Do demons require physical bodies to do their work?

The previous article began to answer the question “do demons need to possess living beings to do evil? The Bible does not speak of demons for the purpose of teaching about their nature or limitations but some deductions about demons can be made from the Biblical references to them. A reasonable inference can be drawn from the Bible that at least some demons prefer to inhabit physical beings. This preference does not necessarily mean demons require a physical body to accomplish their diabolical purposes.

Demons are angelic creatures who rebelled against God and were cast out of their positions of service in heaven (Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9). God created them spiritual beings who have the same nature as angels. There is no instance of a righteous angel requiring or desiring to inhabit a physical body. The demons desire to inhabit a body is not a part of their created nature.

As evil angels following in the path of Satan it can be surmised that demons are actively fighting against the will of God and are actively working for the harm of mankind. The gospels and the book of Acts show a real physical component to this malicious activity. Demons possessing a human body cause seizure like symptoms which cause the possessed to fall into fire or water, instigate the person into cutting themselves, drive the person into unsafe living conditions and causing tearing pains in the body of the person.

The physical harm done by demons is only part of their activity. Their work has a physical effect but not is limited to physical means. Ephesians 6 describes the Christian life as a spiritual battle. Paul says we do not fight against flesh and blood. The battle is against “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) The tools for the Christian in this battle are depicted as armor but not of leather and steel. The Christains’ armor is spiritual not physical. His armor is truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation and the Word of God. Such an armament will not defeat a physical enemy, but it will stand against evil spirits.

Daniel 10 gives a glimpse into what the spiritual activity of demons may look like. An angel of God came to the prophet Daniel to explain the meaning of a vision he had seen. The angel told Daniel the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” fought against his coming to Daniel. The angel Michael, “one of the chief princes” came to the assistance of the first angel and allowed him to reach Daniel. Though the details are limited this passage provides a glimpse into the spiritual battle that is taking place. These angels and demons were not warring together through humans they controlled. Daniel probably would have noticed a swordfight on his front doorstep. They were engaged in a spiritual battle in their own spiritual forms. A physical form is not necessary for the evil work of those angels which followed Satan.

Demons can do possess individuals even in America today. Nothing in the Bible would imply demons are limited to only working by controlling a physical body. Demons are powerful spiritual beings actively at work in a spiritual battle against God. Christians need not fear demons for, “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Do demons have to possess physical bodies?

Demons are always a compelling topic of popular entertainment. Demons are not only a subject of imaginative and terrifying storytelling, they are mentioned multiple times in the Bible. One popular portrayal of demons, promoted by preachers and popular media, is that they require a physical host to perform their malevolent deeds. Do demons require a physical host, whether a person, an animal or an object, to work their deviltry?

The four gospels and the book of Revelation contain the majority of the Biblical references to demons. The New Testament epistles and the entire Old Testament only contain a few mentions of demons. No where does the Bible discuss demons for the purpose of teaching about them. For example, when the gospels tell of Jesus casting out demons, it does not do so to teach about demons. It tells of Jesus casting out demons to teach about Jesus and His power as God. The Bible’s discussion of demons is always secondary to the main point of the passage. This does not mean what the Bible says about demons is inaccurate, merely that the discussion of demons is always incidental to the Bible’s purpose. The reader can draw inferences about the nature of demons from these descriptions, but must be careful to keep in mind the purpose of the information is not intended to teach about the characteristics, power or abilities of demons.

The Gospels contain the most information about demonic activity in the world. In every instance demons are presented as possessing physical beings. The Gospels never present demons as possessing objects nor does it present them as being nothing more than evil forces. The account of Jesus casting a Legion of demons out of a man living in Gadara is important to answering this question.

When Jesus commanded the demons to leave the unfortunate man they asked, “Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.” The desire of this Legion of demons to enter the herd of pigs is offered as proof that demons must have a physical body to possess. However, this conclusion does not line up with the reason the demons themselves give for wanting to be sent into the swine. In Luke’s gospel the demons Legion ask that they not be sent into the abyss, but into the pigs instead. The abyss is a place of imprisonment for fallen angels. (Revelation 9:1-3, 11; Revelation 20:1-3) The demons were fearful of being imprisoned and so desired to be sent into the pigs instead.

Another passage pertinent this discussion is the parable of Jesus found in Luke 11:24-26. Jesus describes a demon as going out of a man and wandering through desolate places but finding no rest. The point of the parable is not to teach about demons but about the futility of self-righteous self-reformation. The description of the demon leads to the conclusion that at least some demons prefer to possess a physical body.

It seems reasonable to deduce that at least some demons prefer to possess living beings, but the preference to possess living creatures does not mean demons require a physical body to perform their infernal deeds. The Bible presents the activity of demons as that which does not require a physical body to accomplish. More on that later.