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What the Bible says about the
exorcism of demons (a.k.a. evil spirits)

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Overview:

Exorcism refers to the ritual process by which indwelling evil spirits, or demons, are compelled to leave a person's body.

Christianity has traditionally taught that Satan and his hordes of demons roam throughout the world attempting to harm and destroy humans. 1 This belief entered Christianity from Judaism in the 1st century CE. There are many dozens of passages in the Christian Scriptures that describe how demons were believed to possess a human and cause them to behave strangely. Much mental and physical illness was attributed to this cause. A major part of the Gospel message concerns Jesus' healing ministry, where he is recorded as exorcising evil spirits from the bodies of numerous sick people.

Belief in indwelling evil spirits, and thus belief in the necessity of exorcism, continues to the present time among many conservative Christians. To disbelieve in the reality of evil entities like Satan and his demons would require them to abandon belief in the inerrancy (freedom of error) of the Bible .

Liberal Christians have long abandoned belief in demons. They regard these Biblical passages as quaint literature from a pre-scientific age.

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The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

The Hebrew Scriptures are silent on the topic of exorcism.

The King James Version of the Bible often used the term "devils" which some readers assume refer to Satan's army of demons. Other translations use  "heathen gods," "idols," etc. In reality, they simply refer to the Gods worshipped by Pagan tribes (or the idols that represented those Gods).

Indwelling evil spirits which cause mental illness are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. But they were not dispatched or controlled by Satan; they were sent by God to torment specific individuals, like King Saul.

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The Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

Exorcism is a major theme of the Christian Scriptures. It was recorded in dozens of passages as having been performed by both Jesus and his disciples/apostles. Almost all come from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke):

bulletMatthew 8:16: "When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick."
bulletMatthew 8:30-32: "And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters."
bulletMatthew 9:32-33: "And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel."
bulletMatthew 10:1: "And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease."
bulletMatthew 12:22: "Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw."
bulletMatthew 12:43-45: "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.   Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation."
bulletMatthew 15:22-28: "Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
bulletMatthew 17:15-18: "And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour."
bulletMark 1:23-26: "And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him."
bulletMark 3:22-26: "And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end."
bulletMark 5:6-20: "But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he [Jesus] asked him, What is thy name? And he [the demons] answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.  And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.   And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel."
bulletMark 6:7: "And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;"
bulletMark 7:25-30: "And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."
bulletMark 9:18-29: "And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."
bulletMark 16:9: "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils."
bulletMark 16:17: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils..."
bulletLuke 4:33-35: "Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not."
bulletLuke 4:41: "And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ."
bulletLuke 8:2-3: "And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others..."
bulletLuke 8:28-36: "When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed."
bulletLuke 9:41-42:  "...Bring thy son hither. And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father."
bulletLuke 11:14: "And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered."
bulletLuke 11:15-20: "But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you."
bulletActs 16:16-18: "...a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour."
bulletActs 19:13-16: "Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded."

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Related essays:

bulletSatan: overview, Satan in the Bible
bulletSatan: 2,600 year history
bulletDemons
bulletExorcism

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References:

  1. S.H.Y. Page, "Powers of Evil: A Biblical study of Satan & demons," Baker Books, (1995), Page 82

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