5) Ecumenical Epistles: 1 Peter and James: Devil as lion, Devil as coward
The First Epistle of Peter claims to be by the Apostle Peter, writing from “Babylon”—a code-name for Rome. The author, whom we can call Pseudo-Peter I (to distinguish him from Pseudo-Peter II, author of the Second Epistle of Peter), says that he is a “Co-Elder” or Sym-Presbyter there, and he addresses himself to the Elders of the churches of Asia Minor. He says that they are protected by the power (dunamis) of God through faith; they are to rejoice in their ultimate salvation, though grieving at the present time because of undergoing many tests (peirasmoi). These tests are to prove their faith, as gold is proved by fire (1 Peter 1.5-7). What tests? Well, maybe the war against the soul waged by fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2.11).
Slaves among the Christians are urged to bear patiently not only deserved punishments meted out by their masters, but also unjust punishments, following the example of Christ (1 Peter 2.18-21). They are told not to be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is to take place among them, as a peirasmos (1 Peter 4.12). They are to rejoice that they are sharing Christ’s sufferings.
All this turns out to be the work of Devil. When he addresses the younger people specifically, “Peter” tells them to be subject to the Elders, and humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. Then he says:
Keep sober and alert, because Devil, your Accuser, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand against him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that the same things are suffered by your brothers throughout the world. (1 Peter 5.8-9)
The word for “Accuser,” Antidikos, indicates how the lion-metaphor is meant to work. Devil “devours” his prey by making accusations against them in the Court of Divine Law, urging punishment against those who faltered in the trials and tribulations that Devil himself organized against them.
How are Christians to overcome this noisy lion? In real life, “standing firm” against a carnivorous beast would not be good advice. A strategic retreat or armed attack would be more like it. But Pseudo-Peter is in effect saying how to arm yourself, with faith, which gives strength, and with knowledge that fellow-sufferers are doing the same thing. This corporate resistance will win the day.
Speaking of corporate resistance, does Devil have any help of his own?
We get a few glimpses of the spirit world elsewhere in 1 Peter. The Holy Spirit has revealed to Christians what even Angels are unaware of and what Angels long to know (1 Peter 1.12), and they have been called out of Darkness into God’s wondrous Light (2.9). When Jesus ascended to Heaven, Angels, Powers (Exousiai) and Forces
(Dunameis) were subjected to Him (3.22). But whether any of this can be connected to Devil is dubious.
There is one more unusual feature of the spirit world in 1 Peter. He says that after Christ was put to death, he went to make a proclamation to spirits in prison, specifically, those who did not obey in the time of Noah (1 Peter 3.19-20). Who are these spirits? The Watchers of Enoch and Jubilees? No, they are the dead, nekroi, something that cannot be said of Angels. As Peter explains later: “The Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does” (1 Peter 4.6).
This is pretty strange, but it doesn’t concern Devil, who won’t take over the Underworld until a later phase in his Biography (see chap. 10.3).