What Is the Bible’s View?
Should Christians Practice Exorcism?
ANNELIESE MICHEL was only twenty-three years old. She was a student teacher at Klingenberg-on-Main, West Germany. When the young woman died of starvation on July 1, 1976, she weighed only 70 pounds (32 kilograms). And that death stirred up a controversy.
Death had come to Anneliese Michel after two Roman Catholic priests had attempted to exorcise five devils from the young woman’s body. This led to much criticism, for many German people feel that exorcism is a rite associated with medieval times and they believe that it should not be practiced today.
It may be that exorcism raises some questions in your mind. For instance, you may wonder exactly what it is and whether exorcism really works. But likely a more important question is: Should Christians practice exorcism?
What Is Exorcism?
An Encyclopædia of Occultism states: “To exorcise, according to the received definitions, says Smedley, is to bind upon oath, to charge upon oath, and thus, by the use of certain words, and performance of certain ceremonies, to subject the devil and other evil spirits to command and exact obedience.”
In its definition of “exorcism,” the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The act of driving out or warding off demons or evil spirits from persons, places, or things that are, or are believed to be, possessed or infested by them or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice.”
The Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law permits authorized ministers to perform exorcisms. The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “Formerly the book used in this ceremony was the book of exorcisms; today it may be the Pontifical, the Missal, or the Ritual. The handing of the book to the candidate is the necessary action, and the words of the ordaining prelate, as indicated in the Pontifical, the necessary formula.”
But Is It Scriptural?
We are told in Scripture: “But after it became evening, people brought him [Jesus Christ] many demon-possessed persons; and he expelled the spirits with a word, and he cured all who were faring badly.” (Matt. 8:16) So, Jesus did expel demons, and when this took place the person returned to a normal state of mind. Incidentally, there is a difference between demon possession and ordinary illness, for Christ cured both kinds of disorders.—Mark 1:32-34.
With what authority and power did Jesus expel demons? His authority was from Jehovah God, and by expelling demons from possessed persons, Jesus proved that he was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. Though they did so unwillingly, the demons were forced to recognize Jesus’ authority. (Matt. 8:28-34) And really, how could they have resisted him? Under other circumstances, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus said: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53) What success would a single demon, several of them, or even a legion of demons have in coping with such potential odds?—Luke 8:26-30.
Jesus left no doubt as to the power by which he expelled demons. The Gospel writer Luke tells us that Jesus expelled demons by “God’s finger.” But what is the symbolic meaning of this? Matthew’s Gospel account makes this clear in indicating that Jesus expelled demons by ‘God’s holy spirit,’ or Jehovah’s active force. (Luke 11:20; Matt. 12:28) Jesus himself confessed that it was by God’s power that he was able to expel demons.—Mark 5:18-20.
Jesus Christ gave authority over the demons to his twelve apostles, and later to the seventy men that he sent out. Consequently, in the name of Jesus they were able to cure demon-possessed persons. (Luke 9:1; 10:1, 17) Even a man who was not personally accompanying Jesus, but did believe in him, was able to expel demons by the use of Jesus’ name. (Mark 9:38-40) After Christ’s death the apostles continued to have this power. For instance, the apostle Paul expelled a “demon of divination” from a slave girl.—Acts 16:16-18.
Something Conspicuously Absent
Did Jesus perform some special ritual in order to expel the demons? Was a séance or any form of magic employed by Christ, his apostles or his other disciples when bringing relief to the demon-possessed?
No. Neither Jesus nor his first century followers possessed or used any “book of exorcism.” Moreover, nowhere in Holy Scripture does one find words, phrases or formulas that are supposed to be especially effective in expelling wicked spirits.
For that matter, the use of some form of magic is not compatible with true Christianity. Jehovah God instructed his people in centuries past: “There should not be found in you . . . a practicer of magic.” (Deut. 18:10) Significant is the action of those who became Christians in ancient Ephesus. We are told: “Quite a number of those who practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them up before everybody.” (Acts 19:18, 19) That city was noted for the “Ephesian letters,” of which it is said: “They seem to have consisted of certain combinations of letters or words, which, by being pronounced with certain intonations of voice, were believed to be effectual in expelling diseases, or evil spirits.” But those who became Christians in ancient Ephesus avoided any involvement with these world-famous “Ephesian letters.”
