In the previous two posts we looked at the setting of the third of Jesus' wilderness temptations (second in Luke's ordering) and then more specifically at the devil's offer of world power to Jesus. We now turn our attention to what the devil tempted Jesus to do. Our main objective is again to assess the Christadelphian interpretation that the temptation narratives are figurative representations of an internal struggle, in which ho diabolos (the devil) is a personification of the evil inclination (Hebrew yetzer hara) within Jesus' heart.
Our focus is again on the third temptation (second in Luke's ordering) because it is the most problematic for Christadelphians:
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:8-10 NRSV)
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5-8 NRSV)
Anthony Buzzard succinctly stated the difficulty that the Christadelphian interpretation faces here: "It is most unnatural to think that Jesus invited himself to fall down before himself and worship himself!".1 To this, Christadelphian apologist Jonathan Burke responded:
It is not argued that Jesus 'invited himself to fall down before himself and worship himself'. It is argued that the narrative represents the internal struggle in Christ using the language of personification.2
In this response, Burke does not say what Jesus was actually tempted to do. Following on the precedent of the other two temptations, it stands to reason that Jesus was actually tempted to do something concrete, and the text tells us what it was: to fall down and worship the devil (ho diabolos). Burke, however, proposes a figurative interpretation of what Jesus was tempted to do:
"The temptation represents Christ as the one having power to elevate himself, and self-worship, rather than the worship of God, is both the requirement and result."3
Thus, although Burke denies that Jesus was tempted to fall down before himself and worship himself, he affirms that Jesus was tempted to self-worship (i.e. worship himself!) The only difference between what he denies and what he affirms is the 'falling down' part. Thus it appears that Burke believes Jesus was tempted to worship himself in mental attitude and not in a physical act of obeisance. The problem is that the text of Matthew says "fall down and worship me". That this is a demand for a physical act of worship is even clearer in the Greek than in the English.
The Greek verb translated "worship" in both Matt. 4:9 and Luke 4:7 is proskuneo. The most respected lexicon of ancient Greek defines this verb thus: "to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully".4 While Christadelphians might seize on the words "in attitude", it is plain from the list of synonyms that even this refers to an outwardly expressed attitude and not merely a mental state.5
There is no known evidence that proskuneo was ever used as a reflexive verb (i.e. in relation to oneself) in ancient Greek. The only known use of this verb with an abstract direct object is a reference to worship of wealth by Philo, in which he explicitly stated he was using "figurative language".6
Greeven further emphasizes the "concreteness" of the term, observing that, as used in the New Testament, "Proskynesis demands visible majesty before which the worshipper bows".7. Thus, in order to take proskuneo in the sense of figurative self-worship instead of physical other-worship, one must give it an unprecedented meaning.
Furthermore, although the mere use of the word proskuneo virtually settles the matter, both Matthew and Luke qualify it with another word which makes the physicality of the worship even more explicit. In Matthew, the qualifier is the participial form of the verb pipto, which means "to move with relative rapidity in a downward direction, fall".8 It usually has a literal sense, and one of the lexical meanings is "fall down, throw oneself to the groundas a sign of devotion or humility, before high-ranking persons or divine beings".
There are also figurative meanings of pipto which include to fall in a transcendent or moral sense. It might be argued that Jesus' evil impulse tempted him to fall (morally) and elevate himself in self-worship. However, this would again be an utterly unprecedented meaning. The words proskuneo and pipto modify each other in two passages of the LXX and eleven other passages in the New Testament, and in every single instance they clearly denote a physical act of worship (2 Chr. 20:18 LXX; Dan. 3:4-15 LXX; Matt. 2:11; Matt. 18:26; Acts 10:25; 1 Cor. 14:25; Rev. 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4; 19:10; 22:8). Particularly noteworthy are the two other Matthean texts:
"On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down (pipto) and paid him homage (proskuneo). Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Matt. 2:11)
"So the slave fell to the ground (pipto) and prostrated himself (proskuneo) before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’" (Matt. 18:26)
Thus, when used together, pipto and proskuneo depict a physical act of homage. It is all but certain that this is what the devil demanded of Jesus in Matt. 4:9; this is undoubtedly how most readers in the first century would have understood the narrative. To take this text as a temptation to figuratively worship oneself requires abandoning the usual lexical and syntactical meaning of these words and giving them a sense which is foreign to Matthew, to the New Testament, and to the ancient Greek language!
