Really what I'm getting at is two lines of reasoning I see in gospel accounts that seem to contradict one another.

In particular I'm thinking of the pericope in which Jesus is accused of casting out demons by Beelzebul, and the one where Jesus indicates that not everyone who casts out demons will be saved. In the former, I gather from his line of reasoning that demons cannot be cast out by Satan; in the latter, it seems as though casting out demons by Satan must be a possibility.

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. (Luke 11:17-18, ESV)

Jesus's point seems pretty clearly to be that he casts out demons not by Beelzebul--whom demons presumably come from--but by the Lord. The argument is a reductio ad absurdum: it would simply not make sense to cast out demons by Beelzebul, therefore Jesus must be casting out demons by the Lord, a conclusion that Jesus explicitly supports in verse 20:

But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20, ESV)

And the parallel account in Matthew 12 identifies the Holy Spirit as the source of Jesus' power:

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:18, ESV)

But then there's the Sermon on the Mount:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23, ESV)

Here, there are those who, evidently, cast out demons, and yet never knew Jesus. So then, I would think that they must not be casting out demons by the Lord, and their power to cast out must come from Satan instead.

And yet, this conclusion is precisely what Jesus's argument seemed to short-circuit. So, how does one reconcile these two passages?

  • This is rooted in a false dilemma. This false dilemma is rooted in the insistence that those whom Jesus did not know are necessarily of Satan.
    – swasheck
    Apr 11, 2013 at 20:32
  • @swasheck, If you could expand on your thoughts, I'd welcome it as an answer.
    – Ray
    Apr 12, 2013 at 11:39
  • @Ray: Not entirely sure why you'd even think that in the first place. Both John 11:49-52 and Acts 19:13-17, for instance, depict situations where wonders are done, by the power of God, through unworthy vessels.
    – Lucian
    Jul 30, 2017 at 5:57

4 Answers 4


In the former, I gather from his line of reasoning that demons cannot be cast out by Satan; in the latter, it seems as though casting out demons by Satan must be a possibility.

I think you are mistaking Jesus' reasoning. As you point out that reading would put Jesus at odds with himself in Matthew 7 where he speaks of the 'appearance' of good deeds without the true fulfilling of the law that comes from being known by Jesus.

Similarly, Paul speaks of satan appearing 'good' in order to further his evil intent:

14And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. 2 Corinthians 11, ESV

As in this passage. the clue is in the continuity. To use a chess analogy, though a queen sacrifice may win you the game, continually throwing away your pieces will not. In the same way, satan may intend for a demon to be cast out, to help him deceive and ultimately afflict, but it would be no advantage to him to continually bring harm upon his own house. Therefore the disguise, as in 2 Corinthians 11, will eventually be found out.

Jesus response should be seen in the context not just of this exorcism, but the continuous witness of his deeds. Notice in the text that the discussion is about driving out 'demons', not driving out 'a demon'. If Jesus drives out 'a demon' you may legitimately question his motive, but if his work is characterised by driving out demons at every opportunity, this is compelling evidence that he is from God and assaulting the kingdom of satan.

The irony in verse 16 is poignant:

while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.

What sort of sign were they seeking? The mute speaking is a sign from heaven. A sign that God and His kingdom are arriving:

then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; Isaiah 35:6, ESV


By whom can demons be cast out?

demons can be cast out for good or for evil, but consistently doing good is a sign from heaven: You will recognize them by their fruits

  • Jack, this is a good answer but there's nothing in the text itself that would lead one to believe that these deeds are invalid. The context of Matt. 7 is a family talk that Jesus is having with his disciples (Matt 5:1-2). You rightly note that the context of Luke is one of sign-seeking and some of those doubt the authority/ability of Jesus to do this. They look for some other authority for this miracle. I think we are pressing if we try too hard to harmonize these accounts instead of taking the lessons as we should from each of them.
    – swasheck
    Apr 12, 2013 at 16:49

An army would not go around re-building castles broken down by comrades. That army would fall. Casting out devils (for real), including healing of mind and body, is like rebuilding a castle wall that took very hard work to destroy. Jesus assumes that the Devil spends a lot of effort in possessing a soul. Sure if it was an 'easy thing' to re-posses another soul and just move evil around in a manner that would make it only seem a Messiah was casting it out, then possibly, but that is simply not the case. You can't move evil around at whim, sacking more castles at the flick of a switch. Besides Jesus in casting demons out also healed those whose minds and bodies had been ravaged by the possession. Therefore casting devils out can't be divorced from healing. Something which Satan has no power to do. Therefore we assume the Devil would not and could not oppose his own works as he would actually destroy his own efforts.

