The most frequent mention of unclean spirits in the Bible is in relation to the ministry of Jesus. Elsewhere in the Bible evil spirits are called demons (see DEMONS). Satan is their leader, and he used them in an exceptional way to oppose Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:21-27; 3:11; 5:2,7; 6:7; 7:25). Jesus’ victory over evil spirits was a sign that the kingdom of God had come and Satan was being conquered (Matt 4:23-24; 12:28; see KINGDOM OF GOD; SATAN). When people were possessed by evil spirits, their speech and behaviour changed.

Evil spirits could enable them to have supernatural knowledge or strength, which could be used in an orderly way, but could also produce behaviour similar to hysteria or epilepsy. This may have resulted in temporary blindness, deafness or dumbness (Matt 12:22; Mark 1:24-26; 5:2-5; 9:17-25; Acts 16:16-18). Jesus and his disciples healed many who were possessed by evil spirits, but the Bible usually makes a distinction between such people and those who suffered from normal sicknesses and diseases (Matt 10:8; Mark 1:34; 6:13; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:16-18; see DISEASE). Those possessed by unclean spirits were not necessarily morally evil, and were not excluded from the synagogue. In fact, they were usually so tormented by the evil spirits that they showed great relief and gratitude when freed from them (Mark 1:21-26; 5:18-20; Luke 8:1-2). Those whom Jesus cleansed from evil spirits had to beware of becoming self-satisfied. It was therefore important for them to be committed to Jesus as true followers, allowing God’s Spirit to come into their lives and rule where previously Satan had ruled (Matt 12:43-45).

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