I have a question about 1 Tim 4:1. The passage says that “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Does this mean that demons still exist? My understanding is that demons only existed during the time of Jesus when they came out of people and also during apostolic times and are no longer present. I’m talking about the existence of the kind of demons that Jesus exorcised!
I do not believe that 1 Timothy 4:1 is great evidence for either side of this potential debate. It could be talking about things taught by demons, even today, or it could be discussing things which demons had typically taught in earlier times. I suppose that the most reasonable understanding is that Paul is assuming demons were still real at that time and that demons still in fact existed, but I do not think that this would be a very good proof-text for the current activity of demons.
That being said, this still leaves us with the question of whether demons are in fact real and working their evil on humans today. First of all, Jesus clearly believed in demons, as he drove them out of Legion (Mark 5:1-18). He also drove out a demon who threw a boy onto the ground when he came back from the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). Dozens of passages can show that Jesus believed demons are real and that they were active during his ministry.
That being true, unless those who believe that there are no longer demons have a passage suggesting that they no longer exist, then we should reasonably conclude that they still exist. I know of no passage of scripture which teaches that demons no longer exist. I know of no scripture which even implies this. I know of no passage which implies that they would no longer be active after the time of Jesus.
The only passage I know of which has been used in this connection is Revelation 19 which teaches that the Serpent (Satan) would be bound for 1000 years. However, this is an obviously symbolic passage in a book couched almost entire in symbolic language, so to “prove” that demons no longer exist using this passage is skating on thin ice.
Besides, I have heard dozens of personal testimonies which seem to imply that demons are real. You will find some of these testimonies in a CD set available at www.ipibooks.com We should be hesitant to use anecdotes to prove that demons are real, but the kinds of testimonies I have heard personally, at least for me, is also supportive evidence that demons are still active today.
Why have you been assuming that demons only existed during the time of Jesus? Was there a passage you have interpreted that way? Is it because demons appear to be, at the very least, less active today in the Western world than they were during Jesus’ time? Is it because you carry presuppositions into Christianity from some sort of inherent skepticism? Is it because you have heard that taught in church? Just curious.
In any case, 1 Timothy 4:1 is most reasonably interpreted to imply that demons are still at work today, but it would be, at best, a very weak proof text for this belief.
I hope this helps.