Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The Greek noun δαιμονιον (daimonion) is used 60 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and it's the diminutive of the familiar noun δαιμων (daimon), which occurs another 5 times; see full concordance. The latter is the source of our modern word "demon" but the Greek daimon has nothing to do with the modern idea of a "demon": both the Greek daimon and the daimonion could very well be benevolent.
The Greek idea of the daimon is as neutral as our modern idea of "inspiration" but instead of an inspiration, a daimon was rather considered an entity that caused an event to happen — and whether something good or bad happened to you, it happened because a daimon made it so. Both our words could describe natural forces but also the legacies of long dead folks that lingered in the crooks and crevices of complex society — hence the subsequent myth of the disembodied soul that wanders the earth bothering people, or the occasional wise and benevolent spirit who whispers hollow advice to its dimwitted but living posterity.
A Greek daimon is also not the same thing as a Greek αγγελος (aggelos, hence the modern word "angel") and although there is some obvious overlap between the two, a daimon is as much a fallen angel as a dog is a fallen cat.
The obvious fact that the daimon and the daimonion have such a bad rep in the New Testament has nothing to do with them being intrinsically evil but because they were considered independent entities, with private wills and intents. The badness of a daimon lies not in its essential constitution but in its perceived autonomy.
The Disembodied Hand That Strangled People
Calvin's dad once told the harrowing tale of a loose hand that went around by itself and strangled people (Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes, Weirdos from Another Planet), which pretty much explains what a δαιμων (daimon) is. It's basically a violation of the First Commandment, which prohibits the fabrication of any stand-alone instance of anything that in fact exists by merit of being part of the greater system of reality (Exodus 20:4).
The key to understanding the reason why the daimon is treated negatively in the New Testament lies in the difference between polytheism and monotheism. Many pagans in the Greek world figured that all goings on were (a) essentially unrelated, and (b) driven by gods and spirits and such, which in turn were, notoriously, essentially unrelated and hence constantly at odds with one another. Some disagreed (Stoics, Epicureans) and conversely proposed that there were not many whimsical gods but rather that the whole of the cosmos was governed by one, utterly unified set of natural laws that had no existence on their own, let alone a will and intent. This unified set of natural laws that governed the universe they called Logos, which wasn't very novel since the Hebrews had been saying the same thing for centuries.
An essential difference between the Greek and Hebrew take on things was that the Greeks believed that the Logos was a mere mathematical equation that somehow existed along with the universe, whereas the Hebrews saw their Dabar YHWH (or Word of the Lord) as the very essence of all material manifestations and interactions but also all life and all mind, and was therefore at least equally living and mental. It took science a while but today we know that indeed every atom has a nucleus whose information determines the character and behavior of the atom, and thus all physical and chemical processes that follow individual atomic constitutions.
It took science a bit longer but today we also know that indeed all life is based on information (stored in DNA), and the information is what breathes life into the organism — the rest is water, carbon and a bit of iron and stuff like that. The bodily resurrection as promised in Scriptures (Luke 14:14, John 5:29, 11:25) is therefore also largely a matter of data, since the raw materials are not essential. Society in turn is based on data, and predominantly shared data and the convention of data retention and rendition. Our language, for instance, only works because we all agree on the rules — see our article on the noun ονομα (onoma), meaning name or noun.
To a superstitious polytheist a daimonion may be a hairy chap with horns, bad breath and intentions to boot but to a monotheist a daimonion is a sustained interruption of the unity of the material, living, mental and social manifestation of the Word of God. As we elaborately discuss in our article on the word πονηρος (poneros), darkness is the absence of light but not the presence of something else. So is a daimonion a hole in one's reasoning or a snag in social convention, and the realness of a daimonion is on equal footing with a hole in your shoe.
A daimon is as real as the hole in your bucket through which your family's drinking water escaped and real thirst ensued. It's as real as your ignorance about a heat wave that your informed neighbors had predicted, because of which their harvest survived while yours failed. It's as real as the totem you gave to your children for "protection" before sending them into a forest crawling with bears. It's as real as the word you can't think of — the joy you can't describe, the love you can't show or the praise you can't give because you lack the verbal and artistic skills to do so, or your language simply doesn't have words yet that express what you mean to say.
The human mind abhors a vacuum and will always patch gaps in the continuum of its perceived reality with nuggets of pseudo-reality that it draws out of thin air (Matthew 9:16). That's a wonderful trait when one can't see around a corner, and one's mind takes the liberty of depicting a hungry bear there. This hungry bear obviously becomes a real and actual problem when it's really actually there, but also when it's not actually there but the conviction that it is settles like truth in the mind of the observer.