Then, Why Does It Seem to Work?
That Jesus Christ and his early disciples could expel demons is a matter of Bible record. However, when certain impostors, the seven sons of the priest Sceva, tried to do this in the name of “Jesus whom Paul preaches,” what happened? Why, the demon-possessed man seized and severely mauled them, stripping all seven of them naked. (Acts 19:13-16) So not all would-be exorcists have success, even if they use Jesus’ name.
Jesus Christ himself said: “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not . . . expel demons in your name . . . ?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you!” (Matt. 7:22, 23) As it is, sometimes spirit mediums are reported as casting out demons. But surely, neither they nor their exorcism have divine approval, for Jehovah God declared: “Do not turn yourselves to the spirit mediums.”—Lev. 19:31.
The Pharisees falsely charged that Jesus Christ expelled demons by means of Beelzebub, Satan the Devil. But they would say that God’s holy spirit, or active force, was responsible when their “sons” or disciples expelled demons. Thus the Pharisees sinned against the holy spirit by denying its evident operation when Jesus expelled demons. (Matt. 12:22-32) Actually, the Pharisees’ “sons” and others who were not Jesus’ disciples were children of the Devil. (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10) So, any claimed exorcism by them would actually be as agents of Satan. But in using them the Devil would not be divided against himself.—2 Cor. 11:14.
The Devil would in this way be advancing or increasing his power and influence over persons who were deceived. For instance, if a practicer of false religion exorcised a demon, is it not likely that the person relieved of obsession would be thankful? And is it not reasonable that he, his family, and his friends, would think that the exorcist was a person of true faith in God? Would they not be inclined to look into his religion, perhaps joining that organization? If that took place, Satan would have achieved a victory. He would have led the deceived ones away or diverted them from true religion, the worship of Jehovah God “with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24.
True, during the infancy of the Christian congregation, Jehovah God often enabled Jesus’ disciples to perform miracles under the power of His holy spirit. But such miraculous gifts of the spirit were no longer needed once it had been proved that the “hand of Jehovah” was with the followers of Jesus Christ. (Acts 11:21) Consequently, the miraculous gifts of the spirit and unusual demonstrations of its power passed away.—1 Cor. 13:8-13.
Is There No Help at All?
While there is no Scriptural authority for exorcism ritual today and true Christians do not practice it, that does not mean that godly persons have no protection from wicked spirit forces. They do, indeed, have all the help that is needed.
Any individual who believes that he is under attack by wicked spirit forces should shun spiritism, divination and related practices. (Deut. 18:10-12) If he is being harassed by “voices” from the spirit realm, no matter who they claim to be, he should not heed what they say. Rather, it is vital to recognize the source as the demons and to reject what is said.—2 Thess. 2:9.
Obviously, to resist wicked spirit forces, a person should guard against association with those who dabble in magic, witchcraft and the like. Instead, association should be sought with those who are true Christians. (1 Cor. 15:33) He should remove from his person and his home any object having any connection with demonic religion. Essential also is putting on the ‘complete suit of spiritual armor from God.’ It includes such ‘pieces of armor’ as the girdle of truth and “the breastplate of righteousness.”—Eph. 6:11-18; 2 Pet. 3:11.
Of vital importance is faith in Jehovah and earnest prayer to him. If under demon assault, it is essential to pray to Jehovah God through Jesus Christ, using the Divine Name. “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.” (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:6, 7) Appointed overseers in the Christian congregation gladly have assisted those desiring to serve God but who were being troubled by the demons. Yet, the mental attitude of the individual himself is of importance. It is vital to resist wicked spirit forces, and this is effective. “Oppose the Devil,” wrote the disciple James, “and he will flee from you.”—Jas. 4:7.
Modern-day exorcism with its ritual is not the answer to demon possession. Rather, Jehovah God has lovingly provided protection from wicked spirit forces, and prudent persons will avail themselves of it. No, Christians should not practice exorcism rites. But they should keep their minds and hearts fixed on the worship and service of their heavenly Father.