Friday 12 January 2007

A Snake in the Grass

Every so often a troublesome fellow comes along who turns the barrel of certitudes upside down, dumps them all over the carpet and then stands there smirking while everyone else is rendered speechless.

Such a troublesome spirit is Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Satan: A Biography.

Kelly enters the fray from UCLA. Not a theologian, but a professor of English with a passion for Medieval history. As we all know, non-theologians are dangerous creatures with a nasty habit of thinking outside of the square.

Now let's pause for a quick true or false quiz:

1. Satan is also known as Lucifer (T / F)
2. Satan first appears in Genesis as the serpent who tricks Eve (T / F)
3. Satan fell – he was cast out of heaven for leading a rebellion against God long ago (T / F)
4. Revelation speaks of a coming Anti-Christ (T / F)

If you said true to any of the above, Kelly has news for you. In a closely argued book which isn't without a sense of humor, the author sets out to put the record straight, and the gasps from the cheap seats are quite audible.

Now, just to be clear, we're not talking about some Biblicist text-banger who has discovered a “new truth.” This is a serious historical account of how we came to believe what we do about Satan. And according to Kelly, most of the things we think we know about the devil are creations of the Church Fathers, especially Justin Martyr, Origen and Tertullian. And that includes a lot of detail that Herbert Armstrong taught. Kelly doesn't mention Armstrong, but anyone who has read the literature will see that, for example, much of that “new truth” in his booklet “Did God Create a Devil?” was lifted directly from impeccably Catholic sources. Kelly argues that these views were then read back into the Bible, or “retro-fitted.” Put another way, it doesn't really say what most of us assume it does... and he proceeds to make a strong case.

Kelly goes through every occasion where Satan or the devil (which he translates as a proper noun, Devil) appears in the Bible, and even takes the reader through a crash course on the influential books of Enoch, Jubilees and the Wisdom of Solomon. The Prince of Darkness emerges as an authorized agent of God, a kind of divine Tester, not a particularly nice one, but “just doing his job” as they say.

And who really is Lucifer if he isn't Satan? Well, maybe not who we think he is, and Kelly indulges in a fascinating bit of exegesis to demonstrate another possibility entirely.

This wide ranging book is a major broadside at traditional beliefs, and the surprise is just how traditional COG beliefs on this subject really are. It's sure to stir up a hornet's nest, or perhaps it would be more apt to say a devil of a fuss.


Anonymous said...

If i am not mistaken, the "new truth" was not started in the HWA church by Tkach, but by HWA, Hoeh and Meredith a very long time before the so called apostacy.
That would explain a lot in relation to satan. They seem to have been in the same league.

Anonymous said...

"As we all know, non-theologians are dangerous creatures with a nasty habit of thinking outside of the square."

Um, Herbert Armstrong was a non-theologian. In fact I doubt there's a single theologian anywhere in Armstrongism. And yes, I would say Armstrongist leaders are dangerous creatures, although not in the sense you were talking about.

Anyway, yes, the Jewish and Christian beliefs and doctrines regarding Satan did develop over the centuries prior to and after the time of Christ, as did all Jewish and Christian doctrines. And yes, the biblical references to "Satan" or the Devil or Heylel or the Serpent are all capable of interpretation in ways other than orthodox Christianity has traditionally interpreted them. But then the entire Bible can be interpreted to mean anything the interpreter has a fancy to make to mean. So I kind of doubt this is the devastating broadside against Christianity. People have been coming up with heterodox interpretations of Christianity's sacred scriptures for 2,000 years, and yet the orthodox interpretation still remains the one that most Christians seem to accept. When I first came across this book, though, I did think that it at least is beneficial for showing that the beliefs about Satan did develop over time, and showing how they developed. Many Christians seem not to realise that Christian doctrine has never been founded solely on the Bible and never springs fully-formed from the pages of Holy Writ.

Anonymous said...

With tongue planted firmly in cheek:

Say what you will, but according to Occam's Razor, Satan is the simplest explanation for the Churches of God -- self-appointed emissaries of God who lie but expect you to believe them and obey them, not to mention pay tithes to them.

Certainly Scripture supports this view: For the ministers of Satan transform themselves into the ministers of light. Jesus warned us against the false prophets of the Churches of God, telling us that they are ravening wolves in sheep's clothing.

Nothing could be clearer: These Yayhoos are sons of Satan the Devil. They lie, they deceive, they spin tales of prophecy lifted from the headlines fit into obscure Biblical passages that mean something else entirely. They have committed the unpardonable sin, blaspheming the Holy Spirit and will not inherit the Kingdom to Come. They are men of perdition, seducing simpletons into believing the deceits they frame in their narcissistic pursuit of making others twicefold the children of hell than themselves.

