The following articles have been compiled and indexed by inWORD Bible software.
Dualism in the Synoptics
The paucity of pre-Christian witness to the satanological terminology in the Synoptic temptation accounts, together with the absence from the Synoptics of established Second Temple terms for supernatural Satan figures (Satanael, Mastema, Belial, Shemihazah, Azâzêl, etc), gives reason to doubt the Synoptic writers held the cosmological dualistic views of their contemporaries. An examination of dualism in the Synoptics, within their Second Temple Period context, leads in a very different direction.
Identifying the Adversary
Matthew and Luke’s temptation accounts both consistently refer to Jesus’ adversary as ‘the devil’, whereas Mark’s account only refers to Jesus’ adversary once, as ‘Satan’ (Mark 1:13).
Literary Genre of the Wilderness Temptation
Despite its superficial appearance as a simple historical record, the Synoptic account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness¹ has often been interpreted as symbolic or parabolic of Jesus’ experiences, since the early Christian era.² The popularity of this interpretation waxed and waned throughout history; Origen understood the account as a dramatized parable,³ and although Aquinas opposed those who interpreted the temptations as visionary,⁴ the view was common among early Reformers, finding its way into the marginal commentary of early printed Bibles.⁵ Current scholarly commentary typically treats the wilderness temptation account as a visionary experience,⁶ symbolic description,⁷ or dramatization of events throughout Jesus’ ministry,⁸ and commentaries advise against reading the account as literally historical.⁹
Satan & Demons In the Apostolic Fathers
The “Apostolic Fathers” (a group of Christian texts written from the late first century to the early second century),¹ are recognized as unusual in their era for their paucity of references to demons, demon possession, exorcism, and illness caused by demons;² additionally, rejection of supernatural evil beliefs has also been noted in texts such as the Didache.³ The fact that a number of texts in the Apostolic fathers contain explicit reference to supernatural evil, typically a figure identified as Satan,⁴ makes it more remarkable that other texts in the same corpus do not contain any such references.
Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: Summary
The following list summarizes the lexical evidence for the Synoptics’ satanological terminology in Second Temple pre-Christian texts.
Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: The Evil One
The term ‘the evil one’ (ton ponērou), has no Second Temple pre-Christian witness as a reference to a supernatural evil being. It is found in one fifteenth century Ethiopian manuscript of 1 Enoch (manuscript A, 1 Enoch 69:15), but not the other two main recensions (manuscripts B and C).¹
Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: The Tempter
The term ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazwn), has no pre-Christian witness in the intertestamental or Qumran literature at all.
Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: Satan
Three terms are used to describe Christ’s adversary in the Synoptic temptation accounts; ‘satan’ (ho satanas in Mark 1:12, with the vocative satana without the definite article only in Matthew 4:10), ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazwn, only in Matthew 4:3), and ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos). Elsewhere in Matthew (and only Matthew), the term ‘the evil one’ (ho ponēros), may also be used (Matthew 5:37; 6:13; 13:19, 38), though this is debated in the literature.¹
Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: The Devil
The term ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos), is virtually never used in pre-Christian Second Temple literature outside the Old Greek texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Old Greek texts¹ it is found in in 1 Chronicles 21:1 (of the adversary which attacks Israel, prompting David’s census), Esther 7:4; 8:1 (of Haman), Psalm 108:6 (of a human slanderer), Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7 (of Job’s adversary), and Zechariah 3:1-2 (of the accuser of Joshua).
Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: The Didache
Scholarly consensus dates the Didache at the end of the first century.¹ Although the Didache shares a Jewish ‘Two Ways’ textual source with the Epistle of Barnabas² (represented in Qumran texts such as the ‘Community Rule’ or ‘Manual of Discipline’ 1QS, 4QSa-j, 5Q11, 5Q13), it has treated this source very differently to Barnabas. Whereas Barnabas adopted and amplified the supernatural evil found in the Two Ways text, the Didache has eliminated it. This is immediately apparent from a comparison of the opening of the Didache to its parallels in 1QS and Barnabas.
The Nature Of Jesus
It must be one of the greatest tragedies in Christian thinking that the Lord Jesus Christ has not received the respect and exaltation due to him on account of his victory over sin, through the development of a perfect character. The widely held doctrine of the “trinity” makes Jesus [into] God Himself. Seeing that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) and has no possibility of sinning, [the trinitarian position leaves us with a] Christ [who] did not really have to battle against sin. [If Jesus was God, walking around on earth in human flesh, incapable of sinning, then Jesus’] life on earth was therefore a sham, living out the human experience, but with no real feeling for the spiritual and physical dilemma of the human race, seeing that he was not personally affected by it...
The Temptations Of Jesus
Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungred. And when the tempter came to him... (Matthew 4:1-2)
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” (Matthew 4:8)
“The the devil leaveth him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” (Matthew 4:11)
Calling Peter Satan
“But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
The Evil Inclination
There are numerous texts about the Yetzer HaRa (the Evil Inclination, aka “Satan”) in the Jewish Talmud. The Jewish sages were in no way monolithic in their understanding of the source of our human capacity to do evil. They all agreed that humans are born with it. Here are a number of selections which present proof texts for this.
Was Jesus’ Temptation from Within?
Question: Concerning the account of the temptation of Christ in Luke 4:2-13, please explain how this could possibly be the working of Christ’s own mind? Note that in verse 13, after the temptation we are told — “he departed from him for a season”.
The Two Yods of Genesis Chapter 2
Rabbi Nahman ben Rabbi Hisda expounded: What is meant by the text, Then the Lord God formed [wa-yizer] man?¹ [The word wa-yizer] is written with two yods, to show that God created two inclinations, one good and the other evil.
Christ’s Wilderness Temptations
It has been said that a second person must have been present, tempting Christ with ideas, since ‘the suggestions were evil suggestions, out of a carnal mind, and this could not possibly have been generated from the mind of Christ.’ In other words, the thoughts were the thoughts of a carnal mind and Christ did not have a carnal mind. This position is based on the premise that ‘Christ, possessing the Holy Spirit, would not entertain any thoughts contrary to the will of God.’
The Evil Inclination: Entice Now, Testify Later
R[abbi] Samuel b[en] Nahmani citing R[abbi] Johanan stated, The Evil Inclination entices man in this world and testifies against him in the world to come, as it is said, He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become a manon [master] at the last.
Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical Night is considered to be a masterpiece of Holocaust literature. First published in 1958, it recounts the story of an adolescent boy and his father in Auschwitz. Wiesel writes primarily of their battle for survival in the Nazi death camps. Although it is a stark peek into the nature of evil, providing a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Night also touches on a truth that is distinctly Jewish. That is, that evil resides within each one of us.
The Evil Inclination and Free Will
...[It] is necessary to say something about the evil inclination ( יצר הרע = yetzer hara) and the good inclination ( יצר טוב = yetzer hatov).¹ The term יצר (yetzer) the Hebrew Bible can mean “vessel” (Isaiah 29:16) or “that which is formed in the mind, imagination, purpose” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Deuteronomy 31:21; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 29:18; Isaiah 26:3). In Siriach 14:14 it means “natural inclination” in the specific sense of free will.² The idea of two inclinations is found in the Testament of Asher 1:3-9 [Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs], which speaks of the two inclinations (duo diaboulia).³ The stereotyped terms ( יצר הרע = yetzer hara) and ( יצר טוב = yetzer hatov) were Rabbinic, ( יצר הרע= yetzer hara) being older than ( יצר טוב = yetzer hatov), the latter first occurring most likely in Rabbi Jose the Galilaean (early second century).⁴ According to Tennant, the talmudic literature “insists on a man’s capacity to control his evil inclination, might as it is” and there is “no hint that his free-will is diminished in consequence of the sin of his first parents.”⁵ Further, the evil inclination, although implanted in Adam, is not a consequence of Adam’s sin.⁶ The evil inclination was the cause of Adam’s sin and in fact in some texts is personified.⁷ This evil inclination then can rule over everyone. It was, however, possible to resist the evil inclination through the Torah. So in Baba Batra 16a [Talmud] we read: “If God created the evil inclination, He also created the Torah as its antidote (lit. spices).” See also Sifre Deuteronomy 45:
A Note on the Evil Inclination and Sexual Desire in Talmudic Literature
The biblical concept that humankind’s foundational distinction is that it was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) made R[abbi] Akiva remark: “Beloved (sc. to God) is man, in that he was created in the (divine) image: still more beloved in that it was made known to him that he was created in this image” (m. Avoth 3, 15). And Akiva definitely was not the only rabbi to cherish this idea. All the more striking is it that the rabbis developed the theory that an evil inclination or impulse was part of this image. The widespread Goethean concept of the existence of ‘zwei Seelen in meiner Brust’ [‘two souls within my breast’] was given expression by the early rabbis in a theory of two yetsarim ‘inclinations, desires, passions, drives, impulses, bents of mind’), namely the yetser ha-tov (the desire to do good) and the yetser ha-ra‘ (the desire to do evil).
