Sunday, September 28, 2008

5 Myths Christians Perpetuate

It's unsettling how often Christians tell each other things that simply are not true. Here are five examples of varying import.

1. Satan was an angel who fell to Earth after a cosmic failed coup against God.

It's some consolation that most conservative theologians will readily admit that the verses that are misconstrued to support this (Isaiah 14:11-14, Ezekiel 28:13-19] have nothing to do with Satan. The first referring to the King of Babylon, the second to the Kingdom of Tyre. However, even with this admittance, the idea that Satan is an "Angel gone bad" is still clasped.

The Bible does not indicate that there was ever a time when Satan was good. We are told he has been "sinning from the beginning"[1st John 3:8] and a "murderer from the beginning"(John 8:44). [Where we have to assume "murder" is used in the enlightened sense of having hatred in his heart.]

Further, the Bible never calls Satan an Angel, nor does it indicate that Satan was thrown out of heaven before the creation of man. In fact, Satan was in heaven up until the time of Christ's resurrection. [Note in Job 1:6, the angels and Satan come to present themselves in front of the Lord and Revelation 12:7-11 is about as clear as one could hope for in terms of pinning Satan's fall to a timeline.]

Christians cling to the idea that Satan is a fallen angel for two reasons...both having to do with Human philosophy. First, it is convenient to think the only categories of rational beings are God, angels, and humans. Admitting the need for something outside these neat boxes is resisted. Secondly, saying that Satan was evil from the beginning sounds too close to saying that Satan is inherently evil. Most people are okay with that idea, but not Evangelical Theologians...for that would suggest that God created something that was inherently evil. That idea does not sit well with many people...so it is far more convenient to just say Satan is a fallen angel...even though he is never called an angel nor is it suggested that he "fell" from being a servant to God.

2. Belief in Christ is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins.

Contrary to this, the Bible gives several ways for which forgiveness of sins might be accomplished (not even counting the sacraments):

A. By forgiving others [Matthew 6:14, and elsewhere. Note this was spoken without condition to masses of people before there was even a notion of what it meant to be a "Christian."]

B. By repenting [Luke 3:3, before Jesus was even preaching.]

C. By power of the church [John 20:23, since Jesus and Stephen both asked god to forgive those ho were killing them, this certainly extends outside the realm of believers.)

D. By having another pray for you [1st john 5:16]

E. By confessing our sin [1st John 1:9, once again something that could be done without any knowledge of Christ.]

3. God never suffers a change of mind.

Christians often feel it would suggest something unsavory regarding God's omniscience should it be suggested that a change in mind occurred. It seems God has the power to do anything except change plan.

In reality, though, it is easy to find examples of this in the Bible.

An important one is switching from sons and grandsons incurring the debt of their fathers. God proclaimed an end to this in Ezekiel 18. Compare this to the story up until then when one generation of Israel could be punished until the sins of the previous generations had been offset through suffering. [A recurring idea in Isaiah, but Exodus 20:5 clearly describes the process.]

In Jeremiah 18:5-10, God goes out of the way to be as clear as possible regarding the flexibility of divine decree.

There are many other examples, but the above is the hardest to 'get around:'
  • God regrets creation of humanity Genesis 6:6
  • God plans to destroy all Israel and start over with Moses Exodus 32:14
  • Eli's family promist renounces [1st Samual 2:30]
  • Judah/Israel are told that after God delivers them, they are never to be shamed again. It appears that their lack of acceptance of Christ robbed them of that promise.
  • Judah is to be saved from Babylon after 70 years but the promise is nullified due to their lack of repentance [Daniel chapter9]
  • Christ [and Paul] give every indication that the second coming is coming very, very soon. Paul had to write a letter to the Thessalonians just to calm their fears that they had missed out. 2000 years later, we are still waiting.
I want to clarify that I'm not accusing God of breaking promises here. The covenants of God [even the New Covenant!] have understood, implicit requirements. That is why Daniel knew Judah was in danger of not receiving her deliverance. The problem for the Calvinist (but not a problem for someone with a less chiseled view on predestination) is that this point doesn't really get them out of the fire. If God knew beforehand that these promises would have to be nullified due to Israel's not repenting, then it makes God look foolish for proclaiming them in the first place.

