What Do We Know About Satan’s Origins?

For a summary of ten theological issues, go to my Spiritual Journey

©2004 by Tim Chastain

Hello James,

It seems forever since I last worked on this topic you chose to discuss, but in checking my records, I see it has only been six months! Of course, that is a long time, especially since I expected to have it finished in a couple weeks or so. But here we are.

When you visited Orlando this past summer, we discussed how some of our biblical views had become so different, as mine in particular had changed considerably. Our short visit did not allow us to investigate sufficiently those differences or how we came to hold them, and you expressed an interest in pursuing the discussion by correspondence.

The idea appealed to me at once, and I began by drawing up a somewhat chronological list of issues and offered them for you to select a topic. As a reference, I include the entire list of issues. Each represents a complex transformation in my thinking, and none of them was easy.

A LIST OF ISSUES

  1. Legalism – Is our legalistic code of behavior biblically valid?
  2. King James Version – Is the KJV the exclusive word of God?
  3. Dispensationalism – Is the Dispensational worldview biblical?
  4. Hell – Is our understanding of Hell biblical?
  5. Satan - What do we know about Satan’s origins?
  6. Genesis – Is Genesis chapters 1-11 meant to be understood historically?
  7. Inerrancy – What is the nature of scripture?
  8. Does God exist?
  9. Who Is Jesus?

SATAN

In an excellent illustration of choosing the more interesting over the more historical, you jumped into the middle of the list and chose ‘Satan’. So Satan it is. You should note that my original issue of Satan was limited in scope to the question, ‘Is our traditional understanding of Satan’s origins biblical?’ It did not embrace the different question as to whether Satan exists at all. Since the New Testament seems to assume the existence of Satan, that question could arise only after resolving the question, ‘What is the nature of scripture?’, that came later.

Keep in mind that this conversation is two-way. I am quite interested in your thoughts on the subject and encourage your comments, questions and critique. Perhaps a series of follow-up discussions will be in order, or perhaps not. Also keep in mind that I have no desire to convert you to my beliefs; I am simply describing my beliefs and a bit of how I came to have them. I hope you find something of interest in the exchange, and I am eager to receive your responses. If the length, format or approach do not meet your preferences, then let me know, and perhaps I can modify them.

We should begin our investigation of Satan’s origins by considering the traditional and popular view. In that scenario, Satan was an angel of high station created by God, but pride caused him to rebel. In doing so, he was able to bring a third of the created angels to his side in a battle against God and the loyal angels. Satan and his followers were defeated and cast out of heaven, and they have since continued their rebellion against God by assaulting God’s human creation.

This view is based entirely on three blocks of scripture, and I suggest you interrupt this paper now to read those scriptural passages: Ezekiel 28:12-17, Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12:3-9 . . .

Quite convincing, aren’t they? Together, these three passages seem to tell a powerful, cosmic story, and this is the popular view held by most lay Christians, taught in Sunday schools and popular writings, and assumed in sermons from many pulpits.

This was also my view, and one that I held strongly. My view of the origins and history of Satan played a prominent role in my understandings of spiritual conflict. In my mind, the forces of Satan and the forces of God had not let up in the battle of good and evil. In fact, the battle was intensifying as part of the last days crescendo.

Spiritual warfare was as important – no, even more important than the more visible efforts of the Church to spread Christianity. God needed spiritual warriors to engage the enemy in the hidden warfare that lay behind the visible conflicts between the Church and the non-Church world.

This led to my study of the occult in order to understand occult power and to distinguish between satanic and neutral powers. Not many Christians I knew felt comfortable in such a head-on fight and many who were aware of my quest were afraid to be involved.

I remember one student preacher, Bill, who read a passage from my copy of the Satanic Bible and threw it across the room in terror. I, too, had a spiritual struggle with that book, but I overcame it. My most intense struggle was with a statue of the Buddha, which once tried to compel me to bow down and worship it. I did not—I was becoming a strong warrior.

You may recall much of that period, because you were a part of it. I remember our many discussions, and in particular the person you found who agreed to talk to us about astral projection, but who, before our meeting with him, projected and never came back!

Of course, there was also your encounter with the demon in the shower room at Hughes Hall whom you were able to repel by the power of your hand. I began to develop theories about demons, but the foundation of my understanding was the popular view of the origin and fall of Satan and his angels.

