Examining the Concept of Demon Possession: Voluntary Participation or Coerced Domination?

Do demons control a possessed person? Does an individual have free will during possession? These questions will be discussed using Scripture and history.

The realm of deliverance ministry, prevalent in specific sectors of contemporary Christianity, is shrouded in many misconceptions. Participants often base their knowledge on scriptural interpretations related to demonic expulsion and anecdotal experiences from the field. The overwhelming reliance on personal testimonies over sacred scriptures has contributed to a distorted perception of the interplay between humans, demons, and the concept of possession, thus affecting the progression of deliverance ministry.

This article will address the following:

  1. Overview of deliverance ministry
  2. Interpretation of Acts 8:7, particularly the phrase “with them.”
  3. Understanding the usage of italics in the KJV
  4. Examination of previous editions of the Holy Bible that retain the term “with them.”
  5. When newer versions of the Holy Bible changed the phrase.
  6. An analysis of Ezekiel 23:43
  7. Conclusion

A Brief Introduction to Deliverance Ministry.

Within Christianity, deliverance ministries are organizations that perform specific procedures and rites to assist individuals believed to be possessed by demonic entities. They attribute various physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional disorders experienced by individuals to the presence of evil spirits. It is worth noting that not all Christians subscribe to the theories and practices advocated by these ministries.

Deliverance practices aim to expel harmful spirits and support individuals in their struggle against distressing thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Each session, while unique, typically involves stages of diagnosis, naming the demon, expulsion, and implementing preventative measures by the individual to deter any re-possession. The deliverance ministry emphasizes prayer and healing emotional trauma, including those purportedly caused by demonic influence, while those under authority cast out demons. Supporters of both practices argue that through the expulsion of demons, they are replicating the actions of Jesus Christ and his apostles as depicted in the New Testament.

While I firmly believe that every Christian, through the power granted by Jesus Christ, possesses the authority to expel demons (Mark 16:17), I also acknowledge the pervasive misinformation that has permeated this area of spirituality, prompting this detailed exploration. I believe that many within deliverance ministries are operating under the false assumption – that individuals dealing with unclean spirits are controlled by them (i.e., “possession”). It is in this area – demonic possession – I wish to explore.

Acts 8:7 – A Closer Look at “…with them…”

The following excerpt is from the Book of Acts 8:7 as depicted in the King James Version (KJV):

“For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.”

Upon scrutinizing this verse, one may observe that the phrase “with them” appears in italics and is omitted in most current editions of the Holy Bible. The inclusion or omission of this phrase significantly alters the interpretation of the relationship between demons and humans. Using “with them” suggests that unclean spirits coexist within individuals rather than exerting control over them. We can infer that the translators of the King James Version incorporated this phrase – a common practice of that era – to clarify the dynamics between the unclean spirits and the individuals they inhabited. Had they intended to convey actual demonic control, they would likely have used “by them” instead of “with them.”

To fully understand why the translators of the King James Bible were thinking, it is crucial to understand the rationale behind the application of italics in the KJV.

The Role of Italics in the KJV

Translators added the italicized words in the King James Bible to clarify the meaning and enhance the text’s readability rather than serve as an additional divine inspiration or emphasis. This practice is typical when translating text from one language to another, with a set of established rules guiding the introduction of words in a contrasting typeface to differentiate them from the original script. Using italics aims to facilitate the reader’s comprehension of the translated passage from the original language (David Brown). Therefore, the translators added italics to indicate to the reader that certain words or phrases were not present in the original Hebrew or Greek scripts for clarity.

Pre-King James Versions of the Holy Bible

The versions of the Bible predating the 1611 King James translation, which retained the italics (with them) or a similar phrase following vowel changes, are understandable to most contemporary English speakers. The italics in this verse found in the “English Revised Version” onwards omit this phrase.

Listed below are versions of the Holy Bible with the Acts 8:7 passage, starting with “The Great Bible.”

