Bible Bite: Does the Bible even TALK about exorcism?


I’ve been taking a rest from blogging as of recent (well, this whole past month), mostly because my week has been entirely swallowed up by my weekly preparation of a class I’ve been teaching on Bible study and preparing a Bible lesson/sermon.  As happens in the process of studying, I always stumble across various tidbits and details that get tossed in my drafts folder, awaiting to be made posts some day.  I thought I’d quickly share one that struck me as quite interesting.

I was going through a bunch of scriptures and ended up in Acts 19.  There, in Acts 19, we see this following passage:

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. – Acts 19:11-20

In 19:13, I saw the word “exorcists” and started wondering about what exactly the Bible said about exorcism…so I looked up the term.

Here’s what I learned:


I was somewhat surprised to find that the term exorkistēs only occurs in Acts 19:13.  It’s a hapax legomenon; a word that only appears once in the New Testament…and in the one place it appears it’s used for those who have seen how the apostles cast out demons and attempted to do so fraudulently.  Now that is interesting to me.

What else is interesting is that exorkistēs is the noun form of the verb exorkizō, which also appears only once in the New Testament; Matthew 26:63:

“But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.'”

The high priest attempted to command Jesus to tell him whether or not he was the messiah.  The term exorcist has the idea of “commanding”, and comes from a verb that essentially means “command”.  In Matthew 26:63 the verb is what an angry high priest does to attempt to get Jesus to condemn himself by saying the specific phrase, and in Acts 19:13 the noun is used of seven fellows who confused the power of God with magic and attempted to turn the name of Jesus into an incantation.

So, the Bible does mention exorcism (specifically the term), but in the one time it uses the term it says nothing positive.


This isn’t meant to even attempt to address the issue of demonic possession, or deliverance “ministries”, or spiritual warfare, or anything of the sort.  I’m only examining the word and looking at how it is used in scripture.

Now, excuse me as my coffee-break from class-prep is over and I return to work!

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Don’t call yourself an exorcist…ever!” Unger


14 thoughts on “Bible Bite: Does the Bible even TALK about exorcism?

  1. So I wonder how and when this started to appear in Roman Catholicism. I’ve always wondered about supposed RC Exorcists. If a RC Priests attempted to perform an exorcism, wouldn’t the alleged demon he’s trying to “command” to leave the body of the victim quote Acts 19:15? Where does a RC priests go from there?

    • That’s exactly what I started thinking Ivan. I wonder how the term somehow slipped into usage and I really wonder about RC exorcists, though I guess they’re possibly successful (occasionally) because they bring credibility to a false religion. The whole “kingdom divided against itself” line doesn’t work here, because there’s no real division.

  2. Pickles again!?!? I’m in stitches. I’m laughing so hard I nearly dumped my coffee on me. Interesting post, brother, but I was TOTALLY surprised by the comment.

    Peace to you.

    • It will be interesting how long Mr. Sarco keeps trying, in vain, to post whatever damning screeds he tries to post on this website. He’ll never say anything except that he loves pickles…unless he wants to privately message me and actually have some sort of dialogue.

      While we’re dreaming, I’d like a yacht with a Star Trek replicator on it that is about the size of an airplane hangar. A man could have fun with something like that.

      10,000 gallons of chocolate pudding? DONE!
      A fighter jet? DONE!
      Optimus Prime? DONE!
      A life-sized stuffed animal of Clifford the Big Red Dog? DONE!

  3. I think we may be talking about what is simply a difference in terminology here. Jesus and the Apostles certainly cast out demons; wouldn’t that make them exorcists in some sense of the word? It seems that perhaps the use of the word in the Bible is confined to those who try to cast out demons using magic, or some sort of occult power as opposed to the word of God. But in most modern language, we use the term “exorcism” to refer simply to the casting out of demons, without regard to the source of the power.

    Now, I’d agree that it might be good to avoid the term, but not because it is inaccurate. Rather, I think the association of the term with modern horror movies about the demonic would probably make it inadvisable to use in reference to the work of God through Jesus and the Apostles, because of the imagery it would raise in modern minds. You may be sure that nobody ever twisted their head around and spit pea soup at Jesus when He told a demon to leave.

    As far as modern so-called “deliverance” ministries, I don’t think that a reasonable case can be made from the Bible for their existence. There is no biblical record of any Christian making the casting out of demons the central feature of his ministry.

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