SATAN, DEVILS, AND DEMONS
At the time of Christ's coming the Old Testament (OT) satan is identified with the Greek Diabolos (or devil), who with an attendant horde of demons is seen as having a great measure of control over earthly affairs. The Bible however gives no indication as to how these new concepts were developed, although the figure of the devil has taken root and has become, next to Christ and to God (Yahweh) himself, the most important figure in today's Christian theology. Many Christians worship the power of this mystical satan, rather that the creator the Almighty Sovereign Yahweh. The word “satan” however, is NOT a proper name, but comes from the Hebrew “satan” meaning - an (any) adversary or opponent. The same (No name) is also applicable to the word “devil” which comes from the Greek meaning of “diabolos” – (any) accuser, or a slanderer. The other Greek word used is the word “demon” from the Greek “daimon” – to distribute, or falsely demonstrate, or distribute information in a negative manner. These words satan, devil, and demon, are often ignorantly interchanged and improperly used or applied for religious purposes, or false advantage.
First, let’s look first at the OT, and see how satan developed.
In these days Adam's serpent is seen as having been a satan. This has been fundamental to the concept of the Fall of Man, and the notion of Original Sin - that every child is born in a state of sin and has to be rescued, which we know is not Biblical – yet we have the eternal conflict between Yahweh and the devil, and much more. It is not going too far to say that if the story of Adam is denied, or the satanic identification of the serpent is not accepted, a significant part of current Christian theology falls by the wayside. There is no connection in the between satan and the Serpent who is described simply as the wisest (or in some translations, the most cautious) of the land life. Millennia later, even in Job, satan is still seen as a respectable member of the company of Heaven - hardly consistent with the notion that he has suborned and degraded Yahweh’s ultimate creation.
Satan is the Hebrew word for one who lies in wait, sometimes rendered as an opposer, or an adversary, and it is in this role that he first appears, in the story of Balaam’s ass: "and the Angel of the Lord took his stand in the way to resist him", using the Hebrew word 'satan'. So satan's initial appearance is as an Angel of the Lord doing Yahweh’s bidding. There are a number of other instances where the Hebrew 'satan' is correctly translated as a human adversary or a human accuser.
Satan next appears in the story of Job, where satan appears as one of a group of Angels or rather Messengers in Hebrew. He is buttonholed by Yahweh who after praising Job gives satan the authority to test him by destroying his possessions, and later by attacking his person. Job passes all the tests, but satan must be seen as acting with Yahweh’s authority - he may be seen as an adversary of man, but not as an adversary of Yahweh. The provenance of the story of Job is often questioned, it is said that it bears a suspicious resemblance to one of the legends from Sumer; it is not difficult to see it as a morality tale deliberately constructed to teach how difficult times should be accepted.
The next appearance is confused: David orders a Census; in Chronicles it is said that he was inspired to do so by satan, but in Samuel the idea comes from Yahweh. The census, most probably for the purpose of taxation (or possibly for military service), may have been seen as a deliberate attack on Israel, already very restless and ripe for rebellion. The result is great civil unrest and many deaths. It seems possible that the Chronicler considers the 2 Samuel account to be theologically undesirable and sees an advantage in shifting the blame to the shadowy figure of satan. Alternatively the difficulty can be resolved by seeing satan as the obedient messenger of Yahweh, or Yahweh Himself becoming the adversary.
The only other appearance comes soon after the return from Babylon (Zechariah 3), in a trial scene in which satan is pictured as the Prosecutor opposing a man named Joshua. A common interpretation is that Zechariah intends satan to be seen as representing those Yahudi who had remained in Jerusalem, in their bitter dispute with the returnees, led by their high priest Joshua. While satan is strongly rebuked by Yahweh only those returnees (one of whom was Zechariah) would have cause to see anything evil in his action, nor does satan appear to be anything other than a still fully accepted member of Yahweh's assembly.
The passage in Isaiah "O Lucifer, Son of the Morning . .” (Isaiah 14:12) is often interpreted as a reference to the Fall of satan. It seems much more probable, from both text and context that the reference is to the fall of the current king of Babylon. Yet Lucifer (which means Day Star) has entered the vocabulary as one of the names of satan. This idea Biblically is completely false.
The Hebrews in OT times did not have anything like the devil of Christian theology to blame for evil. If a man did wrong he alone was responsible, not his parentage, or his environment, or his upbringing, or poverty, or any devil. It is a hard but honest philosophy. The word demon does not appear in the OT and 'devil' is used only a few times, and in contexts where it clearly refers to the false Gods (idols) of other nations, having no relationship whatsoever to the devil of the Gospels.
