Over time, the practice of “spiritual deliverance” has evolved from mere deliverance from evil spirits, as taught by earlier Pentecostals, to comprehensive deliverance from all ill as practiced by various Charismatics. This article will discuss the flaws of the Charismatics’ teaching on spiritual deliverance and provide a biblical view of demonology.

Flaws in the deliverance model

1. It attributes to the devil what is properly a function and a consequence of the fall or man’s sinfulness. Knowingly or not, in attributing these to direct satanic invasion it rejects the idea that error and sin are products of the fall.
2. It fails to recognise that the remedy for error and sin lies in the atoning work of Christ and not in deliverance performed by some “man of God”.
3. It fails to see that complete removal of all evil will come with the glorification of the people of God at the coming of Christ and that it is not necessarily a current reality for them.
4. It fails to see that deliverance from demonic possession is not the answer to every evil or condition.

Biblical view of demonology

Here are the elements we must discuss to understand the biblical theology of demonology:
1. Demon identity
Demons are evil spirits or fallen angels (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 12:9) under the command of Satan who is the prince of demons (cf. Matt. 12:24).
2. Demonic habitations
Demons are spirits that prefer encasement of some sort. Roaming in open space seems undesirable for them. At least three habitations are noted:
a. Desolate dwellings (haunted places, Rev. 18:2).
b. Animals (Lk. 8:33; the serpent, Gen. 3).
c. Humans (Lk. 8:27).
The dwelling of choice for these demons seems to be humans, unless impeded (Lk. 11:24). This is because demons have a mission to harm moral creatures (Rev. 12:12, cf. Jn. 10:10).
3. Demonic activities
Evil spirits seem to be identified with four specific wicked activities:
Inducing depression (Saul, 1 Sam. 16:14–23).
Causing terrorism, e.g. haunting (Rev. 18:2).
Inflicting physical harm and other Job-like assaults, e.g. Paul (2 Cor. 12:7).
Effecting possession of animate creatures.
In the first three activities, demons attack a person from outside their bodies. They work externally, attacking the mind, emotions, and body. In the fourth, they work from within, as permanent dwellers.
4. Demonic possession in the Bible
Demon possession is the work of evil spirits and not necessarily Satan himself. Satan “enters” humans in a transitory bid to extraordinarily impel them to evil action (e.g. David, 1 Chr. 21:1 or Judas, Jn. 13:2, 27), or as ultimate sources of mediated demonic activity (Lk. 13:16).
Demons inhabit the body of the person they possess.
Demons permanently or sporadically take over the mental faculty of the possessed, functioning through the victim’s mind and body (Lk. 4:33–34).
Demons can impersonate people or creatures like lions, snakes, frogs (cf. Gen. 3:1).
Demons can impair health: physical manifestations of demonic possession include hypochondria, insanity, epilepsy, frenzy, dumbness, blindness, deafness. It is important to note that not all who suffered these conditions were demon possessed (Matt. 4:24; Mk. 7:32).
Demons manifestation can take over the speech and body of the possessed (Matt. 8:28, 29), speaking in different voices, gibberish, etc.
Demons can manifest extraordinary strength (Mk. 5:4; Acts 19:16).
Demons make outlandish claims as well as those that are truthful but corrupted (Acts 16:16–18). They can ridiculously claim to be married to their victims. The absurdity of “spiritual marriages” believed in by some people, derives from listening intently to demonic claims. Paul calls these “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Although wicked environments invite demonic activity, there is no indication of demons influencing the moral character of the possessed. Demonic moral influence comes not by possession but directly through regular external temptation to sin through the mind, heart, and will. Hence Satan is called “the tempter” (Matt. 4:3).
5. Demonic possession and its sources
It is often speculated that demon possession is inherited. Others clasp to the fancy that it is a product of curses or ill-wishes. Still others assume that every form of sinful living results in demon possession. What seems clear, however, is the following:
Sinful living that is idolatrous and suffused with satanic exaltation, resulting from withdrawal of common grace or divine abandonment, exposes persons to demonic intimacy. King Saul seems to be a case in point (1 Sam. 16:14, cf. 13:7–14; 15:10–31).
Satanic indulgences are another regular exposure to demonic possession. These include activities of witchcraft, occultism (i.e. secret power such as magic, clairvoyance or extra-sensory perception, spiritism or communing with the dead), witchdoctors, spiritual-herbalism (Lev. 19:31; Duet. 18:9–12). Parental pagan occultism exposes even children to the passive invasion of the evil spirits they worshipped (Matt. 15:22, cf. Ezra 9:1).
Although curses are potent in their wide-ranging effects, there is no proof of curses being the ordinary source of demonic possession in Scripture. It is not every curse that had spiritual efficacy but those made either by heads of families or institutions, be they traffickers in dark powers or not (cf. 1 Sam. 14:28; Num. 24:9).

Deliverance from demonic possession

The interesting discussion of the methods of deliverance from demonic possession cannot be avoided. All kinds of methods have been proposed by pragmatists who care less what God’s word says.

