The Identity Of Unclean Spirits

The Identity Of Unclean Spirits

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

The TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version of this discussion is that when angels mated with human women, they produced abominable offspring whose spirits God refused to admit into the realm of the dead after He destroyed them in the Flood. The wandering spirits eventually possessed some people in the first century whom Jesus and the apostles were able to exorcise. These were the unclean spirits. Because of the power of Christ’s Gospel, they no longer have the ability to hijack our bodies today. If they are still present, they can only help to facilitate situations of temptation. But they cannot touch us or make us sin.  

For those willing to understand how I arrived at the above summary, please keep reading. 

Allow me to begin by indulging in a little inside baseball. In that case, I’ll start by highlighting one of the differences between my brother’s and my time at Faulkner University: two different godly men led the V.P. Black School of Biblical Studies. My brother had the opportunity to sit at the feet of the late Wendell Winkler, whose background was in preaching schools. Meanwhile, when I graduated, the late Kenneth Randolph was the dean. Brother Randolph decided he wanted students to build their libraries and encouraged instructors to assign textbooks to our classes whenever possible. 

I studied hermeneutics under the late Martel Pace. When is an Example Binding? by Thomas B. Warren was the actual text. However, brother Pace insisted on us purchasing Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. When the class began, brother Pace directed us to a sentence in Fee and Stuart’s book. That sentence stated that novel interpretations are incorrect. It is erroneous if no one has ever interpreted Scripture in a given way in over two thousand years of church history. With that clarification, brother Pace told us we could throw the book away as he didn’t want us to learn how to interpret the Bible from Fee and Stuart’s liberal hermeneutic. 

Although I felt cheated at the time for wasting money on a book I wouldn’t use, brother Pace’s point has stuck with me. When I approach a Scripture or text and want to understand what it means, I first consult other Scriptures. Then, when I finally turn to human scholarship, I always look for the oldest interpretation of the Scripture. With this method, it is surprising how much of the doctrine taught in contemporary Christendom dates back less than 200 years. Other false doctrines may have origins in the 1500s, during the Protestant Reformation. Others emerged before 1000, eventually leading to the establishment of the first apostate church. 

Despite being accurate regarding salvation, we sometimes see deviations from original thought in issues of Christian judgment. For example, I’ve been thinking about angels and demons. I’ve often said that much of what people believe they know about the subject finds basis in Milton rather than Scripture (e.g., the war in heaven). The Bible is silent on angels, including their orders and responsibilities. When asked who the archangels are, you will hear names other than Gabriel and Michael (i.e., Raphael and Uriel). According to some, an archangel by the name of Lucifer fell. From whence does this extra information come? The accepted canon of Scripture does not include it. 

On the other hand, the apocryphal Book of Enoch is one source having a lot to say about angels. The Book of Watchers refers to the first thirty-six chapters of the Book of Enoch. The author of Watchers claims to explain things like how angels fell. Given that Jude quotes from the Book of Enoch, this source is more interesting than you might think. Jude quotes the apocryphal book in verses 14-15. This inclusion by the Holy Spirit does not imply that the Book of Enoch is anything other than apocryphal, but rather that this widely read book from before the first century AD still got a few things correct, precisely what Jude quotes. Although it is not a direct quotation, Jude verse six parallels ideas found in the Book of Watchers, namely that the “angels who did not keep their own domain but abandoned their proper abode” (NASB1995) refers to angels who chose to leave heaven to intermarry with human women. 

It took a long time for me to accept this. I was of the school of thought that interpreted Genesis 6’s “sons of God” as the descendants of Seth, who began calling on the Lord’s name (Genesis 4.26). That was a more recent interpretation contradicting the phrase “sons of God,” which almost always referred to angels. Even so, I would never teach what I am about to discuss as doctrine because it may confuse some. However, if one considers the context of Jude, one will notice that the sin of verse six is akin to that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 1.7). In other words, it was a matter of immoral sexual behavior. It was never in God’s plan for angels to have companions. They are presumably “complete,” lacking nothing in their distinct being. In response to the Sadducees, this is why Jesus stated, “…in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (emphasis mine—Matthew 22.30 NASB1995). 

I’ve heard it preached that Jesus said angels can’t get married, but He said they don’t get married in heaven. It is not a giant leap to conclude that if angels took on a form with a digestive system (cf. Genesis 18.5ff), being able to eat, they could also take on a reproductive system commensurate with the masculine forms assumed in their interactions with humanity. Furthermore, Paul warns us that the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11.14). So, it appears God endowed angels with such abilities implied by taking on an assumed form. 

But how does this relate to unclean spirits? What does this even have to do with Faulkner University and hermeneutics? Following the Scriptures, I will consult other scholarship sources; the earlier, the better. So, I went back and read what early Christian writers like Justin Martyr and Origen had to say about the subject. Justin, in particular, confirmed Jude’s message that the angels’ transgression was sexual. According to Justin, angels fell in love with human women and decided to copulate with them, the latter giving birth to the “mighty men of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6.4). These deviations resulted in conditions that caused God to regret creating man. One of the things that the Book of Watchers says that Justin seems to accept is that these fallen angels taught men how to make weapons of war and fight one another. Have you ever thought about Genesis 6.13? God saw the earth filled with violence. That is an intriguing coincidence. 

