Who is Satan? v. 2

So, if Satan isn’t the devil, who is!?

Well, Satan, at least according to the greeks. So, let me set the stage. Israel in the centuries surrounding the time of Jesus had been conquered by the Romans, who took over from the Greeks who had conquered a couple hundred years earlier. The Romans turned Jerusalem and Israel into, in their minds, any other Roman province including the spreading of their religions.

Roman and Greek mythology and pantheology are very similar, so when the Romans took over, they didn’t need to destroy any statuary or shrines that the Greeks had built. These shrines, the ones that depicted pagan gods to the Jews, were still quite creepy. The Jews felt the power from them and felt that they were inhabited by something, but it couldn’t be gods because there was only one God.

And so the spirits which inhabited such shrines were called demons. The greek word for demon simply means spirits or lesser gods. It is also of note that Greeks personify just about everything in their deities and spirits. If there is a human emotion or act, the Greeks gave that emotion or act a spiritual ruler. Lust, beauty, hunger, etc. Anything you could think of. This type of personification became accepted by the Jews in the acceptance that demons were responsible for negative emotions and behaviours, particularly lying and deception.

So, with Greek influence, the writers of the Gospel heard the title Satan, took the understanding of what that mean, and created a word of their own to represent that, but they added the negative connotations also associated with demons. Diabolos is the greek word for Satan, and there is absolutely no record of it before the Jews and Christians of Jesus’ time started using it.

Thus, it is my understanding that the devil is a misrepresentation of Satan which never got fixed. You can see this gradual association as you read the New Testament. In Matthew’s temptations of Jesus, the writer uses devil freely to refer to the person tempting Jesus, but Jesus is quoted as speaking to Satan.

In the first three gospels, Jesus speaks about Satan casting out Satan after being accused of worshipping Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Beelzebub has since been seen as a name for Satan. In all three cases, there are different contexts. In Matthew 12:26-27 and Luke 11: 18-19 Jesus separates Satan and Beelzebub by example. If Satan, and if Beelzebub, suggesting that they are not the same. In Mark 3:23, it is explicitly separated from the Beelzebub reference by Mark’s telling us that Jesus spoke to them in parables before referencing Satan.

Satan’s reputation for being an opposing force for God doesn’t arrive until Acts 26:18 where, according to Paul, Jesus talks about power being transferred from darkness to light, from Satan to God. It isn’t until Romans, however, that the real Satan-bashing begins. Romans 16:20, Paul claims that God will crush Satan.

In this trend, it continues until Revelation, when there appears a true hatred of Satan, and a solid understanding of Satan as synonymous with the Devil, opposer to God in all ways, and evil incarnate.

It seems reasonable to me, that Jesus most likely spoke of the old Satan, the agent of God who placed stumbling blocks in the way of the righteous that they might grow in faith. It also seems reasonable to me, that the malevolence of spirits and demons from Greece and Rome influenced the Jewish understanding of who Satan was, which grew until Satan and the Devil are what they have become today.

So, if you’re wondering. No, I don’t believe in the popular Satanic figure. I think humans get in their own way plenty and have no need of a personified spirit to represent that. We need to take responsibility for our own sabotage, to both self and others.

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Fariba says:

    Good series. I find it interesting that despite the popular Christian definition of Satan, there is a whole tradition in the West that identifies evil with the human heart and the sin of Adam. I think of Satan as the “powers and principalities” that influence actions contrary to love. I don’t personify evil, but I do think of evil as something that transcends individual behavior. Ultimately, I think there has to be a balance. People should take responsibility for their actions but sins are also structural. Placed together, less personified versions of Satan and Original Sin could help us appreciate the complexity of human behavior.

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    1. Hey Fariba, thanks for your thoughts!

      On some level, I agree with you, but I feel it’s less principalities and more of a hive mind situation. It’s as though evil is the spiritual influence of every person on the planet, whether they know it or not. It’s part of why Jesus wanted us to be mindful of our thoughts. I would argue that evil is the collective spiritual influence of humanity and that if we can accept our faults and eliminate cognitive dissonance, perhaps we could eventually bring the entire system down to a low hum.

