God's Use of Language 

 

For many readers, the arguments presented so far will be adequate. Others will require more proof. And still others may be fascinated by the wider issues our discussion has opened up. We have given many examples of how the Bible is written from a human perspective; but it is also from God’s perspective. This apparent paradox is surely a powerful proof of the Bible’s total inspiration. A father speaks to a child from his perspective, and yet also from that of the child; and it is this masterful mixture which we see in the way the Bible is written. The way God’s word mixes the Divine and the human perspective is what makes it hard to understand for the superficial reader, and yet at the same time open up wonderfully to the truly child-like reader.

Sometimes God indicates from what perspective the record is written; at other times He doesn’t. Thus Matthew 3:16 makes it clear that Christ saw Heaven opened at his baptism, and the Spirit descending like a dove. But Luke 3:21-22 just says that “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended”. Luke doesn’t say that this is only what happened from Christ’s perspective. This problem of perspective is at the root of the misunderstanding of the demon language in the Gospels.

As the perfect Father and Teacher, God uses language in a manner which will intellectually stretch His children; stretch us to rise up to His way of perceiving things. Thus sometimes God appears to use language with no regard as to whether the people who first heard it could understand it. God spoke to Job about snow (Job 37:6), to Abraham about sand on the sea shore (Gen. 22:17), to Noah about rain (Gen. 7:4) – things which they had never seen. And the New Testament concepts of grace, agape love, humility etc. were outside the ability of first century Greek to properly express; new words had to enter the language in order to express these ideas [1]. Yet God is also capable of speaking in the language of the day, bringing Himself right down to our human level of language use. It is vital to appreciate that God uses language in different ways in different parts of the Bible – otherwise our interpretation of it will be inconsistent and contradictory.

The wonder of inspiration is that God both accommodates Himself to the understanding of His readership and yet also uses language in His own way. The issue of demons is a classic example of this. We can clearly demonstrate that demons refer to idols and do not exist. Yet the New Testament describes Christ’s miracles using the language of demon possession. It is careless Bible study that seizes upon these New Testament verses and makes them prove the existence of demons. Rather must we analyze the way in which God uses language and reconcile these verses with the ‘mega-principles’ of the Bible concerning the supremacy of God and the true origin of trials and sin.

God And Language

Language is an expression of the mind; our words express our thoughts (Matt. 12:34). In this sense, God is His word (Jn. 1:1). We know that God’s mind works on an entirely different level to our own (Isa. 55:9). Therefore the expression of His mind in the form of words is going to use language in a very different way to how we do. If this fact is firmly recognized by us, we should not be surprised that we face some apparent paradoxes when we examine the Bible text.

It is for this reason that the Bible is not written as we would write a book designed to reveal God to men. It is therefore not a straightforward statement of beliefs with a series of clear commands to obey. To understand a doctrine we must search the entire Scriptures, learning to appreciate God’s way of thinking and speaking. This means that a degree of thought and reflection is necessary before the system of truth which comprises the Gospel becomes clear. Faith in God comes from hearing or reading His words (Rom. 10:17).

It is evident that God does not passively ignore this faithless world; He is actively angry with them, and He actively seeks to confuse all who do not have a truly humble attitude to His word (Matt. 13:10-12; 2 Thess. 2:11; Isa. 66:4; Ez. 20:25). His word is therefore written in a manner which confuses some and yet clearly teaches others, no matter how intellectually limited they may be. It has often been objected that if in fact demons don’t exist, then the language of demons in the New Testament is confusing people. But seeing that God does confuse people, this is not really an objection. God holds back many people from knowing His truth; e.g. they may die as babies, or live in a time and place where there is no knowledge of the Bible. He may also hold others back from seeing His true message through the way in which He has written His word. It is God’s prerogative to call or not call people to the true Gospel, and we should not find anything objectionable about the ways in which He chooses to do this.

The following are all examples of how the language of the Bible is confusing:

- Revelation 12:7-9 if read alone and out of context would teach the superficial reader that the devil is a dragon with rebellious Angels following him in heaven.

- Matthew 25:41 speaks of the devil and his Angels being thrown into eternal fire in hell. Only a careful consideration of what the words ‘hell’ (Gehenna) and ‘Angels’ mean can lead to a correct understanding of this passage.