THE SCRIPTURAL PASSAGES

I believe the first hint of doubt regarding my viewpoint of Satan’s history came when I suspected the impropriety of using the passage from Revelation to support this view. The genre of the book does not lend itself to this type of support.

Secondly, my studies of the prophets increased my suspicions as my understanding of the passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel did not support the popular scenario of Satan’s origins.

However, we should first ask whether the popular view of Satan’s origins is accepted among theologians, Bible scholars, and educated laymen. In other words, is this an example of an idea that falls apart upon scrutiny, so that anyone who studies the matter will plainly see its error? Were that so, then no Bible scholar would accept this view, and the question would be resolved.

However, some scholars do. One demonstration should suffice. The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns (Moody, 1989) is not a marginal work, but represents the perspective of a significant body of Christians. I quote a particularly useful passage from page 294:

Satan’s original state. Ezekiel 28:12-15 describes Satan prior to his fall. He enjoyed an exalted position in the presence of God; the brilliance of heaven was his surrounding (28:13). He was called the “anointed…covering cherub” who enjoyed the position of highest honor before God (28:14, 16). Isaiah refers to this supreme angel as “star of the morning (KJV Lucifer; NIV morning star), son of the dawn” (14:12). After he became God’s chief adversary (Heb. Satan) he is never again called by any of these honorable titles. But in his prefall splendor he was filled with wisdom and beauty, and he was blameless (Ezek. 28:12, 15).

Satan’s fall. Satan’s fall is described in both Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. Because of his sin Satan was cast down from the presence of God (Ezek. 28:16). The reason for Satan’s downfall was his pride; his heart was lifted up because of his beauty, and his wisdom became corrupt (28:17). The statement indicates Satan must have had extraordinarily high rank that led to his pride. Isaiah 14:12-14 further describes the sin that led to his downfall. Five “I will’s” emphasize his sin (14:13-14). He desired to enter the very presence of God and establish his throne on God’s throne above the other angels. He wanted to be like the “Most High.” For that reason God thrust him down out of heaven.

Satan’s moral responsibility. Satan is a morally responsible person, accountable to God (Job 1:7). He does not have freedom in an unrestricted sense but is subordinate to and restricted by God.

Satan fell from his original exalted position. As the anointed cherub, Satan led a host of angels, possibly one-third of all the angels, from heaven in his fall (Ezek. 28:16-17; Rev. 12:4).

Notice that this theological work states the popular theory exactly as I had always understood it, and uses the three previously mentioned passages as support. It sounds coherent and convincing, but let us examine these passages individually.

Revelation 12

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon . . . His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth . . . And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him.

The first difficulty to arise when attempting to use revelation 12 to support a view of the origin of Satan is the nature of the book itself. Revelation is an apocalyptic work filled with visions, symbolism, and fantastic imagery meant to convey a big picture message. No better summary of that message can found than John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world!”

The Christian readers of the book of Revelation were under severe persecution by the powers of the day and desperately needed assurance that the Church would not be totally destroyed.

Assurance of victory is the message of the apocalyptic book of Revelation to the Church, and in delivering the message, the writer incorporates themes and allusions from a wide range of biblical and non-biblical sources to make his point. The book is filled with symbolism and imagery to support the message, but the details cannot be pressed to serve as information for such issues as the origin of Satan.

Beyond this difficulty, however, lies a greater one—the text itself. Symbolic or not, Revelation 12 attempts to tell us something. What is it?

The story tells of a persecuted woman, an endangered child, and a hostile dragon so powerful that his huge, thrashing tail wipes the stars from the sky. Whom or what do these characters represent? Actually, in broad terms, this story is among the easier to understand in the book of Revelation. The woman is the people of God. The dragon is all the forces hostile to the Church, but most pointedly the Roman government.

In early years, the Church endured two periods of particularly hard persecution from the Roman government. The first was under Nero in the late 60’s A.D. That persecution was already past when this book was written to the Church. The second was under Domitian in the 90’s A.D. and was most likely the backdrop to this apocalyptic message of encouragement.

