The Biblical Criteria for Demon-Possession -- By: Willem Berends

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 37:3 (Spring 1975)
Article: The Biblical Criteria for Demon-Possession
Author: Willem Berends

The Biblical Criteria for Demon-Possession

Willem Berends

With all the renewed interest today in demon-possession few people have sought to define what demon-possession really is in biblical terms. Even such concerned Christian authors as Koch and Unger list criteria which are not derived from Scripture, but rather from those cases which they have accepted as paradigm examples of demon possession today.1 They beg the question as to whether they are dealing with what the Bible calls demon-possession, since they do not judge their cases by purely biblical criteria but rather by the symptoms which these “demon-possessed” themselves display, e.g. they mention the demoniac’s frequent ability to speak in languages he has never learned.2 Koch also lists other phenomena such as the frequent presence of poltergeists, and some demoniacs’ ability to see or hear demons.3 ,4

Because this “Demon-possession” is usually identified with the phenomenon described in the New Testament there are

many who think that exorcism as per the Bible pattern is the only legitimate way of dealing with these cases. That may well be true, but before any attempts at exorcism are made there must be a certainty that the suspected demoniacs are really suffering the same malady as that with which Jesus and the apostles dealt. Such an identification requires a list of biblical criteria for diagnosing demon-possession. Nine possible criteria from the 50-odd references to demon-possession found in the Gospels and the Book of Acts are:

  1. that demon-possession was limited to a certain era in history;
  2. that demon-possession was limited to a certain class of people;
  3. that demoniacs were readily recognized;
  4. that psychosomatic symptoms always accompanied demon-possession;
  5. that the demons possessing demoniacs had distinct personalities;
  6. that demoniacs had some supernatural knowledge by virtue of their demons;
  7. that the demoniacs were compelled to acclaim the authority of Jesus when confronted by him or by one of his representatives;
  8. that demoniacs never came out of themselves to be cured.
  9. that an authoritative word, spoken in faith, is the only biblical way of exorcising a demon.

Because these criteria fall naturally into three groups, we will deal with them under three headings:

I. The Scope of Demon-Possession (Criteria 1 & 2).

II. The Nature of Demon-Possession (Criteria 3–7).

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