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Showing posts with label demons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label demons. Show all posts

Monday 15 February 2021

The Burke-Buzzard Devil Debate

I watched with interest the recent online debate on the topic, Are Satan & Demons Personal Beings? between Sir Anthony Buzzard (Restoration Fellowship) and Jonathan Burke (Christadelphian). The topic has been a primary interest of mine over the past two decades—largely due to my Christadelphian background—and the question itself is one on which I have changed my mind (from 'No' to 'Yes') during that period. Sir Anthony (henceforth AB) has been an important influence, as it was his essay, Satan, the Personal Devil that led me to first think critically about the Christadelphian view that I had hitherto been taught. Jonathan (henceforth JB) has been an interlocutor of mine over the years, mainly in online correspondence, Facebook discussions, and blog articles, but also in a published exchange in the journal Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok.1

In this article I am not going to give an exhaustive commentary on the debate, but offer some impressions based on notes I jotted down while watching the debate live. First, I must heartily commend the participants—the moderator, Tracy (whose surname is unfortunately unknown to me), and the two debaters—for a civil and amicable discussion. It was, in fact, a model of decorum: no interrupting, talking over each other, snide remarks, bickering, etc. Both debaters expressed their personal respect for the other and emphasised the common ground they hold on other theological topics (being both unitarian restorationists).

The format of the debate consisted of a brief opening statement from each side, followed by a 40-minute discussion where the two debaters would ask each other questions, followed by a brief closing statement from each side, and lastly a Q&A session where the moderator pulled up audience questions from the chat. Before getting into the content, a comment on the big picture. The question, "Are Satan & Demons Personal Beings?" is a theological one; it was not phrased at a purely exegetical level (such as, "Does the Bible Portray Satan & Demons as Personal Beings?") Nevertheless, the content of the debate was largely exegetical. AB had almost nothing to say about the theological significance of his "Yes" answer, even when pressed by JB. For his part, JB commented briefly on what he sees as some theological and ethical problems with the "Yes" view. Given that personhood is a complex philosophical concept, and that the term "personal beings" (as we moderns understand it) does not occur in Scripture, one might have expected both sides to offer, or better yet agree on, a definition of "personal beings" up front.2 Otherwise, how do we know both sides are answering the same question?

Opening Statements

In JB's opening statement, he begins by appealing for "hermeneutical consistency." What he means is that, given the unitarian belief system shared by both sides, biblical texts about Satan and demons should be interpreted in a way consistent with how unitarians interpret challenging texts on other topics, such as Christology and hell. (This is, of course, problematic for audience members who do not share the unitarian belief system, but perhaps I was the only viewer who faced that problem.) JB poses the rhetorical question whether a unitarian belief system is compatible with an "autonomously powerful evil Satan," or whether such a being would be tantamount to a second god. This challenge extends equally to Christian orthodoxy, in that an "autonomously powerful evil Satan" would equally undermine classical Trinitarian monotheism. The answer to the conundrum, of course, is that the Church does not teach, and has never taught, that Satan is "autonomously powerful." The Church has always taught that Satan is a mere creature, specifically an angel, who therefore exercises no more power than God allows him.3 Since this is also AB's well-known position, JB's opening salvo amounts to a strawman. To his credit, toward the end of the debate, JB batted down another caricature of classical Christian doctrine on the Devil, when he objected to a Q&A question suggesting that belief in the Devil could be used to excuse any sin, per "the Devil made me do it."

The rest of JB's opening statement focused on issues of "socio-cultural context," "scholarly literature," and "New Testament satan & demons." He asserted the need for consistency of interpretation across both testaments, and stated that in the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish literature, terms like satanas/satan are used of the inclination to sin, an obedient angel, and as a common noun, while diabolos is used as a common noun and of humans, and other terms such as 'the evil one' and 'the tempter' do not occur at all. He makes the factually incorrect assertion that diabolos always occurs with the article.4

Turning to scholarship, JB claims that scholars have abandoned the idea that Satan and demons appear in the OT, claims that scholars propose various perspectives on Jesus' wilderness temptation (whether a visionary experience, symbolic description, dramatisation, or personal temptation), and claims that scholars say Jesus didn't share his contemporaries' belief in demons. This is not the place to engage at length with JB's citations; interested readers can refer to some of my writings for comprehensive engagement with scholarly literature on this subject. However, given that the scholarly literature is an area where much of the audience probably had little knowledge, it was JB's duty to mention the weight of scholarly opinion both for and against his own positions. Instead, he cited only literature that agreed with him, leaving the audience with a skewed idea of scholarly opinion. I will just comment on one instance. On a slide on "Jesus' Views," JB cites only one source (in contrast to the previous slide, which had cited about a dozen). The slide leaves the audience with the impression that JB's ideas about Jesus' views on demonology are well-supported in scholarship. In fact, not only is the opposite true,5 but the source JB cites here (Ferngren) disagrees markedly with his position.6

JB concludes his opening statement with a brief survey of New Testament passages on the Satan and demons. He focuses on a few texts that he believes are problematic for a personal view of the Satan, such as Matthew 16:23, Acts 5:3-4, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:20, and 2 Corinthians 12:7. In fact, none of these texts are inconsistent with a personal view of the Satan.7 JB makes much of the absence of exorcisms in the Gospel of John,8 offering an argument from silence.

In AB's opening statement, he emphasises that JB concedes that satan in the OT is external, not internal, which he regards as an important concession. He stresses the significance of the definite article in New Testament usage of the terms diabolos and satanas (the Devil and the Satan, not merely a devil or a satan). He argues that proserchomai ("to come to") is an "astonishingly clear" word in Matthew 4:3, indicating the externality of the encounter between Jesus and the Devil. He helpfully draws a contrast between this narrative and Luke 12:19, where the rich fool really does have a conversation with himself, and this is clear from the text. He also contrasts the Satan and demons, which are consistently addressed as persons, with biblical usage of personification, such as for Wisdom. He asserts that Satan/Devil is the personal name of a personal evil being. AB—rightly in my view—criticises JB's claim that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written for uninformed novice Christians and John for more mature believers who could handle the full truth that demons do not exist.9 AB also criticises JB for adducing a lot of extra-biblical quotations. On this point, I would side with JB, as the latter is not quoting these texts as authoritative but in order to describe the historical context, the thought-world, from which the New Testament emanates, which is very helpful for correctly interpreting the meaning of New Testament terminology. The problem is that I do not think JB paints an accurate picture of Second Temple Jewish thought from the texts he quotes.10

Direct Discussion

The direct discussion proceeded. It was not entirely clear to me whether the format was that the two debaters would take turn asking each other questions, or each had a certain time allocation to ask the other a battery of questions. Either way, it seemed to me as though AB asked a lot more questions of JB than the other way around. The first questions concerned the presence or absence of the yetzer hara ("evil inclination") concept in the Old and New Testaments (since JB identifies the Devil in the wilderness temptation narratives as the yetzer hara operating within Jesus). AB pressed JB for an explicit equation of the Devil/Satan with the yetzer hara in Scripture; JB argued that the equation is implicit. AB asked JB how he understood the term "demons" in James 2:19; JB replied that it is an ironic reference to foreign gods.11 There was some discussion of whether demons and their victims are distinguished in the Gospel exorcism narratives (which they are).12 AB offered another grammatical argument, namely that one who is addressed in the vocative is a person.13 JB responded that his argument does not hinge on the grammatical details, but on whether the text is to be taken literally or figuratively. As evidence of the latter, he cited a Talmudic interpretation of a text from 2 Samuel in which the yetzer hara was inferred to be a character in the story.14 AB noted that the Christadelphians' founders (John Thomas and Robert Roberts) understood Jesus' tempter to be external; JB countered that other Christadelphians of the time disagreed with them, and that their opinions are not sacrosanct. AB asked whether there is any leading commentator on Matthew who takes an internal view of the temptation. JB responded that some scholars read it as a visionary experience, dramatisation, etc.15

JB asked of AB why the New Testament does not use terminology for the Devil such as Mastema and Sammael that were used in other contemporaneous literature. AB countered that other such terms, such as Belial (2 Cor. 6:15) and Beelzebul (Matt. 10:25; 12:24-27 and parallels) are used.16 AB emphasised that there is no disagreement between the debaters on the evil in human nature; the difference is in whether the evil in human nature is the Devil. AB asked JB about the meaning of the verb proserchomai, used in Matthew 4:3 ("The tempter came and said to him," NRSV). JB was prepared with a slide showing that the verb can be used in a figurative sense, as in "a shudder came over me" (Shepherd of Hermas, Visions 3.1.5). AB insisted that it is biblical usage of the word that matters; JB responded that the Bible doesn't use a different Greek from non-canonical literature of the time. On this point, I side with JB; however, AB was right to insist on the importance of Matthew's use of the verb, especially as Matthew uses it again within the same pericope in an obviously literal fashion ("Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him," 4:11). In fact, JB's insistence on a figurative sense for proserchomai here reflects an inconsistency in his overall argument on the temptation narrative.17

JB asked whether teaching on Satan and demons is consistent throughout Scripture. AB responded that there is development in the concept, but that by the time we get to Revelation, we have a being who is "called" (indicative of a proper name) Devil and Satan. JB pressed AB on whether the NT understanding of Satan and demons (as he sees it) is in the OT; AB responded, "No, it is not."18 JB then cited commentators on Revelation who identify the language about the dragon/Satan as referring symbolically to the actions of Rome. In effect, then, the devil is Rome; Rome is the pre-eminent manifestation of that evil power. AB disagreed that the dragon is Rome, and asked what the beast is, if we make that identification? JB noted that the Evangelical scholar Beale concedes that, in Revelation, Satan is behind Rome. There seems to be a lack of precision here about the relationship between the dragon and Rome.19

In what were probably JB's best moments of the debate, he pressed AB on the contemporary, practical significance of Satan and demons. He asked AB how he would distinguish Satanic temptation from internal temptation today, and AB responded that he had no idea, but it does not matter.20 JB asked whether first-century Jews could tell if anyone was demon-possessed; AB replied that it doesn't matter, but Jesus could. JB then observed that Jesus never diagnosed anyone with demon-possession; AB responded that if "Come out of him" is not a diagnosis, what is?21 JB asked whether there is exorcism today; AB was unsure.22

Closing Statements

In JB's closing statement, he focused strongly on empirical and ethical arguments. For instance, he asked, "When you are tempted, does Satan come up to you?"23 And, "Have you ever seen people demonically possessed?"24 Working from Jesus' teaching on good and bad fruit in Matthew 7, JB points out that belief in Satan and demons has produced plenty of bad fruit (e.g., witch hunts, injuries incurred in botched exorcisms, failure to seek medical care due to belief in a supernatural cause),25 but is unaware of any good fruit produced by these ideas.26 JB concludes that temptation is fundamentally a matter of the human heart.27

AB's closing statement quoted at length from a scholar who observed that, given the clarity and emphasis with which the Synoptic Gospels affirm the reality of demon-possession and Jesus' exorcisms, the truth of these Gospels—and thus the truth of Christianity—are jeopardised if their testimony on this subject is false.28 AB then reiterated his central claim, that if one pays close attention to the language and grammar of the biblical text, it speaks clearly about the reality of Satan and demons.