Flies and bees; daimia and words
A daimonion is any kind of information that separates a human host from mankind's unified mental ecosphere, and the key-word is separation.
Consider flies and bees. When viewed individually, a bee and a fly are really rather similar — they are of similar size and have similar bodies that work pretty much the same way. But when we include their social behavior, their differences are enormous:
Bees live shielded from the environment in a large protective house, which is the result of their communal effort. They help flowers reproduce by transporting pollen, and receive nectar in return for their services. This nectar they convert to honey by ingesting, partially digesting and then regurgitating it again. The honey is collected and stored, which in turn means that bees can survive periods of scarcity. Bees care for their offspring. And they have a language! With their deliberate movements bees willfully convey discrete units of data, which counts as a language. It's been discovered that the patterns of conversation that ripple through a hive in order for the whole hive to make an informed decision is closely similar to the way a mammalian brain makes decisions. This gave rise to the term "smart swarm."
Flies on the other hand don't have a communal house and are thus always exposed. They don't convey pollen and if they convey anything it's disease and filth (recent studies show that flies carry on average more than 300 different pathogens on their legs and wings). Flies target excrement, cadavers or living things with open wounds. Flies produce and store nothing, which means that they die along with the rest in periods of scarcity. Flies don't care for their offspring and they have no language. If flies give anything in return for what they take it's only their eggs — and eggs lead to worms and worms lead to more flies.
Bees help plants produce the plants' own offspring on the plants' own terms. Flies hijack an organism's biology and force it to produce the fly's offspring, to the ultimate demise of the organism.
Where flies are anti-social, unemployed, deaf-mute, parasitic, homeless bums, bees are data nodes of a much larger network, which exists as a meta-entity that exchanges energy with its environment and stores its share for later investment rather than to directly convert it into kinetic energy. That means that although the individual fly and bee aren't all that different, the difference between a swarm of flies and a society of bees is the same as the difference between a stone (which absorbs energy and gets hot and then cold again) and a living thing (which absorbs energy and stores it in chemical bonds for as long as it wants).
Language consists of words that are essentially units of convention, because words have to be adopted by many agreeing people, and that takes work: a lot of initial misunderstanding, but then a slowly settling upon one particular verbal equivalent of a real world thing. That means that humans store actual energy in their words. And that means that language is actually quite like honey.
The Hebrew word for bee is דברה (deborah), which is the feminine version of the masculine word דבר (dabar), or Word (or Logos in Greek). The Hebrew word for fly is זבב (zebub), which derives from a verb that means to aimlessly zip to and fro. The latter word may look familiar because it's part of the name Baal-zebub, or Beelzebub, meaning Lord of the Flies — which is a gag name because the signature quality of flies is that they acknowledge no society and thus no lordship. If the devil is lord of anything, he's lord of a dustbowl and "his" minions are neither "his" nor organized in any way (Matthew 9:34, also see Psalm 24:1 and Ezekiel 18:4).
Honey surpasses all bees
A Greek daimon is a unit of knowledge or skill, irrespective of whether this unit is good or bad, virtuous or vicious, beneficial or maleficial. But the difference between a fly-daimon and a bee-daimon is the honey.
A piece of knowledge by itself (if such a thing were to exist) is like an individual fly or bee, but knowledge exchanged between neighbors and applied to a common purpose, is bee-like. The cognitive equivalent of honey is what Paul calls "the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). This "love of Christ" is not merely what keeps the hive together but also what the hive jointly puts out; it both derives from all individuals combined and yields identity to every individual. It's certainly not some mushy feeling, or poetic expression without further responsibility, but a substantial and measurable result of knowledge-based interaction, in turn resulting in technology in its broadest sense — not just engines and can-openers but also the printing press, medicines, telescopes, smart phones, smart farms, electrical cars, 3d organ printing, vaccine delivery drones — and the comprehension of the marvel of creation in its broadest sense, and the absolute marvel of being human.
A living bee-like community that sits in the larger world economy is like a living single-cellular creature that lives in a pond. A population of flies is like a stone in that same pond. The stone isn't separate from the water but is part of its material continuum. The living eukaryote is indeed its own world, with its own genetic constitution and its own subsequent economy and energy distribution separate from that of the pond at large. In effect, the stone does not exist as an entity but the living eukaryote does. This is why Paul could say that: "If I know all mysteries and all knowledge but do not have love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2).
