Book Plunge: Demons and Spirits In Biblical Theology

What do I think of Walton and Walton’s book published by Cascade Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A few months ago John Walton and his son released this book. It’s a bit different from their usual work seeing as there’s not a list of propositions being affirmed and that it doesn’t just focus on the Old Testament, but it also focuses on the New Testament. The work is meant to examine what the Bible means when it talks about demons and spirits.

This book is sure to cause some controversy if it hasn’t already. Walton and Walton think that a lot of what we believe about demons is wrong. The Bible is not meant to teach us any kind of demonology as the beliefs about the demons came from the culture much like one could talk about geological beliefs about the shape of the Earth and the nature of creation without having that be meant to give us scientific details.

This involves looking at the systems of thought that existed in Biblical times. This also means looking at what is going on when gods are invoked or prayed to in other cultures. Some texts of the Old Testament indicate that these could be to demons. Is that really the case?

There’s also a lot of talk about spiritual warfare. What is really going on in that? We have a look at the Daniel 10 passage where Michael says he was upheld by the Prince of Persia. It’s an odd passage in many ways and one frequently cited. I don’t want to tell the look the Waltons give of this. You need to read it for yourself.

They also look at the Serpent in the Old Testament. Is this really the devil? There could possibly be references in the book of Revelation that indicate that, but the creature doesn’t seem to be mentioned anymore in the Old Testament text. This will also include examinations of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book I found was when they talked about the problem of evil. While Christians of the past did have something to say about evil, it wasn’t really considered a major issue like it is today until the time of the Enlightenment. This is very similar to something David Wood said to me when I interviewed him for the first time on my show.

What changed? The Enlightenment sent us the message that human happiness was the greatest good. This doesn’t mean that human happiness doesn’t matter to God, but is it on the same level we would put it on? The problem for us is we think if God is doing what He “ought” to be doing, then we shouldn’t be seeing this evil. God actually becomes a means to our happiness and we judge His commitment to us by how our lives are going. That’s why some people walk away from their faith at this point which is, in essence, firing God. They get something out of it that they don’t think they get in Christianity.

The Waltons also say this doesn’t serve the cause of what they call conflict theology, where God is fighting against the ways of the devil as classically understood, in a good light. Too often, it is easy to say that people do great evil because of demonic inspiration. I’m not one to say demons aren’t always involved, but enough times the old adage is true. Lead me not into temptation, I can find it on my own. We’re good enough at finding evil ourselves.

There’s another concern with this also. It’s this idea that if we just removed demons from the scene, none of us would really choose to do evil. I find the same thing happening when we have a mass shooting and we talk about mental health. If we can just remove the mental health, well then everything will work out perfectly and no evil will take place.

There’s a lot to think about here. I’m not convinced on every point just yet, but there is stuff to think about. I look forward to seeing what other scholars say in response to this important work and dialogue starting about the topic of the devil and demons.

If there’s something else I would have liked more on, I would have liked something on the holy angels, seeing as those I think would be included as spirits. Maybe that will be in another work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Liked it? Take a second to support Deeper Waters on Patreon!