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. 

The Fall Before The Fall

The Fall Before The Fall

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

The Bible indicates a battle between Satan and his rebellious followers in several key passages. The reason for this spiritual spat is not given to us in great detail but we are told that it began after they abandoned their rightful habitation (Jude 1:6). While many have speculated as to what and how this happened, we simply aren’t told. Some have also made the argument that this event took place after the Creation of the world, but this is also not certain. Genesis 2:1 says, “the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts.” While that may seem to clearly indicate that angels must have been created alongside everything else, Job 38:7 states that angels gave “shouts of joy” after the creation of stars.

The spiritual conflict ended with Satan and his apostate followers cast from the heavenly realm (2 Peter 2:4, Rev. 12:14, Jude) just before, it seems, the creation of earth with the Archangel Michael taking a significant role in his defeat and expulsion. 

Satan seems to have been at one time a high ranking Angel who thought he somehow stood a chance against his very Creator. That is a ridiculous thought! The application of this historical (pre-historical?) event is evident. Nobody, whether Angel or man, can win against God’s will. It’s mind boggling to imagine taking on God Almighty in some kind of battle, yet Paul tells us in Romans five that we were enemies of God at one point while living in sin, and are currently waging a war with God if we are living in sin. We should let that long ago battle in the heavenly realm be a reminder to us that God always wins the war. He’s already won! Now is the time to make sure that you’re on the side of the truth and triumph and not the devil and the defeated. 

 

The Power Of The Word

The Power Of The Word

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Angels are not the dainty, long-haired Western Europeans they’re often depicted as being. In Matthew 28, their appearance was like lightning and they had white clothes. Evidently their appearance was other-worldly enough to frighten these soldiers almost to death (28.4). Whether this was some cardiac event or simply shock we cannot know. But to frighten someone that tough to that extent would take something pretty crazy. 

But some of these same guys still went straight to the chief priests and took a bribe to keep quiet and spread disinformation (28.11-15). After what they had just seen and experienced, you’d think they would run to a therapist and not the chief priests to help perpetuate something they knew to be false. 

We can be tempted sometimes to think that evangelism requires more than just showing someone the word. We might think the miraculous or incredible could persuade even the most stubborn non-believer. The power of our job (making disciples) is in the Word and in faith. The Bible has many accounts of people seeing incredible feats of supernatural power with their own eyes and still rejecting God. Abraham informed the rich man in Luke 16.29-31 that God’s Word is what saves; if that is rejected, no miracle will change this. 

If we place our faith in the power of the Word and work to deepen our understanding of the Word, we have all we need to show the power of Jesus. 

The Angels’ Struggle (And Ours)

The Angels’ Struggle (And Ours)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

We sometimes have a tendency to give up when we mess up spiritually. We’ll think, “Guess I blew it, there’s no point in trying now.” Guilt or frustration over the difficulty of living for God and falling short is a powerful Achilles Heel of ours. Paul describes our struggle with sin as combat with self (Romans 7). 

A Christian who is fighting to follow God is still going to sin at some point. We sometimes allow the loss of that battle to drag us into a pattern of sinning solely because we’ve become discouraged that we even allowed that sin to happen. 

I’d like to point out that we aren’t alone in that struggle. Consider Job 38.7: angels – who do not need faith because they live in the presence of God – were up close and personal to the creation of our incredible universe. They watched in awe as God fabricated the stars. They heard those stars sing, which means that they were amazed by the sheer power and majesty of what we can only hear as obscure signals. They were right there! 

Some of those same angels were caught up in sin (II Peter 2.4ff; Jude 6-9). Satan currently has followers who were at one time up close and personal to the Power behind our existence (Romans 12.7ff; Matthew 25:41). 

If an angel, a being who does not serve God based on a mere belief in His existence, but because they were originally created for the sole purpose of carrying out His will, and who are eyewitnesses to His existence and unlimited power, can be tempted to the extent that they are willing to abandon the presence of God and forfeit ever seeing His face again, who are we to think that our struggle is that defeating? 

God does not have a salvation plan for angelic beings (II Peter 2.4). When they breach their boundaries, that’s it. The moment they act outside of God’s will is the moment they forfeit the presence of God for eternity. 

We are lower than angels on the creation totem pole (Psalm 8.5), yet we have Jesus as a mediator defending us before God (I John 2.1) and constantly making us sinless in God’s eyes when we’re doing our best to live for Him (I John 1.7). We have a gift that angels do not enjoy: we get extra chances. As long as we are willing to wage war with our sinful desires, as long as we are striving to be like Him, and as long as we are trying to incorporate the word of God into our lives, we have grace. 

We’re stepping out of the concrete and into conjecture, but there is at least some evidence that lust (Genesis 6; II Peter 2; Jude 6-9) and perhaps tragedy (Matthew 18.10) are enough to make an angel forfeit their home. Again, this is pure conjecture but it has, at the very least, some scriptural evidence to suggest legitimacy. 

When we sin, we need to take a step back and get some perspective. We must not brush off sin as being inconsequential, but we also must avoid allowing a mistake to send us into a dysfunctional pattern just because we think, “I’ve blown it, there’s no point in trying now” or, “This struggle is too great for me.” If angels aren’t immune, why on earth would we think that we are supposed to be? 

