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Both terms, demon and devil, are used in various Bible passages.

According to Catholic Encylopedia:

... the chief of the demons is called the devil.

  • Is that true? Because the term devil is used with plural form (devils) in several Bible passages (e.g.: Luke 9: 1, Mark 3: 15 etc.)
  • Is there any exact difference between demon and devil?
  • What does Christian demonology say about this?
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    What is "Christian demonology"? – Andrew Jan 22 '18 at 11:56
  • Does the thought that the two words came to English from two different languages interest you? See entries on demon and devil... and you might want to hit Biblical hermeneuticsto see what the original terms in Greek and Hebrew were. – KorvinStarmast Jan 22 '18 at 14:12
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    I have asked at BH since I too am curious. – KorvinStarmast Jan 22 '18 at 14:26
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    @Andrew Here – Clicker Jan 22 '18 at 17:33
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From the perspective of the Greek New Testament, demon could be said to represent δαίμων (daimōn, from which the corresponding English word is derived) and devil could be said to represent διάβολος (diabolos; viz. "diabolical"). A variant of the word δαίμων - δαιμόνιον (daimonion) - is more often used.

Daimon and daimonion together appear 82 times in Scripture (17 times in the Septuagint, 65 in the New Testament). Diabolos appears 60 times (22 times in the Septuagint, 38 in the New Testament).

The word diabolos can also mean "slanderer", as in:

Esther 8:1 LXX

Καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἀρταξέρξης ἐδωρήσατο Εσθηρ ὅσα ὑπῆρχεν Αμαν τῷ διαβόλῳ

And in that day king Artaxerxes gave to Esther all that belonged to Aman the slanderer

In the "diabolical" sense it seems always to refer to a single individual - the devil. In the Septuagint, for example, Job refers continually to ό διάβολος (the devil). This is also the case in the New Testament:

Matthew 4:1

Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ Πνεύματος πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.


Acts 10:38

Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ, ὡς ἔχρισεν αὐτὸν ὁ Θεὸς Πνεύματι Ἁγίῳ καὶ δυνάμει, ὃς διῆλθεν εὐεργετῶν καὶ ἰώμενος πάντας τοὺς καταδυναστευομένους ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου

how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil


Ephesians 4:27

μηδὲ δίδοτε τόπον τῷ διαβόλῳ

and give no opportunity to the devil.

Daimon and daimonion, on the other hand, are almost always used in the plural, and when not, the context implies that the word refers to one of many. For example:

Matthew 10:8

ἀσθενοῦντας θεραπεύετε, λεπροὺς καθαρίζετε, νεκροὺς ἐγείρετε, δαιμόνια ἐκβάλλετε·

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.


John 10:21

ἄλλοι ἔλεγον· ταῦτα τὰ ῥήματα οὐκ ἔστι δαιμονιζομένου· μὴ δαιμόνιον δύναται τυφλῶν ὀφθαλμοὺς ἀνοίγειν;

Others said, “These are not the sayings of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”


James 2:19

σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι ὁ Θεὸς εἷς ἐστι· καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσι καὶ φρίσσουσι.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder.

In the Vulgate Latin, the Greek διάβολος (diabolos) is almost always mirrored by the Latin diabolus in the New Testament. δαιμόνιον (daimonion) is mirrored by the Latin daemonium.

In the Septuagint, diabolos translates the Hebrew שָׂטָן (śā·ṭān) - obviously the origin of our English word, "Satan". On 36 occasions, the New Testament transliterates שָׂטָן into Greek (Σατανᾶς - Satanas); as in:

Matthew 16:23

ὁ δὲ στραφεὶς εἶπε τῷ Πέτρῳ· ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου, σατανᾶ·

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!"

In the Septuagint daimonion often translates שֵׁד (šēḏ), which means "evil spirit" - usually of the sort that is worshipped as a god.

Ambiguity between the two terms is in the English language, but not necessarily the Greek or Hebrew Scriptures. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines demon as "an evil spirit or devil" and devil as "an evil spirit; a demon". Some English Bible translations use the two terms somewhat interchangeably. The King James Bible, for example, translates all three Greek words (diabolos, daimon, daimonion) as "devil". The RSV (and I presume the Catholic Edition RSV), on the other hand, seems to preserve the distinction and translate(s) diabolos as "devil" and daimon/daimonion as "demon".

