The Real Devil
Some Problem Passages:
Except where otherwise stated the Scripture quotations in this publication are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946 and 1952 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.
Chapter One - Two Views of the Devil
One day in July 1974 a man stood before a judge in London's famous court, the Old Bailey, with an unusual defence: "Yes, I committed the crime of which you accuse me", he said, "but I am not guilty. I couldn't help what I did, because I was possessed by the devil at the time!". Needless to say, the judge did not accept his plea.
All over the world there is a growing interest in this dark subject. We hear many strange tales of people being possessed and controlled by the devil, or by some lesser demon or evil spirit. What lies behind these stories? Is there really a Prince of Darkness with a great army of invisible evil spirits roaming around the world, who are the real cause of all the wickedness and the suffering in this world? Or is the whole thing just a myth, like Santa Claus and fairies?
There is only one way to get the true answer to this question. The Bible has a great deal to tell us about it. But we need to look at the Bible very, very carefully, because its teaching about the devil is very often misunderstood.
The Well Known View
Most people who believe in God and Jesus Christ also believe in the devil, otherwise known as Satan. If you ask them to explain what the devil is, they would probably reply like this:
"He is a fallen angel. Once upon a time he was one of the greatest angels in heaven, but he became proud, and rebelled against God. So God drove Satan out of heaven, along with all those angels who supported him. Now Satan and his wicked followers inhabit the earth as evil spirits, tempting men to sin."
But some people, including the writer and the publishers of this booklet, find that view very hard to accept. It makes God look rather like a man with a plague of rats in his house, who deals with it by driving out the rats into the house next door! Obviously the honest way to deal with rats in your house is to kill them.
No decent man would get rid of rats by dumping them on his neighbour. Why, then, should God Almighty deal with a plague of rebellious angels by driving them out of His heavenly home to pester us? Why did He not kill them?
The Serpent in the Garden of Eden
In those early days the serpent was the most intelligent of all the animals. It "was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made" (Genesis 3:1). It seems as if the serpent had the power to walk upright and it could certainly talk, and it used this ability to persuade Eve and her husband to sin.
Those who believe in the fallen-angel devil will say, "Ah yes, but it wasn't just a serpent. It was Satan, who had taken possession of the serpent's body and was speaking through the serpent."
To this suggestion there can only be one answer. Who says so? The Book of Genesis certainly does not! Genesis plainly says it was the serpent talking, and never even hints at the presence of any evil spirit.
So does the apostle Paul. When he referred to this incident he said, "the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Not, "Satan deceived Eve" as so many people wrongly imagine, but, "the serpent".
It is interesting to see that Paul does not say the serpent was "wicked", but just "cunning", or, to use the word that Jesus used in Matthew 10:16, "wise". God has never given laws to the animals, as He has to men. Consequently an animal cannot sin, even though it may cause human beings to sin.
Paul does not blame Satan for Adam's sin. Although he speaks of Adam's fall in several places, Paul never once mentions the devil or Satan in this connection. Instead, he tells us plainly who was to blame:
"Sin came into the world through one man ... Adam" (Romans 5:12-14).
"That old serpent"
The only passage in the New Testament that seems to teach the opposite is Revelation 12, where in verse 9 a weird creature with seven heads is referred to as "that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan". But, as is shown in the Appendix to this booklet, this passage is not describing what happened in the Garden of Eden. It is a parable, speaking of future events on earth. It does not tell us that the serpent in Eden really was a fallen angel. Instead, it describes a serpent with seven heads. Does anyone believe that the serpent in Eden was like that?
So the message of Genesis, and of other Bible writers who refer to Genesis, is plain. Don't blame a fallen angel for the sinfulness of human nature. Put the blame where it belongs: on Adam, and on his sinful children, including ourselves.
The Law of Moses
The first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - are together called "The Law of Moses", because he wrote them. They form a little over one-sixth of the Bible that we have today, but for hundreds of years they were the only Bible that God's people had, because the rest of the Bible had not been written then.
Nevertheless the Law of Moses was a complete guidebook for the people of God at that time. It told them how to avoid sin and how God wanted them to live. But it never mentions the devil, or Satan not once.
This fact provokes an important question. If there really is a fallen angel who tricks men into sinning, why did God not warn His people about this deadly danger when He gave them this early Bible, the Law of Moses? It rather looks as if God did not intend His people in those early days to believe in a fallen-angel devil.
Of course, an argument based on silence can never be conclusive on its own. But at least this is a valuable fact to bear in mind as we continue our study.
Other Old Testament Books
The Old Testament as a whole makes up more than three-quarters of the Bible. Yet in all the Old Testament the devil is never mentioned by that name, not once.
Even the name "Satan" appears in only three or four places in the Old Testament. It seems from this as if Satan was not regarded as a very important part of Old Testament teaching. Let us try to discover who this "Satan" was, who played such a small part in the Old Testament story.
The name "Satan" was not just a meaningless label, like many of our names. It was a name with a meaning, like "Grace" or "Livingstone". The Old Testament was mostly written in Hebrew, and "satan" is a Hebrew word "meaning "accuser" or "enemy". (In many editions of the Bible it is translated "adversary", which is only an old-fashioned word for enemy.) When this word is used as a name, it generally has the Hebrew word for "the" in front of it. So the name means, "The Accuser", or "The Enemy".
The only places in the Hebrew Old Testament where we find this word Satan used in such a way that it might be intended as a name are these: Psalm 109:6; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job, chapters 1 and 2; and Zechariah 3:1,2.
In the first of these passages most modern English Bibles do not use the name Satan, but translate it "an accuser". Scholars now think that the Hebrew writer did not intend us to take the word "satan" in this passage as a name. It is obvious that in this passage, at least, this "accuser" or "enemy" is an ordinary man.
Then there is 1 Chronicles 21:1, where most translations regard Satan as a name. But even so, some modern translations tell us that the word "Satan" can very well be translated here by the English phrase "the adversary" (enemy). The English Revised Version, for example, says this in a footnote. There is, in fact, a good reason for believing that in 1 Chronicles 21:1 the Hebrew name, Satan, "The Enemy", refers to an enemy army which scared David into counting his soldiers. Another account of the same event (2 Samuel 24:1) says that it was God who caused David to number his fighting men.
This does not mean that "The Enemy" was God himself. In all the rest of the Bible when Satan is used as a name, that is to say, with the Hebrew or Greek word "the" in front of it - THE Enemy - it is never used of anything good. It always refers to that which is bad, such as the wickedness of human nature, or men opposing God or opposing God's people, and so it is most unlikely to refer to God in this passage.
Nevertheless, the Bible does not contradict itself. So we must try to explain how both "God" and "The Enemy" could have been the cause of David's action. This is not difficult if we look at what God said to Jerusalem in Isaiah 29:3: "I (God) will encamp against you round about, and will besiege you with towers, and I (God) will raise siege works against you."
Obviously God did not do these things Himself. It clearly means that God caused an enemy army to do it. Similarly, 1 Chronicles 21:1 and 2 Samuel 24:1 agree in telling us that a human enemy made David panic and do wrong, but that God was responsible for the presence of that enemy army.
But if you suppose that Satan is a great evil spirit you will find it impossible to explain the contradiction between 1 Chronicles 21:1 and 2 Samuel 24:1. Try doing it, and see for yourself that it can't be done unless you are prepared to argue that God directs the actions of that evil spirit, which is quite contrary to what most people believe about Satan.
Job and Zechariah
This leaves only two Old Testament passages where "Satan" is clearly intended as a name, and where it looks as if he might be some sort of supernatural being: Job 1 and 2, and Zechariah 3.
But this is not necessarily so. The Old Testament sometimes speaks of ordinary men as if they were supernatural beings, just for the sake of emphasis. Consider this passage, for instance:
"God has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods He holds judgment... I (God) say, 'You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men'." (Psalm 82:1, 6, 7). Who were these beings that God called "gods"? We do not need to guess the answer. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us. He quoted this passage, and explained that these "gods" were really only the human beings "to whom the word of God came" (John 10:34-35). In other words, they were Israelites, or, as we call them today, Jews. God called them "gods" to emphasise what highly privileged people they were.
In much the same way, it seems evident that the "Satan" in Job and Zechariah was not really a supernatural being. "Satan", "The Enemy", in these two books may have been one particularly bad man who was opposing God at the time. Or the name may have been used as a kind of symbol, to represent all the wicked human opposition to God and God's people. (There is an interesting parallel in Deuteronomy 32:15, where "Jeshurun" looks like the name of a man, but is actually a symbolic name, representing a whole community of people.)
