dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label supernatural evil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label supernatural evil. Show all posts

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (9): The Shepherd of Hermas

The work known as The Shepherd of Hermas (henceforth Hermas) is easily the longest of the Apostolic Fathers corpus. Shepherd is the title on some manuscripts, and the author identifies himself as Hermas. The text is divided into three main sections: the Visions, Mandates, and Similitudes.1 Hermas is generally believed to have been written in central Italy, probably Rome.2 The inconsistent structural pattern in the work previously led scholars to posit multiple authors,3 but today the consensus is that Hermas was written by a single author, albeit over an extended period of time, probably extending from the end of the first century through to the mid-second century.4 As Verheyden explains:
The author of SH likes to take up a restricted set of topics time and again, looking at them from different angles and perspectives and introducing slight variations, as a way of imprinting the message onto the audience.5
Although Hermas 'contains features of an apocalypse' such as mediating divine messages received from angels,6 the main purpose of the work is pastoral.7 The main themes discussed within it are sin and repentance, the Church, and how one becomes and remains a member thereof.8

In terms of supernatural evil in Hermas, there are two distinctive aspects to consider: the devil, and demons or spirits. It is noteworthy that all of the references to such entities occur in the Mandates and Similitudes (the great majority in the Mandates), and none in the Visions, which are regarded as the earliest portion of the work. In fact, the relative silence on the spirit world in the Visions as compared to the other two sections is not limited to evil but extends also to angels, the word pneuma and 'holy spirit' in particular.9 Moreover, one detects no antagonism toward belief in the spirit world (good or evil) in the Visions. Thus, there is no reason to argue from the Visions' silence on the devil and demons that the author underwent a radical shift in worldview during the decades between the penning of the Visions and the Mandates.10 Perhaps he did not consider his understanding of such topics adequate to write about them at the time Visions was written.11 More likely, his pastoral purposes at the time of writing the Visions simply did not call for such language.12

The devil

Hermas refers to the devil at least 23 times, and possibly as many as 34.13 The author provides very little variation in terminology, almost always using the term ho diabolos which, of course, is well known to us from the New Testament.

The devil in Hermas is 'mythologically portrayed as an external agent of evil',14 i.e. 'the traditional role of Satan basically stands unaltered.'15 The author does not provide any details about the devil for their own sake; he simply assumes that his audience knows what he means by ho diabolos. However, from the way that Hermas refers to the devil it is obvious that a supernatural, personal being is in view.

In HermMan 4.3-4.6 the devil is is said to tempt people by devising 'intricate plots' (poluplokian).16 In HermMan 5.1.3 the devil's character is contrasted with the Lord's. In HermMan 7.2-3 and 12.6.1-4 Hermas instructs the reader not to fear the devil because he has no power compared to the Lord's. Only his works are to be feared. These last three passages all reflect the cosmic dualism which occurs frequently in NT passages about the devil.17 In HermMan 11.1-3, a false prophet can speak some true words because 'the devil fills him with his own spirit, to see if he can dash one of the upright.'18 This clearly implies that the devil has supernatural power. In HermMan 12.5.4 he 'comes against all the slaves of God to put them to the test' and is able to enter and dominate those who are partly empty.19

Two additional terms in Hermas which may refer to the devil deserve attention. The 'two angels' motif in HermMan 6.2.1-10 is probably dependent on the Two Ways tradition.20 Some scholars think Hermas intends the 'angel of wickedness' (who is contrasted with the 'angel of righteousness' here as opposing influences on human conduct) to be identified with the devil himself.21 The author does not explicitly divulge the relationship between the angel of wickedness and the devil. However, one notes that the adjectives used for the two angels in HermMan 6.2.3-6.2.4 (oxucholos, 'irascible', and trupheros, 'sensitive') are the same as those used of the devil and the holy spirit in HermMan 5.1.3. However, in HermMan 5.1, the devil's counterpart is the Lord while the holy spirit's counterpart is 'another, evil spirit'. This may suggest that the 'angel of righteousness' is the holy spirit,22 while the 'angel of wickedness' is an evil spirit from the devil, and not the devil himself. The 'two angels' motif also seems to be influenced by the concepts of the good and evil inclination within a person which are prominent in rabbinic thought. As Gokey notes, here we are 'face to face with the role of the devil in the psychology of sin'.23 It is necessary to emphasize that the 'two inclinations', 'two ways' and 'two angels' do not represent competing, contradictory views of good and evil:
Two-way paraenetic theology has roots in both Greek and Jewish moral traditions. It externalizes the same idea that the teaching on the two kinds of indwelling spirits internalizes. While the question of different sources must be examined, it is not a question of different concepts or worldviews; all arise from an anthropological dualism that ascribes the experience of good and evil to external causality.24
In the Similitudes there is a similitude which contrasts two cities (HermSim 1.1-11). 'This city' is contrasted with 'your own city.' The laws of the two cities are also contrasted, and 'the master of this city' (ho despotēs tēs poleōs tautēs) is contrasted with 'the Lord.' The Lord's counterpart is also referred to as 'the ruler of this city' (ho kurios tēs poleōs tautēs) and 'the ruler of this country' (ho kurios tēs chōras tautēs) (HermSim 1.3-6). To whom does the ruler of this city refer? Three interpretations are offered in the literature: (1) the devil,25 (2) Rome or the Roman emperor,26 or (3) no allegorical referent is intended.27 Which interpretation is correct? In favour of the ruler being the Roman emperor, the likelihood that the provenance of The Shepherd is Rome means such a sense would fit the historical setting of the author: his own literal city had a well-known ruler and laws. However, a closer reading of the text favours the first interpretation. The reference to 'leave this city and go to your own' (HermSim 1.6) appears to refer to martyrdom. Thus the notion of 'leaving this city' does not refer to literal migration, but death. Consequently, when the lord of this city intends to 'banish you for not adhering to his law', banishment means killing. This suggests that the language is allegorical rather than literal. Since Satan is commonly depicted in early Christian texts as a ruler and as responsible for persecution and martyrdom of Christians, he is the most likely candidate for the lord/despot who seeks to 'banish' (kill) the Christians. Moreover, while the idea of the devil having 'laws' in contrast to those of God may seem odd, it would not be foreign to Hermas since HermMan 12.4.5-6 contrasts the Lord's commandments with 'the commandments of the devil'.

Before turning to demonology, one last point is needed about the literary-traditional background to The Shepherd's Satanology. Readers familiar with the New Testament will immediately recognize the similarity of the following language to James 4:7:
The devil can cause only fear, but his fear has no force. And so do not fear him, and he will flee from you… If then you resist him, once he is conquered he will flee from you in humiliation. (HermMan 12.4.7-12.5.2)28
Seitz argued that this and other close parallels between The Shepherd, James 4:5-9a, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,29 suggest that all three depend on some unknown 'scriptural' source.30 This would imply that The Shepherd's Satanology was similar to that of James and thus compatible at least one strand of New Testament tradition.


The Shepherd contains rather frequent references to evil spirits or demons.31 The most distinctive feature of Hermas' demonology is the identification of specific vices with evil spirits or demons. For example:
'Slander is evil, a restless demon, never at peace but always living in dissension. And so, abstain from it and you will always be in good standing with all.' (HermMand 2.3)32
 'For insolence and empty confidence are a great demon' (HermSim 9.22.3)33
'And so, avoid irascibility, which is the most wicked spirit.' (HermMan 5.2.8)34
There is obviously an internalization of dualistic forces here, as we saw with the two angels motif. The question is, does Hermas conceive of these 'demons' as personal beings who retain a separate existence, or as abstractions? In other words, has Hermas (1) demythologized demons by identifying them with vices, or (2) mythologized vices by identifying them with demons? In contemporary English, when we say that someone 'overcame his demons' we mean that s/he dealt with addiction or other personal battles. Hence, view (1) may accord better with our modern sensibilities, but it would be anachronistic to assume on this basis that Hermas understood demons the same way. Gokey reminds us that 'The personal and evil character of the word daimonion is very clear from its Jewish usage', although 'There is some ambiguity in the case of pneuma'.35 Similarly, Osiek states:
The world of Hermas is inhabited by many spirits, both good and evil… by hosts of intermediary spirits, as was common in popular Greco-Roman and Jewish cosmology of the time.36
While acknowledging that certain characters in The Shepherd may have originally been intended allegorically, she warns that 'To try to distinguish sharply between allegorical figures, spirits, and angels is to do violence to the elusive nature of the imagery'.37 On HermMan 5.1.2 specifically, Osiek comments:
Verse 2 is central to the teaching on the discernment of spirits: to be under the control of an evil spirit does not have to mean the dramatic signs of demon possession, for it can happen in everyday affairs. Yet the language is forceful: the evil spirit tries to push its way in (paremballei) if it can.38
She similarly notes concerning HermMan 11.3 how 'The wordplay on emptiness is consonant with the spatial language used elsewhere about spirit possession, especially 5.1.3, 2.5'.39 All of this leads her to conclude that Hermas projects social struggles 'into the cosmic realm, where divine and demonic power battle for control of human beings.'40

Hence, although Hermas appears to have internalized demonology, this is not to say that his worldview is non-mythological. The abundant evidence for his belief in a personal, supernatural devil suggests that his 'demons' and 'spirits' also retain a personal, external character despite their integration with anthropological categories.