So the dragon was Rome. However, behind Rome and all other oppressors of God’s people through the ages was a spiritual force, often referred to in the mythical picture of the chaos dragon recognized even by the Babylonians and other eastern peoples. The Jews and Christians came to know this power as Satan or the Devil, so the dragon also symbolizes Satan.

The child is Christ. As the people of God stand oppressed by the world and Satan through Rome, Christ appears among them to challenge the power represented by the dragon. The dragon attempts to destroy Christ, but he ascends to heaven.

This ascension is more than the historical resurrection and departure of Christ from earth to heaven. It has great spiritual consequences for the dragon, which is Satan. Satan is cast down; his power is broken—broken, but not completely broken.

He continues his attempt to destroy the people of God on earth, but God protects them from destruction. Even though Satan continues to inflict damage through Rome and some of God’s people die, Satan’s power is broken, and even he knows his time is short.

Let us look at a couple details as they may relate to the origin of Satan. First is the picture of the stars swept out of the sky. Some see this as an historical detail. Satan in his rebellion persuaded a third of God’s angels to abandon God and join Satan in his rebellion. There is nothing here to suggest that, and there is nothing elsewhere in the Bible to suggest it either. All the picture tells us is that the dragon was huge, powerful and overwhelming just as Rome was huge, powerful and overwhelming.

What about the war in heaven, which resulted in the hurling of Satan to the earth? Clearly, timing is a problem in applying this fall of Satan to a pre-historical rebellion of angels. This fall was a result of Christ’s work in his death, resurrection and ascension—somehow Satan’s power was broken and God’s people were able to overcome Satan by the blood of the lamb (Jesus).

Chronologically, this would relate to the time of the living Christ, and not to some pre-historical era. But as we remember that the writer of Revelation borrows themes from a multitude of sources, might we discover some other precedent to clarify this theme for us? Yes!

There is a story elsewhere that pertains to this picture of the fall of Satan, but it is not from the Old Testament, nor from some ancient myth or Babylonian allusion. It is a story many in the persecuted Church likely recalled from their own lifetimes.

During Jesus’ ministry, he sent out seventy-two of his followers to spread the good news to the villages of Israel. They were given two instructions: to heal the sick and to tell them, ‘the kingdom of God is near.’ They returned from their mission very excited. They told Jesus, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!’ Jesus was no less excited in response to their report, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!’ he said.

Was he referring to an event he witnessed in the mists of time at the beginning of the world? No, he was responding to growing results of his own work in his own lifetime. He saw great significance in his power over Satan’s demon forces—Satan’s power was being broken! You can read this story in Luke 10:1-23.

A bit later, when religious leaders accused him of being in league with the demons, Jesus again underscored the great significance of his breaking the power of Satan. Read about it in Luke 11:14-28 with special attention to verses 20-22.

Isaiah 14

At first glance, this passage seems replete with references to the fall of Satan:

How you have fallen from heaven, O Lucifer (morning star), son of the dawn! You have been cast down to earth . . .You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . .I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

Let us examine the context of these words. Isaiah was written during the Assyrian crisis. Assyria was poised to conquer all the kingdoms of the mid-east, and Isaiah, along with a number of other prophets, warned the two kingdoms (Israel and Judah) against the danger. God was upset with the two kingdoms, and Assyria was his punishment.

The northern kingdom of Israel was indeed conquered and carried away by Assyria never to return. This is the basis for popular statements about the ‘lost tribes’ of Israel. At the last moment, God miraculously saved the southern kingdom of Judah allowing it to continue as a kingdom for more than a hundred years.

Part of Isaiah’s work was a series of prophecies against various countries. Chapters 13 and 14 comprise a judgement against Babylon. This might seem odd at first since Babylon was not yet the world empire. Only later would it crush Assyria and absorb Assyria’s conquered lands including the territory of the fallen northern kingdom of Israel. It would also defeat the southern kingdom of Judah and carry them away into the Babylonian captivity.

The prophecy begins with notice that God will take action against Babylon, builds in intensity, and ends with prophetic descriptions of Babylon’s utter destruction. In chapter 13, Isaiah gives some idea of the issues God has against Babylon, ‘I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.’

Verse 4 of chapter 14 begins a taunt that the freed Israelites will one day take up against the king of Babylon. The passage we are examining is part of this taunt. As you read this taunt, consider whether the language is consistent with a jeer by formerly oppressed peoples against a fallen, earthly political power, as the Bible itself purports, or rather a reflection on the fall of an archangel at the beginning of the world?