A close look at the first two chapters of Job reveals that this is so. This particular Satan Job's "Enemy" had no supernatural power of his own. Satan had to borrow from God the power that he then used to make Job suffer (Job 1:11-12). Job himself said that his sufferings actually came to him from God not from some wicked supernatural being (1:21; 2:10). And the book of Job ends by telling us that his brothers and sisters "comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him" (42:11). Evidently this Satan was an evil man, or a group of evil men, full of envy towards Job, to whom God gave the ability to make Job suffer, so that they might learn how wrong they were.
That leaves Zechariah 3, which tells how the high priest Joshua was confronted by Satan. Fortunately this chapter is explained for us in the Book of Ezra, which gives us a plain historical account of Joshua's struggle with "Satan". Ezra 3 describes how Joshua led the people to start rebuilding the ruined temple of God. But Joshua was not left to do this in peace. Ezra 4:2-4 says that "the enemies of the people of Judah and Benjamin heard that those who had returned from exile were rebuilding the Temple", and they "tried to discourage and frighten the Jews and keep them from building" (Today's English Version). These enemies are represented in the parable-language of Zechariah 3 by Satan, "The Enemy".
Who was Lucifer?
Those who believe in the fallen-angel
devil are very disappointed by the Old Testament. They realise that the Old
Testament ought to say that Satan is a fallen angel, if this really is what God
wants His people to believe. And, since it does not say any such thing, they
have searched for something the Old Testament that they can use as a basis for
their belief. They can only find two passages to use, of which this is the
"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! ... Thou hast said in thine heart, 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God' ... Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell" (Isaiah 14:12-15, King James Version). Only someone desperate to uphold a shaky theory would try to apply this passage to the devil. It clearly has nothing to do with an angel. The very next verse goes on to say:
"They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, 'Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?'" (verse 16). So Lucifer was not an angel, he was a man. The beginning of the chapter tells us just who he was:
"Thou shalt take up this proverb [or parable] against the King of Babylon, saying ..." (verse 4).
It is easy to see why this great man was called "Lucifer". Lucifer is the old name of Venus, which is the brightest star in the sky. In those days the kings of Babylon were the mightiest kings on earth. The prophet Daniel said to one king of Babylon, called Nebuchadnezzar:
"You, O king, have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown, and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth" (Daniel 4:22).
But the last of the mighty kings of Babylon, whose greatness "reached to heaven", was to be brought low. His downfall was to be a world-shaking event -something as spectacular as if Lucifer (Venus) had fallen out of the sky.
The King of Babylon
Isaiah 14 is clearly a poetical description of the fall of the King of Babylon. People who say, "It says the King of Babylon, but it means Satan", are guilty ' rewriting the Bible to suit themselves. It may seem strange to our modern minds that God should tell this ancient king he would be cast down from heaven to hell. But this sort of language is quite common in the Bible. For instance, these are the words of the Lord Jesus to the wicked city of Capernaum, in the land of Israel:
"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell" (Matthew 11:23, King James Version).
Capernaum was not really in heaven; this was just the Lord's way of describing her as a great and proud city. Similarly, her collapse into hell is just the Bible's vivid way of saying that Capernaum would become a very lowly place.
The Prince of Tyre
The only other Old Testament passage that people sometimes wrongly apply to the fall of Satan in Ezekiel 28. But here again we are told very plainly that the person concerned is a human king. The chapter begins: "The word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre' " and continues, "Son of man, raise a lamentation over the prince of Tyre" (verses 1,2 and 12).
Ezekiel goes on to call this King of Tyre a cherub who had been in Eden, and this leads some people to think that this king was Satan in disguise. But there is no reason to think this. Three chapters later, Ezekiel said that the King of Egypt and some other kings were also in the Garden of Eden, and they cannot all have been the devil in person! Obviously, this language is just Ezekiel's poetic way of saying that these kings were especially privileged, through living in that part of the world where God was at work amongst His people, Israel.
So we see that there is not a word in the Old Testament to prove that Satan is a fallen angel. (Nor is there in the New Testament, either. There are only two New Testament passages that speak of Satan falling from heaven, and even they do not say that Satan was once an angel. These passages are examined in an Appendix at the end of this booklet.) .
Chapter Three - What the Jews Believed
We can summarise the Old Testament evidence like this. There is no mention of the devil anywhere in the Old Testament. Satan is not mentioned until half way through the Old Testament, and then he is only mentioned in four places. In two of these the word clearly refers to an ordinary human enemy. In the other two, Satan is probably a symbol of human wickedness, opposing God and His people. There is no mention of any angel rebelling against God and being cast out of heaven.
The Old Testament is a Jewish book. How did the Jews themselves understand the four Old Testament references to Satan? Did they believe in a supernatural Satan, or did they look upon Satan as a symbol of human wickedness?
Here are the words of three scholars, none of them Christadelphians, who have answered that question.
1. A Social Scientist, A. Lyons: "To the ancient Jews, who were hard-core realists, Satan symbolised man's evil intentions."4
2. A Jewish Encyclopedia: "Judaism (the Jewish religion) has never seriously accepted the concept of a power almost co-equal with God and fighting for possession of the world or individuals. Belief in a personal Satan is rare amongst Jews."5
3. A Jewish Rabbi, R. S. Brookes: "Judaism has no place for the belief in the power of a Devil or Satan ... Satan is rather the personification of evil, the evil inclination."6
It seems clear that in Old Testament times the Jews did not believe in a supernatural Satan. They evidently held the same view as the writer and the publishers of this booklet: that Satan is a kind of parable, a symbol of human sinfulness.
Who Invented the Supernatural Devil?
We have seen that the Old Testament does not teach the doctrine that Satan is a wicked spirit. Scholars tell us that the ancient Jews did not believe this either. Yet by the time of Christ many Jews and many Gentiles had come to believe in a fallen-angel Satan. Where, then, did this doctrine come from?
Historians explain that it all began in the country known as Persia, which today we call Iran. About five hundred years before Christ the Jews lived under the Persian empire, and they knew a lot about the religious beliefs of the Persians.
The Persian religion eventually came to be known as Zoroastrianism. The Persians believed in many gods, but especially in two great supernatural beings. One was a good spirit, called Ahura Mazda, the god of light and the giver of happiness. The other was an evil spirit, called Angra Mainyu, the god of darkness and the source of unhappiness. The Persians thought that these two great powers were constantly fighting for possession of the world, and for the souls of men.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah was concerned about this false teaching, perhaps because he could see that some Jews might be influenced by it. So in one of his prophecies he made a direct attack on the Persian religion. Perhaps to make sure that nobody missed the point, he addressed this particular prophecy to Cyrus, the King of Persia:
"Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus ... I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God ... I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal [happiness] and create woe [unhappiness], I am the LORD, who do all these things" (Isaiah 45:1-7). In other words, God declared that the Zoroastrian religion was wrong. There were not two supernatural powers, there was only one God Himself. Angra Mainyu, the Power of Darkness, did not exist. The Lord God was the source of both light and darkness, both joy and suffering.
Isaiah was not the first to teach this. Hundreds of years before, in one of the earliest books of the Bible, God had said through Moses:
"See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God beside Me; I kill and I make alive; / wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand" (Deuteronomy 32:39). Not, "Satan wounds and God heals", but, "God wounds and God heals."
Evil Spirits in the Old Testament
Another way to see what the ancient Jews believed is to study the references to evil spirits in the Old Testament.
There are only a few passages in the whole of the Old Testament that speak of evil spirits, or anything of the kind. All of them are quoted below. They deserve a very careful reading, because people who have never noticed them before are often astonished by them.
"And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem" (Judges 9:23).
"Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul's servants said to him, 'Behold now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you ... seek out a man who is skilful in playing the lyre; and you will be well'." (1 Samuel 16:14-16). "And on the morrow an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house" (1 Samuel 18:10).
"Then an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand ... And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear" (1 Samuel 19:9,10).
"Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets" (1 Kings 22:23; see also verses 19-22).
"He [God] cast upon them [Egypt] the fierceness of His anger, wrath and indignation, and trouble, a band of angels of evil" (Psalm 78:49, Revised Version).
