Central to understanding the purpose of Jesus in the Gospels, and for understanding Christianity’s emergence from obscurity into the trans-social giant that it has become, is the conception of Satan as a spiritual nemesis. Satan’s importance within the early Christian worldview is felt to be surpassed only by that of the god-man Jesus. Indeed, “in the theology of many Christians the doctrine of the devil is only second to the doctrine of God, and the devil is an indispensable part of the machinery of faith and piety” (Caldwell I, 29).
Satan, as an academic undertaking is obnoxiously large, so we will look mainly at Satan’s place within the first century Christian worldview. The early Christian’s seem to have a very clear picture of who Satan is—there is almost unanimous agreement in regards to his place in the world, his characteristics and his moral polarity. Mark refers to Satan as the “Prince of Demons” (Mark 3.22 ), John calls him the “prince of this world”(John 12.31), Paul uses the descriptions “prince of the powers of the air”(Eph 2.2), “god of this world”(II Cor 4.4).
Satan is referred to as “the tempter”(Mtt 4.3/ I The 3.5) and “the evil one”(Mtt 13.19 / Eph 6:16) by both Matthew and Paul. As Caldwell points out, “in reaching the New Testament we are struck by the unitariness, clearness and definiteness of the outline of Satan”(Caldwell III, 167).
The oldest known gospel, Mark, begins its narrative with the Theophany episode, where “the Spirit” descended “like a dove on” Jesus (Mrk 1.10), representing the commencement of Jesus’ divine mission. Then “the Spirit immediately drove him [Jesus] out into the wilderness”(1.12) where he was “forty days, tempted by Satan”(1.13).
There are no details given regarding the temptation in Mark as they are in the Q source (both evangelists Matthew and Luke seem to agree, almost word for word, on the nature of the temptations), but its importance is stressed just in its chronological placement within Mark’s text. Mark starts his Gospel with this temptation, thereby emphasizing its importance over other such occurrences as, say, the virgin birth or the entrance into the temple.
The source of Q depicts very specific temptations:
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms
Of the worldÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been
Given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you then will worship me, it
Will all be yours? (Luk 4.5-7 / Mtt 4.5-6)
A number of things could be deduced from this text but most important here is the immediate recognition of Satan’s authority as ruler over this world which was at some handed over to him, presumably by God himself.
Clearly, within the framework of first century Christianity, Satan was seen as a powerful entity with, as we shall see, complete political control over the physical world and a powerful spiritual kingdom enforcing his will. “Satan is represented as the founder of an empire that struggles with and counteracts the kingdom of God upon the earth. He is powerful, but less powerful than God” (Carus, 166). And again, “He [Satan] controls entire kingdoms, whose inhabitants live in the darkness of idolatry, worshipping Satan and giving him the glory that is to God alone”(Garret, 43).
An obvious duality is present in the New Testament, wherein Satan is seen as the ruler of a spiritual kingdom, with earth as his empire. Indeed, from one perspective the entire mission of Christ could be “presented as the story of the vanquishing of the powers of darkness. Satan and his angels are to be destroyed and the world purged of their presence” (Riches, 40).
In the parable of the tares (Mtt 13.24-30) Jesus compares the “kingdom of heaven” to a field newly sown with “good seed”. “But while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat”. When the crops grew the workers noticed the weeds amongst the wheat. They told their “Master” of the weeds and he instructed them to wait until the harvest before separating the two. Later, he explains the meaning of this parable to his disciples saying, “the enemy who sowed them [the seeds] is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels” (Mtt 13.39).
There is obvious Persian influence in this duality: a malevolent, evil entity who at all times attempts to counter act the benevolent, supremely good God. “There can be no reasonable doubt”, says Caldwell, “that the doctrine of Satan suffered some assimilation to the Persian doctrine of Ahriman” (I, 32), and again the “New Testament conception seems to be more in accord with Persian mythology, of an incarnation of an evil spirit”(Caldwell I, 31).
This vision of unseen warfare is apparent throughout the New Testament, through the temptation of Christ in the Gospels and constant demonic opposition faced by the early church. It is a consistent theme throughout the Epistles attributed to Paul. “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (Eph 6.12). In first Corinthians dualistic terms are used to compare the opposing kingdoms of Satan and God: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons”, and again “You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons”(1 Cor 10.21). In the Epistle of Barnabas we find a very clear statement of duality. “There are two ways of doctrine and authority, the one of light, and the other of darknessÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦For over one are stationed the light bringing angels of God but over the other the angels of Satan” (Epistle, xviii). The dualistic images of light and dark are alsoa constant theme within the Johannine Gospel and Epistles.