  • 1 We will use the standard abbreviations HermVis, HermMan and HermSim to refer to passages within these sections. Note that the Mandates are sometimes referred to as the Commandments, and the Similitudes are sometimes referred to as the Parables.
  • 2 Osiek, C. (1999). Shepherd of Hermas. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 18.
  • 3 ibid., p. 13.
  • 4 ibid., p. 20.
  • 5 Verheyden, J. (2006). The Shepherd of Hermas. The Expository Times, 117(10), 397-401. Here p. 398.
  • 6 ibid.
  • 7 ibid., p. 401.
  • 8 ibid., p. 399.
  • 9 Moser observes that forms of angelos occur 9 times in the Visions compared with 20 in the Mandates and 47 in the Similitudes. Similarly, forms of pneuma occur 9 times in the Visions compared with 58 in the Mandates and 39 in the Similitudes. Specifically, the 'holy spirit' is mentioned ten times in the Mandates and nine times in the Similitudes but never in the Visions. (Moser, M.B. (2005). Teacher of Holiness: The Holy Spirit in Origen’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Piscataway: Gorgias Press, p. 37 n. 40.)
  • 10 Osiek remarks on the 'thematic unity of the book in spite of some divergences' (op. cit., p. 10).
  • 11 We have seen from Ignatius' comment in Trallians 5.1-2 that angelology and related topics were regarded as unsuitable for immature believers.
  • 12 Joly remarks on Hermas' silence on the devil outside the Mandates, 'Le mot diabolos n’apparaît que dans les Préceptes. C’est peut-être qu’Hermas ne parle pas, ne sent pas le besoin de parler du diable ailleurs' (Joly, R. (1967). Hermas et le Pasteur. Vigiliae Christianae, 21(4), 201-218. Here p. 214).
  • 13 The sure references are HermMan 4.3.4, 4.3.6, 5.1.3, 7.2 (twice), 7.3, 9.9, 9.11, 11.3, 11.17, 12.2.2, 12.4.6 (twice), 12.4.7, 12.5.1, 12.5.2 (twice), 12.5.4, 12.6.1, 12.6.2 (twice), 12.6.4, HermSim 9.31.2 (this last passage survives only in a Latin version). The debatable references (either on text-critical or exegetical grounds) are six references to 'the angel of wickedness' in HermMan 6.2.1-6.2.10, a possible second reference to the devil in HermMan 7.3 (text-critically questionable: see Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 2). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 267); references to 'the lord of this city' and two similar expressions in HermSim 1.3-1.6, and a reference to the devil in HermSim 8.3.6 (text-critically questionable: see Ehrman, op. cit., p. 365 and Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker, p. 604).
  • 14 Boyd, J.W. (1975). Satan and Māra: Christian and Buddhist Symbols of Evil. Leiden: Brill, p. 61.
  • 15 Boyd, op. cit., p. 51. Gokey concurs that Hermas' beliefs about Satan are orthodox (Gokey, Gokey, F.X. (1961). The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, p. 128).
  • 16 Note the similarity to the language of 1 Clement 51.1 and 2 Clement 18.2 - both documents which, like Hermas, are generally associated with Rome.
  • 17 E.g. Matt. 13:36-43; John 8:44; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:15; Jas 4:7; 1 John 3:10; 4:4; Rev. 12:7-9.
  • 18 A similar idea is found in Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 82.2-3, and is arguably presupposed in Didache 11.7-12 as well, as was argued in the previous post in this series.
  • 19 This is reminiscent of the saying of Jesus about the restless unclean spirit in Luke 11:24-26.
  • 20 Osiek, op. cit., pp. 32, 123. See discussion of the Two Ways tradition in the previous post on the Didache.
  • 21 Boyd, op. cit., p. 33; Gokey, op. cit., p. 133 n. 8. Russell thinks the angel of wickedness is either the devil or a manifestation of him (Russell, J.B. (1981/1987). Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Russell, J.B. (1987). Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. 43). Osiek (op. cit., pp. 123-124) appears not to make this identification.
  • 22 Note that the Ascension of Isaiah, a Christian apocalypse which probably predates the Mandates, explicitly calls the holy spirit an angel.
  • 23 Gokey, op. cit., pp. 121-123.
  • 24 Osiek, op. cit., p. 123.
  • 25 Gokey, op. cit., pp. 131, 174 n. 100; Brox, N. (1991). Der Hirt des Hermas. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; Van Oort, J. (1991). Jerusalem and Babylon: A Study into Augustine’s City of God and the sources of his doctrine of the two cities. Leiden: Brill, p. 309; Hill, C.E. (2001). Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 95. Hill writes, 'The despot of "this" city is instead the "ruler of this age" who seeks to draw Christians away to follow his laws - according to Mand. 12.4.6 it is the devil, not the emperor, who has bitter and licentious commandments that are to be forsaken. This is substantiated as well by the close connection in the passage before us between living by the laws of "this" city and accumulating worldly possessions to the neglect of spiritual ones, an unnatural connection if the laws of "this" city are merely the laws of Rome.'
  • 26 Koscheski, J. (2011). The Earliest Christian War: Second- and Third-Century Martyrdom and the Creation of Cosmic Warriors. Journal of Religious Ethics, 39(1), pp. 100-124.
  • 27 Osiek, op. cit., pp. 158-159 regards the passage as a sustained metaphor or allegory, and initially suggests that the lord of the city refers either to the Roman emperor or the devil. However, she goes on to suggest that this point in the story 'is more parable than allegory, so that a strict correspondence of every character need not be found.' She thinks Hermas' optimism about the presence of God's spirit in the world precludes the implication 'that the devil controls the world.' Nevertheless, as she sees the issue of martyrdom behind this passage and the reference to the devil in HermSim 8.3.6 (ibid., p. 204), her argument is not consistent at this point.
  • 28 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 301. All translations herein are from Ehrman unless otherwise indicated.
  • 29 E.g. Testament of Dan 5.1; Testament of Naphtali 8.4.
  • 30 Seitz, O.J.F. (1944). Relationship of the Shepherd of Hermas to the Epistle of James. Journal of Biblical Literature, 63(2), 131-140. Here p. 138. Seitz conjectured that the source used by these writers is the same unknown source quoted (pertaining to double-mindedness) in 1 Clement 23.3-4 and 2 Clement 11.2-4. Allison argues at length that the source behind 1 Clement 23.3-4, 2 Clement 11.2-4 and James 4:5 is the apocryphon of Eldad and Modad (Allison, D.C. (2011). Eldad and Modad. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 21(2), 99-131). This view is shared by Bauckham (Bauckham, R. (2010). The Jewish World around the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic) with respect to all three texts and by Hagner (Hagner, D.A. (1973). The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome. Leiden: Brill) and Donfried (Donfried, K.P. (1974). The Setting of Second Clement in Early Christianity. Leiden: Brill.) with respect to 1 Clement 23.3-4 and 2 Clement 11.2-4.
  • 31 According to Bucur (Bucur, B.G. (2007). The Son of God and the Angelomorphic Holy Spirit: A Rereading of the Shepherd’s Christology. Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 98, 120-142. Here p. 122), 'angel' and 'spirit' are interchangeable terms for this author. Osiek (op. cit., p. 32) similarly states concerning the Two Ways tradition, 'The distinction between spirits and angels in this context is a fine one, if it exists at all.'
  • 32 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 239.
  • 33 ibid., p. 443.
  • 34 ibid., p. 261.
  • 35 Gokey, op. cit., p. 126.
  • 36 Osiek, op. cit., pp. 31, 33. In this vein, the contrast between the holy spirit and evil spirits that one finds in HermMan 5.2.5-5.2.8 suggests that the evil spirits are more than abstractions, since the holy spirit is never merely an abstraction in early Christian thought.
  • 37 ibid., p. 34.
  • 38 ibid., p. 120.
  • 39 ibid., p. 142.
  • 40 ibid., p. 126.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (8): The Didache

