Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Can Christians be tormented by Evil? Can married couples watch pornography?" - A Friend Asks

Hi David!  I first just wanted to say I really enjoy your podcasts, and I will definitely be getting your book "A Skeptic Challenges a Christian."  That's always a very interesting topic to me, and I know you'll have very intelligent, insightful responses like you do in your podcasts. Thank you for all that you do for Christ and His Kingdom! Anyways, I do have a couple of questions for you that I'd love to get your thoughts on:

1)  First, do you believe that a Christian can be tormented by a demonic spirit, or have a demonic spirit indwelling within them?  I went to a Christian healing ministry in Livermore, CA a few weeks ago, and the leader there said that Christians who believe they can't have a demon are believing in a false theology.  I was always under the impression that a demonic spirit could not indwell a believer because we have the Holy Spirit in us. I guess maybe being tormented or tempted by a demonic spirit would make more sense, but to actually have one dwelling inside a believer and follower of Jesus Christ seems off to me, but I could definitely be wrong, and would love to know your thoughts on that.

2) Secondly, and I apologize if this is a bit too adult or mature of a topic, but do you believe that pornography is an objective moral evil, that is wrong to use no matter the circumstance or the person?  What about for married Christian couples who are looking for new ways to be intimate with each other, or to get each other "in the mood'? How about for a single Christian man who, for physiological reasons, needs to pass his "stuff" out on a regular basis so as to not develop prostate disorders, and using pornography helps him to quickly do so? For most of my life, growing up in a Christian school, pornography has always been presented as very evil, and I think most oftentimes it is, especially when people develop an addiction to it or use it to hurt or abuse others. Also, the fact that the actors in pornography are obviously having actual sex outside of marriage (unless it is a married couple, which is probably pretty rare) means you're watching a sinful act and more or less approving of it or permitting it. But I wonder if it is absolutely or objectively evil, in all circumstances, or if there are times when it might be more allowable? Based on Scripture, even though they didn't have actual pornography thousands of years ago, it would seem that the Biblical writers would most likely deem pornography to be a moral evil and therefore sinful and to be completely abstained from.

I also read, from a different email you responded to about horror movies, you generally try not to watch anything that you wouldn't feel comfortable with other people knowing about, so I assume pornography would be one of those things.  On the other hand, I suppose anything that's used to create more intimacy with one's spouse wouldn't necessarily be something the couple would feel comfortable with other people knowing, even if it is appropriate.

Anyways, sorry for rambling, but it would be really neat to hear your thoughts on those two questions. There's definitely no rush, either. I know you're very busy with other commitments, so I understand it will take time to respond.  Thanks again for all that you do!  Take care and God bless!  :-)


Hey Ryan,

Thank you so much for your kind words! I pray my book encourages and equips you in your discipleship. Here are my thoughts on your questions:

1) First, do you believe that a Christian can be tormented by a demonic spirit, or have a demonic spirit indwelling within them?  Yes. I think it’s possible. I’ve heard that they cannot all my life among church people. But, after asking multiple people for references, I’ve never received one. There is simply no reference in the New Testament that states or implies that “Christians can’t be possessed/tormented/indwelt” by an evil spirit.

Moreover, it seems to me that Paul deliberately helps Christians not be at least influenced by evil in Ephesians 6. If they can’t be influenced by evil spirits, then why tell them how to fight against it (12-18)? Paul doesn’t mention “torment/possession” specifically, so I don’t know precisely how Paul believes that evil can be such a “struggle.”

In 1 John 5:18-19 John the Elder says that if God is our Father, then the “evil one” cannot “touch” that person. This is probably an illusion to the book of Job, where God never granted The Accuser permission to “touch” Job himself (= kill him), just everything around him (see 1:11-12; 2:3-6). Even so, this is a difficult text to interpret. Does it mean that John the Elder believes that God never allows Satan permission to kill God’s people? I think so. This text certainly doesn’t mean that demonic spirits can’t influence or torment Christians. It says nothing about the subject. 

