1-2 The Devil After The New Testament

The New Testament reveals the same God as in the Old Testament. God is still presented as the source of our trials, of judgment, and the origin of sin is even more repeatedly located in the human mind. God's supremacy is emphasized just as it was in the Old Testament. Even the beast of Rev. 17:17 'fulfills His will'. Those persecuted by it "suffer according to the will of God" (1 Pet. 4:19). But the history we're now going to consider reflects yet once again how God's people have an endless desire to add to and change the most basic teachings of God's word.

It's been observed about the pagan deities that "their characters and properties were retained but were now understood and subsumed in the Christian context" (1). This happened in many ways. Consider the following:

Christ = Apollo [sun god]

God the Father = Zeus, Kronos

Virgin Mary = Magna Mater, Aphrodite, Artemis

Holy Spirit = Dionysus [the spirit of ecstatic possession.], Orpheus

Satan = Pan, Hades, Prometheus

Saints = Hosts of angels

Michael the Archangel = Mars

St. Christopher = Atlas.

In our context, let's note how Pan and Hades were imported into apostate Christianity as "Satan".

Christian art is a valid reflection of the dominant ideas going on within popular Christianity. "The earliest known Christian depiction of the Devil is in the Rabbula Gospels, which date from AD586... why Christian art does not portray the Devil before the sixth century is not known". Perhaps the answer is simple- because the idea was still developing. A survey of the Apostolic fathers shows how the idea of the Devil as a personal being and fallen Angel began to develop. Writing at the end of the 1st century, Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians as if Satan was a personal being responsible for urging Christians to sin (Clement 51:1). Ignatius about the same time started writing of how there are good and sinful Angels in Heaven, and the sinful ones follow a being called the Devil (Trallians 5:2; Smyrneans 6:1; Ephesians 13:1). As Christianity encountered opposition and persecution, the language of the Devil came to be applied to them- Jews, heretics, pagans etc. were seen as on the side of Satan, playing out on earth a reflection of some cosmic battle between Christ and Satan which was supposed to be going on in Heaven. Polycarp's letter to the Philippians around AD150 develops this idea- he sees those who don't agree with him as not merely holding a different opinion, but therefore as followers of Satan. He and so many others started to 'play God' as countless have done since, and use the idea of a cosmic battle being played out on earth [with them as the righteous heroes, of course] as a good excuse for demonizing their opposition. These ideas were used to justify the crusades, just as they are used to justify war today. The other side are the bad guys, reflective of Satan in Heaven; and 'our' side are the good guys, with God on our side. We've shown that Biblically, there is no cosmic battle going on in Heaven; even the symbolic description of a power struggle in Revelation 12 as a "war in heaven" was prophetic of the situation which would exist immediately prior to the second coming of Christ. Hence the common pagan idea of cosmic conflict was imported into Christianity, and used to justify the demonization of anyone seen as opposed to the Christians. It enabled 'Christians' to use the foulest and bitterest of language against their opponents, on the basis that in so doing they were reflecting the supposed cosmic war which Jesus was waging against Satan 'up there'. All this was a far cry from the gentle and non-violent witness of Jesus in the face of evil. It may seem of merely academic interest as to whether or not there's a cosmic battle being waged up in Heaven; but the reality is that those who believe this tend to see themselves as fighting on the side of God here on earth, and therefore that end [as in any war] justifying whatever means they chose to use (2).

As time went on, the basic questions thrown up by the ideal of a personal, fallen Satan began to be grappled with. I have listed some of them in Section 3-2. One of these was quite simply, where is Satan? Is he on earth, in mid air, or under the earth? The need to find a location for Satan was one of the reasons why Christian thought departed from the Biblical notion that 'hell' is simply the grave, and turned it into a place of awesome horror, inhabited by the fallen Satan. I've discussed the nature of hell at more depth in Section 2-5. The "Odes of Solomon", a Jewish-Christian work of the second or third centuries AD, was the first to claim the Devil is located in the dead centre of the earth, in the lowest point of hell (3). Later Dante would develop this idea graphically and popularize it. However, it was Greek philosophy, especially Platonism and Gnosticism, which had an even deeper impact upon Christian thought. Platonists believed that there were intermediaries between the gods and humans, called demons [daimon]. This idea became confused in the minds of many Christians with the Angels of which the Bible speaks. Yet there's no doubt about it that this is not how the Bible itself defined demons- see Section 4-2 for more on this. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, always translated the Hebrew mal'ak as angelos ["angel"] rather than daimon ["demon"]. But amidst the general trend of mixing pagan ideas with Christian doctrine, it was easy for the association to be made- and thus the idea of demons as fallen Angels began to enter Christendom. Philo had equated the demons of the Greeks with the Angels believed in by the Jews; and additionally, the Persian idea that there are some good demons and some wicked ones lent itself so easily to the idea that there are some good angels and some evil ones. But in our context the point we wish to note is that all this was an admixture of Biblical doctrine with extra-Biblical and pagan traditions and philosophies.

There can be no doubt that Gnosticism influenced early Christian thought- the letters of John especially are full of warning against incipient Gnosticism, redefining as John does the terms 'light' and 'darkness' in contradistinction to the false ideas which would later become Gnosticism. The Gnostics were dualists, i.e. they saw everything in opposing terms. For them, if God were good, then evil cannot come from Him but rather from some other, opposed, independent source or principle. This was a tidier and more sophisticated form of what the Persians had earlier believed, with their god of light and god of darkness, a god of peace and a god of disaster. It was this Persian belief which Is. 45:5-7 specifically challenges, warning the Jews in Persian captivity that the God of Israel alone is the source of light and darkness, peace and disaster. The Gnostics held that this world is irredeemably evil, and therefore the God of good is far from it. They argued, especially through their leading advocate Marcion, that God cannot be all good, all powerful, and yet have created and allowed to exist a wicked world. Of course they missed the entire point of Christianity- that sinners and this wicked world are indeed loved by the one and only God of all goodness, to the extent that He gave His Son, who was "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), so that not only could He enter in to this wicked world and the savage humanity that exists here, but also save it. The Gnostics rejected this, and decided that this sin stricken world is created and sustained by another god, Satan. R.M. Grant has pointed out that the major challenge of Gnosticism to Christianity led Christian leaders to define more carefully the understanding of the Devil which they wished to preach- and thus came another stage in the development of the dogma of the Devil (4). Increasingly over time, the Devil was used as a threat- if you don't support the church, pay your dues, back the leadership, then the idea developed that there awaited an awful future of torment by the Devil in a fiery hell. This idea has always seemed strange to in the light of the Lord's very clear statement that the wicked will be punished in the [figurative] fire "prepared for the Devil and his angels [followers]" (Mt. 25:41). It is the Angels of Jesus, and not of the Devil, who punish the wicked (Mt. 13:42-50). A wresting of Scripture to make out that the Devil is the tormentor of the wicked simply runs in straight contradiction to these plain statements of the Lord Jesus.


(1) Richard Tarnas, The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding The Ideas That Have Shaped Our Worldview (London: Pimlico / Random House, 2000) p. 110.

(2) The desire to demonize others in a spiritually respectable manner seems to me to be one of the largest psychological reasons for the development of the personal Satan idea. This theme is explored and exemplified at length in M.E. Hills, Human Agents Of Cosmic Power (Sheffield: S.U.P., 1990), especially chapter 5.

(3) Odes Of Solomon 42 in J.H. Charlesworth, The Odes Of Solomon (Missoula: Scholar's Press, 1977).

(4) R.M. Grant, Gnosticism And Early Christianity (New York:Columbia University Press, 1966) pp. 128-131; see too Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979).

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