Losing The Faith (14/22)

The Devil and Satan

Background of the Early Writers

That the early writers were influenced by their pagan background can easily be illustrated. On the subject of the devil we have this quotation from Tertullian. “The philosophers acknowledge there are demons; Socrates himself waited on the demon’s will. Why not? Since it is said an evil spirit attached himself specially to him even from his childhood. The poets are all acquainted with demons too; even the ignorant common people make frequent use of them in cursing. In fact, they call upon Satan, the demon-chief, in their execrations” (Apology, ch. xxii).

The Scriptural Background

In the Old Testament the use of the word devil appears just four times and occurs only in the plural form. In every instance where it is used, it refers to heathen deities, or idols. As an example we site Deut. 32:17: “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not.” The Hebrew words translated devils are sair and shed; the latter is the common word for goat. There is no etymological link between these Hebrew words and the New Testament word diabolos.

The word Satan in Hebrew is a common noun and means opponent or adversary. The Hebrew word is carried over to the New Testament, and is used on several occasions of persons. Jesus said to Peter: “Get thee behind me Satan.” In other situations, the sinful inclinations of the human heart are termed “Satan:” Peter said to Ananias, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart … why has thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias’ fraud originated in his own heart with his own covetousness; this sinful impulse is metaphorically termed Satan – “adversary.”

The word devil in the New Testament is a translation of the common Greek word diabolos, meaning false accuser. Jesus used the word of Judas Iscariot in John 6:70. “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” The term is also applied to the sinful tendencies of human nature and to those organizations of men dominated by sin. Heb. 2:14 is an example of the former usage: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he [Jesus Christ] also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil.” The latter use is seen in Rev. 2:10: “Behold, the devil [pagan governmental authorities] shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried…”

The Second Century

There are not many references to the subject in the early second century writings, and this in itself is evidence that it had not achieved the importance it would have in later periods. Incorrect ideas on the subject were prevalent, however, almost from the beginning, and after the second century true teaching about the devil and Satan was almost unknown in the established church.

J Banta.

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