So we have proof of a real Devil who is opposing God at every turn by being lying ministers of the Churches of God who feed themselves by fleecing the flock before they eat them.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are back, sir. I have missed the old AW, but have been reading here on the sidelines, but could no longer contain myself on this one, had to jump into the discussion.
Some rather excellent posts on this blog.
I hope you'll keep this kind of posting up, I may even have to pick up an Blogger identity, and jump in more often...(LOL)

But seriously, this is a very good topic here Gavin.

There is a definite need to have people starting to think and research for themselves, instead of either being led around by the nose, or expecting others to think for them.

Anyway, the Jewish teachings on Satan, are considerably at odds when compared to Christianity's, and I think, more believable then the Polytheistic ancient theological glop that is presently being taught to the sheep.
If you want an interesting comparison sometime, I recommend you find a Stone Edition Tanach, (Masoretic Text), and compare it, verse for verse, with say, the OT portion, of a typical KJV Bible.
Pay particular attention to the book of Isaiah.
I would be remiss if I didn't say a hearty hats off to Dennis, for he has presented the tip of a very large iceberg, on the amount of great historical information on this topic.
For fun, try googling "satan" and "ancient religions" sometime.

Anyway, it is good to have you back, and I wish happy reading to all.

Anonymous said...

After the fact and the passing of years now, I still find that most pastors were not the evil bastards and SOB's that some portray them as. Way too broad a brush. It was the infamous who came to be known, not the quiet, kind and caretaking types who sincerely believed most of what they themselves saw in the book as presented by the church. For every Dave Pack or other abusive narcissist, there were scores of very fine men, wives and families feeling called to be and do what they were doing. That is my experience and can only speak for myself having been a pastor.

Names changed but I found this recent email to be a keeper after not having seen this kid for decades.

k.w. writes:
Subject: former acquaintance

Dear Mr.______, Years ago, I was a teen in the ________ WCG. I remember looking forward to your sermons each and every week. Not because I really understood much about what the church was teaching, but because you come to us after Mr._________. You were just what the entire congregation needed. Never did I feel judged, or looked down upon. Never did I feel as though you were on a crusade to see which teen would be disfellowshipped first. You just understood things from a more human perspective. When you left, we got two who were nothing like you. When you left, I grieved. You were the only reason my twin sister and I got to go to SEP. The ministers on either side of you would have never made a recommendation for us. You were one of the ministers who really made an impact because of your humility, patience, and willingness to forgive the impulses and sometimes stupidity of being a teen. I met my husband at SEP, and we married years later. We are still married after 18 years, and have 3 children. I am sorry for the way WCG treated you in light of the love you showed toward our congregation, young and old. You were an asset to the church. My name then was _________, and I just wanted to let you know what I thought of your years with us. Your ministry made an impact on so many, who will always be grateful"'s all a balance...

Anonymous said...

Although I do not endorse M. Scott Peck's views, he did write someting about Satan that I found intriguing. He felt that Lucifer had been factored into the human scene to provide positive challenges to humanity. He was a Tester but a tester whose goal was to provide eustress for constructive purposes instead of distress. If Adam and Eve had not rebelled, in a perfect world, with perfect people, Lucifer's role would have been to enlighten though creating challenges for mankind, challenges that would not have occurred in any other way. But after Lucifer's rebellion, he shifted from being a tester to being a tempter to destruction.

What I disliked about the Armstrongite handling of the concept of Satan was how easily and glibly they applied the terms Satanic and "of Satan" to everything they did not like. No doubt many Armstrongite
"ministers" would say Ambassador Watch is "of Satan". Or actually any open forum where the tenets of orthodox Armstrongism might be fairly examined. Such language, like some magical words casting a spell, would be enough for Armstrongites, in lock step, to condemn anything.

-- Neo

Anonymous said...

I suppose it wouldn't do any good to explain that the serpent was Eve's subtle human mind, that is, her "mind of the flesh", which is more subtle than any beast of the field.

That "Satan" in the Bible is merely the personification of when being tempted by the lusts of the flesh and not a literal being.

Or that "Satan" is also used symbolically. To the Jews the name was used to mean the Romans and to the Christians the name was used to mean the Jewish authority.

Dennis has it right on about Lucifer, the star of the dawn. Or, if you prefer, the bright and morning star (Rev. 22:16).