It's the honey that makes the difference between the fly and the bee and it's the tangible communal effect of knowledge that makes knowledge good of bad. Contrary to popular belief, one's personal knowledge or "enlightenment" is not salvific, and that includes one's personal religious convictions. Personal faith and private knowledge only has the potential to heal and save when it is shared with and invested in peers. This is why weakness rather than strength is the key to life (1 Samuel 2:9, Zechariah 4:6, 1 Corinthians 15:43), and why the meek rather than the bold inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). After all, there's no creature in the universe with a personal faith as pure and complete as the devil! The victory of Christ over death comes in his surrender to violent men and not in his rightful dominion and obvious intellectual superiority (Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 15:24).
And just like there is no forbidden zone for bees to venture into, no knowledge or field of research is forbidden for humans (1 Corinthians 2:10, 6:12, 10:23, Titus 1:15). There's only once creation, and there's only one knowledge, namely the singular and indivisible knowledge of the whole of creation. All things are always one, and all things either "work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28), or they all work together for the demise of those who hate him (Psalm 11:5-7). Yet the nectar that the hive may convert into honey is extracted from dwelling upon "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, anything of excellence and anything worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8).
Just like the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was created as perfect as the rest of paradise and only became a harmful thing when it was misapplied by Adam and Eve, so a daimon starts out as a perfectly good and harmless thing until it is rendered autonomy in the mind of a foolish person. A daimon is a bad thing not because of the knowledge it represents but because it represents the idea that knowledge can be a thing separate from a greater meta-entity. In the daimon are all secrets, all esoterics, all privately held fascinations and suspicions, and all shame. This is why James urges to "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed" (James 5:16, also see Matthew 3:6, Acts 19:18, Romans 10:10).
Ultimately, a daimon represents the negation that all things are connected to all other things, which essentially denies that even God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).
How to cast out demons
Since confusing information — or information that's not part of a greater system or meta-entity — is still very much information, and information equals energy, and all living things are essentially based on information, a daimonion is a very seriously real entity in every sense of the word. It's not, however, a hairy, slimy, horny spirit who sits in the closet waiting to pounce on whoever goes for the cookies in the night. That is, of course, unless you believe so, because believing so manifests the very daimon. A daimon is not a real creature in the sense that a lion or a squirrel are real creatures. It's a false certainty, a certainty that has no reason for existing other than the misinformed or confused beliefs of some gullible or confused person.
A perfect unity of human minds can only exist on a backbone of truth — and truth is a quality, not an entity. Truth consists of (a) verification of observation, and (b) convention of expression. That's geek-speak for saying that truth can only exist about things that other people can confirm, and only when these things are expressed in ways that other people can understand. Or said alternatively: truth exists where two or more gather in Logos' name (Matthew 18:20) — and the name of Logos is a method, not a statement (Matthew 12:50, 18:5, Mark 9:41, John 5:43), which is why the first followers said they were part of The Way rather than The Club (Isaiah 35:8, John 14:6, Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22). It's also why no judgment should ever be based on the opinion of one, or why you should never ever confuse your own opinion with absolute truth, no matter how convinced you are (Matthew 7:1, Romans 2:1, 1 Corinthians 4:5). The latter is possibly the most powerful daimon of our world today.
A daimonion is any sort of untruth, that is something that can't be confirmed or even falsified, or that's expressed in something other than what other people can understand. Fortunately, these kind of things will seize to exist when all of humanity has settled in truth; when everybody is able to agree on all things, and when all things that can be discussed are discussed in ways that other people can understand.
And just like a hole in one's bucket can be fixed, as Liza famously ensured her dear Henry, so can a daimon be made to vanish by (a) explaining an observed event by means of an underlying system that explains the event and which other observers can confirm, and (b) explaining our system in such a way that other folks can understand it always the same (which is why scientists prefer to communicate in rigorous mathematical notation rather than flowery prose that can be interpreted much broader). Note that the hallowed Scientific Method is precisely worded in Hebrews 11:1 as the definition of the word πιστις (pistis).
When we switch on the light in a dark room, the darkness simply stops to be relevant to the present conditions and is thus no longer there for all practical purposes. So too a daimon simply stops to be when true knowledge is absorbed. But when we switch on the light in the room, the darkness does not stop to exist. That's easily proven when we switch the light off and the darkness returns. Because darkness is not the opposite of light but the absence of it, so darkness never stops to exist as a possibility, even when it doesn't exist in reality (Luke 11:24-26).
