It is my understanding that a “demon” (either Greek δαιμόνιον or δαίμων) is an “evil spirit” (Greek πνεῦμα πονηρόν).

In Acts 19:13, it is written,

Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over those who had evil spirits [τὰ πνεύματα τὰ πονηρὰ] the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

I think most agree that these “evil spirits” are equivalent to “demons.” Furthermore, I did a phrase search on the phrase “evil spirit” in the Old Testament, which produced the following results:

Jdg. 9:23
Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:

1 Sam. 16:14
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.

1 Sam. 16:15
And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.

1 Sam. 16:16
Let our lord now command thy servants, [which are] before thee, to seek out a man, [who is] a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.

1 Sam. 16:23
And it came to pass, when the [evil] spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

1 Sam. 18:10
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and [there was] a javelin in Saul's hand.

1 Sam. 19:9
And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with [his] hand.

Each of those use the same Greek expression in the LXX that is found for “evil spirit” in the NT (πνεῦμα πονηρόν or an inflection thereof). Also, the only other time we see the phrase “evil spirit(s)” is in Luke 7:21, 8:2 and Acts 19:12–13, 19:15–16. If we examine those passages in the Old Testament, most if not all say something to the effect of “evil spirit of/ from Yahveh/God.”

So, does God have control over demons? It seems so in the Old Testament. He is the one said to be sending the evil spirit. If this be the case, does God allow people to become possessed by demons, including those said to be possessed in the New Testament?

  • Hmmm...this feels like it could be a better fit on BH...but it asks for interpretation beyond exegesis, so I suppose it's more in-scope here. Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 8:06
  • 1
    This sounds like the "does man have free will" question but applied to angels/demons. God has ultimate authority, but there have always been disagreements on where His sovereignty allows for free will, and whether free will is an illusion. I'd say that, applied to demons, angels, or man, the answer is probably the same. Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 13:19
  • If God controls demons, the demons are not demons .. every thing which come from God's will is not an evil thing, is always good .. sometimes demons make the God's will because they don't see the consequences of their acts as free spirits .. "God's control" can be seen, at most, in that He limits of the free will of these evil spirits to not control the will of others
    – Iulian
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 9:45
  • A great addition to your examples is in 2 Corinthians: "And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me - to keep me from exalting myself!" (NASB) 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul mentions his entreaty to God to remove, to which God replies that his grace was sufficient and that power is perfected in weakness (vv 8-9). It sounds like Paul is attributing this to God's power through the revelation. Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 23:13

7 Answers 7


If God is omnipotent, then God is ultimately in charge of everyone, even demons. No one does anything apart from the will of God.

Many accept the existence of two wills in God - a hidden will of election (hidden or decretal will), and a revealed will. Following that idea, we could say that demons are obedient to God's hidden will (as indeed, everything perfectly is), while disobedient to God's revealed will. But it is his decretal will that they be disobedient to his revealed will, so it is his will that they disobey his will, and their disobedience is itself thus a form of obedience to God.

My answer is heavily influenced by Reformed theology, although Luther likewise believed in two wills. (I myself am a universalist rather than Reformed, but TULIP is only one step away from universalism - replacing the L with a U.) As I see it, the two wills doctrine is the only way to maintain the omnipotence of God.

I guess the alternative is to embrace metaphysical libertarianism, and maybe the sovereignty of God can be salvaged through middle knowledge. Personally, I find metaphysical libertarianism to be incoherent, and middle knowledge even more so. (I'd also note that both notions are, in my appraisal, alien to the Bible.) But there is no denying this is an alternative possible answer to your question.

  • I will wait to see if there are any better answers, but yours is definitely a good one Zack. Thank you for your response.
    – user900
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 8:49
  • Just because God is ABLE to control everything does not mean he directly controls everything, or that he even desires to directly control everything. This would make "free will" meaningless and would make a mockery of any commands ever given to humankind (such as the command to Adam to not to eat from the tree, or the laws given through Moses). In fact if God is omnipotent then he should also be able to control the amount of direct influence he has over his creation, just as he controlled the amount of power he used in creation (when creating everything from tiny bacteria to giant stars).
    – x457812
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 16:00

Similar to humans, the demons have their own freedom to act. God's control can be seen only as a limitation of devil's freedom, in sense that God will not allow to these spirits to affect the freedom of us as humans or other creatures. When Scripture says that "God sends an demon to do something ..." this must be always understood that "God lets/allows an evil to do that ..." because often the demons could provoke indirectly positive consequences, which can be foreseen only by God. Scripture states very clearly that "God will is always good", and "God is life".