The Didache is a document which most scholars date "sometime around the year 100, possibly a decade or so later."1 A minority of scholars date the text much earlier, to the mid-first century.2 As to the place of origin, "it is now widely accepted that the text originates in the general area of Syria, or more narrowly in Antioch."3

The Didache is a compilation of different source materials and therefore a "generically mixed composition"4 which "cannot be considered a homogeneous text."5 As a whole its genre is usually described as a church manual or something similar. Concerning the theology of the work, Niederwimmer (one of the world's foremost Didache experts) offers some important caveats:
[The Didache] is aimed practical needs and lacks any theoretical or even speculative exposition of Christian belief…The Didache is not a ‘theological’ work but a rule for ecclesiastical praxis, a handbook of church morals, ritual, and discipline.6
Later, Niederwimmer adds:
His book tells us little or nothing of his ‘theology,’ if he had one at all. It is written without any theoretical claims and is entirely focused on the praxis and order of community life. Individual theological motifs are evident, but only in passing and without systematic reflection. A reconstruction of the ‘theology of the Didache’ would therefore be a foolish enterprise. All we can say is that attention should be paid to the author’s fundamentally conservative stance.7
Bearing these caveats in mind, our aim here is not to reconstruct the theological beliefs of the Didachist concerning supernatural evil. Rather, we will investigate whether there are any indications within the text that it reflects a tradition or a community which believed in supernatural evil.

There are a number of relevant passages which require close exegesis. Due to the space constraints of a blog post, the exegesis will be abbreviated here, but most of the material is covered in more detail in a previous work.8

The 'de-angelization' of the Two Ways tradition

The Didache opens with an ethical teaching which contrasts right and wrong ways of living.
There are two paths, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two paths is great. (Didache 1.1)9
It is one of a number of early Christian works to make use of a traditional Two Ways teaching. The Epistle of Barnabas and the Doctrina Apostolorum explicitly contain cosmic dualism in their Two Ways material: in Barnabas 18.1-2 the light-bringing angels of God are juxtaposed with the angels of Satan, while in Doctrina 1.1 one reads of two angels, one of righteousness, the other of iniquity. By contrast, the Didache's Two Ways material makes no reference to angels, good or bad. What are we to make of this?

First of all, in their reconstruction of the hypothetical Jewish Two Ways source on which these Christian texts ultimately depend, van de Sandt and Flusser conclude that the Doctrina follows the original wording.10 Similarly, Draper argues that the reference to Satan has been added by Barnabas rather than being taken over from his source.11 What this means is that the Didachist has not removed a reference to Satan (because his source did not contain any reference to Satan), but he has removed the reference to the two angels.12

The question is, why was the reference to the two angels removed? This is, of course, not something we can know for certain. Van de Sandt and Flusser mention two possibilities:
The absence of these elements from the Didache might have occurred by accident in the course of transmission or might have been the result of a deliberate attempt to ethicize the tradition.13
It appears that the majority of scholars favour the second view, that the removal of the angels represents a deliberate ethicizing or demythologizing move.14 Of these scholars, Milavec goes into the most detail on the suggested motive. He suggests novice Christians who had abandoned idolatry might have feared retribution from the gods had their power been equated with supernatural power. Hence the Didache's diminution of supernatural evil in this passage is due to its pastoral, or more specifically catechetical, purpose.

It should be noted, however, that others who see the removal of the angels as deliberate propose quite different motives. Both Chester and Jenks think the motive is to make the apocalyptic ending of the Didache (chapter 16) more climactic.15 Niederwimmer states that the two angels motif may have been omitted simply "because it plays no part in the exposition that follows."16

Reconstructions of the Didachist's motives in the apparent excision of the two angels motif are ultimately conjectural. They may suggest a relative lack of interest in cosmic dualism or in the spirit world on the part of this author in comparison to the author of Barnabas, for instance. What it does not suggest, however, is that the Didachist denied the existence of supernatural evil. (To my knowledge, no scholar has defended such a claim in print). If one were to argue this from the omission of the two angels motif here and the Didache's alleged silence elsewhere on supernatural evil (on which see below), one might as well argue that the Didachist did not believe in angels at all. The evidence is the same: the Didachist has removed a reference to an angel of righteousness from the Two Ways tradition, and the extant text of the Didache makes no mention of angels.17

tou ponērou in the Lord's Prayer

Didache 8.2 contains a version of the Lord's Prayer which "agrees strongly with the one handed on by Matthew, with some characteristic deviations from the latter."18
Nor should you pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, you should pray as follows: 'Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread [Or: the bread that we need; or: our bread for tomorrow]. And forgive us our debt, as we forgive our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one [Or: from evil]. For the power and the glory are yours forever. (Didache 8.2)19
While it was previously assumed that the Didache is dependent on Matthew, the scholarly consensus is now that the two writers drew on shared tradition but have no literary dependence on one another.20 Accordingly the similarities in the Lord's Prayer are held to "rest on a common liturgical tradition."21

The petition that interests us is identical in Matt. 6:13 and Didache 8.2 (but absent from Luke 11:2-4): alla rhusai hēmas apo tou ponērou. It is grammatically ambiguous whether tou ponērou is masculine or neuter, and the meaning of this term in the Matthean prayer is a famous exegetical problem which has been debated since the patristic period. The majority of contemporary scholars regard tou ponērou as masculine in Matt. 6:13, meaning 'the evil one' par excellence, i.e. Satan,22 while a minority take it to mean 'evil' abstractly.23 In the case of Didache 8.2, it is unclear which reading enjoys majority support, with a roughly equal number (according to this author's survey) rendering 'evil'.24 and 'the evil one.'25

The incongruity in scholarly opinion concerning tou ponērou in Didache versus Matthew is surprising since the literature cited above contains virtually no exegetical arguments on the phrase's meaning in the Didache specifically. Presumably the incongruity is because there is no contextual basis in the Didache for Satanological use of this term, whereas Matthew clearly uses the masculine ho ponēros for Satan (Matt. 13:19; cf. 5:37; 13:38). However, since the petition is identical in both documents and is believed to pre-date both documents, it is more likely than not that the same understanding of the petition prevailed in both Matthew's and the Didachist's community. Thus 'the evil one' is the more likely meaning in Didache 8.2 as in Matt. 6:13. ho ponēros seems to have been the third most widely used Satanological designation in the early church, after ho diabolos and ho satanas.26 Certainly the probability of a reference to Satan here is high enough to render dubious any argument from silence for the Didache community's non-belief in supernatural evil.

The spirit in which false prophets speak

The Didache makes no explicit reference to demons or exorcism. This silence is most notable in Didache 6.3, where the rejection of idol food is enjoined without reference to demons. We have already referred to Milavec's suggestion that this silence is part of a pastoral strategy for the Gentile initiates for whom the Two Ways teaching is intended. It does not necessarily represent a comprehensive polemic against idolatry. Indeed, the claim that idols are dead gods is similar to the claim of Justin Martyr that idols are "lifeless and dead." Justin, however, still proceeds to link idols to demons (1 Apology 9). Hence, the Didache's brief polemic against idolatry here does not prove that the writer disbelieved in demons.

