How Christians Cast Out Demons Today
by Kent Philpott
"Jesus cast out demons"
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b).
With the advent of Jesus’ ministry the kingdom of God had come in person, and the unchecked and unrestrained reign of Satan had ended. The triumph of Jesus’ passion, from crucifixion to resurrection and ascension, meant that Satan, though still present in the world, was destroyed in a way we do not completely understand. It is because of that victory over sin and Satan that Jesus extends to His Church authority even to cast out demons from people. The kingdom of God had come in the very person and presence of Jesus. The proof of this was demonstrated in his casting out of demons, by which it is traditionally thought that Jesus caused the demonic kingdom to tremble.
In the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—there are six instances in which Jesus encountered demonized persons. There are other passages—Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Mark 1:32-34, 1:39, 3:11, 6:13; and Luke 4:41, 6:18, 7:2—which simply state that Jesus cast out demons as a part of his ministry. Mark 1:34 is representative of these passages:
“And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”
It has often been said that one third of Jesus’ ministry involved the casting out of demons, the other two thirds being healing and preaching/teaching. Whether this is an accurate description of Jesus’ ministry or not, we are reminded that Jesus did cast out demons, and He did commission His followers to do the same. (This commission will be examined in a later chapter.)
Note that healing and casting out of demons are not the same thing. Diseases will not be cast out. Physical illness or even mental illness requires healing, not the casting out of demons. While a person suffering from physical or mental illness may also be demonized, there is a fundamental difference between the two, though that difference is subtle. Even a wide and long involvement in deliverance ministry has not brought me full clarity about where one leaves off and the other begins. It is still a mystery to me, and furthermore, it is not necessary to understand the nuances to engage in the work of casting out of demons.
Also note that the word “demonized” is the preferred term. It is not proper biblical terminology to describe someone as “demon-possessed.” Jesus encountered people who had unclean spirits or demons, as we shall see, but possession is not the best word to describe these persons. To whatever degree or extent that the unclean spirit or demon operated in a person, total control is not what the Synoptic writers understood. Again, there is mystery here, yet it is not necessary to understand how a demon operates in a person in order to cast out that demon.
Jesus cast out or threw out demons. The word ekballo in the Greek of the New Testament means to “throw out” and is the word commonly used to describe Jesus’ expelling of demons. We even get our term “ball,” as in baseball, from this word. The prefix ek means “out,” and to “throw out” is what Jesus did. And, as we shall see, Jesus used no formulas, relics, rituals, ceremonies, or objects of any kind that might be associated with the practice of exorcism. Rather, in direct confrontation with unclean spirits indwelling the demonized, Jesus ordered or commanded demons to leave.
1. The man with an unclean spirit at a synagogue in Capernaum
This event is found in Mark 1:21-27 and Luke 4:31-37:
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:21-27).
The man had an unclean or unholy spirit, but it was a spirit, an entity separate and distinct from the mind, will, and person of the man. Jesus did not seek out the man with the unclean spirit; indeed, Jesus never sought out people with demons, but rather they came to or were brought to him. It is unknown whether the man was a regular at the synagogue. How long Jesus was at the synagogue before the outburst is unknown, though one might argue that Jesus had been teaching for some time and that the Sabbath service had concluded before the disruption occurred.
The unclean spirits began a conversation of sorts with Jesus. The unclean spirit(s) recognized Jesus as to His actual being and essence—the Holy One of God—and due to their uncleanness were threatened by His presence. That which is unholy reacted to and against that which was holy. The unclean spirits knew who Jesus was, though others did not; the demons knew He had the power to destroy them. It is as though they had anticipated Jesus’ appearance. They recognized His authority even here, before the work of Jesus Christ was complete, before the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord of lords and King of kings. They cried out, giving the impression of chaos, but Jesus commanded them to be silent and directed them to come out of the demonized man. One demon acted as a representative of the group, but the grammar indicates there was more than one unclean spirit. The exit of the demons was not immediate; the unclean spirits convulsed the man—Luke says “threw him down” —then came out, crying out in loud voices.
Other attendees at the synagogue worship were amazed at what they had seen; this was entirely new to them. Authority over demons was startling to them, to say the least.