"So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel... And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented of the evil and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, 'It is enough; now stay your hand'." (2 Samuel 24:15,16). Evil spirits from the Lord, angels of evil, an angel of destruction. This is all the Old Testament has to say about "evil spirits". It is more than enough to show what God's people believed in Old Testament times.
To them, evil spirits did not mean wicked spirits. It did not mean independent spirits, acting separately from God. To the children of Israel in those days, evil spirits were righteous spirits, spirits acting under God's command and doing His will, holy angels, in fact, who inflicted punishments upon sinful men.
They were called "evil" spirits simply because the men receiving punishment regarded it as an evil. In these Bible passages - and in lots of others - the word "evil" is not used to mean wickedness (although it is used in that way sometimes). Here it is used just to mean, "something unpleasant", or, "suffering". This was how Job used it when he became ill; he said, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [also from God]?" (Job 2:10).
There are many references to angels in the Old Testament, and in every one the angels are portrayed as creatures under God's control. There is no suggestion that an angel could possibly disobey God. The possibility of a rebellion in heaven seems to be ruled out by this Scripture:
"The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do His word" (Psalm 103:19,20).
A Clear Answer
We have seen that there is a clear answer to the question: what did God want His ancient nation, Israel, to believe? It is this:
God is almighty. He is the Master of the universe He created. There are no other gods, and no other spirit beings except His own angels, who always do His will. Both happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain, come from God Himself. He tolerates only one rebel in His universe: man. And that is because some men are capable of being redeemed from their fallen state.
But of fallen angels, or rebellious spirit beings, the Old Testament knows nothing at all.
Chapter Four - The Devil in the New Testament
As soon as we turn from the Old Testament to the New we meet a big problem. There Satan is given a second name, the devil, and he is mentioned about as often in the very first book of the New Testament as in all 39 Old Testament books put together. It certainly looks as if the devil of the New Testament is a great spiritual monster. And the evil spirits of the New Testament appear to be doing the devil's work, not God's, as in the Old Testament.
Many unbelievers and Jews have a simple explanation for all this. They argue that the New Testament contradicts the Old. They agree that the Old Testament teaches there is no supernatural devil, but they say that the New Testament teaches the opposite.
No believer could accept that explanation. The Bible does not contradict itself. The Lord Jesus Christ commands us to believe everything in the Old Testament. (See Luke 24:25; John 5:45-47; Luke 16:31; John 10:35; Luke 16:17; Matthew 5:18.). No, the New Testament cannot possibly contradict the Old. There must be a better explanation than that. Let's see if we can find one.
The Key that Will Not Fit
Suppose that you have just taken on a new job, as caretaker over a large new building full of offices. The manager has given you what he calls a master key, which he says will open every door in the building. After he has gone you decide to try out this key. The first lock you tackle opens easily. So does the next, and the one after that. The next lock is a stiff one, but with a little effort you are able to make the key turn this lock, too. Then come two more locks that open smoothly, and you put the key back in your pocket, satisfied. "This really must be the master key", you say to yourself. "It will open anything!" But the next day you have a disappointment. You attempt to open another door, and nothing you can do will make the lock turn. So you decide to go all round the building trying every door. At the end you realise that you were satisfied too easily on the previous day. This key opens many of the locks, but not all. Some will only turn if you force them. And several won't move at all, no matter how hard you try. You must have been given the wrong key.
This little story is a parable, of course. The "locks" represent all the passages in the New Testament where the devil, or Satan, is mentioned. The "key" that happens to fit many of them is the belief that Satan is an angel who has rebelled against God, a "fallen angel" as he is often described.
But there are a number of "locks" that this particular key definitely will not fit. Here are a few of them:
1. There was a man in the church at Corinth who had committed fornication. The members of the church had been tolerating this wickedness, and Paul told them that they must now take action. He wrote:
"You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5). Now try the "fallen-angel key" on that "lock". Would Paul tell the church to hand over a sinful member to a fallen angel, to destroy his flesh? And would such an action be likely to lead to the sinner's spirit being "saved in the day of the Lord Jesus"? The rebellious-angel theory does not work for this verse. We need a different key.
2. Paul wrote about two other Christians who had sinned:
“Certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom / have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Timothy 1:19-20). There are two big difficulties here for those who believe that Satan is a supernatural being. First, why should Paul want to hand over these erring Christians to a wicked spirit? Would you want to do that to any member of your church, even if he was a sinner?
Secondly, would a fallen angel co-operate with Paul by teaching these Christians not to blaspheme? Surely a wicked spirit would try and help people to blaspheme, not to cure them of blasphemy! Obviously the fallen-angel key does not work here, either.
3. The church in a town called Pergamum was being persecuted. The Lord Jesus sent it a message of comfort, which included this statement: "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is" (Revelation 2:13). How could this be, if Satan is a fallen angel? Did an evil monster really sit on a throne, as king over the city of Pergamum? If so, then how did a Christian church ever become established there? Why didn't the Christians all run away from such a centre of evil?
The Key that Really Fits
Those three passages are not the only ones where the idea of Satan being a great evil spirit does not fit. We shall look at some more, shortly. But first we must try the other "key" on those three "locks", to see whether those passages make sense if we regard Satan as a parable of human wickedness.
"Delivering to Satan"
The first passage was 1 Corinthians 5:5, where Paul said about the fornicator, "Deliver this man to Satan". A few verses further on, Paul explained what he meant: "Drive out the wicked person from among you" (verse 13). The key fits! "Delivering to Satan" meant excommunication, or putting the sinner out of the church. He was sent back into the world where he came from, to the kingdom of wickedness, where "Satan" (that is, sinful human nature) reigns supreme. This drastic punishment was intended to bring him to his senses, to move him to repent, so that "his spirit may be saved".
This also explains 1 Timothy 1:20. Here Paul said he had delivered two sinful Christians to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. They, too, had evidently been excommunicated, because in 2 Timothy 2:16-17 Paul advised Timothy to avoid them. He must have hoped that in this case, too, the excommunicated Christians would repent, and thus "learn not to blaspheme".
Then we looked at Revelation 2:13, which said that Satan's throne was in the city of Pergamum. This makes sense when we realise that Pergamum was the capital city of a province of the Roman Empire. At that time the Roman governor was persecuting the Christians and putting some of them to death. By these dreadful deeds he showed himself to be a man full of the wickedness of human nature. Thus he earned the name "Satan", "The Enemy". And this wicked ruler's throne really was in the city of Pergamum.
Now we can understand another verse in the Book of Revelation: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested" (Revelation 2:10). Which "devil" threw the early Christians into prison? A fallen angel? Or the wicked Roman government? The answer is obvious.
We can also make sense of another puzzling verse now. People who believe in a superhuman devil think that he glides about the world silently and invisibly. Yet Peter wrote:
"Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Peter 5:8,9).
Look at the second sentence of that passage, with its reference to "suffering". Isn't it obvious that Peter was talking about the cruel rulers of the Roman Empire? These men savagely persecuted the Christians and threw them to the lions. That, no doubt, is why Peter likens them to a roaring lion. Paul, incidentally, used a similar expression about the Roman authorities. When he was delivered from death at their hands he said, "I was rescued from the lion's mouth" (2 Timothy 4:17).
So it begins to look as if there is no contradiction between the Old Testament and the New, after all. Already we have looked at five New Testament passages where the idea of a rebellious angel does not fit, but where the Old Testament teaching, that Satan is a name for sinful human nature, fits perfectly. And we have not finished yet, not by a long way.
More Problems Solved
With this key in our hands we can now solve many more problems.
For example, the Lord Jesus Christ once called Judas "a devil", and once he called Peter "Satan". He did not say they were possessed by the devil or Satan; he said that Judas actually was a devil, and addressed Peter himself as Satan (John 6:70-71; Matthew 16:23). What did the Lord mean? It is not difficult to grasp Christ's words when we remember that both these disciples were, at the time, working against him. Judas had begun a course of action that would lead him to betray his Master. And Peter was at that moment trying to persuade Jesus to escape from his duty. Thus both these men were acting sinfully when Jesus rebuked them. They each deserved to be labelled "human sinfulness" that is, "Satan, devil".
Another interesting passage occurs in the story of the unfaithful Christian, Ananias. This man decided to cheat the church, and to tell lies to the Apostle Peter. But Peter was able to expose Ananias' deceit, because he possessed the Holy Spirit. He said:
"Ananias, why has SATAN filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? ... How is it that YOU have contrived this deed in your heart?" (Acts 5:3-4).
