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Showing posts with label devil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label devil. Show all posts

Monday 15 February 2021

The Burke-Buzzard Devil Debate

I watched with interest the recent online debate on the topic, Are Satan & Demons Personal Beings? between Sir Anthony Buzzard (Restoration Fellowship) and Jonathan Burke (Christadelphian). The topic has been a primary interest of mine over the past two decades—largely due to my Christadelphian background—and the question itself is one on which I have changed my mind (from 'No' to 'Yes') during that period. Sir Anthony (henceforth AB) has been an important influence, as it was his essay, Satan, the Personal Devil that led me to first think critically about the Christadelphian view that I had hitherto been taught. Jonathan (henceforth JB) has been an interlocutor of mine over the years, mainly in online correspondence, Facebook discussions, and blog articles, but also in a published exchange in the journal Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok.1

In this article I am not going to give an exhaustive commentary on the debate, but offer some impressions based on notes I jotted down while watching the debate live. First, I must heartily commend the participants—the moderator, Tracy (whose surname is unfortunately unknown to me), and the two debaters—for a civil and amicable discussion. It was, in fact, a model of decorum: no interrupting, talking over each other, snide remarks, bickering, etc. Both debaters expressed their personal respect for the other and emphasised the common ground they hold on other theological topics (being both unitarian restorationists).

The format of the debate consisted of a brief opening statement from each side, followed by a 40-minute discussion where the two debaters would ask each other questions, followed by a brief closing statement from each side, and lastly a Q&A session where the moderator pulled up audience questions from the chat. Before getting into the content, a comment on the big picture. The question, "Are Satan & Demons Personal Beings?" is a theological one; it was not phrased at a purely exegetical level (such as, "Does the Bible Portray Satan & Demons as Personal Beings?") Nevertheless, the content of the debate was largely exegetical. AB had almost nothing to say about the theological significance of his "Yes" answer, even when pressed by JB. For his part, JB commented briefly on what he sees as some theological and ethical problems with the "Yes" view. Given that personhood is a complex philosophical concept, and that the term "personal beings" (as we moderns understand it) does not occur in Scripture, one might have expected both sides to offer, or better yet agree on, a definition of "personal beings" up front.2 Otherwise, how do we know both sides are answering the same question?

Opening Statements

In JB's opening statement, he begins by appealing for "hermeneutical consistency." What he means is that, given the unitarian belief system shared by both sides, biblical texts about Satan and demons should be interpreted in a way consistent with how unitarians interpret challenging texts on other topics, such as Christology and hell. (This is, of course, problematic for audience members who do not share the unitarian belief system, but perhaps I was the only viewer who faced that problem.) JB poses the rhetorical question whether a unitarian belief system is compatible with an "autonomously powerful evil Satan," or whether such a being would be tantamount to a second god. This challenge extends equally to Christian orthodoxy, in that an "autonomously powerful evil Satan" would equally undermine classical Trinitarian monotheism. The answer to the conundrum, of course, is that the Church does not teach, and has never taught, that Satan is "autonomously powerful." The Church has always taught that Satan is a mere creature, specifically an angel, who therefore exercises no more power than God allows him.3 Since this is also AB's well-known position, JB's opening salvo amounts to a strawman. To his credit, toward the end of the debate, JB batted down another caricature of classical Christian doctrine on the Devil, when he objected to a Q&A question suggesting that belief in the Devil could be used to excuse any sin, per "the Devil made me do it."

The rest of JB's opening statement focused on issues of "socio-cultural context," "scholarly literature," and "New Testament satan & demons." He asserted the need for consistency of interpretation across both testaments, and stated that in the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish literature, terms like satanas/satan are used of the inclination to sin, an obedient angel, and as a common noun, while diabolos is used as a common noun and of humans, and other terms such as 'the evil one' and 'the tempter' do not occur at all. He makes the factually incorrect assertion that diabolos always occurs with the article.4

Turning to scholarship, JB claims that scholars have abandoned the idea that Satan and demons appear in the OT, claims that scholars propose various perspectives on Jesus' wilderness temptation (whether a visionary experience, symbolic description, dramatisation, or personal temptation), and claims that scholars say Jesus didn't share his contemporaries' belief in demons. This is not the place to engage at length with JB's citations; interested readers can refer to some of my writings for comprehensive engagement with scholarly literature on this subject. However, given that the scholarly literature is an area where much of the audience probably had little knowledge, it was JB's duty to mention the weight of scholarly opinion both for and against his own positions. Instead, he cited only literature that agreed with him, leaving the audience with a skewed idea of scholarly opinion. I will just comment on one instance. On a slide on "Jesus' Views," JB cites only one source (in contrast to the previous slide, which had cited about a dozen). The slide leaves the audience with the impression that JB's ideas about Jesus' views on demonology are well-supported in scholarship. In fact, not only is the opposite true,5 but the source JB cites here (Ferngren) disagrees markedly with his position.6

JB concludes his opening statement with a brief survey of New Testament passages on the Satan and demons. He focuses on a few texts that he believes are problematic for a personal view of the Satan, such as Matthew 16:23, Acts 5:3-4, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:20, and 2 Corinthians 12:7. In fact, none of these texts are inconsistent with a personal view of the Satan.7 JB makes much of the absence of exorcisms in the Gospel of John,8 offering an argument from silence.

In AB's opening statement, he emphasises that JB concedes that satan in the OT is external, not internal, which he regards as an important concession. He stresses the significance of the definite article in New Testament usage of the terms diabolos and satanas (the Devil and the Satan, not merely a devil or a satan). He argues that proserchomai ("to come to") is an "astonishingly clear" word in Matthew 4:3, indicating the externality of the encounter between Jesus and the Devil. He helpfully draws a contrast between this narrative and Luke 12:19, where the rich fool really does have a conversation with himself, and this is clear from the text. He also contrasts the Satan and demons, which are consistently addressed as persons, with biblical usage of personification, such as for Wisdom. He asserts that Satan/Devil is the personal name of a personal evil being. AB—rightly in my view—criticises JB's claim that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written for uninformed novice Christians and John for more mature believers who could handle the full truth that demons do not exist.9 AB also criticises JB for adducing a lot of extra-biblical quotations. On this point, I would side with JB, as the latter is not quoting these texts as authoritative but in order to describe the historical context, the thought-world, from which the New Testament emanates, which is very helpful for correctly interpreting the meaning of New Testament terminology. The problem is that I do not think JB paints an accurate picture of Second Temple Jewish thought from the texts he quotes.10

Direct Discussion

The direct discussion proceeded. It was not entirely clear to me whether the format was that the two debaters would take turn asking each other questions, or each had a certain time allocation to ask the other a battery of questions. Either way, it seemed to me as though AB asked a lot more questions of JB than the other way around. The first questions concerned the presence or absence of the yetzer hara ("evil inclination") concept in the Old and New Testaments (since JB identifies the Devil in the wilderness temptation narratives as the yetzer hara operating within Jesus). AB pressed JB for an explicit equation of the Devil/Satan with the yetzer hara in Scripture; JB argued that the equation is implicit. AB asked JB how he understood the term "demons" in James 2:19; JB replied that it is an ironic reference to foreign gods.11 There was some discussion of whether demons and their victims are distinguished in the Gospel exorcism narratives (which they are).12 AB offered another grammatical argument, namely that one who is addressed in the vocative is a person.13 JB responded that his argument does not hinge on the grammatical details, but on whether the text is to be taken literally or figuratively. As evidence of the latter, he cited a Talmudic interpretation of a text from 2 Samuel in which the yetzer hara was inferred to be a character in the story.14 AB noted that the Christadelphians' founders (John Thomas and Robert Roberts) understood Jesus' tempter to be external; JB countered that other Christadelphians of the time disagreed with them, and that their opinions are not sacrosanct. AB asked whether there is any leading commentator on Matthew who takes an internal view of the temptation. JB responded that some scholars read it as a visionary experience, dramatisation, etc.15

JB asked of AB why the New Testament does not use terminology for the Devil such as Mastema and Sammael that were used in other contemporaneous literature. AB countered that other such terms, such as Belial (2 Cor. 6:15) and Beelzebul (Matt. 10:25; 12:24-27 and parallels) are used.16 AB emphasised that there is no disagreement between the debaters on the evil in human nature; the difference is in whether the evil in human nature is the Devil. AB asked JB about the meaning of the verb proserchomai, used in Matthew 4:3 ("The tempter came and said to him," NRSV). JB was prepared with a slide showing that the verb can be used in a figurative sense, as in "a shudder came over me" (Shepherd of Hermas, Visions 3.1.5). AB insisted that it is biblical usage of the word that matters; JB responded that the Bible doesn't use a different Greek from non-canonical literature of the time. On this point, I side with JB; however, AB was right to insist on the importance of Matthew's use of the verb, especially as Matthew uses it again within the same pericope in an obviously literal fashion ("Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him," 4:11). In fact, JB's insistence on a figurative sense for proserchomai here reflects an inconsistency in his overall argument on the temptation narrative.17

