by Tony Cox
Part 1 of this short series can be found here
Christadelphians believe that it was precisely when Christ died that Hedestroyed ‘the devil’ (Hebrews 2:14, A.V.) This is because Christadelphians believe that ‘the devil’ refers to a congenital inclination to commit sin that is resident within all mortal human nature. However, it is on this point Christadelphians are actually inconsistent with their own tradition, and the commonly used Christadelphian Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith – ‘Doctrines to be Rejected’ section; number 17 (written by Robert Roberts). This claims that Christ was raised from the dead as a natural man, with a mortal human nature. Only some time later was He exalted to an immortal spiritual nature (cf. ‘Nazareth Revisited’, ch. 59, Robert Roberts; and ‘The Christadelphian’ magazines Vol. 60, p. 164; Vol. 56, p. 459; and Vol. 5, p. 315).
But, if Christ destroyed the devil when He died, how could he have been raised as a natural man, with mortal human nature, since Christadelphians believe that all mortal human nature contains ‘the devil’ within it? This fundamental inconsistency demonstrates that Christadelphians have a doctrinal problem somewhere within their very own ‘Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith.’
Another difficulty for Christadelphians concerns the claims made by certain Jewish scribes who accused Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzebul” (Mark 3:22; NASB; NIV, RSV, ESV, TEV, NEB, REB et al). Specialist historians believe that during the time of Christ’s ministry, the name “Beelzebul” (‘Beelzebub’) was a novel jokey name for the supernatural Angelic being known as ‘the devil’ or ‘the Satan’ (cf. Geza Vermes, ‘The Authentic Gospel of Jesus’, pp. 50, 51). This point is also effectively recognized by some very well-known British Christadelphian scholars. The Christadelphian Peter Watkins stated:
“The enemies (certain Jewish scribes) say that Jesus is casting out demons through the power of Beelzebub (Beelzebul), or Satan, the demon prince.” (‘The Devil – the Great Deceiver’, p. 59).
The Christadelphian scientist, Alan Hayward, stated:
“They called Him (Jesus) both mad and bad: a man who was both possessed of the devil (Mark 3:22), and in league with the devil.” (‘God Is: A Scientist Shows why it Makes Sense to Believe in God.”, p. 174).
Traditionally-minded Christadelphians assert that human nature since the Fall contains ‘the devil’ within it (is ‘possessed by the devil’). If Christadelphians also apply this definition of ‘the devil’ to Christ’s own human nature – then how is this Christadelphian belief different from the accusations of certain Jewish scribes, that Jesus was supposedly possessed by ‘Beelzebul’ (the devil)?
Another frequently heard Christadelphian argument is that the Old Testament doesn’t support the idea of the devil being a flawed supernatural being. Christadelphians often ask, if a morally flawed Angel, or morally flawed supernatural beings, do exist, why is the Old Testament largely silent concerning these subjects (setting aside Genesis 6: 1-4 as perhaps exegetically uncertain). At the outset however, it must be said that the Bible is never very clear as to who supernatural Angels actually are. There are often more questions to be asked about Angels, than answers.
Why for example, are there apparently different kinds of Angels, with varying different ranks? Who exactly are the Angels called ‘the Seraphim’ (Isaiah 6:2, 6)? Why and how are they different from the Angels called ‘the Cherubim’ (Genesis 3:24; Psalm 99:1; Isaiah 37:16; Ezekiel 10:1; Hebrews 9:5), and those Angels who are called ‘the Watchers’ (Daniel 4:17). Why are there Archangels ( the phrase: ‘the voice of AN archangel’, indicates that there may be more than one Archangel; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 in the NKJV, ESV, Weymouth, Young, Complete Jewish Bible, et al).
Why are some Angels called ‘the Elect Angels’ (1 Timothy 5:21). Who are the Angels God charges with ‘error’ (Job 4:18, NKJV, Orthodox Jewish Bible, NIV, NRSV et al), or with ‘folly’(Darby, Webster). Who are the Angels whom the saints are to eventually judge (1 Corinthians 6:3)? Who are the Angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), and can they possibly be identified with ‘the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41), or ‘the Satan..and his angels’ (Revelation 12:9), and directly contrasted with ‘the Angels of God’ (Hebrews 1:6) and ‘the holy Angels’ (Mark 8:38; Acts 10:22; Revelation 14:10)
Some of the causes of our uncertainty concerning supernatural Angels may include:
(1) As neither Jesus, nor the apostle Paul said a great deal about Angels, spirits and the devil/the Satan, then we can probably assume that these represented peripheral matters, compared to the central saving elements of the Gospel message.
