Accommodation theories are very popular today when it comes to the Scripture. No matter what the issue, if it seems to folkish, bizarre, or mythological, we can explain it by saying that God was simply “accommodating” to a contemporary way of thinking, not actually affirming the detailed reality of this stuff. Whether it be the story of creation, the flood, Paul’s admonition to women not to teach, a donkey speaking, the “fire from heaven” that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, or Christ and Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve, these all can be tagged with a nuanced view of truth: “Yeah, its true, but not really.”

Before you fall back in your chair, my conservative friends, we need to know that all Christians must accept accommodation theories. For example:

  • We don’t really believe that Heaven is up and Hell is down (Mark 16:19). After all, which side of the earth do you have to be on for heaven to be up?
  • We don’t really believe the sun really raises and sets (Josh 10:13). We call this “phenomenological” language and we are cool with it.
  • We don’t believe that God has eyes (2 Chr. 16:9). After all, God, in his essence, is not material or spacial. He does not really have eyes. We call this “anthropomorphic” language.
  • We believe that the Mosaic code (Law) was accommodated from a suzerain vassal treaty. This means that the code of the law as well as the way it was given was often culturally sensitive and not eternal ideals.
  • We don’t believe that God’s language is Hebrew or Greek. We believe that when God gives us his word, he accommodates by speaking through man and the language of man.

The difficulty is that when it comes to accommodation theories, while we believe that God does accommodate, we don’t really know when to draw the line.

Here I introduced the specific subject of the post: 

It is popular these days to give an account for the happenings in the New Testament concerning demon possession by reference to modern science. The idea here is that what the New Testament writers (and Jesus himself) described as demon possession was really nothing more than medical conditions that could today be described and treated by modern medicine.

Those who believe this and, at the same time, seek to maintain a high view of Scripture would say that the New Testament is not really teaching that these people were demon possessed, but accommodating the the prevailing notion of the day that they were demon possessed. Christ’s miracles, in this instance, were miracles indeed, but not in the way we think.

In this view, there probably is not such a thing as demon possession. Many would scoff at those who still believe in such saying, “Why are demons so scared of Zoloft?” They would look to the neglectful abuse of many Christians in the past who have sought to blame every disease, psychotic episode, and depression on demon possession when, in reality, they did not need archaic religious remedies, but modern medicine.

“Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.” -Hippocrates

A couple of questions:

1. Do you think it is viable to say that demon possession was an accommodation to the prevailing worldview and not representative of the way things really were?

2. Where do we draw the line on accommodations?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    68 replies to "Has Modern Science Made Belief in Demon Possession Unnecessary?"

    • Gary Plavidal

      Paul, your quip about the name, Hodge, is funny and endearing. I hope you can find a similar diversion for my name. Perhaps you’ve been to Gary, Indiana. No offense to anyone from Gary, because it may have improved greatly since my last trip through, but my impression 45 yrs ago was that if it wasn’t the armpit of the midwest you could smell it from there 🙂

      Note that I did not say that being intelligent (and/or educated) is bad; only that it has pitfalls to be aware of (and implied that it has limitations–being smart and educated doesn’t impart omniscience). To my shame, I did give the wrong reference–it’s I Cor 8:1 not chapter 13. Perhaps I should file chapter 13 🙂 Seriously, being taught what to think by a professor who is ignorant of a thing will not make one knowledgeable about that thing. Sadly the witchdoctor in the bush is more aware of the spirit world than the vast majority of western Phds.

      You can read my testimony in the link I provided and you would still be more ignorant of what I observed than I–simply because I was the first hand witness. If you wish to debunk it, try facts and logic in lieu of ridicule.

      Full disclosure: Yes, I attend a pentecostal church (let your imagination run wild):) but was raised Presbyterian. Btw Michael, I really enjoyed your writing on cessation-continualism. In fact, this whole blog is an example of how to think–even outside of one’s theological bent.

    • paulf

      Gary, the word ignorant is thrown here loosely. I don’t think anybody here is ignorant,and I don’t mean it as a slur. Just some people believe things because they don’t know better.

      Some people are inclined to beleieve in the supernatural against all facts and logic because they were raised to believe that way. Including me. But anecdotes are not evidence. If demons existed surely there would be one recorded piece of evidence in the history of the world. Yet there is not. Good luck.

    • Ron Krumpos

      Paul, there is more than just mental ignorance or rational knowledge.

      Scriptures, theologians and many religious leaders tell us what the divine is by listing grandiose attributes. Most mystics worship the personal aspects of the divine, but they also speak of what it is not. Many of them said that the divine essence is nothing, i.e. no thing, that it is immanent in all things, yet it is transcendent to everything. Mystics consider this seeming paradox to be a positive negation.

      Avidya, literally non-knowledge in Sanskrit, is used in Buddhism for our “spiritual ignorance” of the true nature of Reality. Bila kaifa, literally without knowing how in Arabic, is Islam’s term for “without comparison” to describe Allah. Ein Sof, literally without end in Hebrew, is the “infinite beyond description” in the Kabbalah. Neti, neti, literally not this, not this in Sanskrit, refers to “unreality of appearances” to define Brahman. In via negativa, the literal way of negation in Latin, God is “not open to observation or description.”