There are some differences which separate the Christian duality from that which was believed by the Persians. Persian Dualism is defined as the “positing” of “an eternal struggle between to self-existent deities, the one good, the other evil” (Caldwell I, 29). In Christianity we do not have an absolute duality—Satan is not God’s equal, neither will the struggle between Satan and God last for eternity, for “Satan and his angels will be defeated in a final cosmic battle and will be eternally banished from the world” (Riches, 36).
At one point in the ministry of Jesus, after casting out a demon, he is accused by the unbelieving Jews of casting “out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons” (Luk 11.15). In this we find more than just proof of a Jewish belief in the kingdom of Satan, we find a hint towards the origin of this dualism.
Carus states that it is “common in history” for a people to “change” the “deities of hostile nations into demons of evil. In this way Beelzebub, the Phoenician god, became another name for Satan” (Carus, 71). The passage “implies that Jesus understood Beelzebub to be an alias for Satan” (Garret, 44), it also shows that at some point past the Jewish idea of Satan was merged with a more Persian deity
This duality which we find at every turn in the New Testament seems to be a relatively new idea within Jewish beliefs. The Jews portrayed within the New Testament texts all seem to be just as familiar with the concept of Satan’s kingdom as the early Christians.
The evolution of Satan can be traced from the Old Testament days, where he had an almost completely different purpose, if not personality. “Many strands of earlier Hebrew literature took for granted the existence of malevolent supernatural beings but rarely elaborated” (Pagels, 106). . And just as Christianity itself emerged from Judaism so should any study of Satan as a religious concept.
In 1 Sam 16.14 “an evil spirit of the Lord” was sent to “torment” the unrighteous King Saul. In 1Ki 22.21-24 we find a spirit who promises to deceive the impious King Ahab. And in Isaiah 4.4 “the LordÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦cleansed the bloodstains of JerusalemÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦by a spirit of judgement and by a spirit of burning. In all these early Jewish references to demonic forces we find a vast difference from the Christian view in one monumental way. The evil spirits seem to be in God’s employment, they have no personal independence and “angels that have evil tasks are not themselves evil, since God is the author of evil”(Caldwell I, 32).
“The word Satan is often used in the Old Testament as a verb, meaning to act as an adversary” (Caldwell I, 32). As an individual, Satan is only mentioned, using his proper name, three times in the Old Testament texts. In two of those cases Satan was clearly not an independent agent but, rather, completely subservient to the dictates of God. In both Job and Zechariah for instance, Satan is but a part of God’s court. He has a very specific duty that he serves: that of prosecutor. Satan “is an adversary of man, but not of God; he is a subject of God and God’s faithful servant” (Carus, 71).
In the third instance Satan seems to independently tempt David into numbering his forces (1chr 21.1), but in another version of the same story (2 Sam 24:1) it is God himself who tempts David. Ultimately, because of the connection with the verse in Second Samuel, we are led to believe that perhaps in I Chronicle Satan is still doing the will of God, we just arent’ directly informed.
A puzzling reference, which has been construed by some scholars as proof of Persian duality in early Judaism, is found in Lev 16.7-10:
He shall take two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots on the goats one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel”.
Many see this Azazel as a Satan figure, Carus sees Azazel “as a last remnant of prior dualism”(Carus, 66). That is, he believes Azazel is a desert-god which was worshipped by the Jews well before the time of Moses and that this “strong godÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦became a mere shadow of his former power” and that the scapegoat practice became “a mere recognition of his existence” (Carus, 66). This is an interesting idea, but new evidence into the identity of Azazel has turned up.
At about the time Carus wrote his “History of the Devil” the first English translation of I Enoch, by Richard Laurence, had been out maybe forty years and perhaps Carus was unfamiliar with it. The Book of Enoch is believed to have a “third century B.C. Jewish authorship for it earliest parts considering that a few Aramaic texts of Enoch were discovered at Qumram among the Dead Sea Scrolls” (“Book of Enoch”). The book has Christian significance as well, for it is quoted by the author of Jude 1.9, making it clear that a portion of early Christians were familiar with the text and even considered it to be scripture.
Azazel and Satan (Samyaza) are both present in the narrative. Samyaza was the leader (I Enoch 7.3) of an army of two hundred angels (7.7) who decided to suceed from God’s kingdom in order to marry and breed with the daughters of man:
“It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children” (I Enoch 7.1-2).
