King's Evangelical Divinity School

3 May 2010

Saints and Spirits

Over the weekend I decided to post something on demon-possession, which I suggested several weeks back I'd be doing quite soon, but which now seems a particularly good time to do so (as explained below). A curious topic, you might think (especially for the more secular among you), for a blog which largely focuses on Christians and politics, whether in Latin America or the Middle East (my research interests), or more generally. But my blog descriptor also highlights my interest in biblical theology, a subject I teach at undergraduate level, and the whole area of the spirit world, demons and Satan corporately represent an important biblical theology theme. Indeed, the Bible climaxes with a future showdown between good and evil, the personification of which fight a running battle throughout many pages of Scripture (especially in the Gospels and Apocalyptic literature such as Daniel, parts of Joel, and the book of Revelation). Meanwhile, this is an area of interest within a subdiscipline of theology I also research and write about - Pentecostal Studies, concerned with an academic study of Pentecostalism. Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, of course, strongly believe in the spirit world but are notoriously divided on whether or not a Christian can be demon-possessed.

Finally, the issue of demon-possession has actually made the news several times recently, including curiously the current UK geneal election! (No, you haven't misread the previous sentence.) A few weeks ago I mentioned how a senior Catholic exorcist, in response to the recent paedophile scandals, asserted the Devil resides in the Vatican (a statement I suggested some deeply anti-papal Protestants regarded as a bit of an own goal). Periodically, too, we hear of some African Pentecostals' fixation with casting demons from children (Africa, of course, counts traditional religion and spiritism - which is deeply antithetical to Pentecostalism - among its expressions of religion), sometimes with tragic results. Meanwhile, yesterday the issue of demonism even made the British general election news (who would have thought, twenty years ago, that even religion, much less the issue of demonism, would have made political news in this country?) The Guardian newspaper ran a story concerning a Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate and rising star in the party from a Charismatic restorationist movement who years ago allegedly sought to exorcise demons in order to cure people of their homosexuality, a story the Daily Telegraph later picked up on. A last-ditch attempt to damage Cameron's Tories, particularly given Cameron's well-known (and largely failed) attempt to capture the pink vote? Quite possibly. But this aside, for me all this dovetailing of my research interests and current news stories comes just as I'm working at this precise moment on a new book on this very topic, which explores demonism as it relates specifically to Christians from a biblical theology perspective (which is due for publication later this year). Where I visit and speak/lecture, my views on the topic are fairly well-known. I argue from a biblical theology perspective that the New Testament account presents such activity as at an all-time high during Jesus' ministry and specifically related to His inauguration of the Kingdom of God, while I argue Christian sonship and possession are theologically incompatible. Yet I also think a tendency towards sensationalism merely serves to downplay (much like C.S. Lewis suggested in his wonderful Screwtape Letters) the reality of a serious issue. I explore each of these (and other) aspects in my forthcoming book.

However, one of my draft chapters responds specifically to the view held by some drawing on Jewish-Christian hermeneutics and typology (another area I've discussed here) that Christians can be demonised. Thus given the topical nature of the issue I thought I'd reproduce the first draft of that particular chapter.

The Body as a Type of the Jerusalem Temple?
Calvin L. Smith

One of the arguments I’ve heard cited fairly often to support the view a Christian can be demon-possessed (or else be so demonised so as to mean practically the same thing) is the body as a type of the Jerusalem Temple. The argument goes something like this. In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul states:

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Co 3:16-17 ESV)
Later in his epistle Paul echoes the first part of this statement almost word for word:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Co 6:19-20 ESV)
Thus, it is argued that in these passages Paul is likening the human body to the Jerusalem Temple. In other words, the body is a type of the Temple. And just as the Jerusalem Temple consisted of various courts, including a court for the Gentiles, the Court of Israel and the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies), so too humans are beings made up of various parts. Such a view draws on the view among some Protestant theologians that Man consists of three parts (the term used is a ‘tripartite’ being), which are body, soul and spirit (diagram 1). Others say the soul and spirit are one and the same, so that Man is a bipartite being (soul/spirit and body). Either way, those who draw on the body as a type of the Jerusalem Temple to support their view that Christians can be possessed by a demon argue that just as the Jerusalem Temple consisted of several courts and Gentiles were not allowed beyond the Court of the Gentiles, so too Man is made up of various parts (or ‘courts’) and while a demon may be permitted to possess or torture the body, it cannot go beyond this ‘Court of the Gentiles’ to invade the spirit and/or soul (diagrams 2 and 3).

Diagram 1. Man as a tripartite being

Diagram 2. Shaded area denotes limits of demon possession (tripartite)

Diagram 3. Shaded area denotes limits of demon possession (bipartite)

At first glance this seems like a reasonable theological argument. It draws on Scripture, indeed a Scripture which is repeated (our bodies are God’s temple); it seeks to engage in a typological interpretation of those verses (which, for many Christians who emphasise a Jewish-Christian interpretative approach is attractive); it draws upon respected ongoing discussion among established theologians concerning Man as either a tripartite or bipartite being; and finally (and perhaps most importantly) it seems to make good sense. The problem is, this argument of the body as a type of the Jerusalem Temple to advocate the view Christians can be demon-possessed is fundamentally flawed, and indeed plain wrong.

