First I want to thank "tfan" for this opportunity to defend my use of holy water, as I describe it in this blog post. May our debate prove to be mutually edifying.
Now, before I begin I would like to anticipate two possible objections:
- "We're supposed to combat demonic forces, not by holy water, but by _____ "
- "There is no example in Scripture of someone using water against demonic forces"
As for the second objection, let me state that I agree with it as well. It is true that there is no explicit example in Scripture of someone using holy water against demonic forces, or commending its use. I am aware of that. BUT, there are no verses that speak directly against this practice either. In situations like this when there is no explicit Scriptural witness, we have to rely on the implicit witness, as well as the principles that inform the practice in question. If the principles are biblically sound, then the practice is sound.
That said, here are the principles that inform the practice of using holy water:
- God uses the things of the created order to produce supernatural effects in our lives.
- In Scripture, water is used to cleanse, purify, and heal human beings.
- Demons are rightly repulsed by anything that is holy or blessed by God, and are expelled by His cleansing grace.
1. God uses the things of the created order to produce supernatural effects in our lives
There are many examples in Scripture where Jesus and the apostles use created things to produce supernatural effects in the lives of human beings. Jesus’ garment healed the woman with the hemorrhage (cf. Mt 9:20-22), and his saliva mixed with dirt (along with water from the pool of Siloam) gave sight to the blind man (cf. Jn 9:6-7). Many were healed by being anointed with oil (cf. Mk 6:13; Jas 5:14-15; Rev 3:18), and Paul’s handkerchiefs cured disease and expelled evil spirits (cf. Acts 19:11-12). Elijah’s mantle parted the Jordan (cf. 2 Ki 2:8,14), and the bones of his apprentice, Elisha, brought a man back to life (cf. 2 Ki 13:21). Of course, the Lord wrought innumerable miracles through the rods of Moses (cf. Exo 4:2-4; 9:23; 10:13; 14:16; 17:9-11; Num 20:11) and Aaron (cf. Exo 7:10-12,20; 8:5-6,17; Num 17:8) as well.
Many other examples could be provided. The point is, God is certainly not averse to accommodating our senses and using the objects of our material world in order to have a very real impact on our lives.
2. In Scripture, water is used to cleanse, purify, and heal human beings
Believe it or not, there are examples of holy water in Scripture:
- Exo 23:25 speaks of water that has been blessed
- In Num 5:17, the priest uses “holy water” in the judgment of the woman
- In Num 19:9,13-20, anyone who is unclean remains so until the “water for impurity” is sprinkled upon him
- In 2 Ki 2:19-22, Elisha makes the water “healed” (KJV) or “purified” (NAS).
- cleansing: cf. Lev 14:8-9,50-52; 15:5-27; 17:15; Num 8:7; 19:12,18-19; 2 Ki 5:12; Psa 51:7; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Eph 5:26; Heb 10:22
- purifying: cf. Exo 29:4; 40:12,30-32; Lev 11:32; 16:4,24,26,28; 22:6; Num 19:7-8; 31:23; Deut 23:10-11; 1 Ki 18:33-34; Jn 2:6; Heb 9:19
- healing: cf. 2 Ki 5:14; Isa 35:5-7; Jn 5:4 (KJV); 9:6-7.
3. Demons are rightly repulsed by anything that is holy or blessed by God, and are expelled by His cleansing grace
Does this really need a defense? We’ve already seen how Paul’s handkerchiefs expelled evil spirits (cf. Acts 19:11-12). The holy name of Jesus causes them to flee (cf. Mk 9:38-41; Acts 16:18). Demons are simply repulsed by things that are holy. When water is blessed it becomes holy and thus an effective weapon against the devil.
If the biblical evidence were not enough, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Hundreds of saintly men and women throughout history have experienced for themselves the power of holy water against demonic forces. For example, in the Apostolic Constitutions (400 AD), holy water is called, “a means of warding off diseases, frightening away evil spirits, a medicine for body and soul, and for purification from sins” (see here). Bede “the Venerable” (672-735) reports in his Ecclesiastical History of England that a bishop cured a sick woman with holy water (see here), and that devils were cast out by it (see here). St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) was relieved of a demoniacal vision and temptation by the devil once holy water was brought to her (see here). St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) wrote, “From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again” (see here).
Many more examples could be provided, but you get the idea. Ultimately, to reject the effectiveness of holy water against demonic forces is not just to ignore the biblical witness, but to also essentially discredit 2,000 years of Christian witness and experience.