4. Profanity is Inherently Sinful

Various verses are given to legitimize this, but none of them are particularly compelling unless you are trying to read into the Scripture this cultural idea. This is rather frustrating, as I know very serious Christians who put this as one of the top things they think of when imagining a "solid" Christian. There's no clear reason why curse words in general violate the overarching commandment of love toward God and neighbor as they are simply an artifact of human philology.

Most importantly, Paul uses profanity himself. In Philippians 3:8 the word translated "filth, rubbish, refuse, dung," etc. is really just the Greek word for "shit."

5. The Pharisees were "Legalistic"

Christians heap all manner of insults upon the Pharisees. while this is not in and of itself much different from the Gospel of Luke, the problem is that we do not criticize the Pharisees for the things they were actually doing wrong.

We paint Pharisees as people who "tried to be saved by works" or put emphasis on doing ritualistic things that are not important. We use the same term to refer to ultra-conservative Christian churches who forbid drinking, dancing, watching Hollywood movies, profanity, or voting Democrat.

This is very much a false comparison.

Christ did not take the Pharisees to task because they required people to keep the law. He attacked them for not showing the Jewish people [or realizing themselves] the greater aspect of the Law that was meant to be conveyed through the written Law.

It would have been very wrong of the Pharisees to not require the Jews to keep the Sabbath or eat only clean foods, etc. These signs of Israel's holiness [which means simply "to be set apart"] were extremely important to God. The prophets put these requirements in the same category as idolatry and murder [though with less emphasis to be sure.]

The problem is not that the Pharisees were observing or requiring these things, but rather that they were not at the same time teaching others the spiritual aspects of the law such as justice, mercy, and compassion. Matthew 23:23 describes this pretty well.

For that reason, the Pharisees should not be compared to those today who simply make up requirements or ordinances that have either no basis in Scripture or rather dubious support.

On the other hand, it is certainly not wrong to specify what is required of believers. Jesus had no qualms about doing that. He tells us that no one is worthy to be His disciple unless he or she renounces worldly possessions [Luke 14:33], and faith-not-works Paul has some rather strident points to say on church discipline [1st Corinthians 5:1-7] and the danger of sin in general [Ephesians 5:5-6].

What myths do you hear other Christians say?

26 comments:

Lin said...

"God will never give you more than you can handle."
This is mainly derived from 1 Cor 10:13, which states "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (NIV). But I like the KJV better, which phrases it as "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." I think this passage is mis-paraphrased to give people comfort that they'll be able to "muddle through somehow" and that God would never overload them, the point being that they'll be able to handle it. The emphasis on us, as opposed to God, having the strength to get through whatever temptation is set in front of us, is the main fault I see in this myth. The point of this passage, for me, was that God has the power to get you out of anything, that God is ready to help you through seemingly insurmountable situations.

"It's all part of a bigger plan."
I have no doubt that God does have a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 1:5) but I in no way believe that every decision we make, every task set before us, is part of that plan. This gets into the argument of God's omniscience and our free will (both of which can co-occur in full, despite how irrational that seems) - but God does let us make our own decisions, he does let us stray, and as a consequence, we make situations for ourselves in many cases. God is not powerless in our lives because we have free will; on the contrary, he chooses not to intervene because we are to come (back) to him of our own accord.

Thoughts?

David Rudel said...

I agree that people are way too keen to somehow "defend" God's omniscience, as though we understand the nature of it.

Taking a "hard line" on God's omniscience that suggests there is some detailed scheme for what is going to happen, makes dozens of passages in the Bible just look dumb.

Anonymous said...

