Monday, February 27, 2012

What do Adam and Satan have in common?

Whilst doing some reading on a completely different subject I was struck by the similarity between the issues with Adam we were discussing earlier and another biblical character, namely Satan. In Satan's case the transformation is even more profound.

  1. If in Adam's case he barely gets another mention after Genesis, Satan does at least get a mention in a few different OT books, 1 Chron, Job and Zechariah.  But the situation is complicated, like Adam's, by the fact his name is also a noun, "accuser." 
  2. Satan's role in the gospels as Jesus' tempter is congruent with OT behaviour, but he seems to take on a less ambiguous role, no longer merely an accuser but God's enemy whose works are to be undone. In the NT Satan is presented more as being in diometric opposition to God, rather than just stirring up trouble for human beings as in the OT.
  3. Unlike Adam, the promotion of Satan (who is now also identified as or conflated with "the Devil", a Greek word - diabolos - to the Hebrew word satan) happens across a broader range of NT scripture, all the gospels, Paul, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1 John, and especially Revelation all reflect his importance as God's enemy. 
  4. Back to the problem of original sin, the association of the serpent with Satan which is so easily made by evangelical theologians is actually only made in Revelation, and it is hard to say whether the author was intending to be 'literal" (;-)) about the connection.  In actual fact Genesis 3 is at pains to mention the serpent is a  חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה "beast of the field" or "wild animal" (Gen 3:1) which surely precludes him from being the personification of an evil supernatural entity.
So what do Adam and Satan have in common?  Well they both receive a significant theological promotion in importance between testaments and they both have been part of the traditional Christian answer to the origin of (original/hereditary) sin, but neither of them really have the scriptural mandate to take the blame for that first sin (if there ever was one, Tim).

Let me know what you think, :-)


  1. Replies
    1. and you Steve are invited to leave comments that actually relate to the post, not just promote your own website. seriously.

  2. It's amazing trying to have cogent conversations with other Christians whose ideas of Satan and Adam come from the Medieval period — not even the NT writings, which were just starting to creep in those directions.

    I've been reading through the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish apocrypha, and I think something (Zoroastrianism?) infected apocalyptic-minded Jews with the need to invent a devil. In the case of these apocryphal writings, you have something similar to the development of the Catholic Satan, only instead it's "Belial", a common noun meaning "worthless" and occasionally used in the OT to describe nasty people. By the time of the Qumran sect's writings, this word has been converted into a full-blown archenemy of God and the Messiah who will infects men with evil desires and will stand against the pure Qumranites and their priestly messiah in the final showdown. Of course, the NT isn't immune from this sect's thinking either, since Paul mentioned Belial once in a similar manner.

    Of course, the Enochic tradition, with its alternate proposals for the existence of evil, was also trying to invent a devil, except that the fallen angel Azazel was their candidate.

  3. Hi Paul, welcome to the blog. The section in NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God about Jesus' conflict with the satan is worth a read. Highlights the extent to which Jesus understood his ministry as spiritual warfare.

    Where things get interesting of course, if they weren't already, is if a fallen angel is responsible (at least in part) for the fall of humanity, then what caused that earlier fall? This is where i reach for my VHS of Time Bandits :-)