The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression.

As the taunt describes the destruction and pitiful state of the king, is the language consistent with the idea of a human king as the Bible says, or of a fallen angel?

The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world . . . they will say to you, ‘You have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.’ All your pomp has been brought down to the grave . . maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.

‘Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?’

The offspring of the wicked will never be mentioned again. Prepare a place to slaughter his sons for the sins of their forefathers; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities . . . ‘I will rise up against them,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘I will cut off from Babylon her name and survivors, her offspring and descendents,’ declares the Lord.

Finally, let us reconsider the part of the taunt that seems to ring with reference to Satan’s pre-historic fall.

How you have fallen from heaven, O Lucifer (morning star), son of the dawn! You have been cast down to earth . . .You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . .I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

Is the language of this section consistent with a reflection on the primordial fall of a rebellious angel? Perhaps. One word seems to stand out as a reference to Satan virtually impossible to get around—Lucifer.

However, this is actually a type of circular thinking. Lucifer is not a proper name, but only a King James transliteration of a Latin word for the morning star (light-bringer). The NIV simply translates it ‘morning star’.

After this passage was understood to refer to the fall of Satan, the KJV word ‘Lucifer’ was then understood to be another name for Satan and entered common English usage. Had it been the equivalent Greek word rather than the Latin, we would now associate Satan with the name ‘Phosphorus’.

We have no other use for the word ‘lucifer’ because it occurs nowhere else in common literature except as a reference to this very passage. Therefore, we assume Satan is Lucifer in this passage only because we have earlier assumed that in this passage Lucifer is Satan.

Interestingly, elsewhere in the Bible (Revelation 22:16), another person is called the ‘morning star’, which could easily have been translated as ‘lucifer’, so that with a slight change in coincidence we might today assume that ‘Lucifer’ was not a name of Satan, but of Jesus.

Once this little issue is settled, there is nothing here to suggest that this is anything other than a taunt against a human king (as the Bible itself purports)—one who has experienced great power, but who has become proud and arrogant. Indeed, this passage reflects the statement from chapter 13 that God promised in part to ‘put an end to the arrogance of the haughty’ king of Babylon.

Ezekiel 28

How can we deal with these explicit words?

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl . . . You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God . . . you were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you . . . So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth.

To begin, I have no agenda to prove that this passage, or any other passage, does not mean a certain thing. Rather, my objective is to discover what it means, and, if the meaning happens to contradict my preconceived notion, then the outcome is not an objective, but rather results from the exercise.

Ezekiel, like Isaiah, wrote a series of prophecies against various countries, so this passage is similar to the other in the sense in that it is a prophecy against a foreign king—in this case the king of Tyre.

Now, who was Tyre? You are a long-time Sunday school teacher, and not unacquainted with history or Old Testament studies, so I will tell you what you already know, but what most people do not. Tyre is the biblical name for the people known to secular history as Phoenicia (today we know the area as Lebanon). Actually, Tyre was only one of several prominent Phoenician cities, but it was by far the most prominent.

The Phoenicians were known for two major things. They were a sea-faring people, traveled extraordinarily great distances from Palestine, and created colonies all over the Mediterranean. They had important settlements in Spain and down the western coast of Africa as well as along the coast of North Africa and on many islands that would one day be part of Italy.

Their most famous colony was Carthage, which became the ruling power of the Mediterranean until the rise of Rome. In fact, it was the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage that made Rome into a great international power.

You may remember Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general from Spain, who led his army (with elephants) over the Alps to engage the Romans in their own lands. Hannibal constantly beat the Romans throughout more than fifteen years of fighting—but he lost one important battle, which is now known as the fall of Carthage.

The second thing the Phoenicians were known for was trade. They were great traders who owned the Mediterranean trade routes for hundreds of years. Sometimes the kings of Israel were very close to the kings of Tyre. Both David and Solomon were buddies with Tyre’s King Hiram, and Solomon traded wheat and olive oil for the massive numbers of cedars of Lebanon used in his huge construction projects.