How about this - you must "accept Christ" in order to be saved. The Bible never tells us to accept Christ, there are zero examples of anyone accepting Christ in the Scriptures. Also, calling Jesus "My Personal Savior" Jesus is never called a personal savior in the Bible, in fact he is called the opposite - the "Savior of the World"

David Rudel said...

Anonymous,
Thanks for your comment. I agree in general...and specifically I don't like how the phrase "Accept Christ" lacks meaning. What does that mean? Some focus on how accepting Christ is about understanding how "you cannot make it to heaven on your own." Others might have some other meaning for it.

It's like "Faith in Christ." What does that mean?

Lin said...

While I agree that the ambiguity in most "church-speak" phrases makes acceptance of the Christian faith more confusing than is necessary, it is necessary to the Christian faith that one believes in the divinity and power of Jesus (i.e. John 14:6 "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me." and John 1:12 "To all who received him (Jesus Christ), to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God.")

David Rudel said...

Lin,

There's a distinctive difference between "Things that are true" and "Things that must be believed."

For example, Christ says He is the only Way to the Father, but He never says that one must know that to be His follower.

Paul does us the service of distilling the requirements: "Jesus is Lord + God raised Him from the dead."

This matches the emphasis shown in Acts [and the end of Peter's Pentecostal Sermon].

The first [God raised Him from the dead] is tantamount to saying "Jesus is the Christ" [a unique title to be sure.]

The second [God elevated Him to power over Heaven and Earth] is the "Jesus is Lord"

Many people get hung up on "Believing Jesus can save me from Hell." or "Believing Jesus is the only way to Heaven."

Such definitions of "belief" [which are very self-centered] are never found in Scripture...certainly not emphasized in the evangelism found there.

Early Christians were not concerned with being "saved from God's Wrath." The thing that intrigued them was the Resurrection "How can Christ undo death?" The Judgment that came afterward was not painted with the colors it is typically painted with today.

Anonymous said...

David
I am very intrested on whats your "interpretation" of what jesus meant when he said in mark 16: 15,16 "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. I ask this sincerely after reading much of your thoughts and blogs derived from your website and information you gathered from the book of acts and concern you have for other peoples salvation and misconceptions they may have from other churches and pastors and the like. Thankyou William Wallace(just a christian) wawa3@bellsouth.net

David Rudel said...

Thank you, William, for your question.

I'm afraid my answer might not be satisfactory to you.

My interpretation of this passage is that it is not an authentic part of Mark. Does your Bible not indicate this? Most Bibles put a "double bracket" around this entire text [16:9-20] to indicate that it is not found in the earliest and best manuscrpts.

Note that this is not just "liberal" commentators. Various manuscripts have different endings after verse 8.

The oldest have nothing else at all or they have an ending with an asterisk or obeli (a mark used by scribes to indicate spurious text).
Others have shorter versions like "They reported briefly to those around Peter all that they had been commanded. After these things Jesus Himself sent out through them, from the east to the west, the holy and imperishable preaching of eternal salvation. Amen."
But these all appear to be add-ons made to finish a gospel whose authentic version ends very abruptly.

Note that Eusebius and Jerome knew of almost no Greek manuscripts with the longer ending. The longer ending is lacking from our earliest 2 complete manuscripts [Sinaiticus and Vaticanus] This is not a situation where the last portion might have been lost, for there are blank columns intact after verse 8 ends, and the Sinaiticus reads "The gospel according to Mark." at the end.

For a discussion of this issue in the notes of a Bible written squarely within the philosophical tradition of orthodoxy, you might wish to reference the NET notes on the ending of Mark.

Bev said...

Hello David. Regarding profanity, why make what Paul wrote a cuss word? Could it not have simply been an acceptable or less profane word than a cuss word, such as we might use "feces," "garbage," or even "dung" as some translate it?

So, no, you can't use Philippians 3:8 to justify the use of profanity. But I'm sure people do just that, who can't or don't want to curb their tongue or care about its affect on others.

Saying that Paul used profanity is simply perpetuating a counter-myth. When in doubt, choose the one less likely to offend your brother, brother.