The OT canon ends with the three books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles in the early 4th century BC. Beyond this we have (probably) Daniel and the apocryphal books of Maccabees and Ezra 4, and works of imagination such as Enoch. None of these shed any light on the problem. Then there is silence until the New Testament (NT) opens. So where did the Yahudim concept of the devil come from, and how did it develop into the devil of the Christian faiths? When did satan grow from a heavenly agent (a messenger of Yahweh) to an entirely independent entity, the source of all evil, and the prime instigator of evil committed by men, having powers comparable to Yahweh’s his Creator’s power, and having control of earthly Governments? And where did that horde of demons come from?
In religions of Assyria and Babylon, demons were to be found in plenty, independent spirits used to explain all the minor problems that afflicted men while the gods were concerned with more important matters. A common theory is that the notion was adopted by the Yahudi during the exile in Babylon and brought home to Jerusalem on their release. Here demons were now given a ruler, Beelzebub (Son of Baal), one of the Gods of Tyre, and the power to take control of human minds. For the Yahudi it must have provided a very useful explanation for mental illnesses and anything else that medical knowledge could not explain. Devils, demons, and satan become the personifications of the unexplained.
A Yahudi source of demons can be found in the 'Book of Jubilees' probably written by a Pharisee around 110 BC. The demons in this work are the spirits which went forth from the souls of the giants who were the children of the s-called fallen angels (Gen 6:4), also a complete myth. These demons attacked men and ruled over them. Their purpose was to corrupt and lead astray and destroy the wicked. They were subject to the prince Mastema, or satan. Men sacrificed to them as gods. They were to pursue their work till the judgement of Mastema or the setting up of the Messianic kingdom, when satan would be no longer able to injure mankind. It will be noted that these demons, and by implication satan himself, only afflicted the wicked. demons also appear in the apocryphal books of Tobit and Baruch, dating from the first and second centuries BC.
The Pharisees, which by the time of Christ were the most significant of the sects, accepted the expansion of satan into an independent entity that had a substantial measure of control over the affairs of men and governments. The notion throughout the NT that satan was the effective ruler of the Earth may have come from an identification of BAAL with satan. Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites and had the subsidiary title `Prince Lord of the Earth'.
From the Qumran documents (Dead Sea Scrolls) comes a possible indication of the development of the idea of a devil, in the manner in which the Sect personified all opposition to their `Teacher of Righteousness' into a single figure. However the adoption of ideas from other religions, particularly from Zoroastrianism may have been a very significant factor. The basic teaching of late Zoroastrianism seems to have been as follows:
In the beginning there were two equal gods, under one supreme Deity, eternally at war with each other (let us call them god and devil). God, who was wholly good, had an attendant company of Angels; the devil, wholly evil, a horde of demons. God created the Earth as a battleground for the war, and man to help him in his fight. Man like god was wholly good, and suffered neither disease nor death. The devil corrupted man, brought disease and death upon him, taught him the ways of evil.
Zoroastrianism as the official religion of the Medean and the Persian Empire under Cyrus and his successors, was one of the most widely followed and influential beliefs in the area. It retained its influence under the Parthians (who captured and held Jerusalem for a brief period around 50 BC). With the exception of one single point the Zoroastrian devil, is a precise model for the Yahudi and Christian devil - Israelism could not accept two equal Gods, the devil had to be a creation of god who later became evil. The influential American Rabbi Kohler, in his book "The Origins of the Synagogue and the Church", published at the end of the 19th century, offered a detailed picture of how Persian religious ideas were adopted by the Pharisees.
NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
Regardless of where the ideas came from it cannot be doubted that by the time of Christ the devil and his demons were very real concepts to the Yahudi, and that the devil and the original figure of satan were seen as one. In the Gospels demons are shown as causing mental and physical derangements of one sort or another, birth defects, mental illness or those physical illnesses such as epilepsy or paralysis for which there was then no known cause or remedy. Attribution of such sufferings to demons should cause no surprise, nor in the light of the extent of medical knowledge then available should it be criticized as mere superstition. We might now find better explanations, but at that time demonology provided the best answer available for misery.
If it is accepted that Christ had the power to heal it is not difficult to understand the manner of his healing. The people believed that demonic possession was the cause and Christ was content to let them believe so. What is less easy to accept are the words and pleading attributed to demons:
Luke 4:34 "Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God!"
Mark 5:9 "My name is Legion; for we are many. . . Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."
Again, Regardless of the validity of the OT satan, or of the radical changes in thought needed to create a devil out of the original figure of satan, the Yahudi believed in a satan/devil, and Christ, brought up as a Yahudi and absorbing the culture of the Yahudim, did not deny the notion either of a devil or a demon. He instead used the local culture and beliefs to his advantage. But, to what extent does this validate those beliefs, and to what extent does Christ's teaching justify the present Christian view (in so far as there is one definable Christian view)? You may like to consider the Gospel references to satan, devil, or `Evil one', and always bearing in mind the context and try to decide whether they were used purely in a colloquial sense, or in unconsidered anger, or as a deliberate identification. You may also like to consider the effect on Christ's credibility had he directly denied the firm beliefs of his audience, to such mystic a false beings.