First, it is important to take great care when engaging in typological interpretation. Otherwise we begin to look for hidden, deeper meanings everywhere in the Bible, which is known as allegorical interpretation and is no different from the Catholic exegesis of the Middle Ages that sought an arbitrarily-reached sensus plenior (hidden meaning). In short, allegorical interpretation allows you to make the Bible say whatever you want it to say, so that the plain common-sense meaning is ignored in favour of something purportedly hidden and usually invented by the interpreter. A good example of this false or poor typological interpretation (which is nothing of the sort, but really allegorical interpretation), where the interpreter seeks a theological meaning for absolutely every facet and aspect of the construction of the Tabernacle as set down in the book of Exodus. Thus I have heard all manner of bizarre interpretations where every material, colour, shape or dimension is given a theological meaning. The problem, of course, is that there is absolutely no way of verifying these theological interpretations, while there are all manner of arbitrary and contradictory interpretations circulating within Christian circles. That is not to say, of course, aspects of the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle do not have theological significance (they clearly do). But typological interpretation provides some untrained observers with an excuse to seek for meanings which are not there.

So when it comes to typological interpretation there are some useful rules or principles to bear in mind. First, typology is essentially Christocentric, that is, it points to Christ. The Bible makes clear that the Old Testament Scriptures points to Christ (Lk 24:27, 44, Jn 5:39), while the very passage which introduces us to the Greek word ‘tupos’ (from which we get the word type/typology, Rm 5:14) expressly states that the type (Adam) points to the Coming One, Jesus. Importantly, throughout the New Testament the various passages usually cited as examples of typology indeed point to Christ, including Jonah (Mt 12:38-41), the brass serpent (Jn 3:14-15), manna/bread from heaven (Jn 6:26-51), Moses (Ac 3:22-23), Adam (Rm 5:12-14) and the Passover Lamb (1 Co 5:6-8).

Typology is also very often explicitly stated as such. In other words, when typology appears in the Bible we are specifically told in those passages of Scripture that the person, institution, object or event represents an illustration or prototype of Christ. Note how this is the case for all of the examples listed above. This helps to ensure typology does not degenerate into arbitrary allegorical interpretations which allow us to make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. That is not to say, of course, we cannot look for Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures because the passages do not plainly state they have a Christological outworking. We can, because as we have noted already Jesus points out how the Scriptures speak of Him. But this is a long way from arbitrarily selecting a verse in the New Testament which does not refer to Jesus and imbue it with a meaning that is not obvious, and then legitimise our hermeneutics by claiming all we have done is engage in a Jewish Christian typological approach to Scripture.

Finally, it would appear from the examples cited that typology is primarily is illustrative, that is, the type cited serves as a pattern, prototype or model to illustrate something (better someone, that is, Christ). Therefore, typology is a means of illustrating a doctrine that already exists, rather than a means of eliciting new doctrines. Hence we speak of typology as illustrative rather than prescriptive.

Arguably, the body as the Jerusalem Temple argument to argue that Christians can be demon-possessed fails in all these typology rules and conventions. The passages cited (1 Co 3:16-17 and 6:19-20) certainly do not specifically present a type or pattern which points to Christ, Neither is the doctrine of demon-possession of Christians cited anywhere in Scripture. Rather, these verses in 1 Corinthians are drawn upon to prescribe a doctrine that Christians can be demon-possessed rather than illustrating an existing doctrine.

There are also other grave flaws with such an interpretation which demonstrates the problems of proof-texting, where verses are lifted out of their immediate context so as to affect or change the meaning. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 Paul is dealing with spiritual immaturity in the Corinthian church. Sectarianism had crept in, so that some claimed to be behind Paul, others with Apollos, and so on. Paul responds to this spiritual immaturity by explaining how all of the church together is engaged in a communal, collective project, so that each individual is a co-worker in this greater work of God, rather than the leader of a sect to be followed. In other words, personalities have no place in the wider work of God.

As part of his argument Paul likens the work to the building of a church edifice, with each of the co-workers contributing something to the overall project. Thus Paul says he personally laid a foundation (meaning he founded the Corinthian church) and another has built upon it (3:5). In turn, members of the church will contribute to the building of the church, some of those contributions being costly and sacrificial, others less so. Ultimately, all contributions will be assessed, and if deserving, rewarded (3:12-15). As one reads through 1 Corinthians 3 it becomes clear Paul moves from an analogy of building an edifice to the building of the local church, which is the body of Christ. Thus Paul concludes with the statement: “Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the spirit of God lives in you?” (HCSB). In other words, Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 3:1-17, stop this immature sectarianism and recognise you are all together co-workers in a greater work of God – the building of the church – which indeed is what you are, God’s own sanctuary in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. This passage, then, is not referring to the Jerusalem Temple and it certainly has nothing to do with demon-possession.