  • “For vncleane spretes cryinge with loude voyce, came out of many that were possessed of them. And many taken wt palsyes, & many that halted, were healed.” ~The Great Bible 1539
  • “For unclean spirits crying with a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed of them; and many taken with palsies, and that halted, were healed” ~The Geneva Bible 1560
  • “For many of them who had unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, went out. And many, taken with the palsy, and that were lame, were healed.” ~Douay-Rheims Bible (this Bible doesn’t show this translator’s italics since it is taken from the Latin Vulgate and not the Greek) 1609
  • “For vncleane spirites, crying with loude voyce, came out of manye that were possessed with them. And many taken with paulsies, & many that haulted, were heale” ~The Bishops Bible 1568
  • “For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.” The King James Bible – 1611
  • “For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of man that were puffeffed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed” ~The Robert Atkins Bible 1782
  • “For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them : and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.” ~The Illuminated Bible 1846

In the Noah Webster Bible, Christians can find the first instance where someone eliminated this phrase.

Noah Webster’s Bible

Noah Webster’s Bible, released in 1833, was an American revision of the King James Bible. Webster deemed the King James version deficient in grammar, filled with “ancient” language, and containing indecent expressions. He believed that the Americans needed an American Bible and considered his revision of the King James Version as the most significant endeavor of his life.

Webster made numerous changes to the language and grammar of the King James Bible, including replacing “eschewethéd” with “shuns,” “borne unto” with “borne to,” and omitting words such as “wherein” and “thereon,” deeming them “inelegant.” Other modifications included substituting “stinketh” with “is offensive” and “give up the ghost” with “expire.”

Webster believed that any language which violated decorum when expressed in polite company should be changed, and this belief grounded his approach to Bible translation. Consequently, he eliminated or replaced words considered crude or outdated by the standard of his time. Webster’s Bible version first removed the italicized phrase “with them” from Acts 8:7, a feature present in the King James version.

Webster’s rationale behind this decision remains to be determined, given that he did not provide explicit reasoning in his notes. However, Webster may have thought the phrase was superfluous or could cause confusion. Furthermore, since the term was absent in the original Greek version, it might have been considered unnecessary.

Noah Webster’s ideology would inspire those involved in later versions of the Holy Bible.

Contemporary versions of the Bible and Acts 8:7

Since Webster’s revision, several other translations of the Bible have also omitted the phrase “with them” from Acts 8:7. This change seems to have set a precedent for most English Bible translations in the following years. As such, numerous contemporary Bible versions, such as the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), also do not include the phrase.

During the creation of the “English Revised Version” (1885) and the “American Standard Version” (1901), the treatment of this phrase underwent its first significant shift. Both versions are considered significant revisions of the King James Version. Following Noah Webster’s ideology, these versions notably removed the phrase “with them.” The verse in the English Revised Version reads: “For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.” The American Standard Version similarly states, “For from many of those that had unclean spirits, they came out, crying with a loud voice: and many that were palsied, and that were lame, were healed.”

Not everyone universally follows the decision to remove “with them” from these translations. Some modern translations retain this phrase, primarily those directly derived from the King James Version. These include the 21st-century King James Version Bible (KJ21), the Blue, Red, and Gold Bible (BRG), the Jubilee Bible (JUB), the Authorized King James Version (AKJV), and the original King James Version itself. Intriguingly, the New King James Version (NKJV), which prides itself on preserving the “purity and stylistic beauty of the original King James,” omitted the phrase.

Ezekiel 23:43

The implications of including or omitting “with them” become particularly clear when one examines the verse in Ezekiel 23:43 in the King James Version: “Then said I unto her that was old in adulteries, Will they now commit whoredoms with her, and she with them?” In this verse, “she” is a symbolic representation of Israel and Judah. Adding “with them” conveys that the individual is a willing participant rather than under external control.

