The following is a letter I wrote to a very old (80 or older, I believe) Evangelical Christian pastor from the USA. He had been involved in missionary outreach for most of his life. He had sent me some research he had been working on and asked me to look it over.
After I wrote him this letter back, he never spoke with me again.
A Cross-Examination of “The Devil and Satan Defined”
As I read through your article I soon realized you had spent a lot of good research on it. Some of your points are interesting. Here’s my thoughts after reading the article.
A Complex, Non-Intuitive, and apparently Unique Argument
You seem to have been saying there is a direct link between Matthew 4 (and Luke 4, etc.) and John 1:17-25. To the point where you state that the Pharisees were the ‘satan’ who appeared to Jesus in the desert.
However, when we compare the events of Matthew 4 and John 1:17, they appear totally different:
- Matthew 4 is about Jesus, John 1:17 is about John the Baptist.
- M. is about a trial over 40 days in the desert. J. is about a meeting between the Pharisees and John.
- In M. Jesus is tempted to break the Torah. In J. John is asked who he is and what he is doing.
- In general it’s just two different, and apparently unrelated stories.
I wrote ‘apparently’ because of course, you have made the claim they are related and in fact that they are the same story. Since the burden of proof here rests on your explanation the first thing I note is that you have made a very complex argument. Your argument is so complex and interwoven it is somewhat difficult to follow, however I get the sense that if any of your statements or premises fails so too would the entire claim.
Secondly, what you claim is highly non-intuitive. No one reads John 1:17 and immediately thinks of Jesus’ trials in the desert. And while I am not promoting a bandwagon fallacy it does seem questionable to me that no one has ever written a book or an article on this subject before. Your argument is complex and apparently unique; however, let me just say this because I want you to simplify what you have said. It doesn’t mean your argument is incorrect per-se. I just think you could probably cut the presentation down by about half and come out with a clearer message.
Events Presented Out of Order
Slide 24 really seems to be a centerpiece of the entire presentation because here we see the timeline of your chronology.
In Slide 24 we see a chart which links up for example Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, and Luke 4:1. However when we look at the events in the bible we see that they do not match up with the timeline you have given.
After Matthew 4:11 and Luke 4:13, you write “John 1:19” with the caption “These were the Pharisees”. Then, John 1:20-23. The point here seems to be you are linking the two events — and stating then that the such that “the accuser” who leaves in Matthew 4:11 and Luke 4:13 is the same accuser who then visits John the Baptist in John 1:19-23. I.E. that John 1:20-23 is the 39th day of Jesus’ journey in the desert.
In order to link these events properly let us establish the context of Jesus meeting John; this point is common in all four gospels.
|Jesus meets John the Baptist||Matthew||Mark||Luke||John|
|1. The Pharisees Meet John||Matthew 3:7-12||Mark 1:1-8||Luke 3:1-18||John 1:15-28 (esp. v.19, 26)|
|2. John’s Answer to the Pharisees re: one who comes later||“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:” –Matthew 3:11||“And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” –Mark 1:7-8||“John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:” –Luke 3:16
||“19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” –John 1:19-27
|John Meets Jesus and Baptizes Him||Matthew 3:13-17||Mark 1:9-11||Luke 3:21-22||John 1:29-32|
|4. After Baptism, Jesus enters the Desert||Matthew 4:1||Mark 1:12||Luke 4:1||Jesus does not enter the desert; instead he calls his apostles (John 1:35-37 and on).|
Although you make the claim that Jesus was in the desert prior to his baptism with John (slide 24) the gospels are in accord that Jesus was in the desert after his baptism with John. Therefore your chronology would appear to be incorrect.
I would also note that there are internal contradictions. In John, John the Baptist again refers to Jesus as one “whom ye know not;”. It would not make sense to say this is the Pharisees had just met Jesus.
Secondly, Luke in 3:1-18 destroys the notion that a group of Rabbis are being referred to at all, but rather people of the sect of the Pharisees, i.e. normal people who were of the denomination Pharisee. In Luke it is “the people” who ask the questions and not a roving band of Rabbis. Please keep in mind that Pharisaic Judaism is for all intents and purposes Orthodox Judaism and the Essenes and Sadducees could then be likened to Reform and Conservative Jews.
The Law of Best Evidence
The first major issue I ran into was that Didache had ignored the law of Best Evidence. In slides 5 and 6 we see an analysis of the words “Devil” and “Satan” using the Septuagint as a source. The problem here is that the Septuagint is a translation; and the law of Best Evidence states that if the original is present it is the only document that may be used for proof.