(Don't forget: Jesus believed that Satan can "snatch the word" that Christians received when preached to them. See Mark 4:15. If the Spirit "blocks" out all evil, then how can this happen?)

I think the main reason why people hold to the belief that demons can’t possess/influence a person is based on an assumption of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they think “filled with the Holy Spirit” means something like, having a glass completely full of a liquid, for which there is no more room. I’m not sure. Yet, the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” (almost chiefly in Luke-Acts), means something like “enabled by God to do something.” I think the spatial language comes from the very long tradition within Judaism that God’s Spirit “filled the Temple” (esp. in 2 Chronicles and Ezekiel). Jews did seem to believe that our insides were like an empty living space, where the Spirit and/or evil spirits might dwell (e.g., Matt 12:43-45). What’s difficult to determine is whether or not they believed that, while you have access to God’s Spirit, one could not also be influenced by a demonic spirit. That is, I don’t know of any Scriptural evidence of an “either-or” proposition: either the Spirit is inside you or an evil spirit is (or can be) inside you.

So, I think it’s certainly possible. Why? (1) Because there is no Scriptural basis to deny it outright. (2) I don’t know why Paul is so adamant to fight against the influence of the evil powers of this age” if evil spirits aren't a real threat to us (using whatever language we want to express that).

2) Secondly, and I apologize if this is a bit too adult or mature of a topic, but do you believe that pornography is an objective moral evil, that is wrong to use no matter the circumstance or the person?  What about for married Christian couples who are looking for new ways to be intimate with each other, or to get each other "in the mood'? How about for a single Christian man who, for physiological reasons, needs to pass his "stuff" out on a regular basis so as to not develop prostate disorders, and using pornography helps him to quickly do so? 

I’ve thought about this question for quite some time. Here are some quick reflections:

Concerning sexual toys, I say: if your spouse is cool with it, try it at least once. I see no biblical reason to do otherwise.

Concerning pornography (images or video of people having sex or doing very sexually explicit things), I say:

On the one hand, I know of plenty of Christians who would immediately say, “No way!” Part of me finds this quite compelling for all the reasons you listed in your question. Moreover, I don’t think Jesus would do it if He were married. But, since I can’t imagine Jesus married, this imaginary “what if” doesn’t help me much.

To be pellucid as possible: I do know that if pornography causes someone to have an affair; helps to form, or does form, an addiction; affects the way a spouse sees the other spouse in some demeaning way; causes any type of emotional, physical, or mental damage; leads to a situation where you need that material in order to have a fulfilling sexual relationship; then it should be avoided. All these have in common: if it causes you to do something else that is sinful and/or unhealthy, then don’t do it. I get this criterion from Jesus, when He speaks of lust. Let me say a quick word about that.

Jesus makes the point that really wanting to have an affair is like having an affair (Matt 5:28). Jesus knew full well that actually having the affair was different (as is made clear in several OT texts). The point is, having an affair begins in the inner attitudes and desires of a person (just like anger, envy, etc. -- e.g., Mark 7:21-23). So, Jesus’s point is: don’t just be concerned with the act; be concerned with the person’s “heart” that leads to that act. 

But...notice this well! Jesus doesn’t say that lust is a “sin.” (Nor is lust ever considered a sin, in and of itself, at any other point.) And note that the term we use, "lust," is translating a Greek term for "to have a strong desire for" (this can be sexual or nonsexual). Jesus's point is that if something tempts you to sin that you should get rid of it immediately before you do sin (see Matt 5:29-30). The problem with lust is that it can be a “gateway drug.” Lust is dangerous; it can be a means to a sinful end. If/when it does, it’s time to get “pluckin’.” 

Moreover, Jesus is speaking specifically of the strong desire to have an affair with someone. What about those who are not married? Jesus’s statement here doesn’t concern them directly.

Yet, I do think that Jesus could’ve also said, “If you fantasize about having sex outside of marriage…” or “homoerotic behavior…” then stop dreaming about it before it happens. (Why? Because both of them are sinful acts.)