Look closely at the two phrases in italics in that quotation. The first says that Satan was responsible for Ananias' sin, and the second says that Ananias himself was responsible. If Satan really was a fallen angel, then these two phrases would contradict each other.
But now that we have the right key, there is no contradiction and no difficulty. Since Satan is a symbol of human wickedness, those two phrases are just different ways of saying the same thing. Ananias was opposing God: he was behaving as God's enemy, as "The Enemy", Satan.
Chapter Five - How the Lord Jesus Conquered the Devil
Jesus had several great battles with Satan, and he won them all. In this chapter we shall look at these, and see who this devil that Jesus conquered really was.
The Temptations in the Wilderness
"Jesus, the Son of God ... in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning" (Hebrews 4:14-15).
The meaning of that passage is quite plain. Unlike us, Jesus always conquered temptation. He never sinned, not once. But in every other respect his temptations were exactly like ours. And yet the detailed accounts of his great temptations in the wilderness seem to show that these were very unlike ours. At least, they would have been unlike anything that we have experienced if the devil that tempted Jesus really was a fallen angel. Read the first eleven verses of Matthew 4 and see this for yourself. The devil took Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem, and tried to persuade him to throw himself down.
Then "the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, 'All these will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me'."
This account is full of difficulties for those who believe in a supernatural devil. Would the Son of God have been willing to go climbing up temples and mountains in company with a fallen angel? Would he have been likely to throw himself down because a wicked monster said so?
And where is there a mountain from which one can see "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them"? In any case, would a superhuman devil have been so stupid as to point to those kingdoms and say, "All these will I give you"? Jesus knew very well that the kingdoms of this world belong to God, and that no fallen angel could have the power to give them away. Three times in one chapter the Old Testament says that God rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He chooses (Daniel 4:17,25,32).
But as soon as we accept that the devil is our fallen human nature, all these problems vanish. As Canon Anthony Deane and Bishop Charles Gore admitted in their books (quoted in chapter 1 of this booklet), the story of the Lord's temptation is written in picture-language. It describes the fight that took place in Jesus Christ's own mind. It is a vivid account of the same sort of struggle that all human beings experience every day: a battle with the real Satan, ourselves.
Only with Jesus the battle was far more intense.
He had just been given the power of the Holy Spirit, power without limit. He knew that he could now do anything. He could imagine himself manufacturing food from the stones, jumping off the top of the temple and landing unharmed, conquering the whole world if he wanted.
Should he use his power to do these things? "The devil" (that is, Christ's own human instincts) suggested that it would be wonderful to do so. But he knew that his God-given power was meant to be used for the good of others, not for his own pleasure. So he suppressed these typically human desires, saying, "Begone, Satan!"
Now we can understand yet another passage that has always baffled those Bible students who believe in the fallen-angel Satan. In Mark 3:27 Jesus claimed that he had already "bound" Satan. Yet he certainly had not "bound" any supernatural Satan at that time.
What Jesus had done was to "bind" the "Satan" of human nature that was inside him. He did this every day, by conquering every temptation that came to him and thus living a sinless life.
How Jesus Destroyed the Devil
At the time of his temptation the Lord Jesus Christ defeated the devil. Throughout his mortal life he kept the devil "bound". And when he died he actually destroyed the devil. This verse, which was written about 30 years after he died, tells us so:
"Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death" (Hebrews 2:14, Today's English Version).
This passage is full of problems for those who believe in the fallen-angel devil. Look at the last statement in the verse first. The devil has the power of death. But we have already seen that God says nobody besides Himself can take away life. (Deuteronomy 32:39). And Jesus, long before he died, said that nobody could take his disciples' lives away from him (John 10:28).
This assures us that no person, apart from God Himself, ever had the power of death. It would therefore be almost blasphemous to suggest that a wicked, rebellious angel could have the power of death. Yet Hebrews 2:14 insists that the devil had that power.
This proves conclusively that the devil of this verse cannot possibly be a supernatural devil, or, indeed, a person of any sort.
Sin and Death
But now let us try the key that has already explained so many difficult passages. There is no person, besides God, who holds the power of death. But there is one thing that holds it: human sinfulness. Here are two verses that say so:
"The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
"Sin when it is full-grown brings forth death" (James 1:15).
Without any doubt, therefore, the
devil of Hebrews 2:14, the devil that had the power of death, was human
Now to return to the first sentence of the verse we were looking at, Hebrews 2:14. Notice how it says that, in order to destroy the devil, Jesus needed to "share our human nature". This statement presents another unanswerable question for those who believe in a supernatural devil. Why should Christ become human, if the thing he wanted to destroy was a mighty evil spirit? How could any human being hope to defeat such a monster?
Also, take note of this verse's teaching that Jesus died so as to destroy the devil. But what can a man destroy by dying, except his own human nature, or his own self? Now that we know the devil is human nature, actually is that evil thing we call "SELF", or selfishness, all is beautifully clear. Of course Jesus had to share our human nature. Otherwise, there would have been no "devil" inside him to be destroyed. Of course he had to die. Otherwise he would never have completely destroyed "self”.
The Power of Human Nature
With the right key in our hands everything in this verse fits together and makes perfect sense. Self, the human-nature devil, is too strong for you and me; it has the power of death over us; it destroys us. But the Lord Jesus Christ was the one and only human being who conquered every temptation that his human nature could hurl at him. And he went on doing so, right up to his dying breath.
The night before he died he admitted to his Father that his human nature dreaded dying on the cross. But he was determined to obey his Father, rather than his own human desires. He prayed: "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).
Had he done his own will and run away from the cross, the devil of human nature would have destroyed him. But he did no such thing. Instead, he did his Father's will. He went forward bravely to an agonising death. And thus he destroyed the devil.
Recap - What We Have Learned
Before going any further it might be as well to take stock. Let us think back over the earlier chapters and see where they brought us.
Chapter 1 explained that there have long been two points of view about the devil. Many have believed that it is a fallen angel; others have believed that the devil is the Bible's way of referring to human wickedness.
In chapter 2 we looked at every mention of Satan in the Hebrew Old Testament. (The word "devil" is not found in the English Old Testaments at all, though the Greek word diabolos does occur in the Greek Old Testament versions of Job 1 and Zechariah 3) Clearly the Old Testament Satan looks much more like a human-nature devil than a supernatural devil.
Chapter 3 began by giving some historical evidence about the belief of the ancient Jews. They regarded Satan as what you might call a parable of human sinfulness. Then it showed how the other view of Satan began among the ancient Persians. After this it quoted many Old Testament passages which make it impossible to believe in a fallen angel; these Scriptures clearly show that God and His obedient angels are the only spirit beings in the whole universe.
In chapters 4 and 5 we looked at a number of the New Testament passages where the devil or Satan are mentioned. It was clear that every one of these is very difficult to understand for those who believe in a superhuman devil. But they all make perfect sense if you hold the Old Testament doctrine, that Satan is human wickedness.
There was not enough space to look at every mention of the devil in the New Testament. Now that you have the key to the subject you can examine the others for yourself. You will find that they all fit in well with the doctrine of a human-nature devil.
The only two that might cause any great difficulty are Luke 10:18 and Revelation 12:1-10. These are dealt with in the Appendix at the end of this booklet. (So are four other difficult passages which have a bearing on this subject, although they do not mention the devil or Satan by name.)
Now we must go on to look at one of the most difficult questions in all the Bible. This is the problem of those unhappy people we read about in the Gospels, who were said to be "possessed with an evil spirit", or, "possessed with a demon".
Chapter Six - The Problem of Demon Possession
I have already admitted that the New Testament references to demons are not easy to understand. But let us be clear about one thing. This is not only a problem to those of us who believe in the human-nature devil. It is just as big a difficulty to those who believe in a supernatural devil.
The first three Gospels describe a number of incidents of which this is typical:
"A man from the crowd cried, 'Teacher, I beg you to look upon my son, for he is my only child; and behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him till he foams, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him ...' Jesus answered, '... Bring your son here.' While he was coming, the demon tore him and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy" (Luke 9:38-42).
Descriptions of Illness
This describes the curing of a very sick boy. Matthew's account of the same event (17:14-18) shows that the lad was suffering from the illness called epilepsy, or fits. All the other cases of demon possession in the New Testament involved people who were either epileptic, mad, deaf, dumb, blind, or paralysed. The killer diseases like leprosy and fever are never blamed on demon possession in the Bible.