Divine Providence

So your question isn't about evil spirits and how the relate to God necessarily, your question really is about how free moral agents can exist if God is in control of everything. As humans, angles, and evil spirits fall into that classification, the whole umbrella doctrinal category as it relates to this question is divine providence.

This is the central theological debate, between reformed thinkers, and Arminianist/Wesleyan thinkers, and somewhat more recently the Molinist thinkers. It may be difficult (or impossible!) to get a non-biased answer as a result as the debate still goes on, and any answer given would have to depend on the view of it's author.

However, you might check out this Wikipedia article on divine providence in Judaism for more info about how the original readers of that text may have interpreted it.


As Zack stated, God is omnipotent, so He controls even demons. But demons (like all angels and human beings) have free will, so this control is limited. Jesus (or exorcists who act in name and authority of Jesus) casts out evil spirits "by the finger of God" (Luke 11:20) - so Father must have had authority to force the evil spirits to leave.

What you address here is the old Hebrews' understanding of God's omnipotence and of angels. In most of Old Testament, everything (good and evil) is attributed to God. Everything bad (including actions of evil spirits) was undrstood as God's way to punish the sinful. And the angels (including evil angels, demons) were not clearly distinguished from God Himself in older books of Old Testament. During Old Testament times, the understanding of both God's omnipotence (and free will of men and angels) and of the nature of angels has evolved. Book of Job is a sort of a polemic with the idea that everything bad is a punishment for sins, and Satan is first depicted as a cause of evil independent of God. God still has the final word, evil spirits can't do anything without God's approval. St Augustine wrote that if Devil was free to do anything he wanted, nobody would live. Why God don't stop many of evil spirits' plans? The answer is the same as for any other form of evil - see other questions, like this one.


From a Catholic perspective:

I have a sense that there can be a distinction between the two. Namely, a demon is necessarily a fallen angel, while an evil spirit is any fallen spiritual entity. In my understanding, this can include dead, unrepentant humans.

That said, I would assume the scripture generally assumes an evil spirit is a demon. And, I would assume we can speak similarly about them, if not identically, for most purposes.

So, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” ... The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”

You can find the scriptural references in the USCCB's online version of the Catechism, if you're interested.

So, everything in existence is subject to God's will. And all that occurs is, in the very least, occurring by His permissive will. That is, God does not plan the evil actions of the demons, but He sustains their existence and allows their free action: He wills their free will and action.


I would highly recommend the book God at War (see pages 80-81 specifically), written by Gregory Boyd, or this summary of it. It deals with this question as it discusses theodicy from the perspective of spiritual warfare. The author goes through the entire Bible, along with a number of other ancient texts, and demonstrates the constant theme of spiritual warfare, and places events such as Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension into this context.

To answer your question from what I've learned in this book, I believe that God has delegated some of his authority to created agents with free will, both angels/demons and humans. God is sovereign, and could retake the authority at any time, but chooses instead to work within the rules that he himself has set up in order not to negate free will.

In this context, the demons sent from God were given a certain amount of limited authority, and were sent as judgment against Saul and Abimelech. The demons acted in an evil manner of their own accord, but God sent them specifically because they were evil.

So God doesn't "control" demons when it comes to them making moral decisions, but he does give them limited authority and places them in a limited universe with rules that he created.


No doubt God can rewind time and edit out anything He doesn't like, and we wouldn't even know about it. Having created time and being outside of it or inside it if He wishes He can do what He likes. In that way God can control demons if He likes or not as the case may be, plus He could change such later. There are no rules like "free will" for God otherwise God would be ruled rather than the ruler. Any human attempts to understand the workings of God must always fail hopelessly. There will surely be one million incredible different workings of God that we have no ideas of at all until such time as He reveals them individually to us.

There is no point whatsoever in using "references" for these kind of questions since anybody's opinion is as good as anyone else's. In short we know nothing and never will Earth side of Heaven. What is written in the Bible and other religious texts is a tiny piece of the whole, the most is hidden and secret of course.

  • Welcome to the site, we hope you stick around and make a valuable contribution. In general, we're looking for a little more in answers than (what is effectively) "We don't know; we can't know; and there is no point in giving references to that effect." Please review our help centre for what constitutes an appropriate answer. Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 8:43

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