Interesting “Jots and Tittles"
Remember that Jesus said that these would not “pass from the law” until all scripture is fulfilled.
Guarding The Eyes: What Judaism Says
Whoever goes out into the street is liable to lose both worlds, this one and the World to Come, G–d forbid. This can be so through looking at...the lewdness that is all around us and that contaminates the brain and the soul. And as the Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva (Chapter 4, 4), most people don’t realize that it is what the eyes see that later leads a person to the act of sin.
Our Friends and the Evil Inclination
We must realize many sins result chiefly from evil acquaintances, so one must flee from those persons as one would from fire. The Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) has already taken up permanent residence with such persons, and he appoints them messengers to shoot arrows even at the souls of their friends. These “arrows” are their foul language and irreverence with which they make every prohibition seem more attractive, provoking their own Evil Inclination and that of their friends, and causing every evil to occur. As Chazal said¹, “Many friends do evil.” Even if they advise and entice one to only go along with them but not do what they do, one should not heed them, because this is the incitement of the Evil Inclination itself. The Torah says, “Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked” (Tehillim [Psalms] 1:1); and King Shlomo [Solomon] cried out, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent If they say, ‘Come with us’...do not walk in the way with them” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 1:10,15).
Inclination, Good and Evil
There is a biblical basis to the idea of the existence in man’s nature of an instinctive tendency, or impulse, (yeẓer as in Psalms 103:14 from yaẓar, i.e., to “form” or “create” as in Genesis 2:8), which, left to itself, would lead to his undoing by prompting him to act in a manner contrary to the will of God (whence the term yeẓer ha-ra or “inclination to evil”). Thus, in Genesis 5 it is stated that “every inclination of the thoughts of his – i.e., man’s – heart is only evil continually” and again in Genesis 8:21 “for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Boaz’s Evil Inclination
The book of Ruth describes an especially charged encounter between Boaz and Ruth on the threshing floor (Ruth 3:6-15). The verses, however, narrate this crucial scene, in which the heroine is transformed from a childless refugee to the matriarch of the Israelite royal line, in a laconic and enigmatic fashion, concealing more than they reveal. The Midrash¹, here as elsewhere, uncovers what Scripture hides. The Tannaitic homily unfolds the entire erotic drama that played out that night on the threshing floor, a drama to which the bible only alludes. But, to the readers’ great surprise, in the Midrashic reconstruction, the drama is not between Boaz and Ruth at all, but between Boaz and himself; or, to be more precise, between Boaz and his evil yetzer:
Satan, Evil Inclination and Angel of Death: One and the Same—How?
[L]isten to the following useful instruction given by our Sages, who in truth deserve the title of “wise men”: it makes clear that which appears doubtful, and reveals that which has been hidden, and discloses most of the mysteries of the Law. They said in the Talmud as follows: R. Simeon, son of Lakish, says: “The adversary (satan), evil inclination (yezer ha-ra’), and the angel of death, are one and the same being.”
Rabbinic Writings on the Evil Inclination
Antoninus asked Rabbi, “At what time does the impulse to evil gain mastery over man: at the time of his conception or at the time he is born?”
Resisting the Evil Inclination: Rabbinic Examples
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Some Difficult Passages: The Temptation in the Wilderness
Who or what was the devil that tempted the Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness? Let us try to discuss this question logically and unemotionally.
Babylonian Talmud — Mas. Sukkah 52a
And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart.¹ Is it not, they said, an a fortiori argument? If in the future² when they will be engaged in mourning and the Evil Inclination will have no power over them,³ the Torah⁴ nevertheless says, men separately and women separately, how much more so now⁵ when they are engaged in rejoicing and the Evil Inclination has sway over them.⁶
The Absence of Satan in the Old Testament
Although English Bibles continue the practice of capitalizing the word “satan” in passages like Job 1 and 2, those passage do not have a specific individual in mind. “Satan” in these passages should not be understood as a proper personal name.
The Evil Inclination: The Dark Side
Alas! Alas! Time eats away our lives, And the hidden Enemy who gnaws at our hearts Grows by drawing strength from the blood we lose! —Charles Baudelaire, L’Ennemi
The Evil Inclination At Sinai
The giving of the Torah at Sinai provided Israel with a unique moment and opportunity in history. A Midrashic passage explains:
The Northerner and the Evil Inclination
The verse narrates God’s promise to cast away the locusts destroying the land. However the symbolic name of the enemy (’Northener’, i.e. one who comes from the north) and the intense imagery of the verse, led the homilist to seek for another, less trivial, enemy in the verse, one which might also be relevant for his own experience. The ‘northener’ (tzfoni) is thus read as the yetzer [hara], hidden (tzafun) in every person’s heart.
The Origin of Sin
Sin began with Adam. Only a single commandment — a prohibition — was laid upon him, and he transgressed it. See how many deaths were the penalty for him and his descendants through all generations to the end of the world...¹ A late Midrash uses the consequence of Adam’s sin to illustrate that God himself cannot correct the evil men have done.
The Yetser HaTov in Rabbinic Thought
The rabbinic notion of two inclinations – good and evil – vying for domination in each human heart is first mentioned and best known from a homily on Deuteronomy 6:5, the second verse in the Shema, which begins “ve’ahavta et hashem elokekha bekhol levavkha…” Commenting on the use of the variant form levavkha, with double bet, for “your heart,” instead of libkha with one bet, the darshan explains that you are expected to love God with both your inclinations, the good and the evil: “bishney yetsarekha, yetser hatov viyetser hara.” Versions of this homily are found in Mishnah Berakhot 9:5, Sifre Deuteronomy 32 and Tosefta Berakhot 6:7. In the Tosefta this darshan is identified as the second century tanna [sage] Rabbi Meir, the primary teacher of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, editor of the Mishnah.
The Yetzer haTov and Yetzer haRa [Good and Evil Inclinations] in the Talmud
According to the Jewish Talmud, every person possesses two inclinations: a good inclination and a bad inclination. The concept of a good inclination (yetzer tov) and an evil inclination (yetzer hara) in the heart of man abounds in the Talmud and the Midrashim. Below is a list of Talmudic passages where this concept is found:
Vayishlach — The Task of the Yetzer Hara
In Parshas Vayishlach we read of Jacob’s nighttime struggle with a mysterious antagonist who attacked him and struggled with him until just before daybreak. When the “man” saw that he could not defeat Jacob, he dislocated Jacob’s hip joint. He then said to Jacob (Genesis 32:27), “Let me go for the dawn is rising.” Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man then told him that he would no longer be called Jacob but Israel, for he had become great before God and man. Jacob then asked for the man’s name but he refused to reveal it.
Humanity Was Formed With Two Impulses
The Jewish Talmud is essentially a collection of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish ethics, laws (instruction/revelation), customs, and history. It has two components: the Mishnah, the first written compendium of Judaism’s Oral Law; and the Gemara, a discussion of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Scriptures (The Tanakh). The terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably. (Adopted from the Wikipedia entry for the Talmud.)