As a result, God destroyed all except Noah, Noah’s family, and the animals aboard the ark with a Flood. But what became of those who died in the Flood? Would Ecclesiastes 12.7 not be applicable? Their “dust” was returned to the earth, while God received their spirits. But what if among the dead were spirits inhabiting bodies that God did not sanction, a cross between fallen angels and humans? Would He let those spirits into Sheol or Hades? Wouldn’t they be punished like the fallen angels for whom God created hell itself (2 Peter 2.4-10)? 

It appears unlikely that the “unclean spirits” mentioned in the Gospels and the book of Acts are the spirits of evil, departed men. A teacher once told me that Legion hung out in the cemetery (Mark 5.1ff) to linger near their former bodies. In other words, whoever the Legion demons were, they were all former humans doomed to spend eternity in hell. But why would God choose to isolate the miraculous period of the first century to allow some evil deceased spirits to remain and not send them immediately into the realm of the dead, as Ecclesiastes 12.7 suggests? Of course, God could direct every such person into the path of Jesus or the apostles for exorcism, but it seems strange to defy nature just to read about a few exorcisms in the Gospels and Acts. Indeed, the ability to raise the dead alone could serve as the ultimate form of confirmation of the Gospel. Moreover, since the power of sin is death, raising the dead would still prove our Lord’s power of the kingdom of darkness (1 Corinthians 15.51-57).  

Examine how Jesus interacts with these unclean spirits (aka demons). In Matthew’s account of Legion, another demon-possessed man accompanies Legion (Matthew 8.28). Both possessed men were violent and would not let anyone pass. The ones inside these men recognized Jesus as the Son of God and wondered if He had come to torment them ahead of time(Matthew 8.29). They asked Jesus to send them into an adjacent herd of swine if He was going to cast them out of those men (Matthew 8.31). When Jesus granted their request, the demons caused the herd of pigs to jump into the sea and drown (Matthew 8.32). Why not send them to Hades if these were the departed spirits of evil men? Why put them in pigs? 

These unclean spirits knew God would destroy them, but they thought the time was too soon. Of course, we know that those in Tartarus, the place of torment within Hades, like the rich man, immediately knew their eternal fate, but how else would these possessing living men in the first century know such things? They had probably never experienced Tartarus’ torment because they were free to roam (cf. Matthew 12.43-45; Luke 11.24-26). Again, it would appear to be inconsistent with what we know about our existence following death. It makes more sense, however, if there have been spirits of grotesque angel-human hybrids roaming the earth since the Flood. 

Let us look at some examples of demon exorcism in Acts to illustrate these fascinating phenomena further. First, Paul cast out an unclean spirit from a young woman who had been following him around Philippi, proclaiming him to be a servant of the Most High God and preaching the way of salvation (Acts 16.16-21). Paul became irritated with her and rebuked the spirit in Jesus’ name, causing the demon to flee. The event that led to Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi was this exorcism. When Paul expelled the evil spirit, he took away her divining ability that her owners exploited to make money. Then, in Ephesus, Paul exorcised demons without even being in their presence. People took handkerchiefs that Paul had touched, which were enough to heal and drive away the evil spirits (Acts 19.12).  

This display of Jesus’ power prompted some of Paul’s opponents to try to imitate him. Finally, Acts 19.13-16 contains a humorous account of a failed exorcism. Sceva’s seven sons took it upon themselves to exorcise an evil spirit in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches. The demon said it recognized Jesus and Paul but wanted to know who these men were. The possessed man then leaped on them and thrashed them mercilessly. It caused quite a stir in Ephesus and inspired both Jews and Gentiles to exalt Jesus’ name (Acts 19.17). 

There are no further references to unclean spirits after Ephesus. We know Paul told the Corinthians that the miraculous age would end when the perfect (i.e., complete) arrived (1 Corinthians 13.8-12). By the end of the first century, God had completed His revelation to mankind. And then there was the New Testament. But what about the spirits? Origen, a Christian who lived near the end of the second century, observed that the demons vanished along with the ending of the spiritual gifts bestowed by the apostles through the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8.14-17).  

In other words, Jesus Christ’s power defeated the kingdom of darkness. Those spirits, if still present, could no longer possess people or cause mischief as they did during the brief period described in the New Testament. This statement does not imply that Origen did not have some ideas. He did. Since, as James stated, our lusts entice us, allow our desires to conceive, and give birth to sin (James 1.14-15), the remaining unclean spirits serve as “midwives,” facilitating our sin. This truth does not absolve us of our guilt, but it may point to perpetrators in the unseen realm who are more than willing to assist us. 

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