Quite a few of the things Jesus and his disciples had to address they had diagnosed as "demons". Today we call things of similar symptoms "disorders".

Epilepsy: Matthew 17:14-16

Multiple Personality Disorder: Mark 5:1-20

For lack of time I cannot give an exhaustive list, yet its easy to find quite a few. Yet I see that "pharmaceuticals" and other drugs tend to be the fallback and treatment.

What connection, if any, exists between the ancient diagnosis and modern ones? Is there any distinctive difference between them?

  • very similar to this. What does the Bible say about people with mental illness? – Mike Apr 11 '14 at 6:26
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    Obviously in the gospels the demons get cast of people and come out confessing Jesus as Christ, so its not as simple a matter as demon possession in the gospels being equivalent to mental illness. – david brainerd Apr 11 '14 at 8:43
  • Being sound of mind and body is order; being possessed by a demon is definitely a disorder! Unlike today's disorders, though, these were cured by the command of faith in Jesus' name. – Steve Apr 16 '14 at 13:33
  • "What connection, if any, exists between the ancient diagnosis and modern ones?" This is rather broad. Paul tells Timothy to drink a little wine for his upset stomach - is this what you mean? – Steve Apr 17 '14 at 0:51
  • Typically the "mental" disorders which resemble the "demonic" afflictions in the bible. For simplicity, we can start with the two named in the original question. But there are others. – user9485 Apr 17 '14 at 3:35

I'm going to self identify for the purposes of this answer. I have a multitude of mental illnesses. Schizoaffective disorder (hallucinations of all types, delusions of several types, mania and major depression) and OCD as well the lesser subsyndromal OCD (obsessive behaviour and intrusive thoughts). On bad days the Dyslexia (trouble with language) and Autism (experiencing reality differently) are also a problem. All my symptoms are under control though sometimes I still experience hypomania and depression but not mania and major depression.

I understand your concern that I might be demon possessed however such concerns are not realistic. My brain is broken the methods by which it is corrected is a medication by no biblical definition would it fit demonic possession.

Luk 13:16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?

Mental diseases are no different than physical diseases. They are satanic bondage and oppression/bondage/affliction is not possession. The woman in Luke 13 was bound by the devil and a child of God. This is why:

pos·ses·sion pəˈzeSHən/Submit noun

1.the state of having, owning, or controlling something.

2.an item of property; something belonging to one.

-Google dictionary

Mar 3:25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

Demon possession is the opposite of salvation. It is to be owned and controlled by the devil. To be filled with the devil in the same manner in which those who are saved are filled with the Holy Spirit. Spiritual houses are not divided against themselves either you belong to God or you do not.

2Co 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

Those who have religious intrusive thoughts (unwanted random thoughts generated by broken neural pathways about religious figures) and personality disorders have to put up with things which would scare normal Christians. Just because our burden is greater does not mean we belong to the devil. It means we must have medication to help us cast down that which does not conform to the word of God.

Job 2:9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.

Your tempted to commit adultery; we're tempted to commit adultery. We're tempted to curse God and die; you're not. Our temptations and faults don't make us evil in the manner of demonic possession.

Jas 5:11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

We just are more patient than you.

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    Thank you for the well researched biblical answer. Actually I've seen so much mental disorder bordering on the satanic I felt compelled to ask. I can certainly empathize to a degree, especially as you mention Job (Who suffered satanic torment the worst). Also you are obviously well qualified to comment on the subject because you experience the very thing I'm asking about. I'm rewarding the bounty to you! :D – user9485 Apr 23 '14 at 0:41
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    Good answer overall, but I think there's a bit of a false dichotomy between disease/disorder and demonic activity (which doesn't have to be possession). We don't know all the tools demons have at their disposal, but like Job's boils, I suspect that mental illness can be demonic in origin, even when it can be counteracted by medication, surgery, etc. Compare John Piper's helpful take on using medicines etc. to cope with various physical challenges. – metal Apr 23 '14 at 2:52
  • @metal ok i said "Mental diseases are no different than physical diseases. They are satanic bondage and oppression/bondage/affliction is not possession. The woman in Luke 13 was bound by the devil and a child of God." to point out there is no dichotomy between the sets of disease and demonic activity. where did you draw the false dichotomy? i'll clarify it if i can find it. as i see it there does exist a clear binary relationship between the set of saved and demon possessed though. – user4060 Apr 23 '14 at 3:06
  • I apologize. I misread your answer. You have shown the difference I was looking for. – metal Apr 23 '14 at 3:56
  • @metal its kool glad i showed what you were looking for – user4060 Apr 23 '14 at 4:22

It is certainly likely that some diseases in antiquity were misdiagnosed as demon possession. However, even though we live in "the age of science", we probably go too far in assuming that there is nothing spiritual and everything is physical. Just because we can "diagnose" or "describe" something does not mean there is a physical cause--only that there are physical symptoms. The idea that spiritual realities can have a physical impact is certainly feasible. I understand that some "diseases" or "disorders" have no detectable physical cause--only physical symptoms. So, spiritual causes should not be ruled out.