For sake of space, I will not say much about the audience questions and debaters' answers, most of which pertained to the meaning of particular biblical passages about Satan or demons. Let me just comment briefly on my question, which was directed to JB:
Septuagint translation of Job 1-2 and Zech 3 renders hassatan as ho diabolos. Is this the main source of the technical term ho diabolos that occurs dozens of times in the New Testament?
The moderator and both debaters spoke as though this question had largely been addressed by JB's observation—which AB conceded—that there is no single Satan or diabolos figure in the Old Testament. However, the point I was driving at was the following:

(1) hassatan in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 (Hebrew Bible) is an external adversary (admitted by both sides). 
(2) hassatan in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 is translated in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version with ho diabolos
(3) The Greek Septuagint was the version of Scripture used in most early Christian churches outside the Holy Land, including the earliest readers of the New Testament (which was also written in Greek). 
(4) Therefore, when the earliest readers of the New Testament documents encountered the term ho diabolos in the text, they were encountering a term familiar to them from Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 LXX, and would accordingly have interpreted the figure as an external adversary.29

In post-debate correspondence, AB has acknowledged the force of this argument. Thus, I think the question still needs to be answered, because JB's view—for all his claims of consistency between the Testaments—posits a disconnect on the diabolos/Satan between Old and New Testaments, when in fact there is striking continuity.30

Overall Analysis

I have no interest in adjudicating who "won" the debate on a personal level, and probably neither do the debaters. From my own studies of the topic, I have become convinced that the Scriptures testify clearly to the "personal" reality of the Satan and demons31 (notwithstanding that belief in transcendent beings—and transcendent causes—is out of favour in the post-Enlightenment West). I believe that AB brought that clarity across successfully. 

As far as the exegetical part of the argument, I found AB's arguments to be simple yet forceful, and JB's to be convoluted and unconvincing. What stood out for me was that AB argued directly from the details of the text, from lexical meaning and from syntax. By contrast, JB's arguments tended to focus more on broader issues such as genre and alleged extra-biblical parallels from the "socio-cultural context," and less on what the biblical text actually says. JB's hermeneutical method features a willingness to infer figurative or ironic meanings when there is little or no warrant within the text for doing so. Consequently, his arguments run afoul of Ockham's Razor. For me, one of the most telling statements in the debate from JB was the following (beginning c. 43:27 in the YouTube video). After AB offered syntactic arguments for interpreting the demons as persons in the text (e.g., masculine participles), JB responded,
Well the point is of course I'm not making my argument from grammar; I believe that it means what it says, that people actually understood that to be, for example, a demon being addressed...
Thus, when demons are depicted in the Gospels as though persons, this apparently is the authors' meaning, and it is how their readers understood them. Yet, it is not the meaning we should draw, because the writers did not actually believe their own meaning, but merely accommodated their readers' ignorance. This is a startlingly bold claim to make, and it needs to be backed by compelling positive evidence, but it is not. 

The same is true of JB's interpretation of the wilderness temptation accounts. I did not actually hear any point in the debate when JB defended his view exegetically. He asserted that the Devil here is the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, and that the genre of these accounts is not narrative, but something else that is figurative. Since the genre within the Synoptic Gospels as a whole is narrative, and since all three transition into and out of this pericope just as they do so many other episodes in the life of Jesus, and since they use the same kind of language that they use elsewhere to describe actual interpersonal encounters and dialogue, why should we conclude that these particular accounts follow a completely different genre? Something much more weighty is needed than centuries-later rabbinic parallels in which the yetzer hara is mentioned explicitly (rather than needing to be introduced as a gloss for ho diabolos). What is needed is positive evidence from the text itself. Yet not only is this evidence not forthcoming, but in my own experience, when JB is presented with evidence from the text that contradicts his position, he dismisses it as irrelevant, because his argument is not about what the text says.32

Perhaps not all Christadelphians will agree with JB's interpretations of key passages about the Devil and demons. However, Christadelphians should take note that JB has probably studied this topic more, and written about it more, than any other Christadelphian. He is an intelligent man, an able logician, and he has plumbed the depths for the best possible defence of the Christadelphian position. This has led him to move away from what the text actually says; and that should be concerning to any "Berean"-minded student of Scripture.