Remember that the Phoenicians were great traders. When Solomon built ships to sail into the Gulf of Aqaba to the south, Hiram sent experienced sailors to help him in this new venture. God was not always as negative toward Tyre as he was toward most other nations in the region. In the very passage under our consideration, God says positive things about the king of Tyre even as he shows where he has seriously gone wrong.

In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.’ But you are a man and not a god . . . By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud . . . because you think you are wise, as wise as a god, I am going to bring foreigners against you, the most ruthless of all nation; they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom and pierce your shining splendor . . . and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas. Will you then say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of those who kill you? You will be a man, not a god.

The king of Tyre was proud and arrogant, but his error was the worse because he began with so much going for him. God himself praised him in his former state, and moreover had assisted him in his success.

Your were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl . . . You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you.

Here the prophecy picks up themes from Genesis. Until now, the prophecy clearly describes a man, and even states, ‘You will be a man, not a god.’ Later, a man remains in view. The prophecy does not suddenly and mysteriously begin to address the fallen Satan instead of the king of Tyre. It addresses the king of Tyre throughout.

The reference to Eden is a metaphor that simply underscores the king’s advantage. His kingdom was like a perfect garden—like Eden. Related allusions often come close together, and the second one follows. God had ordained the king of Tyre to be a guardian of some sort—a guardian of the people or of righteousness or some such. He refers to him metaphorically as a guardian cherub, which is another allusion to Genesis.

However, those who believe this passage refers to Satan in Eden encounter a difficulty in applying to Satan the description of ‘guardian cherub’. The guardian cherub of Genesis was not Satan, but another being posted to ensure that the garden was safe from Adam and Eve (and presumably the serpent as well). He could not have been Satan.

Besides that, the reference to precious stones does not have roots in the Genesis story. It does, however, help to describe the high level of advantage experienced by the king of Tyre.

You were on the holy mount of God . . . you were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries . . . I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you.

This block begins with language that might fit a fallen angel; ‘You were on the holy mount of God . . . you were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.’ But it goes on to describe the wickedness which is related to violence, dishonest trade, and unnamed sins. I believe violation of the trust of guardianship can be included.

The king had all the advantages including the favor and support of God, but his very success led to violence, dishonesty and the haughtiness to say in his heart, ‘I am a god.’ This is the story of a king living in history, not of an angel acting in pre-history. One may ask, if the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel are not referring to the same person (such as Satan), but to two different kings, why then are they so similar? The tendency toward pride and self-exaltation is a failing common to kings.

SATAN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Understandably, we want to know facts and details about things that are important to us, and Satan is important to us. So what facts or details do we know from these three passages regarding the origin and history of Satan? The answer is—none at all. We can rip these scriptures from their contexts and stitch them together into a tapestry that seems to tell us about Satan’s past, but it is only a contrived picture that gives us no information.

The Old Testament is not only silent regarding the origins of Satan, but hardly refers to him at all. If the passages we have considered do not give us information about Satan, then what is left is shockingly slight!

The word ‘satan’ is used several times in the Old Testament in the sense of an adversary. It is used to describe men, angels, and even God. For example, the angel of the Lord confronted Balaam—you know the story. After an interesting two-way argument between Balaam and his donkey, the invisible angel became visible to Balaam, and told him (read Numbers 22:32), ‘I have come here to oppose you (to be your satan)’.

In a second example, 2 Samuel 24:1 tells about God becoming angry with Israel and inciting David to take a census which turned out to have terrible consequences for Israel. God was here acting as an adversary. The same story is told in 1 Chronicles 21:1, but there it states that Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take the census. Apparently, that ‘satan’ was God.

The most memorable depiction of a satan comes from the first two chapters of the book of Job. It is here that the adversary is given personality.

The book of Job is a part a genre produced by the strong Jewish wisdom tradition that developed alongside the Jewish prophetic tradition. Jewish wisdom literature is vast and includes a number of Old Testament books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job. Job deals with the problem of suffering.

The character of Satan appears in the first two chapters to help set up the story, and then totally disappears. One may take the story to be based on the experience of an historic individual or understand it to represent the common experience of mankind, but in either case the role of Satan need not be historic.

Though the story is about the problem of evil, it is God who is at issue. Satan merely serves to move the plot along. He serves as a literary device in preparing the reader for Job’s suffering. If he were meant to be historical, I would like to know how the original writer came into possession of the detailed dialogue between God and Satan.