Deliverance via oil and water and vigils

The practice of anointing with oil, sprinkling holy water, and engaging in overnight prayer vigils as a way of exorcising demons have become prevalent in some Charismatic circles. It is assumed that demons are everywhere and in most people, including Christians, and that anointing or sprinkling people and things and places with holy oil or water will quickly drive them away. Additionally, at a pretty high fee, men of God can engage in prayer vigils that connect them to the spirit world from which they are able to overcome and annul the influence of demons upon the “clients”.
But according to Scripture there is absolutely no link between these agents and the act of deliverance.
Oil in Bible times was used for both common and religious purposes. In general use, it was a cosmetic (Ruth 3:3), a part of burial rites (Mk. 16:1) and medicine (Mk. 6:13; Luke 10:34; Rev. 3:18; cf. James 5:14). Religiously, oil was used for anointing, or consecration for holy use, but never for demon deliverance. Notice:
In the Old Testament, oil was specially prepared oil as prescribed by God alone, with imitations strictly forbidden (Ex. 30:22–25, 31–33).
It was for dedication or consecration to holy use (Gen. 28:18; Ex. 28:41).
Its recipients were prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Ex. 29:7), and kings (1 Sam. 10:1). Hence, the phrase “the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 12:3; 26:9; 2 Chron. 6:42; Acts 4:26).
Only prophets did the anointing: Moses (Lev. 8:10), Samuel (1 Sam. 10:1), Nathan (1 Kings 1:34), Elijah (1 Kings 19:16), Elisha (2 Kings 9:1–3), etc.
In the New Testament, all believers are prophets, priests, and kings (1 Pet. 2:9), the anointing of the oil of old represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as seen in the person and ministry of Christ (Isa. 61:1; cf. Lk. 4:18; Acts 10:38) whose anointing occurred on his baptism (Jn. 1:32-33).
All believers are anointed with the oil of the Spirit by the chief Prophet, Christ, at conversion (2 Cor. 1:21, 22; 1 Jn. 2:27).
Only elders are urged to use oil as an attendant to healing (James 5:14 cf. Mk. 6:13), symbolically as an agent of divine healing (as the Lord’s Supper is an agent of spiritual nourishment) or natural therapeutics.
As for “holy water,” Scripture says little beyond this: “And the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water” (Num. 5:17). This is water out of the basin before the sanctuary, which served for cleansing purposes in the temple (Ex. 30:18–21). There is no evidence that it was used for the deliverance of demons.
The burden of proof is therefore on those that today claim to possess “holy water” to explain where they get it from and who authorises its use for purposes other than cleansing in the now defunct temple.
There are certainly cases of demonic possession that can only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Mk. 9:29). However, the prayer and fasting in question is not a reference to some magical power that the man of God wields during his nocturnal vigils, but a means God may use to deliver people from Satan.
In the matter of deliverance, the counsel of God’s word is what should direct us, and the following is an overview of the counsel it offers:
1. Although Scripture pours out abundant proof of demon casting by many players, it surprisingly does not exhort Christians to cast out demons. It neither commands them to nor does it prescribe a formula. What is urged is to:
stand against the evil one (Eph. 6:10–18)
resist the devil (James 4:7; 1Pt. 5:8–10)
keep the devil at bay (Eph. 4:27)
What seem to be exhortations to all believers to drive out demons had a linkage to their historical background. Such is the case regarding texts like Mark 16:17, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” A good understanding of this text shows that this promise was fulfilled in and by the early church. This is what Mark 16:20 affirms.
2. Although no command is given, patterns or examples of exorcism are set by a heterogonous group of people:
Unbelieving Jews exorcised by powers other than God’s (Lk. 11:19; Acts 19:13).
Pseudo (false) saints also traded in Jesus’ name (Mt. 7:22). Roman Catholics exorcise using holy water as well as Greek Orthodox churches. In other words, exorcisms occur even where Christ and his power are apparently absent.
Disciples under special powers lent to them drove out demons (Mk. 3:14, 15; 6:7). This transitory power became more regular after Pentecost. It is noteworthy that casting out demons by believers required more than mere Christian standing. It drew on special power from God. Even then, some demoniacs were only emancipated by additional spiritual exertions such as prayer and fasting (Mk. 9:29).
Christ consistently drove out demons with absolute authority and impeccable power.
3. Principles associated with exorcisms are proffered in passages such as Matt. 12:43–45 and Lk. 11:14–26, such as:
Avoid exorcism as an end in itself. It can be potentially harmful.
Exorcism must be for purposes of spiritual power-change.
Exorcism in Jesus’ name should draw in the kingdom of God, his rulership.
Deliverance is not from any particular social or moral defect but from demons.
Deliverance may take place leaving the delivered exposed to greater danger of more numerical possession.
Deliverance may take place without salvation automatically taking its place.
4. Demon expulsion was a miraculous act, according to Christ (Mk. 9:38-39 KJV). In Mk. 16:17–18, he classifies demon casting among miraculous gifts that went with apostolic power.
5. The superior mission of Christ’s servants is deliverance. It is not demon subjection via exorcism but subjection of sin via gospel proclamation (Lk. 10:20).


It is disconcerting that the epistles say nothing about the Christian person’s duty in relation to emancipating demoniacs. The silence is indeed unsettlingly conspicuous. The easy way out is to conclude that demon-casting belonged to the apostolic age. However, demoniacs are still with us and they must be dealt with in a manner congruent with biblical methodology. The deliverance model as practised by the Charismatics is certainly not the biblical way.
There is an alternative consideration. I draw the impression that Scripture’s inspirer envisaged a two-tier ministry: one at an ordinary and another at a miraculous level. Demon expulsion by use of miraculous power expired with the apostles. The more ordinary, which occurs via the labours of prayer and fasting as recorded in Mk. 9:29, operates on the same level as ordinary prayer for the sick.
The dispensation of the Spirit has known greater gracious interpositions, causing the occasional flight of devils without exorcisms in a manner unknown before times of the Spirit (cf. Acts 19:12). The suggestion is that demons will flee one way or the other in environments where the power of the gospel is manifest.
There is no indication in Scripture that the gospel message is impeded from penetrating into the heart of a demon possessed person when not under their influence or that it will not take effect with spontaneous deliverance being the result. So, preaching must take precedence. Where demonic incursion obstructs gospel hearing, demon expulsion is to be enforced through Christ’s authority. This appears to have been Christ’s deliverance criterion. At any rate, all deliverance is tied to the process of seeking conversion.