From a basic logical division of what kinds of people in this world that could perform miracles, I think we have a resolution of these two verses.

Performing real miracles / exorcisms

a. Miracles could be performed by believers through the power and will of the Holy Spirit.

b. On rare occasions the Holy Spirit could use an unbeliever to perform miracles also.

Performing fake miracles / exorcisms (lying wonders)

c. Believers could be deceived into thinking they have performed miracles when they have not.

d. Unbelievers could be deceived into thinking they have performed miracles when they have not.

e. Unbelievers could pretend to perform miracles when they know full well that they have not.

Those claiming to have performed miracles are ‘unbelievers’ who truly think they have performed them, so we exclude a, c and e. Only on rare occasions can (b) occur because God has rarely made use of unbelievers in this way in the Bible (possibly Judas and Balaam are notable exceptions.) Therefore, the only possible large group that Jesus could be referring to who are damned and yet believe they have performed miracles are:

d. – Unbelievers could be deceived into thinking they have performed miracles when they have not.

In other words the key phrase is that 'they say' not 'they did'. They thought they were preaching something very close to the gospel and even doing things that seemed miraculous and yet never knew Christ. They were total shams without even knowing it.

Commentators differ in their views on this a bit but a good summary of the ideas supporting the line I am taking is here:

In their appeal these false prophets state that in the name of Jesus they had prophesied, driven out demons, and performed many mighty works. Jesus does not deny the claim that they had indeed represented themselves as his ambassadors and that in connection with the invocation of his name they had indeed performed astounding deeds. The question that divides commentators is, “Were these deeds genuine products of supernatural power or were they fraudulent?” 2 Thess. 2:9, 10 teaches that in connection with the coming of “the lawless one” there will be a mighty display of power, signs, and wonders, all of them false. Acts 19:13, 14 shows that when the seven sons of Sceva, a Jew, tried to imitate Paul’s exercise of miraculous power their attempt at exorcism failed miserably. There was also the similar failure of Egypt’s magicians to reproduce the third plague, which failure, as many see it, sheds doubt on the genuine character of their earlier “successes” (Exod. 7:22, 8:7, 18, 19). Does not all this point to the possibility that also the demon expulsions and other mighty works of which the false prophets of Matt. 7:22 boast had been nothing but sham? (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 9: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New Testament Commentary)

The fact that these fake miracles are so deceptive that those who pretend to perform them actually convince themselves that they are real, means they may seem real to us as well. Therefore, we must have great suspicion of anyone who claims to perform them and at the same time does not hold to the gospel, or or who lives a sinful lifestyle. If they pretend to be like Jesus and say, 'Look believe me for my works testify that God has sent me', then we really have to test the miracles to see if they are sham. For example a healer comes to town and says many people were healed. Well have the submit the reports from their doctors months later to show they are still healed. Christ's miracles were iron clad and could not be denied. Then if they say, 'You are in danger of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit for distrusting my miracles', we know for sure they are liars, for the Bible calls us to test all things and then hold on to what is true. Not to be intimidated by empty threats. True miracles are never defensive against critical tests, they welcome them as a means to became more persuasive to those who might doubt.


Notice that the second group of people who Jesus says he never knew, still cast out demons IN THE NAME of JESUS. They did not cast out demons by any other name and certainly not by the name of satan. So there is no contradiction. Instead, the question becomes this - why would Jesus allow someone who isn't following him to use his name for the casting out of demons and it actually happen? Well, perhaps it was for his own name's sake that he upheld the authority of his name even when used by those not walking closely with him (eg lukewarm christians whom he will vomit out of his mouth)

  • I'd like to see you flesh out the logical argument in the first two sentences and omit the conjecture that follows.
    – swasheck
    Nov 13, 2013 at 17:28
  • This is a great answer. One of the best. It could certainly use some fleshing out. Perhaps an example from the book of Acts of Jews using the name of Jesus... or the prophesying High Priest who calls for Jesus death.
    – Austin
    Aug 25, 2021 at 8:24

Forgiveness, and loving one another is an essential requirement for one that walks in the faith.

When Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, he also says that none of those gifts mean anything unless we use them with love. He doesn't say that they can't be used without love.

Jesus said that there will be many false prophets and signs and wonders from them.

I think that those are the people that Jesus is talking about.

1 John 2:4, 9, 11, 15 ESV

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

  • 2
    this is a theological interpretation and i understand where you're going with it. however, if you visit our meta site you'll see our expectations for answers a bit more clearly.
    – swasheck
    Nov 13, 2013 at 17:26

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