JB's strongest point in the debate was pressing AB on the contemporary significance and value of belief in Satan and demons. AB effectively shrugged off all such questions, and they are valid questions. The other important take-away from this debate was that both debaters were a model of decorum, setting a fine example for the rest of us on how Christians ought to conduct themselves when arguing matters of the faith.
  • 1 Jonathan Burke, 'Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Minority Report,' Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 81 (2016): 127-68; Thomas J. Farrar, 'Satanology and Demonology in the Apostolic Fathers: A Response to Jonathan Burke,' Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 83 (2018): 156-91.
  • 2 This is true of other theological subjects, too. I am always amazed at how lengthy theological debates on the Trinity or the ontology of the Holy Spirit can run their course without either side ever giving a philosophically precise definition of the term "person."
  • 3 For scriptural passages showing that the Satan requires God's permission to act, and is aware of this, see, e.g., Job 1-2, Luke 4:6, Luke 22:31.
  • 4 JB states that the word always occurs in the form the diabolos. In fact, diabolos is anarthrous in 1 Chr. 21:1 LXX, Ps. 108:6 LXX, 1 Macc. 1:36, and Wis. 2:24. Within the LXX corpus, it occurs with the article only in Esther 7:4, 8:1, Job 1-2, and Zech. 3:1-2. All of these latter instances refer to the personal transcendent being that eventually became "the Devil," with the exception of those in Esther, where it refers to Haman. In grammatical terms, the uses of the article with diabolos in Esther 7:4, 8:1 LXX are cataphoric and anaphoric, respectively. Esther tells the king that her people are to be destroyed, but that she has hitherto kept silent, "For the slanderer (ho diabolos) is not worthy of the court of the king" (7:4). This creates dramatic effect, for the reader immediately wants to know who she is referring to, and this is precisely what the king asks in 7:5 ("Who is this who dared to do this deed?") Esther then identifies Haman as "this wicked one"; hence the article in 7:4 is cataphoric, with "the" slanderer referring to the specific slanderer that is to be identified in 7:6. Similarly, the article in 8:1 ("King Artaxerxes granted to Esther all that belonged to Haman the slanderer [ho diabolos]") is anaphoric, referring back to the slanderer introduced in 7:4 and identified in 7:6. Thus, far from being a precedent for applying ho diabolos to various referents in the NT despite the use of the article, this text represents a contrast. The occurrence of ho diabolos in the NT never elicits the question, "Who?" because it is assumed that the reader knows who is meant. By this time, ho diabolos had become a technical term for a specific personal being, probably by reading Job 1-2 LXX and Zech. 3:1-2 LXX together and inferring that the same being is in view.
  • 5 There is a scholarly consensus that Jesus and the Synoptic Evangelists believed in demons and in the efficacy of exorcism. For numerous quotations from scholarly literature, see pp. 11-16 of my online article, 'When an unclean spirit goes out of a person': An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • 6 JB summarises as Ferngren stating that "Jesus didn't share first century Palestinian demonology" and that "Gospels don't record either Jesus' or the gospel writers' explanation of demon possession." The level of support for JB's position conveyed by these statements is unremarkable. Ferngren does state, "The evidence...does not suggest that Jesus shared the demonology of his Palestinian contemporaries" (Gary B. Ferngren, Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009], 45), but this is very different from stating that Jesus had no demonology. In fact, the main differences that Ferngren highlights between Jesus and his contemporaries are (i) his method of exorcism, (ii) his personal authority over demons, and (iii) the careful distinction that Jesus and the Evangelists make between healings and exorcisms, and thus between disease and demon-possession. That the Gospels do not record Jesus' or the gospel writers' explanation of demon-possession in no way favours the view that Jesus or the gospel writers disbelieved in demon-possession. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus, not of demons. We would therefore not expect the Evangelists to explain the phenomenon of demon-possession, unless they believed that their readers needed such an explanation. Thus, the absence of such an explanation actually suggests that the Evangelists assumed that their readers knew what demon-possession was, and saw no need to correct or supplement their readers' understanding. Finally, Ferngren clearly affirms that the Evangelists believed in Satan and demons: "The frequency with which demons appear on the pages of the Gospels reflects the Evangelists' belief that the advent of Jesus's kingdom brought about a spiritual conflict with the forces of Satan. Jesus' exorcism of demons was one dimension of this conflict, which they viewed as 'a cosmic struggle in history to inaugurate the eschatological reign of God.'" (Medicine and Health Care, 45). Again, "Chapters 1 through 8 [of Mark] picture Jesus as a powerful miracle worker, through whom God, the Great Warrior, is undoing the evil brought about by Satan's control of the world. Hence in his frequent confrontations with demons Jesus repeatedly challenges the powers of darkness... there are several indications that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists believed that disease was ordinarily caused by demons... while the Gospel writers speak of Jesus's healing and exorcism as related aspects of his messiahship, they routinely distingiush between them... Exorcism and healing denoted different aspects of Jesus's messianic ministry, not a single act." (Medicine and Health Care, 45-46). Thus, Ferngren's view is broadly consistent with the scholarly consensus that Jesus and the Evangelists believed in demons.
  • 7 On Mark 8:33 (parallel to Matt. 16:23), see Thomas J. Farrar and Guy J. Williams, 'Diabolical Data: A Critical Inventory of New Testament Satanology,' Journal for the Study of the New Testament 39(1) (2016): 49-50 (preprint accessible here). On 2 Corinthians 12:7 (where the phrase in question should be translated, 'angel of Satan'), see sources cited in Farrar and Williams, 'Diabolical Data,' 48 n. 35. On 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 1 Timothy 1:20, there is no difficulty once we appreciate that punishment is one of the Satan's God-given roles. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 5:5, given the Passover allusion, Paul is probably identifying the Satan with "the Destroyer" from the Passover narrative (Ex. 12:23; cf. 1 Cor. 10:10; further discussion in Farrar and Williams, 'Diabolical Data,' 54-56). On Acts 5:3-4, JB makes much in the debate on the parallelism between vv. 3 and 4. There is indeed a parallelism, whereby Ananias' act is described in v. 3 as "Why has the Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" and restated in v. 4 as "Why did you contrive this deed in your heart?" Both statements identify Ananias' heart as the locus of the temptation. One says that the Satan filled his heart, the other that Ananias contrived the deed in his heart. JB's inference is that "the Satan" = "contrived"; thus, the Satan is an internal impulse. However, it is equally plausible that the two statements are describing the same event from two different angles and at two different levels of causality. Ananias allowed the Satan to infiltrate his heart, and Ananias contrived the plan to lie about his donation. Not only is this latter explanation plausible, but it is much more consistent with the wider context of Luke-Acts, in which the Satan is depicted as an external being who converses with Jesus and departs from him (Luke 4:1-13), "falls from heaven" (Luke 10:18), "comes" and takes away God's Word from people's hearts (Luke 8:12), "enters into" Judas so as to tempt him (Luke 22:3), and "demands" (of God) to sift the disciples (Luke 22:31).
  • 8 On this, see Thomas J. Farrar, 'New Testament Satanology and Leading Suprahuman Opponents in Second Temple Jewish Literature: A Religio-Historical Analysis,' Journal of Theological Studies 70(1) (2019): 66-67. Preprint can be accessed here.
  • 9 On this point, see my ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a person,’ 25-28.
  • 10 For a detailed alternative account, see Farrar, 'New Testament Satanology and Leading Suprahuman Opponents,' 31-57. Preprint can be accessed here.
  • 11 For a detailed analysis of this text, including a refutation of JB's view, see my article, Even the Demons Believe and Shudder: Demonology in the Epistle of James.
  • 12 See ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a person,’ 19-20.
  • 13 The vocative case indicates direct, second-person address. In modern English it does not come through in translation, but in the KJV is often conveyed by the word "O." Since it requires intelligence to understand speech, being addressed in the vocative is ordinarily an indication that the one addressed is a person. However, this is not universally the case. For instance, in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), impersonal objects such as mountains and hills are often addressed poetically in the vocative in the psalms and prophets (e.g., 2 Kingdoms [2 Samuel] 1:21; Ps. 67:16-17[68:15-16]).
  • 14 As a contextual argument, citing rabbinic literature is not particularly weighty. The Talmuds date from several centuries after Christ, so citing the Talmud in New Testament exegesis is roughly the chronological equivalent of citing Augustine of Hippo or other Church Fathers. Moreover, while the Talmuds contain many attributions to earlier rabbis, eminent Jewish scholars like Jacob Neusner have warned that it is methodologically invalid to accept these attributions uncritically.
  • 15 Reading the temptation story as a visionary experience is no help to the "internal yetzer hara" view of the Devil. Matthew describes the Transfiguration event as a "vision" (horama, 17:9), but this does not mean that Moses and Elijah were projections of the apostles' inner psyches! Similarly, Luke refers to encounters with angels as visions (1:22; 24:23), and Acts describes "visions" in which people engage in dialogue with supernatural persons (angels or the Lord, e.g., Acts 9:10-16, 10:3-7, 10:10-17). "Dramatisation" is an unclear term; what is clear is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all weave this incident into their narrative like any other pericope, using similar transitions, pronouns, and verbs. They give the reader no indication whatsoever that this incident is of an entirely different genre and nature than all of the other incidents they record about Jesus.
  • 16 The broader point is that terminological parallels are less important than conceptual parallels. The NT writers show a clear consolidation toward using ho diabolos and ho satanas as the normative names or designations of the transcendent opponent, but there are striking conceptual parallels with other Second Temple Jewish texts that use other terminology. This is a central thesis of my JTS article, 'New Testament Satanology and Leading Suprahuman Opponents' (see esp. pp. 57-62). Preprint can be accessed here.
  • 17 JB's overall argument seems to be that the temptation story is figurative as a whole, at the level of genre—hence his insistence, when confronted by the argument from the vocative, that his argument is not a grammatical one. In fact, when I made the argument from Matthew's use of proserchomai previously on my blog, JB insisted in his response that this argument was irrelevant because of the genre of the passage ("such arguments hold no weight with the consensus of scholars who believe the temptation accounts are not historical narrative, and that the temptation itself was indeed figurative, symbolic, or visionary"). Yet now, in the debate, JB appears to be hedging his bets by insisting that the passage is figurative at the level of individual words—even if this means ignoring a consistent pattern of Matthean usage.
  • 18 I would agree, and it should come as no surprise, given the development from Old to New Testaments on so many other doctrines (Messiah, resurrection, Holy Spirit, angelology, etc.) The pithy saying attributed to St. Augustine is à propos here: "The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed."
  • 19 Most commentators, ancient and modern, would agree that "the beast" in Revelation is Rome, given the precedent in Daniel whereby beasts represent earthly kingdoms (Dan. 7:23), and the political reality of Rome's ascendancy at the time Revelation was written. However, the beast and the dragon are clearly distinguished in Revelation, and their relationship is indicated in 13:2: "To [the beast] the dragon gave its own power and throne, along with great authority." Thus, the dragon—explicitly identified as the Devil and Satan in 12:9 and 20:2—is an entity that empowers Rome, and not Rome itself. Further evidence that we cannot make the equation Satan = Rome in Revelation is found in 2:9 and 3:9, where we find the expression "the synagogue of Satan." The synagogue of Rome? Obviously not; thus Satan is a power behind both Roman and Jewish opposition to the faithful. The best indication of the dragon's literal identity in Revelation (besides the names "Devil" and "Satan," which would already have been plenty clear to the original audience) is the description of war in heaven between "Michael and his angels" and "the dragon and its angels." Michael is not a symbol, but the name of an archangel (Jude 9), and thus his angels are also not symbols, but are actual angels. This implies that the dragon's angels are also actual angels, and that the dragon/serpent/Devil/Satan is also an angel.
  • 20 I would basically agree, and an analogy could be made to divine providence. How do we distinguish between providential vs. natural causes of events in our lives? If I asked God for wisdom, and I subsequently became wiser, how would I differentiate between my own efforts (e.g., study and meditation) vs. divine help? Clearly, we humans cannot—under ordinary circumstances—recognize and differentiate supernatural causes from natural ones.
  • 21 In fact, it is the narrators who diagnose individuals in the narrative as demon-possessed, just as they diagnose other individuals with leprosy, blindness, etc. Yet AB is correct, in that by performing exorcisms on persons identified by the narrator as demon-possessed, Jesus is clearly depicted as agreeing with the diagnosis.
  • 22 In fact, there is well-documented evidence of exorcisms today, and the Catholic Church to this day has priests who perform exorcisms, just as the apostles did. However, demon-possession is relatively rare, and the Church resorts to exorcism only when there is strong evidence of demonic possession and all ordinary psychiatric treatment methods have been exhausted.
  • 23 One might as well ask, "When you were baptized, did the Holy Spirit descend on you like a dove and a voice speak from heaven?" or, "When the Lord answers your prayers, does he do so by sending an angel to visit you?" If the answers are "No," does this imply that baptism is of no benefit, that the Lord does not answer prayer, or that his angels no longer minister to his people?
  • 24 Since when has having personally seen something been a valid precondition for belief? Christianity is a religion of faith! Moreover, there is ample evidence that spirit-possession is a real phenomenon even today, though many of the anthropologists and psychologists who document it do not regard it as actual spirit-possession, due to their materialistic assumptions precluding this possibility.
  • 25 Witch hunts do not follow from belief in Satan and demons, but from other false and superstitious ideas. No well-informed ecclesiastical tradition or individual Christian today condones witch hunts. It is technically true that witch hunts would never have happened without belief in supernatural evil. However, it does not therefore follow that non-belief in supernatural evil is correct. If that argument were valid, then atrocities committed by people who believed they were doing God's will would be sufficient to justify atheism. Similarly, if one refrained from seeking medical care due to a belief in demons, this would reflect a false belief that medical care and exorcism are competing, mutually exclusive alternatives. In fact, the Church has always been at the forefront of medical care, and (as was mentioned in a previous footnote) resorts to exorcism only as a last resort. As for a severe injury received during an exorcism, I believe this is very rare. I would add that there are plenty of phony exorcists. I would further add that demon-possession is a dangerous phenomenon, as the biblical testimony itself describes spirits inducing their victims to injure or destroy themselves (Mark 5:5; 9:22). There is, consequently, some risk associated with an exorcism. There is also some risk associated with most medical treatments, so this is not exceptional.
  • 26 If people really do suffer from demon-possession and can be helped by exorcism, this is a clear and substantial "good fruit." For JB to dismiss this good fruit, he must first show that demon-possession is not real and thus that exorcism has no efficacy. But this is the very point under debate. Looking more broadly, most Christians would agree that having a sound theology of evil is helpful in the spiritual life, even if one cannot point to obvious instances where correctly believing in the Devil's existence brings concrete, practical benefit. However, this is true of many other theological ideas. What are the good fruit of belief in angels, for instance? It is not obvious; but we trust in God that every truth that he has revealed is beneficial to know. JB's "fruit" argument seems to be a misapplication of Jesus' message in Matthew 7:15-20 (which is actually about prophets, not their teachings). One might add that a "bad fruit" of non-belief in supernatural evil is that it requires very shoddy exegesis and hermeneutics to sustain, and once one begins to practice such, it may lead to errors in more fundamental areas of theology.
  • 27 Absolutely; and the human heart is by nature morally compromised. However, it can also be infiltrated by the Devil (e.g., Luke 8:12; Acts 5:3-4), which is not the same thing.
  • 28 This, I think, indirectly answers JB's question by identifying a "good fruit" of belief in Satan and demons: it reflects fidelity to the testimony of Scripture in an age where belief in the supernatural is dismissed by the dominant culture.
  • 29 Adding weight to this argument is the testimony of Justin Martyr. Writing around the 150s, Justin is the earliest extant Christian writer to quote directly from Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2. When he does, he makes it clear that these passages are key source texts for the Christian idea of the devil (Dialogue with Trypho 79.4, 103.5, 115-116). For further discussion of Justin's views, see Thomas J. Farrar, 'The Intimate and Ultimate Adversary: Satanology in Early Second-Century Christian Literature,' Journal of Early Christian Studies 26 (2018): 543-44 (preprint accessible here).
  • 30 This continuity is not removed by the concession that, from a grammatical-historical point of view, "the satan" in Job and Zechariah is not yet understood as a wicked being. Christian theological interpretation of the Old Testament moves beyond the grammatical-historical sense in light of the fuller revelation received through Christ.
  • 31 I put "personal" in quotation marks to defer to the terminology of the debate question while acknowledging the complexity of "personhood." I would say that Satan and demons are as personal as angels, except for the extent to which "personhood," being a good attribute, is compromised by evil.
  • 32 For an example of this, see his response to my ten-point argument concerning the wilderness temptation accounts. After arguing that the genre of the accounts is "haggadic midrash, not narrative," he summarily dismisses most of my other arguments on that basis, without even interacting with what the text says.

