1-1-2 Greek Influence

The final Old Testament-era influence upon Jewish thinking about the Devil was that of the Greeks. Their idea that there was Tartarus [a place of darkness under the earth for the wicked], the Asphodel Fields [a kind of purgatory] and the Elysian Fields [a kind of heaven for the righteous] was picked up by Judaism- despite the fact that it contradicted plain Biblical revelation about the grave ["hell"] and the state of the dead, as we outline in section 2-5. And the Greeks had multiple legends of cosmic combat between the gods, some of them like Ophioneus taking the form of a serpent; and often with the sequence of rebellion and being cast out [as with Prometheus and Zeus, Phaethon etc.]. This all intermeshed with the other ideas the Jews were picking up of a personal Satan. The horns and hairy features of the Greek god Pan, the trident of Poseidon and the wings of Hermes all became incorporated in the common Jewish idea of this 'Satan' being, and this in turn influenced Christian misunderstandings and images of this legendary being. No wonder Origen and the early [apostate] Christian 'fathers' were accused by their critics such as Celsus of merely adapting pagan legends in this area of the Devil. Origen and many others tried to parry this [perfectly correct] accusation by trying to read back into Old Testament passages the pagan ideas which they had picked up. But as we show throughout Chapter 5, the results of this lack integrity and often involve quite pathetic interpretation and twisting of the Biblical texts.

The uninspired, apocryphal Book of Enoch features the Jewish story of the Watcher Angels being imprisoned in the valleys of the earth after they supposedly slept with the daughters of men clearly was taken from Greek myths- this was the fate of the Titans after Zeus defeated them, and it recalls the imprisonment of the children of Ouranos in valleys as punishment. But these Jewish myths about Angels came to be absorbed into popular Christianity. The only reference to Angels as "watchers" is in the book of Daniel, which also dates from the captivity in Persia / Babylon. Daniel emphasizes that the watcher Angels are obedient to God and not in rebellion against Him (Dan. 4:13,17,23). In each reference, Daniel stresses that the watching Angels are the "holy ones" and not unholy. It's as if some early form of the myths about sinful "watcher" Angels were already in existence, and Daniel sought to deconstruct them.

The period between the Old and New Testaments saw the production of a huge volume of Jewish literature advocating a personal Satan. The Book of Enoch and the story of the "watchers" became accepted as dogma amongst the Jews- i.e. that the "watcher" Angels had sinned and come to earth at the time of Genesis 6 and married beautiful women. We've commented on this specifically in section 5-3. The Jewish literature seriously contradicts itself, unlike the Biblical record. Thus the Book Of Jubilees, dating from around 104 B.C., claims that God placed "over all nations and peoples, spirits in authority, to lead them astray" (15:31). Why would the righteous God place His people under the authority of those who would lead them astray- and then judge us for going astray? Other Jewish theories of the time accept that God punished the Satan figure, but the demons got around the punishment and tempt men to sin- as if God somehow was outwitted in the supposed struggle. The Apocalypse Of Adam likewise minimizes human sin by claiming that 'Satan' in fact raped Eve, thus leading to the fall; the Apocalypse Of Moses claims that because Satan appeared as such a dazzling, shining Angel, Eve was inevitably deceived by him. Note in passing that Paul alludes to this idea in 2 Cor. 11:15- not that his allusion means that he supported the idea. Again and again, the Biblical stress upon the guilt of Adam and Eve, and the fact that we would've done the same if in their position, and we do do the same day by day, in essence... is all mellowed and de-emphasized. The Bible clearly states that the suffering and disease that there is in the earth is a result of Adam's sin; but Jubilees claims that all such illnesses were a result of evil spirits, "And we explained to Noah all the medicines of their diseases, together with their seductions, how he might heal them with herbs of the earth" (Jub. 10:12-13). Both Moses and Peter stress that God brought the flood upon "the world of the ungodly", i.e. the wicked people. The Jewish writings claimed that the purpose of the flood was to destroy sinful Angels, and that mankind suffered from the result of their destruction. Thus the Testament of Naphtali 3.5: "Likewise the Watchers departed from the order of nature; the Lord cursed them at the Flood". The Jewish writings repeatedly change the Biblical emphasis upon wicked people (especially Jews), claiming that the various Divine judgments were upon wicked Angels. Quite why people on earth should have to suffer the result of this remains a begged question.

Time and again, the Jewish apocryphal literature sought to distance God from doing anything negative in human life. Gen. 22:1 clearly states that it was God who put Abraham to the test by asking him to kill his son Isaac; Jubilees retells the story with "Prince Mastema", the Satan figure, telling Abraham to do this (Jub. 17:15-18). Likewise Ex. 4:24 recounts how "the Lord", presumably as an Angel, met Moses and tried to kill him for not circumcising his son; but Jubilees again claims that Mastema / Satan did this (Jub. 48:1-3). Pseudo-Jonathan (The Targum Of Palestine) minimizes Aaron's sin by claiming that Satan turned the gold which Aaron threw into the fire into a golden calf; and excuses the peoples' sin by saying that Satan danced amongst the people (1). The Biblical record highlights the sin of Aaron and the people; the Jewish myths excuse it by blaming it on Satan. Indeed, several times the Hebrew word mastema ['hostility, enmity'] occurs, it is in the context of urging Israel to see that they and their internal desires to sin are the true mastema. Hosea 9:7 is an example: "Because your sins are so many and your hostility [mastema] so great".

