1-2-1 Satan In The Thought Of Justin Martyr
The response of the "Church fathers" was to claim that whilst
indeed the world is in the hands of Satan, baptism frees a person from
the power of the Devil. Hence baptism formulae started to speak of how
demons were being expelled from a person (1). This contrasted sharply
with the repeated New Testament evidence that baptism is for the forgiveness
of personal sins, a becoming "in Christ", covered against sin
by His sacrifice (Acts 2:37,38; Col. 2:12-14). None of the New Testament
baptism passages, notably the exposition of baptism in Romans 6 and the
institution of baptism in the great commission, ever mentioned it as being
in order to exorcise demons or free us from the power of a personal being
called the Devil. Produced around 180 AD, the Apocryphal "Acts of
Peter" consciously attempted to blend Gnosticism and Christianity
by claiming that the negative aspects of this world are the fault of a
personal Satan who snared Adam and "bound him... by the chain of
the [human, sinful] body". The Genesis record remains silent- and
it's a deafening silence- about any 'Satan' tempting Adam. The New Testament
likewise states simply that sin entered the world by Adam- not by anyone
or anything else (Rom. 5:12).
Justin Martyr was one of the leading lights in trying to defend Christianity
against Gnostic criticisms. Writing in the mid 2nd century, he spoke much
of how the whole universe is indeed infested with demons and the power
of the Devil. He came to this conclusion through the need to answer the
question 'Where did Satan and his angels fall to?'. He devised a scheme
of various levels of atmosphere, populated, he claimed, by various types
of fallen angels. Those who fell furthest went down into the centre of
the earth, to hell, whilst others remained on earth and others were in
the atmosphere. He likewise took on board the false idea of an 'immortal
soul' that goes to Heaven after death, and therefore he supposed that
the demons in the atmosphere would seek to stop the soul's progress to
Heaven. This is quite without Biblical support. The Bible speaks clearly
of the resurrection of the body and literal reward of the righteous in
God's Kingdom upon earth at the time of Christ's second coming. Further,
it is how a person lives and believes which decides their ultimate destiny-
this can't be impeded by beings suspended in mid air. Justin's understanding
is summarized in the following diagram (2).
Justin Martyr quite clearly was desperate for Biblical evidence for his
views (3). His whole cosmology as described above was totally lacking
in Biblical support. The best he could do was to reference the idea of
the sons of God marrying the daughters of men in Genesis 6. This passage,
however it is understood, certainly doesn't provide a basis for the detailed
cosmology he outlined in such detail. In Section 5-3
I look at the meaning of the Genesis 6 passage; suffice it to say for
the moment that it simply doesn't support what Justin built upon it. Justin's
Biblical and intellectual desperation is highlighted by the faux pas
he makes in his Dialogue With Trypho 103, where he claims
that the word "Satan" derives from the Hebrew sata
["apostate"] and nas [which he claimed meant "serpent"].
Even though this etymology is patently false (4), seeing that the Hebrew
for serpent is nachash, and Satan clearly means simply
"adversary", it was followed by Irenaeus. This kind of intellectual
desperation, academic dishonesty and cavalier twisting of Hebrew root
meanings is and was only necessitated by having to defend the indefensible-
that the serpent in Eden wasn't the literal animal which Gen. 3:1 says
it was, but rather an apostate personal being called Satan. It's significant
that Gregory likewise has been observed as claiming knowingly false derivations
for Hebrew and Greek words in order to support his case- e.g. claiming
that diabolus comes from a Hebrew root meaning 'to slip down
from Heaven' (5). It means nothing of the sort! But perhaps most significant
of all was Justin's falling back for support on the writings of other
"fathers" rather than the Bible itself. Thus: "For among
us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan,
and the Devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings" (The
First Apology of Justin, Chap. 28). How Satan was defined "among
us" became important, and that definition was appealed to on the
basis of "looking into our writings". A Bible based faith, a
concern to root all Christian understanding in God's terms and in God's
word, was now not of paramount importance.
A review of this period reveals how the "fathers" struggled
with the logical implications of the theories they devised about Satan.
A parade example is the way in which they change their ideas about what
exactly Satan's sin was. Theophilus took the Jewish idea [from Wisdom
2:24] that envy was Satan's sin; Irenaeus and Cyprian differed as to whether
it was envy of God or of [a supposedly pre-existent] Jesus, or of Adam;
but then Origen decided that Satan's sin wasn't envy but actually pride.
Again and again they refused to face up to the simple facts of the Genesis
record, summarized by Paul when he said that "by one man [Adam] sin
entered into the world" (Rom. 5:12). Irenaeus struggled with the
chronology of Satan's fall. Having decided that Satan fell because he
was envious of Adam, he had to place Satan's sin after Adam's
creation. Faced with the problem of when Satan's angels fell, he fitted
that in with the sons of God marrying the daughters of men in Genesis
6, just prior to the flood. Of course, that begs, in turn, a host of other
questions. Why was Satan thrown out but not the other Angels? How did
they get to stay in Heaven for many centuries longer? How to reconcile
this with the misinterpretation of Revelation 12 that states that the
Devil and his angels got thrown out of Heaven together? Did Satan and
his angels commit the same sin?
(1) See J.B. Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (New
York: Cornell University Press, 1987) p. 61.
(2) Taken from J.B. Russell, ibid p. 65.
(3) Justin Martyr's views are well summarized in L. Barnard, Justin
Martyr: His Life And Thought (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1967).
(4) See Barnard ibid p. 108.
(5) This is discussed and exemplified at length in J.F. O'Donnell, The
Vocabulary Of The Letters Of Saint Gregory The Great (Washington:
Catholic University Of America Press, 1934) p. 142.