Yezer Ha-Ra (Judaism)
The Yezer Ha-Ra (“evil inclination”) has a recurring role in Jewish rabbinical writings as an embodiment of that within the heart or imagination of humankind that functions as ha Satan (the adversary) and tempts a man to do wrong. The Yezer Ha-Ra is part of human nature and exists in each human being as an always present potential adversary to Good. In most lore the Yezer Ha-Ra seems to be a powerful impulse that can erupt in the heart of a rabbi or scholar as easily as in the heart of an ordinary person. The emphasis is on the struggle within each inhabited psyche. The Yezer Ha-Ra usually manifests as an (almost) irresistible lustful urge. It is considered especially dangerous when a man leaves the synagogue on Friday night and goes home. En route he is accompanied by a good spirit and the Yezer Ha-Ra. If he is distracted from his spiritual reflection, he can fall victim to the latter. This is also true just after the marriage ceremony; the groom is considered very vulnerable due to the presence of spirits around the sacred rite and human closeness to the spiritual realm.
Strategies for Combating the Evil Inclination in Rabbinic Literature
The rabbinic literature, Talmud and Midrash¹, are not single books but a result of a creative process that took place over several centuries. The process of creating Talmud began in 100 CE and ended with its redaction in around 500 CE. The Talmud consists of sixty-three volumes of the discussions, debates and discourses in Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinic academies. Over the span of these four centuries, scribes took notes of the discussions, then organized the notes topically and edited them into the sixty-three volumes. In the Talmud text the rabbis discuss every imaginable life issue and concern, among them the inclination humans have to transgress God’s commandments. They called this inclination the yetzer hara, or evil inclination...
The Manifestation of the Evil Inclination in Rabbinic Literature
The rabbinic literature, Talmud and Midrash, are not single books but a result of a creative process that took place over several centuries. The process of creating Talmud began in 100 CE and ended with its redaction in around 500 CE. The Talmud consists of sixty-three volumes of the discussions, debates and discourses in Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinic academies. Over the span of these four centuries, scribes took notes of the discussions, then organized the notes topically and edited them into the sixty-three volumes. In the Talmud text the rabbis discuss every imaginable life issue and concern, among them the inclination humans have to transgress God’s commandments. They called this inclination the yetzer hara, or evil inclination...
Origin and Ultimate Disposition of the Evil Inclination in Rabbinic Literature
The rabbinic literature, Talmud and Midrash, are not single books but a result of a creative process that took place over several centuries. The process of creating Talmud began in 100 CE and ended with its redaction in around 500 CE. The Talmud consists of sixty-three volumes of the discussions, debates and discourses in Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinic academies. Over the span of these four centuries, scribes took notes of the discussions, then organized the notes topically and edited them into the sixty-three volumes. In the Talmud text the rabbis discuss every imaginable life issue and concern, among them the inclination humans have to transgress God’s commandments. They called this inclination the yetzer hara, or evil inclination.
A Conversation Between the Good and Evil Inclinations
Joanne Greenberg (1932–) is best known for writing Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964), a groundbreaking, fictional representation of a teenage girl’s recovery from schizophrenia, based on the therapeutic relationship between Greenberg and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann; the novel was recently re-issued with a new after-word. In addition to writing daily, Greenberg, who is Jewish, teaches writing, ethics, and anthropology at the Colorado School of Mines. This conversation with Gail Berkeley Sherman took place at Greenberg’s home in August 2007 and provides an example of how the Judaic/rabbinic concept of two yetzers (i.e., an evil inclination and a good inclination within each of us) fits into the worldview of a Jew.
The Death of the Evil Inclination
Rabbi Hiyya logically deduces that in the messianic era . . . only the Good Inclination (yetser tov) will remain in the human heart, and so he states “the Evil Impulse [personified as Satan] has no sway in the time to come.”¹
Entice My Son
According to Judaism, the Zohar was written in order to communicate a Kabbalistic message to the disciples of God. Among those messages is the following, which illustrates how the Evil Inclination that God created within man can be “very good”:
Fooling the Satan Inside of Us
This may seem a little bit counterintuitive at first. If the month of Elul¹ is an awakening process culminating in Rosh Hashana [the Jewish celebration of the New Year], wouldn’t it make sense to blow more blasts of the Shofar [ram’s horn] on Erev Yom Teru’ah [the evening before “the day of shouting and horn blowing,” i.e., New Year’s Eve]? Chazal’s² [(our Jewish sages’)] famous answer is even more counterintuitive—“to fool the satan,” they wrote. By not blowing shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana [New Year’s Eve], we theoretically put the Yetzer Hara [the Evil Inclination] “at ease,” so that it won’t be ready to prosecute when it counts on the Day of Judgement.
The next question posed by Antoninus concerns the yetzer hara [the Evil Inclination]. Here, rather than the word נתנה (invested), the Gemara uses the term שולט (rules). I submit that this semantic difference, while not unusual, is an important one. To support his contention that the yetzer hara begins to rule at the moment of birth, rather than at “forming,” Antoninus quotes Genesis 4:7, “sin coucheth at the door.” Notice that the verse states that sin, not the yetzer hara, couches at the door. It is my contention that the Gemara refers to the time when the yetzer hara rules, that is, dominates man. While it is present (in vested, if you will) from conception, it begins to assert itself only when man encounters the possibility of sin, the requisite stimulus for expression of the yetzer hara. This, I submit, is the answer to the objection raised by the M'harsha (ad. locum). That is, the yetzer hara was indeed present in the twins within Rebecca’s womb. The very fact that they did not “kick their way out of their mother’s womb” attests to the yetzer hara’s presence, rather than its dominance.
Judaism Can Have No Place For A Devil
The Absolute Being, then, is necessarily a Spirit. He is also necessarily Alone. He is the One and only God... Polytheism is its negation, its denial. If there are more gods than one, it is clear that none of them can be perfect, or they would not all exist; none of them is all-sufficient for the task of making and ruling the universe. It demands their united powers. And, in fact, the old Pagans never thought of their gods as perfect. Each god was a monarch reigning over a separate realm, with which the others might not interfere. Like monarchs, too, they often fought with each other for mastery, and one or other of them was beaten.
Good and Evil and Human Choice in Judaism
Most 1st-century Jews rejected a Platonic dualism between body and soul.¹ Instead, the moral battle was waged by two inner impulses. In Hebrew literature they are called the yetzer tob and the yetzer ra', the good and evil inclinations. A common Greek equivalent of yetzer is diaboulion, or both languages may speak of two ‘spirits’ (Heb: ruah; Grk: pneuma). A modern representation of the Two Impulses is the cartoon of a good and an evil angel sitting on a person’s shoulder and whispering advice. As in the cartoon, the individual makes the final decision.
New Testament Satanology & Rabbinic Literature
Tom Farrar has written an article discussing the relevance of post-Christian rabbinic literature to the satanology of the New Testament and early Christianity. His article contains some useful information, but also contains some highly misleading statements.
Paul’s Inner Struggle
Paul’s contrast between flesh and spirit sounds Platonic. But for Paul, humans were not divided into flesh and spirit (i.e. body and soul, as in Plato) as opposing categories. It is not the human spirit fighting against the corporeal); man’s aspiration is not the loosing of one’s own spirit from the tomb of the body. Rather, for Paul, it is similar to the formulation of the Rabbis. [That is,] Man faces a constant inner struggle because he possesses both the yetzer ha-tov (good inclination) and the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination).
Questions About The Yetzer Hara
Here are two questions for you to consider:
Strategies for Warring Against the Evil Inclination
It is written, “And Jacob sent messengers [angels according to one interpretation] ahead of him … to the land of Seir, the field of Edom. And he commanded them, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to my lord, to Esau: “Thus has Jacob your servant said, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now’” ’” (Genesis 32:4-5). Further on it is written, “And Jacob was greatly afraid, and was distressed” (v. 8).
