John 8.44

 

4) Satan according to John:

Homicidal liar and Archon of this Cosmos

 

In contrast to Luke’s frequent references to Satan and Devil, the Gospel of John refers to Satan by name only three times:  first with regard to his Judean or Jewish enemies, and the other two times with regard to Judas.

In the first passage, Jesus’s hostile Jewish audience claims Abraham as their father.  Jesus has admitted their physical descent from Abraham, but since they do not act like Abraham, specifically in their desire to kill him and not to listen to the truth that he tells, he says that they must have a different father.  They respond that their father is God.  Jesus says no, their father is Devil:

Devil is the father you are from, and it is the desires of your father that you wish to do.  He was a man-killer from the beginning and did not stand in the truth, because Truth is not in him.  When he speaks falsely, he speaks of what is his own, for he is a liar and the father of lying.  (John 8.44)

 

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It has been common to take Jesus’s designation of Devil as “a man-killer from the beginning” to refer to the identification of Satan with the Serpent of Eden.  The steps in this “logic” are as follows:  1) Because Satan-as-Serpent persuaded Eve to disobey God’s command, and 2) she in turn persuaded Adam, 3) bringing on the eventual penalty of death, 4) Satan can himself be seen as a man-killer.  But we have seen that the identification of Satan with the Serpent is not yet attested at this early stage.  It may have happened already, in some circles, but we cannot be sure.

Moreover, the charge of man-killing in this extended sense can be laid against all of the characters who actually appear in the Eden story, namely, 1) the Serpent, 2) Adam, 3) Eve, and 4) God Himself.  We saw this in discussing the Book of Wisdom and the envious diabolos  who introduced Death into the world (chap. 3.4).  We learned there that Clement of Rome, who was writing about the same time as “John,” the author of our Fourth Gospel, identified the diabolos with the envious Cain.  Cain not only committed the first murder, but also lied about it to God.

And in fact many exegetes nowadays lean to the idea that Jesus in John 8.44 is likening “the Jews” to Cain, the son of Devil, for wanting to kill Jesus, just as Cain killed his brother Abel.  We know that rabbinic interpreters would eventually identify Satan as Cain’s father by substituting “Satan” for “Yahweh” in the passage in Genesis where Eve says, “I have produced a man with Yahweh” (Gen. 4.1).  It may be that this tradition had already been established and lies behind the discussion in John 8.44.5  We will see that in the First Epistle of John, Cain and all sinners are identified as children of Devil (1 John 3.8-12).

An alternative explanation of John 8.44 is that Jesus is referring to the first appearance of Devil in Scripture, namely, in the Septuagint version of the Book of Job.  In Devil’s interview with the Lord, it is

 

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obvious that “the truth is not in him” when he doubts Job’s fidelity.  And he commits man-killing with a vengeance when he wipes out Job’s family.

 

4.4          5For Cain and “the Jews” as sons of Satan in John 8.44, see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, AB, 2 vols. (1966-70), 1:358.