Notes Toward a Biblical
Model of the Supernatural and Demonic
When Paul in his epistle to the Romans wrote that the Gentiles "by nature"
practiced the business or work of the law, he was invoking both Jewish and Greco-Roman
notions of the world (Rom 2:14-15). He had in mind the Jewish idea that God has designed
and constructed the world via his own wisdom and that such wisdom is present in the
creation for humans to learn from and abide by. The Greek word for nature, physei,
used by Paul also touches on Stoic notions that humanity and the world are uniquely fitted
for each other. In both cases, "nature" includes the physical and biological
worlds, the human and social worlds, and the metaphysical realm that gives structure to
Likewise, the Greek word cosmos in the New Testament implies the way in which
human beings seek to understand the world without God as its source and lord. A false
cosmos is a human construction that stands between ourselves and Gods true model of
The majority interpretation of Christianity is that demons are fallen angels who
rebelled against God in a pre-human past (Rev 12:7-9). A minority position held by some is
that demons are the product of unnatural relations between angels and human women (Gen
6:2, Jude 1:6).
The ancient Greek words daimon and daimonion originally applied to minor
gods or deities associated with popular Greek animism. Gradually, the terms came to be
applied to spiritual beings who supervised the cosmos.
The Hebrew words, sedim and seirim, are used to describe spiritual beings
in opposition to God, while malakim, is used of angelic beings obedient to God. The
Old Testament tends to make strong connections between the former and idolatry (Deut
32:17, Ps 96:5, I Sam 15:23).
In the New Testament, daimonion is only one word used to describe evil beings;
others include akatharton, "unclean" (Mk 1:24-27, Acts 5:16, Rev 16:13)
and ponera or "evil" (Acts 19:12-16). In Pauls understanding,
demons are behind much false worship (I Cor 10:20-21).
The Bible assumes a model of spiritual warfare between the forces loyal to God and those
in rebellion against God (Eph 6:10ff.). In the Old Testament, God is in opposition to
Leviathan (Ps 74:14, Is 27:1) and Rahab (Job 9:13, 26:12-13), as well as cosmic forces of
chaos (Ezek 29:3, 32:2, Jer 51:34). In the New Testament, Satan is often understood as a
prince or ruler of the "world" (cosmos), whose realm Jesus the Incarnate
has broken into and now is about the business of overturning. The Bible also assumes the
eventual destruction of Satan and demonic forces.
In the Gospels, demons are associated with physical and mental suffering, inabilty to
speak, blindness, and madness (cf. Matt 8:28-33, 9:32, 12:22, 17:15). Demons recognize who
Jesus is and fear him (Lk 8:28). Jesus exorcizes demons by his rebuke (cf. Mk 7:30), and
he gives this power to his disciples (Lk 10:17, Mk 16:17). The power to do this is a sign
of Gods kingdom (Lk 10:17).
Since Augustine, Satan is generally associated by most Christians with the serpent in
Genesis who tempted Eve to sin and by many with the biblical prophecies of Is 14:12-14 and
Ezek 28:12-15, though not all theologians find this convincing. Satan is associated with
powers in earthly government (Dan 10:13, Eph 6:12), and he is understood to be the leader
of the demonic forces. He is judged in the work of the cross (Jn 12:31-33, Col 2:15). At
present he continues to function as a tempter and false teacher to both the saved and
unsaved (I Thess 3:5, II Cor 11:3, Gal 4:8-10, I Jn 4:1-2, II Jn 1:7).
In some cases, demonic forces unwittingly do the work of God (Zech 3:1-5, I Cor 5:1-5, I
Tim 1:20, II Cor 12:1-10). Likewise, at least in the narrative of Saul's visit to the
witch at Endor, the possibility of the ghostly is taken seriously, though we should avoid
anachronistically applying current views to the anicent past (cf. I Sam 28).
In the biblical worldview, the demonic has already been defeated in principle, but in
practice Christians are still left to resist this power (James 4:7), yet we are also
warned not to directly revile Satan (Jude 1:8-9, II Pet 2:10-11). Christ is the true Lord
of the natural and supernatural powers of the earth (Eph 1:20-23, Col 1:15-16), and one
day all will acknowledge this.
The biblical language of power (archai) does not always make a clear distinction
between earthly and supernatural powers. Indeed, "principalities" and
"powers" are apt to apply to both types of forces and the relationship between
them (Eph 3:10). While the Bible stresses possession and oppression of individual,
collective possession of a group, people, or culture is possible. It is possible to talk
about the "spirit" of a country or period of history and (from a biblical
perspective) not make a clear distinction between physical and supernatural forces.
Two Areas for Consideration
- A biblical model of the demonic would also seek to understand the relationship between
the physical, psychological, psychosomatic, and demonic realms, as well as the social and
- A biblical model will seek to understand the relationship between the demonic and world
religions, especially in regards to varying worldviews and how they portray the