The Temptation of Christ: A Ten Point Idiosyncratic Interpretation
Tom Farrar has written a ten point interpretation of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, aimed at supporting his personal satanology. The list is idiosyncratic in that it makes various arguments which are unique to Farrar, and which are contradicted or dismissed in the scholarly literature. This article lists and critiques each of Farrar’s points.
Two B’s or Not Two B’s
A parallel to the Yerushalmi [Jerusalem Talmud] enables us to see how a dualistic conception of the Evil Impulse [often personified as “Satan”] can give way to a monistic one (and vice versa). The text of interest is a short midrashic comment on Psalms 48:14 found in Genesis Rabbah. The source, however, is best understood in light of a slightly earlier midrashic comment on Deuteronomy 6:5 found in the Sifre to which we will turn first.
A Shofar Symbolizes the Binding of the Evil Inclination
The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 16a) states: “Why do we use a Shofar [horn] from a ram? [Answer:] Because God said, ‘Blow before me a Shofar of a ram and I will recall the merit of “Akeidat Yitzchak”—Yitzchak’s [Isaac’s] binding on the altar. [Avraham offered-up a ram after he was forbidden to sacrifice his son]. Furthermore, I will view you as if you have bound yourselves on the altar’.”
In Judaism, the yetzer harah is the inclination or impulse to evil, popularly identified with the lusts of the flesh. It also leads to such sins as greed, anger, revenge, violence, and idolatry.
Judas and His Satan
One of the most intriguing backstories that takes place in the days leading up to Jesus’ death can be found in the relationship between Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, and “Satan”:
Move Over, Freud: Real Jewish Psychology 101
There’s a myth that Sigmund Freud, the famous ‘father’ of modern psychology, was the first Jew who ever managed to start working out that human beings have a whole subconscious thing going on. Freud started speculating about ‘ego’ and ‘id’ and a bunch of other now discredited theories about what was causing emotional and mental issues in people, and voila, he was lauded for the better part of a century for his amazing (yet completely unproven…) insights into the human character.
No Greater Enemy
‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him’ (Proverbs 17:7). Rab. Joshua ben Levi said: This refers to the evil inclination [yetzer hara], that which man has no greater enemy. Now if a man live in close intimacy with his fellow for one year, even if, at the outset, he is his enemy, at the end he becomes his friend. But the evil inclination [yetzer hara] grows up with man from youth to old age: day by day it seeks to overthrow him. If it cannot overthrow him within ten years, it seeks to overthrow him within twenty years. If it can find an opportunity within eighty years, it will seize it. Thus, they relate that John [Hyrcanus], the High Priest, ministered for eighty years in the sacred office, yet at the end he became a Sadducee [which would have been considered a disgrace at the time, for the Sadducees embraced the corrupting spirit of Hellenism and compromise with the Roman authorities].
Satanas in the Septuagint
The word “Satan” (Σατανᾶς, Satanás) in Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 21:27 (it occurs nowhere else in the Apocrypha) denotes one’s own wicked heart, as the parallelism shows:
The lexica agree on the point that the noun שָׂטָן in general means “adversary”, or “opponent.”⁶ The [word] can have this role in a number of arenas, including jurisprudence, military, and political. The lexica begin to diverge slightly only on the issue of whether or not שָׂטָן can be used as a proper name.
The Evil Inclination: Very Good
There is also a sense in which the evil yetzer [the evil inclination within man, Heb. yetzer hara] can be regarded as good. Since it is largely identified with sexual passion, and since without sexual passion the race of man could not continue, and since even sanctified marriage is dependent upon it, the evil yetzer is also good. Again, since business and trade depend (as the Rabbis conceived) upon competition and rivalry, which, in their turn, depend upon the instigations of the yetzer, it may be said that the evil yetzer is good:
The Slanderer in the Torah
Evil speaking is sometimes worse than evil doing. In the Messianic age to come, because God by His grace removes the evil yetzer [the evil inclination, Heb. yetzer hara], the source of all slander, His people are able to do and to be good. Consequently, the Shechinah [God’s glorious presence] can once more rest and dwell among them.
While They Are Alive the Evil Inclination May Prevail
God never unites His name with the righteous during their lifetime, only after their death, as it says, ‘To the holy that are [buried] in the earth’ (Psalms 16:3). When are they ‘holy’? When they are in the earth. While they are alive, the evil inclination may prevail over them. But when they are dead, God unites His name with them. Yet He did so to Isaac during his lifetime, for He said to Jacob, ‘I am the God of thy father Isaac’ (Genesis 28:13). Why was this? The Rabbis held that God counted Isaac’s willingness to die on the altar as though he had already died for God’s sake. Rab. Berechiah said: Isaac was blind, (Genesis 27:1), and one who is blind is as though he were dead, for he is hidden in the house, and cannot see the temptations that are without.
English Etymology of Satan
Satan (n.) Old English Satan, from Late Latin Satan (in Vulgate in Old Testament only), from Greek Satanas, from Hebrew satan “adversary, one who plots against another,” from satan “to show enmity to, oppose, plot against,” from root s-t-n “one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as an adversary.”
Rashi and the Evil Inclination (Yetzer Hara)
Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki, the 11th century Jewish rabbi, commonly referred to as Rashi, was prolific in his commentaries of the Jewish scriptures. Within Judaism, Yetzer Hara (Hebrew: יֵצֶר הַרַע , for the definite “the Evil Inclination”), or yetzer ra (Hebrew: יֵצֶר רַע , for the indefinite “an evil inclination”) refers to the congenital inclination to do evil. It is not a demonic force, an external tempter, but rather mankind’s inner desire to misuse things the physical body needs to survive.
Satan in the Dead Sea Scrolls
As a term, śātān means “accuser” or “one who brings charges against.” In the Dead Sea Scrolls and related literature, it occurs five times. In three, perhaps four of these instances, the word is preceded by a term such as “all,” “any” (after a negative), or “no” (1QHa XXII [frag. 4], 6; XXIV [frag. 45], 3; 1 Q28b I, 8; 4Q50 41-2 IV, 12) and therefore simply refers to someone—anyone, whether angelic or human—who engages in destructive activity. The word also occurs twice in the Jubilees, found among fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and composed during the middle of the second century BCE. Jubilees states that at the end of days “there will be neither satan nor any evil who [or better: “which”] will destroy” (23:29). Here Satan refers to someone—anyone—who destroys by cutting a human being’s life short. In Jubilees 10:11, however, the word “satan” describes the activity of a figure called Mastema, whose power over a host of evil spirits is considered the cause of human suffering and idolatry afrer the time of the flood.
The Path of the Upright and the Arrows of the Madman
The reader is already acquainted with the meaning of the term Innocence, as used by our author. The same subject, under another name, is treated of in the “Duties of the Heart.” In the fourth chapter of that work the pious Rabbi Bechayi, with his usual eloquence, exhorts the reader to be sincere and pure in serving his God; to examine carefully his motives; to beware against the insinuations of an evil heart, which misrepresent to our- selves the true character of our actions. But what need we describe what R. Bechayi says, let him speak for himself (“Duties of the Heart,” book 5, chap. 5):—
Two Jots, No Tittles
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led in the Spirit in the wilderness during forty days, being tempted of the devil. And he did eat nothing in those days: and when they were completed, he hungered. And the devil said unto him, if thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it become bread. (Luke 4:1-3)
Temptation, Sin and Jesus
“We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
The Temptation of Jesus (1957)
The narratives in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 are both put in the objective form.¹ “When the tempter came to him, he said . . . Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him . . . Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain...and saith unto him... Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan... Then the devil leaveth him...” and so on.
Was Jesus Defiled? Had He a Carnal Mind?
At a recent Bible lecture the speaker said, in the course of his address, that “Jesus was defiled,” and that “Jesus needed cleansing by baptism.” Other recent speakers have declared that “Jesus was corrupt,” and that “Jesus had a carnal mind.” I am not alone in wanting enlightenment on these very important points. I hope you will explain these statements in the Problems section of The Testimony.
Correspondence on Satan
Our articles on Satan¹ aroused considerable interest, and, as might be expected of an unorthodox point of view, a certain amount of criticism.