This occurrence is also mentioned in the book of Genesis, albeit somewhat more ambiguously: “when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore them children ” (Gen 6.4).
In I Enoch, Azazel was not a Satan figure, but a follower of Satan. He was however given special status in the text for the things that he taught to the sons of man.
Azazyel taught men to make swords, knives, shields, breastplates, the fabrication of mirrors, and the workmanship of bracelets and ornaments, the use of paint, the beautifying of the eyebrows, the use of stones of every valuable and select kind, and all sorts of dyes, so that the world became altered (I Enoch 8.1).
In Azazel, we see not the Satan figure of an Old Testament accuser nor a New Testament Beezlebul, but rather a Prometheus archetype. Like the serpent of Genesis, he is a barer of forbidden knowledge—the knowledge of war and vanity. The author of Enoch credits this forbidden knowledge as God’s reason for flooding the earth in Noah’s day.
Who the Nephilim are, and all the other mysteries that arise from these texts are for another paper. We are concerned with but three aspects found within the various sources; a) Azazel is not a past god of Israel and is especially not a dualistic equal to God as implied by Carus. b) Azazel is not synonomous with Satan and c) there was a belief, at least by portions of the people of Israel, that a group of angels, led by Samyaza, rebelled from the heavenly ranks to live upon the earth .
The duality that so permeates New Testament literature is rooted in these ideas of rebellious angels who fell from heaven. The fall is what gives Satan his independence, making him into an enemy of God. Early Jews, perhaps, did not believe in this cosmic rebellion, but clearly the Jews of the Greco-Roman period did.
The Wisdom of Solomon, an apocryphal text from the “late first century BCE or early first century CE” (Bible, 70) claims that “through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it” (Wis 2.24). The devil is credited with man’s fall (thereby associating the devil with the anthropomorphic serpent of Genesis, a common Christian association) and if all mankind “experiences” death, then evidently all mankind “belongs to his company”. This effectualy credits Satan with dominion over all mankind, an all too familiar concept amongst early Christian sources.
Sometime after the times of the Old Testament writers, Jewish thought regarding Satan’s purpose in the divine economy changed and Satan transformed from God’s ally and trusted advisor to his most adamant enemy. A duality appeared in Jewish thought, from obvious Persian influence, and became the core of meaning for the newly incarnated Christian church. Satan became a tyrannical despot who enslaved all mankind on earth, and promised a bleak existence in Sheol (or Hades, as the Christians will term it).
The New Testament world is portrayed as being totally overrun by the forces of Satan. It is only after Jesus defeats Satan in the Wilderness that he takes the offensive and begins his ministry. That first defeat of Satan in the wilderness was the “tying up of the strong man” (Mtt 12.29) that began the “plundering of his property” (ibid). “The notions of satanic temptation and corruption remain in the background” (Riches, 43) throughout Jesus ministry but there is no real outward demonic opposition until Satan again takes the offense buy possessing Judas. Until the betrayal, Jesus met with many demons but they offered no opposition whatsoever, and followed his every command. Indeed, pity is even shown to the demon/s Legion when it “begged” Jesus to “Send us into the swine, let us enter them” (Mrk 5.12).
Jesus instructed his disciples in spiritual warfare “and gave them power and authority over all demons” and then “he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luk 9.1), thereby driving out Satan’s forces. After losing much ground “Satan enters into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve” (Luk 22.3). A disturbing dilemma arises from Luke’s statement. How did Satan get the authority to possess Judas when Judas himself was one of the twelve who received “power and authority over all demons” just a short time before?
Nevertheless, that is how it is told. Satan, perhaps believing himself to be giving Jesus ‘the rub’, manipulates the events around the crucifixion. The crucifixion turns out to be “at Satan’s expense”(Garrett, 37), it heralds the beginning of the end of his control over the world’s populations for “now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I [Jesus] am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jhn 12.31-32).
Jesus, or John through Jesus, seems to suggest that it is the crucifixion, which begins the defeat of Satan, and gives humans their freedom from his clutches. After his death/resurrection the dualism of Christianity is complete for the church becomes the kingdom of God upon the earth to combat the forces of darkness. The individual may join the “children of the light”(1 Ths 5.5) or remain with “the power of darkness”(Col 1.13).
Until Jesus’ eventual return “seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven”(Mrk 14.62) the devil is “restrained” but “still at work”(2 The 2.7). “The present world remains” to some degree under the influence “until the Second Advent of Christ”(Carus, 166) and the final judgment. Thus, the early Christians, with eagerness expected the return of Christ (as many still so), to consummate the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.
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