David Rudel said...

Bev,
Do you have support for the idea that Paul is not using profanity in Philippians 3:8? The NET notes and the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament both say the term is crude/vulgar and the NET suggests it was used for shock value.

I would say the burden of proof is on those who want to make profanity a sin to show clearly that it is. Linguistically what we consider profanity typically evolves out of quirks in human socio-history. A profane word today may not be profane tomorrow.

Bev said...

David,
"Crap" is a vulgar word, too, but virtually any American will tell you that it is less offensive than the word you used. Just because a word is vulgar doesn't mean it is the absolute worst a culture uses.

Profanity may not be a sin and using it is certainly a personal choice; a choice that reveals some things of heart.

By the way, the form to be notified of when your book is complete doesn't work. (Aside from our disagreement here, I find some of your articles quite interesting.)

David Rudel said...

I would say using profanity can very well be a sin, if doing so violates the general law "Love your neighbor."

I just find it sad that many Christians automatically demote people who use vulgar speech as though one's dialect is a good indication of how much you love God or your neighbor.

The form is somewhat spotty. Thanks for alerting me. I just used it, and it seemed to work. Sometimes it doesn't load at all, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave;

Your thought processes are working fine, but they are blocked from receiving the truths of God as they are meant to be received
for a very important reason.

I Corinthians 2:14 - "The natural man 'cannot' receive the things of the Spirit of God - for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them because 'they are spiritually discerned.'

Until you establish a relationship with Jesus Christ by repenting of your sin and having your spiritual eyes opened you will never be able to understand even the basic teachings of the Bible with clarity
because the Holy Spirit teaches truth only to those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

You can continue on in your
attempt at understanding spiritual things apart from God's help and the devil will be more than happy to keep you entertained while your finite mind grasps for knowledge and never quite grasps the truth of scripture. The problem with that is your time to face God is by appointment Hebrews 9:27, and grasping truth as God sees it is imperative if you wish to stand before him in the judgment with the sure knowledge of your eternal salvation.

Having walked with Christ over 35 years, I can assure you that your understanding of scripture is very deficient and disregards contextual
exegesis which from an intellectual
standpoint is the only right approach to scripture. Even the use of exegesis by the greatest intellect, apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will still fall far short of understanding what God intends in the Bible.

Among those who have always had the biggest problem accepting the simplicity of the gospel are those who are guilty of intellectual pride and assume they are able to discover truth apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible recommends that you humble yourself in the sight of God if you
ever expect to understand him and serve him as you should.

Apart from that you really have nothing to say that refutes the established teachings of Christian
churches throughout the centuries. I must clarify one more thing of great importance - when I speak of Christians I must of necessity eliminate Roman Catholic doctrine and the teachings of the religious cults such as Mormons,Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Science among others. They do not qualify as Christian.

Respectfully;


A Concerned Christian

David Rudel said...

Dear Concerned Christian,

Saying I have nothing to say to refute the established teachings of the church through the years is a rather brazen statement given that you cannot possibly have read all, or even a significant portion, of my writings.

Your last paragraph is rather odd in that it essentially means that somehow there were no "true" Christians for about 1400 years.

A local pastor who has been preaching the gospel for 25 years, has his advanced degree from Duke, serves in a mainline church, mentors other pastors, and has embraced orthodoxy all his life has found my writings transformational...and he [unlike you] has actually read most of them.

It is, finally, particularly odd to claim my exegesis shows a lack of contextual understanding when it is exactly such a fault that lies at many conclusions drawn by the church you extol. The Reformed church has taken [for example] Paul's statement that "by works of the Law no flesh shall be justified" and twisted, reshaped, and warped it to draw conclusions having nothing at all to do with Paul's intention. The context of Paul's letter has been totally ignored, though his crusade is clearly described in any book on apostolic church history.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave;

In reply to your answer to my comment on Christian myths and signed a Concerned Christian I submit the following:

1. You are right that I have not read all your writings. I must clarify that I assumed that you never have received salvation through repentance and receiving Christ as your Savior since you are questioning biblical salvation as taught by protestant churches. My assumption is based on the way you present your arguments and the fact that they run against what is taught in scripture. Therefore I felt you had nothing to refute salvation as taught by those who rightly understand the scripture.
Those who rightly understand the scriptures are taught by the Holy Spirit. Are you?