One passage which may implicitly presuppose the existence of demons is the warning against false prophets in Didache 11.7-12.
7 Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. 8 However, not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but only if he exhibits the Lord's ways. By his conduct, therefore, will the false prophet and the prophet be recognized. 9 Furthermore, any prophet who orders a meal in the spirit shall not partake of it; if he does, he is a false prophet. 10 If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet. 11 But any prophet proven to be genuine who does something with a view to portraying in a worldly manner the symbolic meaning of the church (provided that he does not teach you to do all that he himself does) is not to be judged by you, for his judgment is with God. Besides, the ancient prophets also acted in a similar manner. 12 But if anyone should say in the spirit, 'Give me money' or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he tells you to give on behalf of others who are in need, let no one judge him. (Didache 11.7-12)27
The passage refers to prophets speaking en pneumati. Some translations render this 'in the Spirit' or 'in the spirit',28 while others render it 'in a spirit'.29 Since en pneumati is used of both genuine and false prophets, there are no grounds for translating it 'in the [Holy] Spirit' when applied to the genuine prophets and 'in a [demonic?] spirit' when applied to false prophets.30 As Tibbs states, "All of the statements [in Didache 11.7-12] are uttered by a prophet en pneumati, indicating that a foreign spirit is speaking through the prophet."31 The key point here is that the text neither explicitly differentiates between the kind of spirit inspiring the two types of prophets, nor does it imply that they are possessed by the same spirit.32 It simply states that they speak under inspiration of a spirit.33

Tibbs appears to favour Richardson's view that in the Didache, lalounta en pneumati means "literally, speaking in a spirit, i.e. speaking while possessed by a divine or demonic spirit."34 Thompson similarly describes the false prophets of Didache 11.8, 12 as "spirit possessed."35 Other scholars who regard it as likely that en pneumati, as applied to false prophets here, refers to demonic inspiration, include De Halleux36 and Draper.37

That the Didache envisions false prophets as inspired by an evil spirit is enhanced by comparison with other early Christian texts. The first comparison is with Paul. Both the Didache and Paul give an example of something bad a spirit-inspired person might hypothetically say: in the Didache's case, "Give me money" (Didache 11.12) and in Paul's case, "Jesus is accursed" (1 Cor. 12:3). However, while the Didache asserts that someone speaking en pneumati might say such a thing, Paul asserts that someone speaking en pneumati theou could never say such a thing. It is clear that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit (or at least a holy spirit) since he supplies the qualifier theou. If the Didache's en pneumati refers to the Holy Spirit (or a holy spirit) then it contradicts Paul's statement. If, however, the Didache envisions a false prophet as inspired by a demonic spirit, then Didache 11.12 and 1 Cor. 12:3 are harmonious. No one speaking in a/the spirit of God can say bad things, but a person speaking in evil spirit might.

The second comparison is with the Shepherd of Hermas.38 In Mandates 11.1-3, Hermas asserts that false prophets are filled with the devil's spirit.39 This passage otherwise contains parallels with Didache 11.7-12; for instance, both writings advise using a prophet's behaviour as a criterion by which to discern true and false prophets.40

Other early Christian texts which appear to presuppose that false prophets and teachers can be inspired or possessed by spirits other than a/the Holy Spirit include 1 John 4:1-3,41 1 Cor. 12:10,42 and 1 Tim. 4:1.43

The world-deceiver

The world-deceiver (Greek: ho kosmoplanēs) is a figure who appears in the Didache's brief apocalyptic ending:
For when lawlessness increases they will hate, persecute and betray one another. Then the world-deceiver will be manifest as a son of God. He will perform signs and wonders, and the earth will be delivered over into his hands. He will perform lawless deeds, unlike anything done from eternity. (Didache 16.4)44
This is the only extant occurrence of the noun kosmoplanēs in early Christian literature.45 Is the world-deceiver a supernatural figure? One encounters three different answers to this question in the scholarly literature. (1) Some scholars regard the world-deceiver as a human persecutor with no supernatural empowerment.46 (2) Some scholars regard the world-deceiver as a human persecutor who has diabolical or demonic connections.47 (3) Some scholars think the world-deceiver is Satan.48

There is no explicit indication in Didache 16 that the world-deceiver is Satan or is associated with satanic or demonic power. However, two lines of evidence point to at least an association, if not identification, of the world-deceiver with Satan. The first line of evidence consists of tradition-historical parallels. The closest early Christian parallel to the term 'world-deceiver' is ho planōn tēn oikoumenēn holēn ('the one deceiving the whole world') in Rev. 12:9, which is a description of Satan. Niederwimmer notes numerous parallels to the idea of "The devil who alters his appearance" (just as the world-deceiver is "manifest as (hōs) a son of God"),49 and also to the idea of an evil eschatological figure who deceives the world50 and uses signs and wonders.51 Other important parallels include Ascension of Isaiah 4 and Apocalypse of Peter 2. Draper adds that eschatological opponent traditions in the Qumran literature provide valuable background to Didache 16, and that in these texts, "The underlying conception is that the Sons of Darkness are marshaled and inspired by a particular representative of Belial."52

The second line of evidence is that the language used of the world-deceiver has supernatural connotations. He is manifest (phanēsetai) as a son of God, and he performs signs and wonders (sēmeia kai terata). The verb phainō is frequently used of appearances by transcendent figures such as angels and Jesus.53 Meanwhile, sēmeia kai terata is a hendiadys which in the New Testament denotes "miracles worked by Jesus or his followers, on the one hand, and by those opposed them, on the other."54 This phrase has its biblical background in the LXX, where it is frequently used of divine miracles.55 Twelftree states that
among educated Greeks of the period the phrase was used of purported marvels, such as lightning strikes, showers of stones, stars shining for seven days, dreams, an eclipse of the sun, monstrous births and a statue moving.56
There is a widespread early Christian tradition of "signs and wonders" being performed by eschatological evil figures, including in the NT.57 The most likely biblical background to this idea is Deut. 13:1-5,58 which legislates concerning false prophets or dreamers who are nonetheless capable of announcing signs and wonders which take place.

Numerous scholars regard the signs and wonders in Didache 16.4 and other similar texts as real manifestations of supernatural power which are deceitful in their intent, rather than merely feigned signs and wonders which lack any power.59

Hence, while it is impossible to be certain about the precise relationship between Satan and the world-deceiver of the tradition preserved in Didache 16.4, there is ample evidence to conclude that this figure, even if merely human himself, is regarded as having access to supernatural power (like the 'man of lawlessness' of 2 Thess. 2).

The Didache's lost ending

Most scholars agree that the Didache's ending in the only full manuscript (the Bryennios manuscript) is incomplete.60 This is based on physical evidence in the manuscript, as well as the abruptness of the extant ending, which does not deal with the demise of the world-deceiver or the destiny of the saints. A fourth-century document known as the Apostolic Constitutions contains a paraphrase of the Didache. Its version of Didache 16.8 (where the Bryennios manuscript breaks off) reads and continues as follows:
Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven with the angels of His power, in the throne of His kingdom, to condemn the devil, the deceiver of the world, and to render to every one according to his deeds. Then shall the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous shall enter eternal life, to inherit those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, such things as God hath prepared for them that love Him. And they shall rejoice in the kingdom of God, which is in Christ Jesus. (Apostolic Constitutions 7.32.2f)61
This passage "has been widely accepted as proof for a ‘lost ending’ of the Didache which can or must be accepted as that text which fits into the last seven lines of the Bryennios manuscript."62

Aldridge, who offers a detailed analysis of the matter of the Didache's lost ending, concludes concerning the above passage from Apostolic Constitutions, "There is good evidence that this is the Didache's true ending (approximately)."63 His best effort at a reconstruction of the Didache's lost ending consists of this passage, verbatim.64 Draper similarly states that it seems likely that Apostolic Constitutions has "preserved the ending faithfully."65 Others are more cautious. Niederwimmer allows that the lost ending of the Didache might have been similar either to what we find in Apostolic Constitutions or the ending of the Georgian version of the Didache (which reads quite differently), but prudently states, "I shall not be bold enough to attempt to reconstitute the lost conclusion of the Didache by conjecture."66 Verheyden and van de Sandt and Flusser also regard the Apostolic Constitutions as being of some value but only as a paraphrase of the Didache and hence insufficient for reconstruction of the lost ending.67 Milavec denies that Apostolic Constitutions preserves the lost ending to any degree and expresses doubt that there ever was a lost ending!68

The importance of this Apostolic Constitutions passage to our topic is that, if it preserves the Didache's lost ending word-for-word, then the original text of the Didache contained an explicit reference to the devil, and confirms the satanic identity of the world-deceiver. Scholars who have commented on this point specifically doubt that the Didache itself mentioned the devil explicitly at this point.69 Stylistically, it seems more likely that the Didache would identify the eschatological opponent as the devil immediately in 16.4 rather than using the term world-deceiver without qualification and only subsequently identifying this figure as the devil. Accordingly, we can conclude that it is improbable (but not impossible) that the original ending to the Didache explicitly mentioned the devil. Even so, Apostolic Constitutions is still of value for exegesis of Didache 16.4 because it means that the earliest extant interpretation of this text identifies the world-deceiver as the devil.