However, some Christians do believe this passage gives us information about Satan, as is evidenced by The Moody Handbook of Theology quoted above. To repeat:

Satan’s moral responsibility. Satan is a morally responsible person, accountable to God (Job 1:7). He does not have freedom in an unrestricted sense but is subordinate to and restricted by God.

The final Old Testament reference to Satan we will consider is Zechariah. Zechariah is one of the last books written in the Old Testament, when, after a long captivity, the Jews began to return to their old lands to rebuild a Jewish society.

Zechariah has a vision regarding the restoration of Israel, and in his vision there is a passing reference to Satan, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘the Lord rebuke you, Satan!’” (3:1, 2). Here, the accuser’s description as adversary is raised to a name – Satan.

Those exhaust the Old Testament references to Satan.

GROWING INTEREST IN THE SATAN
AND THE INTRODUCTION OF DEMONS

When the world of the New Testament bursts upon the scene, Satan and demons are clearly a part of the fabric of the Jewish worldview. If a thousand years of Old Testament literature did not reflect an interest in or elaboration on the theme of Satan, then what occurred between the testaments to create such a change?

Two major influences seem active. First, there was the covenant problem. God chose Israel to be his special people with certain promises about their national greatness. Sure, there were understandable reversals as punishment for straying, but God’s people were subject to foreign powers almost without a break for over 600 years: to Babylon, Persia, Greece, and finally to Rome.

Why would God show such disfavor toward his chosen covenant people for so many centuries? Perhaps it was not all of God’s doing. Perhaps there was an evil power at work—a power working at odds to God’s purposes.

This thought was reinforced by a second influence. During the captivity, the Jews were cured of the one thing that seemed to get them into trouble with God over and over again—idolatry. After the captivity, idolatry was never a collective problem among the Jews.

However, the exiled Jews were exposed to new religious ideas. In particular, the religion of Persia seemed to impact their thinking. The Persian beliefs about God were more similar to the Jew’s than were the idolatrous beliefs among the Canaanites. The Persians believed in a single, powerful God. Working with him were countless good spirits—angels. On the other hand, they believed in a single, powerful anti-god, and with him were countless evil spirits—demons.

The two great powers were closely matched, although they believed that the god (Ormazd) ultimately would defeat the evil power (Ahriman). This belief system is called dualism because it posits two almost equal powers in opposition to each other.

The Jews would not accept an evil power equal to Almighty God, but the idea of a force of evil demons led by an arch demon explained a lot of things, and it worked within their belief system without destroying monotheism. Interest in demons and angels grew, and literature about them proliferated. Some of the new Jewish literature found evidence of demons in the Old Testament.

AN ANCIENT RIVAL PERSPECTIVE TO THE FALL OF SATAN

Among the Jews in the centuries just prior to Christ, there was a theory of the fall of evil angels based on an Old Testament scripture that had nothing to do with Isaiah or Ezekiel. It was based instead on a passage in Genesis, chapter 6.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

That is all; nothing more is said in the Bible.

Who were the sons of God? Several possibilities exist. One is that the sons of God were the descendents of the pure line of Seth, and the daughters of men were descendents of Cain’s line. A second possibility is that the Sons of God were God-worshipers of any line, and the daughters of men were not God-worshipers. Another is that the sons of God were extraterrestrial beings.

Apocalyptic writers understood them to be fallen angels, and they elaborated on the story and gave names to the sons of God. They described the sons of God as angels who had sexual intercourse with human women. This was unacceptable to God, so the fallen angels, now known as demons, were punished. Their acts led directly to the flood of Noah. Therefore, the fall of the angels was related to sexual sins rather than to pride.

1 Enoch describes the situation in chapters 6 and 7:

In those days, when the children of man had multiplied, it happened that there were born to them handsome and beautiful daughters. And the angels, the children of heaven, saw them and desired them; and said to one another, ‘come, let us choose wives for ourselves from among the daughters of men and beget us children.'’

And Semyaz, being their leader, said unto them, ‘I fear that perhaps you will not consent that this deed should be done, and I alone will become responsible for this great sin.’ But they all responded to him, ‘Let us all swear an oath and bind everyone among us by a curse not to abandon this suggestion but to do the deed.’ Then they all swore together and bound one another by the curse.