JB asked whether teaching on Satan and demons is consistent throughout Scripture. AB responded that there is development in the concept, but that by the time we get to Revelation, we have a being who is "called" (indicative of a proper name) Devil and Satan. JB pressed AB on whether the NT understanding of Satan and demons (as he sees it) is in the OT; AB responded, "No, it is not."18 JB then cited commentators on Revelation who identify the language about the dragon/Satan as referring symbolically to the actions of Rome. In effect, then, the devil is Rome; Rome is the pre-eminent manifestation of that evil power. AB disagreed that the dragon is Rome, and asked what the beast is, if we make that identification? JB noted that the Evangelical scholar Beale concedes that, in Revelation, Satan is behind Rome. There seems to be a lack of precision here about the relationship between the dragon and Rome.19

In what were probably JB's best moments of the debate, he pressed AB on the contemporary, practical significance of Satan and demons. He asked AB how he would distinguish Satanic temptation from internal temptation today, and AB responded that he had no idea, but it does not matter.20 JB asked whether first-century Jews could tell if anyone was demon-possessed; AB replied that it doesn't matter, but Jesus could. JB then observed that Jesus never diagnosed anyone with demon-possession; AB responded that if "Come out of him" is not a diagnosis, what is?21 JB asked whether there is exorcism today; AB was unsure.22

Closing Statements

In JB's closing statement, he focused strongly on empirical and ethical arguments. For instance, he asked, "When you are tempted, does Satan come up to you?"23 And, "Have you ever seen people demonically possessed?"24 Working from Jesus' teaching on good and bad fruit in Matthew 7, JB points out that belief in Satan and demons has produced plenty of bad fruit (e.g., witch hunts, injuries incurred in botched exorcisms, failure to seek medical care due to belief in a supernatural cause),25 but is unaware of any good fruit produced by these ideas.26 JB concludes that temptation is fundamentally a matter of the human heart.27

AB's closing statement quoted at length from a scholar who observed that, given the clarity and emphasis with which the Synoptic Gospels affirm the reality of demon-possession and Jesus' exorcisms, the truth of these Gospels—and thus the truth of Christianity—are jeopardised if their testimony on this subject is false.28 AB then reiterated his central claim, that if one pays close attention to the language and grammar of the biblical text, it speaks clearly about the reality of Satan and demons.


For sake of space, I will not say much about the audience questions and debaters' answers, most of which pertained to the meaning of particular biblical passages about Satan or demons. Let me just comment briefly on my question, which was directed to JB:
Septuagint translation of Job 1-2 and Zech 3 renders hassatan as ho diabolos. Is this the main source of the technical term ho diabolos that occurs dozens of times in the New Testament?
The moderator and both debaters spoke as though this question had largely been addressed by JB's observation—which AB conceded—that there is no single Satan or diabolos figure in the Old Testament. However, the point I was driving at was the following:

(1) hassatan in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 (Hebrew Bible) is an external adversary (admitted by both sides). 
(2) hassatan in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 is translated in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version with ho diabolos
(3) The Greek Septuagint was the version of Scripture used in most early Christian churches outside the Holy Land, including the earliest readers of the New Testament (which was also written in Greek). 
(4) Therefore, when the earliest readers of the New Testament documents encountered the term ho diabolos in the text, they were encountering a term familiar to them from Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 LXX, and would accordingly have interpreted the figure as an external adversary.29

In post-debate correspondence, AB has acknowledged the force of this argument. Thus, I think the question still needs to be answered, because JB's view—for all his claims of consistency between the Testaments—posits a disconnect on the diabolos/Satan between Old and New Testaments, when in fact there is striking continuity.30

Overall Analysis

I have no interest in adjudicating who "won" the debate on a personal level, and probably neither do the debaters. From my own studies of the topic, I have become convinced that the Scriptures testify clearly to the "personal" reality of the Satan and demons31 (notwithstanding that belief in transcendent beings—and transcendent causes—is out of favour in the post-Enlightenment West). I believe that AB brought that clarity across successfully. 

As far as the exegetical part of the argument, I found AB's arguments to be simple yet forceful, and JB's to be convoluted and unconvincing. What stood out for me was that AB argued directly from the details of the text, from lexical meaning and from syntax. By contrast, JB's arguments tended to focus more on broader issues such as genre and alleged extra-biblical parallels from the "socio-cultural context," and less on what the biblical text actually says. JB's hermeneutical method features a willingness to infer figurative or ironic meanings when there is little or no warrant within the text for doing so. Consequently, his arguments run afoul of Ockham's Razor. For me, one of the most telling statements in the debate from JB was the following (beginning c. 43:27 in the YouTube video). After AB offered syntactic arguments for interpreting the demons as persons in the text (e.g., masculine participles), JB responded,
Well the point is of course I'm not making my argument from grammar; I believe that it means what it says, that people actually understood that to be, for example, a demon being addressed...
Thus, when demons are depicted in the Gospels as though persons, this apparently is the authors' meaning, and it is how their readers understood them. Yet, it is not the meaning we should draw, because the writers did not actually believe their own meaning, but merely accommodated their readers' ignorance. This is a startlingly bold claim to make, and it needs to be backed by compelling positive evidence, but it is not. 

The same is true of JB's interpretation of the wilderness temptation accounts. I did not actually hear any point in the debate when JB defended his view exegetically. He asserted that the Devil here is the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, and that the genre of these accounts is not narrative, but something else that is figurative. Since the genre within the Synoptic Gospels as a whole is narrative, and since all three transition into and out of this pericope just as they do so many other episodes in the life of Jesus, and since they use the same kind of language that they use elsewhere to describe actual interpersonal encounters and dialogue, why should we conclude that these particular accounts follow a completely different genre? Something much more weighty is needed than centuries-later rabbinic parallels in which the yetzer hara is mentioned explicitly (rather than needing to be introduced as a gloss for ho diabolos). What is needed is positive evidence from the text itself. Yet not only is this evidence not forthcoming, but in my own experience, when JB is presented with evidence from the text that contradicts his position, he dismisses it as irrelevant, because his argument is not about what the text says.32

Perhaps not all Christadelphians will agree with JB's interpretations of key passages about the Devil and demons. However, Christadelphians should take note that JB has probably studied this topic more, and written about it more, than any other Christadelphian. He is an intelligent man, an able logician, and he has plumbed the depths for the best possible defence of the Christadelphian position. This has led him to move away from what the text actually says; and that should be concerning to any "Berean"-minded student of Scripture.