Apart from seeking to justify themselves, the Jewish authors were struggling with the issue we all do- how can a good and kind God do negative things? But they took the easy way out, presuming to rewrite His word in order to pass blame into a Satan figure of their own imaginations. These uninspired Jewish writings from between the Testaments repeatedly seek to rewrite Biblical history and statements in order to accommodate the Persian ideas. Is. 45:5-7 is clear: "I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things". But 4 Ezra 2:14 changes this to: "I have left out evil and created good, because I live, says the Lord". We have a stark choice- the inspired text of the Bible, or uninspired Jewish interpretations seeking to justify the adoption of pagan myths about Satan.

The Essenes

The Essenes, a group of zealot Jews who separated themselves from what they perceived to be an apostate Jewish society, became very attached to the personal Satan myth. They had a bunker mentality, critical of and feeling persecuted by Jewish society as a whole, and bitterly resentful of the nation's domination by pagan Romans. They developed the ideas of the Book of Enoch in their Damascus Covenant and later in their Rule Of The Community and War Scroll. They felt that all their "moments of tribulation are due to this being's hostility [i.e. mastema, the Satan figure]. all of the spirits that attend upon him are bent on causing the sons of light [i.e. themselves] to stumble" (2). Thus they demonized all their opponents as somehow in league with Satan, thereby justifying them in preparing to violently and heroically fight the Romans with the belief that God was on their side. Tragically they failed to realize that their theology on this point was shaped and influenced by the pagan dualistic ideas which in other contexts they so vehemently criticized. They condemned the rabbis for claiming [correctly, and in line with Bible teaching] that there were only two tendencies in man, to evil [the yetser-hara] and to good [the yetser-tob]. Sadly they missed the point- that life before God is all about controlling the evil tendency and developing the good; and thus they minimized the need for personal spirituality, externalizing it all into caustic language and literal warfare against their enemies. As an aside, it's noteworthy that Yigael Yadin, an Israeli Defence Force General and also an archaeologist and academic, edited the War Scroll and used it as justification for Israel's 20th century conflicts with the Arabs (3).

It's been pointed out and exemplified beyond cavil that Paul uses much Essene terminology (4). I suggest he does this in order to deconstruct it. When he urges the Roman Jews to "cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light" (Rom. 13:12), calling his converts "the children of the light and children of the day" (1 Thess. 5:5), Paul is alluding to the Essene ideas. But he's saying that the children of light are to wage spiritual warfare against themselves, their own hearts, quit the things and habits of the flesh etc.- rather than charge off into literal battle with physical armour against the Romans. Likewise when Paul insists that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Rom. 9:14-18), he is not only repeating the Biblical record (Ex. 9:12,16; 33:19), but he is alluding to the way that the Jewish Book of Jubilees claimed that Mastema [the personal Satan] and not God hardened Pharaoh's heart.

Likewise John's Gospel is full of reference to Essence concepts. It's been widely argued that John's language alludes to the threat of incipient Gnosticism, and this may be true. But it's likely that John was written quite early, even before AD70 (5). In this case, when John speaks of light and darkness, children of light and darkness, the Jewish 'Satan' / adversary to Christianity as "the ruler of this world" [see section 2-4], he would also be alluding to these common Essene ideas. For John, following the light means following Jesus as Lord; the darkness refers to the flesh, the desires within us to conform to the surrounding world and its thinking. His point, therefore, is that instead of fantasizing about some cosmic battle going on, true Christians are to understand that the essential struggle is within the mind of each of us.

Paul And Jewish Writings

Much of Paul's writing is understandable on various levels. In some places he makes allusions to contemporay Jewish writings and ideas- with which he was obviously very familiar given his background- in order to correct or deconstruct them. This is especially true with reference to Jewish ideas about Satan and supposedly sinful Angels ruling over this present world (6). As more and more Jewish writings of the time become more widely available, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is a major feature of Paul's writing. The Jewish writings all held to the teaching of the two ages, whereby this current age was supposed to be under the control of Satan and his angels, who would be destroyed in the future age, when Messiah would reign and Paradise would be restored on earth (see 1 Enoch 16.1; 18.16; 21.6; Jubilees 1.29; T. Moses 1.18; 12.4). Paul frequently uses terms used in the Jewish writings concerning the Kingdom age, the eschatological age, and applies them to the experience of Christian believers right now. When Heb. 2:14 states that Christ killed the Devil in His death on the cross, this is effectively saying that the future age has come. For the Jews expected the Devil to be destroyed only at the changeover to the future Kingdom age. In 4 Ezra, "This age" (4.27; 6.9; 7.12), also known as the "corrupt age" (4.11) stands in contrast to the "future age" (6.9; 8.1), the "greater age", the "immortal time" (7.119), the future time (8.52). 4 Enoch even claims that the changeover from this age to the future age occurs at the time of the final judgment, following the death of the Messiah and seven days of silence (7.29-44, 113). So we can see why Paul would plug in to these ideas. He taught that Christ died "in order to rescue us from this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4; Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 3:22). Therefore if the old age has finished, that means Satan is no longer controlling things as the Jews believed. For they believed that Satan's spirits "will corrupt until the day of the great conclusion, until the great age is consummated, until everything is concluded (upon) the Watchers and the wicked ones" (1 Enoch 16:1, cf. 72:1). And Paul was pronouncing that the great age had been consummated in Christ, that the first century believers were those upon whom the end of the aion had come (1 Cor. 10:11).