2. You are misunderstanding my statement on Catholicism. I never said there were no Christians. I simply stated that those who bend their knee to Romanism and the doctrines of the Catholic church which run contrary to the gospel were not Christians. I am sure that there have been Christians in the world since the time of Christ.
True Christians have always been in the minority. Doctrine and church attendance coupled with ritual performance alone do not constitute Christianity by any stretch of the imagination. Your 1400 years then is meaningless in this instance.

3. Your local pastor could be a brilliant theologian in a worldly sense - that is to those who do not understand the power of the gospel aside from their own intellect and without the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying he is, but he could easily be. I have talked to many people in the course of my Christian life who can quote the Bible better than most Christians but who are not Christians themselves. Further I have met pastors who are quite fluid and highly intellectual in their own selves but who have no spiritual life in them whatsoever. I am not impressed with men - but I am very much impressed with anyone of any level of intelligence who has come to know and love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and whose sole purpose in living is to honor him and bring glory to him.

4. I subscribe to no Orthodoxy or Reformed teaching of any church. I am Holy Spirit taught. If you examine the scriptures concerning the Holy Spirit you will come on the scriptures that tell us we are to be "led into all truth" by the Holy Spirit - not mere human puny intellect! Whatever anyone does or doesn't understand about Paul and his writings, I alone will be accountable for my understand of scripture on the day when everyone who ever lived will be judged by a holy and righteous God. I Timothy 4:16 admonishes me, "Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine, continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." That verse tells me that what I believe is of great importance to me and to those who hear me.

Because of this, I cannot easily accept what any man teaches with respect to who he is, what his qualifications are, how fluidly he presents himself, whether he is charismatic and over large groups and has tremendous experience of one kind or another or what others might believe or say about him. It is imperative that I examine what you, your local preacher or anyone else says in the light of God's Holy Word and evaluate it to see if it is believeable in what I understand God's word to say.

I respect your right to believe what you choose, but in the light of eternity I must also encourage you to be sure that what you are teaching lines up with God's Word and has been taught to you by the Holy Spirit. If you fail to do these two things for yourself in spite of what anyone else may say to you or teach you - then you can have nothing to offer anyone that will deliver them from spiritual ignorance.

Respectfully;

A Concerned Christian

David Rudel said...

I have three questions for you:
i) What arguments do I present that run contrary to scripture?

ii) What doctrines of the Catholic church [which I am not an ardent defender of, lest you get the wrong idea] are you considering contrary to the gospel?

iii) Looking back on church history, who is the earliest major writer after 200 AD you can point to and defend as portraying the "simple message of the gospel" you are saying I am stumbling over?

My point is that if the Protestant gospel is as simple and self-evident as you indicate, surely somewhere you could find men who devoted themselves to the Lord who espoused it throughout the 2000 years of the Christian church.

あじ said...

Regarding #1, I think your hermeneutic is insufficient to provide a definitive answer to the problem. Having asked the same question in the past, I understand how the conclusion you reached seems easy. However, you are bringing a number of expectations and cultural assumptions to the text which are foreign to it. The idea that Satan is a fallen angel and that Isaiah 12 may bear some relation to that fall seems to predate the Incarnation. What was "obvious" 20 centuries ago may not be so obvious in today's culture. Consequently, to prove your view will require far more research than you have presented.

For starters, I would suggest reading about Lucifer in the Jewish Encyclopedia. The Wikipedia article is also helpful because it will point you to a number of related resources. If you really want to go crazy, read up on The Divine Council and check out some pre-Christian apocryphal works like Book of Enoch 1&2.

