Thursday, December 08, 2005

The "deeds of the Satans"

Reading through 1 Enoch 65.6, I found a notable quote:

"An order has been issued from the court of the Lord against those who dwell upon the earth, that their doom has arrived because they have acquired the knowledge of all the secrets of the angels, all the oppressive deeds of the Satans, as well as all their most occult powers ..." I find the plural very interesting. Does this suggest that "Satan" is the sum of demonic forces responsible for pouring out evil into the world and teaching sorcery to people?

I find it interesting that in the NT, Satanas usually has the definite article which makes me wonder if we should opt for a translation of "the Satan". I also wonder what that would mean for one's interpretation of angels and demons in biblical perspective?


Ben Myers said...

This is a good question about the definite article, Mike. I've also sometimes wondered whether "the Satan" would be a more precise and more useful expression. Among other things, it might help Christians not to talk in such absurdly personal terms about "Satan" -- as though this character were a close acquaintance or an old family friend.

In any event, it seems to me that the notion of a "personal devil" is at best very metaphorical and imprecise. To be "personal" is to exist within a structure of relationships to others; and whatever "the Satan" might be, it is the very antithesis of any kind of relatedness, and thus the antithesis of what it means to be "personal".

If we were looking for a suitable metaphor, perhaps we should say that Satan is more like "chaos" than like a "person".

Jamie said...

Ben, was it Chaos that Jesus rebuked or Satan?
Mt 4:10
Just wondering?

Sean du Toit said...

"the satan" is the way Wright translates it in his writings. Graham Twelftree has a monograph on this Christ Triumphant, where I think he deals with this.

Justin Jenkins said...

Interesting that Jamie would point out that verse … since (in a very rough Greek translation) it says:

“Then saying to him, the Jesus: ‘Be you going away Satan ...’”

There is the “ho” in front of Jesus there --- not in front of Satanas. In Mt 16:23 Peter has the article and Satanas doesn’t --- of course here he could just be calling Peter an adversary not the “Satan”. But, perhaps putting the articles on both wouldn’t work so well in Greek?

I get Mike’s point however, since in Mt 12:26 we see the “ho” in front of Satanas, and lots of other places.

Anonymous said...

My prof always opined that Jesus was calling Peter 'a deceiver', not Satan as a personal embodiment of God's opposition. It seems that the NT is witness to the period of transformation, from 'a deciever' in general who accuses men before God (i.e. Job) to a personal embodiment of the opposer of God. Job has a categorical title, the NT uses it as a personal name. Very interesting.
It seems that Enoch then is a witness to the fact that Satan had not become a singular person- it s still a categorical title. Interesting stuff. Danny Zacharias

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...

I think you fellows are missing the Semitic background to this argument. The writer of said text must have been familiar with the Semitic background of satan. It meas "adversary" or "accuser" - though in this context it seems to be better translated as "adversary."

Ben Myers said...

This is a good point, Joe. And in my comment on the "personal Satan" I partly had in mind the OT background -- e.g. in the book of Job there is "the Satan", whose name is clearly meant to be a straightforward description of his role in the drama, not a theological indication that he is some sort of "personal" spiritual being.

Justin Jenkins said...

In realated news ...


In a letter to the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, dated Nov. 29, 2005, Archbishop Nikon of Ufa and Sterlitamak from the Russian Orthodox Church called Lord Krishna “an evil demon, the personified power of hell opposing God”, and “a livid lascivious youth”, the statement says.

Hindus in Shock as Russian Bishop Calls Krishna “Satan”


Btw, it never says he actually called him Satan.

Jeremy Pierce said...

The definite article is always used with proper names. That doesn't mean you should translate it as "the Socrates" and such.

jamie said...

Well done Justin. I'm glad somebody picked that up.

Ro Mody said...

I am doing a thesis which touches on this topic. Regarding this topic I tend to see "The Satan" in personal terms. Despite Michael's evidence from 1 En., the term is used, I think most naturally, to descibe a personal being in 2nd T Judaism and the NT. Is there any reason why the use of the definite article implies lack of personhood? After all, the use of " The Christ"( which is title, a status, and an office) does not imply lack of personhood.

As for the theological question of "The Satan's" lack of relatedness, this is true in the sense of his/its lack of true relateness to God, but perhaps one can see him as related to God in his orginal creation, and now after his fall, to his minions ( demons etc), and to rebellious human beings.

In addition, " the Satan" does have particularity, he seems to be a centre of consciousness distinct from others.

This question does have hermeutical implications. Those shaped by a non-Western culture seem more linclined to see " The Satan" in personal terms, those of Western culture seem more inclined to see " The Satan" in non-personal terms.

Michael F. Bird said...

Good points raised here. No doubt the use of the definite article does not indicate a non-personal entity since the NT frequently refers to "the Jesus". However, I do wonder if a person of evil and a personification of evil are mutually exclusive or is the line between them quite so thick and fast.

Dave said...

It seems we always need 'a satan' within society, was this the same in ancient cultures.

For medieval europe a personalised satan was critical to exert power over the unlearned. In our own day we have our 'satans' - mussolini, hitler,stalin, Osama - or if you live in the Middle east it may be Bush or Blair, or western capitalism, the great satan.

In the church we use satan for our own ends, you've heard the one I'm sure 'We must be doing something right - satan is attacking us'.

I think the majority of western church people have a strange view of satan, as you all know he is not omnipresent, so cannot attack each one of us simultaneously each morning, and yet we dare not treat him with contempt.

I remember Noel Due always referred to him as 'the satan' which caused me to think more deeply about this, so if using it in those terms raises discussion then all well and good.

For me he is the architect of deception, and he is good at it, Jesus knew this, hence the wheat and tares story. The Satan is very real and moves within human history (Luke 4:13) and yet metaphorically he is also the representation of chaos.

JayWoodhamTheMan said...

As someone who's experienced up close and personal what's popularly called "spiritual warfare" I think the discussion here is a tad bit academic. This is an academic blog, and of course that's appropriate, but a couple of the posters (e.g. prof. Myers) seem eager on the trigger to dismiss the personhood of demonic powers, "satans" etc. I'm suspicious that the reasons for this are not in truth purely academic.

Are that which the bible calls demons persons in the human or trinitarian sense? I don't know. I do think they are at least close enough to being persons that personifying metaphors are the most appropriate way to designate them in our dealings with them. Such a conclusion comports, it seems to me, with the text of the Bible and the consensus of human experience inside and outside the church.