The Jews strongly believed that Satan had authority over the old / current age. Their writings speak of the rulers, powers, authorities, dominions etc. of this present age as all being within the supposed system of Satan and his various demons / Angels in Heaven. In Eph. 1:20-22 Paul says that Christ is now "above every ruler (archê), authority (exousia), power (dunamis) and dominion (kuriotês) and any name that can be named not only in this age but the age to come... All things have been put in subjection under his feet". Paul's teaching that no spiritual being can oppose the exalted Christ. He's using the very terms used in the Jewish writings for the rulers, powers etc. of Satan's supposed system (7). So when in 2 Cor 4:4 Paul speaks of Satan as "the god of this age", he's not necessarily claiming that this is now the case- rather is he merely quoting from the well known Jewish belief about this. This approach also sheds light on Paul's statement that God has made public display for ridicule (edeigmatisen en parrêsia) of the "rulers and authorities"- for this phrase also occured in the Jewish writings about the supposed Satanic rulers of this present world. But Paul says that God displays them for what they are and thereby holds them up to ridicule (Col. 2:17), rather like Elijah mocking the non-existence of Baal. In Col 2:8,20 and Gal 4:3, 8-10, Paul says that believers are no longer subject to the "elements of the cosmos" (ta stoicheia tou kosmou)- again, a term the Jews used to describe supposed sinful Angels ruling the cosmos. Paul says that the Galatians formerly lived as enslaved to the "elements of the cosmos" (Gal. 4:3), also a phrase used in the Jewish apostate writings (8); "what by nature are not gods" (tois phusei mê ousin theois; Gal. 4:8,9). They are "weak and powerless elements" (ta asthenê kai ptocha stoicheia; Gal. 4:9). The system of Satan, sinful Angels, demons etc. which the Jews believed in, Paul is showing to now be non-existent and at the best powerless.

Paul says that we are now at the "ends" of the "ages" (1 Cor. 10:11). J. Milik argues that Paul's language here is alluding to Apocryphal Jewish writings, which speak of the "ages" as coming to an end in Satan's destruction at the last day (9) . Paul's argument is that Christ's death has brought about the termination of the "ages" as the Jews understood them. Satan and his hordes- in the way the Jews understood them- are right now rendered powereless and non-existent. As ever, Paul's approach seems to be not to baldly state that a personal Satan doesn't exist, but rather to show that even if he once did, he is now powerless and dead. The way the Lord Jesus dealt with the demons issue is identical.

Once we understand this background, we see Paul's writings are packed with allusions to the Jewish ideas about the "ages" ending in the Messianic Kingdom and the destruction of Satan. Paul was correcting their interpretations- by saying that the "ages" had ended in Christ's death, and the things the Jewish writings claimed for the future Messianic Kingdom were in fact already possible for those in Christ. Thus when 1 Enoch 5:7,8 speaks of 'freedom from sin' coming then, Paul applies that phrase to the experience of the Christian believer now (Rom. 6:18-22; 8:2) (10).


(1) As quoted in John Bowker, The Targums And Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1969).

(2) Rule Of The Community 3.13 - 4.26, as quoted in T.H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1964) p. 50.

(3) Yigael Yadin, The Scroll Of The War Of The Sons Of Light Against The Sons Of Darkness (Oxford: O.U.P., 1962).

(4) J. Murphy-O'Connor, Paul And Qumran (London: Chapman, 1968) is a good summary.

(5) John Robinson's huge research in this area is hard to ignore, even if some details may be questionable. See his Redating The New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) and The Priority Of John (London: S.C.M., 1985). Robinson gives reason after reason for his case- e.g. "there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool" (Jn. 5:2) certainly would've been inappropriate if written after A.D.70.

(6) See Oscar Cullman, Christ And Time: The Primitive Christian Conception Of Time And History (London: SCM, 1951); G. B. Caird, Principalities And Powers: A Study In Pauline Theology (Oxford: Claredon, 1956); J. C. Beker, Paul The Apostle. The Triumph Of God In Life And Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) pp. 135-181.

(7) See H. Hoehner, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) pp. 305-339; P. T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) pp. 153-173.

(8) H. D.Betz, Galatians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) pp. 213-217.

(9) J. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments from Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976) pp. 248-259. The same phrase occurs with the same meaning in the Testament of Levi 14.1.

(10) For more examples, see D. C. Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) p. 8; J. J. Collins, "The Expectation of the End in the Dead Sea Scrolls" in C. A. Evans and P. W. Flint, eds., Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) p. 62.

previous page table of contents next page next chapter