A Plea for Christadelphians to Test Their Tradition
by Tony Cox
The Christadelphian Faith seems very much a family religion. It is divided into numerous different sects and exclusive Fellowship groupings, yet there is probably one common characteristic they all share; most Christadelphians seem to have been born into their particular Christadelphian sect, and/or have married into it.
Consequently, many Christadelphians may have subconsciously accepted their faith, not primarily on the basis of the Biblical evidence, but on that of preserving their family tradition and honour. This study is aimed at getting thinking Christadelphians to look again at the Biblical evidence, to reconsider whether any doctrine of the devil should be regarded a theological foundation. It includes a necessary brief analysis of how the Old Testament approaches the problem of evil, via the use of Hebrew idioms.
The Christadelphian View of the Devil
For Christadelphians ‘the devil’ is not a person but a personification of the inclination to commit sin, which is now resident within all mortal human nature, since the Fall of Adam.
It is important to understand that most of the Old Testament quotations which are cited in the New Testament, come not from the Hebrew version of the Old Testament, but from the Greek version, known as the Septuagint (LXX). This fact is important because the Greek Septuagint translates references to ‘the Satan’ (Heb. ha-satan), as ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos) in Job 1:6, 7, 8, 9, 12; 2:1, 2, 3,4, 6,7; and Zechariah 3:1-2:
‘And it came to pass on a day, that behold, the angels of God came to stand before the Lord, and the devil came with them.‘ (Job 1:6 LXX);
‘And the Lord shewed me Jesus (Heb. Joshua) the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and the Devil stood on his right hand to resist him. And the (angel of the) Lord said to the Devil, ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Devil..‘ (Zechariah 3:1-2 LXX)
In these Septuagint passages, the original Hebrew title ‘the Satan’ (meaning ‘the Accuser’ or ‘The Enemy’) is rendered in the Greek ‘ho diabolos’ (‘the devil’). It literally means ‘the Accuser’ or ‘the False Accuser’/ ‘the Slanderer’. This explains why, in the New Testament, the titles ‘’the devil’ (Gk. ho diabolos) and ‘the satan’ (Gk. ho satanas; Heb. ha-satan) are synonymous. A comparison of ‘the devil’ in Luke 8:12, who equals ‘the Satan’ in Mark 4:15, who equals ‘the Evil One’ in Matthew 13:19, demonstrates this. Similarly, the narratives concerning Christ’s testing in the wilderness reveals that ‘the Satan’ of Mark 1:13, is ‘the devil’ of Luke 4:2, who is ‘the Tester/Tempter’ of Matthew 4:3.
The Septuagint passages of Job and Zechariah may also explain why the titles ‘the devil’ and ‘the Satan’ cited in the New Testament, are frequently associated with external supernatural angelic beings, who can come and go at will. Compare for instance Jude 9, where ‘the devil’ can openly converse with the Archangel Michael; 2 Corinthians 11:14, where ‘the Satan’ can ‘outwardly disguise’(Gk. metaschematizetai, to outwardly transform/disguise) himself as ‘an Angel of light.’ This implies, as explicitly stated in Qumran Scroll 1 QS 2:5 ff, that ‘the Satan’ (Belial: an alternative Jewish name for ‘the Satan’) is in reality an Angel of Darkness.
More examples are found in Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 12:7, where ‘an angel of Satan’ (NAB, Wycliffe, Phillips) afflicts the apostle Paul; Matthew 4:11, where the devil left Jesus, and Angels (of God) ministered to Him); Matthew25:41, which mentions the means of eventual destruction for the devil and his angels; Luke 4:13, where the devil is said to leave Jesus alone, until another opportune time; Mark 1:13, where Jesus was helped by Angels (of God), whilst being tested by ‘the Satan’; and Revelation 12:7-9, where ‘the Satan’ is accompanied by his angels.
An Angel of Evil?
These passages indicate that ‘the devil’ (‘the Satan’) can at least be conceptualized as a ‘functional angel of evil.’ That he is an angel who can be used by God, as His agent, for tasks such as the moral testing and discipline, as well as the punishment, of sinners (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20).
Indeed, this Angelic conception of the devil was the common view within Judaism during the time of Christ. The Dead Sea Scrolls, from the Essene community at Qumran, commonly referred to the Angelic being known as ‘the Satan’ as Belial who is ‘the Satan’. (‘Beliar’ is a variant spelling of ‘Belial’, as found in 2 Corinthians 6:15, where Paul contrasts Christ with Belial (NIV, NASB). Belial or ‘the Satan’ was considered to be ‘the Angel of Darkness’, who ruled over sinners, described as ‘the children of perversion’ (see Qumran Scroll 1 QS 2:5 ff).