The verb pipto does not appear in Luke's parallel account. Nevertheless, while most Bible translations render the key phrase in Luke 4:7 simply as "if you worship me", there is also a qualifying word in the Greek here which makes the physical nature of the temptation explicit. This is the adverb/preposition enopion, which primarily means "before; in the sight of; in the presence of".9 Thus a more literal translation of this phrase in Luke 4:7 is, as the NASB has it, "if you worship before me" (the NASB has 'bow down before me' as a marginal rendering; Young's Literal Translation also translates 'bow before me'). This makes it clear that the worship was to take place in front of or in the presence of some external party. This word is superfluous if the temptation refers to self-worship.
Once again, if we look at other occurrences of proskuneo with enopion in Scripture, we find that it always denotes a physical act of worship (2 Kings 18:22 LXX; Ps. 22:27-29 LXX; Ps. 86:9 LXX; Isa. 66:23 LXX; Rev. 3:9; 15:4). Typical is Rev. 15:4b: "All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed".
Responding to Buzzard's analysis of the verb proserchomai in Matthew 4:3 (also problematic for Christadelphians), Burke writes that Buzzard
"deliberately over translates the Greek...in order to create the sense of a greater distinction between Christ and the satan, giving the false impression that the text wishes us to understand that Christ and the satan are two separate individual beings".10
Regardless of whether or not Burke's statement is accurate with regard to Matt. 4:3, we have seen that the Greek text of Matt. 4:9 and Luke 4:7 unmistakably create a distinction between Christ and the devil/Satan, demonstrating that they are two separate individual beings. Given that Matthew and Luke use the language of physical worship, it simply is not plausible that Jesus was tempted to engage in an act of obeisance either to himself, or to his personified 'evil inclination'.
We can say with certainty, then, that the text indicates Jesus was tempted to physically bow down before the devil. In view of this, the only way to sustain the Christadelphian 'internal struggle' interpretation is to take the temptation narrative figuratively at a more fundamental level. That is, none of the temptations actually happened as such; instead, they use vivid pictures to portray Jesus' battle with his evil inclination.
The problem with this approach is that the other two temptations are clearly concrete: Jesus was literally in the wilderness, was literally hungry and was literally tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. Similarly, Jesus was literally placed atop the temple pinnacle and tempted to throw himself down to test God's providential care. Neither 'turning stones into bread' nor 'throwing himself down' can be understood metaphorically. Consistency thus dictates that we take the temptation narratives at face value as concrete events in the life of Jesus. The idea that ho diabolos refers to a personification of an abstract entity is grammatically impossible and must be rejected. Jesus was tempted to physically worship a concrete personal being external to himself.
In fact, this conclusion brings Christadelphians back to the interpretations of the founders of their movement, John Thomas and Robert Roberts, both of whom identified ho diabolos in the temptation narratives as an unknown human tempter.11 12 This earlier interpretation makes better grammatical sense, but is also fraught with difficulties. It fails to account for the definite article: the tempter as opposed to a tempter. It also fails to account for the reappearance of ho diabolos/ho satanas elsewhere in the Gospels, and indeed, the prominence of this theological term throughout the New Testament.
If we attempt to ascertain the identity of ho diabolos just from what the temptation narratives tell us, we can infer that the tempter (a) knew Jesus' identity at the outset of his ministry (as the demons also did), (b) had the supernatural power needed to place him atop the pinnacle of the temple or induce a visionary experience, and (c) could make a credible claim to absolute temporal power. As there was no human being external to Christ who met these three criteria, we are left with only one possibility: ho diabolos refers to a supernatural personal being.
1 Buzzard, Anthony F. Satan, the Personal Devil. http://focusonthekingdom.org/articles/satan.htm ↩
2 Burke, Jonathan. 2007. Satan and Demons: A Reply to Anthony Buzzard. Can be downloaded from https://sites.google.com/a/dianoigo.com/dianoigo/Jonathan_Burke_Satan_and_Demons.pdf, p. 40.↩
3 Burke, Jonathan. op. cit., p. 181.↩
4 Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. and Bauer, W. 2000. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 882.↩
5 See, for instance, the first definition of 'attitude' at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/attitude↩
6 Philo of Alexandria. Delineation of the Mosaic Legislation for non-Jews, Book 27, IV.25.↩
7 Greeven, H. 1968. proskuneo. In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 6. ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, tr. Geoffrey Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 765.↩
8 Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. and Bauer, W. op. cit., p. 815.↩
9 Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. and Bauer, W. op. cit., p. 342.↩
10 Burke, Jonathan. op. cit., p. 37.↩
11 Thomas, John. 1867. Elpis Israel: Being an Exposition of the Kingdom of God; with Reference to the Time of the End, and the Age to Come. 4th edition, p. 78.↩
12 Roberts, Robert. 1880. Seasons of Comfort at the Table of the Lord: Being Fifty-two Addresses, Etc. Birmingham, No. 51.↩