Monday 12 February 2018

Even the Demons Believe and Shudder: Demonology in the Epistle of James

1. Introduction
 1.1. The Remark in Context
2. Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19b
 2.1. Ta daimonia as Mentally Ill Humans
 2.2. Ta daimonia as Idols or Non-Existent False Gods
3. Proposed Interpretation
 3.1. Ta daimonia as Evil Transcendent Beings
 3.2. "Shuddering" in Ancient Sources
  3.2.1. Shuddering and Daemons in Ancient Greco-Roman Sources
  3.2.2. Shuddering and Demons in Early Jewish and Christian Literature
 3.3. Demonic Pseudo-Wisdom in James 3:15
 3.4. The Contribution of James 2:19b to the Argument of James 2:14-26
4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In the midst of a famous paragraph about faith and works (James 2:14-26), the Epistle of James makes a passing remark that sounds obscure and strange to modern ears: "Even the demons believe and shudder" (James 2:19b). At first glance, it seems obvious that a writer who asserts that demons "believe and shudder" thinks that demons actually exist. However, this inference about James's worldview is not made by Christadelphians, a sect that disbelieves in demons and all other forms of supernatural evil and claims that the Bible uniformly supports this theological position.

Christadelphian writers have adopted two distinct interpretations of James 2:19b, and in particular of the meaning of ta daimonia. In this article I interact critically with Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19 and argue that this text indeed presupposes the reality of demons. This conclusion, which enjoys virtually unanimous support among biblical scholars, is supported by by religion-historical parallels to the notion of demons shuddering, by another passage where the writer refers to demons (James 3:15), and by the role of James 2:19b in James's argument about faith and works.

1.1. The Remark in Context

Before discussing the two Christadelphian interpretations, let us quote the remark in its context:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:14-20 NRSV)
Note that the noun "faith" in this passage shares in Greek the same stem as the verb "believe" in v. 19 (noun pistis; verb pisteuō). This close correspondence, which is important to understanding v. 19, is unfortunately lost in translation. The Greek of v. 19 reads, su pisteueis hoti heis estin ho theos, kalōs poieis; kai ta daimonia pisteuousin kai phrissousin.1 Apart from some variations in the word order and precise construction of the phrase "God is one," there are no significant text-critical problems. There is little diversity among English translations of James 2:19b. Some translate the first kai as "Even" while others render it "also."2 Some translate phrissō as "tremble" while most have "shudder." Some translators insert "that" after believe, indicating that they understand the content of the demons' belief to be "that God is one" from the preceding clause.3 My own translation of James 2:19 is, "You (singular) believe that God is one—well done! Even the demons believe and shudder."

2. Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19b

One encounters two main approaches to James 2:19b in Christadelphian literature. These approaches differ both from each other and from mainstream biblical scholarship on the meaning of the term ta daimonia. The first approach understands ta daimonia to refer to demon-possessed humans, which Christadelphians gloss as "mentally disturbed humans" (since Christadelphians deny that demon-possession is a real phenomenon and that the inspired biblical writers could have regarded it as such). The second approach understands ta daimonia to refer to pagan idols or false gods that do not exist. Certain Christadelphian writers hedge their bets between both of these approaches. We will describe each interpretation in more detail and critique it before offering our own exegesis of the remark.

2.1. Ta daimonia as Mentally Ill Humans

The first interpretation reads ta daimonia not as "the demons" but as "metonymy for the [supposedly] demon possessed people, and their observed 'trembling' at the time of their cure."4 The statement is taken as an allusion to the demon-possessed humans that Jesus healed, as we read about in the Synoptic Gospels—perhaps even specifically to "Legion" (Matt. 8:28-34).5 Since Christadelphians do not read the Gospels as narrating cases of actual demon-possession and exorcism but as describing mental illnesses in language that accommodated the ignorance of the ancients, Christadelphians following the "demon-possessed humans" interpretation of James 2:19b gloss ta daimonia as "mentally disturbed people."6 Christadelphians favouring this interpretation include Duncan Heaster (with some qualification and vacillation),7 Wes Booker,8 Alfred Norris,9 George Booker (again with vacillation),10 H. P. Mansfield,11 F. G. Jannaway,12 Ron Abel (in the popular Christadelphian resource Wrested Scripture)13 and Jonathan Burke.14

The "demon-possessed humans" interpretation of ta daimonia in James 2:19 faces a simple and serious difficulty: the word daimonion never means "demon-possessed human" in the New Testament or elsewhere, as is confirmed by standard lexical authorities. The BDAG lexicon gives two definitions for daimonion, namely "transcendent incorporeal being with status between humans and deities" and "hostile transcendent being with status between humans and deities".15 The LSJ lexicon, which covers a longer period of Greek usage, gives three definitions for daimonion, namely "divine power," "inferior divine being," and "evil spirit." The Synoptic Gospels have a specific term that they use for demon-possessed humans, which is a middle or passive participle of daimonizomai, "be possessed by a hostile spirit".16 The Synoptic writers never use the word daimonion for the demon-possessed human; only for the possessing demon. The limitations of language in describing a phenomenon like spirit possession require some ambiguity and interchange as to whether the demon or the possessed human is the subject/object of certain actions (see further my article on the accommodation theory of demon-possession in the Synoptic Gospels).17

To claim that ta daimonia takes on a metonymical sense in James 2:19 that is nowhere else attested is audacious. Such a bold move might be justified if none of the usual senses of ta daimonia fit the context and there was a substantial body of contextual evidence to support this novel sense. However, in James 2:19 the usual meaning of ta daimonia ("the demons") does fit, as we shall see, and there is no contextual evidence supporting the meaning "demon-possessed humans." In fact, if we follow the "demon-possessed humans" interpretation, the remark of James 2:19b no longer fits James's argument. In context, James is arguing against the proposition that faith (pistis) without works can save (James 2:14), and resorts here to a reductio ad absurdum argument, citing ta daimonia as a class of beings that "believe" (pisteuō) and yet are obviously not saved. Yet if James is alluding to demon-possessed humans whom Jesus cured, the allusion undercuts his argument, since these individuals were saved. The Gospel exorcism narratives do not permit an aphorism like "Demon-possessed humans, as a rule, believe and yet are unsaved." Furthermore, it is impossible to explain the reference to "demonic" pseudo-wisdom in James 3:15 in terms of mental illness.

The "demon-possessed humans" interpretation can be safely ruled out. In fact, it is not only exegetically indefensible but also morally reprehensible. By glossing "demon-possessed humans" as "mentally disturbed humans," we end up with the inference that people suffering from mental illness are a prototypical example of faith without deeds, that is, impotent faith. Thus the interpretation contributes to the stigmatisation of mental illness that prevails in many societies—and religious communities—today.

2.2. Ta daimonia as Idols or Non-Existent False Gods

The second Christadelphian interpretation reads ta daimonia in James 2:19 as referring either to pagan idols or to non-existent false gods. George Booker offers a very detailed interpretation of James 2:19, which I will have to quote at length because it is just too complicated to summarise:
So the "demons" (meaning, here, the "demoniacs", or the ones suffering from what they imagine to be "demons") tremble when they encounter a greater power... because they imagine, at first, these little "demons" (meaning, to their minds, the "gods" or "devils" afflicting them) are now trembling in fear at a greater power! 
And then, finally, as (or when) they understand what has actually happened, they realize that these "demons" (meaning the "false gods") do not exist at all -- they are what Paul calls "no-gods"... nothing at all (1Co 8:4; Acts 19:26)! 
So, in Jam 2:19, the question is: Does the initial "trembling" of the "demons", when confronted with a greater Power, lead (a) to the sufferer's recognition that the God of Israel, or of Jesus, is simply greater than the little "demons"? OR does it lead (b) to a greater and more lasting realization, by the one cured or by witnesses, that such "demons" do not exist at all, and therefore that Yahweh is -- truly and absolutely -- the one and only LORD and God? 
The above comments blend together two related ideas: (a) that "demons" may mean those who suffer otherwise unexplained illnesses, as well as (b) those demonic "gods" whom they acknowledge or worship.
Booker seems to want to "blend together" two distinct meanings of ta daimonia: human sufferers of "otherwise unexplained illnesses" and "false gods." We have already ruled out the first meaning above, but what about the second? In support of understanding ta daimonia here as false gods, the writer presents the following evidence.

(1) He equates James's "shuddering" with "'trembling', or 'toppling', or 'tottering'," which is "a real problem for idols! (see Isa 40:20; 41:7; Jer 10:4)." However, this series of words moves progressively further away from the semantic range of the verb phrissō, which means "to tremble from fear," "the involuntary reaction of the body in shaking, as in a fever...frequently used for reactions of fear" and not to topple or totter.18

(2) He cites three LXX passages where the verb phrissō occurs, and calls our attention "especially" to Jer. 2:12. However, none of these passages depict false gods as shuddering.19

Besides failing to offer any persuasive evidence for either of the two proposed meanings of ta daimonia, Booker neglects to explain how James could expect his readers to arrive at such complex meaning, the "blending together" of two distinct ideas, from this brief remark.