- The parable of Luke 16:19-28 quickly leads the superficial reader to find support for the pagan ideas of ‘immortal souls’ and going to heaven on death; neither of which find Biblical support.

- The account of the thief on the cross needs careful pondering or else the reader will get the wrong impression that the believer goes to heaven on death.

- Christ is spoken of in language which can easily be misunderstood to teach that he was the creator of the world; only once we understand the concepts of the new creation and God manifestation can we make sense of these passages.

- The well known words of John 14:1-3 superficially appear to teach something about going to Heaven; until the reader analyses what the Bible means by the house of God, and then takes those verses apart clause by clause [2].

It is clear from this that true interpretation of the Bible takes some thoughtful pondering of it. Have you ever considered the fact that most of Christ’s words were totally misunderstood by those who heard him? Nicodemus thinks he must re-enter the womb of his mother in order to be born again (Jn. 3:4); when Jesus said “Where I am going, you cannot come”, people thought he was going to commit suicide (Jn. 8:21-22); when he spoke of his flesh as “bread for the life of the world”, they honestly thought he was suggesting some kind of cannibalism. And his disciples were no better. They totally missed the point about his death and resurrection; when he warned them of the leaven of the Pharisees, they thought he meant they shouldn’t buy yeast from them (Mk. 8:14-21 cp. Matt. 16:5); when he says Lazarus has fallen asleep in death, they think he means that Lazarus is having a good nap (Jn. 11:12); and when he speaks about having food to eat which they don’t know about, they think someone has been sneaking him a packed lunch (Jn. 4:33). The difference between the disciples and the Jews generally was that they thought on his words, they remembered them afterwards, they stayed around after his confusing parables and asked what on earth he was talking about, whilst the rest of the listeners went away confused (Matt. 13:10-12), although no doubt they thought they’d understood everything. So the fact that people today misunderstand the language of the Bible, especially of the Lord Jesus concerning demons, should not come as much of a surprise.

God’s doctrines are described as a secret, a mystery; the Hebrew word used in this connection means ‘A confidential plan revealed to intimate friends’; and yet they are revealed to the true believers (Am. 3:7-8; Jer. 23: 18,22 AV mg.; Ps. 25:14; Eph. 3:3-6). Therefore the congregation of true believers is called “the secret assembly of the saints”(Ps. 89:7 Heb.). There are many Bibles around, but God’s doctrines are to some extent a secret, and not understood by many of those who possess and read the Bible. It therefore follows that the Bible must be written in such a way as to conceal Truth from the majority of readers.

Typology

Much vital doctrine is taught by typology, which is hardly employing the means of straightforward statements to teach us. God intensely values typology; it is what Scripture is largely comprised of. It is therefore intended as a teaching medium, to be taken seriously as explicit commandments. God uses typology so much in order to indicate to us that He does not just see the lives of His servants at face value; He is working out a master-plan with them (perhaps on several levels) in the circumstances of their lives. The extensive use of typology is an indication that God wants men to love His word and search it out, to think deeply about it; and it is such people that He will reveal His Truth in its glorious simplicity.

A number of vital principles are taught to us by typology:

  • The place of women in the church and in married life (Eph. 5)

  • Gehenna as a place of destruction (rather than orthodox hell fire)

  • many of the Kingdom passages speak of situations which were typical of the future Kingdom (e.g. the time of restoration, Solomon’s kingdom, or Hezekiah’s latter reign).

Indeed, the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth is hard to explicitly prove from the Old Testament, without recourse to typology. Even Isaiah 53 describes the sufferings of Hezekiah, who was typical of Jesus. Thus Stephen’s defence of his belief in the Messiahship of Jesus rests largely on typology – e.g. the fact that Joseph/Jesus was rejected by his brethren at first (Acts 7:13).

Without doubt God frames the Biblical record in order to highlight certain facts. Thus there is a marked lack of information concerning the father and mother of Melchizedek in Genesis. The Spirit in Hebrews comments that he was “Without father, without mother…having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3). Now this is not literally true. God is providing us with an interpretation of how He worded the account in Genesis, making the point that Melchizedek typified Christ. But although we are not to read Hebrews 7:3 at face value, there is no explicit indication to this effect. The objection that the New Testament does not warn us against reading the ‘casting out of demons’ language literally is therefore not valid. Hebrews 7:3 is one of many examples of where it is imperative to understand the way in which God is using language if we are to correctly understand His word, but there is no explicit warning about this in Hebrews 7:3!

