Friday, October 18, 2019

Naming Names: Demonic Identification and Spiritual Warfare

It’s nothing new, but there is a troubling trend in certain corners of Christianity that I feel is worth calling attention to. Many people have a fixation on the demonic and the idea that every negative aspect of life is the result of various spirits being present to impose curses. They teach that it is possible to learn the names of these demons and their curses, and that once you know them you can invoke God’s power specifically against them in order to exorcise them out of your life.

There’s a danger here. Of course, I am not going to the opposite extreme. I believe in the existence of personal, evil spirit beings because I believe the Bible. It is very clear about their reality, especially in relation to Christ’s interactions with them. But that is not the issue. Our concern here is what to do about them. There is simply no scriptural warrant for the idea of gaining mastery over demons by naming them.

Named Demons in the Bible

To underscore that, let’s go through an exhaustive list of all the demons who are named in the Bible. The first is the ruler of the fallen angels, Satan. Going by the order of the books in the Bible, this name first appears in 1 Chron. 21:1 where the devil has a role in David’s disastrous census of Israel. However, his appearance in Job 1–2 where he instigates and devises the torment of the righteous man, Job, was most likely written earlier. Of course, he is also identified with the serpent who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden, even though he is not directly named there (Gen. 3:1–6, 13–15; John 8:44; Rev. 20:2–3). During the ministry of Jesus, he tempted Christ in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11) and helped Judas Iscariot to betray the Lord (John 13:21–27). In much of the rest of the New Testament, Satan is mentioned not only for his direct behavior but also as the chief representative of all the forces of evil (Acts 26:18; Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 2:10–11; Eph. 6:11; 1 Tim. 1:20; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8). And the final book of the Bible deals largely with Satan’s defeat (Rev. 12:7–12; 20:1–3; 20:7–10).

Now you might wonder here about the name “Lucifer” that is sometimes applied to Satan. It appears in some translations of Is. 14:12–15 and describes the pretentions of the king of Babylon. However, the passage is similar to the description of the king of Tyre in Ez. 28:12b–17. While both of these passages were written in reference to human beings, they also fit the circumstances of Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:4, 7–9 in which Satan is described as falling from heaven. As a result, Lucifer is sometimes used as a name for the devil. While that usage is potentially justified in a general way, it is a step too far to suggest it was actually his heavenly label before his fall.

The next demon to be named in the Bible is Legion, found in Mark 5:9 and Luke 8:30 (and described but not named in Matt. 8:28–34). This was the title given to a group of demons who had possessed a man living on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus exorcised the demons, who then went into a herd of pigs and dove off a cliff into the sea.

Then there is the demon named Apollyon (Greek) or Abaddon (Hebrew) in Rev. 9:11. He is also described as having fallen from heaven in Rev. 9:1, and during the apocalypse, he will lead a horde of demonic creatures to torment those who rebel against God. There is an argument to be made that Apollyon is actually Satan yet again, but my reading of Revelation suggests that he is a different being.

And… that’s it. Those are the three demons named in the Bible. They are not the only ones mentioned, but they are the only ones specified by any type of title. And that is the other relevant fact here. None of these names is personal. “Satan” means “accuser” and describes his function as the one seeking to destroy humanity by alienating us from God. “Legion” is a military term describing a large contingent of soldiers, which in this case refers to the multiple unclean spirits in the possessed man. And “Apollyon” and “Abaddon” mean “destruction” in their respective languages, denoting his role as the leader of the demonic army. And for good measure, “Lucifer” simply means “morning star” and refers to Venus as the brightest of the heavenly bodies after the sun and the moon.

The point is that none of these names are intrinsic, nor do they represent any type of hidden knowledge. They are simply obvious labels for the beings under discussion. Certainly, there is no power gained over them through knowing them.

True Spiritual Warfare

This leads us back to the charismatic teachers who proclaim that identifying your particular demons is the first step to driving them away. The Bible says nothing of the sort. And if that were to be the method for dealing with them, then we might have expected the demons to have been named frequently in the Bible. The silence is deafening proof that such details are irrelevant.

Spiritual warfare is described in Scripture as having an awareness that we face opposition in this world, and as relying on the Spirit of God for the strength to do the will of God and thus resist temptation. There is never any suggestion that we need to know something secret about demons in order to do this or that we need to confront them in any way. In other words, we are supposed to ignore them by fixing our eyes on Christ. Fixating on them, instead, takes us away from Him and into the self-effort they actually hope to inspire.

The Roots of Demonic Naming

This does beg one final question. If the Bible tells us nothing about naming the demons in order to challenge and conquer them, then where do people come up with the idea? The truth is, this practice actually has its roots in the occult. People in many ancient cultures believed that if you could discover a spirit’s true name, you could call it out or inscribe it on an item that would then bind the spirit to you. Once this was done, you could force the spirit to work on your behalf. One of the things people would try to do was to curse their enemies through the use of such talismans. And, of course, the only way to break the curse was to learn the spirit’s name so you could drive it away.

It’s sorcery, pure and simple. And obviously, I am not saying that it works. I am saying that the very concept is based on the fear and worship of creatures rather than focusing on the Creator. Charismatics who teach this nonsense are actually engaging in the demonic while purporting to fight it. They are doing nothing more than preying on people’s anxieties and disappointments, offering power over them that they have no authority to give. And on top of this, they have the audacity to suggest that the knowledge they offer was given to them by God. They could hardly be further from God, who is not in the business of selling secrets. I shudder to think of the condemnation these false teachers are bringing on themselves.

We must not risk falling into their errors. Demons do exist, but what really matters is that God exists. He does not ask us to fight them with esoteric techniques and hidden magic. He asks us to resist them by trusting Him. That is the only thing we need to know. Everything else is for charlatans.

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