Timothy 1.20

 

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In the First Epistle to Timothy, Paul–or Pseudo-Paul–presents himself as addressing Timothy as his representative left behind in Ephesus to take care of the church there.  As we noted above, in his genuine epistles Paul refers to Satan only as Satan, never as Devil.  But 1 Timothy speaks of both Satan and Devil.

Question:  Are Satan and Devil regarded as the same spiritual power, or are they thought of as two different figures with different functions?

We have seen that in the Gospels, Mark uses only “Satan,” but in Matthew, Luke, and John, “Satan” and “Devil” are interchangeable.  It has been suggested that this double usage in the Gospels may represent different layers of tradition:  “Satan” (ho Satanas) being from older Aramaic strands, with “Devil” (ho Diabolos) coming from newer Greek bodies of material.  A plausible argument along similar lines could be made for 1 Timothy:  the Satanic nomenclature being Pauline, and the Diabolical material being non-Pauline.

There are two references to “Satan” in 1 Timothy.  First, the author has Paul tell Timothy to fight the good fight by adhering to faith and a good conscience.  He adds:

By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander.  I have

 

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handed them over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to speak reviling words [blasphemein].  (1 Tim. 1.19-20)

This, of course, is reminiscent of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5.5:  a guilty man is to be handed over to Satan for punishment (“the destruction of his flesh”), with a view to his reform.

However, in the present case there is no mention of punishment.  It may be then that Hymenaeus and Alexander have simply been “excommunicated,” that is, banished from the community of Christians and sent to the community of unbelievers, considered as being under Satan’s leadership or control.  It is not clear what their offense is.  The Greek verb, blasphemein, has given rise to both “blaspheme” and “blame” in English.  The latter meaning is more suggestive of the wide range of the term in Greek.  English-speakers tend to restrict “blasphemy” to injurious words spoken against God, but blasphemein could apply to purely human situations as well—and, as we will see when discussing the Epistle of Jude, it can even be considered offensive to “blaspheme” Devil.  If “Satan” here does indicate a community of unbelievers, it is not clear how being exiled among them will teach Hymenaeus and Alexander to reform.