Another detailed exposition of the "false gods" interpretation of ta daimonia is given by L. Buckler. This writer infers from other New Testament passages (1 Cor. 10:14-22, Acts 17:18 and Rev. 9:20) "that demons and idols are the same". Thus an appropriate sense for daimonia in these texts is "false gods that do not exist." Buckler also cites "the relationship between Mat. 12:24 and 2 Kings 1:2" as evidence for this equation, failing to note the difference between Baal-zebub in 2 Kings and Beelzebul in Matthew (which has several plausible Aramaic etymologies that are unrelated to Baal-zebub).20 Based on the equation of idols and demons, Buckler feels justified in applying passages such as Isaiah 44-45 and Psalm 115 to demons. He summarises: "we've seen that 'demons' of the NT are the same thing as 'idols' of the OT - both are false gods that do not exist." Turning to James 2:19, Buckler proposes that James is alluding to OT passages like 1 Sam. 5:3-4 and Isa. 19:1. The former passage has (the idol of) Dagon (presumably miraculously) falling down and breaking in the presence of the ark of the Lord. The latter passage declares that when the Lord comes to Egypt riding on a swift cloud, "the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them." Buckler avers:
These idols/false gods/demons who don't exist are spoken of in a way that shows God's supremacy over them, and showing that even idols, which don't exist, tremble before God. The lesson for us back in James 2:19 is that even false gods—gods who do not exist!—'fear' God and bow before him, so why don't we more so!21
His paraphrase of James 2:19 is, "If you only have faith (i.e. you believe in one God), you're no better than idols. They had 'faith' too, but they were unable to put it into works because they are just wood and stone". This "non-existent false gods" line of interpretation, which is also suggested by Duncan Heaster,22 is marginally better than the "mentally disturbed humans" interpretation: "divinities" falls within the semantic range of daimonia, and there are substantial biblical associations between demons, idols and false gods, as already observed. Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons why this interpretation is unconvincing.

(1) The parallel between 1 Sam. 5:3-4 and Isa. 19:1 and James 2:19 is limited. Both OT passages concern idols; neither the Hebrew nor the LXX translations mention demons. Moreover, both falling over and breaking (Dagon in 1 Samuel) and trembling (the idols of the Egyptians in Isaiah, e.g. in a strong wind or an earthquake) are things that can happen to inanimate objects.23 While there is obviously an intended irony in the notion of idols falling over and trembling (since these actions, if applied to sentient beings, would imply submission and fear), these OT passages do not attribute belief to idols, as James explicitly does to demons. "Belief" requires sentience, and leaves no room for an ironic double entendre. Also, phrissō is a rare and highly specific verb, and none of the Old Testament texts cited by G. Booker or Buckler explain its use by James, since none of them attribute this action to demons, false gods or idols. By contrast, the interpretation I will offer below is based on a well-documented association between daimonia and phrissō.

(2) Buckler is correct that some biblical passages do imply an association between idols, false gods and demons. This is evident from the use of the word daimonion or daimōn in LXX texts having to do with idolatry (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 95:5[96:5]; Ps. 105:37[106:37]; Isa. 65:3, 11; Bar. 4:7) and from NT texts that imply such an association (1 Cor. 10:19-21; Rev. 9:20).24 However, aside from possibly Isa. 65:3 LXX,25 none of these texts equate daimonia with "false gods that do not exist"; quite the opposite! The implicit claim in most cases, particularly in the NT, is that demons are a sinister reality that lies behind the worship of false gods.26 Moreover, the frequent references to daimonia in the Synoptic Gospel narratives conclusively demonstrate that, whatever early Christians thought daimonia were, they certainly did not regard them as non-existent! (Bear in mind that several Christadelphian writers have recognised the similarities between James 2:19, where demons "believe and shudder," and the Gospel exorcism accounts, where demons acknowledge Jesus and cause their victims to convulse and cry out [e.g., Mark 1:23-26]). Thus, apart from the sentience and action attributed to ta daimonia in James 2:19, the wider usage of this terminology in the NT undermines Buckler's suggestion that it means non-existent false gods.

(3) If ta daimonia refer to non-existent false gods, then James 2:19b contributes nothing to James's argument concerning faith and works. Although this remark is ironic or even sarcastic (as we shall see), it still carries weight in James's argument. Appealing to non-existent beings as evidence for a claim is not clever irony; it is simply illogical. In context, James uses ta daimonia as a counterexample that reduces to absurdity the proposition that pistis without works can save. This counterexample is only successful if ta daimonia actually exist, have pistis without works, and are unsaved. Otherwise, when James declares, "Even ta daimonia believe and shudder," his interlocutor only needs to respond, "No they don't. Ta daimonia don't exist!" Thus, if ta daimonia refers ironically to something that James and his interlocutor regard as non-existent, the argument fails.27

(4) There is another reference to demons in James 3:15 (discussed below) that cannot plausibly refer to non-existent false gods. Remarkably, none of the Christadelphian expositions of James 2:19 that I have consulted mentions or discusses the occurrence of the word daimoniōdēs in James 3:15.

(5) Kai at the beginning of James 2:19b joins the belief of ta daimonia with the belief in one God of James's interlocutor, stated in 2:19a: "You believe... even the demons believe..." Since James 2:19a refers to actual belief by an actual agent, consistency dictates that James 2:19b also refers to actual belief by actual agents.

Thus, we can be quite certain that the sense of "demons" in James 2:19 is not "non-existent false gods" that are actually incapable of believing and shuddering, but a class of beings whose real existence James and his audience assume, just as the Synoptic Gospels do.

3. Proposed Interpretation

3.1. Ta daimonia as Evil Transcendent Beings

Having ruled out that ta daimonia in James 2:19 could plausibly refer either to demon-possessed (mentally disturbed) humans or to non-existent false gods, we are left with the meaning that is the unanimous consensus of lexical authorities and scholarly commentaries: ta daimonia refers to "the demons," that is, to a class of evil transcendent beings.28 Daimonion occurs 63 times in the New Testament, and in nearly all of its occurrences, all modern English translations translate "demon(s)" (the KJV and other older translations have "devil(s)").29 The majority of its occurrences (47) are in the Synoptic Gospels. Only once does the New Testament use a different word for "demon" (daimōn, in Matt. 8:31),30 although the word pneuma is often used synonymously (usually with a negative adjective such as "unclean" or "evil"). The activities of these beings, as described elsewhere in the NT, include possessing and tormenting humans (Synoptic Gospels and Acts; see Luke 11:24-26 for a prototypical description of their behaviour) and inspiring false religious teachings and practices (1 Cor. 10:19-21; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 16:13-14). They themselves are destined for eschatological torment and they know this (Matt. 8:29). Of considerable relevance to the interpretation of James 2:19 is that the Synoptic Gospels and Acts depict demons as recognizing Jesus and God and reacting fearfully to their power.31 Although there is no compelling evidence that James knew any of the canonical Gospels in their extant form, there are enough allusions to dominical sayings in the Epistle to make it virtually certain that the author's worldview had been shaped by Jesus traditions (if not by direct experience of Jesus' life and ministry).32 Thus, we can be reasonably certain that James was familiar with Jesus' career as an exorcist, and it is likely that he was also aware of the demons' tendency to respond to Jesus with acknowledgment and fear during exorcisms. Hence, this story line from Jesus traditions probably forms part of the background for James's assertion that the demons "believe and shudder."

3.2. "Shuddering" in Ancient Sources

Aside from exorcism stories from the Jesus tradition, there is another possible source for James's assertion that the demons "believe and shudder." As numerous commentators have noted, the idea of sub-divine beings generally, or demons specifically, "shuddering" before God (or the gods) was a widely used trope in antiquity. As Allison states, "James was not the first to link φρίσσω...to the demonic. Indeed, we have here a far-flung topos".33

3.2.1. Shuddering and Daemons in Greco-Roman Sources

The notion of daemons shuddering appears in Greco-Roman, pagan sources.34 Clement of Alexandria, a Christian writer at the end of the second century, quotes an Orphic fragment that says of Zeus, "Whom demons dread (daimones hon phrissousi), and whom the throng of gods do fear" (Stromata 5.125). Several passages in the Greek Magical Papyri (a collection of ancient Greek spells, rites and magical formulae) likewise refer to demons shuddering before a god. Similar to the Orphic fragment just quoted is this: "I implore you by the seal of the god, before whom all the immortal [gods] of Olympos shudder, and the foremost daemons..." (PGM 3.227).35 Again, "the rushing rivers and the tireless sea, they echo in solitude and the daemons in the cosmos shudder before you, enthralled when they hear your terrible voice" (PGM 4.2541).36 Again, "Be merciful to me who calls you, and listen to me kindly...before whom the daemons shudder and the immortals tremble..." (PGM 4.2829).37 Finally, "Hear me; for I will pronounce the great name, Aôth, which every god reveres, and before whom every daemon shudders, whose orders are fulfilled by every angel" (PGM 12.117-119).38 In these sources, that daemons shudder before a god is a way of expressing that god's greatness and power. The daemons shudder out of inferiority, but not necessarily because they are evil.

The first-century Greco-Roman essayist Plutarch brings out negative connotations of "shuddering" (albeit not in connection with daemons) in his masterful essay On Superstition, in which he compares superstition unfavourably with slavery:
There is a law even for slaves who have given up all hope of freedom, that they may demand a sale, and thus exchange their present master for one more mild. But superstition grants no such exchange; and to find a god whom he shall not fear is impossible for him who fears the gods of his fathers and his kin, who shudders at his saviours (ho phrittōn tous sōtēras), and trembles with terror at those gentle gods from whom we ask wealth, welfare, peace, concord, and success in our best efforts in speech and action... But how much more dire, think you, is the lot of those for whom there is no escape, no running away, no chance to revolt? For a slave there is an altar to which he can flee, and there are many of our shrines where even robbers may find sanctuary, and men who are fleeing from the enemy, if once they lay hold upon a statue of a god, or a temple, take courage again. These are the very things that most inspire a shuddering fear and dread (phrittei kai phobeitai kai dedoiken) in the superstitious man, and yet it is in them that those who in fear of the most dreadful fate place their hopes...Thus unhappy superstition, by its excess of caution in trying to avoid everything suggestive of dread, unwittingly subjects itself to every sort of dread. (De Superstitione 4)39
Plutarch also compares superstition to atheism. This comparison is particularly relevant to James 2:19b, since it also links fear with a negative kind of religious belief:
What say you? The man who does not believe in the existence of the gods is unholy? And is not he who believes (nomizōn) in such gods as the superstitious believe in a partner to opinions far more unholy?... You see what kind of thoughts the superstitious have about the gods; they assume that the gods are rash, faithless, fickle, vengeful, cruel, and easily offended; and, as a result, the superstitious man is bound to hate and fear the gods... The atheist thinks there are no gods; the superstitious man wishes there were none, but believes (pisteuei) in them against his will; for he is afraid not to believe. (De Superstitione 10-11)40
Thus, in Greco-Roman literature, we find that "shuddering" characterizes the attitude of sub-divine beings (daemons) toward the gods (particularly the high god Zeus), and also characterizes the tortured "belief" of the superstitious (whose belief consists of fear and hatred), in contrast to authentic piety.

