What kind of faith did the demons have?

Faith Fearful Demon


By Spencer D Gear

James 2:19 states, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!’ (ESV). If the demons have the same kind of faith as Christian believers, who do they believe and shudder, but remain demons who are estranged from God.

There was an interesting discussion on line in which a person stated:

Look up the word faith in the greek theta (sic) used throughout the NT, its a word that literally means to trust with certainty.

Please reason with your own logic. By your logic, our faith is unsustainable because then we wouldn’t know anything. And if we don’t know with certainty, as scripture says we can as Christ says we can, then the faith means nothing. For its relative and flimsy like all other world religions. Please, think critically and study scripture. For it’s the word of God Himself. May He guide you.[1]

My response was, ‘The noun, faith, in the Greek is pistis. The verbal form (I have faith, I believe), pisteuw, is found in James 2:19. How then do you understand this verse in relation to faith being trust with certainty?’[2] His reply was:

Let’s clarify using that verse. the word James uses in v. 19 is, pisteueis. this is derived from Pistis, it does mean and imply a belief/giving credit towards something. but not used in the same way as its derivative. For example, James earlier uses Pistis, from peitho, which literally means to persuade/ in general it implies such a KNOWLEDGE, assent to, and confidence in CERTAIN divine truths, especially those of the gospel, as produce of GOOD WORKS. ( Acts 3:16;17:31; Matt. 17:20 i.e. James 2:14.

Though related, those words are used in complete different contexts.[3]

What should be the response to this kind of challenge, based on the etymology of the Greek pistis (faith)? My reply was: ‘In James 2:19, pisteueis, is a verb, 2nd person, singular, present indicative, active. It is from the base verb pisteuw (I believe). While pisteuw and pistis (a noun) have a common root, we must not confuse the use of a verb with the use of a noun’.[4]

He came back with, ‘I agree. But that only strengthens the fact that our faith is based on trusting in what we’ve come to KNOW as CERTAIN. (refer to my post before with scripture and the greek definition)’.[5]

[6]If I am to accept this person’s understanding of pisteuw in James 2:19, that ‘our faith is based on trusting in what we’ve come to KNOW as CERTAIN’, then I need to understand that this is the kind of faith that the demons have and shudder, based on that faith.
Surely that is not what he was intending to mean! If not, then pisteuw does not always mean what he has stated it to mean. The demons certainly don’t have saving faith that knows and is certain. Therefore, relying on the etymology of the word does not solve the nature of faith for demons in James 2:19.
In his commentary on James, D. Edmond Hiebert, helps me in my understanding of the nature of the demons’ faith:

James -<br /><br /> By: D. Edmond Hiebert</p><br /> <p>

Courtesy Christianbook.com

With one stunning remark James shatters the value of such an orthodox faith if it is inoperative: “the demons also believe, and shudder.” “Also” (kai), perhaps “even,” places such an inoperative faith on the level of the demonic. They also believe in one transcendent God. No atheists or skeptics are among them…. In the story of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-10; Luke 8:26-33; cf. also Mark 1:23-24) we have a clear illustration of such a faith on the part of the demons. These malicious supernatural spirits, engaged in seeking to possess and torment men, readily confessed God’s existence and omnipotence; but their “faith” did not transform their character and conduct or change their prospects for the future. They establish the sad truth that “belief may be orthodox, while the character is evil.” [quoting W. Boyd Carpenter]
The only effect that their faith has upon the demons is that they “shudder” (phrissousin). The verb, occurring only here in the New Testament, means “to bristle,” conveying the picture of a horror that causes the hair to stand on end. The present tense pictures this as their characteristic reaction whenever they face the reality of the eternal God. While this term is not strictly applicable to spirits, yet it effectively conveys the intensity of the horror that seizes the demons when confronting God. They have an intense unquestioned belief in God’s existence and power, but their faith brings them no peace or salvation. They are fully aware that doom awaits them at the hands of the infinitely perfect God (Matt. 8:29; 25:41; Luke 8:31) (Hiebert 1979:187-188).

What, then, is the nature of faith for the demons? It cannot be that of the committed Christian who has faith which is commitment to Christ and that leads to salvation that is demonstrated by good works for God. ‘Faith without works is dead’


Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘We don’t know’, ChristianLife08#22, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7741434-3/ (Accessed 9 May 2013).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[3] Ibid., ChristianLife08#25.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#26.

[5] Ibid., ChristianLife08#27.

[6] This was my reply at ibid., OzSpen#31.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.