JB's strongest point in the debate was pressing AB on the contemporary significance and value of belief in Satan and demons. AB effectively shrugged off all such questions, and they are valid questions. The other important take-away from this debate was that both debaters were a model of decorum, setting a fine example for the rest of us on how Christians ought to conduct themselves when arguing matters of the faith.
  • 1 Jonathan Burke, 'Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Minority Report,' Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 81 (2016): 127-68; Thomas J. Farrar, 'Satanology and Demonology in the Apostolic Fathers: A Response to Jonathan Burke,' Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 83 (2018): 156-91.
  • 2 This is true of other theological subjects, too. I am always amazed at how lengthy theological debates on the Trinity or the ontology of the Holy Spirit can run their course without either side ever giving a philosophically precise definition of the term "person."
  • 3 For scriptural passages showing that the Satan requires God's permission to act, and is aware of this, see, e.g., Job 1-2, Luke 4:6, Luke 22:31.
  • 4 JB states that the word always occurs in the form the diabolos. In fact, diabolos is anarthrous in 1 Chr. 21:1 LXX, Ps. 108:6 LXX, 1 Macc. 1:36, and Wis. 2:24. Within the LXX corpus, it occurs with the article only in Esther 7:4, 8:1, Job 1-2, and Zech. 3:1-2. All of these latter instances refer to the personal transcendent being that eventually became "the Devil," with the exception of those in Esther, where it refers to Haman. In grammatical terms, the uses of the article with diabolos in Esther 7:4, 8:1 LXX are cataphoric and anaphoric, respectively. Esther tells the king that her people are to be destroyed, but that she has hitherto kept silent, "For the slanderer (ho diabolos) is not worthy of the court of the king" (7:4). This creates dramatic effect, for the reader immediately wants to know who she is referring to, and this is precisely what the king asks in 7:5 ("Who is this who dared to do this deed?") Esther then identifies Haman as "this wicked one"; hence the article in 7:4 is cataphoric, with "the" slanderer referring to the specific slanderer that is to be identified in 7:6. Similarly, the article in 8:1 ("King Artaxerxes granted to Esther all that belonged to Haman the slanderer [ho diabolos]") is anaphoric, referring back to the slanderer introduced in 7:4 and identified in 7:6. Thus, far from being a precedent for applying ho diabolos to various referents in the NT despite the use of the article, this text represents a contrast. The occurrence of ho diabolos in the NT never elicits the question, "Who?" because it is assumed that the reader knows who is meant. By this time, ho diabolos had become a technical term for a specific personal being, probably by reading Job 1-2 LXX and Zech. 3:1-2 LXX together and inferring that the same being is in view.
  • 5 There is a scholarly consensus that Jesus and the Synoptic Evangelists believed in demons and in the efficacy of exorcism. For numerous quotations from scholarly literature, see pp. 11-16 of my online article, 'When an unclean spirit goes out of a person': An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • 6 JB summarises as Ferngren stating that "Jesus didn't share first century Palestinian demonology" and that "Gospels don't record either Jesus' or the gospel writers' explanation of demon possession." The level of support for JB's position conveyed by these statements is unremarkable. Ferngren does state, "The evidence...does not suggest that Jesus shared the demonology of his Palestinian contemporaries" (Gary B. Ferngren, Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009], 45), but this is very different from stating that Jesus had no demonology. In fact, the main differences that Ferngren highlights between Jesus and his contemporaries are (i) his method of exorcism, (ii) his personal authority over demons, and (iii) the careful distinction that Jesus and the Evangelists make between healings and exorcisms, and thus between disease and demon-possession. That the Gospels do not record Jesus' or the gospel writers' explanation of demon-possession in no way favours the view that Jesus or the gospel writers disbelieved in demon-possession. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus, not of demons. We would therefore not expect the Evangelists to explain the phenomenon of demon-possession, unless they believed that their readers needed such an explanation. Thus, the absence of such an explanation actually suggests that the Evangelists assumed that their readers knew what demon-possession was, and saw no need to correct or supplement their readers' understanding. Finally, Ferngren clearly affirms that the Evangelists believed in Satan and demons: "The frequency with which demons appear on the pages of the Gospels reflects the Evangelists' belief that the advent of Jesus's kingdom brought about a spiritual conflict with the forces of Satan. Jesus' exorcism of demons was one dimension of this conflict, which they viewed as 'a cosmic struggle in history to inaugurate the eschatological reign of God.'" (Medicine and Health Care, 45). Again, "Chapters 1 through 8 [of Mark] picture Jesus as a powerful miracle worker, through whom God, the Great Warrior, is undoing the evil brought about by Satan's control of the world. Hence in his frequent confrontations with demons Jesus repeatedly challenges the powers of darkness... there are several indications that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists believed that disease was ordinarily caused by demons... while the Gospel writers speak of Jesus's healing and exorcism as related aspects of his messiahship, they routinely distingiush between them... Exorcism and healing denoted different aspects of Jesus's messianic ministry, not a single act." (Medicine and Health Care, 45-46). Thus, Ferngren's view is broadly consistent with the scholarly consensus that Jesus and the Evangelists believed in demons.
  • 7 On Mark 8:33 (parallel to Matt. 16:23), see Thomas J. Farrar and Guy J. Williams, 'Diabolical Data: A Critical Inventory of New Testament Satanology,' Journal for the Study of the New Testament 39(1) (2016): 49-50 (preprint accessible here). On 2 Corinthians 12:7 (where the phrase in question should be translated, 'angel of Satan'), see sources cited in Farrar and Williams, 'Diabolical Data,' 48 n. 35. On 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 1 Timothy 1:20, there is no difficulty once we appreciate that punishment is one of the Satan's God-given roles. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 5:5, given the Passover allusion, Paul is probably identifying the Satan with "the Destroyer" from the Passover narrative (Ex. 12:23; cf. 1 Cor. 10:10; further discussion in Farrar and Williams, 'Diabolical Data,' 54-56). On Acts 5:3-4, JB makes much in the debate on the parallelism between vv. 3 and 4. There is indeed a parallelism, whereby Ananias' act is described in v. 3 as "Why has the Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" and restated in v. 4 as "Why did you contrive this deed in your heart?" Both statements identify Ananias' heart as the locus of the temptation. One says that the Satan filled his heart, the other that Ananias contrived the deed in his heart. JB's inference is that "the Satan" = "contrived"; thus, the Satan is an internal impulse. However, it is equally plausible that the two statements are describing the same event from two different angles and at two different levels of causality. Ananias allowed the Satan to infiltrate his heart, and Ananias contrived the plan to lie about his donation. Not only is this latter explanation plausible, but it is much more consistent with the wider context of Luke-Acts, in which the Satan is depicted as an external being who converses with Jesus and departs from him (Luke 4:1-13), "falls from heaven" (Luke 10:18), "comes" and takes away God's Word from people's hearts (Luke 8:12), "enters into" Judas so as to tempt him (Luke 22:3), and "demands" (of God) to sift the disciples (Luke 22:31).
  • 8 On this, see Thomas J. Farrar, 'New Testament Satanology and Leading Suprahuman Opponents in Second Temple Jewish Literature: A Religio-Historical Analysis,' Journal of Theological Studies 70(1) (2019): 66-67. Preprint can be accessed here.
  • 9 On this point, see my ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a person,’ 25-28.
  • 10 For a detailed alternative account, see Farrar, 'New Testament Satanology and Leading Suprahuman Opponents,' 31-57. Preprint can be accessed here.
  • 11 For a detailed analysis of this text, including a refutation of JB's view, see my article, Even the Demons Believe and Shudder: Demonology in the Epistle of James.
  • 12 See ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a person,’ 19-20.
  • 13 The vocative case indicates direct, second-person address. In modern English it does not come through in translation, but in the KJV is often conveyed by the word "O." Since it requires intelligence to understand speech, being addressed in the vocative is ordinarily an indication that the one addressed is a person. However, this is not universally the case. For instance, in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), impersonal objects such as mountains and hills are often addressed poetically in the vocative in the psalms and prophets (e.g., 2 Kingdoms [2 Samuel] 1:21; Ps. 67:16-17[68:15-16]).
  • 14 As a contextual argument, citing rabbinic literature is not particularly weighty. The Talmuds date from several centuries after Christ, so citing the Talmud in New Testament exegesis is roughly the chronological equivalent of citing Augustine of Hippo or other Church Fathers. Moreover, while the Talmuds contain many attributions to earlier rabbis, eminent Jewish scholars like Jacob Neusner have warned that it is methodologically invalid to accept these attributions uncritically.
  • 15 Reading the temptation story as a visionary experience is no help to the "internal yetzer hara" view of the Devil. Matthew describes the Transfiguration event as a "vision" (horama, 17:9), but this does not mean that Moses and Elijah were projections of the apostles' inner psyches! Similarly, Luke refers to encounters with angels as visions (1:22; 24:23), and Acts describes "visions" in which people engage in dialogue with supernatural persons (angels or the Lord, e.g., Acts 9:10-16, 10:3-7, 10:10-17). "Dramatisation" is an unclear term; what is clear is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all weave this incident into their narrative like any other pericope, using similar transitions, pronouns, and verbs. They give the reader no indication whatsoever that this incident is of an entirely different genre and nature than all of the other incidents they record about Jesus.
  • 16 The broader point is that terminological parallels are less important than conceptual parallels. The NT writers show a clear consolidation toward using ho diabolos and ho satanas as the normative names or designations of the transcendent opponent, but there are striking conceptual parallels with other Second Temple Jewish texts that use other terminology. This is a central thesis of my JTS article, 'New Testament Satanology and Leading Suprahuman Opponents' (see esp. pp. 57-62). Preprint can be accessed here.
  • 17 JB's overall argument seems to be that the temptation story is figurative as a whole, at the level of genre—hence his insistence, when confronted by the argument from the vocative, that his argument is not a grammatical one. In fact, when I made the argument from Matthew's use of proserchomai previously on my blog, JB insisted in his response that this argument was irrelevant because of the genre of the passage ("such arguments hold no weight with the consensus of scholars who believe the temptation accounts are not historical narrative, and that the temptation itself was indeed figurative, symbolic, or visionary"). Yet now, in the debate, JB appears to be hedging his bets by insisting that the passage is figurative at the level of individual words—even if this means ignoring a consistent pattern of Matthean usage.
  • 18 I would agree, and it should come as no surprise, given the development from Old to New Testaments on so many other doctrines (Messiah, resurrection, Holy Spirit, angelology, etc.) The pithy saying attributed to St. Augustine is à propos here: "The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed."
  • 19 Most commentators, ancient and modern, would agree that "the beast" in Revelation is Rome, given the precedent in Daniel whereby beasts represent earthly kingdoms (Dan. 7:23), and the political reality of Rome's ascendancy at the time Revelation was written. However, the beast and the dragon are clearly distinguished in Revelation, and their relationship is indicated in 13:2: "To [the beast] the dragon gave its own power and throne, along with great authority." Thus, the dragon—explicitly identified as the Devil and Satan in 12:9 and 20:2—is an entity that empowers Rome, and not Rome itself. Further evidence that we cannot make the equation Satan = Rome in Revelation is found in 2:9 and 3:9, where we find the expression "the synagogue of Satan." The synagogue of Rome? Obviously not; thus Satan is a power behind both Roman and Jewish opposition to the faithful. The best indication of the dragon's literal identity in Revelation (besides the names "Devil" and "Satan," which would already have been plenty clear to the original audience) is the description of war in heaven between "Michael and his angels" and "the dragon and its angels." Michael is not a symbol, but the name of an archangel (Jude 9), and thus his angels are also not symbols, but are actual angels. This implies that the dragon's angels are also actual angels, and that the dragon/serpent/Devil/Satan is also an angel.
  • 20 I would basically agree, and an analogy could be made to divine providence. How do we distinguish between providential vs. natural causes of events in our lives? If I asked God for wisdom, and I subsequently became wiser, how would I differentiate between my own efforts (e.g., study and meditation) vs. divine help? Clearly, we humans cannot—under ordinary circumstances—recognize and differentiate supernatural causes from natural ones.
  • 21 In fact, it is the narrators who diagnose individuals in the narrative as demon-possessed, just as they diagnose other individuals with leprosy, blindness, etc. Yet AB is correct, in that by performing exorcisms on persons identified by the narrator as demon-possessed, Jesus is clearly depicted as agreeing with the diagnosis.
  • 22 In fact, there is well-documented evidence of exorcisms today, and the Catholic Church to this day has priests who perform exorcisms, just as the apostles did. However, demon-possession is relatively rare, and the Church resorts to exorcism only when there is strong evidence of demonic possession and all ordinary psychiatric treatment methods have been exhausted.
  • 23 One might as well ask, "When you were baptized, did the Holy Spirit descend on you like a dove and a voice speak from heaven?" or, "When the Lord answers your prayers, does he do so by sending an angel to visit you?" If the answers are "No," does this imply that baptism is of no benefit, that the Lord does not answer prayer, or that his angels no longer minister to his people?
  • 24 Since when has having personally seen something been a valid precondition for belief? Christianity is a religion of faith! Moreover, there is ample evidence that spirit-possession is a real phenomenon even today, though many of the anthropologists and psychologists who document it do not regard it as actual spirit-possession, due to their materialistic assumptions precluding this possibility.
  • 25 Witch hunts do not follow from belief in Satan and demons, but from other false and superstitious ideas. No well-informed ecclesiastical tradition or individual Christian today condones witch hunts. It is technically true that witch hunts would never have happened without belief in supernatural evil. However, it does not therefore follow that non-belief in supernatural evil is correct. If that argument were valid, then atrocities committed by people who believed they were doing God's will would be sufficient to justify atheism. Similarly, if one refrained from seeking medical care due to a belief in demons, this would reflect a false belief that medical care and exorcism are competing, mutually exclusive alternatives. In fact, the Church has always been at the forefront of medical care, and (as was mentioned in a previous footnote) resorts to exorcism only as a last resort. As for a severe injury received during an exorcism, I believe this is very rare. I would add that there are plenty of phony exorcists. I would further add that demon-possession is a dangerous phenomenon, as the biblical testimony itself describes spirits inducing their victims to injure or destroy themselves (Mark 5:5; 9:22). There is, consequently, some risk associated with an exorcism. There is also some risk associated with most medical treatments, so this is not exceptional.
  • 26 If people really do suffer from demon-possession and can be helped by exorcism, this is a clear and substantial "good fruit." For JB to dismiss this good fruit, he must first show that demon-possession is not real and thus that exorcism has no efficacy. But this is the very point under debate. Looking more broadly, most Christians would agree that having a sound theology of evil is helpful in the spiritual life, even if one cannot point to obvious instances where correctly believing in the Devil's existence brings concrete, practical benefit. However, this is true of many other theological ideas. What are the good fruit of belief in angels, for instance? It is not obvious; but we trust in God that every truth that he has revealed is beneficial to know. JB's "fruit" argument seems to be a misapplication of Jesus' message in Matthew 7:15-20 (which is actually about prophets, not their teachings). One might add that a "bad fruit" of non-belief in supernatural evil is that it requires very shoddy exegesis and hermeneutics to sustain, and once one begins to practice such, it may lead to errors in more fundamental areas of theology.
  • 27 Absolutely; and the human heart is by nature morally compromised. However, it can also be infiltrated by the Devil (e.g., Luke 8:12; Acts 5:3-4), which is not the same thing.
  • 28 This, I think, indirectly answers JB's question by identifying a "good fruit" of belief in Satan and demons: it reflects fidelity to the testimony of Scripture in an age where belief in the supernatural is dismissed by the dominant culture.
  • 29 Adding weight to this argument is the testimony of Justin Martyr. Writing around the 150s, Justin is the earliest extant Christian writer to quote directly from Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2. When he does, he makes it clear that these passages are key source texts for the Christian idea of the devil (Dialogue with Trypho 79.4, 103.5, 115-116). For further discussion of Justin's views, see Thomas J. Farrar, 'The Intimate and Ultimate Adversary: Satanology in Early Second-Century Christian Literature,' Journal of Early Christian Studies 26 (2018): 543-44 (preprint accessible here).
  • 30 This continuity is not removed by the concession that, from a grammatical-historical point of view, "the satan" in Job and Zechariah is not yet understood as a wicked being. Christian theological interpretation of the Old Testament moves beyond the grammatical-historical sense in light of the fuller revelation received through Christ.
  • 31 I put "personal" in quotation marks to defer to the terminology of the debate question while acknowledging the complexity of "personhood." I would say that Satan and demons are as personal as angels, except for the extent to which "personhood," being a good attribute, is compromised by evil.
  • 32 For an example of this, see his response to my ten-point argument concerning the wilderness temptation accounts. After arguing that the genre of the accounts is "haggadic midrash, not narrative," he summarily dismisses most of my other arguments on that basis, without even interacting with what the text says.