3.2.2. Shuddering and Demons in Early Jewish and Christian Literature

Such ideas are also found in early Jewish and Christian sources, as described by Allison.41 The Book of the Watchers narrates how "fear and trembling seized" the watcher angels when Enoch declared their divine punishment to them (1 Enoch 13.3). A prayer found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4QSongs of the Sagea, after extolling God's greatness, continues, "And I, the Sage, declare the grandeur of his radiance in order to frighten and terr[ify] all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Lilith, owls and [jackals...]" (4Q510 1.4-5).42 In the long recension of the Testament of Abraham, Death personified "shudders and trembles" (ephrizen kai etromazen) before God (T. Abr. RecLng 16.3).43 In Justin's Dialogue with Trypho (mid-second century), he declares, "You can see, therefore, that the hidden power of God was in the crucified Christ, before whom even the demons shudder (kai ta daimonia phrissei), as do all the powers and authorities of the earth" (Dial. 49.8).44 Later Christian writings that refer to demons or angels shuddering include Testament of Solomon 2.1, Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 5.5, Acts of Philip 132, Pseudo-Ignatius, Philippians 3.5, and Lactantius, de Ira Dei23.45

In this Jewish and Christian literature, we find a variation on the theme found in Greco-Roman literature: shuddering characterizes the attitude of demons, fallen angels and Death toward the one God, not only because God is great but also because the demons are evil and know that God can or will defeat and punish them. Their shuddering is similar to that of superstitious humans who, according to Plutarch, believe in God but only out of tortured fear. The way demons and spirits respond to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels reflects the same picture because the fear they show is explicitly fear of punishment (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Matt. 8:28).

3.3. Demonic Pseudo-Wisdom in James 3:15

As noted earlier, James's epistle makes one other mention of demons that is typically ignored in Christadelphian expositions of James 2:19:
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic (Greek: daimoniōdēs). 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. (James 3:13-17 NABRE)
Here, James contrasts two kinds of wisdom: that which comes "from above" and produces humility, gentleness, peace, etc., and that which "does not come down from above" and produces jealousy, selfish ambition and disorder. The latter kind of wisdom is described using three successive adjectives, "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (James 3:15). These adjectives form a crescendo: "James, using a type of antithetical parallelism reminiscent of the wisdom literature, declares through a series of three adjectives arranged in ascending order of strength that the sectarian ‘wisdom’ is in fact demonic."46 The pseudo-wisdom is not from heaven but the earth; is not from the Spirit but is unspiritual; is not divine but is demonic. While some scholars believe daimoniōdēs here means demon-like, most agree that James is naming demons as the source of this pseudo-wisdom.47 Either meaning implies James's belief in the real existence of demons. Thus we have corroborative testimony from within the epistle that the real existence of demons is presupposed in James 2:19b.

3.4. The Contribution of James 2:19b to the Argument of James 2:14-26

The three key points we have learned so far are (1) that ta daimonia in James 2:19 refers to demons, i.e. malignant spirit beings, and not to mentally disturbed humans or non-existent gods; (2) that James believed that such beings really existed; and (3) that the idea of demons shuddering before God in fear (particularly in fear of impending punishment) was a well-worn motif in ancient literature—Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian. While it is possible that this general motif forms the entire background to the statement of James 2:19 that demons "believe and shudder," it is likely that the idea has been specifically influenced by Jesus traditions according to which demons reacted with intense fear to Jesus during exorcisms. In light of all of this, we can only conclude that with "Even the demons believe and shudder," James is making a statement that he regards as literally true. Demons actually exist and actually believe in God and shudder in fear of him. The question that remains is, how does such a remark contribute to James's wider argument about faith and works in James 2:14-26?

Most commentators have observed the use of irony or sarcasm in James 2:19 in that James commends his interlocutor for believing that there is one God (kalōs poieis, "you do well")—the same interlocutor that he is about to call a "senseless person" (v. 20)!48 The idea is that belief in one God, while correct and fundamentally important, is by itself (without "deeds") insufficient. James then adds the coup de grâce, identifying demons as a stark example of beings that believe in one God, and even demonstrate their sincerity by shuddering, but which are obviously not saved because their deeds are evil.49 (Like Plutarch's superstitious man, their "belief" in God is driven by terror rather than genuine piety.) The role of the remark in James 2:19b, then, is to provide a clear counterexample to the claim that faith without deeds is sufficient. And, as was discussed earlier, the counterexample only contributes to the argument if demons actually exist.

4. Conclusion

Demonology is not a major theme in the Epistle of James; it appears twice in passing. Nor is it a major concern for most other New Testament writers. Nevertheless, it is often the case in Scripture that a writer makes an important statement on topic B while his main concern is with topic A (one thinks of the majestic Christological statement of 1 Cor. 8:6, which occurs within a discourse on idolatry, or the Bible's most important statement about gender equality, a brief aside in a discourse on the Abrahamic covenant [Gal. 3:28]). One cannot dismiss the validity of a theological inference simply because it was not the biblical writer's primary concern within the context where it appears.

In texts where demons are mentioned, like James 2:19, it is evident that the earliest Christians believed demons really existed. This early Christian belief—while strange to the modern mind and in need of some reconceptualization—cannot be dismissed by Christians today, particularly because of how central exorcisms were to the public ministry of Jesus. One might go as far as to say that "an understanding of the demonic is absolutely essential to a proper interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus".50

My main reason for writing this article is a perception that Christadelphian interpreters of Scripture have failed to appreciate the implications of James 2:19b for reconstructing New Testament demonology. This article should therefore be read in the context of my much longer article on the accommodation theory of demon-possession and exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels (summarized on my blog here).51 The accommodation theory—long abandoned by biblical scholars but still stubbornly maintained by many Christadelphians—basically holds that Jesus, the apostles and/or the New Testament writers did not actually believe in the reality of demons and exorcism but used such language to accommodate the ignorance of their ill-informed audiences. James 2:19 provides one more instance where this theory breaks down when subjected to close exegetical examination.

The core aim of the Christadelphian movement has been restorationist, i.e. to recover and restore the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians. However, the case of demonology shows that the restorationist ethos has been selectively applied: where the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians have proven embarrassing to "Enlightened" modern sensibilities, the conclusion has been that the text cannot mean what it says; it must be made to mean something else. This raises the question, "Where else has Christadelphian restorationism been selective to the detriment of exegetical accuracy?" This is a question that threatens the very legitimacy of the Christadelphian sectarian project.