Additionally, to maintain your position you would need to address obvious objections such as 2 Corinthians 11:14, Luke 10:18-19 and Job 38:7. Personally, I would say that Revelation 12 is not a time-line, and that John does not deal with time in a linear fashion, but the time thing is a rather long tangent, so it's not worth focusing on. The important point to note is the juxtaposition of "sons of God," "stars of heaven," and "morning stars" throughout the Bible when referring to angels, and to make that connection with the Isaiah text.

David Rudel said...

Hey there, thanks for the comment.

I think the sources you mention actually support my point rather than refute it, at least the Jewish Encyclopedia entry. According to that source, there was an independent myth that an Angel who did these things existed, and it was only well after the writing of Isaiah that this narrative was translated from the mythical angel to Satan.

The 2nd Corinthians verse and the wording of Job 1:6 are both consistent with (and I would say prescribe) the conclusion that Satan appears as an angel and has certain behaviors typically ascribed to angels, but is not one.

But none of this supports or even suggests that this state is one that has changed over time... that Satan at one point was a true angel and was given a dishonorable discharge. The discussions of Satan's fall from heaven neither place the timing prior to Creation nor do they suggest it was a punishment for rebellion. In both cases the falling is equated to the work of Christ and His disciples.

Since Revelation 12:8 is kind enough to give us both a causality and consequence (Satan and the Dragon are defeated by Christ's blood and the blood of the martyrs and for that reason heaven should rejoice while Earth laments), I think dismissing it as inscrutable would be a shame. Regardless of whether John in general has a timeline in mind for the overall narrative, indicating specific causes of Satan's defeat suggests some temporal-pegging of the fall in question.

あじ said...

The problem you're not seeing with the 2 Corinthians text is that it doesn't simply say “Satan masquerades as an angel,” but as an “angel of light.” Now, it may not be wholly warranted to infer that there are angels that are not of light (i.e. angels of darkness), but I certainly can't see how it even begins to preclude the idea that Satan was formerly an angel. Again, the idea that Lucifer is Satan is a fallen angel predates Christianity, so it is no great stretch to believe that Paul (and his audience) was fully aware of this. He also makes no attempt to correct this idea, so the passage really shouldn't be construed against the "traditional" understanding. This is also why I pointed you to the Enoch books: because I think early Christians would have been very familiar with these ideas.

If Satan was never good, you've got two ways to deal with him, and neither work out so well. One is to make Satan's existence uncreated. This will leave you with something on the order of a Manichaean dualism, and a violation of the most foundational distinction in the bible: that between creator and created. The other option is you'll be forced to say that God created Satan to be evil. This has the side-effect of making God the author of evil, which is not acceptable in most Christian theological circles. In this case, Satan was doing God's bidding in Genesis 3 and Job 1, and everything was fine until he decided to attack the woman's child. But this makes his attack on the child rather inexplicable, and simultaneously makes hash of the very ancient Christus Victor atonement theory. Further, the book of Wisdom (2:24) tells us that, “by the envy of the devil, death came into the world,” so biblically we should place the Devil's fall before that of humanity.

あじ said...

Revelation may give us consequence, but to say it gives causality is question-begging. For starters, it's the most disputed book of the New Testament, not just as to how to interpret it, but also as to whether it even belongs in the canon. Setting up your interpretation versus the thousands of others that have been proposed does not by itself command even much of a hearing. If you had scores of pages in a thesis, your argument would stand out more. Secondly, to repeat myself, John's audience would have certainly been familiar with the idea that Satan was a fallen angel, yet John gives no indication that he is providing an alternate explanation of causality. No matter how one may construe things, it is necessary to know things about John's audience that are simply unknowable. Your position, even if correct, lacks sufficient supporting evidence to overturn the more ancient opinions.

