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What is the correct way and not necessarily the most popular way to translate the Greek δαιμονισθεις (daimonizomai), to be “demonized” or demon-possessed?

“And those who had seen it told them how the δαιμονισθεις man had been healed.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭8:36‬ ‭

  • What do you mean by “demon-possessed”? What does that term mean to you? – Der Übermensch Apr 29 at 8:15
  • I use it the same as I would use demonized meaning to have a demon/s as opposed to the demon owning the subject @DerÜbermensch. I don’t use demon possessed because of its connotation in modern English. But for this question demon possessed is left to the responder to interpret which most I imagine will interpret as the demon owning that person. – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 29 at 14:23
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Thomas Sappington, a professor of Intercultural studies, wrote a good scholarly essay Demon Possession where he offers his opinion on the best translation of the term daimonizomai after considering these issues related to a demon's interactions with a person:

  1. related terms: "with an unclean spirit" (en pneumati akathartō) and "having a demon" (echōn daimonian)
  2. symptoms in Gospel passages
  3. distinguishing "demon possession" from other conditions related to the Fall
  4. ministry of exorcism
  5. Western bias in assuming that "demon possession" is dramatic, extreme, and rare
  6. some Christian groups's distinction of "posession" (from inside a person) and "oppression" (from outside the person)
  7. whether a Christian can be owned by demons (implied by the term "demon possession") since they have been purchased by the blood of Christ and what's the meaning of the ministry of deliverance.

His recommendation (emphasis mine):

The Best Translation of the Term Daimonizomai

Certain issues related to the phenomenon of “demon possession” have occasioned differences of opinion even among Christians who believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. One of these issues is how we should translate the word daimonizomai. Most English translations, as well as many biblical scholars and theologians, use the term “is demon possessed” to render the meaning of this term. However, a significant number of writers, including many who perform exorcism as a part of their overall ministry, argue that the term is too narrow in meaning, thus giving the reader the impression that all cases of “demon possession” are extreme in nature. And to make matters even more complicated, some have introduced a distinction between “demon oppression,” which usually denotes demonic influence from outside the person, and “demon possession,” which refers to demonic influence that is typically more severe in nature due to the fact that the spirit is dwelling within the person who is “possessed.” This type of argument is fundamentally spatial in nature, and proponents of the oppression/possession distinction focus their attention on the question, “Where is the spirit?”

It is clear that these various approaches have led to an impasse within the Christian community. However, one suggestion as we seek a way forward would be to consider the relatively diverse nature of the symptoms associated with the New Testament terms, namely daimonizomai (“demon possessed”), en pneumati akathartō (“with an unclean spirit”), and echōn daimonian (“having a demon”), and to ask ourselves whether most English speaking readers would tend to associate such a broad range of symptoms with “demon possession.” Given the manner in which “demon possession” has been presented in the West, both in print and in the sub-genre of horror film that was kicked off by The Exorcist in 1973 and was featured in the thirty or so films that followed, it is not surprising that our conception of “demon possession” tends toward the extreme. Interestingly enough, this is not unlike the conception of “demon possession” that is held by many people, including many Christians, in the Majority World. The primary difference is that for many people in the Majority World, “demon possession” is very real indeed, whereas for many people in the West, including many Christians, “demon possession” is only a theoretical possibility.

So where does this lead us? Perhaps more accurate than “demon possession” in terms of communicating the overall portrayal of this phenomenon in the Synoptic Gospels is something like “subject to demonic influence” or “subject to demonic oppression.” Another approach would be to use a literal translation of the other terms that are associated with and roughly synonymous with daimonizomai in the Synoptic Gospels, namely “with an unclean spirit” or “having a demon.” This approach would seem to be an improvement over the continued use of “demon possession” and the alternative approach of using the term “demonized,” which could be quite confusing to readers.

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Every lexicon I consulted has basically the same meaning for δαιμονίζομαι (daimonizomai):

  • Thayer: to be under the power of a demon
  • Souter: I am under the power of an evil spirit or demon
  • NIV: I am possessed by a demon
  • Newman: be demon possessed
  • BDAG: be possessed by a hostile spirit
  • Vine: to be possessed by a demon, to act under the control of a demon
  • Analytical Lexicon to the GNT (Friberg et al): of demon possession or oppression, be possessed by, be tormented or vexed by, be demonized. (I knew if I looked long enough I would find one "demonized"; but I assume this means "controlled by demons", etc as per the other meanings above.)

In English, to be "demonized" is to portray as wicked and threatening, eg, "he was demonized by the press" (On-line dictionary), or, "Make into or like, represent as a demon" (OED); "to try to make someone or a group of people seem as if they are evil" (Cambridge); "to portray (someone or something) as evil or as worthy of contempt or blame" (Mirriam-Webster).

Thus, this word does not necessarily have any real transcendental connotations; by contrast, the NT portrays δαιμονίζομαι (daimonizomai) people as actually possessed by evil spirits.

However, the English word "demon-possessed" means to be:

  • (McMillan) "controlled by an evil spirit"
  • (Miriam-Webster) influenced or controlled an evil spirit

Thus, in English, to be demon-possessed to to have the mind controlled, owned or "possessed" by a demon. It immediately follows that the person does not have control of their own actions and will but the mind is controlled by the demon.

After the incident with the demon-possessed man in Luke 8:39, we read:

So the man went away and proclaimed all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

That is, the man regained control of his own mind" ("In is right mind" V35) once the demons were purged. See also Mark 5:15.

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  • If you could please clarify how the English use of possessed is used in your response it will help my decision making. Possessed as in a city possesses a bakery (to have) or possessed as in the city is possessed by the governing leader (to own)? Thank you – Nihil Sine Deo Oct 23 at 11:45

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