What are apologetic arguments for the existence of demons?
The term “demon” is used to describe a wide variety of spiritual beings. The word derives from the Greek term daimōn, which refers to all sorts of beings, by no means only ones that are evil. The conventional definition of “demon,” however, is that it refers to malignant supernatural entities who seek to harm humans. A rich mythology of such creatures is found and throughout the ancient world.
The best apologetic arguments for the existence of demons would come from the Scriptures itself and following by the teaching of those Christians who believe that this is indeed a fact.
- Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. - 1 Peter 5:8
- You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! - James 2:19
- For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment. - 2 Peter 2:4
- And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. - Matthew 10:1
- When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation. - Matthew 12:43-45
- And also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. - Luke 8:2
- And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” - Mark 9:29
- And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day - Jude 1:9
- For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. - Revelation 16:14
- That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. - Matthew 8:16
- Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. - Mark 16:9
- Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” - Matthew 12:45
- And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. ... - Matthew 8:28-34
- But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” ... - Mark 7:25-30
- They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. - Deuteronomy 32:17
- On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” ... - Luke 9:37-42
- They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. - Psalm 106:37-38
- Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. - 1 Samuel 19:9
- How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. - Isaiah 14:12-15
- And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. - 2 Corinthians 11:14-15
Obviously one could go on and on quoting Scriptures such as the Temptation of Christ in the Desert where Satan himself tempted Our Divine Savior to sin.
Here is how demonology is analyzed from the perspective of the writing of Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist at Rome.
The Existence of the Devil
Now, based on the very clear witness of scripture, read in the light of Tradition, the Church has always believed in the existence of angels, spiritual creatures inferior to God, but superior to men. It is a truth of faith, explicitly defined by at least two ecumenical Councils: the IV of Lateran (DH 800), whose words were later repeated by Vatican I (DH 3002).2
The existence of demons has always been a dogma attenuated and confirmed in the main ecumenical councils of the Church. Therefore, historical dogmatic theology is categorical in the statement that the devil exists and acts continuously in the world. Father José Antonio Sayés Bermejo, one of today’s great theologians, develops apologetic positions to support the aforementioned statement, establishing three criteria: a) multiple attestation; b) the question of discontinuity: the people of Israel had a burning desire for a political Messiah, who would deliver him from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, but breaking this expectation, Jesus preaches the Kingdom of Heaven, and c) the identity of Jesus. The multiple attestation consists of the numerous references in the Gospels that present a narrative of Jesus’ clashes with the Devil as well as many passages from the New Testament about Satan.
The term Satan occurs thirty-four times in the New Testament. Half of these terms are found in the Gospels and Acts, and half in the Epistles and in Revelation. All references, except six, are “Satan.” Satan’s other names in the New Testament include the accuser (Ap 12.10); the opponent (1 Peter 5.8); Apoliom (Ap 9.11); Beelzebub (Mt 12.24); Belial (2 Co 6.15); the dragon (…); the god of this century (2 Co 4.4); the prince of the air powers (Eph 2.2); the prince of this world (John 12:31); the serpent (Rev 20:2) and the tempter (Mt. 4:3). (BEEKE, 2018, p.27-28)
The criterion of discontinuity is related to Jesus’ concern for the Kingdom of Heaven and not with properly political and ideological issues. Thus, Christ demonstrated that his enemy was not Caesar, but Satan and the demons. Joachim Jeremiah, a Protestant exegete, is incisive in stating that Jesus’ temptations in the desert tended to political messianism, that is, in reducing the redemptive and saving sphere of the work of the Son of God to the aspect of social and power disputes existing at the time.
The first, which proposes to turn stones into loaves, can be interpreted as an attempt to induce the Lord Jesus to be the “new Moses”, freeing the people as Moses freed the people of Egypt; the second, how to receive the kingdoms of the world to rule; the third, how to become a kind of “superman”, performing something fantastic and then be followed by everyone. All political temptations. This kind of seduction purred Jesus throughout his ministry, but He always resisted, presenting the Kingdom of Heaven as a spiritual reality. Therefore, his enemy was Satan and his demons, not Caesar.
The criterion of Jesus’ identity consists in the recognition of his redemptive work. God’s reign is intrinsically related to the fight against the Devil, for Christ came into the world to break the slavery caused by sin. This reality is so clear in the New Testament that if withdrawn, the classical theological conception of Christology itself loses meaning and dogmas related to justification are impaired. For this reason, the so-called “demythologization” of the Gospel promoted by Rudolf Bultmann is a true denial of the Christian faith. The Christian worldview is categorical in stating that Jesus fought Satan and his demons. As Father Mazzali (2017, p.19) points out, the New Testament constantly tells us about the reality of the Devil and demons and seeks to show how Christ’s redemptive work has as its finalistic aspect the destruction of demonic works. Therefore, it is not possible to understand the saving work of Jesus Christ without considering the existence of the Devil and his demons.
Christian theology understands that the meaning of teaching about the existence of the devil is to reveal that humanity is in a history of salvation and condemnation. The presence of the figure of Satan, while tempting, is a constant warning and warning that sin is a possibility and that eternal damnation is not merely a distant hypothesis. Understanding the assumptions of demonology implies a more structural knowledge about historical theology as well as the relationship between God’s providence and human freedom. On the subject, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger comments:
The spiritual struggle against the enslaving powers, the exorcism of a demon-deluded world, belongs inseparably to the spiritual path of Jesus and to the centre of his mission and his disciples’ mission. The figure of Jesus, his spiritual physiognomy, does not change, whether the sun rotates around the earth, whether the earth around the sun, whether the world has formed by evolution or not; but it changes decisively if we remove the struggle with the tried power of the demon kingdom. (RATZINGER, 1981, p.160)
“It is not possible to understand the work of redemption (for which Jesus Christ redeemed humanity) unless he recognizes satan’s work of disaggregation” (AMORTH, 2013, p.19). Therefore, the existence of the devil has a central aspect for structuring the Christian worldview, especially for a correct understanding of the assumptions and nuances of Christology.