So, the question is: does pornography always lead to having affairs, having sex outside marriage, or homoerotic behavior? Or some other sinful act? I don’t see that this is the case. There is no reason to think that every strong desire we have necessarily leads to actually acting in the sin.

Therefore, I don’t know of any specific text that would tell me that it’s inherently evil/sinful to see pornography. That is, I don’t see why, if a human being even glances at pornography, that person has just sinned. What is sinful is what it can lead to that would be immoral (like marijuana or alcohol aren't inherently immoral, but can lead to sins). (And for those who place pornography under the broad category of "sexual immorality," I don't find that compelling based on the texts.)

So, while on the one hand I can see the merits of “No way! Run away from it!”; I can also see the merits of saying, “Well, that completely depends on the marriage.” Here’s why:

Seeing something pornographic will stimulate the brain’s sexual regions, like smelling onions will make you cry or smelling spices will make you sneeze. It’s a physiological response (and, of course, repeated exposure to it affects more than just the sexual portions of the brain).

So, is it possible for a married couple to use pornography simply as a tool to excite those regions of our brain without it causing further behavior that would be immoral? I don’t see why that’s not possible.

I’ve thought about this for years on and off because I haven’t come to closure. I still haven’t come to complete closure.

If you’re thinking, “But, David, why risk it?! That stuff is dangerous!” Part of me really concurs. Really. I know of many couples and individuals who have been just wrecked because of addictions to pornography, and sometimes, just repeated exposure to it (typically by the husband). So, it makes sense that certain people (including some who read this post), might be very upset about the slightest chance of including it in their marriage. To them, I say, "Amen."

But, if you’re thinking, “But, David, why can’t a responsible Christian couple make up their own minds concerning what they do in the privacy of their own homes, always checking themselves so that it doesn’t lead to anything sinful? If it doesn't violate that long list of things you mentioned in that paragraph way above, can it not be a small part of what we choose to do?” Part of me sees that possibility. I know of couples who use it from time to time and suffer no problems whatsoever in their marriage or personal life (of which they are conscious).

Do I encourage couples to use pornography as part of their sexual life? No. I don’t. I don’t encourage it because of the tendency for it to be addictive and/or affect the marriage in a deleterious way. It just seems like any benefit that comes from it for sex, for the average couple, is not a big enough benefit to outweigh the possible negative consequences that might arise from (repeated?) exposure to it.

And, concerning your question about pornography for single men to help them, I'd say almost all the same things. In addition, without strict accountability and very limited exposure, pornography is as addictive as cocaine (as several studies have shown). Repeated exposure to pornography has huge negative affects on a whole host of neurological, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of a person. My default stance is: it's too dangerous to mess with.

Those are my thoughts, at least. J

In Christ,

Resources concerning the Trinity

Hey David;

How have you been? I have been in discussion with some Mormon friends of mine on the topic of the Trinity. The more I research this topic the more I get confused. Apparently the bible never directly mentions the Trinity. The text I come across on the internet will reference the plural nature of Genesis's God and how Jesus referred to Himself as God (Basically) in John. The more I read I have discovered that the Trinity was term used by early Catholics. But there are several religions who do not believe in the Trinity as an all in one persona.

Anyway any help you could give would be great.

One last question, what is good place to start studying languages of the bible and their translations.. I did buy The New Interpreter’s Study Bible you recommended in one of your responses a while back. Good source for certain.


Hey Mark,

Yes, the term “Trinity” is Latin, which means it’s not in the Bible. Proto-Trinitarian formulations are found in several places in the New Testament. But, the fuller sense of the term would not be unpacked until the fourth century. That is, the foundation of later Trinitarian formulations are to be found in the New Testament.

Today, there is no unified view on the Trinity. I find the “Social Trinity” view the most compelling. That’ll come out in the following literature. (I won't recommend too much that is highly technical; the following is more of an overview):

Then, here are some more reflections:

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