SPECIAL TOPIC: SATAN

This is a very difficult subject for several reasons.

1. The OT reveals not an archenemy of good, but a servant of YHWH, who offers mankind an alternative and also accuses mankind of unrighteousness. There is only one God (see Special Topic: Monotheism), one power, one cause in the OT—YHWH. 

2. The concept of a personal archenemy of God developed in the interbiblical (non-canonical) literature under the influence of Persian dualistic religions (Zoroastrianism). This, in turn, greatly influenced rabbinical Judaism and the Essene community (i.e., Dead Sea Scrolls).

3. The NT develops the OT themes in surprisingly stark, but selective, categories.

If one approaches the study of evil from the perspective of biblical theology (each book or author or genre studied and outlined separately), then very different views of evil are revealed.

If, however, one approaches the study of evil from a non-biblical or extra-biblical approach of world religions or eastern religions, then much of the NT development is foreshadowed in Persian dualism and Greco-Roman spiritism.

If one is presuppositionally committed to the divine authority of Scripture, then the NT development must be seen as progressive revelation.  Christians must guard against allowing Jewish folklore or western literature (Dante, Milton) to further influence the concept.  There is certainly mystery and ambiguity in this area of revelation. God has chosen not to reveal all aspects of evil, its origin, its development, its purpose, but He has revealed its defeat! 

 In the OT the term "satan" or "accuser" (BDB 966) can relate to three separate groups.

1. human accusers (cf. 1 Sam. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:22; 1 Kgs. 11:14,23,25; Ps. 109:6)

2. angelic accusers (cf. Num. 22:22-23; Job 1-2; Zech. 3:1)

3. demonic accusers (cf. 1 Chr. 21:1; 1 Kgs. 22:21; Zech. 13:2)

 Only later in the intertestamental period is the serpent of Genesis 3 identified with Satan (cf. Book of Wisdom 2.23-24; II Enoch 31:3), and even later does this become a rabbinical option (cf. Sot 9b and Sanh. 29a).  The "sons of God" of Genesis 6 become angels in I Enoch 54:6.  I mention this, not to assert its theological accuracy, but to show its development.  In the NT these OT activities are attributed to angelic, personified evil (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9).

 The origin of personified evil is difficult or impossible (depending on your point of view) to determine from the OT.  One reason for this is Israel's strong monotheism (see Special Topic: Monotheism; also note 1 Kgs. 22:20-22; Eccl. 7:14; Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6).  All causality was attributed to YHWH to demonstrate His uniqueness and primacy (cf. Isa. 43:11; 44:6,8,24; 45:5-6,14,18,21,22).

 Sources of possible information are (1) Job 1-2, where Satan is one of the "sons of God" (i.e., angels) or (2) Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, where prideful near-eastern kings (Babylon and Tyre) are possibly used to illustrate the pride of Satan (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6).  I have mixed emotions about this approach.  Ezekiel uses Garden of Eden metaphors, not only for the king of Tyre as Satan (cf. Ezek. 28:12-16), but also for the king of Egypt as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Ezekiel 31). However, Isaiah 14, particularly vv. 12-14, seems to describe an angelic revolt through pride.  If God wanted to reveal to us the specific nature and origin of Satan, this is a very oblique way and place to do it.  We must guard against the trend of systematic theology of taking small, ambiguous parts of different testaments, authors, books, and genres and combining them as pieces of one divine puzzle.

 I agree with Alfred Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 2, appendices XIII [pp. 748-763] and XVI [pp.770-776]) that rabbinical Judaism has been overly influenced by Persian dualism and demonic speculation.  The rabbis are not a good source for truth in this area.  Jesus radically diverges from the teachings of the Synagogue in this area.  I think that the concept of an archangelic enemy of YHWH developed from the two high gods of Iranian dualism, Ahkiman and Ormaza, and were then developed by the rabbis into a biblical dualism of YHWH and Satan.

 There is surely progressive revelation in the NT as to the personification of evil, but not as elaborate as the rabbis.  A good example of this difference is the "war in heaven."  The fall of Satan is a logical necessity, but the specifics are not given.  Even what is given is veiled in apocalyptic genre (cf. Rev. 12:4,7,12-13).  Although Satan is defeated in Jesus and exiled to earth, he still functions as a servant of YHWH (cf. Matt. 4:1; Luke 22:31-32; 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20).

We must curb our curiosity in this area.  There is a personal force of temptation and evil, but there is still only one God and we are still responsible for our choices. There is a spiritual battle, both before and after salvation.  Victory can only come and remain in and through the Triune God.  Evil has been defeated and will be removed!

 

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