Several points in the Gospel story are characteristic of my own experience. First, persons with unclean spirits will be present in gatherings dedicated to the teaching of Scripture and worship of God, but they are troubled at the presence of Jesus. Recall that we have the promise that where two or more are gathered because of Jesus, then He is also present (see Matthew 18:20). Second, actual verbal confrontation with demons might take place, though I suggest Christians avoid such conversation. It has happened that Christians have relied on what demons have said, and as a result, have been misled or distracted. Some have gone so far as to suppose they are learning doctrinal truth from demons, but demons are liars and cannot ever be trusted or believed; therefore, conversation should be avoided. Jesus told them to be silent, and this is what I generally practice as well. Demons will not always quickly obey, as they did in our story in Mark. Third, demons are desperate and fight tenaciously to remain indwelt in a person. Nothing is out of bounds for an unclean spirit; they do not fight fairly. The convulsing is typical, along with other kinds of disturbances, all intended to short circuit the ministry. Demons can be scary to a degree, especially at first, and their intent is to unsettle those who would cast them out.
Seeing demons cast out or having demons cast out does not necessarily lead to faith in Christ. There is nothing in the story about the person becoming a disciple of Jesus. In fact, the event may have actually curtailed, or interfered, with the thrust of Jesus’ ministry—that of teaching those whom He had called to Himself. Deliverance ministry is dramatic, and people are stirred up and excited, but this is not usually a good thing. There was no exulting over or publishing of the account of the event in the synagogue by Jesus nor, we assume, by the apostles.
2. The blind and dumb demoniac
This event is found in Matthew 12:22-29, Mark 3:22-27, and Luke 11:14-22:
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or, how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house (Matthew 12:22-29).
Matthew says that Jesus healed a demonized or demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute. Some translations have “demon-possessed,” but the best rendering might be “demonized,” which would mean that the physical disabilities were caused by demons in some unexplained manner. Apparently, Jesus cast out a demon, if we accept the evaluation of the Pharisees (see verse 24). Thus, we have a dual description: a man healed through the casting out of one or more demons. Healed can mean made whole regardless of the cause, which could be either disease as typically understood or the debilitating influence of a demonic spirit. Jesus’ opponents did not question whether Jesus cast out a demon, only that it was the result of collusion with the prince of demons, Beelzebul. Jesus affirmed that He did in fact cast out demons. Verse 28 has a first class conditional clause (meaning that the statement is assumed to be true), with Jesus saying then that He did indeed cast out demons, and cast them out by or through the Spirit of God (Luke 11:20 has “finger of God”). Thus this activity was proof that the kingdom of God was present right there and then. The implication would have been that Jesus was the Messiah and King of the Kingdom. Jesus proved that He had power and authority over the strong man, Satan, and had just plundered his house by casting out a demon.
Mark has only a portion of the story, focusing on the accusation that Jesus casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul and does not mention a casting out of demons. In Luke’s account of the same story there is no mention of healing but only that “he was casting out a demon that was mute” (Luke 11:14), and he does not mention the blindness.
Verse 27 indicates that persons, probably not literally “sons,” but students or persons associated with the Pharisees engaged in expelling demons. In Acts 19:13-16 is the statement that “seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this” (see v. 14). Knowing the covenant name of God, a name given by God to Moses in the burning bush incident of Exodus 3 (which knowledge might have been possible for a member of the high priest’s family), was perhaps thought to give the one who used that name certain power over demons. In the Graeco-Roman world in general, which was rife with occultism, exorcism or occult versions of it were common. It was a business, and it was far different from what Jesus was doing. Here though, Jesus forced his opponents to rethink the accusation against Him.
On several occasions I witnessed that demonization resulted in physical disability, and that after a demon or demons were cast out, the disability vanished as well. I recall more than one instance when something that looked like a catatonic episode ended with demons being expelled. Apparently, a demon had so traumatized the person that he froze up and retreated as far from the real world as possible. Demons are extraordinarily fear-provoking to those who do not know how weak and foolish these unclean spirit beings actually are. It makes sense to me that blindness and muteness, without an organic cause, might be present in demonized persons.
One has to be careful here, however. It is unwise to think that many or most physical disorders have their root in the demonic. My research and experience suggests otherwise. The Christian minister must be careful not to suggest any more than what is plain and verifiable.
3. The Gadarene demonicas
This event is found in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39:
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 heard 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. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed man. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region (Matthew 8:28-34).