Commenting upon the decision of the Dean of Arches (that the denial either of eternity of punishment, or of the personality of the evil one, is sufficient to justify a clergyman hi refusing the Holy Communion to a parishioner) the Jewish Chronicle says:
Some Notes on the Temptation of Christ
In Luke 4:2, we read that Jesus was forty days tempted of the devil in the wilderness of Judea. Of those forty days of stress we know nothing at all, save that they were days of complete fasting for Jesus. At the end of the fast, he was intensely hungry.
The Temptation of Jesus (1936)
The contribution from Mr. Blakey in the September issue of The Testimony covers a great deal of ground, and is not lacking in detailed expositions of numerous side-issues, but it is unhelpful in the task of identifying the tempter of Jesus.
The Temptation of Christ
To some, the thought that Jesus could be tempted in the accepted sense of of the word, and with any probability of succumbing, is shocking. For them, the temptation was merely a demonstration that the Son of God was superior to the wiles of the tempter. The triumphant sequel shewed that he was indeed superior, but not before the Son of Man, girt with our humanity, had wrestled with himself, and won the greatest victory of his life. It was no mere matter of an exchange of texts with an artful interlocutor. The whole force of the incident lies in the tremendous reality of the issues raised—that when the Scripture says he was tempted it means that he was subjected to trial and proof. Now if this is to convey anything at all, it must be that the situation held for Christ the possibility of triumph or disaster. This must have been so if the triumphant conclusion was to be regarded as a victory at all.
Diabolos, or the New Testament Devil
“A bishop must be… not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of those which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6, 7)
A History of the Devil and Satan in Old Testament Times
To begin at the beginning. The words Satan, Devil, demon, Lucifer, fallen angel, etc. simply don’t occur in the whole of the book of Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament, the one and only God is presented as all powerful, without equal and in no competition with any other cosmic force. The Old Testament makes it clear that any ‘adversary’ to God’s people was ultimately under the control of God Himself. All Angels are spoken of as being righteous and the servants of God, even “Angels of evil/disaster”, who may bring destruction upon sinners, are still God’s Angels carrying out His will and judgments. God’s people Israel initially held this view; but as has so often happened to God’s people, they mixed their true beliefs with those of the world around them. Earlier Judaism spoke of the human tendency to evil [yetser ha-ra] and the tendency to good [yetser ha-tob]. This tendency to evil they understood as being at times personified or symbolized by “the devil”: “Satan and the yetser ha-ra are one”¹. But earlier Judaism rejected the idea that angels had rebelled, and they specifically rejected the idea that the serpent in Genesis was Satan. At that time, “the Jewish devil was little more than an allegory of the evil inclination among humans”². It is noted by the editor of Dent’s edition of the Talmud that neither the Talmud nor the Midrash (the Jewish interpretations of the Law of Moses) even mention Satan as being a fallen angel.³ Even in the Zohar—a second century A.D. Jewish book that became the basis of the Kabbalah—the sitra ahra, the “dark side” is presented as an aspect of God, not independent of Him, which operates on earth as a result of human sin. The Zohar uses the ideas of the Shekhinta b’galuta [God’s glory in exile] and sitra ahra in order to speak of God’s struggle with evil and to explain its very existence. The Zohar doesn’t teach dualism, a universe split between God and Satan, but rather teaches that the struggle between good and evil occurs within God’s own self.
An Angel of Light
2 Corinthians 11:13-15: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works”
Devil and Satan Bound
Revelation 20:2, 7 & 10: “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years”. “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison”. “And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever”.
Israel In Exile: The Babylonian/Persian Influence on Good and Evil
Of especially significant influence upon Judaism were the Persian views of Zoroastrianism. This was a philosophy which began in Persia about 600 B.C., and was growing in popularity when Judah went to Babylon/Persia in captivity. This philosophy posited that there was a good god of light (Mazda) and an evil god of darkness (Ahriman). The well known passage in Isaiah 45:5-7 is a clear warning to the Jews in captivity not to buy into this—Israel’s God alone made the light and the darkness, the good and the “evil”. He alone had the power to give “the treasures of darkness” to a man (Isaiah 45:3), even though such “treasures” were thought to be under the control of the supposed ‘Lord of darkness’. But Isaiah is in fact full of other allusions to Zoroastrian ideas, seeking to teach Judah the true position on these things. Thus it was taught that “Saviours will come from the seed of Zoroaster, and in the end, the great Saviour”, who would be born of a virgin, resurrect the dead and give immortality¹. These ideas are picked up in Isaiah 9:6 and applied prophetically to the ultimate Saviour, Jesus—as if to warn the Jews not to accept the prevalent Persian ideas in this area. Indeed, it appears that [under Divine inspiration] much of the Hebrew Bible was rewritten in Babylon, in order to deconstruct the ideas which Israel were meeting in Babylon². Hence we find Persian-era phrases in books like Job, which on one level were clearly very old Hebrew writings, and yet have been edited under a Persian-era hand. The Jews were also influenced by the Zoroastrian idea that somehow God Himself would never cause evil in our lives—and therefore, God is to be seen as somehow distanced from all good or evil actions, as these are under the control of the good and evil gods. Zephaniah 1:12 warns against this Persian view: “I will search Jerusalem with lamps; and I will punish the men that are settled on their lees, that say in their heart, Jehovah will not do good, neither will he do evil”. The fact is, God personally is passionately involved with this world and with our lives; and so it is He who brings about the dark and the light, good and evil.
Jesus in the Wilderness: A Study in the Language and Nature of Temptation
It may well be argued that the language of the wilderness temptations implies there was physical movement going on, e.g. the tempter came to Jesus and led Him away. We now consider how such language is relevant to our evil desires inside our mind.
The Orthodox Devil’s Time Line: It Doesn’t Add Up
We have explained at length in earlier chapters that ‘Satan’ and ‘Devil’ in the Bible are renderings of Hebrew and Greek words which basically mean ‘adversary’, ‘false accuser’, ‘opponent’. They can refer to persons, good or bad, who play that role. But sometimes in the New Testament, they are used more metaphorically to refer to sin, in various forms, and to systems which oppose the Gospel. Sin must be manifested through something; one cannot have abstract diabolism, it must always be manifested in a person or system of things. It is for this reason that the Devil is personified; because sin (the Devil) cannot exist in the abstract, it can only be found within the human heart and person.
Resist the Devil
James 4:7 — “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you”.
Untranslated: Satan and the Devil
Sometimes the original words of the Bible text are left untranslated (“Mammon”, in Matthew 6:24, is an Aramaic example of this). ‘Satan’ is an untranslated Hebrew word which means ‘adversary’, while ‘Devil’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘diabolos’, meaning a liar, an enemy or false accuser. ‘Satan’ has been transferred from the Hebrew untranslated, just like ‘Sabaoth’ (James 5:4), ‘Armageddon’ (Revelation 16:16) and ‘Hallelujah’ (Revelation 19:1-6). If we are to believe that Satan and the Devil are some being outside of us which is responsible for sin, then whenever we come across these words in the Bible, we have to make them refer to this evil person. The Biblical usage of these words shows that they can be used as ordinary nouns, describing ordinary people. This fact makes it impossible to reason that the words Devil and Satan as used in the Bible do in themselves refer to a great wicked person or being outside of us.
Satan from the Reformation Onwards
The Reformation led to the divide between Protestant and Catholic Christianity. This divide was bitter, and both sides eagerly demonized the other as in league with a superhuman Devil, because they were convinced that God was on their side, and their enemies therefore were of the Devil. This justified all manner of war, persecution and demonization. Protestants insisted that the Pope was Antichrist, whilst Catholics spoke of exorcising the demons of Protestantism. Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation, was obsessed with the theme of the Devil, throwing ink at him, breaking wind [passing gas] to scare him away, and ever eager to vent his obsession about the Devil in terms of his demonization of the Catholics¹. Significantly, even Luther recognized that the passage about “war in heaven” in Revelation 12 didn’t refer to anything that happened in Eden, but rather was a description of Christian persecution at the hands of their enemies. Luther believed the common idea about Satan being hurled out of Heaven in Eden, but he recognized that Revelation 12 couldn’t be used to support the idea². We discuss Revelation 12 in more detail in section 5-32. Catholic response was no less obsessive; the catechism of Canisius, a Catholic response to Luther’s Greater Catechism of 1529, mentions Satan more often than it does Jesus (67 times compared to 63 times)³. The Council of Trent blamed Protestantism on the Devil.