Metonymy

If we may speak in human terms, the speed and power of God’s intellect is such that He does not need words as we do in order to reason and reach conclusions. This begins to be reflected by the way in which the Bible is full (fuller than many realize) of the device of metonymy, whereby the cause is put for the effect. The piercing analysis of God is reflected by the way in which He uses this linguistic device so frequently. Much misunderstanding of the atonement has arisen through failing to appreciate God’s use of metonymy. Other examples include James 3:6, where “the tongue” means the words the tongue speaks; and 1 John 5:15, where God hearing our prayers means (see context) that He answers them. Unless we appreciate metonymy, we will come to the conclusion that God’s word is making incorrect statements; for example, that mere possession of a tongue means that our whole body is defiled (James 3:6).

God’s Language: Shockingly Different

It should be apparent from the above that God does not use language in a straightforward, literal way. Those who have been reading the Bible all their lives may be so used to God’s language that they do not appreciate the extent to which this is true. There are times, however, when God uses language in a very different way to how we normally do. Perhaps we need to drive this home with the following perhaps ‘shocking’ examples.

God sometimes uses language in a way which we may find embarrassing or inappropriate. Thus when creating a mini-parable to explain the gathering of the responsible to him at the second coming, Jesus likens himself to a rotting carcass which will instinctively attract the eagles, representing the responsible (Lk. 17:37). Within the human use of language, it seems inappropriate to liken the Lord Jesus Christ to a decaying carcass. It seems similarly inappropriate to liken God’s response to our prayers to an unjust judge who grudgingly answers requests (Lk. 18:1-7), or to repeatedly compare Jesus to a thief (Mt. 24:43; Lk. 12:39,33; 1 Thess. 5:2-4; Rev. 3:3; 16:15). It seems out of place to liken believers struggling to enter the Kingdom to violent people trying to storm a city by force (Matt. 11:12). The absentee landlords of Galilee were despised by all; and yet the Lord uses one of them as a figure for Himself (Lk. 20:9). Most stunning of all is Psalm 78:36,65,66: “They (Israel) did flatter Him (God) with their mouth….then the Lord awaked…like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts”. Now hold on, this just isn’t what we expect; to read about God being flattered by foolish men, and for Him to be likened to a drunken soldier who goes on the rampage kicking others in their private parts (this is alluding back to 1 Sam. 5:9). And the Lord likens His final appeal to Israel to casting dung around them (Lk. 13:8).

Likewise, Galatians 5:12 contains a play on words which again seems quite inappropriate to us; so much so that many a Bible translator and expositor has had problems with it. The idea is that Paul wishes that the circumcision party would go further and fully emasculate themselves. This just isn’t the way men would use language if they wrote the Bible uninspired by God.

Neither would Bible forgers attribute sarcastic language to God, but there are a number of examples of God using sarcasm (Ps. 2:4; 37:13; Isa. 44:14-20; Ex. 10:2 RV mg. “I have mocked the Egyptians”). In our use of language, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”; but not in God’s. His utter omnipotence means He can use language in a different way to us. Even the briefest comparison of the Bible with an uninspired religious book will indicate that the very way the Bible uses language is itself a proof that God is the author. The artless way in which God describes the death and resurrection of His own Son is one of the clearest examples. The way Mary meets the risen Lord and thinks He is the gardener is a supreme example of how artless and wondrous is God’s use of language.

John begins his first letter with an elaborate prologue. Raymond Brown comments: "Many commentators observe that a Prologue is an extraordinary beginning for an epistle since it violates all the standards of letter format". This 'violation' appears typical of how Scripture so often appears to 'violate' contemporary usages of language. [Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982) p. 176].

And just one more. We’d sooner skip over the words of Deuteronomy 23:12-13 than analyze them closely: “Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: and thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith”. Yet there can be no doubt that this is one of the source passages for the words of Hebrews 13:13: “Let us go forth therefore unto him (Jesus) without the camp, bearing his reproach”. When the Israelite soldier had a call of nature, he went forth “without the camp”, doubtless with a sense of sheepishness as he carried his spear-cum-spade with him. Everyone knew what he was doing. This commonplace incident is picked up by the Spirit and made relevant to the Jewish Christians going forth from the camp of Israel, carrying with them the obvious reproach of the cross of Christ. Again, we labour the point: this just isn’t the way we use language.