Saturday 15 July 2017

What "Yetzer in the Wilderness"? A response to Jonathan Burke on the Devil in the Synoptic Gospels

Burke’s series The Yetzer in the Wilderness

Christadelphian apologist Jonathan Burke and I have had several written exchanges over the years, especially on the subject of (the) Satan. Much of it has focused on the wilderness temptation narrative from the Gospels (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13).1 One of Burke’s main contributions to this exchange has been an eight-part series entitled The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination. Burke subsequently pointed out that I had responded "to just one of [his] arguments." This was true,2 and there is a reason for it. I had long intended to do a detailed study of the Second Temple Jewish background of New Testament Satanology, and it made sense to reserve comment on Burke's arguments in this area until my study was complete. After much ado I submitted this study to the Journal of Theological Studies, which has accepted it for publication. Copyright rules prevent me from reproducing material from the manuscript here, so I will respond directly to Burke’s arguments here while referring the reader to my forthcoming publication for more detailed and fully referenced argumentation on some of the relevant Second Temple texts.

[Edit, 24/10/2017: a preprint version of the above-mentioned Journal of Theological Studies article can be downloaded here.]

The Yetzer in the Wilderness does not commence with an introduction explaining the purpose, thesis or methodology of the study, nor does it end with a conclusion summarising the findings. The first installment, Literary genre of the wilderness temptation (to which I have responded in painstaking detail previously) jumps straight into the question of the genre of the Gospel temptation stories. The second installment, Identifying the adversary, reads somewhat like an introduction. Here Burke acknowledges that the entity referred to as “the devil” in the temptation stories is regarded by most scholars as a supernatural evil being. He states that “This conclusion is vulnerable to criticism” but does not state his own position up front. One can infer from the title of the series (and his other writings) that he identifies “the devil” with the yetzer ra, the evil inclination within each person’s heart.

Burke then offers three “lines of evidence” that, in his view, make the typical interpretation of the Satan in the Synoptic Gospels (as a transcendent being) untenable:
1. “the most common terms used in pre-Christian Second Temple literature for a supernatural evil being, are not used in the Synoptics… In contrast, the [Satanological] terms used in the Synoptic temptation accounts have almost no pre-Christian witness in Second Temple literature as a reference to a specific supernatural evil being.”
2. “Ethical dualism and psychological dualism are dominant in the Synoptics, rather than the cosmological dualism which would be expected if a supernatural evil being was present in the temptation accounts.”
3. “There are no Old Testament or Second Temple parallels to the temptation accounts; the earliest analogs appear in the Tannaitic literature of the second century.”
The third “line of evidence” is not a line of evidence at all, but an argument from alleged silence. Burke cites no scholarship in support of the alleged silence—and in fact there are several important Second Temple parallels to the temptation accounts.3

The second “line of evidence” is likewise an opinion not substantiated with any evidence. The eighth and final part of Burke’s study is entitled Dualism in the Synoptics, and it is here that one expects to find his second claim defended. Surprisingly, this section merely defines three types of dualism (cosmological, ethical and psychological) and then abruptly ends, offering no argumentation for Burke’s previously stated claim that ethical and psychological dualism are dominant in the Synoptics rather than cosmological dualism. One can add here that the claim itself is rooted in a false dilemma: it sets ethical and psychological dualism in antithesis with cosmological dualism, whereas all of these kinds of dualism are compatible. A similar false dichotomy (between anthropological and mythological aetiologies of evil) underlies and invalidates Burke’s methodology in his peer-reviewed article on Satan in the Apostolic Fathers.4

This leaves us with Burke’s religion-historical claim about terminology to address—the only one of his three claims for which he provides any supporting argumentation! The five remaining parts of The Yetzer in the Wilderness discuss four specific Satanological terms (Satan, the devil, the evil one, the tempter) followed by a summary. Before addressing Burke's arguments in detail, I need to point out some methodological problems with his study.