(2) Neither the Gospels nor the Epistles of the New Testament are treatises on systematic theology. The Gospels are historical biographies and the Epistles are pastoral letters. They are generally concerned with those ethical and theological issues that arose within Christian congregations. Presumably therefore, popular contemporary Jewish concepts concerning the ontological, supernatural nature of ‘Angels’, ‘the devil’ and ‘the Satan’, were readily accepted by Gentile Christian congregations, and were totally uncontested issues.
(3) Biblical revelation does not inform us of all aspects of natural or supernatural realities. Deuteronomy 29:29 states: “Things hidden belong to Yahweh our God, but things revealed are ours..” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Romans 11: 33-34.)
(4) The Bible does portray human history being played out against a backdrop of an inter-locking Angelic reality. But it also emphasise that human beings essentially have free will, are morally responsible for exercising some measure of self-restraint, and should be generally encouraged to adopt a positive, cheerful attitude, based on faith in God (Proverbs 17:22, Romans 8:38, 39; 16:19, Philippians 4:4, 8-9).
Ephesians 6:12 informs us that human beings ultimately struggle against ‘principalities and powers’ (Ephesians 6:12, cf. Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:16). The well-known British Christadelphian scholar, Harry Whittaker, in his penetrating Biblical analysis of this concept, as portrayed in the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians, concluded that they must refer to supernatural Angelic beings. With particular respect to Ephesians 6:12 (‘For we (ultimately) struggle not against flesh and blood (human nature), but against principalities and powers..’), Harry Whittaker stated:
“…the entire verse (of Ephesians 6:12) is about angelic powers’; (‘Biblical Studies – An Anthology’, p. 379) and:
“The entire verse (of Ephesians 6:12) is definitely about angels.” (ibid. p. 380)
However, Ephesians 6:11 (‘stand against the wiles of the devil’) is semantically linked to Ephesians 6:12 by the Greek word hoti, which describes a causal relationship, and means ‘because’. If we have to stand against the devil ‘because’ (Gk. hoti) we struggle against ontological, supernatural Angelic powers, then this would naturally lead to the conclusion that ‘the devil’ is also an ontological Angel of some sort. However, a full response to the Christadelphian notion of ‘the devil’ requires some analysis of how the Old Testament deals with ‘the problem of evil’ via the use of Hebrew idioms.
Hebraic Biblical Idioms: the Way the Bible Speaks
It has been well said that ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Biblical cultures used different thought paradigms, and different linguistic means of expression, compared to those used by many people in the western world today. This is most readily apparent in the use of Biblical idioms. English idioms such as ‘a hot potato’, ‘spill the beans’, ‘cool as a cucumber’, and ‘bring home the bacon’, would be misunderstood by anyone who knows the vocabulary of the English language, but who lacks an awareness of English idiomatic expression. This same kind of misunderstanding can easily occur in our reading of the Bible. Consider for example, the following verses:
‘I form light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isa. 45:7; A.V.)
‘When you (Moses) return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.’ (Ex. 4:21).
‘…I (God) kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal’ (Deut. 32:39)
‘…Saul died for his transgression… And (he) enquired not of the Lord: and therefore He (the Lord) slew him.
Wherefore I (the Lord) gave them (the Hebrews) also statutes that were not good, and judgements whereby they should not live; And I (the Lord) polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire their first born sons, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord..’ (Ez. 20:25-26).
‘And the Lord said to him (Moses), ‘Who gave man his mouth. Who makes him deaf or mute Who gives him sight or makes him blind Is it not I the Lord” (Ex. 4:11).
‘..the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say ‘Go number Israel and Judah’ (2 Sam. 24:1)
‘..the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him’ (1 Sam. 16:14).
‘Then said I (Jeremiah), Ah, Lord God surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people’ (Jer. 4:10).
‘And if the prophet be deceived…(then) I the Lord have deceived that prophet’ (Ez. 14:9)
‘Then Israel entered Egypt…(and) the Lord made His people very fruitful; He made them too numerous for their foes, whose hearts He (the Lord) turned to hate His people, to conspire against servants.’ (Ps. 105:25)
With these verses in mind, is it legitimate to ask the following questions:
Who was responsible for the Israelites adopting pagan statutes and customs, which led them to sacrifice their first born sons? Who was responsible for the cruel tyranny perpetrated by Pharaoh? And what does the Authorized Bible mean when it states in Isa. 45:7, that God ‘creates evil’?
