have faith that God provides everything, both good and bad, in life. It is easier to think that the bad things come from someone else, because once we say they come from God, then we need to have faith that God will take them away or that they are going to be beneficial to us ultimately.
But, you may say, "How about all the passages in the New Testament which clearly speak about demons?"
One thing we must get clear: the Bible cannot contradict itself, it is the Word of Almighty God. If we are clearly told that God brings our problems and that He is the source of all power, then the Bible cannot also tell us that demons - little gods in opposition to God - bring these things on us. It seems significant that the word "demons" only occurs four times in the Old Testament and always describes idol worship, but it occurs many times in the Gospel records. We suggest this is because, at the time the Gospels were written, it was the language of the day to say that any disease that could not be understood was the fault of demons. If demons really do exist and are responsible for our illnesses and problems, then we would read more about them in the Old Testament. But we do not read about them at all in this context there.
To say that demons were cast out of someone is to say that they were cured of a mental illness, or an illness which was not understood at the time. People living in the first century tended to blame everything which they couldn't understand on imaginary beings called 'demons'. Mental illness being hard to understand with their level of medical knowledge, the people spoke of those afflicted as 'demon possessed'. In Old Testament times, an evil or unclean spirit referred to a troubled mental state (Jud.9:23; 1 Sam.16:14; 18:10). In New Testament times, the language of evil spirit/ demon possession had come to refer to those suffering mental illness. The association between demons and sickness is shown by the following: "They brought unto him(Jesus) many that were possessed with demons: and He cast out the spirits with His word...that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet (in the Old Testament), saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:16,17). So human infirmities and sicknesses are the same as being possessed by "demons" and "evil spirits".
People thought that Jesus was mad and said this must be because He had a demon - "He hath a demon, and is mad" (John 10:20; 7:19,20; 8:52). They therefore believed that demons caused madness.
When they were healed, people "possessed with demons" are said to return to their "right mind" - Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35. This implies that being "possessed with demons" was another way of saying someone was mentally unwell - i.e. not in their right mind.
Those "possessed with demons" are said to be "healed" or "cured" - Matthew 4:24;12:22;17:18 - implying that demon possession is another way of describing illness.
In Luke 10:9 Jesus told His 70 apostles to go out and "heal the sick", which they did. They returned and said, v. 17, "even the demons are subject unto us through Thy name" - again, demons and illness are equated. Sometimes the apostles cured people in the name of Jesus and here we have an example of this (see also Acts 3:6; 9:34).
So we see that in the New Testament it was the language of the day to describe someone as being possessed with demons if they were mentally ill or had a disease which no one understood. The contemporary Roman and Greek cultural belief belief was that demons possessed people, thereby creating mental disease. Those 'Christians' who believe in the existence of demons are effectively saying that the contemporary pagan beliefs in this area were perfectly correct. The Bible is written in language which people can understand. Because it uses the language of the day does not mean that It or Jesus believed in demons. In the same way in English we have the word "lunatic" to describe someone who is mentally ill. Literally it means someone who is "moon struck". Years ago people used to believe that if a person went out walking at night when there was a clear moon, they could get struck by the moon and become mentally ill. We use that word "lunatic" today to describe someone who is mad, but it does not mean that we believe madness is caused by the moon.
There is a more detailed consideration of demons in the material on The Real Devil-
| 4-1 The Devil, Satan And Demons | 4-2 Demons And Idols | 4-2-1 Canaanite Theology Smashed | 4-2-2 Case Study: Resheph | 4-2-3 Case Study: The Gods Of Egypt | 4-3 Demons And Sickness | 4-3-1 Legion And The Gadarene Pigs | 4-3-2 Exorcism Of Demons | 4-4 The Language Of The Day | 4-5 God Adopts A Human Perspective | Digression 5 The Teaching Style Of Jesus | 4-6 Why Didn't Jesus Correct People? | 4-7 The Psychology Of Belief In Demons | 4-8 'Casting out demons': A Curing of Psychosomatic Illness? |