If we assume that God intends us to take these stories of demon possession at their face value, we are left with three extremely difficult questions.
First, are we to assume that the Bible has been proved wrong by modern medical science? In the time of Christ most people (though not all) believed that certain illnesses were caused by demon possession. This is especially true of epilepsy, which was once called, "the sacred illness".
But nowadays doctors are aware that this is not so. They know the real cause of these diseases and they know how to treat them. Every year doctors successfully treat thousands of cases of epilepsy with drugs. But what people call "exorcism" (the attempt to cure diseases by casting out demons) is regarded in the medical profession as a bad joke. Doctors know that on the very, very rare occasions when exorcism seems to work, it is only a case of "mind over matter".
Consequently nearly all doctors are convinced that primitive people long ago were mistaken. Many of the ancient Greeks believed in demon possession, but nowadays we know that they were wrong: there is no such thing. Are we to believe that the inspired writers of the New Testament made the same mistake? Surely not.
The second question is equally worrying. The dictionary tells us that "demon" was a word the Greeks used to describe many of the false gods they worshipped. The apostle Paul, like all the other New Testament writers, wrote in Greek, and in the following two verses he used the word "demon" twice to mean a heathen god:
"What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).
If the cases of demon possession described in the Gospels were real, then it would seem that demons were real, until we pause to think what this would mean. As we have already seen, in Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word "demon" actually means "a god". So if (and it is a very big ‘if’) the early Greek-speaking Christians thought that demons were real, this would imply that they believed false gods were real, also.
The third point is that God Himself claims responsibility for deafness, dumbness and blindness - all complaints that are blamed on demons in the New Testament. He said to Moses:
"Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" (Exodus 4:11).
It is hard to believe that God would ever have said such a thing if it is really demons that make men dumb, or deaf, or blind.
For these three reasons a great many Bible-believing Christians refuse to believe that God wishes us to take the demon possession stories of the New Testament literally. Even those who believe in a supernatural devil often feel like this. Like the Christadelphians, they consider that there must be a better explanation of the New Testament's references to demons and unclean spirits.
Looking for a Better Explanation
One thing is quite certain. Not everybody in the Greek-speaking world at the time of Jesus believed in demon possession.
The most famous doctor that ever lived
was a Greek called Hippocrates. He lived in the fifth century before Christ,
and even after 2,400 years our own doctors still have a very great respect for
him. Some of his books have been preserved. One of these is a treatise on
epilepsy. In this he said that the popular belief in demon possession was not
true. Epilepsy must be treated by medical care, said Hippocrates, just like
every other disease.7
For about the next 600 years, until the second century after Christ, all the best educated Greek doctors were taught this.8 Some of this teaching must have filtered down to the common people, although how many of them believed it we do not know, because neither history nor the Bible tells us.
What the Bible does tell us is that the Jewish religious teachers called Pharisees believed in both a supernatural devil and demon possession. Matthew 12:27 shows that they even practised exorcism.
But this does not prove that demons were real. Far from it. The Pharisees were very frequently in the wrong, and in the end they helped to crucify the Lord Jesus Christ. On one occasion he said to them:
"For the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God" (Matthew 15:6).
The Pharisees' belief in demons may help to explain why there are so many references to demon possession in the Gospels. But we must always remember that many of the Pharisees' beliefs were mistaken.
It would be extremely interesting to know exactly what the writers of the New Testament believed about demons. Alas, they have not seen fit to tell us. All they have done is to drop a number of little hints, and then leave us to draw our own conclusions. It will be interesting to see what we can learn from those hints.
A Careful Look at the Gospels
The following verses from Matthew's Gospel have something very useful to tell us about demon possession, if we study them carefully.
"That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases'." (Matthew 8:16,17).
The words that Matthew quotes are taken from Isaiah, chapter 53. Both the Old Testament prophecy and its fulfilment in Jesus are in two parts, thus:
The Prophecy (Isaiah, quoted by Matthew)
1. He would take our infirmities
2. He would bear our diseases
The Fulfilment (reported by Matthew)
1. He cast out demons, or spirits
2. He healed the sick.
Matthew evidently regarded Isaiah's words as referring to two kinds of illnesses: (1) infirmity, and (2) disease. His own names for these were: (1) demon possession, and (2) sickness.
What Matthew called "demon possession", Isaiah called "infirmity". And Matthew himself says that the words in Isaiah and his own words are describing the same event.
It certainly looks as if, to Matthew,
the language of demon possession was just a way to describe a kind of illness.
Now look at this passage from another Gospel.
"There met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit... He (Jesus) had said to him, 'Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!'... And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea" (Mark 5:2-13).
Notice the words in italics. Mark begins by saying that the man was possessed by one spirit. Jesus thought so, too; he commanded that one spirit to come out of the man. But in fact, as the end of the story shows, the man had been possessed by a great many spirits.
If we try to take this story literally we are bound to end up in a hopeless tangle. Either there was one spirit, as Mark says at the start, and as the Lord Jesus also said, or there were lots of spirits, as Mark says at the end. How can we explain this contradiction, if we believe the spirits were real beings? Obviously, we cannot.
But if Mark was only using the expression, "possessed with an unclean spirit", as just another way of saying, "ill", there is no contradiction and no problem. In that case, "possessed with a whole legion [a lot] of spirits" would simply mean, "very, very ill".
Perhaps you think that this solves one problem, but creates an even bigger problem. You may find it hard to believe that the Gospel writers could speak about demon possession if they did not really believe in demons.
If you feel like that, then look at it this way. We use words only to convey ideas. It is the ideas that are important, not the words themselves. Often we use words in what looks like the wrong way, but this does not matter so long as we convey our meaning to the other person.
For an example of this, look back to page 8 of this booklet, where Venus was referred to as a star. If I had been writing a scientific paper, then that would have been a dreadful blunder. Venus is not a star, it is a planet, which is a very different thing.
But that did not matter. You grasped my meaning perfectly, despite the loose use of a word. It probably never occurred to you to say to yourself, "This poor fellow doesn't know the difference between a star and a planet." And if you had thought that, you would in fact have been wrong. The poor fellow knew very well that a star is not a planet, but it suited his purpose to ignore that fact.
Here is another example. Today lawyers generally refer to floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters as "Acts of God". But this does not mean that all lawyers believe in God! They are merely using a convenient phrase that most people understand, even though some may be misled by it.
Similarly, it is likely that many Jews spoke of demon possession without actually believing in the existence of demons. Speaking of demons was a vivid piece of picture-language to describe some very nasty types of illness. All Jews loved to speak in parables, and this way of describing sickness would have sounded much more natural to them than it does to us.
Two Ways of Saying It
Now for some more evidence to support this point of view. Consider the following account of a miracle: "A man came up to him [Jesus] and kneeling before him said, 'Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him '." (Matthew 17:14-16).
Matthew's plain words give us a very clear picture. The boy was ill and needed healing. But then Matthew goes on to say: "And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly" (verse 18). This really is a surprise ending. What started as a simple story of an illness turns out to be a tale of demon possession in the finish.
Demons and Illnesses
How can we understand this apparent confusion on Matthew's part? There seems to be only one reasonable explanation. Matthew knew that mysterious illnesses (such as the epilepsy from which this boy suffered) and "demon possession" were really one and the same thing. So it was a natural thing for him to slip from one form of language to the other.
Matthew does much the same thing in another chapter: "Then a blind and dumb demoniac [the word means 'person possessed with a demon'] was brought to him, and he healed him" (Matthew 12:22).
So does Luke: "In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits" (Luke 7:21).
The normal words that go with "demons" and "evil spirits" are "cast out", while the words "cured" and "healed" go with "illnesses". But here the two separate ideas are interwoven. Matthew tells of a demoniac who was healed, and Luke tells of people who were cured of evil spirits. Once more the Gospel writers are giving us some clues as to what their real beliefs must have been. Evidently to them demon possession was only another name for illness.
Why Did They Do It?
One last question remains. Why did Jesus and his apostles describe illness in this strange way, when it would have been a lot simpler just to call it illness? Unfortunately we have no way of answering this question without guessing. We really do not know why, because God has not seen fit to tell us.
As a matter of fact the Lord Jesus did many things that we cannot explain. Once, when he needed a certain sum of money, he sent Peter to the lake to catch a fish, and a coin of just the right size was found in that fish's mouth (Matthew 17:27). Why did Jesus choose that extraordinary way to obtain money? We do not know.