It should also be noted that for many disorders that can be diagnosed, there are no real cures and certainly none that are instantaneous. However, Jesus was able to cure them and does so in an instant.

There are some instances of Jesus driving out demons that would be quite difficult to attribute to mere physical causes, indeed. The account in Mark is one such instance:

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.

6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he *said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he *said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.

11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region.

18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might [c]accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. Mark 5:1-20 NASB

This particular man had supernatural strength, was self-destructive, lived among tombs, went about naked (from Luke's telling of the story) and seemed to be in torment. Seeing Jesus, he/they identify Him as the Son of God and beg Jesus not to torment him/them, recognizing Jesus' power over them. He/they also identify as having the name "Legion".

At the command of Jesus, the disorder disappears but reappears in a herd of pigs, which then take on self-destructive behavior themselves and kill themselves. However, the man, who, moments before, had this "disorder", is now completely free from it and actually becomes a missionary, telling about what Jesus did for him.

What "disorder" accurately describes this case? Multiple-personality disorder? Is this ever healed in an instant by modern medicine today? Does it cause people to go about naked and give them superhuman strength? Does it make them recognize the deity of Jesus and fear being tormented by Him? Does the healing turn them into missionaries?

The best explanation remains that the accounts of demon possession in the Scriptures refer to something real that is spiritual in nature, although there is, in fact, a physical impact that can be seen. Diagnosis does not necessitate that the cause is physical--only that physical symptoms can be observed. There very well may be instances of demonic influence in the world today that are identified and "diagnosed" but which are merely giving a name to a spiritual reality.

Modern medicine is a truly wonderful blessing for the treatment of physical illnesses, but physical remedies cannot address spiritual realities.

  • narnian there is a psychological diagnosis for the man in the tomb but i'm not going in to it – user4060 Apr 25 '14 at 21:46

In order to answer your question, we have to clarify a couple of things.

Quite a few of the things Jesus and his disciples had to address they had diagnosed as "demons". Today we call things of similar symptoms "disorders".

The Bible clearly distinguished between Possession by Devils, (Demons in some translations), and diseases, and sickness.

Possession by Devils is:

δαιμονίζομαι daimonizomai (dai-mon-id'-zom-ai) v.

  1. to be exercised by a demon

KJV: have a (be vexed with, be possessed with) devil(-s)

Disease is:

μαλακία malakia (mal-ak-ee'-ah) n.

  1. softness, i.e. enervation (debility)

KJV: disease

Sickness is;

νόσος nosos (nos'-os) n.

  1. a malady

  2. (figuratively, rarely) of moral disability

KJV: disease, infirmity, sickness

Note: daimonizomai is a verb indicating action, while malakia and nosos are both nouns indicating that they are substances.

The difference becomes more obvious when we look at some scripture.

All Scripture is quoted from the King James translation

Matthew 4:24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

Matthew 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:

Mark 3:22 through 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. In these three scriptures we see the diversity of the particular malady Jesus was dealing with.

In Matthew 4:24 we find that even though all of the people suffered from different maladies they are all called by the common term 'sick people'. they are divided into 4 distinct groups.

  1. diseases and torments . These would include those who had diseases such as Leprosy, while those with torments would be those mentally ill to include such as autistic and so on.

  2. Possessed with Devils. remember that we said this was a verb. In other words these were being manipulated by a Devil, also known as a demon but are actually fallen Angels, they were not suffering from any type of disease, but were taken over both physically and mentally by these demons.

Luke 11:15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.

Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

  1. Lunatick This would be those we now call Epileptic.

Mat 17:15 through 18 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 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.

4 Those that had the Palsy, these were the ones whose illness was a passing types of sickness, colds, dysentery, and so on.

So we see that Possession by Devils is something entirely different than what we know today as mental disorders.

As far as does Demonic possession exist today, the jury is still out on that.

  • This is a very insightful answer. "...different maladies they are all called by the common term 'sick people'. they are divided into 4 distinct groups" is especially a good observation. I also like the biblical references which were used to show distinctions. Its unlikely a better answer will be provided, but I'll keep it open just in case. If a more complete answer ends up simply being a derivative of this one, I'll accept this one as the root answer. – user9485 Apr 18 '14 at 3:24
  • @1Up Should you not receive an answer that you feel is better, I do not wish that you give any of your reps to me. I feel tat Reps are a reward for personal achievement, and I prefer that I earn all of my Reps myself. So please do not transfer any Reps to me. – BYE Apr 18 '14 at 12:08
  • but back then they didn't understand mental illness, we only started to understand mental illness and psychology not so long ago, with Freud, so it is very plausible that we qualified possession in the same category as mental illness – Lynob Apr 19 '14 at 19:14
  • @Fischer Perhaps we didn't but God always did. Since they are listed separately, as diseases, torments, lunatic, and palsy, if as I believe Scripture is inspired by God, that is the reason they are. Feel free to either agree or disagree with that idea. – BYE Apr 19 '14 at 21:50
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    Bye - Your answer is a good start. It would be stronger if you used the sample of the legion of devils that went into the pigs. You could use that argument for @Fischer as an example when the problem is transferred from a human to an animal. This is impossible for a mental illness. At least I have never seem someone command a mental illness to depart from one creature and be deposited into another. – Mike Apr 20 '14 at 8:30

