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. 

Traditional Traditions Transitioned

Traditional Traditions Transitioned

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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Carl Pollard

 
Say that three times in a row. Now that you’ve done that, let’s focus on a very important question. Are traditions splitting the church? To answer this we must look at the source of our traditions. As a church we follow both divine and man-made traditions. The ones from God must be followed and taught in the church, but the ones from man have no authority from God.
 
So, are traditions splitting the church? The word “tradition” means to “pass something down.” Galatians 1:14 says, “and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” Were the traditions that Paul was learning about passed down by man or by God? He labels them as being his “ancestors’ traditions.”
 
We must be careful to determine if a tradition that is being taught is divine or was instituted by our “ancestors.” For example, serving the Lord’s Supper from the front of the auditorium on a table that says, “Do This in Remembrance of Me”, and using brass plates are man-made traditions. This is not found in scripture.
 
There’s nothing wrong with practicing this tradition. The problem is when some try to enforce this and say “if you don’t do this for the Lord’s Supper then you haven’t really done what has been commanded.”
 
This teaching of tradition can split the church and we must be careful that we are enforcing God’s tradition and not our own. To do this we should ask, “Is it a violation of Scripture, or is it a tradition?” It’s okay to go along with traditions, but it is not okay to bind human traditions as a salvation issue.
 
There are some in the church that have taken their man-made traditions to heart. So we must ask ourselves, are we binding man-made traditions on others for salvation? Do we get upset if someone changes up the order of worship? Maybe we get mad when there are only two songs between the opening prayer and the sermon?
 
Divine traditions are what we must follow, and we must not force man-made traditions. Galatians 1:8-9 says, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” Paul’s point is this: “Who did you receive it from?”
 
1 Corinthians 15:1-3 tells us, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” It is important that we check to see where the tradition came from.
 
Paul got his teachings from Jesus Christ. That is the divine source we must use. Not your preacher or the old wise man. This tradition was divine. Even if it is a tradition that has been around for many years, this does not automatically make it a divine tradition.
 
We must always keep in mind two facts when it comes to tradition.
  1. Divine tradition is binding while man-made is not.
  2. Look for the source of the tradition in order to clarify fact number one.

Supersize Your Scripture Smarts!

Supersize Your Scripture Smarts!

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

The Bible is not a mysterious book of codes that can’t be cracked, though some might try and lead you to believe that. 

We know that the water can be metaphorically muddied rather quickly when there are countless faulty interpretations of books like Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other prophetic or apocalyptic literature. Typology is another misunderstood, and often misapplied, method of Bible study. I’m convinced that if we can spend some time studying the different “types” found in scripture, we can see God’s message for mankind more clearly and have a more profound grasp of His Word. This also happens to be a great way to grow our knowledge of scripture more quickly!

So first, let’s try to clarify exactly what Typology is. 

Summed up in one sentence it’s referring to Old Testament things which are prefigured or symbolized by events and characters of the New Testament.

This may sound a little confusing, but let’s look at a few examples. 

  1. John 3:14 says that just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up (Num. 21:9). The Christ “type” is the bronze serpent. We know because of a specific New Testament reference. 
  2. 1 Peter 3:20: “…God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built, only a few people, 8 in all were saved through water,” This illustrates how in the same way baptismal water saves those who submit to Christ today. 

Typology is not some mystic Bible code where we are free to translate events and characters in scripture as we please because God tells us exactly what He intended to say. 

1 Cor. 14:33 says that God is NOT the “author of confusion.” He has a message for us all— and it’s a message of hope. 

Are you interested in learning more about typology? The perfect book for you to study would be the book of Hebrews as it makes more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book. By diving into Hebrews you will appreciate and understand both the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole. 

What Does The Bible Say?

What Does The Bible Say?

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters.  Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation.  How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?

Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12).  Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust.  Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort.  Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right.  Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).

How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text?  So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions.  Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views.  Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind.  How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live!  That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”

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“Weaponizing” The Bible

“Weaponizing” The Bible

Neal Pollard

While politicians have quoted the Bible as far back as the founding fathers, have you noticed the trend especially in the last 20 years or so to use Scripture to push a policy or score a point? Perhaps it’s to pander to a group or to reinforce one’s position. During the historic impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, the Bible was “weaponized” by both sides of the aisle in embarrassing, repulsive ways. One side compared the impeachment trial of the President to Jesus before Pilate, producing a tasteless, horrific analogy. The other side ripped Romans 1:25 from context to admonish the President’s supporters as worshipping the “creature” more than the “Creator”–I wonder if this extremely liberal politician bothered to read the very next few verses? The God of heaven must be filled with righteous wrath over such misuses of His Word!

