Demon Possessed or Demonized

Mark 1:32

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2010

Evangelicals often debate whether Satan can possess Christians. A more basic question is whether Satan can possess anyone at all. Deliverance Ministry advocates believe that Satan cannot possess people but can demonize people. What’s the difference between the two terms? The chart below explains the differences between the two concepts.


 Demon  Possession


Intensity Severe Mild to Severe

Different levels of demonic involvement

Solution Requires exorcism from another person May or may not require exorcism
Location Inside Inside or Outside
Effects Invasion (ownership) and control Influence and control but not ownership
Victims Limited to Non-Christians Affects Christians and Non-Christians
Involvement Passive (involuntary) Passive or Active (voluntary or involuntary)

Proper Translation of ΔΑΙΜΟΝΙΣΟΜΑΙ

What is the proper translation of δαιμονίζομαι? Should it be translated “demon possessed” or “demonized”? Some have argued that “demon possessed” is a mistranslation of δαιμονίζομαι. This argument is not limited to charismatics. Alfred Edersheim (1883), who was a cessationist, also believed that “demonize” was a better rendering of δαιμονίζομαι than “demon possessed.” What reasons are given for translating δαιμονίζομαι “demonized”?

Reasons for the “Demonized” Translation

  •  The Greek word for “possession” is never used in conjunction with demons. They argue that the word “demon possession” is not in the Bible. They state that the word does not come from the Bible but from Josephus.
  •  Satan does not have possession or ownership of people, only God does. Believers cannot be owned by Satan because they have been bought with a price (I Corinthians 7:23). Christians have the Holy Spirit and cannot be possessed by demons.
  •  The issue is not ownership but control. To be possessed with a demon means to be under the power (which means influence) of a demon, but it does NOT mean that the demons owns the person. Like being under the influence of alcohol, the more you drink (or get yourself into bondage), the more you come under its influence.
  •  The word “possess” has many modern connotations which are inaccurate. One immediately thinks of the 1973 movie The Exorcist. Therefore, they prefer the term “demonized” to “demon-possessed” and argue that it is a much better translation of the Greek.

Strengths of the “Demonize” Rendering

Perhaps the strongest argument raised is that δαιμονίζομαι is not about mere ownership but control. We use the term “possess” to refer to both. We possess some things that we own and completely control. We possess other things that we have little or no control over (e.g., cancer, bad genes).

Thus, the Bible also speaks of people “having a demon” (people possessing demons). It also speaks of demons “possessing” people. In one sense, people possess a demon. In another sense, demons possess them.

In the first case, possession does not involve control. In the second use of the word, it does involve control. Control is part of both demon possession and demonization. It is much greater is demon possession. In demon possession, a demon invades the body of another person and takes complete control over it, in some cases even controlling the person’s voice.

Weaknesses of the “Demonize” Rendering

1. To say that “demonize” is a better translation of the Greek δαιμονίζομαι is misguided.

The word “demonize” is not a translation of δαιμονίζομαι but simply a transliteration of it. It does not tell us what the word means. If the word “possess” is too specific, then the word “demonize” is too general. It waters down the word and does not really tell us anything. That may explain why no English translation of the NT renders λαμβανομένος “demonize.”

2. All of the cases of the word δαιμονίζομαι in the NT are severe and required exorcism by another person.

The word δαιμονίζομαι is never used of simple temptation or influence by Satan on the outside by Satan. Demon possession implies control from the inside. The fact that the demons “entered into” people” had to be “cast or driven out” and “went out” of people after the exorcism shows that they were on the inside.

3. In fact δαιμονίζομαι is in the passive verb voice.

The recipient or victim of the demon is completely passive in the process, which is consistent with demon possession.

4. In no case in the NT is the word δαιμονίζομαι ever used of a Christian.

Contrary to some evangelicals who believe that Christians can be demonized, the word δαιμονίζομαι is used thirteen times in the NT (Matthew 4:24; 8:16, 28, 33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; Mark 1:32; 5:15, 16, 18; Luke 8:36; John 10:21). It is used seven times in Matthew, four in Mark, once in Luke and once in John. Twelve times it is used of demoniacs and once it is used with reference to Jesus. In John we are told that Jesus’ actions are not consistent with the term δαιμονίζομαι.

Interestingly, δαιμονίζομαι is NEVER used of a believer in the NT. In fact, some of the demoniacs became believers AFTER the exorcism (e.g., Gerasene Demoniac). Satan spoke through Peter (Matthew 16) but Peter was not demon possessed. He did not require an exorcism. Satan also afflicted Paul with a physical illness (II Corinthians 12) which originated from “a messenger of Satan” and yet Paul was also not demon possessed, nor was the word δαιμονίζομαι ever applied to him.

5. “Demon possession” is a perfectly valid translation of the Greek word δαιμονίζομαι.

All of the standard Greek Lexicons translate δαιμονίζομαι “demon possessed (so BAG, NIDNTT [Brown], EDNT [Balz & Schneider], PGL [Lampe], TDNT [Kittel], Louw-Nilda, Thayer, Abbot-Smith, Liddell & Scott, Vine, Kittel, UBS Greek Dictionary, LKGNT (Rienecker & Rogers), GAGNT (Zerwick & Grosvenor). If there is no Greek word for “demon possession” in the NT, then why do all of the Greek lexicons say that that is exactly what the word δαιμονίζομαι means?

6. Two different Greek words for “possessions” are used in connection with demonization – οίκία (Mark 3:27) and ύπάρχω (Luke 11:21).

In order to exorcise a demon, Jesus had to bind the strong man (Satan) in order to get his “possessions”. The statement that “the Greek word for possession is never used in conjunction with demons” is simply inaccurate.

7. The notion that Josephus coined the term “demon possession” is also incorrect.

In the Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus speaks of free men “possessed by demons” as τούς ύπο τών δαιμονίών λαμβανομένος (VIII.46) but, when describing a “possessed man” (VIII.47) immediately after, Josephus uses the Greek word δαιμονίζομαι by itself. Josephus does not use a special word for “demon possession.”

He uses the word “demon” with λαμβάνω (a common word in the NT, though never used of demon possession). He also uses the exact same word used in the NT (δαιμονίζομαι). Josephus had an unbiblical view of demons.  He believed that demons were the “spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them” (Wars of the Jews 7.6.3)

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