How Christians Cast Out Demons Today
by Kent Philpott
"Jesus' Disciples Cast Out Demons"
It is plain that Jesus cast out demons, but did anyone else do so? If Jesus was the only one who cast out demons, then how can we be certain this is a legitimate ministry for today?
Down through the centuries accounts of exorcism, as it came to be called, made their way into numerous church histories. In the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the casting out of demons was commonplace, and I was very much involved in that work. However, our concern here is what we find in our sole authority, the Bible, which is the only sure foundation for such a critical service as deliverance from unclean spirits. This chapter will therefore be limited to early church history as we find it in the New Testament.
The sending out of the apostles and the seventy-two
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:1-2). After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go (Luke 10:1). The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:17-20).
Jesus sent out the twelve apostles on what was first and foremost a preaching mission. At the same time, he gave them both power and authority over all demons and power and authority to cure diseases. “Heal” at the end of verse 9:2 is the usual word for physical healing and not the word from which we get our English word “therapy,” which has the sense of making whole and may be used to describe both the casting out of demons and physical healing. Healing illness and casting out of demons were signs that the kingdom of God had come.
The point is that Jesus gave the apostles power and authority over demons, so we assume they did cast out demons. But then seventy-two others, not including the twelve apostles, were sent out as well. No statement is made as to their having been given power and authority to cast out demons or to heal, but when the thirty-six pairs returned, they reported with joy that even the demons were subject to them; that is, they were able to cast them out. So we see that disciples of Jesus other than the apostles cast out demons.
It is clearly established that persons other than Jesus cast out demons. The apostles cast out demons, and certain un-named disciples of Jesus did so as well (see below). What is not clarified is whether the power and authority over demons was and is extended to those beyond these eighty-four persons. Systems of thought have emerged in the history of the Church stating divergent opinions, often in direct contradiction to one another, but to dogmatically argue for one way or another is to go beyond the plain statements of Scripture.
The Twelve were given power and authority over all demons. The power and authority belonged to Jesus, but He gave it to them. The question is then, do we today have power and authority over demons in the same way the Twelve did? Scripture convinces me that the answer is yes. The power and authority was not their own, but was given to them by Jesus in an act of commissioning. After Pentecost, a born again Christian is indwelt by Jesus’ Holy Spirit. Jesus did not leave us alone but sent the Helper to be with us forever (see John 14). The indwelling Holy Spirit means that Jesus is with us, and according to 1 John 4:4, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” This is a mystery certainly, but Jesus is with us, and He is the One with power and authority over all demons. This is basis enough to warrant Christians casting out demons today.
Jesus’ warning to the seventy-two to avoid being engulfed by an unhealthy sense of being empowered—that they had power and authority over demons—is something I had to deal with personally. To suddenly discover that demons would obey me was somewhat intoxicating. If anything, this is an understatement, for this tendency is a serious issue. It must be borne in mind that the casting out of demons is a service extended to demon-tormented persons who are yet loved of God, performed by those who have barely escaped the torment of hell themselves.
The unknown man who cast out demons
In both Mark 9:38-41 and Luke 9:49-50 is the story of someone who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-41).
Both the apostle John and Jesus affirm that the unknown man was casting out demons. Jesus called it a “mighty work.” There is no suggestion that the man was merely trying to perform an exorcism with magician’s tricks or illusions. Perhaps the man had witnessed Jesus casting out demons and thought he should then use the name of Jesus in his own work, which would not have been much different from the activities of the seven sons of Sceva of Acts 19. Perhaps the unknown man had witnessed Jesus’ apostles casting out demons, since Luke does place this story after the sending out of the twelve as recorded in Luke 9.
Jesus would not allow His own followers to stop the man from doing his ministry and indicates that the man was not working against but for them. He went further and implied that the man would receive a reward.
The unknown man, who has remained unknown throughout history, was not an apostle; he was not one of the seventy-two of Luke 10. He did not directly receive a commission from Jesus to cast out demons. It is likely that he simply imitated what he saw Jesus do. This is very close to what Jesus’ followers have done throughout the ages—cast out demons because of what they read in the New Testament.