Rebuking the Wind and Waves
When he calmed a storm on the lake he actually talked to it. He "rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!'" (Mark 4:39). Similarly, when he cured one woman of a serious illness, he "rebuked the fever, and it left her". Why did Jesus talk to the wind, the sea and the fever? Were they alive and able to hear what he said? Obviously not. We cannot tell why Jesus chose to talk like that to the storm and the fever. But, whatever the reason, we can be sure that it was not because the wind and the water and the fever were living beings.
It is like that with demon possession. We do not know why Jesus and his disciples sometimes spoke as if demons were real. But, whatever the reason, we can be sure that it was not because demons were living beings.
As we have seen, the Bible provides plenty of evidence that there are no fallen angels, and no spirit beings in rebellion against God. Nothing can alter that fact, even though we may not understand the reason for the use of "demon language" in the New Testament.
Chapter Seven - Where Sin Really Comes From
So far the message of this booklet has been rather negative. That has been unavoidable. Because so many people believe that the devil is a fallen angel it was necessary to begin by showing that this is not taught in the Bible. This chapter will be more positive. Now it is time to show what the Bible really does teach about the origin of sin. In other words, the previous chapters have shown what the devil is not; this chapter will show what the devil really is.
As we have seen, the writers of the Bible often used Satan as a parable of human sin. But they did not always speak in parables. Sometimes they spoke in very plain language about the source of sin. Here are four examples: "The heart [that is, "human nature", as we call it today] is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
"Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man" (Matthew 15:19-20).
"Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin" (James 1:13-15).
"What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill" (James 4:1,2).
The message of these four Bible quotations is painfully clear. God says to us, in effect: don't blame somebody else when you sin. Don't blame a supernatural devil, or any other being. Blame yourself. That is where temptation and sin come from - from right inside your own heart.
Paul's Teaching in Romans
If you still have any doubt about this, take a Bible and read straight through the first eight chapters of Paul's Letter to the Romans. Here we have a wonderful account of the truth about sin and death, salvation and everlasting life. It is quite the most detailed explanation of these things in the whole Bible. Yet in all these eight chapters there is not one mention of the devil or of Satan.
Those who believe in a supernatural devil are baffled by this fact. If a fallen angel is the real cause of human sin, how could Paul write such a detailed explanation of sin and its origin without even mentioning this evil spirit? They cannot answer this question. One thing must be perfectly clear to anyone who reads Romans with an open mind: Paul did not believe that a fallen angel was responsible for the sinfulness of the human race.
In Chapter 1 he describes the wickedness of mankind. But he does not blame this on some Satanic being, instead Paul puts it down to "the lusts of their [men's] hearts" (verse 24). Similarly, in Chapter 2, he tells his readers that their sin comes from "your hard and impenitent heart" (verse 5). Then in Chapter 3 he blames "our wickedness" (verse 5). He makes it clear that we have no excuse for this (verse 19). We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Chapter 5 is the plainest chapter of all. This explains how sin and death came into the world. It was not through a wicked spirit, but:
"Sin came into the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (verse 12).
In Chapter 6 Paul explains that a Christian must think of himself as a "slave of righteousness" (verse 18). Before we become true Christians we are slaves of another master. Who is this other master? If Paul had believed in a superhuman devil, he would surely have said, "You were once slaves of the devil." But he said no such thing.
These are Paul’s words:
"Let not SIN therefore reign in your mortal bodies ... Do not yield your members to SIN ... You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of SIN, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness ... You were slaves of SIN ... But now that you have been set free from SIN and have become slaves of God ..." (verses 12,13,16,20,22).
Sin. Plain human wickedness. That is our real enemy, and, unless we follow the Lord Jesus, sin is our evil master. So there is no point in looking outside ourselves, for an imaginary evil-spirit enemy. We must look inside ourselves, where the real enemy is. This is Paul's teaching in Chapters 7 and 8 also:
"I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members [another name for his own human nature] another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members" (Romans 7:22,23).
“If you live according to the flesh [‘the flesh’ is yet another name for sinful human nature] you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live" (Romans 8:13).
Why Is the Bible Hard to Understand?
This is a big problem to many people. God wants people to understand the Bible. Why, then, does He not make it so plain that everybody who reads it draws the same conclusions? Why do some passages speak of Satan in such a way that many people sincerely, but mistakenly, think Satan is a fallen angel?
Before we tackle this question, one thing needs to be understood. This sort of problem arises in connection with other doctrines besides that of the devil.
Many people misunderstand a number of important Bible teachings. For example many people believe that the soul is immortal, although the Bible teaches the opposite. [If you have any doubts about this, write to the address on the back cover for a free booklet about life after death].
The disciples of Jesus were worried about a similar problem: "Why do you speak to them [the unbelieving masses] in parables?" they asked their Master. He replied:
"To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand ... But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear" (Matthew 13:10-16).
Anybody who wished could become a disciple. But it meant hard work. The disciples stayed with Jesus long after the crowds had gone home for their suppers.
They found his teaching hard to understand. But they kept on studying with the Master, and eventually they found that they could see what he really meant. To use his phrase, they developed eyes that could see and ears that could hear. The masses were not so diligent. They came when they felt like it; they heard a few things, and then drifted away. The result was that they completely failed to understand the Lord's teaching. In his words,
"Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear."
It is much the same today. To understand the Bible one needs to work at it. But it is well worth the effort. This is why every faithful member of the Christadelphians tries to read at least a chapter or two every day. If we only look at the Bible once in a while - say, on Sundays, or whenever we go to a church service - we cannot expect to understand it properly.
The men who wrote the Bible were nearly all Hebrews (or, as we would call them nowadays, Jews). Most of them wrote in the Hebrew language, and the others thought in a Hebrew way. Even after it has been translated into our own language, we can still recognise the Hebrew way of speaking in our Bible. The Hebrews loved parables. In one form or another, parable-language is found on practically every page of the Bible. Unless we realise this we shall often be led astray.
For instance, in Matthew 6:24 Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and Mammon." You might think from this that Mammon was the name of a heathen idol, which some men worshipped instead of worshipping God. But you would be mistaken. "Mammon" was just a Jewish word meaning "money". In these few words Jesus gave us a kind of parable. It was as if he had said, "Money is an idol to many people. Instead of worshipping my Father, they worship the great god Money. Let them beware!" His Hebrew listeners were in no danger of believing that there really was a wicked spirit called Mammon, even though modern readers could easily misunderstand Jesus if they were not careful.
Some parables run right through the Bible, from one book to another. One of these is the Parable of God and His Wife. In this, the nation of Israel (in the Old Testament) or the Christian church (in the New Testament) is likened to a woman whose husband is God or Christ.
So the parable we have been studying in this booklet is not unique. The Parable of God and His Enemy (Satan, or wicked human nature) occurs in about the same number of Bible books, and is mentioned about the same number of times, as the Parable of God and His Wife.
A careful Bible reader will not take either of these parables literally. He will not imagine that God's "wife" is a woman, even though she is given female names like, "Aholah", and "Hephzibah". He will not assume that God's "enemy" is a fallen angel, even though he is given the ugly name, "Satan". And, since every parable is meant to teach us something, he will look for the important lesson in this great parable of God and His Enemy.
Bringing Good out of Bad
As a first step towards grasping this lesson, we must note that God has a wonderful way of bringing something good out of a human disaster.
Jesus Christ was the King of the Jews. But they did not recognise him. The Jews murdered their King.
Was this a tragedy, or a good thing? It was both. Any murder is a terrible event, but this murder was different from any other tragedy. God used it to provide a Sacrifice for the sins of the world. In much the same way, God can even use a false statement as a foundation for a true one! If you find this hard to believe, consider the story told by Jesus that we call the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:12-27).
In this parable a nobleman (Jesus) gave ten servants a pound each, and told them to trade for him while he was away. Some did so, but one was lazy and did not. This was his excuse:
"Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow" (Luke 19:20,21).
In these words the lazy servant slandered his master. The Lord Jesus is not "a severe man"; he does not "take up what he does not lay down", or "reap what he does not sow". But the Lord did not deny the slander. He replied: "I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?" (Luke 19:22-23). We can learn a great deal from the Lord's answer. His opening words, "I will condemn you out of your own mouth", are very significant. This is another way of saying, "I will accept what you say (even though it isn't true) and use it to show how wrongly you have behaved".
