Romans 16.20

 

As I noted above, there are no specific references to Satan in Paul’s brief letters to the Galatians and Philippians.  And, in fact, there is no reference to Satan even in the Epistle to the Romans, which vies with 1 Corinthians for being his longest letter.  That is, there is nothing about Satan in Romans until the very end, in the course of his “long goodbye.”

He had already effectively signed off when he said, “The God of peace be with all of you, amen” (Rom. 15.33).  But then he goes on to add various greetings and afterthoughts, including another warning against false teachers and a wish for them to be wise only about what is good and unsophisticated about what it bad.  He then elaborates his prayer above, according to some Greek manuscripts:  “May the God of peace soon crush Satan beneath your feet.”  But most texts render it as a prophecy:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan beneath your feet” (Rom. 16.20).  We note that it is God who is to take action here, not the Roman Christians.  God will soon (it is hoped) inhibit Satan’s opposition to them, and do it so decisively that it will be like trampling on a defeated enemy.

Interpreters of this passage commonly associate it with the curse on the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and conclude that Paul is hereby identifying the Eden Serpent with Satan—something that he failed to do earlier, as we will see in the next chapter.  On the face of it, such an interpretation seems dubious, since the Genesis passage speaks not of a defeat of the Serpent but rather of on-going enmity.  The verse reads, “I will plant enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.  They will strike at your head [that is, the heads of you and your offspring], and you [that is, you and your offspring] will strike at their heel” (Gen. 3.15).  The Greek of the Septuagint has a different kind of verb:  “to be on the look-out for” Serpent head and

 

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human heel.  In other words, what Yahweh-Elohim promises here is a continuous stand-off, with constant lunges from both sides.

But from early on, Christians took the verse as a prophecy of the seed of the woman (that is, the Virgin Mary, or Jesus, or both) inflicting a decisive defeat upon the Serpent-as-Satan.  As a result, St. Jerome in the Latin Vulgate chooses one verb to correspond to the Hebrew verb for the action of the woman and her seed, who will “crush” (calcare, literally, “give the heel to”) the head of the Serpent, and a different verb, one corresponding to the Greek verb, for the Serpent, who will “lie in wait for” (insidiari) the woman and her seed.

Closer to what Paul intends here, perhaps, is what Jesus says to the Disciples in Luke, after telling of Satan’s fall like lightning:  “I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the Enemy, and nothing will hurt you” (Luke 10.18-19).  Or it may be that Paul has reverted to his mode of seeing Satan as setting obstacles, or of Satan himself constituting an obstacle.  But this time, he hopes, the obstacle will be permanently neutralized.

Summing up again, we see that Paul has added to Satan’s roles as impeder and tempter to discouragement (1 Thess.) and punisher/rehabilitator of sinnners and tempter to sin (1 Cor.) the further role of preventer of sin (2 Cor. 12).  He also thinks of him as attempting to outwit or cheat him (2 Cor 2), and disguising himself as an Angel of Light (2 Cor 11).  But he knows, or hopes, that God will soon restrain Satan (Rom 16).