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Another Comment on Matthew 4

May 22, 2011

I need to backtrack to Matthew 4, because I especially wanted to mention that the Temptation Story is notable (although I neglected to note this before) for referring to a specific being called “the devil.” The being is equated with the angel Satan from the Hebrew scriptures (1 Chr. 21, Job 1-2, Zech. 3). Mark only uses the designation “Satan” to describe the tempter.

There is no specific devil in the Hebrew scripture (Christian Old Testament). There isn’t even agreement of whether Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, 2 Chronicles 11:15, and Psalm 106:37 include any reference to “devils” or “demons.” Since most translations avoid the King James Version’s equation of “demons” with “devils,” the most they will go with in these places is “demons.” What exactly the demons are supposed to be is just as, or more, uncertain that the nature and origin of “the devil.”

It’s not surprising that the devil would be equated with the Satan figure. Although he is never shown to be a villain in the Hebrew scriptures, he is also never presented sympathetically. If Wikipedia can be trusted in this case, the identification of Satan as a fallen angel didn’t begin until the Christian era, although 2 Enoch (not necessarily pre-Christian) has a leader of fallen angels called “Satanael.” If I’m reading it right, the Wikipedia article also says the Jewish Talmud identifies Satan as a demon, but doesn’t make demons enemies of God.

Wikipedia says elsewhere that the apocryphal book Wisdom of Solomon probably dates to at least the first century BCE. That would make the book’s reference to a specific devil the first known appearance of the doctrine. The exact nature and origin of the demons in the Talmud and some translations of the Hebrew scriptures is something I need to look into.

May 22, 2011. Edit: What the exact relationship is in Matthew’s and the other Gospels’ minds between “the devil” and the demons is uncertain. The demons are generally assumed to be identical to the fallen angels of already established Hebrew lore. Compare Matthew 25:41. However, the activities of these demons seem very different from the activities of the devil.

Also consider the accounts in the Gosepls (Matthew 12, Mark 3, Luke 11) that says Jesus’ opponents accused him of using the power of Beelzebul (Beelzebub) to exorcise demons. Jesus assumes that exorcism would always be an unwanted thing for demons; otherwise, they could be participating in a plot with Beelzebul, the same as the devil, to make Jesus look powerful. On the other hand, the devil (Greek: diabolos) doesn’t seem to be harmed by not having a body to possess. The only individual that Satan is ever said to “enter” is Judas (Lk. 22:3, Jn 13:27), although he is also said to “fill” Ananias’ heart (Acts 5:3) and tempt and corrupt people in general. Luke 13:16 also gives an interesting understanding of Satan’s activities.

The identification by the Pharisees (Matt. 12: 22-37) of Satan, the devil, as “the prince of demons” is the best clue I can find about the exact nature of both the devil and the demons. There is no plural diabolos in any New Testament document, though, so whether the demons are the same as the devils isn’t hinted at. The only other diabolos besides Satan is Judas Iscariot (Jn. 6:70), probably called one figuratively.

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