Satan in Paradise Lost
John Milton’s Paradise Lost, with its graphic depictions of a rebellious satan being hurled from Heaven to earth, greatly popularized the image of a personal satan. The visual images conjured up by Milton’s poem remain significant in the minds of many to this day, even if they themselves haven’t read his epic poem. But its influence has been such over the last few hundred years that many have come to assume that this actually is a reflection of Bible teaching. Let’s face it—people adopt their religious ideas more from popular culture, what they see in art, what they hear on the street, how others talk… rather than by reading books by theologians and Bible students. There’s no doubt that art played a highly significant role in fixing the idea of a personal satan in peoples’ minds—and Paradise Lost played a huge part in this¹. Milton himself admitted that he wrote the poem [among other reasons] in order to “justifie the wayes of God to men” (1.26). And this is a repeated theme we find throughout the whole history of the personal satan idea. It’s as if men feel they have to apologize for God, as well as seeking to somehow avoid the difficult fact that the Bible teaches that it is God alone who ultimately allows evil in human life.
Satan in the Middle Ages
As Christianity met with Paganism over the centuries, it picked up some of the local paganic ideas. J.B. Russell summarizes the situation in this period: “The Christian concept of the Devil was influenced by folklore elements, some from the older, Mediterranean cultures and others from the Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic religions of the north. Pagan ideas penetrated Christianity while Christian ideas penetrated paganism”¹. Thus the Celtic god of the underworld, Cernunnos, “the horned god”, was easily assimilated into Christianity, just as the pagan feast of December 25th was adopted as ‘Christmas’. The horned gods of the Scandinavians were easily compared to the Devil—and hence the idea that the Devil has horns became more popular in Christian art [although there is absolutely no Biblical association of the Devil with horns]. Hilda Davidson carefully researched Scandinavian views of the Devil figure and showed at great length how these ideas were accommodated into Christianity—rather that the radical call of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God being presented as it is, a fundamentally different worldview². Once the Devil was associated with Pan, he became presented as having hooves, goat hair and a large nose³. No longer was Satan pictured with long dark hair, but rather spikey hair like the Northern European gods of evil. Thus ‘converts’ to Christianity were allowed to keep some of their existing ideas, and these soon became part of the core fabric of popular ‘Christianity’. For example, the northern European fear of demons entering a person led them to cover their mouths when they yawned, and to fear sneezing as the intake of air could allow demons to rush in to the person. Christianity adopted these practices, adding the phrase “God bless you” whenever someone sneezed, in an attempt to Christianize the practice.
Satan in the Thought of Augustine
The great adversary/Satan to the early Christians was the Roman and Jewish systems. The Jewish system passed away in A.D. 70, and Roman opposition ceased once the empire converted to Christianity under Constantine. Visible persecution of Christians ceased, for the most part. The lack of visible adversaries perhaps encouraged mainstream Christianity to conclude that the adversary/Satan was therefore invisible and cosmic. It was against this background that Augustine came onto the scene.
Satan in the Thought of Clement and Origen
One of the most gaping problems for those who believe in a personal Devil relates to what actually happened when Christ died. Hebrews 2:14 clearly states that in His death, Christ “destroyed him that has the power of death, that is the devil”. As I’ll explain later, I find the only meaningful and Biblically consistent approach here is to understand that the Devil is used here as a personification for sin—for it is sin which brings death (Romans 6:23). The entire curse on earth as a result of human sin is described in Genesis as being brought by God and not by any personal Satan. Sin and death are very frequently connected together in the Bible (Romans 5:12, 21; 6:16,23; 7:13; 8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:56; James 1:15). In none of those passages is there the slightest hint that it is a personal Satan who brings about our death; the cause of death is ultimately human sin. Yet Origen insisted that “the Devil controls the ultimate evil, death” (Against Celsus 4.92,93). The early “fathers”, having committed themselves to belief in a personal Satan, had to face the music from the Gnostics and other critics over these issues—seeing sin and evil continued and even increase daily in the world, how can it be that Christ destroyed the Devil? A purely Biblical position would’ve had no problem answering that objection—Christ destroyed the power of sin, in that we can now be forgiven and be counted as “in Christ” by baptism. He as our representative has enabled us to become in a position whereby all that is true of Him now stands true for us; and thereby our resurrection from the dead and receipt of eternal life is assured by His grace.
Satan in the Thought of Irenaeus and Tertullian
Wrestling yet further with the problem they’d created, the “fathers” then had to deal with the issue of how the death of Christ could destroy or damage Satan. Origen, Irenaeus and Tertullian created the idea that was developed and popularized later in novels and art—that God somehow tricked Satan. The reasoning went that Satan demanded the blood of Jesus, and so he made Jesus die—but unknown to Satan, Jesus was [supposedly] God, and He rose from the grave. Not only is Jesus never defined as ‘God’ in a trinitarian sense in the Bible; but the whole suggestion is purely fictional. The blood of Jesus was not “paid” to anyone. And an almighty God doesn’t need to trick Satan in order to win a game. Again we see that our view of God affects our view of Satan, and vice versa. And we see too that a forced, unnatural and unBiblical view of the atonement affects our view of Satan too. Gnostic and other criticism of ‘Christianity’ focused easily and powerfully on these contradictions and begged questions; and the “fathers” had to dig themselves yet deeper into a tortuous and contradictory theology. They were pushed on the point of whether Satan and his angels sinned at the same time and got thrown out of Heaven together; and whether in fact Satan and his angels committed the same sin, or different ones. Tertullian’s answer was that Satan sinned by envy, and was thrown out of Heaven for this. He then adjusted his view to say that Satan was given some period of grace between his sin and his expulsion, during which he corrupted some of the angels, and then they were thrown out after him. Clement, by contrast, insisted Satan and the angels fell together, at the same time. The answers of the “fathers” were totally fictional and not tied in at all to any actual Biblical statements. And yet these desperate men insisted they were guided to their views by God, and many generations of Christendom has blindly followed them. Tertullian likewise was pushed on the issue of whether Satan was an angel, or another kind of being—as the earlier church fathers had claimed. Tertullian amended the party line to claim that actually, Satan was an angel after all. He was then pushed on the issue of how exactly Satan and the angels got down to earth from Heaven. Seeing they had to travel through the air, Tertullian claimed [Apol. 22] that the Devil and his angels had wings.
Satan in the Thought of Justin Martyr
The response of the “Church fathers” was to claim that whilst indeed the world is in the hands of Satan, baptism frees a person from the power of the Devil. Hence baptism formulae started to speak of how demons were being expelled from a person¹. This contrasted sharply with the repeated New Testament evidence that baptism is for the forgiveness of personal sins, a becoming “in Christ”, covered against sin by His sacrifice (Acts 2:37,38; Colossians 2:12-14). None of the New Testament baptism passages, notably the exposition of baptism in Romans 6 and the institution of baptism in the great commission, ever mentioned it as being in order to exorcise demons or free us from the power of a personal being called the Devil. Produced around 180 A.D., the Apocryphal “Acts of Peter” consciously attempted to blend Gnosticism and Christianity by claiming that the negative aspects of this world are the fault of a personal Satan who snared Adam and “bound him… by the chain of the [human, sinful] body”. The Genesis record remains silent—and it’s a deafening silence—about any ‘Satan’ tempting Adam. The New Testament likewise states simply that sin entered the world by Adam—not by anyone or anything else (Romans 5:12).