No matter how you attempt to reduce your "Anxiety" whether it be by vitamins, prescription medicines, over the counter drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol, partying, legal or illegal sex, orgies, strip clubs, homosexuality, adultery, legal or illegal pornography, bestiality, necrophilia, power struggles, rivalry, hostile fits of rage, dissension from authority, joining a clique, slandering others, satisfying the desire for objects of adoration, wanting what others have (even stuff at the store), pride over what you have, soft things of adoration, stealing to obtain possessions, wanting in general and not being satisfied, cheating others out of money, killing people, abortion, sacrificing children to false gods, or lying to get your way, you will in now way enter into peace. [1]

All of these forms of "Relief" only satisfy the result of Denial. Yet the cure for denial is "Faith" for those that believe do not suffer the symptoms of denial. All this is proven by the stages of grief, and the polarization of faith and anxiety.

Here is logic, if the cure for anxiety is of a thing, when the thing is not present then anxiety because the cure is not present can still occur. Therefore the only cure for anxiety must be with us always. As is the truth in the teachings that the Jesus gave us. For I am in reality and the truth is in me (ref: John 14:11).

Simply Google "Anxiety leads to death" to see how the unclean attitude leads to death.

For something fun to do you can find the list of mental disorders found here [2]. Select a disorder and Google the name of the disorder plus the word Anxiety. Like this:

Acute stress disorder anxiety

With the exception of Mania (Often looked down upon because of the fall to depression afterwards)[3], which I believe to be Holy Ground, and only permanently represented after perfect execution of the teachings are achieved.

Since then anxiety, anger, or depression is the evidence of demon possession. The specifics to how each demon type can be purged is in need for documentation. So that the populations can as a whole enter into peace. Yet the best strategy of how this information is to be documented I do not yet know.

[1] (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Revelation 22:15)
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mental_disorders
[3] Luke 6:47-49 (The house is an analogy for the attitude)

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    Can I have some constructive criticism to increase this answers rating? – Decrypted Apr 18 '14 at 12:47
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    Even Jesus acknowledged that diseases, illness, and so on were actual. He even equivocated that those who are sick need a physician. Your answer as I read it appears to indicate that we alone are able to cure these by ourselves through faith. supposing that that were true Jesus would not have had to cure those who were ill, only strengthen their faith. that is my reason for the down vote. Happy Easter – BYE Apr 20 '14 at 13:45
  • Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. (Matthew 8:13 NKJV) – Decrypted Apr 20 '14 at 21:49
  • Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:58 NKJV) – Decrypted Apr 20 '14 at 21:52
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    he is good I do not understand what point you are trying to make by citing these two Scriptures. – BYE Apr 20 '14 at 23:30

Its quite probable that many Christians today don't even take the demons in the gospel accounts literally, but view them as mere plot devices. "Jesus needs to be confessed as Christ, but the masses must be portrayed as ignorant: insert demon here, have it confess him." The casting out of demons does seem to serve the purpose of a cryptic confession of his identity quite often. It also serves a anti-Judaic purpose. Note how many demon possessed people Jesus encounters in Judea. Its as if the authors are insinuating that Jews are demon-riddled people. (By contrast, see how few demoniacs the apostles encounter in Gentile territory in Acts!) In other words, the true literary purpose of the demon possession accounts may have nothing to do with ancient diagnosis of mental disorders at all. It may only seem that way due to ultra-literal interpretations. But if these accounts are literal, it would seem there was a much higher incidence of mental disorders among the Jews than the Gentiles.

  • the down vote is for idea that Jesus needed the acclamation of people to bolster his identity, while at the same time performing miracles in their presence, and weeding his way to rejection and the cross. To my infantile mind that would be counterproductive. Also remember that the Israelites were God's chosen people and the main subject of Satan's attacks. Happy Easter. – BYE Apr 20 '14 at 13:53
  • @Bye, I don't think I said Jesus "needed the acclamation of people to bolster his identity." I was thinking more in terms of a way to let the reader know something the people aren't supposed to know. As the texts present it, although the demons confess Jesus as Christ, he apparently shuts them up fast enough the people don't hear. Nobody gets that he is the Christ but Peter, you know, and Jesus tells him it was revealed to him by the Father. – david brainerd Apr 20 '14 at 19:23
  • sorry if I misread, please accept my apology. As far as the other disciples knowing that he is the Christ I am unsure. Check out Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11, and Luke 8:10. – BYE Apr 20 '14 at 19:32

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