8.1) The early post-Biblical explanation:
Satan fell because of Adam, Adam fell because of Satan
So far, by examining the Old and New Testaments and the “Inter-testamental” writings, we have found no speculation as to where Satan came from or how he obtained his position as tester and accuser of humankind. For the most part, we can mark this silence down to the fact that all Angels and Heavenly Ministers in the Bible come from nowhere. They just appear.
In the Book of Job, for instance, we are simply told that Sons of God presented themselves before Yahweh, and “the satan” was among them, presumably also a Son of God. What is their background—when and why were they created? And how did it happen that one of them functioned as an inspector and opponent of human beings? We are not told, and there seems to have been no curiosity about the matter.
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus says that Devil was a liar and murderer from the beginning, he was speaking about some sort of complicity in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. The connection of Satan with the disobedience of Eve and Adam had not yet been made, or at least had not yet surfaced, in any of the writings that have survived from the time.
Let us then turn to the earliest Church Fathers,1 to see how they began to piece together a “scenario,” a “life-story” of the
Devil.2 We will first deal with Justin Martyr, the most important and influential of the “Apologists” or Defenders of the Christian religion in the second century. He was born around the year 100 A.D. of Pagan parents in Neapolis (present-day Nablus) in Samaria, and trained in philosophy. He converted to Christianity around 130 and was martyred in 165 or thereabouts.
From what I can ascertain, Justin was the first person to postulate Satan’s responsibility for inducing the fall of Adam and Eve, but he does so casually, without explaining his reasoning. He simply identifies Satan with the Serpent. He says that Satan-the-Serpent tempted Adam and Eve, not through some obligation to test mankind, but for an unspecified sinful reason, and he was cursed for it (Dialogue with Trypho, cc. 45, 79). The fall that the Devil suffered at that time is recorded in Psalm 82. In that Psalm (as we saw in chap. 5.2), God threatens the (other) Gods, whom He identifies as Sons of the Most High (His own Sons, presumably), and says that, because they have neglected the widows and orphans and other humans under their care, they will die like men and fall like one of the Archons. So Justin concludes that Satan-the-Serpent actually did take such a fall after deceiving Adam and Eve (Trypho c. 124). No matter that this would mean that God uttered this threat well before there were any widows and orphans to mistreat.
There is more. Justin believes that Satan will fall again, after being defeated by Christ, and that this ultimate fall was predicted by Isaiah 27.1. This is the verse about the twisting Serpent-Dragon who will be slain by God’s sword, which we studied above (chap. 6.2).
But the catastrophe that awaited him did not become clear to him until he heard the discourses of Christ and His Apostles (cf. Trypho cc. 91, 112).
A later writer–John, Patriarch of Antioch–reports Justin as saying that the fall of the King of Babylon as Lucifer in Isaiah 14 was also an allegory of Satan’s future fall. Justin said (according to John), “Isaiah, fashioning a tragedy (ektragodon), revealed the whole dramatic working-out (dramatourgia) prepared for the Devil under the mask (prosopon) of the Assyrian” (PG 6:1592-3).
According to Justin’ Second Apology, the other wicked Angels who will share in Satan’s fate are the Angels who sinned with women before the Flood, who, far from being locked away from doing further mischief, are none other than the troublesome Principalities and Powers of the Deutero-Pauline Epistles and–believe it or not–they are also the Gods of the Pagans. AND! –they are also the grubby little parasitic possessing Demons of the Gospels! (2 Apol. cc. 5-6).
Wow! It’s all coming together, isn’t it? It’s amazing to think that so many disparate traditions could be united into one “system” so soon in the Christian tradition. This achievement—if we can call it that—on the part of Justin can be chalked up in large part to his habit as a philosopher of finding patterns and seeing order in the Cosmos and its contents. Admittedly, he had to sacrifice some facts to accomplish it. But, no worries. What mattered most was that it all worked out in the end. Anyway, no one would notice! (Too true, I’m afraid.)
Other Greek Apologists, notably Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch later on in the second century, and Justin’s student Tatian, shared Justin’s belief that Satan first went astray in misleading Adam and Eve, and so did the slightly later North African Latin Christian Tertullian, as we will soon see.
It actually made a lot of sense to see Satan as at least supervising the test of Adam and Eve, whether or not he was perceived as doing
anything wrong in so acting. It did, after all, fit in with his original job—that is, what could be readily perceived as his official function, on the basis of his appearances in Job and Zechariah.
Probably the only reason that the connection between Satan and the first humans wasn’t made earlier is that the original story already provided a villainous tester, namely, the Serpent, who is identified in the text of Genesis as “the most subtle of all the animals that Yahweh-Elohim had created” (Gen. 3.1). If the Serpent is just a very clever and nasty animal, how can he also be a clever and nasty Angel? To Justin, no problem. He just overlooked the fact that Genesis says that he was a created animal.
Finally, let me point out that Justin seems to have believed that sinful Angels as well as sinful men can repent, but God has foreknowledge that some of them will remain unchangeably wicked. Hence, the word of God predicts certain punishment for some Angels and men (Trypho, ch. 141). Justin undoubtedly considered Satan to be in the number of the unrepentant Angels.
8.1 1The works of Justin Martyr are translated in ANF vol. 1; for Theophilus, Tatian, and Athenagoras, see vol. 2; for Tertullian, vols., 3-4; and for Cyprian, vol. 5. For data on the Church Fathers, see Berthold Altaner, Patrology, tr. Hilda C. Graef (New York: Herder, 1964). For their ideas on Satan, see Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca NY: Cornell, 1981).
2Usage note. I will now begin to speak of “the Devil,” rather than “Devil.” We cannot tell precisely when writers shifted from thinking of ho Diabolos in Greek and Diabolus in Latin as a “proper title” rather than a “proper name” (like “Satan”). In Latin we don’t even have a definite article to guide us. But we do know that eventually this change, of name to “supertitle,” did occur, and I will make a clean break and assume that everyone did it right away.
Another usage note. I will continue to capitalize all pronouns referring to God, but from now on I will also capitalize pronouns referring to Jesus.