“In your name” was the phrase used by the disciples to describe what the unknown disciple was doing. This phrase means that the man was trusting or depending on the person of Jesus for authority over the demons. The phrase was not used as a magical formula. Merely uttering the words “in the name of Jesus” is nothing at all. In that day, exorcists would use various formulas full of what were thought to be powerful, magical names to control evil spirits.
Signs and wonders in the early Church
Luke summarizes activities of the primitive Church, that Church very close in time to the events of the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 5:12-17. Of special significance for our subject is verse 16:
The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed (Acts 5:16).
Diseased persons and those with unclean spirits were brought to the apostles (see verse 12) for very good reasons—they needed healing. “Healed” here carries the idea of being made whole, and can apply to both physical healing and/or the casting out of demons.The apostles evidently continued the ministry they had learned from Jesus.
The apostles experienced the continuation of signs and wonders that characterized the ministry of Jesus, and these signs and wonders pointed to something beyond themselves, to the person and office of Jesus Christ. This is the proper view of casting out of demons. Jesus is honored and lifted up as people are delivered from demonic influence.
The ministry of Philip in Samaria
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8).
This is not the apostle Philip, but the Philip of Acts 6:5, one of the seven chosen in order to set the apostles free from serving tables. Whether he was one of the seventy-two of Luke 10 is unknown. Because of the first real persecution of the Church that erupted following the stoning of Stephen, many believers in Jesus, except the apostles, left Jerusalem. One of these was Philip, who traveled to Samaria. He preached Christ in the city of Samaria, and the signs that accompanied Philip’s ministry helped open hearts and minds. The signs are that those having unclean spirits were released from them, and diseased persons were healed or made whole. The ESV, along with most other versions, has “possessed” in verse 7, but a better reading would be “having unclean-spirits.” The result was much joy.
Philip was not an apostle but a servant in the early Church on whom the apostles had laid their hands (see Acts 6:6). This laying on of hands must not be viewed as giving Philip magical powers but as commissioning and affirming him.
Unclean spirits came out crying with loud voices. My experience matches this description. The person with the unclean spirit cries out, but it is actually a demon provoking this. I assume that the demon uses the vocal cords of the person indwelt by the demon. The crying out and the loud voices have long puzzled me. Perhaps they are meant to frighten the minister or the person with the unclean spirit, in order to short circuit or curtail the deliverance ministry. Perhaps it is an expression of the utter horror of the demon who is being destroyedby the Holy One of God (see Mark 1:24).
The slave girl with a spirit of divination
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers (Acts 16:16-19).
In the course of their work in the Greek city of Philippi, Paul and Silas met a slave girl who had an unclean spirit, though Luke leaves out the adjective “unclean,” that enabled the girl to tell fortunes. She and/or the spirit knew who Paul and Silas were—servants of the Most High God—which is reminiscent of other unclean spirits who knew who Jesus was when humans did not. Paul became annoyed, confronted the spirit rather than the girl, and commanded the spirit to come out “in the name of” (or because of or due to the power and authority of) Jesus Christ. Luke states that “it came out that very hour.” The language may be taken to mean that either the spirit came out at once or that it took a short time. The evidence that the spirit came out is that the girl was no longer able to tell fortunes. This event occurred before the general public; the results were visible and dramatic, and with consequences.
Paul with Silas cast out a demon. Nowhere is there a direct statement that Jesus had given Paul power and authority to cast out unclean spirits, but Paul did cast them out. We might expect that this occurred more than once. Unclean spirits recognize and react to the presence of Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, a marvel that I have witnessed many times. On several occasions, demons have recognized me and have said things about me, some of which I would not have wanted known. During my ministry, these unclean spirits have not always departed immediately, which is one reason why the work can be tiring. But like Paul’s, the basic approach is to command spirits to come out while depending solely on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
One of the difficulties involved in casting out demons is that those who are indwelt by them may not want them to leave. Demons provide a broad variety of seeming benefits for people, like the ability to tell fortunes. A demon will intimidate a person by repeatedly warning of the loss that would ensue should it be expelled. This is a clever and highly effective tactic. A person must (usually) want to be free of the unclean spirits before deliverance is possible.
The seven sons of Sceva
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded (Acts 19:11-16).
