Devil vs. Demon (What is the main difference?)

Ever since I became a born-again Christian and enrolled in Bible school for my Theology degree, I have encountered many people who ask me about different spiritual beings. In particular, I noticed that many people use the words “demon” and “devil” to refer to the same thing – evil spirits. However, they are not the same, and I seek to answer those questions by starting with: what is the difference between demons and the devil?

While the two terms can work interchangeably in some cases, they are fundamentally different. Devil is the ultimate evil spirit according to Judaism and Christianity, while a demon is a general term referring to various evil spirits that cause destruction and rebel against God.

In this article, I will look into the differences between the two terms, as well as answer some of the most common questions many people ask about these beings.

What is a demon?

Originating from the Greek word daimon, demons are generally spirits or fallen angels. In most religions and folklore, they are considered evil, although certain demons are referred to as “benevolent spirits” in certain cultures. Demons were mostly seen to influence humans to engage in negative or harmful behavior, such as in Christianity, where they are in active rebellion against God and influence humans to do the same.

Similarly, many folk stories refer to demons as supernatural beings that have a nature combining aspects of the gods with that of human beings. They were thought to be the reasons behind illnesses and plagues, the upsets in the balance of the cosmos, such as the onset of famines and the occurrence of misfortune or death.

How many demons are there?

Devil vs. Demon
How many demons are there? Image source: Pixabay

It is difficult to know the exact number of demons or their names, as there is little information on this subject, and each culture and religion has its classification of these beings. Most information on them is found in the Bible, although this is in rare instances – they mainly appear in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. In the Old Testament, however, very few instances of them are mentioned except in certain circumstances.

Aside from the Bible, occultic literature features them greatly. In terms of the number of demons, this depends on the sources one reads, as each source presents different information on the subject.

It is, therefore, safe to assume that the number of demons in existence could be in the hundreds or thousands based on the various ranks they hold and the studies which have been done on these ranks. This is because spiritual beings are classified by their offices (functions), and these offices vary among different cultures and religions. These offices include the Succubi, Abaddon, Nybbas, and Seraphnim, each with demons probably in the hundreds to thousands or more.

What is a devil?

Depending on the context, the word “devil” could mean one of two things: the supreme evil spirit who governs all demons and a person who has a specific characteristic. In most cases, the word is used to refer to the chief adversary of God, who is also the enemy of all good people and the personification of evil in all its forms.

His story and image have changed over the thousands of years he has been in existence, so there are many names used to refer to him – including Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Apollyon.

How you are fallen from heaven, o Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! Isaiah 14:12

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Matthew 12:24

He makes some appearances in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the Bible repeatedly warns human beings from engaging with him or agreeing to his influence. This information is also present in Islam (which refers to him as Shaytan) and Judaism (Satan).

How is a devil different from demons?

Devil vs. Demon -What is the main difference?
Devil vs demons. Image source: Unsplash

Here are some differences between them:

Their names and religious contexts

While the word “demon” comes from a Greek word that means “knowing,” showing their greater intellectual ability compared to humans, their Greek name is used in both singular and plural contexts – especially in the New Testament. They also appear in multiple religions and folklore.

However, the name “devil” comes from the Greek word “diablos,” which is synonymous with the spiritual being that influences the actions of the demons. The word has only been used to refer to a singular being, not in singular and plural contexts. He also only appears in the three Abrahamic faiths rather than in multiple belief systems.

Their roles

Demons are evil supernatural beings who are seen as possessing and influencing humans, but they are under the control of the Devil – the supreme evil being. Demons appear many times in the New Testament as they interact with Jesus and various people, so they are seen to have direct power over human beings.

However, the Devil rarely interacts with humans directly except on rare occasions, and his interactions in the Bible are mainly with Jesus, God, and other spiritual beings. In all instances, though, he is shown to be the ultimate enemy of humanity and God.

Their origin

Demons are said to originally exist as angels, and they never lost their power – only that they rebelled against God’s authority. However, the devil is said to initially be an archangel, which makes him a higher rank than demons.

Are there any similarities between demons and the devil?

Devil vs. Demon
Similarities between demons and the devil. Image source: Pixabay

Both demons and the devil are considered harmful or evil, and they are also supernatural beings who have plenty of knowledge regarding human beings. They are also considered the enemy of the gods in various religions (or God in the Abrahamic religions), so they are viewed on the cosmic balance as opposite forces.

Because of their evil natures, they are also thought of to have monstrous appearances, which leads to often dramatic and frightening stories of them in folklore and religious tales.

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