Unbelievers have long tried to weaponize the Bible against those who believe God’s Word is inspired. A favorite “go to” is Matthew 7:1 (“judge not that you be not judged”) as a shield for any number of immoral deeds which Scripture itself condemns. This is often an effort to turn what people claim to follow (the Bible) against them to defend their actions. John 8:7 (“let him that is without sin cast the first stone”) is a close second and used similarly 

Yet, each of us needs to be careful not to remove a Bible verse from its context to make it say what it is not saying. Peter warned that “the untaught and unstable distort” the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). Often, it’s a general ideas like “God wants me to be happy” or misuses of Scripture like “where two or three are gathered together in my name” to have it say what it does not mean.  Perhaps we defend our actions with our physical or Christian family by appealing to wonderful Bible concepts like grace, love, and freedom, but in effect weaponize them to suit our lifestyle choices. Scripture itself says these concepts can be misappropriated (Jude 4, 1 Cor. 13:4-7, Gal. 5:13, etc.). 

Scripture is a powerful weapon which God intends for us to use in spiritual warfare (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:14-17). But, as with every weapon, it must be handled properly (2 Tim. 2:15). I must understand that God will be displeased if I misuse this omnipotent tool. Used properly and in context, Scripture is powerful. Used otherwise, we will hurt ourselves and probably others!

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TRY THE CONTEXT!

TRY THE CONTEXT!

Neal Pollard

“Big dummy!” That can be a derogatory statement or the description of a large mannequin. Context makes all the difference! So it is with matters of infinitely greater significance. So much religious error exists because of a failure to consider the context of biblical passages.

Our friends in religion who believe that Jesus is a created being rather than one of the three everlasting personalities of the Godhead defend their view with passages such as Colossians 1:15, which says, “He is the firstborn of all creation.” A further study of the use of the word “firstborn” shows that it is used literally (Heb. 11:28) and figuratively (Heb. 12:23) in the New Testament. Context determines the difference. What is it in Colossians 1:15? The context says that Jesus made everything that was made (16-17). Did He make Himself? No, He cannot both be literally, physically born and be the One who created “all things.” Logically, Paul is speaking in a figurative sense, that in His human nature Jesus is “at the head of His class.” He is first in order, preeminent among men (18). As a human, He is above us and first among all of us.

Others of our friends teach salvation by faith only. They appeal to a couple of passages to assert this idea. One passage is Acts 16:31, where the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is given as proof positive that salvation comes at the point of faith. Another text cited, the “golden text of the Bible,” says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This statement is made as part of a conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus.

In the case of the jailer, who saw the miraculous power of God in opening the jail doors and who asked what he must do to be saved, he is told to believe in Jesus. It is noteworthy to ask, “How much would the average Philippian jailer know about Jesus?” Thus, Luke adds the important detail that before we read of the man’s response, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him” (31). His response is found in verse 32, where he washes Paul and Silas’ wounds and is immediately baptized. This accords with the broader context of Acts, where believers are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38; 22:16).

In the case of Nicodemus’ instruction, Jesus’ makes the statement of John 3:16 in a certain context, too, a context that included talk of water (3:5) and an illustration from the book of Numbers. That illustration is very noteworthy for showing that more than belief is necessary for salvation. It concerns the serpents God sent upon the murmuring and complaining Israelites. Numbers 21:9 says, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” How did salvation come, simply by believing in God’s plan or by believing AND looking? Likewise, the broader context of scripture shows faith and works joined together. Israel did not earn the saving of their lives by looking any more than we earn salvation from sin by believing and being baptized. Yet, God makes it as essential to obey today as He did during the wilderness wandering. Context bears this out.

Let us never be “scripture isolationists,” those who peel a verse away from its context or who rest our confidence in doctrines that have been thus constructed. God saw to it that we would have His word and will preserved. How wise of us to make sure we properly study it in context!

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A Precept, A Principle, And A Practice

A Precept, A Principle, And A Practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard

Whether we are preaching, teaching, or simply trying to engage in spiritual self-improvement in personal study, our approach to Scripture, to be profitable, should have three basic components for maximum effectiveness.  When we are studying a Bible book and engaging in proper interpretation, we will discover a precept.  A “precept” is simply a rule meant to regulate how to live and behave.   The very word appears 19 times in Psalm 119 alone.  God’s Word is full of precepts, God showing us how He wants us to live.  When our attitude is to see the Bible as God guiding us through earthly life toward a heavenly home with Him, our time in study will be so profitable.  Such an approach will also help us open our mind to see the heart of God.  Thus, from precepts flow principles.  These are the inspired truths of God that form the foundation for how we view the world and how we live in it.  The more we are in that word, the more influenced we are going to be by God’s precepts in determining our principles.  We will look to see how His word applies in our lives.  If all is as it should be, these principles find their way into our practice.  He tells us, we accept and understand it, and then we do it.  How profoundly simple!  The Bible is not an archaic volume best meant as a shelf’s dust collection.  It is a living, breathing book (Heb. 4:12).  It is an exegetical, explanatory, exercise manual.  We grow thereby (cf. 1 Pet. 2:2).