Why is this so important?
The reason why this is true is because when translating a word which has no meaning in the target language, such as “Satan” in Hebrew into Greek, a word with a similar meaning is often chosen; yet a word with alternate or other meanings attached to it. In short, baggage. A great example of this would be the word qi in Chinese; often translated as steam or energy, because there is no similar concept in English the word remains largely misunderstood when excised from a context in native use. The error here is not so overt however it is still present. Here, the word diabolos (G1228) which is a derivative of G1225 (diaballō, “traducer”) is taken as a direct translation of satan (H7854).
Here’s the problem. Satan does not mean traducer! Since we’re speaking Greek, does this mean it becomes almost impossible to determine when diablolos is referring to the Greek meaning or the Hebrew meaning in-situ? Almost but not quite. In any case where diablolos or similar is used to refer to an entity or agent of any kind, it may not deviate from solely and only the original Hebrew meaning of the word.
Slide 5 and 6: Notes on Translation
The KJV translates diabolos as devil 35 times, false accuser twice, and slanderer once.
It translates diaballō as accuser. The word only appears once.
It translates satan directly as Satan 19 times, adversary seven times, and withstand once.
Here’s a table comparing the three words:
|Word||Correct Meaning||Extraneous (Additional “Baggage”) Meaning||Absent (“Lost in Translation”) Meaning|
2. metaph. applied to a man who, by opposing the cause of God, may be said to act the part of the devil or to side with him
Do you see the problem here? The meaning of slanderer, false accuser, tracucer or defamer is not a meaning of Satan as it is used in the Hebrew bible.
Conclusion One (C1) may now stand; It is not correct to create a theology around extraneous meanings of a Greek word which is used in-situ to mean a Hebrew word.
I must note that Didache covers this beautifully in Slide 7 where he writes “The main problem is the eisegesis, that is, the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text.” However his conclusion is the diametric opposite of what we would expect: “So the word satan is transliterated and anglicized to fit the concept of a supernatural being. This is lifted from pagan origins.”
In fact, we find the exact opposite to be true; the word Satan, as it must comport with meaning gained from the old testament — does not fit the concept of a supernatural being out of a pagan context, but out of it’s original context (again see Strongs H7854). We will examine in detail the supernatural qualities of Satan later in this article, and will rely on Strong’s (as Didache has done) for our definitions unto this point.
Slides 8, 9, 10 and 11
This error seems prevalent all the way up until Slide 11. It does appear later in the article as well, at least in slides 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, and so on– and exspecially in the NT in every place where the idea of adversary is considered to refer to Satan (H7854) where diabolos or other has been written.
Conclusion 1: Generating False Evidence By Mistake
Because it appears that you are committing this error of assuming that the meaning of the Greek word always refers back to Satan (i.e. C1 earlier) you have been able to produce a preponderance of evidence that satan refers to a non-spiritual entity. This, as well as the original idea behind C1 as stated in our analysis of Slide 7 above, is enough to cast serious doubt on Didache’s analysis of John 1:17 and onwards later in this article.
In fact, especially by slide 8 we are able to draw a vastly different conclusion. Could it be, that Greek Christians, separated from the Hebrew Roots, ceased to fight against Satan the evil inclination, and began to fight against Diablos, the trucebreaker, false accuser and slanderer of Timothy and Titus (Slide 8)? If so, the language barrier would certainly account for this odd theological shift between Judaism and Christianity.
An Unstated Premise
It is well-known that in order to make sense and be true, an argument must have both good reasoning and true premises. But the fact that all included premises have to be true also means that all true premises have to be included. In this article, it appears that Didache’s premises are not true simply because they do not account for several unstated premises which appear in the Bible.
An example is the previous argument; By not examining the meaning of the Hebrew in the Old Testament but instead examining the Greek Septuagint, Didache is able to conclude “There is no basis in the meaning of the word to imply a supernatural being.” despite the clear and obvious definition of Satan as a supernatural being in Strong’s H7854.
Slides 9, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18 et al.
Didache makes the interesting point that “Presenting before the LORD does not indicate a meeting in heaven but rather appearing before the judge or priest who was the representative of the LORD.” (Slide 15). Thus, Didache argues in Slide 16, “There is no Scriptural support to indicate that the adversary termed in the KJV as Satan was either a fallen angel or a supernatural being. … The use of the definite article indicates that it was a particular individual.” This concludes, for the moment, his look at the book of Job.
