7.2) The Pauline Epistles
We then come to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In spite of its great length, it does not mention Satan until the very end, when Paul prays that God will permit Satan’s testing of the Christians to be overcome.
He puts it in a vivid way—he hopes that they will crush Satan beneath their feet (3.2)
In First Corinthians, Paul warns his listeners that too much virtuous exercise—abstaining overlong from marital sex—could turn into a test of Satan that they will fail. One member of the Christian community at Corinth has made a spectacular failure of a test of his sexuality (by taking up with his stepmother or father’s concubine), and he has been delivered to Satan to be disciplined, so that his spirit may be saved. This shows that Satan has some legitimate authority in the running of civil government, undoubtedly in connection with his position as Ruler of the World (3.1).
In Second Corinthians, Paul professes to be aware of Satan’s intentions, which he obviously takes to be hostile. It is clear that he believes that Satan is going overboard in his determination to test the mettle of Christians. Paul warns that he sometimes disguises himself as an Angel of Light. Paul himself is very aware of a specific trial that Satan is putting him through, by means of a thorn in his flesh, which he calls “an Angel of Satan.” And even though Paul has carried out three campaigns of supplication to be relieved of the trial, God has not seen fit to accede to his request (3.2).
There is nothing about Satan in the following epistle, Galatians, but in Ephesians Paul warns against becoming angry and committing sin, thereby making room for Satan, and he gives advice for using “spiritual armaments” against Satan and other Heavenly Powers. These Powers may be Satan’s Angels, associated with ruling civil governments (5.2). Jesus notes in the Gospel of Matthew that Satan has Angels for whom the fires of the next world are prepared (4.2). Whether they are to act as punishers or to be punished themselves is not clear.
We find out no more about Satan in the next letters, Philippians and Colossians, but in the one that follows after that, First Thessalonians, there is confirmation that Satan interferes with Paul’s mission and tests Christians (3.1). In Second Thessalonians, however, we see that Satan deludes unbelievers as well, and that God participates in encouraging their false beliefs (5.1).
In First Timothy, a number of Satanic characteristics are confirmed. Two members of the Christian community have been handed over to Satan, to learn not to blaspheme. We hear of Satan’s snares (also in Second Timothy), and we hear of persons who succumb to his snares: they are said to be followers of Satan. The Thessalonians are warned not to give cause to the Adversary (Satan) to utter reproaches against them and to fall thereby into the judgment of Satan (5.1). It looks as if Satan is exercising functions of agent provocateur, police chief, judge, jailer, and disciplinarian.