Two technical points must be made: one, the location of the event differs amongst the Gospel writers. Matthew has the country of the Gadarenes, Mark and Luke the country of the Gerasenes. This is an interesting problem, not unsolvable, but not germane to this treatise. Two, Matthew has two demonized men, but Mark and Luke have just one. The reconciliation may be that there were two, as Matthew recounts, but only one who spoke, or that only one became a disciple of Jesus. Mark and Luke state that a single man approached Jesus and at least bowed before Him, though did not actually worship Him. In both Mark and Luke, the man, now in his right mind and free of the demons, wanted to become a follower or disciple of Jesus and to travel with Him. In any case, the number of the men may have been irrelevant to the purposes of Mark and Luke in their telling of the story.
As in the previous event, the men are described as demonized or demon-oppressed or -influenced. They were fierce and extraordinarily strong, according to Mark 5:4, and they lived in the tombs apart from other people.
The demons inhabiting the men conversed with Jesus. Mark relates that Jesus actually requested the name of the demon, who told him the name was Legion, perhaps meaning there were many demons in the man (Mark 5:9). The demons, as in the story of the man with an unclean spirit at the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28), also recognized who Jesus was and knew they had reason to fear Him, because Jesus could actually cast them out of the men. The demons even begged Jesus to send them into the pigs. The “if” in Matthew 8: 31 is in the first class condition, meaning that the demons knew Jesus could and would cast them out. No explanation is given by any of the Gospel writers for this request, nor is any given for Jesus’ granting the request.
Conversing with demons is something I was prone to do early on in my encounters with the demonized. I thought I was learning a great many things. And I did ask demons for their names, particularly when the work was tedious and exhausting. The idea has been from ancient times that to know the name of a demon means having power over the demon. Such was not always the case, and I rarely attempt this now. Conversation with demons should be avoided, and it sometimes difficult to know exactly with whom one is conversing. Demons will try almost anything. I have had demons attempt to flatter me, accuse me, dismiss me, disregard me, and even tell me things about myself that no one else knew. It is best to avoid conversing with or believing unclean spirits, because demons are liars and deceivers.
Demons do not want to be cast out of flesh. I do not understand this, but it might be that to be cast out of flesh would result in being sent into hell itself. Hell may be a spiritual realm and not in time or space at all. As an adversary of God and His creation, Satan would be barred in hell from all contact with God’s creation.
Demonized persons can be incredibly strong and fierce, which I have witnessed many times. However, despite being attacked by demonized people, I have never once been injured or even marked, even though hit full in the face by large, powerful, demonized men. This I cannot explain, but vivid memories of this still linger. Early on in my ministry I would, in a sense, allow the struggles. But then I came to see that that was error and no longer engage in wrestling matches—I mean, literal wrestling matches. “Be silent” or “Stop” is usually enough.
Jesus, the Holy One of God, brings fear to demons and also to anyone of us sinful people, and so the local people begged Jesus to depart from them. Demons tremble at the person (name) of Jesus, but they rarely tremble at His disciples. This is why Jesus is the one who casts out the demons.
4. The daughter of a Canaanite woman
This event is found in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30:
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly (Matthew 15:21-28).
The story is not one of casting out of demons; that part of it is entirely secondary. At issue is Jesus’ ministry to a non-Jew, a Canaanite and a woman, a resident of the district of Tyre and Sidon (Syrophoenicia). The mother of the victim told Jesus that her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. It is not clear that an actual demon was involved, since we have only the mother’s opinion, and people of that time and culture attributed much to demons. Jesus does not directly corroborate the woman’s analysis of the situation, and there is no language that suggests there was a casting out of a demon; rather the daughter was healed. The healing was accomplished from a distance and happened suddenly. The Greek word here is iathe, an aorist passive from iaomai and can mean heal, cure, and restore.
It does the Scripture no dishonor to suggest that the story of the Canaanite woman is not about the casting out of a demon. Only the woman’s statement indicates any demon involvement at all. Jesus does not contradict her, making it possible that Jesus assented to the diagnosis. But we cannot be sure.
My interest here is to bring out the essential difference between physical healing and casting out of demons. As far as I understand Scripture, and as far as I understand my own experiences, physical disease is healed, but demons are cast out. I tend to be skeptical about reported miracles, but I have witnessed healings, have been healed myself, and have, through my own activity according to biblical passages such as James 5:14-15, seen people healed right in front of me. My college major was psychology, and I am aware of the nature of psychosomatic illness and other related phenomena. Healing of actual, organically-based illness, is something other than casting out of demons. The two should not be confused.
There are other conditions that are not “cast out.” I have read reports of casting out demons of addiction and homosexuality—whether there are such I am not sure—but addictions and same sex attraction are not ended through a deliverance ministry or any other quick fix.