Anonymous said...

And who then could it be that tempted or tested Christ in the wilderness? Hummmm....

Surely the Evil One is dancing and leaping with glee because of this latest deception--the only thing better than convincing gullible humans that he does not exist at all (a spiritual form of "stealth"--going completely undetected) is to convince people that he is actually just "misunderstood" and only trying to "do his job". Maybe next he will appear on Oprah so that we can all "understand" him--that he had a difficult creation and was picked on by the other angels. It's not really his fault...

You guys are nothing if not entertaining.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe next he will appear on Oprah so that we can all "understand" him--that he had a difficult creation and was picked on by the other angels."

Nah, I want to see how Dr. Phil handles Satan.

Anonymous said...

Geeeez Mr Diehl - You used to be a pastor, don't you remember that Jesus traveled to Ireland and southern England as a young boy? It is all part of that BI thing we all used to subscribe too.

...and somewhere in the hills of Tennessee there really is a pig that can whistle.

To be completely honest, I really do believe in Jesus, I'm just not sure how much of the New Testament I can count as credible....There is just too many mistakes and contradictions in it, at least as it is commonly accepted today and my knowledge of Greek is limited to fraternity houses.

Anonymous said...

To the poster that mentioned the Temptation of Jesus by Satan...I'm sure you may think of this as blasphemous, but really, how hard would it be to tell Satan where to head in, no matter what he tempted you with if a) You already knew who and what he was since time immemorial and b) You already knew who you were and what your mission was?!?!?! The miracle of Jesus wasn't his death and resurrection - That sort of thing is a given if you are God. The Miracle of Jesus was letting a bunch of bassackwards humans beat you within an inch of your life, then nailing you to a cross (ok, for you COGer's; a Tree or a Post...Better???) and left to die. Death takes but a moment, suffering is something else and suffering for the sake of others is something else altogether!

Anonymous said...

"And who then could it be that tempted or tested Christ in the wilderness? Hummmm...."

The same one that tempted Eve.
(1)The lust of the flesh - hunger, the temptation to end his fasting.
(2)The lust of the eyes - the glory of the kingdoms of the world.
(3)The pride of life - "the angels shall bear thee up"

Eve's temptation:
(1)The lust of the flesh - the fruit was good for food.
(2)The lust of the eyes - she saw that the fruit was good for food.
(3)The pride of live - the fruit was desired to make one wise.

He "was in all points tempted like as we are" (Heb. 4:15)

(1John 2:16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Anonymous said...

Some here do not seem to know their Biblical history regarding Christ, nor the Bible's statements about Satan.

Dennis said:

"Soon enough the SUN/SON is betrayed by the sting of Judas the scorpion (in Scorpio) in fall, pierced by Saggitarius (the Archer) with a spear and dies in December lying three days in the grave from Dec 21-24. Not to worry, the SUN/Son is brought forth by the virgin before sunrise of Xmas again, and reborn to start it all over again."

Christ did not die in December (nor was he born then). He died in the Spring, at Passover. If you correlate his birth with that of John the Baptist's (including the difference in His and John's conceptions/births) and consider His age when he was murdered, it is easy to see that He was born sometime in the Fall (possibly on or around the Biblical Feast of Trumpets), and was crucified in the Spring (Passover). There is no connection with the pagan Zodiac, the false gods (actually Satan and his demons fraudulently misrepresenting themselves as dieties) or the movement of the planets.

It is true that many polytheistic pagan religions had a Sun-god and saviour theme, but their chronologies were completely out of sync with the birth, life, crucifixion and death of Christ Jesus.

As far as Satan's involvement in the stories of pagan "gods", both the old and new testaments reveal that those who worship such are worshiping demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 1 Corinthians 10:21; Revelation 9:20). And who is the prince or leader of the demons? Hmmm, well the Bible shows that to be the one called "the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world" Rev 12:9 (and other scriptures).

It is so sad to see those who once understood, and even taught, what the Bible so clearly states, being deluded by Satan all over again. 1 Timothy 4:1

Satan is not mythology or just human nature gone awry--he is directly named in varous places in the Bible, including Rev 12:9. And if one had ever been a true minister of Jesus Christ, one might have had to deal with a demon or two, and even cast them out by Christ's authority, as a representative of Christ. Satan and his demons are clearly and repeatedly shown in Scripture to be very, very real. Some of us have had the unenviable experience of having to deal with them and cast them away in Christ's name.

Those who believe Satan is not real are very foolish, and are simply not Biblically grounded.