      Mysticism speaks of a spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. Da`at is Hebrew for “the secret sphere of knowledge on the cosmic tree.” Gnosis is Greek for the “intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths.” Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge of the way” to approach Brahman. Ma`rifa in Arabic is “knowledge of the inner truth.” Panna in Pali is “direct awareness”; perfect wisdom. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal. It is consummate cognition, unmediated discernment, with certainty.

      (quoted from my e-book at )

    • Gary Plavidal

      Paul, I agree that we do not mean “ignorance” as a pejorative. Everyone is ignorant of some things and knowledgeable of some things. I try to use the term specifically as relating to a certain event or field. It has no bearing on a person’s character or worth.

      Are you certain that there is no written record of demonic activity? I would consider the Gospels as written works that have been around for a while. I’m pretty sure that the Catholic Church has written procedures for exorcisms, and I suspect that they would have some records. Can nothing be gleaned from other religions, paganism, and ghost stories? Of course you probably mean sources from people who “know better”.

      “Anecdote” as used in “Skepticese” is meant to inject the connotation of “fairy tale” as deflection from dealing with a hard fact. One may convince others that I’m making something up, exaggerating, hallucinating, or misinterpreting perceived data; but I know what I saw and heard at close proximity–that supports the NT claim. Such an “anecdote” is evidence for the “event” and the possible. Politicians commonly misuse anecdotes to falsely portray public opinion or universal effect of policy.

    • Ed Kratz

      I had a professor at Dallas Seminary (which is certainly not known for its belief in demon possession and other charismatic relations). His name is Scot Horell. He is a theology prof. Down to earth and as intellectual as they come. He was a regular missionary to South America. I know that he would look at “accomidation theories” about demons and reject them without consideration. He tells of many stories of demonic encounters. He even has some of this stuff on video. I have seen them. It is not just “evil” stuff that people are doing and saying, it is extrodinary superhuman feats. I don’t think we have any way to explain this medically and I don’t like the “science of the gaps” approach…You know, the “science will be able to explain everything naturally if you just give it enough time” theory?

      However, I don’t think we should be so quick to discount the idea that “demons are afraid of Zoloft.” There is an increadible connection between the spirit and body, mind and brain, to where it might be the case that medicine can mute demonic power. It is certainly not always the case, but we should not reject this idea outright.

    • Gary Plavidal

      Michael, interesting thoughts. I think the reality of our demonic enemies is not an issue that divides cessationists and charismatics across the board.

      Dueling professors: Admittedly, my theology school was charismatic (a fairly well known university a couple of hrs east of you and whose founder recently passed away) my head professor (Charles Farah) was a Calvinist (Presbyterian) as well as charismatic. A side comment he once made in class was that he had encountered what he termed as a “fallen angel” while ministering in India. He differentiated this “being” from demons which he described as disembodied spirits (that’s why they seek bodies to possess) but this beast had a body (and was even more fearsome than demons). This was the the only account of this nature that I’m aware of, but Dr Farah was also a down-to-earth intellectual, not given to exaggeration. It fit’s that there would be a hierarchy among angels, including the ones that rebelled.

      I agree that medicine and other science might affect demonic activity–as would the presence of the church on this continent (someone noted this earlier).

    • […] Go to comments this is a bit dated but back in mid August, Micheal Patton at Parchment and Pen asked if modern science made belief in demon possession unnecessary.   He talks about the supposed […]

    • Wolf Veizer

      Interesting post.

      The responses are quite telling – possibly one of the most interesting and clear demonstrations of the mindset most (all?) Christians have about matters they should know much more about.

      For those interested, you may find it fascinating to read the accounts of UFO believers and tribal animists. The justifications given for these beliefs are similar – almost strangely identical – to the defenses given here for belief in demons.

      Among the things common to most populations sharing such superstitions are generally an emphasis on anecdotal evidence (I saw this superhuman feat!), an ignorance of the fact that these “feats” are documented phenomena (I.e. Neurotransmitter effects on consciousness and muscle capacity), and a refusal to consider replacing old beliefs with more accurate ones.

      Perhaps most tellingly, individuals thoroughly engrained in these belief systems, once confronted with overwhelming evidence for a more accurate explanation, then often end their defense with an interpretation of their belief system that allows BOTH to be true.

      I.e. presented with the knowledge that a “mystical/spiritual/demonic” experience can easily be stimulated in a predictable way using cortical stimulation of specific brain regions, believers suggest that demons AND electromagnetic stimulation are somehow both involved (similar to a fairy believer suggesting planes fly not only because of propellers and aerodynamic lift, but because of little fairies pushing it upward.)

    • Boz

      Wolf Veizer, have you read this article?

      It is related to your points about people adjusting their beliefs.