The passages from the Didache which are relevant to our topic contain significant exegetical difficulties so that it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about the presence of supernatural evil in this text. This document apparently shows a certain reticence to discuss transcendent beings (good and evil), at least in its catechetical material (Didache 1.1). The Didache may contain two distinct references to Satan and/or an eschatological figure with satanic associations (Didache 8.2; 16.4 and lost ending), although in neither case can the satanic referent be established beyond doubt. A fairly strong circumstantial case can be built that Didache 11.7-12 presupposes that false prophets are inspired by a diabolical or demonic spirit. All told, Niederwimmer is right that it would be foolish to try to dogmatically reconstruct the Didachist's theology. However, there is nothing in the Didache that is out of sorts with the worldview that emerges from the other Apostolic Fathers writings we have considered, which collectively witness to a belief in supernatural evil beings.


  • 1 Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 411.
  • 2 Draper, J. A. (2006). The Apostolic Fathers: The Didache. The Expository Times, 117(5), 177-181. Here p. 178.
  • 3 ibid.
  • 4 Niederwimmer, K. (1998). The Didache: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 1.
  • 5 Van De Sandt, H. & Flusser, D. (2002). The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, p. 28.
  • 6 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 2; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. xv make a similar observation
  • 7 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 228.
  • 8 Farrar, T.J. (2015). Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Response to J. Burke. Retrieved 05/11/2015 from http://www.dianoigo.com/publications/Satan_and_Demons_in_the_Apostolic_Fathers_-_A_Response_to_%E2%80%98Then_the_Devil_Left%E2%80%99_by_J._Burke.pdf, pp. 7-20.
  • 9 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 417.
  • 10 van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 128.
  • 11 Draper, J.A. (1995). Barnabas and the Riddle of the Didache Revisited. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 17(58), 89-113. Here pp. 98, 102.
  • 12 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 63; Kloppenborg, J.S. (1995). The Transformation of Moral Exhortation in Didache 1-5. In C.N. Jefford (Ed.), The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (pp. 88-109). Leiden: Brill, pp. 93, 97; Suggs, M.J. (1972). The Christian Two Ways Tradition: Its Antiquity, Form and Function. In A.P. Wikgren & D.E. Aune (Eds.), Studies in New Testament in Early Christian Literature: Essays in Honor of Allen P. Wikgren (pp. 60-74). Leiden: Brill, p. 71; Milavec, A.E. (2003). The Didache: Faith, Hope and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities. Mahwah: Paulist Press, p. 65; Jefford, C.N. (1989). The Sayings of Jesus in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Leiden: Brill, p. 27; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 119. It is also possible that the angels were removed at an intermediate stage between the original Two Ways source and the Didache, as noted by Niederwimmer.
  • 13 van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 63; similarly Jefford, op. cit., p. 27.
  • 14 van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 119; Suggs, op. cit., p. 71; Draper, J.A. (1983). A Commentary on the Didache in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related documents. PhD Dissertation, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, p. 19; Kloppenborg, op. cit., pp. 99f; Milavec, op. cit., p. 65.
  • 15 Chester, A. (1992). The Parting of the Ways: Eschatology and Messianic Hope. In J.D.G. Dunn (Ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (pp. 239-314). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 287; Jenks, G.C. (1990). The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, pp. 308-310.
  • 16 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 63.
  • 17 The hagioi of Didache 16.7, a quotation from Zech. 14:5 LXX, are agreed by most scholars to be the resurrected saints (Bauckham, R. (1990/2004). Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. London: T&T Clark, p. 291; Varner, W. (2007). The Way of the Didache: The First Christian Handbook. Lanham: University Press of America, p. 44; Peerbolte, L.J.L. (1996). The Antecedents of Antichrist: A Traditio-Historical Study of the Earliest Christian Views on Eschatological Opponents. Leiden: Brill, p. 179; Strecker, G. (2000). Theology of the New Testament. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 646; Milavec, A.E. (1995).The Saving Efficacy of the Burning Process in Did. 16.5. In C.N. Jefford (Ed.), The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (pp. 131-155). Leiden: Brill, p. 152 n. 51; Verheyden, J. (2005). Eschatology in the Didache and the Gospel of Matthew. In H. van de Sandt (Ed.), Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (pp. 193- 216). Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, p. 211.). It is possible that the Didache's lost ending (on which see below) mentioned angels, since the Apostolic Constitutions and the Georgian version of the Didache do at this point in the text. However, this is far from certain. For instance, Garrow's reconstruction of the Didache's ending makes no mention of angels (Garrow, A.J.P. (2009). The Eschatological Tradition behind 1 Thessalonians: Didache 16. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 32(2), 191-215. Here pp. 203-204.)
  • 18 Niederwimmer, op. cit., pp. 135-136.
  • 19 Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 429-430.
  • 20 Milavec, A. (2005). A Rejoinder. Journal of Early Christian Studies, 13(4), 519-523; Young, S.E. (2011). Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers: Their Explicit Appeals to the Words of Jesus in Light of Orality Studies. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 209-210; Van De Sandt, H. (2008). Matthew and the Didache. In D.C. Sim & B. Repschinski (Eds.), Matthew and his Christian Contemporaries (pp. 123-138). London: T&T Clark, p. 124.
  • 21 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 136; so also van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 295.
  • 22 E.g. Ayo, N. (2002). The Lord's Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, p. 95; Goulder, M.D. (1963). The Composition of the Lord’s Prayer. Journal of Theological Studies, 14(1), 32-45. Here p. 42; Kistemaker, S.J. (1978). The Lord’s Prayer in the First Century. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 21(4), 323-328. Here p. 324; Van Tilborg, S. (1972). Form-criticism of the Lord’s Prayer. Novum Testamentum, 14(2), 94-105. Here p. 104; Garland, D.E. (1992). The Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. Review & Expositor, 89(2), 215-228. Here p. 226; Bruner, F.D. (2012). Matthew: The Christbook, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 314; Carson, D.A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D.E. Garland (Eds.), Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (pp. 23-670). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, p. 269; Davies, W.D. & Allison, D.C., Jr. (1988/2004). Matthew 1-7. London: T&T Clark, p. 614; De Bruin, T. (2014). The great controversy: The individual’s struggle between good and evil in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and in their Jewish and Christian contexts. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 166 n. 11; Evans, C.A. (2012). Matthew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 148; Grimshaw, J.P. (2008). The Matthean Community and the World: An Analysis of Matthew’s Food Exchange. Bern: Peter Lang, p. 208 n. 52; Gundry, R.H. (1994). Matthew: A Commentary on his Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 109; Keener, C.S. (1999). A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 223; Talbert, C.H. (2010). Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 89; Turner, D.L. (2008). Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 189; Tournay, R.J. (1998). Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation. Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 120(3), 440-443; Branden, R.C. (2006). Satanic Conflict and the Plot of Matthew. Bern: Peter Lang, p. 111; Page, S.H.T. (1995). Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 114; Garrow, A.P. (2003). The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache. London: Bloomsbury, p. 172; Witherington, B., III. (2009). The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament (Vol. 1). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 149; Wold, B. (forthcoming). Apotropaic Prayer and the Matthean Lord’s Prayer. In B. Wold, J. Dochhorn & S. Rudnig-Zelt (Eds.), The Devil, Demons, and Dualism. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Lanier, D.E. (1992). The Lord’s Prayer: A Thematic and Semantic-Structural Analysis. Criswell Theological Review, 6(1), 57-72. Here p. 61. Space does not permit a discussion of the exegetical points relating to Matt. 6:13 here.
  • 23 Grayston, K. (1993). The Decline of Temptation—and the Lord's Prayer. Scottish Journal of Theology, 46(03), 279-296. Here p. 294; O’Neill, J.C. (1993). The Lord’s Prayer. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 16(51), 3-25. Here pp. 18-19; Subramanian, J.S. (2009). The Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. In A.J. McNicol, D.B. Peabody & J.S. Subramanian (Eds.), Resourcing New Testament Studies: Literary, Historical, and Theological Essays in Honor of David L. Dungan (pp. 107-122). London: T&T Clark, p. 122; Vögtle, A. (1978). The Lord’s Prayer: A Prayer for Jews and Christians? In J.J. Petuchowski & M. Brocke (Eds.), The Lord’s Prayer and Jewish Liturgy (pp. 93-118). London: Burns & Oates, p. 101.
  • 24 Scholars who read 'evil' include: Bigg, C. (1905). Notes on the Didache. Journal of Theological Studies, 23, 411-415. Here p. 412; Glimm, F.X., Marique, J., & Walsh, G.G. (trans). (1947). The Fathers of the Church (Vol. 1). Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, p. 178; Milavec, 2003, op. cit., p. 312; Johnson, L.J. (2009). Worship in the Early Church: An Anthology of Historical Sources (Vol. 1). Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 37; Cody, A. (1995). The Didache: An English Translation. In C.N. Jefford (Ed.), The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (pp. 3-14). Leiden: Brill, p. 9 (who includes ‘the evil one’ as a parenthetical alternative); Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 134 (who includes ‘the evil one’ as a parenthetical alternative); O’Neill, op. cit., pp. 18-19 (who argues concerning the prayer in both Matthew and the Didache that the petition covers “the widest possible range of the evils from which a worshipper would ask God’s help in deliverance”, inclusive of both internal sources of temptation and external such as the devil); Draper, J.A. (2000). Ritual Process and Ritual Symbol in Didache 7-10. Vigiliae Christianae, 54(2), 121-158. Here p. 137 (who refers to “the petition not to be subjected to trial but to be snatched from the evil (one)”, allowing the ambiguity to stand).