Satan in the Thought of Lactantius and Athanasius
In the third and fourth centuries, Lactantius and Athanasius appeared as the leading Christian thinkers about the Devil. They continued the struggle to justify belief in a personal, fallen angel Devil against the obvious holes in the argument. In doing so they succeeded in accreting [expanding] yet more to the Devil idea, at times backtracking to or contradicting the arguments of previous “fathers”, as well as adding their own variations on the theme.
The Deconstruction of the ‘Satan’ Myth in Job
It strikes me as ironic that the mention of ‘Satan’ in the early chapters of Job has been speed-read as evidence for the orthodox concept of Satan as an evil being in opposition to God. For on closer reading of Job, especially against its background of Canaanite and Babylonian myths about Satan, it becomes apparent that one purpose of the book is to deconstruct the myth of an evil ‘Satan’ figure. The epic poem demonstrates that God is all powerful, the ultimate source of calamity, and yet He works through this to the ultimate happy blessing of His children.
The Devil After the New Testament
The New Testament reveals the same God as in the Old Testament. God is still presented as the source of our trials, of judgment, and the origin of sin is even more repeatedly located in the human mind. God’s supremacy is emphasized just as it was in the Old Testament. Even the beast of Revelation 17:17 ‘fulfills His will’. Those persecuted by it “suffer according to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:19). But the history we’re now going to consider reflects yet once again how God’s people have an endless desire to add to and change the most basic teachings of God’s word.
The Devil and Satan: The Hard Questions
The common understanding of the Devil as a fallen angel and personal being throws up a huge number of unanswerable questions—unanswerable, at least, within Scripture. This led Shelley to point out that popular Christianity’s view of the Devil was its weakest point: “The devil… is the weak place of the popular religion—the vulnerable belly of the crocodile… Christians invented or adopted the Devil to extricate them from this difficulty [of trying to understand the existence of a good God and the reality of evil]”¹. J.B. Russell thought likewise: “This has always been the weakest seam in Christian theology”². The sheer volume of contradictory mainstream Christian explanations of Satan and the mass of unanswered questions they generate is all confirmation of this observation. Within the context of speaking about practical consequences of our beliefs in this area, I wish to list these questions. I do so because any basis for belief, any framework for understanding the Gospel, which has so many gaping contradictions and difficulties is hardly going to inspire a solid, dynamic, stable relationship with God. The issues of sin and evil are ever present in our daily lives; and I sincerely believe that without a sound way of understanding the issue, a hermeneutic if you like, these contradictions and apparently ‘theoretical’ difficulties will come to term in a disordered and insecure life. So very often, it is a struggle with these issues [‘How could God do this or allow that?’] which leads to even a total loss of faith; and conversely, it is being able to make sense of sin and evil which allows God to confirm our faith through those negative experiences. So here are some of the questions thrown up by the mistaken ideas imported into Christendom on the devil issue—I catalogue them as part of my unashamed appeal for you to turn away from the common but false understanding of Satan which exists:
The Origin of Sin and Evil
Many believe that there is a being or monster called the Devil or Satan who is the originator of the problems which are in the world and in our own lives, and who is responsible for the sin which we commit. The Bible clearly teaches that God is all-powerful. We have seen in Study 2-1 that the angels cannot sin. If we truly believe these things, then it is impossible that there is any supernatural being at work in this universe that is opposed to Almighty God. If we believe that such a being does exist, then surely we are questioning the supremacy of God Almighty. Hence the importance of the matter. We are told in Hebrews 2:14 that Jesus destroyed the Devil by His death; therefore unless we have a correct understanding of the Devil, we are likely to misunderstand the work and nature of Jesus.
The Protestors: Resistance to the Popular Concept of the Devil
The Biblical conclusions of my next chapter are that the words ‘Satan’ [adversary] and ‘Devil’ [false accuser] are simply words which can be used in Scripture with no negative connotation; and that at times they essentially refer to the greatest ‘adversary’ we face, namely sin. Further, the idea of a personal Satan, a fallen angel, is simply not found in the Bible text. It is Scriptural study alone which is the basis for my conclusions, and I hope I would stand by them even with the whole world against me. For many readers these conclusions will be startling and concerning. But it should be appreciated that I am far from alone in having come to these understandings. Well known Christian writers and thinkers have come to just the same conclusions.
Some Conclusions on the Real Devil: A Network of Bible Truth
‘Satan’ in the Bible is a role, not a personal individual. It’s simply impossible to force every Bible reference to Satan to apply to a personal being of supernatural evil. There must be another approach or hermeneutic—and I suggest that this is in accepting that ‘satan’ simply means an adversary, and can refer to both good and bad adversaries of specific things at specific times.
The Temptation of Jesus
Matthew 4:1-11: “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at anytime thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him”.
The Wilderness Temptations: A Window into the Mind of Jesus
We have shown that our Lord’s experiences were similar to those of Israel in the wilderness. The following are additional comments which give greater insight into His temptations:
"To be spiritually minded”: The Essence Of Christianity
The state of our hearts, what we think about, is of supreme importance. We all carry on conversations with ourselves, often involving us imagining certain situations and how we would speak or act to a person. The intended result of all our trials and experiences, of our belief in all the true Bible doctrines which comprise the good news, is that we should become spiritually minded. This is the end result of believing; membership of a denomination, Bible reading, believing the right doctrines… all these things are only means to an end, and that end is to develop the mind of Christ, to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). The wicked will be rejected for the state of their hearts, rather than their specific actions; hence God’s summary of why He rejected the wilderness generation was that “It is a people that do err in their heart” (Psalms 95:10). Similarly, God could have condemned Babylon for a whole host of sinful actions; but His essential, repeated reason was because of how they spoke in their hearts (Isaiah 47:10; Zephaniah 2:15; Revelation 18:17). And He gave the same reason for His condemnation of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:2) and Edom (Obadiah 1:3). The more we come to know ourselves, the more we will perceive the importance of self-talk. I take Ecclesiastes to be Solomon’s self-examination at the end of his life. Five times in this short book he describes how “I said in my heart…” (Ecclesiastes 2:1,15 [twice]; 3:17,18). As he looked back and analyzed how and why he had lived and been as he had, he appreciated that it was all a result of his self-talk, how he had spoken to himself in his mind. His introspection reveals just how we talk to ourselves—e.g. “I said in my heart, ‘Go on now, I will prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure’” (Ecclesiastes 2:1). We all talk to ourselves; and the records of the Lord’s wilderness temptations are an amazing psychological window into the self-talk of God’s very own son. As we know, He answered every temptation that arose within His self-talk with quotations from Scripture. He lived out in reality David’s words: “Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin” (Psalms 119:11—cp. how God’s word was in the heart of men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Jeremiah 20:9; Ezekiel 3:10). This, then, is the ultimate fruit of familiarity with Scripture, of the “daily reading of the Bible” which has been the catch-cry of every serious Christian community.
Tempted of the Devil
The baptism of Jesus was followed immediately by his temptation: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:11). Here was the immediate inevitable clash between the two natures in the Son of God. The phrases “led of the Spirit” and “tempted of the devil” use the same preposition, as though emphasizing these two natures in him.
A Biblical Exposition of that Old Serpent, the Devil and Satan: Chapter 1
Sound thinking, that is, cultivated and well-directed common sense, applied to the discovery of truth, either natural or revealed, has followed the rule, That nothing ought to be believed as true, unless its truth can be demonstrated by an appeal to the facts recorded in the book of Creation, or to those revealed in the book of Revelation.
The History of the Trial of Our Lord in the Wilderness
Our Lord’s trial, taking the word peirasmos to mean trial and not temptation, is recorded in the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and not in the testimony of John. In Matthew and Luke the description is full; in Mark the narrative is very brief. In Matthew and in Luke three distinct classes of trials are enumerated; in Mark no individual trial is specified. The best plan, therefore, will be to gather the general description by joining all the various facts recorded by the three.
