“They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know (Deut. 32:17a).”
We understand that the spiritual warfare in which we are all engaged is not literal struggle against flesh and blood but against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).” In Scripture we see a host of wicked spirits described as demons, mentioned around 80 times in the New Testament and few times in the Old.
Demons are evil beings described as “unclean spirits” in Mark 5:2,8, Luke 8:30. They may possess super-human strength (Mark 5:4), sometimes collecting in groups (Matt. 12:45, Luke 8:30), and they appear to be under Satan’s control (Matt. 12:24). They always recognized Jesus and demonstrated a great fear of Him understanding that they were under His judgement (Matt. 8:29).” The N.T. records that these evil spirits had the ability to possess men, women (Luke 8:2), and even innocent children (Matt. 17:18, Mark 7:26, Luke 9:38, Acts 16:16). In these cases, those possessed were tormented by these intruders.
There are many theories as to the origin of demons as the Bible does not explicitly provide this information. Some suppose that they were simply a superstition of the day but this view is not shared by Scripture (James 2:19). Others hypothesize that they are the spirits of the Nephilim mentioned in the O.T. but they cannot support this assertion from Scripture. A leading theory traditionally held is that demons are fallen angels. But this is not clear as Scripture confirms that those angels who fell (Rev. 12:9) were cast down to Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6) and bound in everlasting chains until the day of judgment.
Alexander Campbell offered a compelling theory that demons were the spirits of wicked dead men.1 What Campbell first asserted is a basic law of biblical interpretation that we must assign the same meaning to a word as it was understood by the people in whose place and time it was used. So, unless instructed otherwise, we must not place a modern meaning on the Greek word daimonion (demons). Campbell demonstrated that throughout its literary history the word was used to denote “knowing ones,” citing Plato, Plutarch, and other writers who defined them as “ghosts” of dead mean. Aligning with this theory Campbell also demonstrated that many of the early church fathers; Justin Martyr, Origen, and others held this view of demons.
Additionally, Campbell draws Scriptural references that align well with this theory. As they entered the Promised Land, God gave the Israelites warning not to associate with a “spiritist, or one who calls up the dead (Deut. 18:9-13).” Whether or not any could truly call up the dead is not affirmed here but it demonstrates that the belief was long held by the inhabitants of Canaan. There is a N.T. example in which a girl who was “possessed with a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16)” which Paul cast out of the girl.
But Campbell’s most compelling link pertains to one very dark incident in Israelite history at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25, Deut. 4:3-4). In Psalm 106:28, the psalmist reflects on their worship of an idol stating that they made sacrifices to the DEAD and later in verse 37 details that Israel sacrificed their sons and daughters to DEMONS. Jeroboam made Israel to sin again when he appointed priests for the golden calves who also served as priests to demons (2 Chron. 11:15). Herein is a seeming linkage to spirits of the dead, idols, and demons.
It is not clear that demon possession is active today but it is impossible for such to plague a Christian (Matt. 12:29, 1 John 4:4). However, they had lasting influence for Christians in that day (1 Cor. 10:20-21) and for us today as they direct the teaching of false teaching that leads men away from saving faith (1 Tim. 4:1). In the end even they will bow before Jesus (Phil. 2:10) and receive judgement.
“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble (James 2:19)!”
“Demonology” Millennial Harbinger http://www.mtgileadchurch.net/lessons/campbell%20on%20demons.pdf