      The article talks about how people react when they encounter facts that disprove (or provide evidence against) their current beliefs.

    • Ed Kratz

      Just to be clear (since I have other people writing saying that I don’t believe in demon possession), this post was to get people to discuss this issue and think deeply about it. I was not making an arguement.

      I do believe in demon possession (more accurately, demonization). I also believe that we can misattribute. I also believe that demons may be able to be disturbed by anti-phychotics (as odd as that may sound.)

    • Wolf Veizer


      How do you distinguish your position from that of a tribal animist who thinks nearly every event in nature has a demonic origin?

      Also, how did you arrive at the belief that biochemical substances substances have an effect on these alleged demons?

      And, aside from your religious preconceptions, what indicators convinved you that these phenomena were the result of demons? Why not angry fairies or hungry unicorns or the dead spirits of your dead ancestors? Or is that opinion solely religious based?

    • Wolf Veizer


      Sad, but true. There are very specific reasons in the neurology of the human brain why this occurs, but its effect is sometimes mournfully negative.

      It’s what allows the vestiges of age old tribal superstition to persist to this very day in “sophisticated” modern religions like Christianity.

    • Ed Kratz

      I am sorry I don’t have time to engage in old posts. There are simply too many people asking me questions on old post. If I took the time to answer them, that is all I would do.

      However, I will briefly say this:

      You said, “And, aside from your religious preconceptions.”

      All of your questions assume this. I don’t know how to step outside myself and answer this. If I don’t have my religious preconceptions (i.e. Christ rose from the grave, God is real and involved in mankind, the Bible is trustworthy), I would believe a lot of things differently!

      It would be like saying, “Aside from your belief that the world is real and not an illusion…” I don’t know the value of such “asides.” If Christ rose from the grave, there are increadible implications for everything, including the belief in the demonic.

    • Wolf Veize®


      Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to revisit the post…

      But it seems there might be a bit of a misunderstanding, perhaps on both sides. Are you actually suggesting that you are opted out of answering any questions, or providing any *current* evidence at all, just because of your religious pre-conceptions?

      Certain things would of course be different if someone had been raised from the dead. You say this as if it were relevant. Sure! There would also be huge implications if Ahura Mazda was God or if Muhammad was a prophet of Allah or if Sathya Sai Baba was an avatar of a deity.
      But you don’t seem to struggle with thinking beyond those presuppositions.

      The original question wasn’t intended to be too hard to answer (nor to throw you into a theravada paradox). Perhaps restating it would help:

      What evidence do you have, without referencing your religious text, suggesting demonic activity? Or do you simply admit to having no evidence?

    • Ed Kratz


      What I am saying is that without these preconvictions about the supernatural provided by the resurrection of Christ, I would be forced to evaluate them according to a whole new set of preconvictions. There is not such thing as white coat unbiased interpretation. The question is how justifiable are your preconvictions/preconceptions?

      If I had the preconception that the supernatural did not exist, then I would have to find alternative explainations to direct my thoughts or else change my assumptions.

    • wm tanksley

      How do you distinguish your position from that of a tribal animist who thinks nearly every event in nature has a demonic origin?

      By observing that he is not a tribalist, that his belief system is not animist, and that he thinks that almost all observable events

      Also, how did you arrive at the belief that biochemical substances have an effect on these alleged demons?

      He’s expressing a suspicion, not a belief — or more accurately, he’s saying that immediate dismissal of medical help isn’t warranted even if one is certain of demonic origin.

      Or is that opinion solely religious based?

      That’s a poorly phrased question, I think. His opinion appears to be formed because someone he trusted and expected to know of things of that nature told him that it was so. This is much the same reason that I believe general relativity (I believe it down to the math, which I’ve practiced considerably) and quantum theory (which I’ve only studied sufficiently to understand Raman spectroscopy).

      I highly doubt that his parents told him THAT.


    • […] It is popular these days to give an account for the happenings in the New Testament concerning demon possession by reference to modern science. The idea here is that what the New Testament writers (and Jesus himself) described as demon possession was really nothing more than medical conditions that could today be described and treated by modern medicine. [C Michael Patton]. […]

    • Serendipity

      Although baptised a Catholic, as an aetheist for the past 30 years, I of course do not believe in a “God”, it follows therefore my absence of belief in Satan and possession by demons. There is of course great evil in the world, but this comes from Mankind itself.
      I am not going to patronise the people posting the religious point of view on this, if it makes one happy, secure, and gives one comfort in believing in a God, then so be it.
      However one must accept certain facts. There has NEVER been a documented, proven case of ANYONE being possessed by a “demon”, in the biblical sense. Not ONE.
      There have been countless cases of people exhibiting the so called classic symptoms of a possession, and any of these that were actually checked all proved to have anything but a supernatural cause. If people promote evil, and carry out horrific atrocities to their fellow human beings, they alone are to blame. I am not expecting any hate replies 🙂 I would hope we are above that, and it would also be “unchristian” would it not?

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