Thirdly, getting what I alluded to previously, the passage in question is wholly garbled if taken in a purely linear fashion. Because of this, consequence, and even more so causality, are very difficult to prove from it. The dragon himself casts 1/3 of the angels to the earth, but then later the dragon and his angels are together cast to the earth. We see martyrs, but the dragon does not go after the woman's offspring until he fails to destroy her. The dragon doesn't appear until after the woman is pregnant, but later we find out he is the serpent (which points us back to the garden of Eden). But if he's the serpent, he had to have "fallen" before he showed up in the garden to tempt Eve.

How is it that the dragon fights angels if he does not share some quality with them? Jacob was able to wrestle the angel (Hosea 12:4) because angels have some similarity with humans. Of course, I may again be taking logical inference too far, but it is a point worth considering. Further, the dragon takes 1/3 of the angels with him, and the battle is between the dragon and his angels versus Michael and the other angels. How is the leader of one group an angel and the leader of the other group not? Some quality must be shared in order form them to do battle. In sum, there are many quickly identifiable objections to your thesis that you have not addressed.

あじ said...

After 2000 years of cultural changes, it's pretty difficult to get at the "original meaning." Who is in a better position to understand a text: a commentator living 100-200 years after a book was written, or one living 1900 years later? Particularly when the former is a native speaker of the language in question, the latter interpreter clearly has a much higher bar to hurdle to be considered credible. I realize this only pushes back the problem of the text of Isaiah, however one bit of evidence we lack is that of ancient writers who oppose the "traditional Christian reading." Origen, for example, not only read Isaiah this way, he also counseled against siding with the “obvious” meaning of scripture, citing statements by both Jesus and Paul.

In the text of Isaiah you see a “shining one” above the “stars of god” being “cast down to the earth.” The figure in Ezekiel was “in Eden” and “thrown down to the earth.” In Revelation, the Dragon was “in heaven,” controlling 1/3 of the “stars of heaven” and “thrown down to the earth.” Now, I'm not saying that such proof-texting is by any means conclusive. However, there are sufficient clues to indicate that perhaps there is more meaning in the text than just the obvious. My caution is against over-literalizing and oversimplification.

There are no “independent myths” — this is why I suggested you look up The Divine Council. History is far more complex than isolated texts, and all texts have a context beyond their mere words. This is why I keep bringing up the issue of hermeneutics, because objectivity is impossible, and so much of what you get out of a text is what you bring to it. The authors and audiences don't share our assumptions or expectations. They often aren't trying to answer the questions we're asking. Your approach seems to be biblicist and dispensationalist, at least on the surface. I would have been sympathetic to it a couple years ago, but any more I think it's insufficient. Presently, the volume of evidence I would want to take under consideration in order to arrive at anything resembling a definitive answer would be quite massive and go far beyond bare exegesis.

David Rudel said...

You make it sound like I'm the only person who has ever argued against the notion that Satan was once an angel of light, led a failed mutiny, and was cast down to earth because of it.

Furthermore, the type of reasoning you are employing "John's audience thought this, and he didn't seem to do anything to explain a vision that would argue against it..." is pretty weak, as you almost certainly know, and can more strongly argue the other way. [To say nothing of the point that the existence in SOME Christian literature of this myth does not indicate it was a standard belief John necessarily felt the need to address.]

For a simple example of how this hermeneutic could cut the other way, consider Job's account. If we believe that there was some strong notion of Satan-as-fallen angel in Jewish circles, you could just as easily expect to see some indication of how Satan was allowed back into heaven if he had previously been cast out.

I find it odd you are defending this myth with so much fervor given that it is nowhere described in the Bible. You are pointing at ghosts and wisps.

Isaiah does not reference Satan [and your own sources would not suggest that for him Lucifer=Satan in any event] at all, and clearly indicates his description concerns the King of Tyre

Similarly for Ezekiel.

And none of the references in the NT you point to discuss a mutiny where God the Father casts down Satan for his insolence.

Furthermore, the "fall" of Satan morally should not be conflated with the banishment of Satan from heaven. Some of your reasoning pre-supposes this.