Why Is God’s Language Different?

So, we return to the question of why God uses language in a different way to how we normally do:

- Because God is not limited by time, He speaks of things which do not now exist as if they do, because He knows that ultimately they will exist (Rom. 4:17). This explains why the Bible speaks as if Abraham is still alive although he is now dead; as if the believers are now saved in God’s kingdom, although “he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22); as if Israel were obedient to God’s word (Psalm 132:4 cp. Ex. 19:5-6), when they will only be so in the future; as if Christ existed before His birth, although he evidently only existed physically after his birth of Mary. The majority of so-called ‘Christian’ churches go wrong in these major doctrinal areas because they fail to appreciate that the Bible is written from God’s perspective, not man’s. The more we appreciate God’s way of using language, the more difficulties disappear.

- When God wishes to emphasize something, He speaks as if nothing else needs to be taken into account in the language He uses. This is why salvation is often spoken of without mentioning the fact that it is conditional on certain things. The critic might respond: ‘So the Bible says things that aren’t correct!’. In a sense, yes it does, if that’s how you want to put it. Remember the examples we gave about the sun ‘rising’, Abraham being alive when he was dead etc. You can make anyone’s words contradict themselves until you appreciate how they use language.

- God has inspired His word in order to interpret certain facts to us. This is further proof that we are not intended to insist on a strictly literal meaning to everything we read (for example, that the sun literally rises). Thus Matthew records that the people cried ‘Hosanna’ at Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:9). Seeing that first century Israel spoke Aramaic, this is doubtless what did actually come out of their lips. But Luke says that the same group of people shouted “Glory” (Lk. 19:38). Luke’s Gospel seems to be designed for the Greek speaking world, and so he uses the Greek equivalent of ‘Hosanna’, even though they did not actually say that word. The way the New Testament quotes the Old with slight changes without pointing this out is another example of how God’s word mixes interpretation with direct transmission of facts (e.g. Ps. 32:1-2 cp. Rom. 4:6-7). This fact is not irrelevant to the issue of demons. We have seen that the accounts of demons being cast out are framed in such a way as to show the supremacy of God’s power over the vain traditions of the first century world.

- Another reason why God uses language differently to how we do is because He can read motives. Thus Galatians 5:3 says that “I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law”. Paul and many other Jewish Christians were circumcised, but Paul is reasoning in the letter to the Galatians that the true Jewish believer was not under an obligation to keep the Law: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision” (Gal. 5:6). Therefore “every man that is circumcised” in Galatians 5:3 must mean ‘every man who trusts in circumcision or wants to undergo it’. Some modern paraphrases support this, but the point is that what God actually said was that “every man that is circumcised…is a debtor to do the whole law” (see Greek text). Those words are just not true if taken out of context; we need to appreciate that God is speaking from the perspective of knowing men’s motives.

God: Believer-centric

It must also be born in mind that because of the extreme importance of His people to Him, God uses language in a way which focuses very much upon them to the relative exclusion of all others. Frequently, New Testament references to “all men” really means “all true believers” or those who have become responsible to God. Hebrews 2:14 states that Christ killed the devil (the power of sin) on the cross; but this is only true for those in Christ. Those who are ignorant of the saving power of God’s Truth are under the active control of sin- the Biblical devil. Revelation 20:5 speaks of “the dead” as those responsible to judgment, whereas many other Bible passages show that not all the dead will be raised. Only those who have heard the Gospel will be resurrected to judgment. Thus “the dead” in God’s usage does not refer to everyone who has ever died. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 speaks of “the dead” as those in Christ. Matthew 25:32 describes “all nations” coming before Christ for judgment. This indicates that to God, the world He sees is comprised of those who are responsible to Him; not literally “all nations” will come before Christ, only those people from them who are responsible to Him.

