The English word "demon" has been found throughout the New Testament in modern bible translations since the 19th century. However, in the 16th and 17th century and earlier (Tyndale Bible, Geneva Bible, King James Bible, Douay-Rheims Bible) "demons" are not found. They use "devils" rather than "demons". (the Tyndale Bible and Geneva Bible use "deuils" rather than "demons"). This is where the Greek Versions and Latin Vulgate indicate "daemonia".

As expected, "diabola" from Latin, and Greek, also gets translated as "devil" in the old English versions, which is still done in modern translations.

There is one peculiar exception, the Douay-Rheims Bible does use "demons" just one time: in Isaiah 34.14. That verse seems to be referring to wild desert animals rather than evil spirits, and modern Bible translations don't use the word "demons" in that verse. In the Clementina Vulgata, "daemonia" is used in that verse in Isaiah, but in the "1979 Nova Vulgate" the verse specifically refers to wild desert animals (rather than demons) making it compatible with modern bible translations modern translations. Otherwise, "daemonia" is repeated in a number of verses in the New Testament in both (old) Clementina and (new) Nova Vulgate editions.

The King James Version has zero references to demons. They are always mentioned as "devils" when the Greek and Latin indicate daemonia is used. However, the word "demonstrate" is found in the King James version, so the root word was in use.

I'm thinking that "demons" did not enter the English vocabulary (as an evil spirit) until the 19th century. In 1833, Noah Webster translated the Bible using "demons" rather than "devils" (for evil spirits in the New Testament) for the very first time in a signification Bible translation (that I can find).

I'm thinking that "demon" and "demons" were introduced into the English language as a wild animal, probably wild desert goats, which in the Gospel, were inhabited by "demons" according to Modern Bible translations. (they were inhabited by "devils" according to King James and Douay Rheims, and "deuils" in Tyndale and Geneva Bible translations. I'm trying to find out when demons were first used to refer to evil spirits in popular English, because it doesn't appear that it was in popular use back in the days of King James.

  • Orcs are much older by far. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 22:29
  • Note that demon ( < daemon) has very little to do with demonstrate (< de- + monstrare).
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 9:48

1 Answer 1


The 1775 edition of “The New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language” Volume 1, By John Ash - has the entry:


a spirit, an evil spirit

so, apparently, the notion of demon as evil spirit entered the English language earlier than the 19th century as you suggest.

  • since the dictionary says, "a spirit" before it says, "an evil spirit" would that mean that "demon" was in use to refer to non-evil spirits back in 1775, perhaps more commonly than an Evil spirit?
    – user12711
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 21:15
  • c. 1200, "an evil spirit, malignant supernatural being, an incubus, a devil," from Latin daemon "spirit," from Greek daimōn "deity, divine power; lesser god; guiding spirit, tutelary deity" (sometimes including souls of the dead); "one's genius, lot, or fortune;" from PIE *dai-mon- "divider, provider" (of fortunes or destinies), from root *da- "to divide." Online Etymology Dictionary
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 23:50
  • 1200? Yet King James version didn't use "demon" even once. It translated the Greek/Latin for demons to devils. I wonder why?
    – user12711
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 0:32
  • 1
    @user12711: Maybe there was some theological distinction between demons and devils in the 1600s. Shakespeare, writing shortly before the King James Bible was written, used demon: "If that same demon that hath gull'd thee thus // Should with his lion gait walk the whole world, // He might return to vasty Tartar back, // And tell the legions 'I can never win // A soul so easy as that Englishman's.'" (Henry V) Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 17:52
  • I think you're right. The Douay Rheims Bible (Catholic, same era as KJV) is based on the Latin Vulgate, and "daemonia" is listed throughout the Vulgate New Testament, yet Douay Rheims Bible also uses the wording "devils". It seems that "demon" was not a sufficiently evil enough word to use, and it was changed to "devil" which implies total evil (even though the Greek and Latin originals specific "daemonia". It sounds like Shakespear was using "demon" in much the way the Greeks did, to imply a guiding spirit (good or evil).
    – user12711
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 21:09

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