However, he has left the following unstated premises:
- In Job 1, God speaks directly to Satan and Satan to Job; such a form of revelation would never happen at any other time except prior to Mt. Sinai.
- Slide 12 states that it is probable that Job was a prior relative of Zipporah (Moses’ wife) and in any case Job would have taken place before Mt. Sinai.\
- In Job 1:7 Satan is described as travelling the earth; the implication is that he has traveled through the whole earth, unlike any mortal man.
- cross-reference Ezekiel 31:16; Satan says “up and down in it,” meaning he has traveled to Sheol.
- cross reference Isaiah 42:5; Satan says “in it,” meaning he is a spirit.
- In Job 1:11-12 and 2:7 God places supernatural power to affect Job into Satan’s hands. This being God is speaking to is not a mortal man. (ex. no man can cause boils in such a manner.)
- In Job 1:10-11 and 2:4-5 Satan speaks with authority against mankind; no mortal man could stand before God with such impudence (ex. 2:4 “And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.“)
- In Job 2:10 and throughout the book Job believes his punishment is sent by God and is not the action of a mortal man.
- In 1 Kings 22, Satan is described as being a spirit, in God’s heavenly court.
- In 1 Chronicles 21:1 vs 2 Samuel 24:1 we see a well-known passage indicating God sent Satan to tempt King David spiritually.
- In 1 Samuel 16:14, 18:10 and 19:9 we see other examples of God sending evil spirits to King Saul.
Many commentaries also quote 1st Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
In short, and given the commentary by Didache as well in Slide 9 it seems very odd that he can conclude “There is no Scriptural support to indicate that the adversary termed in the KJV as Satan was either a fallen angel or a supernatural being.”
So Satan in the bible is a Supernatural being then? At least sometimes?
And what about Slide 24, the centerpiece?
Why does Jesus say to “him”? Well, how else are you going to refer to Satan? In the least, it has been said, “you are of your father, the devil.” Therefore there is precedent for calling satan a “him”, when referring to an entity. There are of course several other similar passages.
Our Conclusion 2 here is that not all of the significant facts have been presented in this debate over the word “Satan”, and therefore the statement on the meaning of John 1:17-25 must be called into question.
Against the Evidence
On Slide 25, Didache makes the point that God is not the “God of Satan” i.e. God is not “Satan’s God”. However this is merely Didache’s statement, he offers no supporting evidence; and yet we just got through illustrating via Job, Zechariah, Kings , Chronicles and Samuel that Satan (and all other evil spirits) operate at the beck and call of God and not according to their own free will. Therefore Didache’s point on Slide 25 is invalid without supporting evidence to the contrary. This is the well known “is there a place where God does not exist” argument; that is to say, that it is blasphemous to insinuate that there is a being capable of opposing God. All major commentaries concede this point; it is standard Christian theology that Satan must ultimately acquiesce to God’s will.
But beyond this what Jesus is responding to is his refusal to tempt God. When Jesus quotes in Matthew 4:7 he is saying that he will not do as Satan suggests, and tempt the Lord. He does not quote this to mean that Satan is tempting the Lord — and that he shall not do it — because he is, and continues to do so.
The point seems flimsy; God “is” the God of Satan, in any case, but this passage isn’t even about that. So I do not understand why this point applies to the argument.
Is this Theology Dangerous?
This might not be merely a theology born of a simple mistake, but it may contains dangerous implications.
If we imagine “The Pharisees” as a Satanic organization to any degree, we counter God’s call of the Israel of the Day to be a light to the nations. Even Jesus said they “sit in the seat of Moses; do all that they tell you (but do not as they do).” We only have these scriptures because they were preserved by the Jews. It is antiethical to Christian Theology to implicate “the Pharisees” as a cohesive group ala a “Synagogue of Satan”. I feel there is some part of this in the argument so to be sure I will just speak against it here briefly; beyond what I have said I will point out Romans 11. By no means are the Pharisees any kind of Satan, such a notion must be excised for the same reasons the gospels of Peter and Barabbas were excised. “The Jews” can only refer to some local group and certainly not all Jews everywhere; such as the Jews that were in Morocco and Egypt, for example, during the life of Jesus, and other such communities who had never heard of him for generations after the crucifixion.
I also hesitate to speculate on why this particular reading is important. Again, no Christian I can find seems to have heard of this — therefore, why is it so important? It obviously is not a core Christian idea, central to one’s faith. So I fail to see the issue in requiring this to be true in the first place.
The idea that the Pharisees were the Satan who visited Jesus in the desert goes against the biblical narrative of all four Gospels, and has no other support that I was able to find.