These questions can only be properly answered, with an awareness of Hebrew idiomatic expression.
To Cause/To Permit
In Biblical thought, no distinction is made between God causing, and God permitting. The ancient Hebrews used their language in a different way to how we use English. In the Hebrew, active verbs frequently express, not the doing of a thing, but the permission of the thing, which a person is figuratively said to do. Active verbs in Hebrew can express a permission, but not a direct action. Scholars today, call this ‘the Hebrew idiom of permission’.
Two other Hebrew idioms, that can be similar in effect to ‘the idiom of permission’, are called ‘metonymy of the subject’ and ‘prophetic metonymy’.
An understanding of how these idioms operate, can be provided by Exodus 4:21, which can be explained by a reference to any, or all, of these three Hebraic idioms. The consequence of the ‘idiom of permission’, is that when God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, all that is meant, is that God allowed Pharaoh to harden his own heart. We can directly see from Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34-35, and 1 Sam. 6:6 (A.V.) that it was Pharaoh himself, who actually hardened his own heart. As Pharaoh kept on refusing Moses’ requests, Pharaoh’s resistance to Moses became a kind of compulsive behaviour pattern, which God allowed to take place.
Pharaoh began with a measure of free will, as to whether or not, to accede to Moses’ requests (cf. Deut. 30:19). Pharaoh initially decided to resist Moses, and he kept on resisting, to the point where Pharaoh’s behaviour, in this regard, became a totally irrational compulsion (cf. Ex. 10:7; Rom. 1:24,26). Taking into account Hebrew idioms, ‘The Emphasised Bible’ by the Hebrew scholar Joseph Rotherham, renders Ex. 4:21 not as, ‘I (God) will harden his (Pharaoh’s) heart, that he shall not let the people go’ (as in the A.V ), but as, ‘I (God) will let his heart wax bold and he will not suffer the people to go.’ Rotherham also provides a poignant footnote:
‘..the translation in the above text would seem fairer to the Occidental (western) mind, and is thoroughly justifiable on two grounds(1) of the known character of God (cf. Deut. 32:4), and(2) the well attested latitude of the Semitic tongues, which are accustomed to speak of occasion as cause.’
What Joseph Rotherham alludes to here, is Hebraic idiom, called ‘metonymy of the subject’. This is where an action is said to be directly caused by someone, when all that is meant, is that that person merely provided the opportunity, the circumstances, or the occasion, in which the action (performed by somebody else) occurred. In the case of Ex. 4:21, God sent Moses to confront Pharaoh with certain requests. In doing so, God created a situation, or arranged an occasion, in which Pharaoh, of his own free will, hardened his own heart against Moses. Via Hebraic idiomatic expression, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is, figuratively, directly attributed to God.
This same Hebraic idiom occurs in 2 Samuel 12:9. There, Nathan tells David ‘Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword.’ Literally, David did not do this, but David did create the circumstances, and the opportunity, for this event to take place. On the basis of metonymy of the subject, David is idiomatically said to have to have personally killed Uriah with the sword.
This same Semitic idiom can be seen at John 4:1. There, Jesus is said to have baptised more people than John. This statement is a Hebraic idiomatic expression, which means that Jesus, by His teaching, created the occasion and the circumstances whereby many people wanted to be baptised. By the idiom of ‘metonymy of the subject’, Jesus is said to have personally baptised. The Apostle John, who has a habit of explaining Hebraic terms (e.g.. ‘Rabbi’ and ‘Messiah’, at John 1:38 and 41), clarifies the Hebraic idiom in John 4:2, by stating that Jesus did not, literally, baptise anyone.
Exodus 4:21 can also be explained by the idiom of ‘prophetic metonymy’. God was able to foresee (but not foreordain) how Pharaoh would react to the divine mission of Moses. Because of His prophetic foresight, God can be figuratively said, via Hebraic idiom, to be the direct cause of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. This same idiom operates at Genesis 41:14. There, it is related how Joseph correctly prophesied future events, for both Pharaoh’s butler, and chief baker. Because Joseph correctly prophesied how events were to turn out, these events were directly attributed to Joseph, as the causal agent. Pharaoh’s butler later idiomatically stated:
‘And it came to pass, as he (Joseph) interpreted it to us, so it was; me he (Joseph) restored unto mine office, and him (the baker) he (Joseph) hanged.’ (A.V.)