The Christian view of a devil seems to have crystallized and taken a new direction in the years following the Crucifixion. Paul has little interest in demons, but strongly reinforces the prevailing personification of all evil in the form of the devil, and also introduces other new ideas. A quotation from the Letter to the Ephesians illustrates how the enmity and persecution that beset the early Christians on all sides was put to the devil's account:
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
In other texts the devil is shown as capturing and then controlling individuals - the devil becomes a personal as well as a general threat; elsewhere the death of Christ is seen as having destroyed the power of the devil (Heb 2: 14) (which if true would make something of a nonsense of the Book of Revelation). Most Christian churches and sects accept the view of the devil as shown in the Gospels and in Paul's letters and vividly illustrated and expanded further in Revelation; an Angel created by Yahweh but self-corrupted by pride and ambition; the sworn enemy of Yahweh and Man; beyond control by his Creator or his peers; the source of all temptation and all evil in the world; corrupting all earthly Governments and powers. It has already been suggested that the Hebrew Testament offers no support for this picture at all.
The offer by the devil when tempting Christ in the wilderness (Matthew 4, Luke 4) to give him all the kingdoms of the world, is often quoted as showing that the world was his to give, which seems to require a rather surprising belief in satan's veracity. The whole story is however questionable since John's Gospel indicates that there was no gap between baptisms by John the Baptist and the start of Christ's ministry. However even if this is discounted you may like to consider whether it would be surprising if after fasting for forty days, (if true) delusions of the nature of these supposed temptations did not appear.
Acceptance of other aspects of the devil depend on whether you even accept Paul as a proper witness to such matters (as an educated Pharisee Paul would have shared the basic beliefs of the people), and whether you accept Revelation as being a source of literal fact. . . . . . we do not.
The most extreme view of the satan/devil is to be found in Revelation, and it was this view that governed the Christian Churches up to and through the Middle Ages. Only in the last couple of hundred years have notions of satanic demons and evil spirits faded, while the image of the power of an Antichrist directing all the evil in the world and planning the downfall of Yahweh remains almost as strong as ever. In Revelation satan is shown as having the authority to command all the powers of earth and gather them to challenge the forces of Yahweh at the battle of Armageddon, and to mount a similar challenge a thousand years later. Men who have not given in to satan (this adversary) are merely passive spectators at the battles and have no active role.
The phrase 'the dragon, that serpent of old' (Rev 20:2) is conventionally considered to be a positive (indeed, it is the only) identification of the serpent (the Nachash in Hebrew, meaning “enchanter”) of Adam and Eve with satan.
When we talk about "the devil" and other supposed wicked "spirit entities" we first need to define some terms and associated cultures of the time that have allowed these "fabricated entities" to exist. We have discovered by learning Greek, and then Hebrew, and by researching all of the scriptures that are supposed to support such an entity. That the so-called scriptures will fall when correctly understood in context and when related to the culture of the day.
In our opinion, it is pure folly to actually believe that Yahweh created an entity that is omnipresent, can enter your mind, and can challenge Him for position of power. This is not supported in the Tan’akh (the Hebrew Scriptures) which clearly says, that Yahweh is the only "Power" and is the original originator of both good and evil (bad).
The word "devil" is not found in the Tan’akh. In all of the Hebrew Scriptures given to Israel, there is no mention of any devil. There are those that are wicked, and those that make accusations, and there are those that are "slanderers." The Greek literal meaning of "devil" is (a through-thrower), a combined Greek word from the word "dia" where we get the English word diameter (through) and "bolos" which means in Greek to throw (it is where we get our English word ball).
Strong’s G1228 diabolos dee-ab'-ol-o; a traducer;
specifically satan (compare [H7854]): - false accuser. evil, landerer.
The Hebrew word "satan" is not a proper name, but a title. It means an "adversary." and has the very same meaning in transliterated Greek. Anyone can be an adversary to you, when he or she becomes an obstruction to your intended action. In the Tan’akh, even YHWH can be at times "satan". Yes, satans and devils do exist, but they are not some super-human or celestial spiritual power that has the ability to challenge their own Creator. These spiritual super-powers are the invention of primitive man that needed to have some account for wickedness in the heart of man. They are fabrications of the mind, and in that way may appear to become very real. As for the Christian church, the invention of such an entity can be used for profit and as a way to scare someone into their grip. Accusers and slanderers do exist, but as mere flesh and blood men. Adversaries however, can be good as well as bad (bad being a relative term).
Yahweh can be an adversary when He punishes, and becomes satan to make corrections. This is no different than a Father correcting his children simply because He loves them.
Author of the original document is unknown (revisions and additions by AOYcascade)
Assembly of Yahweh, Cascade