  • 1 Greek (NA28): σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός, καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν.
  • 2 Johnson rightly comments that by positioning kai at the beginning of the sentence the writer has made it emphatic: "The position of the kai demands its being read as ‘even’ rather than ‘also’" (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Doubleday: New York, 1995], 241).
  • 3 "The sentence needs to be filled out; even the demons believe ‘that God is one’" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 4 Duncan Heaster, The Real Devil (3d ed.; Surrey: Carelinks, 2012), 206-207. Content can be accessed online at http://www.christadelphia.net/rd4-2-3.htm.
  • 5 "That James was thinking of the man called Legion and his companion (2 are mentioned in Matt 8; one only in Mark 5) seems clear. They in their deranged state of mind may have believed in only one God, but that fact didn't help them until they were cured by Christ and then could put their faith into action" (Wes Booker, "Comments for June 8," in Daily Bible Readings, accessed at http://www.dailyreadings.org.uk/default.asp?act=notesdisplay&displaytype=day&m=6&d=8).
  • 6 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 7 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 8 Wes Booker, "Comments for June 8".
  • 9 Alfred Norris, quoted in W. Booker, "Comments for June 8".
  • 10 George Booker, "James 2," in Agora Bible Commentary (accessed at http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/agora/comm/59_jam/jam03.html).
  • 11 H. P. Mansfield, The Christadelphian Expositor: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition of the Scriptures: James to Jude (West Beach & Beverley: Logos Publications, n.d.), 45. Can be accessed at http://mp3.christadelphian.or.tz/sites/default/files/books/from-james-to-jude---expositor.pdf
  • 12 Frank G. Jannaway, Christadelphian Answers (Houston: Herald, n.d.), 107. Can be accessed at http://www.antipas.org/pdf_files/christadelphian_answers.pdf.
  • 13 Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures: A Christadelphian Handbook of Suggested Explanations to Difficult Passages (Pasadena: Geddes, n.d.), 178. Can be accessed at http://www.christadelphian.uk.com/Booklets/Wrested%20Scriptures.pdf.
  • 14 Jonathan Burke, Satan and Demons: A Reply to Anthony Buzzard (unpublished, 2005), 80, 170. Can be accessed at https://acbm.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Satan-And-Demons.doc.
  • 15 W. F. Arndt, F. W. Danker, F. W. Gingrich, and W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3d ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 210.
  • 16 Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 209. As Riley explains, “Δαιμονίζομαι is found once in the New Testament as a verb in the phrase ‘cruelly tormented by a demon’ (Matt 15:22); all other of the dozen further occurrences are of the participle meaning ‘one who is demonized’, ‘a demoniac’ (e.g., Mark 1:32).” (G. J. Riley, “Demons,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible [ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; 2d ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999], 236).
  • 17 Thomas Farrar, "When an Unclean Spirit Goes out of a Person": An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels (unpublished, 2015), 19-20. The phenomenon of spirit-possession defies ordinary linguistic conventions whereby a verb has a single subject or direct object. A word spoken by or to a demon-possessed human is in one sense spoken by or to that human (their vocal chords/their bodily presence) and in another sense spoken by or to the possessing demon (i.e. the external agent controlling their vocal chords and body). Thus, interchange between daimonion and daimonizomai within a particular narrative context in no way implies that the writer conflated these two terms. Their respective meanings are morphologically clear. This is why no lexical authority considers "demon-possessed human" to be one of the meanings of daimonion.
  • 18 Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 1065; Johnson, Letter of James, 241.
  • 19 Job 4:15 LXX reads, "And a spirit came upon my face, and my flesh and hair quivered (Greek: phrissō)" (NETS). Dan. 7:15 Theodotion reads, "As for me, Daniel, my spirit shuddered (Greek: phrissō) in my possession, and the visions of my head were troubling me." Jer. 2:11-12 LXX reads, "Will nations change their gods? And these are no gods. But my people have changed their glory for one from which they will not profit. The sky was appalled at this and shuddered (Greek: phrissō) more and more, says the Lord". Two other passages transmitted with the LXX where phrissō occurs are Judith 16:10 (which says of Judith, "The Persians shuddered (Greek: phrissō) at her daring, and the Medes were alarmed at her boldness") and 4 Maccabees 14:9, which says of seven Maccabean martyrs, "Now, as we hear of those young men's affliction, we shudder" (Greek: phrissō). In four of these passages, humans are the subjects of "shuddering"; in one poetic context, it is the heavens that are said to "shudder." In no instance are false gods said to "shudder."
  • 20 On the etymology of Beelzebul and its meaning in the Synoptic Gospels, see E. C. B. MacLaurin, "Beelzeboul," Novum Testamentum 20 (1978): 156-60; Dieter Lührman, Das Markusevangelium (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987), 36; Duane F. Watson, "Devil," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:183; Heinz Schürmann, Das Lukasevangelium: Zweiter Teil (Freiburg: Herder, 1994), 230; Clinton Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits in the Synoptic Gospels (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 125-26; Camille Focant, The Gospel According to Mark: A Commentary, trans. Leslie Robert Keylock (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004/2012), 140.
  • 21 L. Buckler, Even the Demons Believe God and Tremble, accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/christadelphianinfo/articles/exposition/evendemons. Aside from the meaning of ta daimonia here, Buckler seems to have misconstrued the take-home message of James 2:19, which is not a call to fear God (as appropriate as that reaction may be). Rather, James is arguing that even belief in God combined with intense fear is of no avail if not accompanied by deeds, as the case of ta daimonia makes clear.
  • 22 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 23 For example, just as Egypt's idols are said to "tremble" at Yahweh's presence in Isa. 19:1, so thresholds "tremble" at Yahweh's presence in Isa. 6:4, while Isa. 7:2 describes trees "trembling" in the wind (the same verb נוע is used in all three cases).
  • 24 Acts 17:18, though cited by Buckler, does not necessarily imply such an association from an early Christian perspective, since the word daimonion is placed on the lips of Athenian philosophers in their description of Paul's teaching, and so probably has the neutral sense "divinities" rather than the negative sense "demons" (Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 210).
  • 25 While Isaiah 65:3 MT indicts the people of Israel for provoking God by "sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks" (ESV), the LXX adds that these offerings are made "to the demons, which do not exist" (Greek: τοῖς δαιμονίοις, ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν). This passage may be denying any real existence to demons. This is the view of Kelly: "The Greek [of Isaiah 65:3 LXX] specifies the object of the worship as 'demons who do not exist'; that is, there are no spiritual entities corresponding to the idols" (Henry Ansgar Kelly, The Devil, Demonology and Witchcraft: The Development of Christian Beliefs in Evil Spirits [rev. ed.; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1974], 20). (Note that Kelly nonetheless finds that in James 2:19, "James is obviously thinking of living beings" [ibid.]) Other scholars see Isaiah 65:3 LXX differently: "The appearance of this last phrase in the Septuagint (it is missing in the MT) is difficult to account for except as a theologically inspired gloss, derived perhaps from Isa. 65:11 via Deut. 32:17. Although at face value 65:3 could be taken to mean demons simply do not exist, such a view would ill suit a Hellenistic context in which the vast majority of Jews and Gentiles alike believed in various spirit beings. It is far more likely that the Septuagint is making the same point as Paul in 1 Cor 8:1-3: whatever existence the demons/false gods may have, they are unworthy of worship or the name 'god'. To the extent that ontological issues may be in view, the verse would affirm that these spirits have a completely derivative, contingent existence which is wholly dependent on the creative power of the living God-an existence which can and will be taken away when their fraudulent claims to deity are exposed" (Sean M. McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], 161); "The divine charge against the idolatry of God's people includes this accusation, 'they sacrifice in the gardens and burn incense on bricks to the demons [δαιμονίοις, inferior divinity or (evil) spirit], which do not exist' (v. 3b). The Hebrew lacks 'to the demons, which do not exist,' but states simply, 'sacrificing in gardens and burning incense upon bricks' (Isa 65:3b RSV). By the time of the New Testament and already intimated in Greek Isaiah, the question about the existence of pagan gods was being answered by suggesting that the beings previously referred to as gods were actually demons, spirits created by God who rebelled against God. Therefore, they, like humans, were creatures, not other gods. Isaiah 65:3b LXX seems somewhat ambivalent about even this mention of demons, as evidenced by its added qualification, 'who do not exist.' However, a similar later substitution of 'demon' for a god in 65:11 LXX does not mention any doubt about its existence" (William S. Kurz, S.J., "Paul's Witness to Biblical Monotheism as Isaiah's Servant in Acts," in Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera, ed. Christopher W. Skinner and Kelly R. Iverson [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012], 123). Isaiah LXX contains two other mentions of daimonia which both imply their existence: according to Isaiah 13:21 LXX, the prophet foretells that after the desolation of Babylon, "there demons will dance," and a similar oracle is spoken against Idumea in Isaiah 34:14 LXX. In view of this contextual information, it seems clear that the translator's intention in Isaiah 65:3 is not to absolutely deny the existence of daimonia. Perhaps the writer is using daimonia specifically in the sense of "divinities" (i.e. the gods to whom idolaters sacrifice), without the technical, negative sense that would later accrue to the word. Alternatively, the writer is very succinctly making a polemical assertion about the gods to whom Israel sacrifices: they do not exist as gods, they are only demons.
  • 26 Consider the following summaries focusing mainly on Paul's views expressed in 1 Cor. 10:19-21: Paul’s “belief in the real existence of demons appears clearly in his teaching concerning heathen sacrifices” (Edward Langton, Essentials of Demonology: A Study of Jewish and Christian Doctrine, Its Origin and Development [London: Epworth, 1949], 225); "For Paul witchcraft is meddling with demons. But there can also be intercourse with demons in the normal heathen cultus (1 C. 10:20f.). While idols are nothing, and the Christian enjoys freedom, demons stand behind paganism" (W. Foerster, "δαίμων,"  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [ed. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], 2:17); demons "are the spiritual reality behind the apparent nothingness of idols which the heathen worship (1 Cor 10:20-21; Rev 9:20)" (David George Reese, "Demons," Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:142); "Pagane Götter sind für Paulus als Götter nicht-existent, da Göttlichkeit allein im Sinne des christlichen Monotheismus definiert werden kann...Jedoch verstecken sich für Paulus hinter dem heidniscen Opferkult real existierende Dämonen, mit denen beim Schlachtopfer in Kontakt getreten wird" (Peter Lampe, "Die dämonologischen Implikationen von I Korinther 8 und 10 vor dem Hintergrund paganer Zeugnisse," in Die Dämonen: Die Dämonologie der israelitisch-jüdischen und frühchristlichen Literatur im Kontext ihrer Umwelt, ed. Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger, and K. F. Diethard Römheld [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003], 598).
  • 27 One might claim that while James does not believe demons exist, his interlocutor does believe they exist, and therefore James uses the argument knowing that it will be persuasive to his interlocutor. However, this claim amounts to eisegetical speculation and special pleading. On what objective grounds can we posit either James's disbelief in demons (given that he mentions them here and also in 3:15), or a disagreement between James and his interlocutor on the existence of demons? The topic under consideration, and the topic of disagreement, is the efficacy of faith without works, not the existence of demons. Besides, it is not even clear that James's interlocutor is an actual person here (as opposed to "the conversational device of...an imaginary opponent", so Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 125), and in any case James would presumably want his argument to be persuasive to all of his readers and not only the "senseless person" he is addressing.