The same principle is used several times in the Lord's dealings with men. It applies especially to the New Testament doctrine of the devil. The Pharisees had taken the Old Testament name of Satan, and had corrupted it by applying it to the heathen doctrine of a "devil", a god of evil. Jesus did not correct their error. Although the Pharisees were using the word "devil" as part of their false teaching, Jesus was able to make good use of the word in his own teaching. But it is clear that he used it in a different way. By taking up the Pharisees' word, devil, and using it as a parable of human sinfulness, just as the Old Testament had done with the word Satan, Jesus made his own teaching more effective. It was another application of the method he used in his Parable of the Pounds: "I will condemn you out of your own mouth."
Learning a Hard Lesson
His skilful teaching can help us today, if we will let it. The Bible picture of the devil is horrible. When we first read of this evil creature called Satan we are revolted by it. Then, if we read our Bibles very carefully, light dawns upon us. "Ugh, that dreadful thing is a parable of human nature. That's what I, myself, must be like inside!"
Without this wonderful parable to help us, it would be extremely hard for us to realise in our hearts just how wicked we are. This hideous picture of our natural selves as God's Enemy, Satan, is God's way of bringing home the truth to us with shattering force. If that does not teach us humility and the need for salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, then surely nothing else will.
Chapter Eight - Conclusions
It will be useful to look back and see what we have learnt.
First of all, we saw that the doctrine of a fallen-angel devil is not taught in the Old Testament. In Old Testament times the Jews did not believe in a supernatural devil. The Persians invented this belief (or something very close to it), and at first the Jews all rejected it. But by the time of Jesus Christ many Jews had come to believe that the devil was a rebellious angel. Among them were those enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees. The writers of the New Testament, however, dropped many hints that they did not believe this Persian doctrine. To them, and to the Lord Jesus, "Satan, the devil" was a parable of wicked human nature. In short, in the whole Bible there is nothing that clearly teaches the doctrine of a superhuman Satan, and there is very much that contradicts it.
This conclusion leads to an interesting question. If the idea of a supernatural devil is not part of Bible teaching, why is it such a popular doctrine? Millions of people cling very strongly to their belief in this devil, and talking to them you sometimes get the impression that they actually enjoy believing in him. Why? Some people even go so far as to worship Satan. In fact, devil worship is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world today. Again: why is this?
There is a very simple answer to these questions. This may not be the only reason for the popularity of this false belief, but it undoubtedly is an important one: human beings always have tried to shift the blame for their sins. When the very first man was caught committing the world's first sin, he said to God: "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12). But the woman would not accept the blame, either. She defended herself: "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate" Genesis 3:14). Both these early sinners used the same excuse, "I wasn't altogether to blame, because somebody else tempted me!" All men and women are the children of this first sinful pair. Down through the ages, millions of us have echoed their excuses. "Please don't altogether blame me, Lord, remember the evil being who tempted me!"
It is comforting to defend ourselves like that. It is a reassuring thought that there is always at least one creature who is much more wicked than oneself. These are pleasant beliefs to hold. And that is why there have always been millions of people holding them. But they are false comfort. The Bible shows that there is no supernatural being who tempts us. God sees only one person to blame for our sins: ourselves. This is the real devil, your own inner self. Face up to him, and with Christ's help defeat him, and you will be on the road to everlasting life.
Appendix - Some Problem Passages
1. Satan's Fall from Heaven
There is not a single place where the Bible says that Satan is a wicked angel who was expelled from heaven. Nevertheless there are two New Testament passages that do speak of Satan falling from heaven. We must now look at these, to see how they fit into the Bible's use of Satan as a parable of human wickedness.
The first occurs in Luke 10:18, where the Lord Jesus Christ said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven". What did he mean by that?
It is not possible to answer that question correctly without first answering two other questions. When did Jesus say it? And to whom was he speaking?
It might be a good idea to turn up the
tenth chapter of Luke and read it for yourself. Then you will see that this was
the first thing he said to his seventy disciples when they returned from their
first preaching tour, full of excitement. He had sent them out to do two
things: to heal the sick, and to preach the gospel (verse 9). They came back
rejoicing, and saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your
name!" As we saw in Chapter 6, this was just their way of saying,
"Lord, you were right. We have been able to cure even the most horrible
kinds of illness!" Jesus replied that he saw Satan fall from heaven. Obviously
he was referring to what the disciples had just said, not
to something that had happened thousands of years before. It was evidently when
the seventy "cast out demons" (that is, cured illnesses) that Jesus
"saw Satan fall from heaven".
It is not difficult to see what Jesus probably meant. Illness and death are the consequences of human sinfulness. The big problem was therefore to overcome sin. After that, the conquest of illness was relatively easy. So there could have been no miracles of healing until Jesus had shown that he could conquer human sin in his own life (see Chapter 5). In other words, when the disciples "cast out demons" (healed the sick) this was proof to the world that "Satan" (human sinfulness) was being defeated, for the first time in history. In poetical language, Satan was falling like lightning from heaven.
2. The Great Red Dragon
The other reference to Satan falling from heaven is this:
"And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems [crowns] upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth ... Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, 'Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come'." (Revelation 12:3-10).
This is a difficult passage to understand. But one thing is very clear. It does not teach that Satan is a wicked angel who rebelled against God and was expelled from heaven, thousands of years ago. There are three reasons why we may be quite sure of this.
First, the Book of Revelation is a book of visions. These visions are written in picture-language: they are like vivid and unearthly parables. They all have a meaning, but we can only get at that meaning by interpreting the pictures. This dragon called Satan represents something. So do all the other features of this parable-vision his seven heads with crowns on, his ten horns, his tail catching hold of the stars, his angels, heaven all these represent something. It would be foolish to try and understand this vision as a literal story. Who ever heard of a fallen angel with seven heads and ten horns.
Secondly, the Book of Revelation is not a history book. Its very first sentence says that it was given to show us "what must soon take place". It tells us about the future, not the past.
Thirdly, look at the last sentence of the passage quoted above. It says that, as a consequence of the dragon's downfall, people will rejoice because God's kingdom has come. This confirms that the event described in this vision must be still future, since we know that God's kingdom has not come yet - that is why God's children still pray to Him, "Thy kingdom come".
Thus we may not be able to say exactly what the devil-dragon of Revelation 12 represents. But at least we know that he represents a power (some kind of human power) that will soon be destroyed to make way for the worldwide kingdom of God. We may be sure that it is a human power, because savage animals are always used in Bible prophecy to represent armies and kingdoms (see Daniel 7:17, for instance) and are never used to represent supernatural powers.
3. Test the Spirits
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God" (1 John 4:1-3).
Some people quote this passage as evidence that there are two kinds of spirit beings: "spirits of God" (angels), and "spirits not of God" (evil spirits). But this is obviously not what this passage means. The end of the first sentence shows that "spirits not of God" are actually false prophets.
Then why does John call these men "spirits"? Simply because they were claiming to be prophets. True prophets spoke by inspiration of the Spirit of God (see 2 Peter 1:21) and false prophets claimed to speak by inspiration of the Spirit.
Various miraculous powers, or
"gifts" as the New Testament calls them, were given to some Christians
in the first century. Paul indicated that one of these gifts was the ability to
tell which men were true prophets and which were false prophets. He called it
"the ability to distinguish between spirits" (1 Corinthians 12:10).
[This subject is dealt with in depth in the booklet, The Gifts of the Spirit,
available from the address on the back cover].
So "test the spirits" means this: When a man comes to you and claims to speak by inspiration of God's Spirit, don't just accept his claim. Examine him carefully, to see whether he really is speaking by the miraculous power of God's Spirit, or whether he is just an impostor, a false prophet.
4. Spirits in Prison
"For Christ also died for sins ... being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; by which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:18-20).
The words printed in italics are sometimes quoted on their own, by people who believe that the spirits in prison are demons who have been locked up by God, and that Christ once went and preached to them. But by reading the whole sentence we can easily see that this is not what the verse says. It says that the spirits in prison were those who did not obey in the time of Noah. That is, they were the wicked men and women who were drowned in the Flood.
Why are they called spirits? We have just seen in the previous section that people who possess, or claim to possess, the Spirit of God, are called spirits. God said of the people of Noah's day, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh" (Genesis 6:3). This is probably Peter's reason for calling these people spirits.
How could Christ be said to have preached to the wicked people of Noah's day? Only in the sense in which Peter had already used a similar expression, two chapters earlier. He said that the Spirit of Christ was within the prophets of old, who predicted the coming of Christ long before it took place (1 Peter 1:10).