Ideally, Hebrew idiomatic expression should have a correct English interpretative translation, if we are to avoid misconstruing the Biblical text, and the character of God. As a consequence of this, the following Bible translations render more accurately the following verses:
‘He (God) who forms light and creates the dark, Who makes peace and lets evil happen.’ ( Isa. 45:7; ‘The Aramaic Bible’ by Victor Alexander.)
‘I (God) also allowed them to follow laws that were no good and rules by which they could not live’ (Ez. 20:25; ‘God’s Word Translation’.)
‘I (God) let them become defiled by their own gifts, in that they offered up their firstborn sons, so I would I could fill them with revulsion, so that they would finally realize that I am Adonai (Lord).’ (Ez. 20:26 ; ‘The Complete Jewish Bible’. cf. also NIV.)
‘Ah My Lord Yahweh Surely Thou hast suffered this people and Jerusalem to be beguiled..’ (Jer. 4:10; Joseph Rotherham’s ‘Emphasized Bible’.);
‘Yea the prophet himself when he suffered himself to be deceived, and speaketh a word, I Yahweh have suffered that prophet to be deceived.’ (Ez. 14:9; Rotherham).
‘And again was the anger of Yahweh kindled against Israel, – so that He (Yahweh) suffered David to be moved against them.’ (2 Sam. 24:1; Rotherham)
‘And He (Yahweh) let them turn their heart – to hate His people.’ (Ps. 105:25; Rotherham).
The A.V. translation of Isa. 45:7, where God is said to create evil, is elucidated by the Hebrew idiom of permission (see footnote one). God permits evil to exist for the time being for the sake of a greater future good. The ‘Aramaic Bible ’ translation by Victor Alexander, correctly interprets the Semitic idiom in Isa. 45:7, by translating the verse: ‘(God)…lets evil happen.’ The corresponding footnote in this translation makes the point that allowing evil is not the same as doing evil.
This Divine permission for evil to currently exist, comes across very clearly in the book of Job. There, ‘The Satan’ (or ‘The Devil,’ Septuagint Version), appears to be an Angelic being, who is given permission by God, to test Job. (Job 1:12, 2:6. See also Harry Whittaker’s penetrating Scriptural analyses in ‘Bible Studies’, of Job 1-2, and Eph.6:12 – which lead him to conclude that there, both ‘the Satan’ of Job, and ‘the Principalities and Powers’ in the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians,, definitely refer to Angelic beings.)
The Personification of Sin
Like many other things, ‘sin’ is personified in the Bible but, like other Biblical personifications, it is personified merely as itself, that is, as just ‘Sin’(see for example: John 8:34, Rom. 5:21; 6:6, 7, 11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,20; 7:9-13,17,18; 8:3; James 1:15). ‘The Satan’ on the other hand, is always consistently portrayed as an external being. There is not a single Biblical text that necessarily demands any impersonal understanding of ‘the Satan,’ or ‘the Devil’.
The idea of testing Job, to the point of destruction (cf. Job 2:6) originates with ‘the Satan’ (or ‘the Devil’, Septuagint) – and not with God. God merely permits the severe testing of Job, in the interests of a greater future good. Part of this good, according to Harry Whittaker, is the moral education of the Angelic Satan. The A.V. rendering of Job 42:11, therefore, has to be understood as Hebraic idiomatic expression. A more correct English translation of this verse, would therefore read: ‘ (they) comforted him (Job) over all the evil that the Lord had allowed, to be brought upon him’.
The same kind of Hebraic idiom operates with the supernatural spirit in 1 Kings 22:22-23. The A.V. gives the impression that God directly sent the supernatural spirit, in order to deceive Ahab’s prophets (contrast Titus 1:2). Joseph Rotherham, however, recognises the Hebraic idiom, and sees the activity of a deceiving spirit stemming merely from an act of Divine permission (Rotherham’s Bible translation has God saying:
‘thou (the lying spirit) mayest persuade (the false prophets) ..therefore lo Yahweh hath suffered a spirit of falsehood to be put into the mouths of all these thy (Ahab’s) prophets.’
Footnote (1). The word for ‘evil’ found at Isa. 45:7 is the Hebrew word ‘rah’. Apart from ‘moral wickedness’, ‘rah’ can also mean ‘trouble’, ‘hardship’, ’sorrow’ and ‘distress’.