The God of Order versus the Devil's Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence
In the preceding Chapters we have endeavoured to demonstrate that there is no such being as the Devil, and have opened up the true meaning attached to the terms “devil,” “satan,” “demon,” and have shown that these are applicable to conditions in which the primary idea represented in each has appended to it some particularity justifying the distinct appellation.
The Devil and the Falsely-accusing State of Mind of Man
Man has three departments in his constitution, an animal, selfish in its tendencies; a moral and religious, or spiritual, universal in its tendencies; and an intellectual, operative in the formation and communication of ideas. The institutions of society are, in general, appeals to man’s nature; they patronise self; they give nutriment to self; they draw forth the abundant and destructive fruits of self. The religion of Christ, on the other hand, appeals to man’s moral and religious nature; it cultivates universality of feeling and the love-neighbour principle; it draws forth the fruits of kindness, of mercy, of justice, and of true humility God-ward. The distinction between the institutions of society and the requirements of the truth is forcibly depicted by the great teacher: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, love thine enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you, That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain, On the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” Matthew 5:38-48.
A Biblical Exposition of that Old Serpent, the Devil and Satan: Chapter 3
Another term which has been referred to in the preceding examination of the devil is....
Satan and the Adverse State of Health and Mind
It was proved in the previous Chapter that the word sathan or satan is applied, in a variety of instances, to human beings, and that the particular feature constituting a human being a satan is that the being is in a state of opposition—that is, in the attitude or relation of an adversary to the individual with whom he is brought into relationship. To be in such a state of opposition is to be an adversary; and that this word is strictly expressive of the meaning of the Hebrew word satan was proved, and many instances the Common Version of the Scriptures, where the word is so translated, were given.
The Devil of the Bible
In medieval times the devil was pictured as an immortal monster with great horns and hoofs, a fiendish character who tortured unfortunate sinners condemned to “hell.” A painting depicting such a creature tending the fires of hell, suggesting unbelievable torture of the victims, is still in existence in a church in England.
Satan, YHWH’s Executioner
In recent decades, scholars have taken great care not to assume that “the śāt?ān” of Job 1–2 and of Zechariah 3 is supposed to be the archenemy of God and the opponent of good, as is Satan in later Jewish and Christian literature. Nevertheless, scholars have yet to eliminate anachronistic assumptions from their discussions of this figure as he is presented in the Hebrew Scriptures, maintaining that the śāt?ān in Job and Zechariah holds the office of heavenly “prosecuting attorney” or “accuser.” After surveying the uses of the noun שָׂטָן and the verb שָׂטַן in the Hebrew Scriptures, this article argues that these words never denote “accusation” in this literature but refer exclusively to physical “attack.” This article further contends that in legal contexts the noun שָׂטָן can refer specifically to an “executioner” and that “the Executioner” is the proper understanding of השַָּׂטָן in Zechariah and Job.
Subjective Interpretations of Jesus’ Temptations
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)
Christ’s Temptation of the Devil
If we desire to have a correct understanding of this narrative we must divest our minds of preconceived ideas, and engrave on the clear surface a distinct impression of the Christ of the Apostle’s testimony “The Man Christ Jesus.” This man — for he was a man — a man approved of God among the Jews — was the promised prophet that God said He would raise up unto Israel from among their brethren, like unto Moses. If we fail to grasp this reality we cannot appreciate the truth of the temptation.
The Idea of Suicide
Several readers have expressed their disagreement with the suggestion put forward by our correspondent, T. Royce, in the August Testimony, p. 294, that Christ’s “natural instinct” led him to think of committing suicide.
When, and How, Was Sin Eliminated from the Nature of Jesus?
In the August Testimony, p. 307, a reader has enquired “when and how was sin eliminated from the nature of Jesus?” I would reply by asking: When and how did sin become an element in the nature of Jesus?
Our Good and Bad Inclinations
Channeled properly, even the sharper parts of ourselves can be used for good.
Two Jots, No Tittles
In Judaism, the “yetzer hara” refers to the inclination to do evil, present at birth, which is capable of violating the will of God. The term is drawn from the phrase “the imagination of the heart of man [is] evil” which occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible, at Genesis 6:5 and 8:21. Within Judaism, stretching all the way back to the Second Temple Period, the “yetzer hara” was synonymous with “Satan.”
Satan (Hebrew: שָּׂטָן satan, meaning “adversary” Arabic: شيطان shaitan, meaning; “astray,” “distant,” or sometimes “devil”) is a figure of opposition appearing in the texts of the Abrahamic religions. Some religious groups teach that this figure originated as an angel who fell out of favor with God, seducing humanity into the ways of sin, and who has power in the fallen world. In the Hebrew Bible, however, the noun has been used to simply represent an accuser or adversary.
In Judaism, yetzer hara (Hebrew: יֵצֶר הַרַע, for the definite “the Evil Inclination”), or yetzer ra (Hebrew: יֵצֶר רַע, for the indefinite “an evil inclination”) refers to the congenital inclination to do evil, by violating the will of God. The term is drawn from the phrase “the imagination of the heart of man [is] evil” (Hebrew: יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע , yetzer lev-ha-adam ra), which occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible, at Genesis 6:5 and 8:21. The Sages of the Talmud (Berakhot 32a) have spoken about the “Evil Inclination” in poignant terms, making a comparison to what it is like: “To what is it like, the Evil Inclination in man? It is like a father who takes his small son, bathes him, douses him with perfume, combs his hair, dresses him up in his finest accoutrements, feeds him, gives him drink, places a bag of money around his neck, and then goes off and puts his son at the front door of a brothel. What can the boy do that he not sin?”
Every Occurrence of Diabolos (devil)
The following list of every occurrence of the Greek word “diabolos” (Strong’s Greek #1228) is meant as an aid to the diligent Bible student. (The actually word is in bold type for each verse). [In keeping with Jewish rabbinical tradition,] the devil is a term used for sin in the flesh [a.k.a., the Evil Inclination] and/or a person or group who manifests sin. The best approach is to carefully consider each verse and draw conclusions. It is therefore suggested to start the exercise by considering the word satan which has Old and New Testament usage while the word diabolos is wholly a New Testament word. We would wish the student to come to this list of verses without prejudice or presuppositions. Ask these questions about each verse:
Wrested Scriptures: Talking with Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11)
“Then was Jesus led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil . . .”
Satan: What the Bible Really Teaches About the Devil
Judaism flatly rejects any form of dualism when it comes to the existence of God, which is why mainstream Christianity’s teaching concerning Satan is so abhorent to the religious Jew. To a Jew, Satan is word used to describe a stumbling block to spiritual growth, and within 2nd Temple rabbinic Judaism, Satan became a synonym for the evil inclination that all men and women are born with and must learn to keep under control. But not so within Christianity. Christianity’s take on Satan frequently enters the realm of fantasy, drawn more from Greek mythology and poets than from the Scriptures. Why does Christianity’s “Devil” seem so prominent in the New Testament Gospels, while you hardly ever read anything of such in the Old Testament? Are these two versions of mankind’s greatest “adversary” even the same thing? Listen as a Jewish rabbi provides a foundational understanding on the subject of Satan.
Temptation of Christ
The sources for this event are Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; compare Hebrews 2:18; 4:15-16, and see GETHSEMANE. Mark is probably a condensation; Mt and Luke have the same source, probably the discourses of Jesus. Matthew is usually regarded as nearest the original, and its order is here followed.
Christ in the Desert (1872)
Christ In The Desert
Christ In The Desert
Christ in the Wilderness (ca. 1515-20)
Christ in the Wilderness
In The Wilderness
Jesus in the Wilderness
Jesus in the Wilderness
Jesus in the Wilderness
Jesus in the Wilderness
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness
Led by the Spirit in the Wilderness
Not By Bread Alone (oil on canvas)
Our Saviour after the Temptation (19th c. oil)
Our Saviour after the Temptation sketch (19th c.)
The Temptations in the Desert
The Temptation (1999)
The Temptation In The Wilderness (1898 oil on canvas)
Temptation of Jesus
Tempted in All Things
The Third Temptation