Methodological problems with Burke’s study

(1) Burke overemphasises terms to the neglect of concepts.

For example, Second Temple literature features figures—such as "Mastema" in Jubilees and Belial and related figures in Qumran texts—who are leading transcendent opponents with considerable conceptual similarity to the Synoptic Satan. Are these parallels irrelevant as religion-historical background to the Synoptic Satan merely because this leading transcendent opponent has a different designation?

(2) Burke neglects the wider Synoptic context of the Satanological terms he discusses.

Mark’s account of Jesus’s wilderness temptation (1:13) uses one Satanological term—satanas—that occurs five other times in this Gospel (3:23 [twice]; 3:26; 4:15; 8:33). Matthew’s account (4:1-11) uses three Satanological terms—peirazōn, satanas and diabolos—of which satanas occurs thrice more (12:26 [twice]; 16:23) and diabolos occurs twice more (13:39; 25:41). Luke’s account (4:1-13) uses only diabolos, which occurs once more in his Gospel (8:12) and twice in Acts (10:38; 13:10). If one concedes the equivalence of diabolos and satanas for Luke (which should be obvious from his redaction of Mark 4:15 in Luke 8:12), we can add Luke’s seven uses of satanas (Luke 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3; 22:31; Acts 5:3; 26:18).

Obviously, this data—the same terms, used by the same authors, within the same documents—is of crucial importance to correctly interpreting how the Synoptic writers understood the entity that tempted Jesus. Yet Burke’s study inexplicably ignores it!

The most extensive Satanological pericope in the Synoptic Gospels apart from the wilderness temptation is undoubtedly the Beelzeboul controversy and accompanying parable of the strong man (Mark 3:22-27; Matt. 12:24-29 cp. 9:34; 10:25; Luke 11:15-22). Here, Jesus implicitly identifies the Satan as the prince of demons, the strong man whom he is overcoming through his exorcisms.5 This pericope, present in all three Synoptic Gospels, presents a fundamental problem for Burke’s view that the Satan is the anthropological yetzer—a problem Burke's study makes no effort to address. Similarly, Matthew depicts the Devil as the object of eschatological punishment along with “his angels” (Matt. 25:41).6 That the Devil leads a group of angels clearly identifies him as a supernatural being rather than an anthropological abstraction, yet once again Burke’s study ignores this evidence. Luke reports Jesus’s statement, “I saw the Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” made in response to the disciples’ joyful report about their successful exorcistic ministry (Luke 10:17-19).7 The demons are implicitly identified with “the power of the enemy,” so here too the Satan is implicitly identified as a heavenly being who rules demons. Yet again, Burke neglects to explain how this passage squares with his view that the Satan is reducible to the evil yetzer within human nature.

(3) Burke relies heavily on negative arguments.

As the title of Burke’s study suggests, his central claim is that the Satan/Devil/tempter in the Synoptic wilderness temptation narrative is the yetzer ra, the evil inclination within the human heart. However, his study focuses primarily on arguing against interpreting the Satan/Devil/tempter as a supernatural opponent on the grounds of insufficient religion-historical precedent. Even if this negative argument were successful—as we shall see, it is not—we would still not have a "yetzer in the wilderness"; we would simply have a weaker case for a supernatural opponent (albeit one that could still stand based on the contextual data on the Satan/Devil within the Gospels). The positive evidence Burke offers from Second Temple Jewish literature for his yetzer interpretation is confined to two brief passages: Sir. 21:27 and 11QPlea for Deliverance 19.15 (discussed below).

These methodological shortcomings are already sufficient to invalidate Burke’s claims concerning the opponent in the Synoptic Gospels. Nevertheless, let us proceed to examine his discussion of four specific Synoptic Satanological terms.

Burke's religion-historical survey of Synoptic Satanological Terms

(1) (the) Satan

Burke states that “In Second Temple Period literature the term ‘satan’ (whether in Hebrew or Greek), is predominantly used as a common noun rather than a personal name.” I would agree that ‘satan’ does not clearly appear as a personal name in pre-Christian literature. Indeed, in my forthcoming study in JTS I argue that ho satanas is probably a title rather than a name in most New Testament occurrences, better translated “the Satan” than “Satan.” However, whether ‘satan’ is used as a personal name is distinct from whether ‘satan’—when preceded by the article—designates a particular transcendent being, the Adversary par excellence. Stokes, who also does not find evidence of ‘Satan’ as a personal name in Second Temple literature, nonetheless firmly asserts the latter point:
The Hebrew Scriptures contain several different kinds of satans. They speak of humans in the capacity of attackers or executioners as satans. They speak of heavenly satans, serving the Deity as executioners of the wicked. They also speak of a particular satan, the Satan, who serves God as attacker or executioner of the wicked and, in the case of Job, as attacker of a righteous person. While it was this individual, the Satan, who especially piqued the imaginations of earlier interpreters and who would become the best known of the satans, early Jewish literature would continue to speak of other satans as well… authors continued to use the title ‘the Satan’ to speak of a particular superhuman individual. This title seems to have been replaced by others in certain works, such as ‘the Prince of Mastema’ in Jubilees and ‘Belial’ in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It remained popular in other circles, such as those that produced the New Testament. In these writings, the title appears transliterated as ὁ Σατανᾶς or translated as ὁ διάβολος.8
Burke begins his discussion of the religion-historical background of ‘satan’ with Sirach, inexplicably neglecting to discuss the Hebrew Bible, which is obviously a crucial source for understanding this term. In the Hebrew Bible, as is well known, śāṭān appears numerous times as a common noun referring to humans. In Numbers 22:22, 32 it is used descriptively, though not as a designation, for the angel of YHWH. In 1 Chr. 21:1 the anarthrous term probably denotes an anonymous celestial adversary, though a minority of scholars regard this being as human. Most important for our purposes are the occurrences of the arthrous word haśśāṭān in Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2, which are—besides Sir. 21:27—the only unambiguously arthrous and pre-Christian occurrences of ‘satan.’9

There is a scholarly consensus that the setting of Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2 is YHWH’s divine council, and that haśśāṭān in both passages is therefore a celestial being. This is weighty evidence in support of interpreting ho satanas in the Synoptic Gospels as a supernatural being—the more so since the Synoptic writers likely regarded Job and Zechariah as Scripture10—so it is incomprehensible that Burke ignores it. (Numerous scholars have identified the Satan’s “demand” or “request” in Luke 22:31 as an echo of Job’s prologue.)11

Two points concerning haśśāṭān in Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2 that are disputed amongst scholars12 are the figure’s moral character and whether the term denotes a specific being or an office or role that hypothetically could be filled by different beings. Most scholars regard haśśāṭān in Job and Zechariah as either morally ambiguous or evil; all agree however that haśśāṭān is subservient to YHWH. Burke makes much of the moral character issue (in 1 Enoch, since he does not discuss the Hebrew Bible), but it is not very important. The Satan remains subservient to God in the New Testament,13 and his evil character in the New Testament can be understood as an interpretive resolution of the moral ambiguity in Job and Zechariah. Whether haśśāṭān in Job and Zechariah designates a specific personal being or merely a specific portfolio in the divine council is also not very important, since later Second Temple texts (see below on Jubilees, Parables of Enoch and the LXX) and the New Testament clearly understand the Satan as a specific being.

Burke states as though factual that in Sir. 21:27, “the Greek term [ho satanas] is used of the evil inclination,” citing two scholars who take this position. This is far from factual, however. Burke fails to observe that numerous scholars regard ho satanas as denoting the proverbial (human) adversary here.14 I offer detailed exegesis of this text in my forthcoming JTS study, arguing that the original Hebrew (which does not survive at this point) probably used śāṭān for a generic human adversary, but that the Greek translator has taken it to refer to the Satan, a particular celestial being. I further argue that the translator does not oppose belief in the celestial Satan per se, but opposes cursing the Satan. This is all to some extent conjectural, given the very limited context we have for interpreting Sirach’s ho satanas, but I believe my interpretation is less conjectural than the ho satanas = evil yetzer interpretation. After all, Sirach uses the term yetzer in 15:14 (cf. Heb. MS A; Greek translation has diaboulion), and could have used it here had the author wished to make such an identification.