This was prefigured in the Old Testament by the way in which God saw the world as just Israel, those responsible to Him. This is reflected in His use of language; thus the Hebrew word eretz means both the whole earth and also the land of Israel. To God, the whole planet was just His people Israel. The Hebrew word for “South” is negev, which is the name of the Southern region of Israel. ‘The South’ primarily refers to the South of Israel. Similarly, the Hebrew word for ‘West’ is the same word translated “Sea”, often with the reference to the Mediterranean Sea which was the Western border of Israel. So the Bible is written from a Jewish perspective; the Gentile reader is ‘expected’ to understand that Gehenna and the concept of “eternal fire” are Jewish idioms for total destruction (Jer. 17:27; Jude 7). Again, the point has to be made that much misunderstanding has arisen in ‘Christian’ circles on the issue of hell through failing to appreciate that God is writing in Jewish terms. The New Testament is literally packed with phrases and other language which depend on an appreciation of Old Testament theology to make sense of (e.g. Christ calling himself “the bread of life”). Nowhere, however, are we explicitly told that we must understand the New Testament’s language by reference to the Old. We need to keep all these points in mind when considering the language of demons.

Another example of the Bible being written from a Jewish perspective includes the way Daniel 2 prophesies a series of empires which would “bear rule over all the earth”. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome did this from the perspective of the land of Israel. The prophecy is simply not true unless we appreciate this. When Israel entered Canaan, the fear of them fell on all the nations “under the whole heavens” (Deut. 2:25). Doubtless the Aborigines in Australia didn’t bat an eyelid; and ‘Israel’ could have been a racehorse as far as the South American peoples were concerned. But the world around Israel was the land “under the whole heavens” from God’s perspective; that was the area which He beheld from Heaven.

Some have presented good reason to think that the flood did not cover the whole earth[3]; yet the Genesis record speaks as if it did. This must have been true from the stand-point of an observer in the land of Israel. Robert Roberts has some very observant comments concerning God’s use of language in this case: “The language of the narrative is intended only to represent things as they appeared to the Noachic survivors. The whole Bible narrative was written for the inhabitants of the earth, and therefore adopts their point of view throughout…when you describe a matter to children, you instinctively adopt the form of your discourse to their modes of looking at things…men are children: they can only take in the aspects of these works as they appear to mortal sense, and consequently, the Divine presentation of them in narrative has to deal with aspects, not with the modus in esse. This is not to present an error instead of a truth…”[4].

In the same way as God’s use of language tends to focus only upon those responsible to Him, it also has the feature of concentrating on a particular individual or perspective, to the exclusion of other things. This may be in order to highlight something, or in order to reflect God’s concentration on one individual rather than upon others. For example, Daniel 5 describes how the Babylonian king Belshazzar was rebuked by God, and his kingdom overthrown by the Persians. The record stresses his pride, and how God was punishing him for this. We read of “Belshazzar the king…thy kingdom is…given to the Medes and Persians…in that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain” (Dan. 5:1,28,30). This appears to studiously avoid the fact that Belshazzar was only co-regent with Nabonidus at this time; yet the record speaks as if he was the king and the kingdom solely his. Robert Roberts says, “This is not to present an error instead of a truth”; it is emphasizing one aspect of truth, perhaps more intensely than human historians would, in order to reflect God’s outlook on the rulership of Babylon at that time.

Relative Language

Following on from this we come to the conclusion that in some cases God uses language in a relative sense in order to emphasize something. Thus we read of many being saved (Gen. 22:17), yet in another sense few will be saved (Matt. 7:14; 20:16; Lk. 13:23). Relative to the wonder of salvation, many will be saved; but numerically, the figure will be small, from the perspective of this world. The way to the Kingdom is easy relative to the wonder of what is in store for the faithful (Matt. 11:30; 2 Cor. 4:17); and yet from our human perspective it is hard indeed, a life of self-crucifixion (Acts 14:22; Rev.7:14). Our sufferings now are only for a moment compared to the glorious eternity of the Kingdom (Ps. 37:10; 2 Cor. 4:17), and yet the language of the Bible also expresses God’s appreciation that from our perspective, our time of probation is “a long time” (Matt. 25:19). “Many” – relatively- would be converted to the true ways of God by the work of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:16), whilst numerically the majority of those who heard John’s message eventually turned away from it, culminating in their crucifixion of the Messiah.

Consider Hosea 1:6-7: “I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel…but I will have mercy upon the house of Judah”. Yet we learn that Judah actually sinned more than Israel (Ez. 23:4-11; Jer. 3:11); and only a few verses later we are assured that God will ultimately have mercy upon Israel: “Yet (i.e. despite this) the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea…and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God…and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou are my God” (Hos. 1:10; 2:23) [5]. This is proof enough that when God told Israel they would no longer have mercy, He was speaking in relative terms. God’s angry rejection of Israel as His people is spoken of in permanent terms, and some have wrongly concluded from this that Israel will never again be restored to Divine favour. Again, they failed to appreciate how God uses language.

