Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Devil is in the details

One of the shocking discoveries for biblical studies majors is the ever-changing role of Satan in the Bible. In Job, he appears as one of God's helpers. In the royal histories, he convinces king David to levy taxes against Israel. In Zechariah he stands ready to do his work, accusing the priest of his sins before God. Then, by the time we get to the New Testament, he appears as God's opponent, ready to "tempt/test" Jesus in the desert, eventually "falling from heaven" as Jesus expands the kingdom of God on earth via the exorcising work of the twelve.

To what extent do you think our view of evil and suffering is informed by our demonology?

I think most Christians operate with a rather static view of Satan--what he is now is what he has always been. But, a more careful reading of the biblical narrative reveals that is not the case. Satan has changed over the years. At first, he did God's work (Job); now he's out to spoil God's work (Jesus). Could that dialectic help us make sense of the problem of evil?

What do you think?


Aaron Allison said...

Satan, the opposer, the adversary, the enemy. The LDS movement believes he was an archangel named Lucifer before he fell from heaven, although the NT never makes this connection. We know from Revelation 12 that Satan fell from heaven, and it probably doesn't sit too well with folks that he must have been originally created by God.

I don't think any one who reads the Bible should view Satan as a static character because it would be an adverse point of view to his archetype. I think the change of his character over time should be a warning to all who read the Bible. Like Judas Iscariot, it would have been better for him if Satan had never been created. Like the man who is removed of the one power, the second condition is worse than the first when the group of powers take over. It is not like Satan doesn't know who God is or Jesus is; he believes who they are and trembles! However, full knowledge of God and full rejection of God results in terrifying, inexcusable damnation.

I think at one point Satan praised the great God of heaven before his fall from heaven. I serve as one who leads others in worship at my church, so this reality is an ever-present warning against my own pride and abilities. Even when we are praising God with others, our minds can lead us into self-loving ruin. Although God has blessed us with talents and intelligence, it is for His glory, not ours. To ignore that fact is to embrace the antithesis of the gospel itself.

Darryl Schafer said...

Been watching (and enjoying) these last few posts from the stands. Keep it going.

Matt E said...

Like Darryl, I have enjoyed watching these conversations from a near distance. Thanks for these.

Thanks for this very interesting question. I've never thought of it this way, but it makes a good deal of sense. If Satan/the satan is as intelligent as he seems to be, it makes perfect sense that he'd be a "moving target."

Rodney Reeves said...


I think most Christians would have a problem with your (accurate) statement: "The LDS movement believes he was an archangel named Lucifer before he fell from heaven, although the NT never makes this connection." I think you've done some preventative maintenance for me. Once you take the primeval fall of Satan out of the picture (a nonbiblical idea), then our demonology becomes more complex.

Darryl, congrats on graduating.

Matt, I've just about finished your prof's massive tome. Campbell's work is breath-takingly (is that a word?) brilliant and wearisome. He's redefined what it means to be "painfully clear." I've really enjoyed his work. His insights are refreshingly provocative and helpful.

Aaron Allison said...


There is real physical and spiritual danger in ignorance. I am certain that many people, Christians even, would contend the LDS belief about Satan's origin just because that narrative, in and of itself, sounds 'scriptural' to the ear. Dealing with the concept of falling from grace is a constant theme throughout the Bible for God's people, is it not? Sounds good, right? And these people I speak of are the same hypocrites who would label the LDS movement as a pagan cult (an accurate label in my opinion) while ignorantly contending an LDS belief.

Our pastor is doing a Wednesday night small group study on Proverbs. Each session includes a set of proverbs that are in the OT, and a set that are purely non-biblical (i.e., God helps those that help themselves); the participants must decide if they are scriptural or not. It is both humorous, and disconcerting to see people, especially lifelong believers, choose incorrectly!