Burke states,
In 1 Enoch the term appears only four times (41:9; 53:3; 54:6) [sic],15 and is not used as a proper name; instead Shemihazah and Azâzêl are the names of the supernatural evil opponent. Additionally, the satan in 1 Enoch is an obedient servant of God, not an evil adversary.
Burke neglects to distinguish between the different parts of the Enochic corpus. This is significant since Shemihazah only appears in the Book of the Watchers (chapters 1-36), while the term satan occurs only in the Book of Parables (chapters 37-71), which was composed centuries later (usually dated to around the time of Herod the Great).16 Furthermore, Burke erroneously states that “All references to satan are found in the Aramaic texts at Qumran”. In fact, none of the references to satan are found in the Aramaic texts at Qumran. The Book of Parables survives only in Ethiopic; no fragments of it have been discovered at Qumran.

Azazel (Asael in the original Aramaic of the Book of the Watchers) is common to both the Book of the Watchers and the Book of Parables. In the Book of the Watchers he is one of the Watchers’ leaders, while in the Book of Parables he is the main supernatural opponent. The plural satans in 1 En. 40.7 and 65.6 are undoubtedly supernatural beings.17 The singular ‘[the] Satan’ seems to be a specific supernatural being in 1 En. 53.3 and 54.6, a point Burke apparently concedes since he contests only whether “the satan” is obedient or evil. In fact, “the Satan” may actually be a title of Azazel in 1 En. 54.6,18 in which case he is unambiguously evil. It is also worth noting here the striking parallel between 1 En. 54.5-6 and Matt. 25:41 (concerning fiery eschatological punishment prepared for the wicked angels), which has led some scholars to assert Matthew’s literary dependence on this text.19 In 1 En. 53.3 [the] Satan seems to be cast in the role of punisher of wicked humans, which also has New Testament parallels (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:5; 10:10; Heb. 2:14; 11:28).20

Coming to Jubilees, Burke deals with this important text in just one sentence:
In Jubilees 10:11 the term ‘satan’ as a proper name was interpolated into the text by later scribes; textual evidence indicates the original word was Mastema, and all other instances of the term in Jubilees (23:29; 40:9; 46:2; 50:5), use it as a common noun.
I agree with Burke that the last four occurrences of the word ‘satan’ in Jubilees are common nouns. They may refer to human or supernatural opponents or both. Concerning Jub. 10.11, Burke states as though factual that the original word was Mastema. I think it likely that the original text at Jub. 10.11 referred to “the Satan,”21 but the point is not important enough to pursue here. Certainly the primary designation for the supernatural opponent in Jubilees is Mastema, which is more correctly understood as a title, “the prince of hostility” (Heb. שר המשטמה, a term preserved in the Book of Asaph the Physician as well as in 4QPseudo-Jubilees, which depend on Jubilees.) This figure is important to interpreting the Synoptic Satan for two reasons. First, his designation as “prince” and his role as ruler of demons correspond to Beelzeboul in the Synoptic Gospels, who is identified by Jesus with the Satan. Second, the words “mastema” and “satan” derive from cognate Hebrew roots,22 so “Mastema’s” designation is probably dependent on the biblical haśśāṭān. More certain is the dependence of “Mastema’s” functions in Jubilees on the role of haśśāṭān in Job, which has been noticed by many scholars especially in Jubilees’ rewriting of the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac from Gen. 22.23 Thus in Jubilees we have a supernatural opponent with important connections to both “the Satan” in the Hebrew Bible and “the Satan” in the Synoptic Gospels—surely an important link between the two, but one that Burke’s study overlooks.
Significantly, the authors of both Jubilees and the Parables of Enoch appear to have understood haśśāṭān in the Hebrew Bible as a specific transcendent being. Therefore, regardless of whether the authors of Job and Zechariah themselves understood haśśāṭān as a specific individual, such an understanding of haśśāṭān is attested in pre-Christian Second Temple Judaism.

Burke rules three other texts—the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job and the Greek Apocalypse of Moses—out of court, although they all use the term ho satanas for a supernatural opponent, because of uncertainties about their date and provenance. This is a sensible, conservative methodological step, and one I also take in my JTS study: I do not rely on these texts to reconstruct the pre-Christian background of the term ‘satan’ due to the risk of anachronism. However, Burke should be wary of making an opposite error. If he wished to argue from silence that “the Satan” positively did not denote a supernatural opponent in pre-Christian Judaism, the mere possibility that some of these works are pre-Christian or preserve pre-Christian Satanological traditions would pose a significant risk.

Concerning the Qumran literature, Burke probably correctly states that the word ‘satan’ “is used rarely, and only as a common noun.” However, he goes on to claim concerning the Plea for Deliverance, “Tigchelaar has argued that here [‘satan’] is used of the evil inclination.” In Burke’s later summary this changes to a factual statement: “in 11Q5 xix 13-16 (the ‘Prayer for Deliverance’), [the word ‘satan’] refers to the evil inclination.” In fact, not only does Burke have little scholarly backing for this interpretation; he appears not even to have the support of Tigchelaar, the only scholar he cites in support!24

A final notable omission from Burke’s religion-historical survey of the Synoptic term satanas is the Pauline corpus. The generally accepted Pauline epistles, which almost certainly pre-date the Synoptic Gospels and come from the same movement within Second Temple Judaism, use the term (ho) satanas seven times (Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess. 2:18). If one is willing to accept disputed epistles as Pauline there are up to three additional occurrences (2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 5:15). While exegesis of these passages cannot detain us here, several of them (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:14, 12:7, 1 Thess. 2:18 and 2 Thess. 2:9) appear to clearly depict the Satan as an external, quasi-angelic opponent and seem irreconcilable with an identification of the Satan with the anthropological yetzer.

(2) The Devil

Coming to the Greek term ho diabolos, Burke discusses the Septuagint and a few later texts. I agree with him that the relevant data is fairly meagre, but he has overlooked some important points.

In both Job and Zechariah, the LXX translators have rendered haśśāṭān with ho diabolos. As Wieger points out, ho diabolos (“the slanderer”) has a pejorative connotation that haśśāṭān lacks,25 indicating that the translator understood haśśāṭān to be evil. Furthermore, since “the slanderer” is an unlikely title for a portfolio in the divine council, it appears the translator (like the authors of Jubilees and Parables of Enoch) understood haśśāṭān as the designation of a particular being rather than as an office or role. Nevertheless, in the LXX ho diabolos is not yet a technical term reserved for the Satan, as it arguably is by the time of the NT. This is evident from the use of this term for Haman in Esth. 7:4, 8:1 LXX.26
Burke erroneously attributes the term ho diabolos to several other Second Temple texts where diabolos is actually anarthrous (1 Chr. 21:1 LXX; Ps. 108:6 LXX; 1 Macc. 1:36; Wis. 2:24). Of these, Wis. 2:24 has been identified as referring to the Devil, though as Burke observes this interpretation is increasingly challenged by scholars.27 I do not consider any of the proposed interpretations conclusive, but would not rely on Wis. 2:24 to reconstruct pre-Christian Jewish ideas about the Devil.

Burke mentions a reference to the Devil in Philo’s Questions and answers on Genesis (which survives only in an Armenian version), but relies on Yonge’s dated translation; Marcus’s more recent work omits this sentence,28 which looks like a late interpolation since Philo nowhere else refers to the Devil.

Burke again conservatively rules a number of texts out of evidence due to uncertain/late date and/or provenance (Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Ascension of Isaiah,29 Greek version of Jubilees, History of the Rechabites, Greek Apocalypse of Moses, Testament of Solomon, etc.) or text-critical problems (Joseph and Aseneth 12.9). I have no objections here. I think Burke’s discussion of the Ascension of Moses is highly problematic, but while I deal with this text in some detail in my JTS study, the literary-historical problems with study of this text are too complicated to treat here. Anyway, regardless of the source of Jude’s allusion to a quarrel between Michael the archangel and the Devil (Jude 9), the allusion shows that the source existed in the first century and influenced the early church. The idea of a being who quarrels with an archangel must therefore be considered as part of the pre-Christian Jewish background on the term ho diabolos. This is significant since a quarrel between an archangel and an evil angel is a far more plausible scenario in a Second Temple Jewish setting than a quarrel between an archangel and the evil inclination.

(3) The Tempter

Burke states—correctly, as far as I can tell—that the term “the tempter” (Greek: ho peirazōn) has no pre-Christian Jewish witness. This is not very important, since peirasmos (testing or temptation) is unquestionably one of the Satan’s functions in Job 1-2. What the Satan proposes to God and then executes (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5) is clearly a test of Job’s loyalty to God, even if the word peirasmos does not occur in the LXX text. The role of the anonymous satan in 1 Chr. 21:1—inciting a righteous man to commit a sinful act—can likewise clearly be described as temptation, as can some of the exploits of “Mastema” in Jubilees (cf. 17.15-18.12), Belial in the Damascus Document (cf. CD 4.12-19) and “the satans” in 1 En. 65.6. Here again, Burke focuses myopically on a term rather than the concept it denotes.