Demonology Analyzed from the Perspective from the Writings of Father Gabriele Amorth
It is true enough that not all Christians believe that demons exist in the literal sense. There is the view that the New Testament language of exorcism is an example of the language of the day being employed to describe the healings of what today would be classified as epilepsy, mental illness etc.
However the Gospels and the teachings of the Early Church have taught us of the reality of demons and diabolical possession.
Early Christian references to the demonic can be found in the writings of Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Athanasius and many other early Church Fathers. Not only is spiritual warfare documented constantly “through the whole time period of the ancient church,” but spiritual warfare is also seen during the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the early post-Reformation.
Exorcism practices seem “to diminish in the Middle Ages,” but are still referenced among the Germanic tribes, Norwegians, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Martin Luther, the Catholic Church’s 1614 Rituale Romanum (exorcism guidelines), and other sources. The existence and activity of the devil and demons are widely evidenced and commonly believed across the history of the church until the post-Enlightenment era.
Ante-Nicene Church Fathers
Who were the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers? They were church leader before the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and they were both numerous and diverse. They almost all show some concern in addressing spiritual warfare issues among Christians and the church
Clement of Rome - Clement of Rome, or Pope Clement I, is believed to have been a disciple of Peter and a co-worker with Paul (Phil 4:3; AD 57) and one of the first leaders of the church. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Clement references the war-like nature of the call for Christians to “act the part of soldiers” in following the commandments of Christ. (Clement, First Epistle of the Blessed Clement the Disciple of Peter (ANF 1:5))
Clement of Rome - pseudo-Clementine writings. Such empowered warriors put their own flesh to death and seek the “power of the Holy Spirit” through “fastings and prayers and perpetual watching, together with your other good works”. Connects the practice of exorcism with healing. Commends exorcism as a gift from the Lord and a practice that will be rewarded.
Mathetes - The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (c. AD 130) is an early writing. The author or recipient of the letter is unknown, but Mathetes “was possibly a catechumen of St. Paul or of one of the apostle's associates” and “is, perhaps, the first of the apologists.” References the serpent multiple times. His references surround the serpent’s attempts to deceive and place false knowledge into the lives of believers.
Polycarp - Polycarp (AD 69-155) was a disciple of John and other apostles, in contact with many eyewitnesses of Christ, and an early leader of the Christian church. Mentions little concerning spiritual warfare, but does point to the fact that “whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil.” “Whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist”, that “whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan.” Does not reinforce any specific encounter approaches. Reveals that there is significance in understanding that all humanity is allied with either Christ or the devil.
Ignatius - Ignatius was an early church father (AD 30-107) linked with the Apostle John, Eusebius, and Polycarp. “Scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity.” (John Bonaventure O’Connor, “St. Ignatius of Antioch,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia 7). Includes seven credible letters but early church history reveals eight additional writings that are likely later, spurious forgeries, two credible letters and three spurious letters contain spiritual warfare language. Refers to Satan as literally warring against him. Ignatius fights back through “meekness, by which the devil, the prince of this world, is brought to nought. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians refers to Satan as the “wicked one” , “put on your guard” and to “forsee the snares of the devil.” Asserting that “all evil spirits have departed from the servants of God”. He is “an enemy to these [spirits]” in destroying “all the devices of these [evil spirits].” Clarity and certainty with which Ignatius describes demonic spirits shows that he believes the battle is real holds that believers should actively oppose Satan and his demons.
Spurious writings communicate many more references to spiritual warfare, particularly to the power encounter approach. “I salute the sub-deacons, the readers, the singers, the doorkeepers, the labourers, the exorcists, the confessors.” (Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians (ANF 1:110)). Mary of Cassobelæ to Ignatius, describes some “who were possessed of a wicked spirit as being false in their speech, and deceivers of the people” as well as referencing the “deceit of the demons.” Activity of both the demons and the possessed focuses on deception. The Epistle to the Philippians, contains perhaps the most references to Satan in many of the ancient church writings with half of the chapter titles directly referencing Satan Despite the biblical nature of many of the spiritual warfare references in the fraudulent writings, their inconsistencies lend little weight to an early date. These spurious writings, with additional emphasis on exorcism, possession, and spiritual warfare, cause concern that there was an attempt to over-emphasize and influence theology and practice where the early church did not.
Barnabas - The Epistle of Barnabas is a writing whose authorship is circumspect in many ways.
Its dating is early, but its veiled authorship leaves some wondering as to its actual importance and significance. “Before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak, as being indeed like a temple made with hands. For it was full of idolatry, and was a habitation of demons, through our doing such things as were opposed to [the will of] God.”
Justin Martyr -(AD 110-165), a Gentile born in Samaria, was a philosopher who came to Christ upon witnessing the “extraordinary fearlessness which the Christians displayed in the presence of death.” In the arena of spiritual warfare, Justin Martyr provides the most significant insight into the Christian understanding of spiritual warfare in the early church.
Spiritual Warfare in the Early Church History