And they were altogether two hundred . . . and their names are as follows: Semyaz, the leader of Arakeb, Rame’el, Tam’el, Ram’el, Dan’el, Ezeqel, Baraqyal, As’el, Armaros, Batar’el, Anan’el, Zaqe’el, Sasomaspwe’el, Kestar’el, Tur’el, Yamayol, and Arazal. These are their chiefs of tens and of all the others with them.

And they took wives unto themselves, and everyone chose one woman for himself, and they began to go in unto them. And they taught them magical medicine, incantations, the cutting of roots, and taught them about plants. And the women became pregnant and gave birth to great giants whose heights were three hundred cubits.

And to Michael God said, 'Make known to Semyaz and the others who are with him, who fornicated with the women, that they will die together with them in all their defilement. And when they and all their children have battled with each other, and when they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for seventy generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgement is concluded. In those days they will lead them into the bottom of the fire—and in torment—in the prison where they will be locked up forever.’

The book of Enoch continues for several chapters to describe the punishments of the fallen angels and their children. The few New Testament passages that allude to fallen angels all seem to be influenced by the apocalypses.

2 Peter 2:4 generally follows Genesis, but with an addition from the apocalypses:

‘If God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgement; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah . . .’

Jude actually quotes Enoch in one verse, and apparently influenced by Enoch states in another:

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgement on the great Day (v. 6).

In my opinion, Genesis 6 adds nothing to our knowledge of the origins and history of Satan. The Genesis passage is short and vague. The elaborations of the book of Enoch certainly add nothing to our knowledge, and even though a number of fallen angels are named, none is equated with Satan or the Devil. So our knowledge of the history of Satan remains nil.

ONE LAST PICTURE OF SATAN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Another strand of thought in Jewish literature at this time saw Satan in another Old Testament figure—the serpent in the garden.

Nowhere does the Old Testament suggest that the serpent was Satan, a demon or anything else other than a serpent. However, some Jews in the period before Christ did suggest it. In a work called The Life of Adam and Eve, the devil explains to Adam why he rebelled against God and how in jealousy and spite he engineered Adam’s expulsion from paradise:

And the devil sighed and said, ‘O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you, since because of you I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heavens in the midst of the angels, and because of you I was cast out onto the earth . . . When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael brought you and made us worship you in the sight of God . . . And I answered, ‘I do not worship Adam . . . I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation; before he was made, I was already made. He ought to worship me.’ When they heard this, other angels who were under me refused to worship him.

And the Lord God was angry with me and sent me with my angels out from our glory; and because of you, we were expelled into this world from our dwellings and have been cast onto the earth. And immediately we were made to grieve . . . And we were pained to see you in such bliss of delights. So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory.

Later in the book, Eve tells her children the story of the temptation:

The devil spoke to the serpent, saying, ‘Rise and come to me, and I will tell you something to your advantage . . . why do you eat of the weeds of Adam and not of the fruit of Paradise? Rise and come and let us make him to be cast out of Paradise through his wife, just as we were cast out through him.’ The serpent said to him, ‘I fear lest the Lord be wrathful to me.’ The devil said to him, ‘Do not fear; only become my vessel, and I will speak a word through your mouth by which you will be able to deceive him.’

Then the devil, through the serpent, entices Eve to eat the fruit. She, ‘bent down the branch toward the earth, took of the fruit, and ate.’

IF SATAN EXISTS, THEN WHO IS HE?

Does Satan exist? In the Old Testament, the enemies of God’s people are usually the surrounding cultures with their idolatry and desires for political conquest. Sometimes it is Yahweh himself, but Satan is not seen as a strong opposing force.

In the New Testament, the picture has changed. The Jewish people, including the followers of Jesus, see Satan and his demons as constant physical and spiritual threats.

Demons are everywhere. They are associated with temptation and sin, with sickness and disease, and with possession. The demon stories in the gospels appear to reflect some sort of reality. The writers do not seem to have invented them, but what do the demons represent?

I suggest three possibilities.

  1. Personification of human inclinations
  2. A pre-scientific understanding of natural forces
  3. Actual beings

Man has a capacity for evil that requires explanation. Where does this evil originate—from within or from without? These bad inclinations are not limited to gross evil, but include losing ones temper, kicking a cat, cheating on tax returns and self destructive behaviors such as smoking, gambling, or staying up late to watch Jay Leno.