Every indication we have is that there was never a time when Satan was good (including two such convictions by John)...and every indication we have shows that Satan had access to heaven up to the time of Christ's advent.

Neither of those is compatible with the standard story.

あじ said...

I had a longer response prepared, with quotes from 1 Enoch and all, and somehow I lost it. So sorry for having less detail now. Also, I can't figure out a way to make text sound as polite as I would like: this medium is frustrating at times. If you feel I'm attacking you, I apologize up-front for the misunderstanding.

I'm quite certain you're not the first or only person to argue that Lucifer/the shining one is merely the king of Babylon. As I said, I used to think so myself. My point isn't even to defend the traditional reading per-se, but rather to say that you've not begun to deal with all the necessary evidence. Scanning the bible and attempting to get a definitive answer isn't satisfactory: the bible is not a wholly self-contained context. Saying that it's “nowhere described in the Bible” is in fact question-begging, because the ancient Christians would have said that it was—in Isaiah.

If you were familiar with the Divine Council, you would understand why I find your analysis of Job to be unconvincing. Further, the author of Jude assuredly knew of the Book of Enoch, as did his audience. It continues to be used to this day by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. It is, in my view, a path to futility to ignore the very real influence it had in early Christianity, and even on the New Testament writers. It is very likely that 2 Peter refers to it also. Of the many things to be seen in Enoch, one is a good angel who transgresses and leads humanity into sin. If you would read Origen, you would at least have an ancient, cogent argument to dismantle. But proof-texting and sidestepping the issue of hermeneutics will cause you to make the same mistakes so many others have made before.

Even if you examine all the evidence and prove the idea of Satan = Lucifer to be false (wouldn't bother me), you have a much more significant problem to deal with. I previously explained briefly the consequences of saying that there was never a time when Satan was good, but I suppose it is well that I repeat myself. It is not a problem you can simply dismiss. Unless you want to start arguing for dualism or make God the author of evil, you really don't have an out on this one. Making evil eternal or uncreated (and personal at that!) has far-reaching philosophical implications, which you have not even begun to address. It leaves you worshiping a god that is either Satan's mere equal or ultimately indistinguishable from Satan at all. Either option is blasphemous.

David Rudel said...

Hi again,
First, I appreciate your contribution here, and it has given me yet another reason to look at Enoch, and I appreciate your interest in keeping things civil.

I understand the natural theology problem you have brought up twice, I have heard it before. However, I don't think it can be taken as a primary argument because it is not only based so strongly in our views about how God should be but also dependent upon so many abstractions for which the versions captured by the human mind may have little fidelity to the genuine version of the same.

For example, what does it mean for a creature to BE evil rather simply do evil or desire the frustration of God's preference? As you almost certainly know, the conception of Satan in Jewish lore is one more in line with an authorized accuser, more like a DA than an undercover officer in a sting operation (or perhaps a hybrid)...the question of Satan's genesis is intimately linked to the question of free will. According to our epistemology, true free will suggests God does not (in some sense) receive the tapestry of all history that God would (otherwise) have chosen, and the linkage between "evil" and Satan's apparent desire in making the gap between the tapestry that occurs and the tapestry that were possible if no free will existed is not at all clear...either as a dispositional trait or an active one.

Another issue: How valid is our understanding that something is either created or uncreated? For example the "wisdom of God" alluded to in Proverbs 8, Sirach (and very prevalent in Jewish midrash in the centuries prior to Christ) was brought into existence prior to the creation of our world but is also portrayed as not being eternal in the same way that, say, God is, etc. On top of all this, is our articulation of Satan as a personal entity valid or is there anthropomorphism regarding Satan in the same way that God is ascribed qualities in the Old Testament that we do not find plausible?

Anonymous said...

Wow all I can say is that you are a great writer! Where can I contact you if I want to hire you?

David Rudel said...

Anonymous,
You should be able to email me by clicking on "complete profile" on the right side of the screen and then clicking "email."

Thanks.