  • 25 Scholars who read 'the evil one' include Lake, K. (1912). The Apostolic Fathers with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann, p. 321; Ehrman, op. cit., p. 429 (who includes ‘evil’ as a parenthetical alternative), Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 357; Sorensen, E. (2002). Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and early Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 199 n. 82 (who notes the ambiguity); Varner, W. (2005). The Didache’s Use of the Old and New Testaments. The Master’s Seminary Journal, 16(1), 127-151. Here p. 147; Lietzmann, H. (1979). Mass and the Lord’s Supper: A Study in the History of the Liturgy (Vol. 1). Leiden: Brill, p. 374; Brown, R.E. (1961). The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer. Theological Studies, 22(2), 175-208. Here pp. 206-208 (who is referring to the prayer in both Matthew and the Didache); Richardson, C. (1953). Early Christian Fathers. New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 175; Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 851 (who note however the possibility of an abstract referent); Collins, R.F. (2002). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 287 (who is referring to both Matthew and the Didache).
  • 26 Other than the four Matthean texts mentioned and Didache 8.2, see Eph 6:16; 2Thess 3:3; John 17:15; 1 John 2:13-14; 3:12; 5:18-19; Barnabas 2.10; 21.3; Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.1.
  • 27 Holmes, op. cit., p. 363.
  • 28 'in the Spirit': Richardson, op. cit., p. 177; Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 435-436; 'in the spirit': Holmes, op. cit., p. 363.
  • 29 E.g. Lake, op. cit., p. 327; Tibbs, C. (2007). Religious Experience of the Pneuma: Communication with the Spirit World in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 318.
  • 30 Tibbs, op. cit., pp. 317-318, makes this point.
  • 31 ibid., p. 222.
  • 32 Callan states, "it seems clear that NT prophecy is a matter of spirit possession" (Callan, T. (1985). Prophecy and Ecstasy in Greco-Roman Religion and in 1 Corinthians. Novum Testamentum, 27(2), 125-139. Here p. 126).
  • 33 Milavec describes this as 'speaking in spirit/Spirit' and observes, "The exact nature of such speaking is not defined; hence, it can be assumed that this was well known to the hearers of the Didache" (Milavec, A. (1994). Distinguishing True and False Prophets: The Protective Wisdom of the Didache. Journal of Early Christian Studies, 2(2), 117-136. Here p. 129).
  • 34 Tibbs, op. cit., p. 222 n. 26. The citation is from Richardson, op. cit., p. 176 n. 64.
  • 35 Thompson, L.L. (2004). Spirit Possession: Revelation in Religious Studies. In D.L. Barr (Ed.), Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students (pp. 137-150). Leiden: Brill, p. 147 n. 35
  • 36 De Halleux writes, "But what is meant by speaking en pneumati (11:7-12)? It is apparently not the Holy Spirit, warranted by the tradition, that he designates by this formula, since he also affirms that the false prophet speaks in a spirit in the same way (11:8; 11:12), perhaps under the inspiration of demons who knew the future and the hidden things; hence the caution of the translators, who write here ‘esprit’ (‘spirit’) without a capital" (De Halleux, A. (1995). Ministers in the Didache. In J.A. Draper (Ed.), The Didache in Modern Research (pp. 300-320). Leiden: Brill, p. 309).
  • 37 Draper writes, "CD 12:2f envisages a man speaking under the dominion (משל) of Belial, the Spirit of Darkness, and the true prophet would no doubt speak under the dominion of the Spirit of Light. All mankind is under the dominion of one or the other. This understanding may well be what lies behind the expression in Did." (Draper, 1983, op. cit., pp. 244-245).
  • 38 This document will be covered in a subsequent post in this series.
  • 39 The same idea is found in Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 82.2-3.
  • 40 Osiek notes two criteria mentioned by Hermas to identify false prophets. The first is that they “give oracles to consulters,” i.e. only after they have been solicited by other people. She adds, "But there is yet another, time-honored criterion by which to test or discern (dokimazein) the true prophet, the criterion that places this discussion firmly within the early Christian tradition of discernment of prophecy: from the prophet’s way of life" (Osiek, C. (1999). Shepherd of Hermas. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 143).
  • 41 Goulder writes, "John commends applying a criterion to distinguish divine from demonic spirits, ‘for many false prophets have gone out into the world’. The demonic spirits lie behind the false prophets, visiting holy men who are not part of the community" (Goulder, M. (1999). A Poor Man’s Christology. New Testament Studies, 45(3), 332-348., p. 342).
  • 42 Tibbs notes, “In the commentaries, the phrase ‘discernment of spirits’ is usually explained as a discernment between the Holy Spirit and other demonic spirits or human spirits.” Tibbs himself disputes that a single ‘Holy Spirit’ is in view here, but argues that Paul is referring to “a discernment of holy spirits apart from unholy spirits” (Tibbs, C. (2008). The Spirit (World) and the (Holy) Spirits among the earliest Christians: 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 as a test case. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 70(2), 313-330. Here pp. 322-323). Lienhard notes that patristic exegesis of 1 Cor. 12:10 was dominated by the idea that demonic spirits had to be identified and distinguished from good spirits (Lienhard, J.T. (1980). On discernment of spirits in the early church. Theological Studies, 41(3), 505-528).
  • 43 Kelly writes that this text refers to demons which "employ human agents" (Kelly, J.N.D. (1963). The Pastoral Epistles. London: A&C Black, p. 94). Towner explains, "'Deceiving spirits,' a part of the eschatological paradigm, are demonic influences or forces believed to be actively at work promoting the falsehood of the heresy. The internalization of this activity in the opponents can be seen in 2 Tim 3:13... where the cognate verb is central in Paul's caricature of the false teachers... 'things taught by demons'... [indicates] the source of the doctrines as being the demonic realm." (Towner, P.H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 290).
  • 44 Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 441-442.
  • 45 So Lampe, G.W.H. (1961). A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 770.
  • 46 Milavec asserts that in the Didache, "the events associated with the Lord’s coming unfold without any angelic or demonic forces playing any role whatsoever" (Milavec, 2003, op. cit., p. 63). He further claims that "The end-times scenario of the Didache deliberately removes any reference to Satan" (ibid., pp. 332, 648). Garrow refers to the world-deceiver as a "human persecutor" who is to be distinguished from the devil (Garrow, 2003, op. cit., p. 57), without discussing the possibility that this human persecutor might be in league with the devil. Sorensen regards it as "ambiguous" whether or not the world-deceiver is demonic (op. cit., p. 199 n. 82).
  • 47 Niederwimmer refers to the world-deceiver as a "diabolical" and "demonic" figure (op. cit., p. 219). Jenks refers to the "satanic connections" of this figure (Jenks, op. cit., p. 310), while Verheyden asserts that he has satanic "associations" (op. cit., p. 204). Draper regards the world-deceiver as having been sent by Satan (Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 308 n. 28). Garrett lists Didache 16.4 among texts "in which associations between false prophets and magic, false prophets and Satan, or Satan and magic are presupposed" (Garrett, S.R. (1989). Light on a Dark Subject and Vice Versa: Magic and Magicians in the New Testament. In J. Neusner et al (Eds.), Religion, Science and Magic: In Concert and in Conflict (pp. 142-165). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 154).
  • 48 Making this point explicitly are Peerbolte, op. cit., p. 181; Kierspel, L. (2006). The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 210 n. 230. Also apparently sympathetic to this view are Del Verme, M. (2004). Didache and Judaism: Jewish Roots of an Ancient Christian-Jewish Work. London: T&T Clark, p. 260; Thomas, R.L. (2010). Magical Motifs in the Book of Revelation. London: T&T Clark International, p. 47; Paget, J.C. (2011). Miracles in early Christianity. In G.H. Twelftree (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (pp. 131-148). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 134; and Glover, R. (1958). The Didache’s Quotations and the Synoptic Gospels. New Testament Studies, 5(1), 12- 29. Here p. 24.
  • 49 Life of Adam and Eve 9; 2 Cor. 11:14; Testament of Job 6.4; Apocalypse of Elijah 3.16-18; Hippolytus, On the Antichrist 6. These are noted in Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 219 n. 6.
  • 50 2 John 7; 2 Thess. 2:3-4; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 110.2; Sibylline Oracles 3.68; noted in Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 219 n. 7.
  • 51 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13; 19:20; Sibylline Oracles 2.167-68; 3.66-67; Mark 13:22; Matt. 24:24; noted in Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 211 n. 2.
  • 52 Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 308.
  • 53 Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 1047.
  • 54 Remus, H. (1982). Does Terminology Distinguish Early Christian from Pagan Miracles? Journal of Biblical Literature, 101(4), 531-551. Here p. 547.
  • 55 Ex. 7:3; 7:9; 11:9; 11:10; Deut. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 11:3; 26:8; 29:2; 34:11; Ps. 77:43; 104:27; 134:9; Jer. 39:20-21; Dan. 4:37 OG. Texts where the term does not refer to divine miracles include Deut. 13:2-3; 28:46; Isa. 8:18; 20:3.
  • 56 Twelftree, G.H. (1999). Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 228. Most of these events are not regarded as supernatural from a modern point of view. However, this was not necessarily the case for the ancients; and on any score it would require supernatural power to be able to 'perform' them as the Didache's world-deceiver does.
  • 57 See n. 51 above; in the NT, Mark 13:22/Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9; cf. Rev. 13:13; 16:14; 19:20, which refer only to "signs".
  • 58 So Painter, J. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 211.
  • 59 Evans, C.E. (2005). The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: John's Gospel, Hebrews-Revelation. Colorado Springs: Cook, p. 381; Smith, M. (1996). The Account of Simon Magus in Acts 8. In New Testament, Early Christianity, and Magic (pp. 140-151). Leiden: Brill, p. 148; Lampe, G.W.H. (1973). ‘Grievous Wolves (Acts 20:29).’ In B. Lindars & S.S. Smalley, Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament: Studies in Honour of Charles Francis Digby Moule (pp. 253-268). Cambridge University Press, pp. 253-254; Twelftree, op. cit., p. 256; Remus, op. cit., p. 547; Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 920.
  • 60 E.g. Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 328; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 36; Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 227; Aldridge, R.E. (1999). The Lost Ending of the Didache. Vigiliae Christianae, 53(1), 1-15.
  • 61 Aldridge, op. cit., p. 5, trans.
  • 62 Milavec, 1995, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 63 Aldridge, op. cit., p. 5.
  • 64 ibid., pp. 12-13.
  • 65 Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 326. He quotes a portion of the Apostolic Constitutions passage including the reference to the devil and comments, "This scenario is broadly supported by Asc. Isa. 4:14, 18, which seems to be closely related to Did. 16, and also by Ba. 4:12."
  • 66 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 227.
  • 67 Verheyden, op. cit., p. 207; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 27.
  • 68 Milavec, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 69 Garrow, 2003, op. cit., pp. 56-57; Peerbolte, op. cit., p. 181.