Still, it needs to be remembered that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with darkness. Darkness was created long before things went sideways. Because of darkness we can see stars (Genesis 1:14), which in turn is an ability that sits at the heart of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15:5), of which Jesus is the fulfilment (Galatians 3:29). Or through the words of Isaiah: "There is no one besides me. I am YHWH, and there is no other; the One forming light and creating darkness, causing good and creating evil; I am YHWH who does all these" (Isaiah 45:7).
As the scary hairy demon in the cookie cupboard will readily attest: demons are made from belief in misinformation, which in turn thrives on fear. The first words with which Logos introduced himself to Abram became the most repeated command in the Bible: "Fear not!" Hence humanity is under the standing order to not entertain fear but entertain information and pursue convention. Or the same but in more familiar terms: "love YHWH with all your heart, strength and soul, and your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40), which has nothing to do with religion and mushy feelings for the guy next door but everything with science (see Romans 1:20 and Colossians 2:3) and the formation of common grounds upon which to collectively operate without unnecessary restrictions.
The etymology of the word demon
Our noun δαιμων (daimon) ultimately stems from the Proto-Indo-European root da-, meaning to divide and ultimately describes the condition of being separate. This same root yields the familiar word δημος (demos), which describes a people as distinct from other people (hence English words such as democracy and demotic). A special demographic category was that of the ευδαιμων (eudaimon), or "of a good daimon," which described an educated or clever person, which is similar to the word ευγενης (eugenes), meaning "of a good genius" since the word genius is the Latin equivalent of the Greek word δαιμων (daimon).
Scholars are not certain how our nouns were formed but one possibility is via a presumed verb δαιω (daio), meaning to distribute destinies, which would correspond to the verb τιθημι (tithemi), meaning to place or set, which in turn is thought to have produced the familiar noun θεος (theos), meaning god or "setter."
Another possibility is a connection to the noun δαιος (daios), meaning battle, although that probably has to do with the verb δαιω (daio), meaning to divide, which in turn relates to the verb δαω (dao), meaning to learn in the sense of to discern (divide) between things observed. This latter verb obviously relates closely to the idea behind the daimon, and the latter word also serves in the classics as alternate form of the noun δαημων (daemon), meaning a knowing or a skill, from the verb δαημαι (daemai), to learn a skill.
A third connection is with the much more common verb δαιω (daio), which is identical to the presumed verb mentioned above and means to burn or blaze brightly. Burning brightly is an obvious Biblical image of being endowed with great knowledge and wisdom (Daniel 12:3, Matthew 17:2). This in turn relates to several familiar Biblical scenes: that of the fiery snakes that attacked Israel and which prompted Moses to make the bronze snake named Nehushtan (Numbers 21:6, see John 3:14), the fiery Seraphs that flew around God's throne (Isaiah 6:6) and even the tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples (Acts 2:3).
The verb δαιμονιζομαι (daimonizomai) derives from our noun δαιμων (daimon), and relates to what modern science calls having a psychosis. It describes being excluded from normal verbal congress with other humans. This can be because of belief in information that other people can't verify, but also because of trauma, anger or physical damage to the brain. But it most often starts as the brain's natural defense mechanism against intolerable fear. When people find horror in reality, they seek solace in illusion.
Contrary to what some modern movie makers might suggest, there's nothing comical about being psychotic. Psychotics aren't simply confused; they are literally alone and abandoned and perpetually horrified. Their minds are heavy with heart-rending loneliness, and they grope around their dark world in panic, looking for a way out that they know doesn't exist. It's extremely difficult to instantaneously heal someone who is in the throes of a psychosis, but it would require entering the realm of experience of that person, and converse with them on their own terms and in terms they can verify. Jesus' famous descent into hell is not Biblical, but this myth may well have originated in the experience of a psychotic person who was healed on the spot by Jesus.
Note that this verb describes to suffer cognitive severance, but that this severance may also very well be brought about because of an experience that's so out of this world that it can't be conveyed in recognizable images. Certain prophets saw things that they couldn't put into words and had visions that left them effectively mute. This means that their demons had to do with the limitations of information technology. Their demons were erased when the event they foresaw came closer, and more people began to see the inevitable, and the prophet could proclaim and discus his first vision (Daniel 12:4, Luke 1:20, 2 Corinthians 12:4).
This powerful verb is used 13 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The adjective δαιμονιωδης (daimoniodes) derives from the diminutive form δαιμονιον (daimonion), and means pertaining to a δαιμονιον (daimonion). For reasons we list above, this adjective does not mean demonic in the modern sense but rather reflects something like isolating, confusing or severing from common cognitive congress. It reflects a greedy, selfish or self-oriented attitude and is the opposite of a yielding, cooperative and collectively productive demeanor. It's used in James 3:15 only.