Orthodox Jews and some ‘Christian’ sects firmly believe that they must keep the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is described as a perpetual, eternal ordinance between God and His people (Ex. 31:17). Yet in the New Testament we read that the Old Covenant has been done away; and the Old Covenant clearly included the ten commandments (Deut. 4:13), one of which was concerning the Sabbath. For this reason the New Testament is at pains to explain that Sabbath keeping is not now required of God’s people (Col. 2:14-17; Rom. 14:1-3). Indeed, the whole Law of Moses is described as an everlasting covenant (Isa. 24:5; Deut. 29:29), but it has now been done away (Heb. 8:13). The feasts of Passover and Atonement were to be “an everlasting statute unto you” (Lev. 16:34; Ex. 12:14); but now the Mosaic feasts have been done away in Christ (Col. 2:14-17; 1 Cor. 5:7). The Levitical priesthood was “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Ex. 40:15; Num. 25:13), but “the priesthood being changed (by Christ’s work), there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12). There was an “everlasting covenant” between God and Israel to display the shewbread in the Holy Place (Lev. 24:8). This “everlasting covenant” evidently ended when the Mosaic Law was dismantled. But the same phrase “everlasting covenant” is used in 2 Samuel 23:5 concerning how Christ will reign on David’s throne for literal eternity in the Kingdom.

In what sense, then, is God using the word olahm, which is translated “eternal”, “perpetual”, “everlasting” in the Old Testament? James Strong defines olahm as literally meaning “the finishing point, time out of mind, i.e. practically eternity”. It was God’s purpose that the Law of Moses and the associated Sabbath law were to continue for many centuries. To the early Israelite, this meant a finishing point so far ahead that he couldn’t grapple with it; therefore he was told that the Law would last for ever in the sense of “practically eternity”. For all of us, the spectre of ultimate infinity is impossible to intellectually grapple with. We may glibly talk about God’s eternity and timelessness, about the wonder of eternal life. But when we pause to really come to terms with these things, we lack the intellectual tools and linguistic paradigms to cope with it. Therefore there is no Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible text to speak of absolute infinity. We know that death has been conquered for those in Christ, therefore we have the hope of immortal life in his Kingdom. But God speaks about eternity very much from a human viewpoint.

How God Wishes Us To Conceive Things

God is often portrayed as changing His mind in accordance with circumstances which the record implies He did not expect. Thus the inspired words of the New Testament apostles suggest they expected the second coming in their lifetimes. But God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10). He does not make decisions as we do in our uncertain zig zagging through life. His purpose was firmly established from the beginning of the world. The only conclusion we can come to is that this is how God wishes us to conceive of Him in His self-revelation to us. He wanted the first century apostles to perceive the second coming of Christ as just around the corner. He wants us to see Him as if He is a loving Father figure, as if He dwells just above the clouds (Deut. 4:39; 5:8 and 4:36 cp. 5:22; and consider the record of Christ’s ascension to the Father in Acts 1:9-11). He is not our literal father, nor does He live in the atmosphere just above the clouds; He dwells “far above all heavens” (Eph. 4:10), both literal and symbolic. David so often speaks of God dwelling above the Heavens (Ps. 8:1; 50:4; 57:5; 108:5; 113:4). All we can say is that God is willing for earth-bound mortals to conceive of Him as being just above the clouds. It is evident from this that God is quite able to use the ‘incorrect’ language of demons in the New Testament without being inconsistent with the way in which He has used language in the past.

God is also portrayed in His word as making decisions according to the circumstance He ‘finds’ Himself in. Thus in the parable of the marriage supper, God is represented by the King who invites guests to the supper. According to the parable, God was surprised that Israel rejected His offer, and therefore frantically called the Gentiles to the supper (Lk. 14:21-24).

In the parable of the wicked husbandman, the owner of the vineyard (representing God) appears to be in frustrated desperation: “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son…They will reverence my son” (Lk. 20:13; Matt. 21:37). He was proved wrong; they killed him. Of course God knew this right from the beginning of the world (Rev. 13:8); but He wishes us to perceive His sending of Christ to Israel in this way.