The origin of and distinction between the devil (diabolos) and demons (daimonia) according to first millennium Chalcedonian Christian theology is explained in John of Damascus' (676-749) The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith in Book II, ch.4, "Concerning the devil and demons", written sometime in the early 8th (or perhaps late 7th) century:

He who from among these angelic powers was set over the earthly realm, and into whose hands God committed the guardianship of the earth, was not made wicked in nature but was good, and made for good ends, and received from his Creator no trace whatever of evil in himself. But he did not sustain the brightness and the honour which the Creator had bestowed on him, and of his free choice was changed from what was in harmony to what was at variance with his nature, and became roused against God Who created him, and determined to rise in rebellion against Him: and he was the first to depart from good and become evil. For evil is nothing else than absence of goodness, just as darkness also is absence of light. For goodness is the light of the mind, and, similarly, evil is the darkness of the mind. Light, therefore, being the work of the Creator and being made good (for God saw all that He made, and behold they were exceeding good) produced darkness at His free-will. But along with him an innumerable host of angels subject to him were torn away and followed him and shared in his fall. Wherefore, being of the same nature as the angels, they became wicked, turning away at their own free choice from good to evil.

(John of Damascus is considered a "Doctor of the Church" by the Roman Catholic Church and an authoritative Church Father by Eastern Orthodox).

The Scriptural basis for these beliefs is summarized in one Orthodox dogmatic theology:

According to the testimony of the word of God, the origin of sin comes from the devil: He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning (I John 3: 8). The word “devil” means “slanderer.” Bringing together the evidence of Sacred Scripture, we see that the devil is one of the rational spirits or angels who deviated into the path of evil. Possessing, like all rational creatures, the freedom which was given him for becoming perfect in the good, he “abode not in the truth” and fell away from God. The Saviour said of him: He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it (John 8: 44). He drew the other angels after himself into the fall. In the epistles of the Apostle Jude and the Apostle Peter, we read of the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation (Jude, v. 6; compare with II Peter 2: 4).*


* M. Pomazanski, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.; St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2005), p.153

  • Amazing answer! – luchonacho Jan 22 '18 at 17:55
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    Bravo. There's a lot good in that answer. – KorvinStarmast Jan 22 '18 at 19:08
  • Added a note regarding the Latin: "In the Vulgate Latin, the Greek διάβολος (diabolos) is almost always mirrored by the Latin diabolus in the New Testament. δαιμόνιον (daimonion) is mirrored by the Latin daemonium." – guest37 Jan 23 '18 at 19:12
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In Catholicism, demons are angels that, albeit being first good, chose to become evil. Among them the first is called Devil (or Satan).

In effect, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the section "The fall of the angels", states:

391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church's Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called "Satan" or the "devil". 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 next four points dig a bit deeper on the concept of the Devil. These paragraphs have several biblical references, including Revelations 12:9:

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

The definitive establishment of this Catholic doctrine on the devil and the demons, now found in the Catechism, and based on the Scriptures, occurs only in the IV Council of Letran, in 1215. There, among other things, it was decreed that:

The devil and other demons were created by God naturally good, but they became evil by their own doing.

This is the basis of the catechism entry, as refereed to in footnote 268 of the catechism (DS 800).


You mention some biblical references. But the translation depends on the version you use. For example, Luke 9:1 in the NIV reads:

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases

Similarly with Mark 3:15:

and to have authority to drive out demons.

If you check the Vulgate version of the Bible, compiled by St. Jerome in the 4th century (written in Latin), and the official Bible of the Catholic Church for centuries, in both Luke and Mark entries he uses the word daemonia, which is the plural of demon. The word devil in Latin is diabolus, which is for example used in the Vulgate in Revelations 12:9, as above:

et proiectus est draco ille magnus serpens antiquus qui vocatur Diabolus et Satanas qui seducit universum orbem proiectus est in terram et angeli eius cum illo missi sunt

This suggests that a more correct translation of the passages you mention is actually "demons" rather than "devils". This is at least consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church (and I would say other Christian denominations too).

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What is the difference between Demon and Devil?

What is a Demon?