Now consider the context of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. In an epistle which deals with all manner of problems in the Corinthian church, in this chapter the apostle discusses unacceptable behaviour and immorality. He begins with lawsuits among believers (6:1-7), concluding this section by saying this kind of behaviour is unjust and stating: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom?” (6:9). Paul then lists other behaviours which preclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God, reminding the Corinthians that they had previously engaged in such activity but they had since been washed and sanctified through the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This discussion sets the scene for 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, in which Paul’s deals with the specific sin of sexual immorality.

Central to this discussion is the sanctity of the human body of a Christian. Paul discusses taking control of the body (6:12), that the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord (6:13), and as such our bodies are members of the Body of Christ (6:14). Paul is playing on the word ‘body’ here: our human bodies must remain sanctified and holy so that the Body of Christ should remain sanctified. Because our body belongs to Christ, engaging in sexual immorality is not an option (6:15-17). Thus, in verse 18 Paul urges his readers to flee from sexual immorality, which is a sin against one’s own body. Yet as Christians our body is the sanctuary, or temple, of the Holy Spirit. It is the place in which the Spirit of God dwells. How then can our bodies be used for sexual immorality? “Therefore,” Paul says, “glorify God in your body” (6:20).

Straight away, the context of Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 6 demonstrates the unsuitability of this passage for the body as a type of the Jerusalem Temple argument. Paul is not talking about the Jerusalem Temple at all. Rather, his whole argument revolves around the concept of the human body as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Paul is arguably alluding here to another temple, that in Corinth, where sexual activity played a role in the pagan temple cultus and worship. By juxtaposing Corinthian paganism with his call for the Corinthians to flee sexual immorality, it would seem Paul is making an even more powerful argument drawing on vivid imagery of what was going on down the street to enhance the power of his commandment to flee sexual immorality. “Unlike the Corinthians down the road who belong to a pagan temple which engages in sexual immorality as part of its worship, you Christian Corinthians are the very temple of God, where there should be no sexual immorality at all”.

However, the most obvious reason why 1 Corinthians 6:19 simply cannot be used as a type of the Jerusalem Temple to support the view Christians can be demon-possessed is the centrality of the human body in Paul’s argument. Remember, those who take the view Christians can be possessed argue that just as the Jerusalem Temple consisted of various parts, the innermost of which is closed to anyone other than the High Priest, so too a person’s body may be possessed by a demon but not their spirit and/or soul. But in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 the whole basis of Paul’s discussion is precisely this – the human body! The whole thrust of Paul’s argument is believers’ bodies – which are the temple of God – engaging in sexual immorality. Thus, it is quite amazing hermeneutical gymnastics which turns a discussion about our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit into the assertion that our bodies are only the outermost part of the temple. Does God, through His Holy Spirit, dwell within the very heart of us? Or does He only dwell in the outermost court of the Gentiles?

Clearly, the whole concept of compartmentalising Man into a bipartite or tripartite being is problematic. With reference to the Jerusalem Temple, in which there was a court for the Gentiles, women, Israel and the priests, together with the Holy of Holies, how far do we take this analogy? Might we speak of quintopartite beings, made up of five parts to represent these courts and parts of the Temple? In fact, people are a single entity, and artificial compartmentalisation such as this to bolster the doctrine that Christians can be demon-possessed is wholly unsatisfactory. As Paul makes clear, our bodies are where the Holy Spirit dwells.

Besides, if, as Paul makes abundantly clear, the Holy Spirit dwells within our bodies which are the temple of God, how then can a demon indwell that same temple at the same time? It just does not make sense, and indeed is surely an insult to the Holy Spirit. If the presence of God through Jesus caused demons to flee, how can they remain in the presence of God? Note the reaction of the demon-possessed man during the exorcism at the synagogue in Capernaum (Mk 1:23-26). The two could not remain in the same space together, and the demon fled. Indeed, Jesus taught demon-possession was dependent on a vacant space (Mt 12:43-44), not a space or body in which the Holy Spirit already dwells.

Meanwhile, in 2 Corinthians 6 Paul juxtaposes the believer and the church as the body of Christ as a whole with idols. There is no merging of the two here, but rather a sharp dualism: light or darkness, Christ or Belial, believer or unbeliever, God’s sanctuary (us, our bodies) or idols. It is one or the other, not both. Poignantly, concerning the latter (idols) in 1 Corinthians 10:14ff Paul warns against idolatry (which interestingly is juxtaposed with the body of Christ, 10:15-17) going on to observe how food offered to idols is actually a sacrifice to demons (10:19). Yet again we are faced with the dualism of serving Christ or partaking with demons. It is one or the other, it can’t be both. Paul concludes with an unequivocal assertion whichever way you look at it:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Co 10:21 ESV).

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