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by Henry Ansgar Kelly (UCLA)

Cambridge University Press, 2006 (Amazon: paperback, $27.83)

A supernatural satan (Hebrew for “adversary”) appears only three times in the Old Testament, serving God in dealing with human beings: first in Numbers, to prevent Balaam from helping the Moabites; second, in Job, to test Job’s virtue; and third in Zechariah, to prosecute the wrongdoings of the high priests Joshua.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated in Greek in the Septuagint (LXX), around 200 BC, the satans of Job and Zechariah were interpreted as the same person with the proper name of “Satan,” rendered into Greek as Diabolos, “Devil.”

Kelly shows that Satan/Devil in the New Testament carries over the same functions as in the Old Testament: he is, in effect, God’s Attorney General, in charge of law enforcement, investigations, and prosecutions against humans. He is a highly unpopular celestial bureaucrat feared by all, and his methods and motives are constantly called into question, much as was the case with J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI, or like Senator Joseph McCarthy in his efforts to expose subversives. He is suspicious of everyone, on guard against hypocrisy, and he often resorts to entrapment in his efforts to uncover vice lurking beneath virtue, as he attempted unsuccessfully to do in the case of Job; and he is even more unsuccessful in his repeated tests (temptations) of Jesus.

The above is the original, or authentic, biography of Satan, as it can be gleaned from the Bible. But it was soon distorted by novel interpretations of Church Fathers and later Christian writers, to produce a very unbiblical “new biography.” A first significant step in this direction was to identify Satan with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, perhaps the invention of Justin Martyr (ca. AD 160). More important was the invention by Origen of Alexandria (ca. AD 230) of Satan as “Lucifer,” the angel who rebelled against God and became his enemy. Unlike the original Satan, this Satan is motivated by hatred and revenge. Rather than seeking to expose vice masquerading as virtue, he tries to entice good persons to commit sin and thereby deprive themselves of heaven. The concept of the rebellious Satan was read back into the Scriptures, and it has dominated our views of Satan ever since.

A major new development was fostered by St. Augustine (ca. AD 420). His idea was that, by making Adam and Eve sin, Satan acquired possession of the whole of humanity, who had to be bought back (“redeemed”) by God’s Son. In Augustine’s time, the “home” of Satan and his fellow fallen angels was the smoggy atmosphere above the earth, but eventually, their destination immediately after their fall was believed to be hell. Moreover, the great battle between Michael and the Dragon-Devil of Revelation 12, which will take place in the future, was interpreted as having taken place before the beginning of time. As in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Kelly urges readers of the Bible to strip away all the presuppositions of the inauthentic “new” biography of Satan and return to the portrayal that is actually contained in the Scriptures. It will have the effect of making Christianity a much less dualistic religion than it became under the influence of misguided post-biblical distortions.

Scriptural Contents of Satan: A Biography