5. The epileptic boy
This event is found in Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, and Luke 9:37-43:
And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and kneeling before him said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him. And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14-21).
A threshold question is, Was the boy in the story epileptic? Or was the boy’s father mistaken, and the physical effects of a demonic presence looked like epilepsy in the understanding of the people of that era? It should be noted that Jesus did not confirm the father’s diagnosis. Also, Mark recorded the father as saying that his son had a dumb spirit and Luke a spirit. In Luke’s Gospel, the father asks the disciples to cast out a demon, while in Matthew the father asks for a healing. Mark states that the “spirit saw him” (Mark 9:20). Most significant, however, is that Matthew affirms that the “demon came out of him.”
The indication, then, is that a demon was at the core of the boy’s trouble. Jesus rebukeda demon, it came out of the boy, and the boy was healed or made whole. The casting out of a demon resulted in a healing—the connection between a demon being cast out and healing being significant. It might be concluded that epilepsy was a misdiagnosis.
The disciples could not cast out the demon, due, Jesus said, to a lack of faith (in Matthew) and to a lack of prayer (in Mark). The best manuscripts do not have verse 21, “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” It is possible that fasting may reflect a period in the Church when casting out of demons had become ritualized through a process of exorcism. Faith and prayer in the verses under consideration do not have stated objects—faith in what or whom, prayer about what and to whom.
In Mark and Luke, the demon attacked the boy before it came out, and according to Mark, after casting out the demon, Jesus ordered the demon to never enter the boy again (Mark 9:25). The demon was successfully cast out once the boy was brought to Jesus.
The connection between physical illness and demonization is a puzzle. While physical or emotional illness cannot be cast out, demonic activity in a person may appear to be organic or mental in origin. On the other hand, symptoms of the illness may be a side effect of the demonic activity. The way a demon works in a person is mysterious, and it is probable that only God knows the exact processes, and it is enough that God knows.
Prayer is to be directed to our God, trusting in or having faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ, who has destroyed the work of the devil. Little will be accomplished when disciples of Jesus suppose they are acting on their own power and authority. People with demons must be brought to Jesus. When two or more of us gather together, Jesus is there with us, and He is able to do the work.
According to Luke, Jesus ordered that the demon never enter the boy again. This has been a mystery to me, and I wonder whether I should do the same and whether I am warranted to voice something only Jesus was reported to do. But right or wrong, I do make such statements. In the work of casting out of demons, we sometimes are unsure of what to do and what to say; I have thought that the less done and said the better.
6. A woman with a disabling spirit
This event is found in Luke 13:10-17:
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him (Luke 13:10-17).
It is Luke who says “disabling spirit,” while Jesus says only “disability.” The threshold question again is whether a demon is involved, or whether the woman’s condition is a physical illness, perhaps osteoporosis. Jesus does state that Satan had bound the woman (v. 16). No demon, however, is explicitly cast out.
Jesus laid hands on the woman, a practice associated with physical healing. This is a story of a healing, but the healing is only incidental to the story’s primary message regarding Sabbath regulations, an issue that Jesus confronts often and may have been the reason Jesus initiated the contact with the woman in the first place.
If there was a disabling spirit involved, then this is a casting out of demons. But if the quasi-medical term, disabling spirit, is only a generalized description of a kind that Dr. Luke might employ, then there is no casting out of demons. Which it is, I do not know and will not hazard a guess.
It does not seem that there are any clear-cut principles about casting out of demons here, though on rare occasions I witnessed that physical symptoms did seem to disappear after demons were cast out.
Unique to this story is that Jesus approached the woman in distress rather than the other way around. Whether or not the story involves the demonic, it is not advisable that Christian workers approach the demonized in so direct a fashion as Jesus did. The principle seems to be that the demonized come to Jesus or to His disciples first. I have found myself in considerable trouble by initiating such ministry. Perhaps I am overly cautious here, but in a day of lawsuits and other complaints, propriety is often best.
Read Chapter 2 in our next issue, or...
Click HERE to buy now.
This book is already published and available. It includes a DVD that features a discussion of the topic and the book's contents between Kent Philpott and Bob Burns, who proposed the project.
While thoroughly rooted in Scripture, this 72-page book is concerned to bring ministry to those suffering under the hand of the evil one.
The author, Kent Philpott, has extensive personal experience in casting our of demons, also called "deliverance ministry," especially during the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and Bob Burns was one of those from whom demons were cast out during that time.
We do understand that, as Jesus said: "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20).
Published by Earthen Vessel Publishing, 2009.