The judgment seat is described as if literal books are written each day we live, and these will be opened and considered by God at the last day, in order to decide whether to give us the reward of the Kingdom or not. When we survey the total of God’s revelation, it is evident that this is not to be taken literally. There will be a judgment, the result of which will be proportionate to the way we have lived our daily lives. But God (through the Lord Jesus) will not need to weigh up evidence. The books were written before the world began in the sense that God knew then who would be in His Kingdom. It is almost impossible to suggest that there will be literal scrolls unrolled. The idea of scrolls was no doubt used because it would have been understandable by those who were first inspired with God’s word. Yet this is how God reveals the judgment to us; in human terms which we are capable of understanding. We are not explicitly told that there will not be literal scrolls, or that God will not need to weigh up evidence to decide whether we will be in the Kingdom. Moses (Ex. 32:32) and Nehemiah (Neh.13:14) perhaps saw the judgment in this literal sense, but this does not mean that there will be actual scrolls unrolled.

So it should be clear that God quite commonly speaks of things in a way which may not be strictly true, because this is how He wants us to conceive of things. The record of Christ’s miracles was therefore written in the way in which God wanted men to conceive of them: as proofs that demons do not exist. God’s other ‘options’ (if we too may speak in human terms) would have been to explain medically that mental illness is not caused by demons, or to explicitly decry the folly of believing in pagan superstitions. It is doubtful whether this would have been successful in allowing Christ’s miracles to show forth God’s glory. For this was their purpose (Lk. 17:18; Jn. 11:4; 2:11 cp. 17:22). In any case, the King of the universe does not need to argue with men about whether He is omnipotent. The fact that the miracles are spoken of in terms of demons is a far greater proof that God is so far greater than demons that there is no room left for their existence.

Conclusions

- God is the source of all power; no negative experience can occur without Him allowing it to.

- Demons as they are widely believed in cannot exist because God is ultimately powerful, and is the ultimate creator of disaster.

- Demons are the same as idols.

- Therefore belief in demons is a denial of Yahweh’s supremacy.

- The Bible is full of language which alludes to contemporary religious beliefs without explicitly correcting them.

- It does this in order to demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy and the non-existence of demons.

- Many Old Testament miracles were explicitly designed to allude to surrounding beliefs, and demonstrated their fallacy.

- The Bible records events and beliefs as they appear to men without explicitly correcting them. This sometimes makes the Bible hard to understand for the superficial reader. Thus the speeches of Job’s friends make false statements about Job which are not explicitly corrected. Solomon in Ecclesiastes makes false statements about enjoying this life rather than hoping for the coming of the Kingdom; yet these are not explicitly corrected. That there is not explicit correction of the false notion of demons is not surprising.

- Because first century Israel believed that mental illnesses were caused by demons and that their cure was a result of demon exorcism, this is how many of Christ’s miracles are recorded.

- The fact that there is no warning that only the language of the day is being used is in perfect harmony with how God uses language in the Old Testament.

- As with many other major miracles, those of Christ demonstrated the non-existence of demons and the irrelevance of demonology through their allusion to the language of the day concerning them.

- The principles we must employ in order to understand the language of demons in the New Testament are valid in other areas of basic doctrine. Because ‘Christians’ fail to understand how God uses language in His word, they have come to false conclusions regarding many other doctrinal areas, e.g. the nature of death, the Holy Spirit, the nature of God and the Lord Jesus, etc. We have pointed these out during the course of this study. We are not, therefore, just using linguistic arguments when it suits them, in order to show that the New Testament language of demons does not mean what it appears to superficially. We believe that the principles of understanding God’s word outlined in this study are the key to coming to a true understanding of the whole system of correct doctrine which comprises the true Gospel.


Notes

[1] See “Newness of life”, Gospel News Vol. 7 No. 5, May 1994.

[2] All of these apparent ‘problem’ passages are clearly examined in harmony with the rest of Bible teaching in Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures (Northridge, Ca.: CMPA).

[3] See Robert Roberts, The Visible Hand Of God p. 41-50 (London: The Dawn Book Supply, 1969 ed.); Alan Hayward, God’s Truth p. 206-208 (London; Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1973).

[4] Robert Roberts, ibid p. 48. A similar approach is adopted throughout P.J. Wiseman, Creation Revealed In Six Days (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1948).

[5] This will come about through Israel’s acceptance of the New Covenant; through Gentiles doing so today, these words become true of them too (Romans 9:25).