We need to guard our hearts from attack from the enemy. His lies can at times sound so sweet to the ear, but always his words are full of death. He is evil because he is out to steal the glory from God, and he is very skilled at it. He preys daily on my emotional state to get my intelligence to compromise, because, like those nonbiblical proverbs, his temptations sound good!

The more we entertain the idea of his temptations, the more we begin to rationalize sin. That is when we lose the battle, and that is 'making sense of the problem of evil.' If we accept sin, rationalize sin, or (gasp) laugh at sin (as we so often do to entertain ourselves), you can count the basket for the adversary. He has done the job he has set out to do: putting the focus on glorifying and gratifying ourselves instead of glorifying God. For me, it is a daily struggle, and the one thing that seems to help the most is continuing to read His word. That sword is what keeps the powers away.

William Bell said...

I used to complain to Calvinists that they have no room for a demonology in their theology. No dualisms. Only divine unilateral action. Thus God's decrees accomplish anything that Satan (as popularly conceived) wishes to achieve (suffering, rejection of God, damnation).

I think I see where you're going in highlighting the evolution of Satan's character in Scripture. But I do not see how the two pictures can be reconciled.

On a side note (but I think related in some way), I recently participated in an interesting discussion on the role of Satan in atonement theories. What interested me was the contrast between the dominant Patristic theory of ransom, where God 'buys' humanity back from the tyranny of the devil, and Anselm's model which is structurally similar but has God filling the slot of the oppressive ruler.

Aaron Allison said...


Mentioning what Satan's role might have been in atonement theories definitely applies to how he evolved over time; it may even show the penultimate development of his character.

However, there is some issue with acknowledging that Satan has more power in these atonement analogies than is due him. Milton's Paradise Lost is an excellent example of how people can get mixed up in these ideas about how much power Satan has. I cringe when Milton's devil character states "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." In the end, according to several books of the NT, I don't think he and his angels will reign anything. They are doomed to eternal judgment in the lake of fire, he won't be holding some evil royal court in hell, no matter how many Yosemite Sam cartoons you watch that might support the notion (anyone know which particular cartoon I'm thinking of?).

There is definitely some huge contrast going on in these varied atonement theories, and they seem to have a common question: is the ransom, paid for many, one that is owed to the devil, or to God? No doubt you encountered this question in your discussion on atonement theories. As for me, I don't think Satan gets a 'dime' of that blood. It was shed for the remission of sins against a set-apart God who could not not look upon sin. The reverse of the curse was not brought about by paying off the devil with the blood from the cross, but by defeating him forever when Jesus rose from the dead. That, I believe, was Satan's one (fumbled) chance to display any kind of real power he held against God, an opportunity that won't be matched again, even when the beast comes to power.

Darryl Schafer said...

@Rodney: Thanks!

Matt E said...

Dr. Reeves - I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed Dr. Campbell's [massive] book. I enjoyed it as well. I've grown quite fond of the apocalyptic reading of Paul, although I may not want to go as far as Campbell would like us to. One thing I always appreciated about Dr. Campbell was his insistence that we be painfully clear (as you say) and recognize the implications for whatever reading we may propose.

The Perpending follower said...

I remember us talking about this in several classes. Who were the first advocates of a primeval Satanic fall? Did the LDS church just popularize the view. I was wondering if you knew or could help me with some of the church fathers and what their view of Satan and the fall were. I haven't done enough research about the early church and their views on this particular manner but am curious to see how they interpreted Satan and his role throughout the scriptures. Also, do you know when the pre-creation fall of Satan view came around or was popular. As always scripture is our sole lens of interpretation but was curious about the history of this issue. Thanks

Rodney Reeves said...


I don't know the history of interpretation, but a good commentary on Luke's gospel or the Revelation might provide some good leads.

If memory serves, the pre-Adamic fall of Satan was an idea that had some credence around the interbiblical period, esp. in Jewish Apocalyptic literature. But how it came to be so popular in Christian protology, I don't know.