This is a continuation of this posting. Much of the content is taken from the chapter in my book (Things I Never Learned in Sunday School) entitled, “The Big Bad Guy.”
You have probably heard the phrase, “The devil made me do it!” Often used by someone who has been caught in an awkward situation, it helps to relieve the tension of the moment, nearly always brings a laugh, and is a great way to redirect blame.
However, not everyone takes the concept of the devil so lightheartedly. Many followers of the Bible believe he is the Big Bad Guy, i.e., Satan – a very real entity whose primary goal is to disrupt people’s lives and cause them to sin against God. They are convinced he is the leader of a group of demons (angels that rebelled against God), and will one day face God in a horrific end time battle referred to as Armageddon.
Many, if not most, Christians are unaware that “Satan,” the embodiment of evil, does not exist. Now before you think I’m coming from somewhere out in left field, let me assure you this conclusion came only after many hours of extensive research. It required examining what I had always been told with a critical eye and applying what some might call “common sense.” It was a very difficult task. Probably the hardest part was overcoming the idea that it was actually “Satan” manipulating my mind and making me believe he wasn’t real. Nonetheless, I kept moving forward until I was able to rip out the deeply-rooted beliefs and see the truth.
Among today’s Christians, the Big Bad Guy is known by many names. Besides Satan or Devil, he is also known as the Evil One, Prince of Darkness, Lucifer, Father of Lies, Destroyer, God of this World, Great Deceiver, Prince of Demons, Man of Sin, the Enemy, Liar, Tempter, Master of Deceit, Lord of Death, just to name a few. Less familiar names are Azazel, Semihazah, Mastema, Beliar, Sammael, and Beelzebub.
With such an array of impressive titles, it is apparent that “Satan” holds an important place in Christianity. But does he deserve it? Let’s look closer.
The Old Testament
Some believe “Satan” is the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, the Fallen Angel mentioned in Isaiah, and the Beast/Dragon talked about in the Book of Revelation. Others believe certain kings mentioned in the Old Testament are representations of the Big Bad Guy; e.g., King of Tyre and King of Babylon.
Many are unaware that in the ancient Hebrew language, there is no “Satan” (proper name). There is, however, “the satan,” which is a literal translation of the Hebrew word, ha-satan, which means “adversary” or “accuser.” When Jewish scholars produced the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Torah, they translated ha-satan to diabolos (which is where we get the English title of “devil”). In fact, scholars who study ancient languages have found zero verses in the Old Testament where ha-satan is referring to “Satan,” the familiar fellow so many know today as the ruler of a fiery hell.
But, you ask, what about the Book of Job? The bible clearly states that “Satan” was the guy behind Job’s problems. And what about Lucifer, the fallen angel that Isaiah writes about? Or the serpent in the Garden of Eden? And isn’t Ezekiel describing a renegade angel?
In my book, I go into considerable detail to explain why it was not “Satan” lurking in the shadows of these Old Testament stories. I then go on to explain how ha-satan became “Satan” (the adversary/accuser) in the New Testament — and how he gained such a starring role.
New Testament Satan
The transformation of “Satan” from bit player to superstar came about during the so-called “silent years” – the approximate 300-400 year gap between the end of the Hebrew sacred writings and the appearance of Jesus (often called the “Second Temple” period). This is when the Jewish people went through the tumultuous times of the Babylonian captivity, the Persian and Greek takeovers, the unholy desecration of the Jewish temple by the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, and the oppression of Roman rule.
The people struggled with their faith through these years. They tried to hang on to the promises God had made to them, but it was becoming more and more difficult as foreign nations deprived them of their heritage and independence. The teachings of the Persian Zoroastrians – that an evil spirit was behind their troubles – became more and more attractive. An awareness and sensitivity to the supernatural began to develop and grow. Add to that the Greek philosophy that a group of divine beings (daemons) were the cause of evil in the world and we begin to get a few glimpses on how “Satan” began his ascent to stardom.
However, it was the apocalyptic (revelatory, prophetic) authors (discussed in Chapter Two of my book) that had the greatest influence on the changing status of “Satan.” Reportedly, these individuals received visions and messages from angelic sources about the ultimate destiny of humankind.
The writings were a blend of reality and fantasy. Nearly all of them contained predictions of end-time events, including cosmic battles between good and evil, a resurrection of the dead, a day of judgment, the meting out of rewards and punishment, the creation of a new world, and of course, the arrival of a messianic hero who would defeat the enemies of Israel.
What was most significant about these works is the way the authors began to develop a cosmic entity (based on myths from surrounding cultures as well as their own creativity) that could be blamed for all the bad things that were happening. Or as Wray and Mobley (T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots) put it, they began revealing a “cosmic conspiracy” led by a “supernatural criminal mastermind” who controlled a vast network of demonic forces.
In addition, two widely circulated books also seemed to have helped “Satan” rise to stardom: the Book of Enoch (also called I Enoch) and the Book of Jubilees. Although neither book was included in the canonized New Testament, both were instrumental in the development of the idea of “Satan” as the Principle Power of Evil.
With help from his enthusiastic promoters, “Satan” had now moved from bit player to full-fledged star. The entire community of New Testament writers couldn’t stop talking about him (according to one source, the “Devil” and/or demons are mentioned no less than 568 times). Interestingly, there is no discussion of his origin; he simply “appears.” Of course, we now know there was no need because the Jewish people had become well acquainted with Mr. Bad Guy through the apocalyptic writers.
There is MUCH more to this chapter, but here is what I wrote as my final thoughts on the subject:
After poring through scores of books, websites, and the Bible itself, I have concluded the “Devil” is nothing more than a figment of imagination. Early Jewish writers created him to help people understand the evil that was happening all around them during the post-exilic period. Since they could not, in good conscience, place the blame for their problems on Yahweh, these creative individuals devised a supernatural entity to be the fall guy. No longer was ha-satan simply God’s prosecutor, intelligence agent, or helper. He had become “Satan,” the Enemy of God’s people.
I urge and encourage anyone who believes an actual “Satan” exists to read my book. There is much more information (with references) within its pages than what I’ve presented here.
To credit a supernatural entity as being the source of all evil is to accept a myth – a traditional story that explains the worldview of people who lived long ago in a world much different than ours.