Demon

Originally a spirit between the gods and men. In the New Testament a demon is the same as an evil spirit, which may be translated as "devil." It consequently means a malevolent, invisible being, which the pre-Christian word "demon" did not imply. (Etym. Latin daemon, evil spirit; Greek daim_n, a god, genius, spirit.) - Catholic Dictionary

The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about Demons:

In Scripture and in Catholic theology this word has come to mean much the same as devil and denotes one of the evil spirits or fallen angels. And in fact in some places in the New Testament where the Vulgate, in agreement with the Greek, has daemonium, our vernacular versions read devil. The precise distinction between the two terms in ecclesiastical usage may be seen in the phrase used in the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council: "Diabolus enim et alii daemones" (The devil and the other demons), i.e. all are demons, and the chief of the demons is called the devil. This distinction is observed in the Vulgate New Testament, where diabolus represents the Greek diabolos and in almost every instance refers to Satan himself, while his subordinate angels are described, in accordance with the Greek, as daemones or daemonia. This must not be taken, however, to indicate a difference of nature; for Satan is clearly included among the daemones in James 2:19 and in Luke 11:15-18.

What is a Devil?

Devil

A fallen angel or evil spirit, especially the chief of the rebellious angels, Lucifer or Satan (Matthew 25). Adorned at his creation with sanctifying grace, he sinned by pride and along with many other angelic beings was denied the beatific vision. His abode is hell and he does not enjoy the benefits of Christ's redemption. Yet the devil remains a rational spirit, confirmed in evil, who is allowed by God to exercise some influence on living and inanimate creatures. (Etym. Greek diabolos, slanderer.) - Catholic Dictionary

In Catholic thought, both terms can be used for any or all the fallen angels. Satan is a fallen angel, a devil and a demon. He is also considered the Prince of all demonic forces (demons). The other fallen angels are also considered both demons and devils. The terms are interchangeable.

The late Fr. Gabriele Amorth was "the Vatican's chief exorcist" for many years and he often simply referred to them, including Satan as demons.

Demons are reluctant to speak. The Ritual, very rightly, admonishes the exorcists not to ask questions out of curiosity, but to ask only what is necessary for liberation. the first thing that must be asked is the name. For the demon, who is reluctant to reveal himself, revealing himself is a defeat; even when his name is revealed, he is always reluctant to repeat it, even during following exorcisms. then we command the evil one to tell us how many are present in a particular body. There can be many or few, but there is always one chief, and he is always the first to be named. When the demon has a biblical name or one given in tradition (for example, Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Zebulun, Meridian, Asmodeus), we are dealing with "heavyweights", tougher to defeat. The degree of difficulty is also relative to the intensity with which the demon possesses a person. When several demons are present, the chief is always the last to leave. - An exorcist Tells His Story, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, 1999 (pages 93-94)

From the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas on the fallen angels:

The angels that rebelled and became demons did not lose their nature or their connatural gifts. They cast away, by their sin, the grace in which they were created. They did not cast away the beatific vision, for they never had it. Now, if we think of angelic orders as orders of angels in glory, then, of course, there are no orders of bad angels. But if we consider angelic orders as order of angelic nature simply, there are orders among the demons.

Demons of superior nature do not enlighten inferior demons; enlightenment here could only mean the manifestation of truth with reference to God, and the fallen angels have perversely and permanently turned away from God. But demons can speak to one another, that is, they can make known their thoughts to one another, that is, they can make known their thoughts to one another, for this ability belongs to the angelic nature which the demons retain.

Personally I refer to "heavyweights" as devils and the other fallen angels as demons, seeing that there is no fixed rule in terminology at the present moment within the Catholic Church on this subject.

Addendum: The English version of the De Exorcizandis Obsessis a Daemonia (Rituale Romanum) translates daemoni as being devil(s), demon(s) and evil spirit(s).

  • Is not the Catechism fixing the terminology? – luchonacho Jan 23 '18 at 11:40
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    @luchonacho The Catechism is a teaching tool, ultimately. While it lays out beliefs in easy to digest form (or so the Vatican thinks :p ) it does not generally break new ground ... that is done in the various sources that are cited in the Catechism. – KorvinStarmast Jan 23 '18 at 20:30
  • @KorvinStarmast Sure, but if the Cathecism says A, it cannot be for A to be wrong. Thus, the statement "The terms are interchangeable." is in my opinion inconsistent with the CCC, and thus with the Scriptures and the DS, from which the CCC feeds the paragraph (see my answer). – luchonacho Jan 23 '18 at 21:00

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