Is exorcism a biblical practice?
Jesus takes the evil spirits out of people
According to the Holy Scriptures, exorcism is the expulsion of evil spirits from a person through prayer made in faith in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This practice was used by the Lord Jesus Christ, then transmitted to the apostles and disciples of the Savior.
But it should be noted that exorcism is an old practice found among Jews and pagans. Its practice is different from the expulsion of evil spirits made of the Lord Jesus Christ and His church. Both Jews and pagans used a magic formula to cast out evil spirits from a person or a place. (Acts 19:11-20, Mark 9:38-39 NASB).
The work of the Lord Jesus to cast out evil spirits
For the Lord Jesus, the work of expelling evil spirits was an important aspect of His public work through which He communicated to us the work and inauguration of the Kingdom of God in the lives of those who believe in Him. The miracles of casting out evil spirits mean binding Satan and establishing the rule of Christ in people’s lives.
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And so He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man, and then he will plunder his house. “Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons and daughters of men, and whatever blasphemies they commit; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then His mother and His brothers came, and while standing outside they sent word to Him, calling for Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking around at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, this is My brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:22-35 NASB)
The work of expelling evil spirits by the Lord Jesus was the direct confrontation with the kingdom of Beelzebub, demonstrating the power and presence of the Kingdom of God. This work was not done on the basis of a magical technique or formula used by the Lord Jesus, but on the basis of His power and authority from God.
There are four accounts in the Gospel of Mark when the Lord Jesus cast out devils (Mark 1: 21-28, 5: 1-20, 7: 24-30, and 9: 14-29). In all these accounts we see that the evil spirits testified that Jesus is the Son of God and at His word they came out of man. So we see that Jesus did not use any specific prayer or magic formula or trick to cast the devils out of people, but His work of casting out evil spirits is God’s work of mercy toward men.
The work of expelling evil spirits by the apostles
Jesus’ authority over Satan’s power was passed on to His disciples. In sending the disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Lord Jesus empowered them to cast out unclean spirits. This event is related in all three Gospels: Matthew 10: 1-8, Mark 3: 13-19, 6: 7-13, Luke 9: 1-6.
Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; and James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who also betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, saying, “Do not go on a road to Gentiles, and do not enter a city of Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matthew 10:1-8 NASB)
The kingdom of God is now preached by the disciples of the Lord Jesus, and the casting out of unclean spirits is a proof of the coming, work, and power of the Kingdom of God. We must also mention that the Lord Jesus did not transmit to the disciples any magic formula or procedure for casting out demons. This differentiates the work of the Lord Jesus and the disciples from the work of exorcists who use techniques, formulas, and procedures to cast out unclean spirits. So in the Holy Scriptures there is no evidence that the Lord Jesus or His disciples used a magic procedure or technique or formula to cast out devils. The only thing that is mentioned is the authority of the Lord Jesus to command the devils: “Go out, go, etc.”
The work of casting out evil spirits by the disciples
In the book of Acts the work of casting out unclean spirits is very significant, because it is an extension of the work of the risen Jesus. The ability to cast out devils is not limited to the apostles. In Acts 8:5-8 Philip, one of the church ministers, heals and frees people from unclean spirits.
“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them. The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what was being said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed or limped on crutches were healed.
The work of healing and casting out demons is associated with preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
„But when they believed Philip as he was preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were being baptized” (Acts 8:12 NASB)
In Acts 19:11-12 the apostle Paul is an instrument by which the power and work of God is manifested in healing and casting out evil spirits.
“God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
This text is the only mention in the Bible where certain clothing items were used for healing and casting out evil spirits. This happens in the context of the Ephesians who practiced magic/witchcraft. God is full of grace in people’s lack of understanding. He satisfies people’s need for understanding. However, today we see this practice in many “Christians” who use clothing to heal people. This is not promoted by the Lord Jesus, the apostles, or the apostle Paul, who acknowledges that God is the source of these healings and that He is the instrument of God’s manifestation of power.
In witchcraft and magic, rituals, spells, the use of names and coercion are used. In contrast to the wonderful miracles of God made by the hands of Paul are the sons of Sceva who use the formula, “I swear to you by Jesus, whom Paul preaches!”
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had the evil spirits, saying, “I order you in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches!” Now there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, doing this. But the evil spirit responded and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know of Paul, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit, pounced on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to all who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. (Acts 19:13-17 NASB)
In exorcist practice the use of a correct and powerful name is important. This is what these exorcists are trying to do with the name of Jesus, but using the name of Jesus Christ in vain makes them guilty before God. The effort of the sons of Sceva shows the syncretism present in Ephesus. They do not believe in the gospel preached by the apostle Paul, but they want to take advantage of its power.
Unfortunately, there are people today like the sons of Sceva who do not believe the gospel of Jesus, but use it combined with formulas, prayers, techniques for casting out evil spirits.
Evil spirits are a reality, and this is what we study in the inductive Bible study, “Lord, is it warfare? Teach me to stand“. The New Testament Christian is called to pray in faith and fast before God, and He is the One who gives healing and brings out evil spirits from a person or place.
Translated by Liza Bîrlădeanu