Is the source of our temptation internal or external? Even James in the Bible suggests we are tempted when, by our own evil desire, we are dragged away and enticed. That requires no demon. Perhaps, in regard to sin and temptation, demons are personifications of our inclinations.

Notice that many of the demonic afflictions described in the New Testament are similar to particular physical and psychological maladies we know today. The people of that time needed explanations for the evil things happening to themselves and the people around them.

Malevolent, invisible demons seemed to supply the explanation. Is it possible that in regard to affliction, demons in the New Testament were just a pre-scientific understanding of natural forces?

The most instructive aspect of the New Testament regarding demons is in the words and actions of Jesus. Consider the wilderness temptation, which is presented as a personal confrontation between Jesus and Satan. In this case personification makes perfect sense, for the three temptations Jesus faced centered on the possibility of his compromising his mission by using appealing, but inappropriate methods.

However, during his ministry, contact and conflict with demons was very significant to Jesus. He saw his ability to control demons as evidence that the power of Satan was broken and that the Kingdom of God was advancing at Satan’s expense.

Was Jesus’ interaction based on a correct awareness of the realities around him or did he simply share the assumptions of a pre-scientific worldview and assign to demons what he would describe differently today? Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his divine attributes in order to become man. Perhaps this affected his ideas about demons.

On the other hand, Jesus may have healed with full knowledge that no demons were involved, but chose to deal with his audience on a level they could understand, rather than make issue of it. That is, his victory over sickness and spiritual darkness was put into terms to which they could relate.

Even though the Old Testament does not tell us of demons, and though the Jewish writings prior to Jesus seem based on foreign sources and vivid imagination, Jesus’ words and deeds supply some support to the idea that demons may exist.

If Satan and his demons are real beings, what sort of beings are they? Could they be fallen angels? Perhaps, though I think there is no biblical justification to support that conclusion. Are they some non-human species—possibly from another place or dimension? Perhaps, though we can only speculate.

Who was that dark spirit you encountered in the showers of Hughes Hall? Where did it come from and how did it become a dark force? Was it a personality or was it a human projection? After much study and consideration, I have no idea. I would like to know the answer, but I do not, and will not pretend that I do.

The important thing, however, is that you were able to subdue it. It is one more evidence that (whatever it means) the power of Satan is broken, and the Kingdom of God is advancing.

BEHAVIORAL RESULTS

My beliefs about Satan and demons have changed considerably since my college days, and when beliefs change, so do behaviors. So, how has my behavior been affected?

Probably the most apparent difference concerns spiritual warfare. I no longer see all of creation separated into two opposing armies, with the invisible battles being even more significant than the visible ones. As a result, spiritual warfare has lost its central place in my life, and as a consequence I have little interest in writers I used to think were cutting edge, such as Peter Wagner.

By the time Frank Peretti published This Present Darkness, I was impatient with such shallow ideas, and was appalled by the book’s popularity. Though I encouraged the sale of Peretti’s books in the bookstores I supervised, I felt some discomfort in promoting such items that I felt were harmful to believers.

I felt the same about other kinds of books as well, and this was one of the issues that led to my leaving Family Christian Stores. You might say that my change in belief indirectly affected my job.

My changing belief stopped a novel in its tracks. I have numerous notes and a first chapter of a novel about an angel and how he became acquainted with God’s solid creatures on Earth. It tells how he came to disobey God and was punished for his disobedience, dragging down other angels with him. It has a lot of imagination, but is based, of course, on the same popular view we have been investigating. I may yet revise drastically some of the material into a short story, but I cannot follow my original plan.

I also lost interest in occult studies. I gave away most of my occult books, and rarely refer to the ones I kept. My interests were for the benefit of spiritual warfare, and if there is no spiritual warfare, it hardly seems useful to study it. There are far too many other things I want to learn.

Perhaps the most significant behavioral change is that I have no fear of Satan. I do not see the devil behind my misfortunes, nor do I envision him whispering suggestions in my ear. My battles with temptation are between Tim and Tim. I question whether Satan exists at all as an individual, but even if he does exist, I know his power is broken.

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