This description of the Angelic Satan chimes with Paul’s view that ‘the Satan’ can disguise himself as ‘an Angel of Light’. This presupposes that ‘the Satan’ is in fact ‘an Angel of Darkness’ who deceives sinners. Belial is described as the counsellor of the wicked (Qumran Scroll 1 QH 14:21; compare with John 13:2, where ‘the devil’ suggested an idea to Judas). Belial in the Qumran Scrolls, can find refuge in one’s heart (1 QS 10:21; compare this with John 13:27, where ‘the Satan’ is said to enter Judas). Belial can also work through a person’s inclination to commit evil (1 QH 15:3; compare this with Acts 5:3, where ‘the Satan’ was allowed by Ananias to worked in, and through, his inclination to deceive the Apostles).
The Qumran Scrolls also describe this present Age as the time of Belial’s dominion, where he is allowed by God’s overall ruling supremacy, to temporarily have a power over sinners, and sinful human institutions (compare Luke 4:6; Acts 26:18; Revelation 13:5 with Qumran Scrolls 1 QM 14:9; 1 QS 1:18, 23-24, and 2:19).
In the book of Job, ‘the Satan’ (‘the devil’, in the Gk. version of Job) appears to be an Angelic being in the divine council, who exhibits an over enthusiasm for divine justice, at the expense of any notion of divine love. ‘The Satan’ acts as a prosecuting attorney, and seeks to bring a criminal charge against Job (Job 1:11).To achieve this end, ‘the Satan’ is allowed by God to attempt to incite Job into the sin of blasphemy(Job 1:2:4; 9). Consequently, ‘the Satan’ also acts as an agent provocateur, attempting to encourage Job to misuse his free will, and commit sin.
‘The Satan’ also seems to have a delegated power to inflict death (Job 2:6), and so he has to be restrained by God from actually killing Job. This concept of ‘the Satan’ as an Angel of God’s ‘strict justice’, also appears regularly in the Jewish Talmud, where ‘the Satan’ and the Archangel Michael are often seen as being engaged in legal disputes(e.g. b.T. Berak 46(a); b.T. Yoma 20(a)). Something similar also seems to happen in Jude 9, where ‘the devil’ is actually treated with some degree of courtesy by the archangel Michael, on the grounds of his being a fellow attorney (barrister). In 1 Peter 5:8, ‘the Satan’ as ho antidikos (‘the opponent in a lawsuit’) seems to act as a legal adversary/opponent against Christians, just as he did with Job. He seeks to oppose them, using the instrumentality of the Roman judicial system (compare Revelation 2:9-10).
The Cross Changes Everything
However, Christ’s redeeming death on the cross, has brought sinners justification, reconciliation, and salvation from the wrath of God (Romans 5:8, 9). The Angelic Satan, therefore, no longer has any legal grounds for a prosecution against repentant sinners (Revelation 12:10; Romans 8:1). They are now in a state of ‘justification’ before God, and are thus rescued from any penalty of eternal death (Romans 8:30-39; Revelation 20:6).
‘The Satan’s’ role, therefore, as a prosecuting Angel in the divine council (Job 1:6; 2:1), who seeks a legal charge against God’s elect, and a penalty of eternal death, is now rendered totally redundant. And this is exactly what we find in Hebrews 2:14, where the Greek word katargeo primarily means ‘to leave unemployed’. Hebrews 2:14 should perhaps be better translated as: “through His (atoning) death, He (Jesus) rendered unemployed him who had the (temporary, delegated legal) power of death, that is, the devil (‘the Satan’).”
‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7) also fits in with the notion that ‘the devil’ (Gk. ho diabolos) is a title for an Angelic being. It is difficult to reconcile James 4:7 with the Christadelphian belief that ‘the devil’ is just a human being’s own inner inclination to commit sin. The inner human inclination to commit sin is an enduring congenital defect of mortal human nature; it cannot simply be fled! Even within the lives of Christ’s disciples, the congenital proneness to commit sin has to be constantly battled against (1 Peter 2:11; Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:16, 17).
Additionally, if ‘the devil’ was, as Christadelphians insist, only a personification of a person’s inclination to commit sin, we would expect to see statements within the New Testament reporting persons being tempted by ‘their devils’, or someone being tempted by ‘his’ or ‘her’ devil. However, such statements are completely absent from the New Testament. Furthermore, Hebrews 2:14, in the Authorized Version, does not say that Jesus destroyed ‘his devil’, but ‘THE devil’ (Gk. ton diabolon).
Next time we will look more closely at Christadelphian teachings and discover their contradictory nature.