The beauty of Christianity is found in God’s grace. It is understandable, seeing how some have abused the subject, to want to avoid the topic altogether. How many, though, have found themselves trapped in sin because they did not understand or believe in the power of God’s continual forgiveness?

Understanding what we have when we make a concerted effort to follow God is of the highest importance. We will sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are liar and there is no truth in us (I John 1.8). When we do sin, let’s remember that not only can we have forgiveness if we’re walking in light, we’re not especially awful just because we find ourselves falling short. If even God’s angels can be tempted to the point of leaving His presence forever, so can we who have not seen His face. And let that cause us to seek His face with even more enthusiasm than before! 

I Corinthians 10.13

II Peter 3.9

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God’s Spiritual Stimulus Plan

God’s Spiritual Stimulus Plan

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Many Americans have recently been recipients of a stimulus check. Quite a few have taken that and made some big purchases or padded a savings account or used it for much-needed relief. Whether or not this stimulus was an economically sound decision, most have seen it as a well-timed gift that – at least in the short term – has lessened some of the difficulties of this pandemic. It was designed to bring relief, and for many it has. 

We often look at salvation as something we received at baptism (which we did, I Pt. 3.21, Acts 2.38, Col. 2.12-14). We are grateful to have grace and a mediator for when we fall short as Christians, and this gift is not something we should ever take for granted. 

When we think about how we got salvation, though, we don’t always think about the enormous amount of preparation that went into it. The ability to have our sin problem erased (Colossians describes it as a certificate of debt with legal demands in 2.14) is no small gift. 

I Peter 1.10-12 says, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven – things into which angels long to look.” 

Briefly, I’d look to look at how this passage brings out the enormous value of salvation. Firstly, ancient prophets were told that this salvation was for future generations. They wrote about this while living under a far more difficult system of godly living, knowing that they would not be beneficiaries of that salvation. 

Secondly, the early church benefited from the sacrifices and hardships of those who brought the message of salvation to them. It was valuable enough that those men were willing to assume that risk to give it to others. 

Thirdly, angels – who, like the early prophets, are not beneficiaries of this salvation – were extremely interested in salvation. 

If two of the groups mentioned here were not even beneficiaries but strongly desired to know more about it or recorded it for all time, what does that tell us about salvation’s value? Peter set up its value this way to encourage the early church to live holy lives. 

Knowing just how valuable our salvation is should push us to live like we appreciate it! Not only does it have enormous value as a gift, the One who gave it wants us to have it. With that in mind, let’s cultivate greater appreciation and godliness because of the awesome gift of salvation. And if we know anyone who could use it, let’s pass the good news on to them, too. 

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Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Neal Pollard

Most of us have favorite songs and hymns. My favorite category of hymns is songs about the cross. I love the somber, dramatic feel of Beneath the Cross of Jesus, a hymn penned right after the close of the Civil War by Elizabeth C. Clephane and one set to the music we sing with it by Frederick Maker a dozen years later in 1881. The cross of Calvary is treated as a metaphor of protection for one in a wilderness. One might envision the wandering Israelites making their way to the Promised Land and apply that, figuratively, to our journey through this world of sin toward heaven. But the song will change scenes multiple times until, in the last verse, it is a most personal challenge to each of us to be faithful disciples of this crucified Lord.

The first verse introduces the foot of the cross as a shadow of a mighty rock where we find relief and a home to rest in from trials and difficulties while pilgrims in a weary land (the world). We might easily think of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Some songbooks have a notation to define “fain,” a word used in the first line. It means “gladly.” I am happy to shelter behind Christ’s cross in adversities.

The second verse builds upon the metaphor of the first verse, then subtly shifts to an event from the book of Genesis. The cross is, again, a shelter and refuge. But, then, he shifts to an allusion to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10ff). He has left his father’s house and his brother’s wrath and beds down near Haran. He lays down, using stones for a pillow, and falls asleep. Moses writes, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (12-13). This is where God reaffirms the promise He had made to Jacob’s grandfather and father to make of them a great nation. It symbolized hope, reward, and heavenly assistance. The song writer says the cross is just like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, except that I ascend to heaven by way of the cross. Again, Clephane uses a poetic, if obscure word, in this verse: “trysting.” The word means “meeting.” At the cross, God’s perfect love and justice meet. His love is shown and His justice satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice.

The third verse becomes a straightforward look at a literal remembrance of the graphic, horrific suffering of Jesus on the cross. She focuses on what our reaction should be–a smitten heart, tears, and a proper conclusion. How great is His love! How unworthy I am that He would demonstrate it to me (cf. Romans 5:8).

The last verse is the challenge to respond to that sacrifice. We are to live in the shadow of the cross, daily reflecting upon it and letting it affect how we live. We are to ignore all else to focus on Him. Clephane seems to allude to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:14, if ever so subtly. Too, there’s a challenge to not be ashamed of Jesus and the cross, but reserve our shame only for the sin in our life that made the cross necessary.

It is beautifully and intricately woven. Despite some unfamiliar, even archaic, poetic words, it is powerfully written. What a great song to prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper or to sing when our motives gets clouded and our priorities get muddled. May we take the time, when we sing it, to consider the truth it teaches and the challenge it contains.

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