Why were there no exorcisms recorded in the OT?

This question came up in our Sunday school class this past Sunday. Our lesson came from Eph 6:10-20 but the verse that sparked the question was verse 12:

12 because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12).

The thought being that this verse clearly states a belief in forces that are beyond our ability to engage with except in a spiritual sense, the super natural or as some say an unseen realm. We know from the OT that these same supernatural forces exsisted then.
In the OT God fights for his people he is the warrior with mighty signs and wonders in the NT this warfare seems to be moved to the public square. There are 26 exorcisms, 23 by Jesus and 2 by Paul, 1 by the apostles and 0 in the OT.

If Mark was the first Gospel then the first miracle act of Jesus was with a man with an unclean spirit. (Yes, I am aware that John states the water to wine wedding feast story was the first miracle) That aside what can we attribute to the need for exorcisms to defeat demons/unclean spirits? Were they not around in the OT days?

Would be interested is comments.

What about this verse brings up the necessity of exorcism in the Bible?


@Jimmy_Sellers Sounds like a very engaging Sunday school! :slight_smile: While your standard answer from secular scholars would be that the idea of demon possession developed as a result of beliefs from Babylon and Persia, there is a much simpler explanation. But the idea that this change resulted from outside influences both ignores the fact that we know little about what the Jews really believed about this matter and that the story of the Bible provides a perfectly rational explanation. Consider these facts:

  • in the OT, the satan worked chiefly through rival nations and their gods - the Israelite approach to evil spirits was to avoid them or to put to death those who worshiped them within their camp - you could almost say that spiritual evil was embodied in false religion
  • when Jesus came, He cast out demons and the people said they had never seen anything like it and Jesus Himself used this fact as evidence that God’s Kingdom had come upon them - with Jesus on the scene, it was a whole new ballgame - satan was cast from Heaven and Jesus was casting the adversary from people as well
  • we do see King David play music and an “evil” spirit leave, though some debate whether the idea here is equivalent to that in the NT (1 Samuel 16)

All in all, I think the key reason we see such a distinction is that in the OT evil was embodied in the false religions of the surrounding nations and Jesus was not on the scene yet.

What are your thoughts?

Leviticus 20:27 - - “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.”

Judges 2:12-13 - They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served baal and the ashtoreths.

I Samuel 16:23 - Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

Matthew 9:32-34 - While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Matthew 12:28 - But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 10:17-20 - The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

This is probably best taken as allusion to [Isa 14:12]; the phrase in common is ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (ek tou ouranou). These exorcisms in Jesus’ name are a picture of Satan’s greater defeat at Jesus’ hands (D. L. Bock, Luke [BECNT], 2:1006-7). NET Bible


And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Matthew 12:27.

There is this passage which alluded to exorcisms, during the OT or probably during the silent years after MALACHI, being performed by the Pharisees then. Only, it was not clearly canon, since no mention were made in the scripture, only that which our Lord specifically stated when He had to confront HIS accusers of branding Him as one with Beelzebub…


Jimmy, thank you for your question. Let us see if we can shed some light on it.
First, the miracles in the New Testament, what were they for? They were what we call “Attesting Miracles”, miracles with a specific purpose. To testify about God or point to God though the doer of the miracle. To validate the doer as Gods agent. Even Christ miracles pointed to The Father, and validated Him as from God, later He would claim to be God, but that is a different topic. Some miracles show Gods power over matter, over time and space, and others over the powers of the darkness, demons. You are presupposing there were no exorcisms in the Old Testament just because they are recorded in the New. That would be a hasty generalization, remember the core module? Also, nether The Old Testament or the New is exhaustive in its record. I understand these are just things that come up in class at church because I get them too. Second the Necessity of exorcism now is a very difficult topic that dare not be tackled in this small space, even the apostles were unable case out some demons.

As to Mark. Yes, John states that the wine was Jesus First miracle but just because Mark may have been the first gospel written does not mean the first miracle was the demon possessed man. They are differing account of the same event from differing points of view. Not in necessarily a chronological order.

Yes, Demons were around in the OT, they are just fallen angles.

The verse you quoted Eph. 6:12 implies nothing about exorcism, it is clear in context, it is about the armor of God and how it equips us for battle, defence not necessarily offence. Letting us know how we are battling.

Again thank you for your question. I know in my class they can get way off subject exploring what-ifs we are all curious about and the Bible does not speak directly to.

thank you…

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This is an interesting discussion. I know this isn’t technically an exorcism but the first Old Testament thing that came to mind was when Saul was tormented by an evil spirit in 1 Sam 16. David would come to play for him and he would be refreshed and well.

it probably has nothing to do with a demon though because the use of the word “evil” is probably just to mean distressing. this was a spirit or condition brought by God to show that Saul was no longer in His favor and to establish David as someone who would eventually be trusted by the people as their king.

at any rate the spirit was lifted from King Saul when God’s anointed came and may be seen as a type of exorcism. it’s just not what we typically think of.