Noah seems to have been a prophet. In another chapter Peter calls Noah "a herald [preacher] of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5). So it seems that, in Peter's own language, the Spirit of Christ must have been in Noah when he preached the way of salvation to his neighbours.
This idea fits in well with the passage in question, which does not say that Christ preached to these people personally. It says he preached to them "by the spirit". (The actual words, as quoted above, are "... the spirit, by which he went and preached ...") There is an interesting parallel in 1 Corinthians 5:3 and 4, where Paul speaks of his written message as himself "present in spirit", and as "my spirit".
5. The Angels that Sinned
Here are two related passages which are best studied together:
"For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment..." (2 Peter 2:4).
"The angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by Him [God] in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6).
Those who believe that the devil and demons are rebel angels often quote these two verses to justify their views. But a thoughtful look at both passages shows that they do not support such ideas. These angels that Peter and Jude mention, whoever they may be, are not free to tempt men or possess their bodies. They are safely chained up until the Day of Judgment.
5A. [original text in first edition]
In fact they are not "angels" in the usual sense of the word, at all. They are sinful men. There are three good reasons for saying this.
To begin with, the Bible tells us plainly that the angels always do God's will; they can neither sin nor die" (Matthew 6:10; 18:10; Luke 20:36).
Also, the term "angel" is sometimes applied to ordinary men, when they are given work to do for God. In such places the Hebrew and Greek words for "angel" are translated "messenger" in the English Bible. (For examples of this, see Malachi 3:1 and Matthew 11:10, where John the Baptist is called an "angel" in both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Bible.)
If any doubt remains, turn up 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 in your own Bible and read a few verses before and after them. In both cases these sinful "angels" are mentioned in a list of sinful men and women mentioned in the Old Testament. Peter introduces his list by saying that "false prophets also arose among the people" (2 Peter 2:1).
Who were these angels, or messengers, that sinned? We cannot be certain, but Peter and Jude were probably referring to the Jewish leaders Korah, Dathan and Abiram. (Korah is mentioned by name in verse 11 of Jude.) These men rebelled against God, and the earth opened and swallowed them up; in other words, they were "cast into hell". [In the Bible several different Hebrew and Greek words are translated "hell". This one means "a place of darkness under the earth". Hell is not a place of torture. Write to the address on the back cover if you would like a free booklet explaining what the Bible really teaches about hell.]
5B [new text used in reprint edition]
The historical background to these verses is complex, and to understand it fully demand some knowledge of a Jewish myths popular in Peter and Jude’s day. There was a mythical story about 200 angels who fell from heaven to the earth shortly before the flood and married with human woman.
But, first, what is more important
than the details of the myth are what is said above: Peter and Judas said the
angel is "the eternal chains". Therefore, even if the story was true,
which it is not, such angels are no threat to men and women and cannot be used
to prove the existence of the devil. In fact these verses are no evidence for
the devil. Note that the original text of 2 Peter uses "if”, which is a
supposition to state: "Even if angels sinned, then God has locked them
away... ... therefore even if this Jewish myth is true there is nothing to fear”.
Such a hypothetical argument is no evidence for fallen angels. In fact the context shows that Peter and Jude do not believe this myth:
2Pe.2:1-2 warns of false teachers in the church.
2Pe.2:3 introduces the angels that sinned story as “deceptive words”
2Pe.2:10 says that the false teachers “slander heavenly beings”
2Pe.2:12 says that the false teachers “slander what they do not understand”
Now if Peter says that the false teachers are spreading “deceptive words” and “slandering” heavenly beings, then that means that the accusations they made against heavenly beings were lies.
Logically if the false teachers said angels sinned, and Peter says that is “slander”, then that is solid proof that angels do not sin.
This myth about the 200 angels was very popular among Jews of Peter and Jude’s day, but just because many Jews believed it does not make it true. Paul in Titus 1:14 warns Titus to “avoid Jewish myths”. It appears that Christ had also heard this myth about angels, “sons of God”, marrying and sinning, because in Luke 20:35-36 and Mark 12:25 Jesus condemns this story. Jesus says that in the resurrection men and women will not marry because they will be sons of God, equal to the angels, and angels do not marry. If Jesus says that angels do not marry, that supports Peter’s view that the people who promoted this story were “slandering heavenly beings”. Finally Hebrews 1:14 shows that all angels are ministering servants, not some angels - so the author of Hebrews denies this myth too.
[A more detailed analysis of this
Jewish myth and Peter and Jude’s opposition to it can be found in a
6. Spiritual Hosts of Wickedness
"Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11,12).
The first thing to notice about this passage is that it is written in parable-language. In fact, the whole section of Ephesians in which it occurs (chapter 6, verses 10 to 17) is a kind of parable. In it the Christian is likened to a soldier, wearing armour and carrying weapons.
His "breastplate" is righteousness, and his "girdle" is truth. His "shoes" represent the equipment of the gospel, his "shield" is faith, his "helmet" salvation, and his "sword" the Word of God. To remind his readers that the Christian's enemies in this parable are not actual soldiers, Paul says that "we are not contending against flesh and blood". He then names the enemies: (1) principalities, powers and world rulers; (2) spiritual hosts of wickedness.
It helps us to see what these two kinds of enemies were if we look at Paul's other warning to the Ephesians. We read in the Acts of the Apostles how Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus to beware of two dangers: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock ... After my departure (1) fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and (2) from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30).
Danger No. 1, "fierce wolves", was obviously that of persecution from outside the church. (Compare Matthew 10:16-18, which also speaks of persecutors as wolves attacking Christ's sheep.) Danger No. 2 was that of false teachers inside the church.
A close study of the passage in Ephesians shows that Paul still has the same two groups of enemies in mind. "Principalities, powers and world rulers of this present darkness" appears to be one of Paul's names for the Roman rulers who persecuted the early Christians. He actually uses the same two Greek words, "principalities and powers", of the rulers of the Roman Empire in Titus 3:1, where they are translated, "rulers and authorities".
The second enemy is "the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places". This is a difficult phrase, but in all probability it does in fact refer to the second enemy of Acts 20: false teachers inside the church. We can see that this is so by considering the expression a word at a time. "The heavenly places" is a translation of a Greek word that does not mean literally, "heaven". It is a figurative expression that Paul used several times. It nearly always means "positions of high honour". In Ephesians 1:3 it refers to the great honour of belonging to the Christian church in this present world. That is what it can be taken to mean here in Ephesians 6:12, also. But who were these "spiritual hosts of wickedness" in the early church? First note that the expression "of wickedness" is just a Hebrew way of saying "wicked". The phrase "men of worthlessness" is often used in the Hebrew Old Testament, and it always means "worthless men". In Deuteronomy 13:13 it is used to describe men who say, "Let us go and serve other gods", and Paul may have had this verse in mind when he wrote Ephesians 6:12. "Spiritual hosts" is a loose translation of one Greek word, the word "spirituals". This word was evidently used in the early church to refer to Christians who could prophesy by the Holy Spirit, or, at least, who claimed that they could do so. The word is used in this way in 1 Corinthians 14:37. So we see that, in the language used by Paul and his readers, "spirituals of wickedness in the heavenly places" evidently meant, "false prophets in the church". And this is exactly what the parallel passage in Acts 20 led us to expect.
1. The Hierarchy of Hell (Robert Hale, London, 1972), page 91.
2. Jesus Christ (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1927), Chapter 1, Section V.
3. Jesus of Nazareth (Thornton Butterworth, London, 1929), Chapter 2, page 47.
4. Satan Wants You (Hart Davis, London, 1971), page 28.
5. Article, "Satan", in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge (Behrman, New York, 1934), page 492.
6. Dictionary of Judaism (Shapiro Valentine, London, 1959), page 67.
7. Cited by I. Asimov, in Guide to Science (Basic Books, New York, 1972), Volume 2, Chapter 4.
8. Articles "Hippocrates", and "Galen", in The Penguin Medical Encyclopedia (Penguin Books, London, 1972).
Other Related Pamphlets Published by the CBM:
Bible Teaching about Voodoo, Sorcery and Spirit Religions
Living the Truth
Preaching the Truth
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Sabbath War and Politics: The Christian Duty
The Christadelphian Bible Mission also publishes a range of concise leaflets on
Bible teaching, and a number of correspondence courses. There is also material
in other languages than English. Details will gladly be sent on request.