  • 28 See definition from lexicon quoted above; "Although originally used of both good and bad deities, δαιμόνιον came, in post-exilic Judaism, to refer to malevolent spirits closely associated with Satan. James’ audience was presumably familiar with a large body of lore surrounding them. They were often identified with pagan gods (LXX Deut 32.17; 1 Cor 10.20); held to inflict disease (Sib. Or. 3.331; Mt 12.22); understood as sources of temptation and vice (T. Jud. 23.1); reported to indwell or possess unfortunate human beings (Mk 5.9; 9.26); and said to have issued from the mating of the sons of God with human women (Gen 6.1-4; 1 En. 6-21). But all that matters here is the notion that they, although corrupt, nonetheless recognize the ultimate power in the universe" (Dale C. Allison, Jr., James: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary [London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013], 477-78); "Dans la religion grecque, le mot δαιμόνιον désigne une divinité inférieure. La Septante traduit par δαιμόνια les termes qui, en hébreu, s’appliquent aux idoles, aux faux dieux. L’expression est usuelle aussi dans les évangiles; elle désigne les mauvais esprits (Mc 1,34; Lc 4,33, etc.)" (Jacqueline Assaël and Élian Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques [Genève: Labor et Fides, 2013], 204); "Although ta daimonia could in the Greek world denote a positive divine entity (see Euripides, Bacchae 894; Plato, Apology 26B; Acts 17:18), here the designation is shaped by the world of Torah. In the LXX ta daimonia are identified with false gods (Deut 32:17; Pss 95:5; 105:37; Isa 65:3; also 1 Cor 10:20-21; 1 Tim 4:1; Rev 9:20). In the gospel tradition, ta daimonia are identified with the ‘unclean spirits’ who torment humans as the minions of Satan or Beelzebul (see Matt 7:22; 9:32-34; 10:8; 11:18; 12:2-24-28; 17:18; Luke 4:33; 8:2, 26-39)" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 29 As noted earlier, only in Acts 17:18 is the word usually not translated "demons" but something like "divinities," reflecting the wider Greco-Roman understanding of the word as opposed to the Judeo-Christian understanding (it is here placed on the lips of Athenian philosophers).
  • 30 According to Foerster, both the NT writers and Josephus follow the LXX in preferring daimonion over daimōn: "Δαίμων is avoided because it is too closely associated with positive religious elements, whereas δαιμόνιον indicates from the very first the hostile spirits of popular belief" (W. Foerster, "δαίμων," 2:12).
  • 31 "Demons, too, believe that there is but one God—and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15)" (Scot McKnight, The Letter of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011], 243); "the NT knows of the monotheism of demons (Mk 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and their fear before Christ, whom they recognize (Mk. 1:23, 24; 5:7)" (Davids, Epistle of James, 126); "The demons express a belief in the divine elsewhere in the NT (Mark 1:25; 3:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and exhibit fear before God as they confront Jesus (Mark 1:23, 24; 5:7)" (Ralph P. Martin, James [Waco: Word Books, 1988], 89); "Les démons désignent dans la Grèce antique, chez Platon ou chez Xénophon, des divinités intermédiaires, ou l’esprit guidant ou conseillant l’homme. Rare dans la LXX (Dt 32,17; Ps 90,6; Tobit 3,8), on les retrouve en force dans les récits néo-testamentaires d’exorcismes (Mc 1,34.39 etc…), où ils reconnaissent Jésus et craignent sa puissance: cf. Mc 1,24; 5,7 et surtout p. ex. 1,34; 3,11-12. C’est probablement à de telles traditions que Jc peut fair allusion" (François Vouga, L’Épitre de Saint Jacques [Genève: Labor et Fides, 1984], 88); "Ces créatures proclament leur foi en Dieu, et aussi en Jésus (Mc 1,24; 5,7; Ac 16,17; 19,15, etc.), mais elle ne leur procure que des frémissements de crainte" (Assaël and Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques, 204).
  • 32 "The fabric of the Letter is replete with allusions to and rhetorical emulations of the Jesus tradition" (J. S. Kloppenborg, "Diaspora Discourse: The Construction of Ethos in James", New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 251. For a discussion of Jesus traditions in James including a table of likely allusions to sayings of Jesus, see Robert J. Foster, The Significance of Exemplars for the Interpretation of the Letter of James (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 51-53.)
  • 33 Allison, James, 477.
  • 34 The translation "daemons" serves as a reminder that Greco-Romans did not regard these sub-divine beings as uniformly evil.
  • 35 Text: ὃν πάντες Ὀλύμ[που ἀθάνατοι φρίσσο[υσι θεοὶ καὶ δαίμονες ἔξοχ’ ἄρ[ιστοι | κ[αὶ] πέλαγος σιγᾶ[ν ἐπιτ]έλλεται (from Karl Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2 vols. [Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1928, 1931], 1:42; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:43).
  • 36 Text: καὶ ποταμοὶ κελαδοῦντες ἰδ’ ἀατρύγετός τε | θάλασσα, ἠχὼ ἐρημαίη καὶ δαίμονες οἱ κατὰ κόσμον || φρίσσουσί σε, μάκαιρα, ἀκούοντες ὄπα δεινήν. (from Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:152; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:153).
  • 37 Text: ἡ πολυχώρητον κόσμον νυκτὸς | ἀμφιέπουσα, δαίμονες ἣν φρίσσουσιν || καὶ ἀθάνατοι τρουμέουσιν, | κυδιάνειρα θεά, πολυώνυμε, καλλιγένεια, ταυρῶπι (Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:162; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:163).
  • 38 Text: [ἐ]πάκουσόν μου, ὅτι μέλλω τὸ μέγα ὄνο<μα> λέ|γειν· Ἀώθ, ὃν πᾶς θ(εὸς) προσκυνεῖ καὶ π[ᾶ]ς δαίμων φρίσσει, ᾧ πᾶς ἄγγελος τὰ ἐπιτασ|σόμενα ἀποτελεῖ. (Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2:65; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2:65).
  • 39 Plutarch, Moralia, Vol. II (trans. Frank Cole Babbitt; Loeb Classic Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928), 453.
  • 40 Plutarch, Moralia, 483-85, 489-91.
  • 41 Allison, James, 477.
  • 42 Florentino García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 371.
  • 43 So Allison, James, 477.
  • 44 Translation adapted from Thomas P. Halton, St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 76.
  • 45 See Allison, James, 477; Johnson, Letter of James, 247.
  • 46 Davids, Epistle of James, 152, emphasis added.
  • 47 "While it is possible that this biblical hapax legomenon means simply that such people do deeds similar to demons (so Laws, 161, 163; Cantinat, 190; Hart, 84), in light of the closeness of this vice list to that in 1QS 4:1ff., the dualism observed elsewhere in James, and the use of the concept in the early church (cf. Hermas Sim. 9.22; 9.23.5; Mt. 6:13; cf. Davids, 39-79, who points to a long tradition connecting temptation to Satan) it would seem more reasonable to take James as intending that such deeds were inspired by demons" (Davids, Epistle of James, 153); "The adjective daimoniōdēs is a NT hapax and unattested before Christian literature. The construction with ōdēs may suggest ‘demon-like’ (Hort, 84), but in context it seems to imply ‘having its origin in demons’ (Adamson, 152)" (Johnson, Letter of James, 272); "This antithetical parallelism shows what constitutes true and false wisdom…The climactic term is clearly the most pejorative: daimoniōdēs (literally ‘pertaining to demons’) is found only here in the entire Bible. This false wisdom is demonic or comes from demons or demonic influence as opposed to the wisdom that is from above" (Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007], 501); "James goes on to say that false wisdom is not only godless and subhuman but positively ‘devilish.’ The false wisdom is not merely neutral, spurous, or inadequate—but positively demonic: see 1 Tim. 4:1" (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 152); "Δαιμονιώδης...désigne ce qui ressemble ou ce qui a trait au monde des démons” (Vouga, L’Épitre de Saint Jacques, 106); "Even worse, the ‘wisdom’ in mind is demonic (δαιμονιώδης, found only here in the NT; cf. Symmachus’ translation of Ps 90:6). Some interpreters understand James to mean that the behavior of those described in 3:14 is only ‘similar’ to the behavior of demons (Hort, 84; Cantinat, 190; Laws, 161, 163). In that sense, the misdeeds of those whom James attacks are being compared to demonic activity (2:19). But something more radical is being suggested. The behavior of those in question is thought to be instigated by the demons themselves (so Moo, 134; Davids, 153; Adamson, 152-53)" (Martin, James, 132); "False wisdom, in short, does not come from God; that is, instead of deriving from the heavenly, it derives from the earth; instead of abounding in God’s Spirit, it is unspiritual; and instead of coming from God’s Spirit, it derives from evil spirits” (McKnight, Letter of James, 307-308).
  • 48 The words kalōs poieis are “half-ironical” (Allison, James, 475); "The words You believe are not, we think, here addressed to anyone specifically identified in James’s mind; and not, we think, a question (Westcott, Hort, von Soden, Nestlé, and others); but, like ‘Well done,’ ahsant, a familiar Palestinian phrase, ironically affirmative (Mayor, Ropes, Oesterley, and others)" (Adamson, Epistle of James, 125); "«tu fais bien». Selon Moo, «… Il n’est donc pas étonnant que Jacques approuve l’assentiment à cette doctrine: tu fais bien. Mais le fait qu’il ajoute aussitôt que les démons y croient aussi, suggère qu’il a l’intention de mêler l’ironie à son éloge.»" (Assaël and Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques, 204); "It is not at all unusual, then, that James should commend assent to this doctrine: You do well. But the fact that James goes on immediately to ascribe the same belief to demons suggests that more than a little irony is intended in the commendation" (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James: An Introduction and Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 106); "The claim to believe that the God of Israel is the one and only God is insufficient. James turns to biting sarcasm or at least irony: ‘you do well.’ Some suggest James means to agree with his interlocutor as in, ‘So, you are right.’ James, however, is not kind to his opponent—2:14-16 uses words like ‘useless,’ and 2:20 calls the opponent a ‘senseless person.’ It is more likely that ‘you do well’ is a biting comment" (McKnight, Letter of James, 242-43); "In this verse he attempts to state in one sentence—obviously certain of agreement from his partner—the content of the ‘faith without works’ which is in question: ‘That God is one’ (ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός). He does so in order then to strap it to the whipping post: Some faith! Even the demons believe that! The irony is unmistakable" (Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James [rev. Heinrich Greeven; trans. Michael A. Williams; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964/1976], 158); "The confession is in accordance with true belief, so James adds a semi-ironic καλῶς ποιεῖς (the author certainly believed this truth with all his heart, following the tradition of Jesus, Mk. 12:29). Such belief is indeed necessary, but not enough for salvation" (Davids, Epistle of James, 125); "James says: ‘So you say you believe God is one. Good for you; however, so do demons, and they are shuddering in their belief—fearing the wrath of God to come. A lot of good that faith did them.’ The sarcasm in James 2:19 is hard to miss" (Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 476); "“you do well: The phrase kalōs poieis is here clearly meant to be sarcastic, perhaps in direct contrast to the kalōs poieite in 2:8" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 49 "The logic is clear. Demons are not atheists but rather have religious ‘doctrines’ (1 Tim 4.10), among which is monotheism, and shuddering proves their sincerity. But to no avail" (Allison, James, 476); "The point James is now driving home is that a Christian creed without corresponding Christian conduct will save neither devil nor man" (Adamson, Epistle of James, 126); "Demons, too, believe that there is but one God—and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15). But—and her one must fill in the lines to express James’s tone—at least they shudder and shake in God’s presence! James’s example is ad absurdum. While it is possible that James uses the shuddering of the demons as evidence that faith produces some kind of action (works), it is more likely that he is casting the interlocutor—and therefore the workless followers of Jesus—in negative light. They are worse than demons! Demons shudder in the presence of God, but the workless messianists are seemingly oblivious to the superficiality of their faith and the doom they face if they do not turn from their callousness. James has tied together genuine faith in God, loving God, and loving others." (McKnight, Letter of James, 243); "Believing that there is one God (intellectual acknowledgment) is different from believing in (εἰς, eis, into) the God who is one. Moo (2000: 131) points out the possibility of some irony here. At least the demons have the sense to shudder, which suggests that their ‘faith’ has more reality to it than the faith of those who claim to believe but do not do the deeds of faith." (Dan G. McCartney, James [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 160-61); "“To believers who pride themselves on right belief—and in James 2:18-19 faith clearly means something other than what it usually means for James, not trust in or active dependence on God, but rather mere belief that God exists—James says: ‘So you say you believe God is one. Good for you; however, so do demons, and they are shuddering in their belief—fearing the wrath of God to come. A lot of good that faith did them.’ The sarcasm in James 2:19 is hard to miss. The demons are the ultimate example of faith divorced from praxis, of right confession divorced from right living" (Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 476); "“The faith that declares ‘God is One’ is obviously not the ‘faith’ that James sees as adequate. It is, rather, a mockery of true faith, a matter of cognition or confession but not of genuine ‘love of God’ (see 2:5), a fact obvious from the recognition given by demons to the true God even while they shudder in fear" (Johnson, Letter of James, 247); "The point is that the knowledge of who God is does not save them; in fact, it is this very knowledge which makes them shudder (and that very name which was used by exorcists to drive them out!) A faith which cannot go beyond this level is worse than useless" (Davids, Epistle of James, 126).
  • 50 Reese, "Demons," 2:142
  • 51 Farrar, Assessment of the Accommodation Theory.