As Halloween approaches each year, we tend to get inundated with images of ghosts, ghouls, and other ghastly apparitions. In the modern Western imagination, demons also feature among these otherworldly entities. The term “demon”—from the Greek δαιμόνιον (diamonion)—appears in Scripture, but biblical demons bear no resemblance to the costumes of eager trick-or-treaters. In ancient Israelite thought, “demon” is another word for a foreign god.

In the Hebrew of Psalm 96, the psalmist compares the inferior gods of the nations to the supreme God of Israel, saying, “all the gods (אלהים; elohim) of the peoples are nothings (אלילים; elilim), but the Lord made the heavens” (96:5). Many years later, the Jewish-Greek translator of this Hebrew verse would write that “all the gods (θεοὶ; theoì) of the nations are demons (δαιμόνια; daimónia), but the Lord made the heavens” (95:5 LXX). Based on the comparative context of the psalm, it is clear that “demons” is another way of saying “lesser gods.” A similar context emerges in the Greek translation of Deuteronomy, in which Moses declares that those who made the golden calf “sacrificed to demons (δαιμονίοις; daimoníois) and not God (θεῷ; Theo); [they worshiped] gods (θεοῖς; theois) they had not known” (32:17 LXX). The poetry of Moses’ song corroborates the assertion in Psalms; namely, that demons are foreign gods who are inferior to the God of Israel.

Paul cites this same verse from Moses’ song to prohibit the Corinthians from interacting with idols. The apostle agrees that the calf-worshipers sacrificed to “demons and not God” (δαιμονίοις καὶ οὐ θεῷ; daimoníois kaì ou Theo), and discourages believers in Corinth from being “companions of demons (δαιμονίων; daimoníon)” (1 Cor 10:20). Therefore, it is fitting that Paul would see the foreign idols in Athens and tell his onlookers, “I perceive that in every way you are respectful of [your] gods (δεισιδαιμονεστέρους; deisidaimonestérous)” (Acts 17:22). Paul uses a compound word consisting of δεισι (deisi; “respectful”) and δαιμον (daimon), demon. Unlike in today’s parlance, “demon” did not have a horrific or overtly negative connotation in the first century—Paul’s audience is not offended that he uses “demon” to describe their gods. In fact, when the Athenians overhear Paul’s discourse about Israel’s God, they assume (rightly) that this Jewish person is speaking of “foreign demons” (ξένων δαιμονίων; zénon daimoníon), i.e., non-Greek gods (Acts 17:18). According to the ancients, demons were not menacing creatures with horns and pitchforks; rather, a demon was a general term for another nation’s deity—and for Jews, a “demon” was any god who was not the God of Israel.

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132 COMMENTS

  1. So then there were multiple "foreign gods" in the maniac of Gadara in Mark 5? Then Jesus put all the "foreign gods" into the pigs? Sorry friend, you theory doesn't fit.
    • According to Mark, Jesus encounters the man who's demon-possessed in Garasa ("Gadara" is Matthew). The encounter occurs outside of Israel, where people worship many gods. Thus, it is fitting that these various gods would be capable of possessing someone. More, the demons are called "Legion" -- a Latin word that describes a Roman military unit -- which underscores the "foreignness" (i.e., non-Jewish origin) of the deities possessing the man.

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    • Makes sense. I’m surprised a (mr. Eric) person would contest the knowledge and fact of how a Jewish word was used in the ancient days. This really isn’t an opinion.

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    • Demons are indeed lesser entities but I don't call them God's because they are fallen creatures. They seek to set patterns and also dominate ignorant believers. Men made and called them but they are nothing but fallen creatures. They can only oppress they have no power.
  2. possibly in answer to the above discourse, it might be helpful to remember that a full 1/3 of Heaven's Angel's defaulted at the time of Satans casting out of Heaven. so, mathematical modeling might be needed to comprehend the numbers here? apparently the current Angels of Heaven are running a bit 'short-handed' so-to-speak, also, the extensive variety of duties of the Heavenly Angels might make for a feat of multi-tasking that might boggle the imagination? anyways, a Roman Legion held 3,000 to 6,000 men so, that's a lot of 'head-space.' remember the inner universe of the human psyche, lot's of real estate there? so, what Israel perceives or perceived at the time is still very contemporary as we still have everything from political elites, to corrupt religious elites, to 'cult of the Personalities; all kinds of people vying for position to 'possess' our mind, distracting us from our Faith & our love of our pursuit of Righteousness. I think the more that humanity approaches the Light of Christ Jesus our Messiah, the 'demon's become exposed.
    • The 1/3 of the angels to fall are yet to fall, as can be seen where written in Revelation.... as when that happens the woe to the earth like has never been seen and never will be seen again occurs. That time is to come! The fallen were 200 pre-flood...
  3. It was Lucifer's purpose to exult himself above the throne of God, he set himself up as a judge in the place of God. Fallen angels that followed him in his rebellion act as gods (magistrates, judges). One appeared at my bed in 1981, saying I was a lost case.
    • Very interesting. I had a dream of a similar nature, person taunting me saying "you aren't really sorry, you would do it again." It was over a sin I had committed and was having difficulty understanding the nature of it. Of course, this dream only made me obsessively guilty.

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    • Nicholas, this is entirely tangential to your comment but I want to point out that "Lucifer" as a name for the adversary is a complete fiction of Jerome's imagination. He based his Latin translation on the LXX without correcting from the Hebrew, and in addition to the stacked mistranslations he further erred by turning a description into a proper name where none existed, resulting in a "name" for the adversary who seeks to "devour" us that also is the same ("name") given to our savior Jesus in The Apocalypse/Revelation. I think there is also an IBC article that talks about this.

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  4. Demons in Scripture are very real and nothing to mess with, although Jesus has all power over them. Halloween invites demons into our paradigm and celebrates them, which is not what Christians are to do or should have any desire to do.
  5. While your article clarifies and demystifies ‘demons’, you do not deal with the subject of 1) Halloween - what it is and how Christians should react to its spirit and 2) What the modern spirit characters being widely depicted in media are and how they connect with fallen angels.
    • Thanks for reading, Indira. IBC is an academic institution whose faculty offers interpretations and clarifications of ancient Jewish literature. The questions of whether Christians should celebrate Halloween or Christian posture toward contemporary media are beyond IBC's purview.

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  6. I am convinced that the GOD of ISRAEL is the only one TRUE GOD. I don't celebrate Halloween coz it is very symbolic and clearly relates to Satan and his demons.
  7. The implication is that the god of Israel was also tribal demon then, ie he was one in the long list whom the Israelites successfully elevated above others. Other people could equally and rightly refer to the god of Israel as a demon, ie a foreign god.
    • Even the devil or lucifer knows that Yahweh is the creator of the universe who is higher, mightier and more powerful than any other gods or demons.
    • You must never ever equate Jehovah with the sorts of things you are saying because you are in serious error you need to deepen your scriptural knowledge . Amen .
  8. God (Yahweh) gave power and authority to his children (those who live in righteousness and fear of God) in order to win every battle over the kingdom of darkness through the power that is in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Therefore, believe wholeheartedly in Jesus!
  9. For those who worship other gods, they do it in ignorance; and when they realize that their gods can not save nor deliver them, they start seeking the face of the One (Yahweh) that can save and deliver them from their yoke.
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