Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Can Christians be possessed by demons?

A tentative foray into the question:

1. One argument for why Christians can't be possessed is there's no example in the Bible of a demon possessed Christian. Of course, that's an argument from silence at best.

2. To my knowledge, the main argument that Christians can't be possessed is based on the fact that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and as those who have the Holy Spirit abiding in them, Christians can't have an unclean spirit like a demonic spirit abiding in them at the same time. Hence, the argument goes, Christians can't be possessed. Supporting verses like 2 Cor 6:15-16, 1 Jn 2:13, 1 Jn 4:4 are cited.

3. However, empirically speaking, I've heard of credible cases about Christians who have been possessed. For example, the evangelical Lutheran pastor-scholar and exorcist Robert Bennett has talked about such cases in various interviews. I don't see any good reason to doubt Bennett at this time, but to be fair one could question the legitimacy of the evidence.

4. That said, assuming the evidence is reliable and credible, if it's true Christians can't be possessed, then the only alternative is that these weren't bona fide Christians in the first place. Yet if a person has a credible profession of faith, has lived a godly life committed to Christ, and so on, then why doubt they were a bona fide Christian in the first place?

Also, if it's possible for Christians to be possessed, but possessed Christians are treated like non-Christians, then that might do a disservice to these Christians. It might make them question their salvation. It might make them despair. Like fighting a two front war: on the one hand possessed by a demon, but on the other hand their profession called into question by fellow Christians as if their faith isn't genuine.

5. What about the argument itself that Christians can't be possessed because Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit?

Bennett brings up the point that even as Christians we have a sinful nature. We're still warring against the flesh though the Spirit dwells in us. As such, it's possible for two contrary "natures" (there's got to be a better word or term for this) to co-exist in the same person. Bennett seems to believe this is analogous to an unclean spirit like an evil spirit dwelling in the same person as the Holy Spirit.

However, I don't know if that's necessarily the case. Maybe, maybe not, for it seems to me our sinful nature is still part of our person, unlike an evil spirit which would be a completely separate entity or being.

6. Let's step away from persons. Consider a haunted house. Can a Christian live in a house that's haunted? I don't see why not. If so, then wouldn't the house have the presence of God as well as the presence of an evil spirit within its confines? Of course this is another argument from analogy and it assumes that people are like places or houses. Maybe that's not the case.

7. I suppose all this goes to the question of what it means for the Spirit to dwell in the Christian. What exactly is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

I don't see how the Holy Spirit can be physically present in a person, for the Holy Spirit is not physical. Likewise neither is an evil spirit. So it seems to me we can rule out a purely physical sense of dwelling. I think that's fairly obvious.

This doesn't mean a spirit can't interact with material objects including human beings. Hence a relevant question may be the question of how a non-physical spirit interacts with a physical human being.

Is being indwelled by the Spirit synonymous with regeneration? Union with Christ? Is it something else or something more?


  1. This as well as other recent posts remind me. Have you read "Dying in Islam, Rising in Christ" https://www.amazon.com/Dying-Islam-Rising-Christ-Encountering/dp/099929041X

    It's the story of one of its authors, Cederic's, conversion, including as he recounts it his death, torment by demons, and resurrection. This much I know, he is alive now, is a priest in the Anglican church of Rwanda. His coauthor, Benjamin Fischer, is a friend of mine.

    1. Thanks, Potato Philosopher! I hadn't heard of the book before, but I'll have to pick it up thanks to your recommendation. Much appreciated.

  2. I don't see how the Holy Spirit can be physically present in a person, for the Holy Spirit is not physical. Likewise neither is an evil spirit. So it seems to me we can rule out a purely physical sense of dwelling. I think that's fairly obvious.

    Exactly. The Bible's spacial metaphors shouldn't be taken too literally. We shouldn't think of spirits like physical objects where two entities cannot occupy the same space. If that were true, then how can God's Spirit indwell our spirits. Or how can evil spirits dwell in the spirits and/or bodies of non-believers [two spirits in one body, human and demonic]. Or how can a LEGION of demons indwell one person? Spirits are illocal as Steve has pointed out. They aren't extended in space.

    In Luke 13 the woman who was sick with a spirit of infirmity [i.e. disabling spirit-ESV] was called by the Lord a "daughter of Abraham". Implying that she might have been regenerate. I take it that the Holy Spirit indwells believers under the New Covenant to such a degree that by comparison OT saints didn't "have" the Spirit. That's the sense in which the Holy Spirit is finally "given" under the Messianic Age. To deny that OT saints had the Spirit in some sense is to overly dispensationalize the Scriptures. The Lord told Satan who was speaking through Peter to get behind Him. That might merely indicate Peter was being influenced by Satan externally, but it's also consistent with Satan in some sense "indwelling" Peter.

    For exegetical reasons I doubt that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was a sickness. But if it was, then it was likely caused by a spirit because it was a messenger/angel of Satan that caused it. In which case we have an Apostle being demonically affected to the point of being sick. Which would be consistent with an evil spirit indwelling Paul.

    One way to reconcile how evil spirits might indwell a person who also has the Holy Spirit is to posit the possibility that the Holy Spirit indwells the person's spirit [and therefore in a sense the body too], the most "innermost" part of a person [if we're going to take the spacial metaphor a little bit more literally]. While the evil spirit only dwells in the soul and/or body or "mind" of a person [the most "external" aspects of a human being]. This seems like a possibility given either a bipartite or tripartite anthropology. But all the more given a trichotomy of spirit, soul and body. The Scriptures just aren't clear regarding the metaphysics, divisions and aspects of what constitutes human beings other than the basic distinction between spirit and body.

    I don't dogmatically hold it, but I'm open to the possibly of divine idealism. If true, then everything is ultimately mental and the way things interact have the appearance and behavior of physicality, including spiritual interactions, but don't actually interact in those ways ontologically. In which case, the indwelling of evil spirits is just as real as physical indwelling, because physical indwelling is itself not literal.


    1. It has also been pointed that the word "possessed" is problematic for two reasons. 1. It can imply ownership. In which case, a Christian can never be possessed in THAT WAY. 2. The Greek words often translated possessed can be better translated (something like) "demonized", without the connotation of ownership. In which case it would seem not impossible for a Christian owned by God to also be demonized by evils spirits.

      Also, under the NT prophets not on par with the Apostles were to be tested. It's unlikely that all false prophecies were given by unregenerate false believers. Some must have been given by regenerate believers. In which case, among those regenerate we either have to say that in every instance of false prophesying it was generated by that person [due to delusion, self-deception or intentional lying etc.] OR in some instances they were influenced by an evil spirit in a way that is indistinguishable from "possession" or demonization.

      As a Continuationist I've read or heard many instances of apparently genuine believers who have apparently been demonized and needed some form of deliverance. While the Scriptures alone infallibly inform my theology and trump experience & anecdotes, I nevertheless strongly suspect that regenerate believers can be demonized and sometimes need deliverance for either oppression and/or physical healing.

    2. I also think in milder forms of demonization that a Christian can cast out the demons [and sicknesses if present] himself out of himself through meditation on God's truth [best found in Scripture], prayer and the exercise of one's authority in Christ through a command of faith. While stronger forms might require the help of other mature believers.

    3. Thanks for your comments, Annoyed Pinoy!

  3. Here's a piece I wrote on the topic: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2013/11/demon-possession-and-christian.html

    1. Thanks, Richard! Interesting perspective about demons controlling Christians from the outside in contrast to possession on the inside as it were.