In contemporary times, numerous versions of the Bible maintain the phrase “with them” in Ezekiel 23:43. The list includes the KJ21, ASV, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC), BRG, Easy-to-Read Version (ERV), JUB, KJV, AKJV, NKJV, Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB), and the World English Bible (WEB). These versions, while retaining the exact phrase, are known for their word-for-word translation approach.

While some translations have altered the “with them” phrase, they continue to express the essence of the original verse – the individual’s voluntary participation. Modern versions often portray “she” as a willing participant, a despicable woman, or someone utterly filthy.

Impact on Deliverance Ministry

Removing the phrase “with them” from Acts 8:7 has implications for the understanding and practices of deliverance ministries. This phrase suggests a different dynamic between the possessed individuals and the unclean spirits — that the demons were not in control but cohabitating and cooperating with the individuals. This interpretation contradicts the popular perception often propagated by deliverance ministries that demon possession involves complete control over the individual by the demon.

This change in interpretation could significantly impact how deliverance ministries approach casting out unclean spirits. Rather than viewing it as a power struggle between the deliverer and the demon, the focus could shift to Holy Scripture and help them regain their autonomy and control.

Furthermore, this could lead to a more holistic approach to dealing with possession issues. The focus could shift from the demon’s expulsion to healing the person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma and supporting their recovery and growth through Holy Scripture and obedience.


One of the intriguing aspects of Biblical translation lies in its nuanced interpretation of human interaction with the spiritual realm. The King James Version of the Holy Bible, in particular, provides unique insights into the dynamic between humans and demonic forces, highlighting individual volition and the concept of willing participation. This idea is visible in treating two pivotal passages: Acts 8:7 and Ezekiel 23:43.

The translators of the King James Version used italics to draw attention to the underlying message of these verses. It conveys that interactions with demonic entities are not always unilateral affairs of total control but cooperative engagements where the individual retains their free will. This perspective significantly challenges our shared belief that demonic possession implies a complete loss of self-agency. Instead, according to the initial translators’ understanding, humans are not mere ‘puppets’ of demons but are active participants with a degree of control over their actions.

However, the advent of modern Bible versions brought about a shift in this narrative. The need for updated word usage or grammar optimization only partially drove the language alterations observed in these newer translations. They also reflect the philosophical and ideological changes of their time. Hence, the phrase “with them” was removed in Acts 8:7 in these modern versions to align with the more prevalent belief that individuals under demonic possession are utterly helpless and unable to resist the unclean spirits.

However, it’s important to note that when overrun by demonic forces, an individual’s mental state can create a scenario where exerting their free will becomes incredibly challenging. Though casting out such entities may be demanding, it is not impossible. We must acknowledge the overwhelming influence that demonic entities can exert while reaffirming human volition’s power and potential.

In conclusion, the translation and interpretation of Biblical passages, like Acts 8:7 and Ezekiel 23:43, offer profound insights into the complexities of human agency in the face of supernatural forces. While the modern translations of the Bible tend to emphasize the overpowering nature of demonic possession, the King James Version provides a compelling counter-narrative of willing participation and human will. This dynamic interplay between control and free will presents an intriguing dimension to our understanding of the spiritual world and the common ideology in deliverance ministry.


Wikipedia contributors. “Deliverance Ministry.” Wikipedia, May 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliverance_ministry 

Lepore, Jill. “An American King: Noah Webster’s Holy Bible.” The New Yorker, 28 Sept. 2011, www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/an-american-king-noah-websters-holy-bible

Wikipedia contributors. “Revised Version.” Wikipedia, Mar. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Version#New_version 

The Revisions | the King James Bible: A Translation for the Ages | Cedarville Universitydigitalcommons.cedarville.edu/kjv_revisions 

“Biblical Literature | Definition, Types, Significance, Survey, and Development.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 Oct. 1998, www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/Medieval-and-modern-versions-Dutch-French-and-German 

BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in Over 150 Versions and 50 Languages. www.biblegateway.com 


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