Monday 26 October 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (7): Papias of Hierapolis

Papias of Hierapolis wrote a five-volume work about the sayings of Jesus around 110-130 A.D.1 Papias' work is lost, but fragments of it survive in quotations by later writers. Papias was 'above all a collector of traditions.'2 Hill refers to Papias' work as the Expositions of the Dominical Logia, and describes its contents as having to do with 'interpretations and oral traditions relating to things Jesus had said in certain written Gospels'.3 However, there is an ongoing scholarly debate as to whether Papias' work was primarily an account of Jesus' sayings or an interpretation thereof. Bauckham, who favours the former view, notes that the operative word in the Greek title of the work (Exēgēsis) can mean either 'account, report' or 'interpretation'.4

Any attempt to reconstruct Papias' theological views will necessarily be tentative for several reasons. First, the vast majority of Papias' work is lost. Second, those fragments which survive must be interpreted in the absence of important contextual information. Third, in some cases it is unclear where the quotation from Papias breaks off. Fourth, the authenticity of some of the fragments is disputed.

There are two fragments which contain information relevant to the subject of supernatural evil. Somewhat confusingly, there are different numbering systems for the fragments of Papias. Following the nomenclature of Holmes, we are concerned with fragments 11 and 24. Both of these fragments are preserved in a commentary on Revelation by Andrew of Caesarea, a bishop whose tenure is of uncertain date but located by most scholars in the late sixth or early seventh century.5

Fragment 11 reads as follows in Holmes' translation:
But Papias says, word for word: ‘Some of them’ – obviously meaning those angels that once were holy – ‘he assigned to rule over the orderly arrangement of the earth, and commissioned them to rule well.’ And next he says: ‘But as it turned out, their administration came to nothing. And the great dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, was cast out; the deceiver of the whole world was cast down to the earth along with his angels.’6
The authenticity of this fragment is undisputed.7 However, what is disputed is which exact words are from Papias and which are from Andrew. It can be seen that the final sentence is a direct quotation of Revelation 12:9. Holmes includes this in the quotation from Papias, as does Bauckham (apparently).8 However, other scholars think the quotation of Revelation 12:9 is Andrew's.9 As Shanks points out, the quotation of Papias occurs within Andrew's comments on Revelation 12:7-8. Hence, a quotation of Revelation 12:9 would be a logical transition to the next portion of the commentary.

Also uncertain is whether the explicit reference to 'angels' is a gloss from Andrew (as Holmes' punctuation implies) or part of the 'word for word' quotation from Papias.10

Whatever the case, most scholars regard the fragment of Papias as having to do with a fall of angels.11 Shanks goes as far as to assert that the fragment comes from "a text in Papias' writings regarding Satan's fall."12 Bauckham argues that four of the extant fragments of Papias (including this one) "seem quite unrelated to Gospel traditions" but "all relate to Genesis 1-3."13 On this basis he proposes that "Papias began his work with an account of the primeval history, giving it a christological interpretation."14 If so, then Papias' lost work would have been an important witness to the Satanological myth which seems to be presupposed throughout the New Testament but is never narrated in full.