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  2. Ben Nelson says:

    your hope is fulfilled – both thought provoking and informative

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    1. In what way, if you don’t mind my asking?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ben Nelson says:

        Everything I’ve read of yours is very thoughtful and thought provoking. You clearly don’t come by your opinion by whim or fancy, but by study and deep thought. Once I get past my tendency to knee-jerk reactions against new thought, your ideas drive me back to scripture to see how your take compares with my understanding. It causes me to rethink and evaluate from scratch things I’ve learned long ago.
        For the most part, I’ve built my faith on scripture, and by comparing scripture with scripture. So new (to me) ideas give me the opportunity to dig in and see again God’s glory in His word.
        I’m very interested in much of the historical background you bring to light in your writing. The Greco-Roman influence on the early church is fascinating. I appreciate your amazing study skills and ability to dig through these ancient sources.
        As to your topic—Satan—the BlueLetterBible has the text of the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon which brings some interesting info about a theologian who looked at Satan in Job as an angel of the Lord and how “this notion has been rejected by all interpreters.” Clearly not all, but apparently most of the scholars at that time had considered this possible path, but rejected it. The snippet doesn’t go much further in explanation but does touch on it.
        There was a time in my faith when I would argue for different interpretation of many passages based on a simple lexicon entry giving me an alternative definition, but I’ve since decided that these folks who have made their life’s work to know the original languages and have access to manuscripts for the scriptures are better able to make these determinations that I am.
        A couple other points to consider.
        You state that Beelzebub and Satan are distinct because Jesus mentions both names. That’s an interesting point. It could be that’s what He’s trying to point out, but it could also be that He’s linking the two by bringing up the name or title Satan when his attackers are talking of Beelzebub.
        The fact that Satan started out as an angel is clear in scripture. But there are three places that I read as descriptions or references to his demise and fall from grace as it were. Luke 10:18, Jesus states that He saw Satan fall from heaven and in the next breath speaks of power over the enemy. This seems to undermine the idea that Satan is an agent of the Lord God, but rather an enemy of the faithful.
        In Revelation 12, John talks about seeing Michael the archangel warring against the dragon in verse 7, then in 9, it ties a bow around this identity.
        And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. – Revelation 12:9 NASB
        We see this account in more poetic terms in Ezekiel 28 too. Here we learn of his history as an angel of beauty and power.
        Anyway – that’s a glimpse of my take, but as I say, I enjoy hearing your ideas on these subjects that are clearly not laid out in plain terms and so left open for us to dig in and learn for ourselves.
        God’s grace and peace to you as you keep digging and writing of your findings.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is great, I am glad to hear you understand that I really do try very hard to check my understandings of scripture. Re-evaluating one’s thoughts, particularly on faith, I feel is very important and I will continue to do so as long as I live.

        As for Satan being an angel, that I don’t say. That he is an agent seems entirely unopposed in recent scholarship. Every article I can find on the subject of Satan in Job references Job as on the council of God, an agent of God, and in one case his “other son.” (I don’t know where the guy gets that from.) All of these articles were written in the 2000s, so I don’t know what changed, but clearly, something has considering the information you presented.

        I concede the point that Jesus’ mention of Satan and Beelzebub one after the other could go either way. However, In Luke 11:18 it says, “If Satan, too, is divided against himself,” which suggests a separation of persons. He even clarifies in the next verse that he is talking about this because they had mentioned Beelzebub, which would have been clear if they were understood to be the same person.

        As for Satan’s fall, I had felt the blog was already too long to add the significant amount of research I had done on the title Lucifer. Every reference to the fall of Satan from heaven, or falling like lightning, in every commentary I have read, says that the source of this information is from an interpretation of Isaiah 14. Specifically Isaiah 14:12. It is from this same chapter that the name Lucifer arises, for the King of Babylon, the intended recipient of the prophecy is called “the light of dawn”, which is what Lucifer means. It is interpreted much the way that your Ezekiel reference is interpreted. Given, clearly, to a recipient in the text, the poetry was re-interpreted as a story of Satan, despite there being no evidence that this is the case. Re-interpreting Old Testament scripture to fit their current contexts is something that the Gospel writers enjoyed doing, and while showing that they re-interpreted the text to make a statement does not prove that the connection is not there, it certainly casts doubt on it.

        Interestingly, in reference to this behaviour in terms Revelation, it is very similar to people today reading Revelation and interpreting what they read there to fit the world as we now know it. It seems logical that the authors of the bible were doing to Isaiah and Ezekiel, what some readers have done today in regards to Revelation. Does this mean that the connections they made are definitively false? No, not at all. Simply that, reasonably, it seems likely that the connections were of human origin.

        I hope we can continue to seek the truth together Ben, for that is my ultimate goal. Will we ever find it before death? Who knows, but I am certainly going to enjoy the ride along the way. =oD

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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    1. That is so great! Thanks for your comment! I do hope he finds a like mind in my work. I am always looking for individuals who want to discuss.

      I hope you continue to enjoy!

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  4. You really make it appear so easy with your presentation however I find this topic to be really something which I think I’d by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely vast for me. I’m having a look ahead for your next post, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

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    1. Hello, thanks for your comment.

      I understand that these issues can seem very big, and it is true that I am a systematic theologian, so a lot of what I think about involves large and complicated systems. What I hope you take away though is the practical implications of what I’m saying. Things such as the unconditional love of God which can impact your life every day without thinking too hard about it.

      I hope things get clearer as we go!

      Like

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