One can add that Matthew is not the first writer to use “the tempter” as a Satanological designation—Paul does so in 1 Thess. 3:5. Thus, what was said above about ho satanas in the Pauline corpus is also relevant here.

(4) The Evil One

I am not entirely sure of Burke’s rationale for discussing this Satanological term: he otherwise limits himself to terms that appear in the Synoptic wilderness temptation accounts and ignores other Synoptic Satanological terms that appear only outside the wilderness temptation accounts.30 Nevertheless, let us consider what he says about this term:
The term ‘the evil one’ (ton ponērou), has no Second Temple pre-Christian witness as a reference to a supernatural evil being.
To begin with, “ton ponērou” mangles the Greek, combining an accusative article with a genitive adjective. But what can we say of Burke’s assertion that “the evil one” is not attested as a Second Temple Jewish designation for a supernatural being? I will not object too strenuously to Burke’s dismissal of the instances in Jubilees—the term “evil one” is generic here and it is ambiguous whether it refers to human or supernatural opposition or both. Due to problems of date, provenance and text, I am happy with his dismissal of the instances in 2 Enoch, the Story of Ahikar, Pseudo-Ezekiel, History of the Rechabites, 2 Baruch and Odes of Solomon. I would, in similar fashion, dismiss his late Talmudic evidence.31 I will not quibble either with Burke’s dismissal of 1 En. 69.15, which possibly refers to “the evil one” but is text-critically problematic and can be interpreted in other ways.32

Burke misses some important evidence, however. Most significant is the apparent reference to Belial in 4QBerakhot as הרשע, “the evil one” (4Q286 7 ii 5; the fragmentary text truncates before the ayin, but no other construction seems possible).33 What is odd about this omission by Burke is that he cites Black, one of the scholars who pointed out this reference to “the evil one,” but erroneously cites him as supporting the claim that this Satanological designation has no pre-Christian witness.34

The name Melkiresa (literally “ruler of evil,”) which occurs in two Qumran texts (4QCurses and 4QVisions of Amram), is a close analogue of “the evil one”—both at least are Satanological designations with “evil” as the operative word. Finally, Philo refers to unholy angels as hoi ponēroi (“the evil ones”) in On the Giants 17.35

Burke states that the lack of Second Temple Jewish precedent for “the evil one” has prompted “many scholars to argue that ton ponērou [sic] should not even be read as ‘the evil one’ in Matthew.” He does not cite any of these “many scholars.” However, while a Satanological referent is uncertain in Matt. 5:37, 6:13 and 13:38 due to the ambiguous gender of the genitive tou ponērou,36 the nominative ho ponēros in Matt. 13:19 is unambiguously masculine and unquestionably refers to Satan, being a redaction of ho satanas in Mark 4:15.

The attestation of “evil one” for supernatural opponents in Second Temple Jewish literature is very sparse, but not absent as Burke claims. Moreover, even apart from religion-historical precedent, “the evil one” is a rather obvious way to refer to the ultimate opponent and leader of forces of evil. Burke's skepticism that “the evil one” was used as a Satanological designation by Matthew is unwarranted given that this designation occurs in numerous other early Christian texts.37


As noted earlier, the structure of Burke’s study does not seem to have a true conclusion. However, the following comes closest to a concluding statement:
The combined weight of this lexical evidence casts serious doubt on the suggestion that the original audience of the Synoptic temptation accounts would have understood the satanological terminology as a reference to a specific supernatural evil being well known within Second Temple Period Judaism and the early Judeo-Christian milieu.
In line with our methodological criticism earlier, we can again note the negative nature of this statement. Despite Burke’s study being entitled The Yetzer in the Wilderness, he does not even draw a positive conclusion about the Synoptic Satan being identifiable as the yetzer to the original audience. He restricts himself to “cast[ing] serious doubt” on whether the original audience would have understood the Satanological terminology as referring to a supernatural evil being.

Has Burke succeeded in even this more modest objective of casting serious doubt on the standard identification of the Synoptic Gospels’ wilderness tempter? In my judgment, not at all. First, he focuses exclusively on terminology whereas he should also consider concepts. Second, he incomprehensibly ignores the broader Synoptic Gospel context of the Satanological terminology used in the temptation stories. Third, his religion-historical survey of the terms “Satan,” “Devil,” “tempter” and “evil one” understates their footprint as Satanological terminology in Second Temple Jewish literature. Concerning “the Satan,” Burke ignores the important witness of the Hebrew Bible, takes as factual a disputed interpretation of ho satanas in Sir. 21:27 and an unattested interpretation of śāṭān in the Plea for Deliverance, downplays the significance of the Parables of Enoch, fails to recognise Jubilees’ “Mastema” as an intermediate development between “the Satan” of the Hebrew Bible and that of the New Testament, and neglects the evidence of the Pauline corpus. Concerning “the Devil,” Burke misses important clues in the LXX translation of Job and Zechariah, too easily dismisses the evidence of the “Ascension of Moses” and fails to properly address the evidence of Jude 9’s source (evidence that bears weight irrespective of the problem of identifying this source). Concerning “the tempter,” Burke focuses exclusively on the term and fails to notice that the function of temptation or testing is repeatedly attributed to superhuman opponents in Second Temple literature. Concerning “the evil one,” Burke misses the crucial evidence of 4QBerakhot.

On the whole, Burke’s study can be described as a methodologically flawed and exegetically tendentious effort to find a religion-historical foothold for Christadelphians’ idiosyncratic reading of the Gospel temptation narrative, and more broadly their unique doctrine of the biblical Devil. If these are the best exegetical arguments that can be mounted, one wonders that there are not more Christadelphians calling for an internal review of the matter. The traditional Christian doctrine of the Devil as a transcendent opponent has been vindicated by biblical scholarship of the past century—not that it was ever in doubt among those for whom the teachings of the Church, faithfully transmitted through the ages, are authoritative.