It is impossible to be certain as to how Papias related this statement back to Jesus and his sayings, or whether Papias himself related the fall of angels to Satan. What can be said with some confidence, however, is that Papias believed there had been a primeval fall of angels. To conclude otherwise, one would have to argue firstly that the reference to 'holy angels' is a gloss from Andrew rather than part of the fragment, and secondly that Andrew has misunderstood Papias' referent. This would be an unduly skeptical position to take in the absence of evidence, which is probably why no scholar (to this writer's knowledge) has advocated such a position.

The second fragment relevant to this study is fragment 24 (again, under Holmes' nomenclature). Holmes translates as follows:
And Papias spoke in the following manner in his treatises: ‘Heaven did not endure his earthly intentions, because it is impossible for light to communicate with darkness. He fell to earth, here to live; and when humankind came here, where he was, he led them astray into many evils. But Michael and his legions, who are guardians of the world, were helping humankind, as Daniel learned; they gave laws and made the prophets wise. And all this was war against the dragon, who was setting stumbling blocks for men. Then their battle extended into heaven, to Christ himself. Yet Christ came; and the law, which was impossible for anyone else, he fulfilled in his body, according to the apostle. He defeated sin and condemned Satan, and through his death he spread abroad his righteousness over all. As this occurred, the victory of Michael and his legions, the guardians of humankind, became complete, and the dragon could resist no more, because the death of Christ exposed him to ridicule and threw him to the earth. Concerning which Christ said, ‘I saw Satan fallen from heaven like a lightning bolt.’ In this sense the teacher understood not his first fall, but the second, which was through the cross, and this did not consist of a spatial fall, as at first, but rather of judgment and expectation of a mighty punishment…15
This fragment is also from Andrew of Caesarea's commentary on Revelation, but it is absent from the Greek text and is extant only in the Armenian version of the commentary. Because of this, the authenticity of the fragment "has been questioned."16 Those who regard this fragment as authentic include Siegert,17 Kürzinger,18 (apparently) Holmes,19 Shanks,20 and Lourié.21 Schoedel seems cautiously optimistic, noting only a 'possibility' that it does not come from Papias.22 Those who do not accept its authenticity include Körtner23 (whose arguments Dehandschutter accepts),24 (apparently) Ehrman,25 and Norelli26 (whose arguments Bauckham accepts).27 The most comprehensive defense of the fragment's authenticity is unfortunately inaccessible to this writer since it is a Russian-language paper by Lourié.28 Based on English-language works of Lourié which refer to this paper,29 it seems the main arguments are (1) that one phrase from the quotation does appear in the Greek version of Andrew's commentary (where, however, it is not attributed to Papias); (2) that all five Armenian manuscripts of Andrew's work "are identical in the part relevant to our Papias quote",30 and (3) that the contents of the fragment do not fit a seventh-century context.

We will proceed with the caveat that any inferences about Papias' theology taken from this fragment rest on an uncertain attribution to him.

A second issue is that, as with fragment 11, it is disputed where the fragment breaks off. While Holmes, Siegert, Kürzinger and Shanks end the Papias fragment with the quotation of Luke 10:18,31 Lourié breaks it off earlier, after 'made the prophets wise'.32 Schoedel merely notes "some question about the length of the quotation" without offering an opinion.33 If Lourié is correct then the fragment provides far less detail about Satan than if the quotation extends to the citation of Luke 10:18. However, given its context in Andrew's work, the subject of the beginning of the quotation can still be none other than Satan.

Hence, if fragment 24 is authentic then it is clear that Papias' work did refer explicitly to a mythological Satan figure. Although (as noted above) Bauckham rejects the authenticity of this fragment, its contents actually support his hypothesis that Papias' work began with a primeval history.

In conclusion, there is strong evidence that Papias believed in a primeval fall of angels. Conclusions about his view of Satan can only be tentative due to the issues discussed above concerning the length and authenticity of these fragments. However, at least this much can be said: there is some evidence that Papias believed in a mythological Satan figure, and there is no evidence that he did not.


  • 1 Hill, C.E. (2006). Papias of Hierapolis. The Expository Times, 117(8), 309-315. Here 309.
  • 2 ibid.
  • 3 op. cit., p. 310.
  • 4 Bauckham, R. (2014). Did Papias write history or exegesis? Journal of Theological Studies, 65(2), 463-488. Here 463.
  • 5 "Although in the past scholars have placed Andrew's episcopal tenure as early as the fifth century and as late as the ninth century, today most locate him in the second half of the sixth century or early seventh." (Constantinou, E.S. (2013). Guiding to a Blessed End: Andrew of Caesarea and His Apocalypse Commentary in the Ancient Church. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, p. 47.
  • 6 Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 749.
  • 7 Dehandschutter, B. (1988). [Review of the books Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments by J. Kürzinger and Papias von Hierapolis by U.H.J. Körtner]. Vigiliae Christianae, 42(4), 401-406. Here 405.
  • 8 He describes the fragment as a "statement about the fallen angels, with allusion to 'the ancient serpent'" (Bauckham, op. cit., p. 474.)
  • 9 Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 2). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 111; Shanks, M.A. (2013). Papias and the New Testament. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, pp. 229-230.
  • 10 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 111, shares Holmes view. Constantinou, however, evidently takes the reference to angels to be Papias', translating thus: "And Papias says in these words: 'To some of them, that is, the divine angels of old, he gave [authority] to rule over the earth and commanded [them] to rule well.' And then says the following: 'And it happened that their arrangement came to nothing.'" (op. cit., p. 246).
  • 11 "Andrew preserved a fragment of Papias regarding the fall of some of the angels" (Constantinou, op. cit., p. 304); Schoedel summarizes the content of the fragment thus: "Wicked angels misrule nature" (Schoedel, W.R. (1993). Papias. In W. Haase (Ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.27.I (pp. 235-270). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 239); Bauckham summarizes it as a "statement about the fallen angels" (op. cit., p. 474).
  • 12 Shanks, op. cit., p. 230. He does not explain his reasoning, but perhaps the inference is that Andrew considered Papias' words relevant to Rev. 12:7-8 because Papias himself had already made the link between the primeval fall of angels and this text from Revelation.
  • 13 Bauckham, op. cit., p. 474.
  • 14 ibid.
  • 15 Holmes, op. cit., p. 763.
  • 16 Hill, op. cit., p. 311.
  • 17 Siegert, F. (1981). Unbeachtete Papiaszitate bei armenischen Schriftstdllern. New Testament Studies, 27(5), 605-614.
  • 18 Kürzinger, J. (1983). Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments. Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.
  • 19 Holmes, op. cit.. Holmes does not discuss the fragment's authenticity but his inclusion of it implies that he regards it as authentic.
  • 20 Shanks, op. cit., p. 249.
  • 21 Lourié, B. (2012). An Unknown Danielic Pseudepigraphon from an Armenian Fragment of Papias. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 21(4), 323-339.
  • 22 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 260.
  • 23 Körtner, U.H.J. (1983). Papias von Hierapolis: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des frühren Christentums. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  • 24 Dehandschutter, op. cit., p. 404.
  • 25 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 89, notifies the reader that he is not including the Armenian or Arabic fragments in his text. He refers the reader to Kürzinger without commenting on their authenticity himself.
  • 26 Norelli, E. (2005). Papia di Hierapolis: Esposizione degli oracoli del Signore, i frammenti. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note. Milan: Paoline, pp. 406-407.
  • 27 Bauckham, R. (2008). [Review of the book Papia di Hierapolis: Esposizione degli oracoli del signore. I frammenti. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note, by E. Norelli]. Journal of Theological Studies, 59(1), 333-337.
  • 28 See reference in Lourié, op. cit. A translated title of this essay, published in 2008, is: "A Quotation from Papias within the Armenian Version of the Commentary on Apocalypse of St Andrew of Caesarea: Translation and Study in the History of the Exegesis".
  • 29 Lourié, op. cit.
  • 30 Lourié, B. (2013). A Danielic Pseudepigraphon paraphrased by Papias. In R. Bauckham, J.R. Davila & A. Panayotov (Eds.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Vol. 1) (pp. 435-441). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 436.
  • 31 So Shanks, op. cit., p. 249.
  • 32 Lourié, 2013, op. cit., p. 441.
  • 33 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 260.