Miraculous, extraordinary healings of a type that astonish and leave us with major questions and “evil” spirits being cast out—these are events that go beyond the more ordinary Gospel accounts of Jesus’ casting out of demons. “Evil” in this passage is from a word that can mean sick, but here, as is commonly done, it is translated in an ethical sense of bad or corrupt. “Evil” would here be another way of saying “unclean.”
Like the unknown man of Mark 9 and Luke 9, we find people who apparently presented themselves as exorcists who were attempting to cast out demons by pronouncing the name of Jesus Christ, perhaps in imitation of the ministry of Paul. These seven sons of Sceva were perhaps professional exorcists capitalizing on a popular notion that, since they were connected with a high priest of Israel, they would know the secret covenant name of God and that this would therefore give them special spiritual powers. Their formula of “I adjure you” was not and is not a Christian or biblical statement but would be characteristic of occult-oriented exorcists.
The evil spirit knew who Jesus was, but was merely acquainted with Paul. Luke makes the distinction clear. While the demon did know Jesus, it yielded no power to the exorcists, and it overwhelmed them in a most dramatic and shameful manner, utterly exposing them.
Over the course of my ministry, I have seen events that parallel to some lesser degree that which Luke relates. Demons who are powerful and will not be controlled, demons who know who Jesus is but will mock those who are pretenders, and occultists who seem to be spiritually powerful but ultimately are not—I have seen these situations numerous times.
Some of what is related of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is beyond my comprehension, but in a city like ancient Ephesus, so inundated with occult practices, I can imagine wild and strange scenes taking place. There is a bewildering element to the work of casting out of demons; it really is not for the faint of heart or nerve.
The ability to distinguish between spirits
Among the varieties of gifts given by God is the ability to distinguish between spirits (1 Corinthians 12:19). This gift is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament. It is sometimes assumed that the distinguishing or discerning has to do with knowing whether demons are involved or not, or it may be that the gift has to do with understanding the difference between orthodox and heterodox doctrines. Then again, it may be that both are true. I have not come to a position on this issue.
Perhaps Philip had this gift in Samaria; maybe Paul had it in Philippi and Ephesus. Perhaps this gift may help explain the ministry of Jesus to those who had unclean spirits. When Jesus commissioned the twelve and later the seventy-two, there is no mention of a spiritual gift being given. My point is that some link the casting out of demons with the charismatic gifts and therefore dismiss the ministry out of hand. But I see no scriptural warrant for that position. I have sometimes supposed that a person I was observing had a demonic spirit and other times doubted that demons were involved at all—and I was wrong at times and right in others.
If the concept of cessationism—that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased to be operative in the Church, especially speaking in tongues and prophetic foretelling—were to be granted as actual, this would still not negate the fact that Christians can cast out demons today.
Though there are passages in the epistles that speak of Satan and the demonic, there are no other clear-cut passages that deal specifically with the casting out of demons. Paul writes of our warfare as not being against flesh and blood but against the demonic kingdom (Ephesians 6:12), and Peter speaks of Satan being like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and there are other mentions of the demonic, especially in Revelation.
My view is that there is nothing in Scripture that would prohibit Christians from engaging in the casting out of demons. There is nothing in Scripture that explicitly instructs it either. Again, in the letters of the New Testament, nothing is written describing the casting out of demons. Perhaps it was considered normative and did not need discussing, or perhaps the need had largely disappeared, like it usually does during normal times. However, it is clear that the casting out of demons was not limited to the twelve apostles, and there is nothing limiting casting out of demons to first century Christians or to those Christians living during the formation of the New Testament.
One eschatological (end times or last things) theory has Satan being bound during a thousand year reign of Christ, which is seen as a metaphor for the established victory of Christ and extends from the Resurrection to the Second Advent of Christ. In my view, this theory would not preclude demonization but would mean that Christians could cast out unclean spirits, because these demons have been defeated though the work of Jesus. Whatever one’s view of last things might be, the casting out of demons by disciples of Jesus should be understood as normative.
We are now ready to move toward a brief history of casting out of demons after the era of the New Testament, then a brief discussion of the theology of the demonic. Then after two other brief chapters, we will look at how Christians may go about a ministry of casting out of demons today.
Read previous chapter(s) of this book in Earthen Vessel Journal:
Last Update: 2012-10-20 12:29