  • 1 Following a critique of Christadelphian interpretations of the temptation narrative that I wrote in December 2013 and a couple of blog articles on the subject thereafter (The temptations of Jesus and Roman law and Who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Ten points to ponder), Burke wrote an eight-part online series under the heading The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination as well as a seven-part series under the heading Satan & demons: Thomas Farrar’s commentary. Most of the parts of the latter series do not advance any exegetical or theological arguments that merit a response. I have provided a detailed response to his comments on “the angels that sinned” (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Responding to one line of Burke's argument in The Yetzer in the Wilderness, I then wrote a four-part blog series entitled Form, Genre, and Historicity of the Wilderness Temptations of Jesus in the Gospels: A Response to Jonathan Burke (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Burke responded further with an article entitled Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, to which I in turn responded with A further reply to Jonathan Burke on the devil in the Gospel temptation stories.
  • 2 I would note, however, that I have numerous studies on Satan and demons going back to 2014 that have interacted critically with Burke's nearly 200-page tome Satan and Demons: A Reply to Anthony Buzzard (a comprehensive apologia for the Christadelphian position on this subject), to which to my knowledge neither Burke nor any other Christadelphian has responded to date. I would highlight, in particular, The Enemy is the Devil: The parables of Jesus and Christadelphian satanology and ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a person’: An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • 3 Some of these are mentioned in part two of my series on Form, Genre, and Historicity of the Wilderness Temptations of Jesus in the Gospels.
  • 4 Jonathan Burke, "Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Minority Report," Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 81 (2016), 127-68. For an excellent critique of such false dichotomies, see James P. Davies, "Evil’s Aetiology and False Dichotomies in Jewish Apocalyptic and Paul," in Chris Keith and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (eds.), Evil in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity (WUNT 2/417; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 169-89.
  • 5 For further discussion of Beelzeboul and the strong man, see Thomas J. Farrar and Guy J. Williams, "Diabolical Data: A critical inventory of New Testament Satanology," JSNT 39 (2016), 46-47, 51.
  • 6 For a refutation of Christadelphian attempts to construe these angels as human "messengers," see my article When is an angelos not an angel?.
  • 7 For a survey of possible interpretations of the saying in Luke 10:18, see Simon J. Gathercole, "Jesus' Eschatological Vision of the Fall of Satan: Luke 10,18 Reconsidered," ZNW 94 (2003), 143-63.
  • 8 Ryan E. Stokes, "What is a Demon, What is an Evil Spirit, and What is a Satan?", in Jan Dochhorn, Susanne Rudnig-Zelt, and Benjamin Wold (eds.), Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen—Evil, the Devil, and Demons (WUNT 2/412; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 269-70.
  • 9 Since the Ethiopic language has no definite article, we cannot be sure whether the term ‘satan’ was arthrous or anarthrous in the Semitic originals of the Parables of Enoch and Jubilees, since the term survives only in Ethiopic versions.
  • 10 While the Synoptic Gospels do not explicitly cite Job, and a discussion of the formation of the biblical canon is beyond our scope, Matthew quotes Zechariah as prophecy in Matt. 21:5 (cf. 23:35; 27:9).
  • 11 See references in forthcoming JTS study.
  • 12 See further discussion and references in forthcoming JTS study.
  • 13 See especially Sydney H. T. Page, "Satan: God's Servant," JETS 50 (2007), 449-65.
  • 14 E.g., John G. Snaith, Ecclesiasticus (CBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 110; Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira (AB 39; New York: Doubleday, 1987), 311-12; Christian Kurzewitz, Weisheit und Tod: Die Ätiologie des Todes in der Sapientia Salomonis (TANZ 50; Tübingen: Francke, 2010), 166 n. 483.
  • 15 The four occurrences of the term are actually in 1 En. 40.7; 53.3; 54.6; 65.6.
  • 16 See James H. Charlesworth, "The Date and Provenance of the Parables of Enoch," in Darrell L. Bock and James H. Charlesworth (eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift (Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies 11; London: T&T Clark, 2013), 56.
  • 17 In 40.7 the satans are a class of accusers driven away by the angel Phanuel; in the latter the satans, set in parallelism with “the angels,” seem to be Watchers.
  • 18 So George W. E. Nickelsburg, "Chapters 37-71: The Book of Parables," in George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch 2: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch Chapters 37-82 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress), 45.
  • 19 Leslie W. Walck, The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew (Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies 9; London: T&T Clark, 2011).
  • 20 On these texts see Farrar and Williams, "Diabolical Data," 54-56.
  • 21 I discuss this text in greater detail in my JTS study and interact with Hanneken’s observations on the Book of Asaph the Physician, to which Burke refers.
  • 22 Devorah Dimant, History, Ideology and Bible Interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls (FAT 90; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 147.
  • 23 E.g., Miryam T. Brand, Evil Within and Without: The Source of Sin and Its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature (JAJSup 9; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 183-84. See further references in forthcoming JTS publication.
  • 24 Tigchelaar does not say that the word “satan” is used of the evil inclination. What he says is that “the juxtaposition of satan and ‘evil inclination’ in the Plea for Deliverance reminds one of the identification of Satan and evil inclination in some Talmudic texts (b.BB 16a)” (E. Tigchelaar, "The Evil Inclination in the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a Re-edition of 4Q468i (4QSectarian Text?)," in Alberdina Houtman, Albert de Jong, and Magda Misset-van de Weg (eds.), Empsychoi Logoi—Religious Innovations in Antiquity [Leiden: Brill, 2008], 353). Other comments suggest that he regards ‘satan’ as an external entity in the Plea for Deliverance. Commenting on the Aramaic Levi Document, he writes, “The formulation in Levi’s Prayer, אל תשלט בי כל שטן, ‘Let not any satan rule over me’, as well as the formulations in other texts, indicate that שטן is a category of evil spirit, and not a proper noun. It is not entirely certain how the ‘evil inclination’ in the Plea for Deliverance is to be understood, whether as an outward or as an inward force, but in any case it seems to have gained a substance of its own, independent of a human’s heart” (Tigchelaar, "Evil Inclination," 350-51). Burke cites Tigchelaar second-hand via Brand but fails to state Brand’s own interpretation: “The petitioner asks to be saved from all evil that may afflict his person, physical and mental, external ‘satan’ and internal ‘inclination’” (Brand, Evil Within and Without, 210). Similarly, Lange: “11QPsa XIX:15 uses the term שטן without a determinative and mentions it in parallel with another type of demons, the spirit of impurity (רוח טמאה). The parallelism between ‘a satan’ and ‘a spirit of impurity’ shows that satan refers to a type or class of demons in the Plea for Deliverance and not to the leader of the antidivine world” (Armin Lange, "Satanic Verses: The Adversary in the Qumran Manuscripts and Elsewhere," RevQ 24 [2009], 40). Note also Stuckenbruck’s view, cited by Burke, that the Plea for Deliverance may have in view “a more specific malevolent being… that is, one called ‘Satan’” (Loren T. Stuckenbruck, "The Demonic World of the Dead Sea Scrolls," in in Ida Fröhlich and Erkki Koskenniemi (eds.), Evil and the Devil [LNTS 481; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013], 63). Wold, far from seeing the Plea for Deliverance as internalizing ‘satan,’ views it as externalizing the yetzer ra: “I am convinced that the yetzer ra in these lines is not an inward part of a person, or at least not exclusively, but parallel to ‘satan’ and ‘unclean spirit’ and therefore also an outward force” (Benjamin Wold, "Demonizing Sin? The Evil Inclination in 4QInstruction," in Evil in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, 38).
  • 25 Madeleine Wieger, "«Celui qu’on appelle διάβολος» (Apocalypse 12,9): L’histoire du nom grec de l’Adversaire," in Michael Tilly, Matthias Morgenstern, and Volker Henning Drecoll (eds.), L’adversaire de Dieu—der Widersacher Gottes (WUNT 364; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 208.
  • 26 I should point out, however, that the definite article need not be understood in a par excellence sense here; it is to be understood respectively cataphorically and anaphorically.
  • 27 In addition to scholars cited by Burke identifying this diabolos as Cain, Zurawski, in a detailed study, identifies this diabolos as a generic human adversary (Jason M. Zurawski, "Separating the Devil from the Diabolos: A Fresh Reading of Wisdom of Solomon 2.24," JSP 21 [2012], 366-399).
  • 28 Ralph Marcus, Philo, Supplement I: Questions on Genesis (LCL 380; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953/1961), 21-2.
  • 29 Burke states that “the term appears in one of the late Greek fragments”. This is misleading, since the Greek Legend is not a “fragment” of the Ascension of Isaiah but an expanded reworking thereof. In any case, communis opinio now regards Ascension of Isaiah as a Christian composition.
  • 30 Cf. Beelzeboul (Mark 3:22; Matt. 10:25; 12:24; Luke 11:15, 18, 19), the prince of demons (Mark 3:22; Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Luke 11:15), the enemy (Luke 10:19), the power of darkness (Luke 22:53), and parabolic representations of the Satan, namely the strong man (Mark 3:27; Matt. 12:29; Luke 11:21-22), the birds (Mark 4:4 cp. 4:15; Matt. 13:4 cp. 13:19; Luke 8:5 cp. 8:12) and the enemy (Matt. 13:25, 28 cp. 13:39).
  • 31 Burke states, “Care must always be taken not to assume Talmudic content is representative of first century Jewish beliefs, given the composite nature of the Talmuds and the lateness of their final form, but if the term ‘the evil one’ was a normative term for a supernatural evil satan or ‘the devil’ in the first century, it is extraordinary that this does not appear anywhere in the Talmudic literature.” I agree with the first part, but there is a simple explanation for why Satan is never called “the evil one” in the Talmud—the rabbis did not believe Satan to be morally evil.
  • 32 See Nickelsburg, "Book of Parables," 304-307.
  • 33 Matthew Black, ‘The Doxology to the Pater Noster with a Note on Matthew 6.13b,’ in Philip R. Davies and Richard T. White (eds.), A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (JSOTSup 100; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1990), 334; James R. Davila, Liturgical Works (Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls 6; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 59-61.
  • 34 Since 4QBerakhot date palaeographically from the mid-first century C.E. (Davila, Liturgical Works, 42), one cannot confidently call them “pre-Christian.” However, they almost certainly pre-date Matthew, since the Qumran community was destroyed by the Romans c. 68 C.E., and Matthew is generally dated post-70 C.E.—usually in the 80s.
  • 35 “And so, too, you also will not go wrong if you reckon as angels, not only those who are worthy of the name, who are as ambassadors backwards and forwards between men and God and are rendered sacred and inviolate by reason of that glorious and blameless ministry, but also those who are unholy and unworthy of the title. I have as witness to my argument the words of the Psalmist, where in one of the psalms we read ‘He sent out upon them the anger of His wrath, wrath and anger and affliction, a mission by evil angels’ (Ps. lxxvii. 49). These are the evil ones who, cloaking themselves under the name of angels, know not the daughters of right reason, the sciences and virtues, but court the pleasures which are born of men, pleasures mortal as their parents—pleasures endowed not with the true beauty, which the mind alone can discern, but with the false comeliness, by which the senses are deceived.” (F. H. Colson, trans. Philo. 10 vols. [London: Heinemann, 1929], 2:453-55).
  • 36 See Farrar and Williams ("Diabolical Data," 44-46) for arguments that these texts nonetheless do refer to the Satan.
  • 37 The expression is unambiguously masculine in 1 John 2:13-14, 5:18, Barn. 2.10 and Mart. Pol. 17.1. The gender is ambiguous in Did. 8.2, 2 Thess. 3:3, Eph. 6:16, 1 John 3:12, 5:19 and Barn. 21.3, but I would argue that these instances too all refer to the Satan. Burke ("Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers", 157) concedes a Satanological referent in Barnabas, though not in Didache or Martyrdom of Polycarp.