Monday, May 11, 2020

The Nature, Purpose and Destiny of the Adversary (Part Two)

“The Adversary”

One of the most commonly-used titles for the being with whom this study is concerned is τοῦ διάβολος. Transliterated into English, this expression reads, “tou diabolos” (with the article “tou” being the Greek equivalent of the English definite article “the”). In most English Bibles, this expression is translated “the devil.” In the Concordant Literal New Testament, however, this expression is translated as “the Adversary.” Because the more common English translation (i.e., “the devil”) has, in my view, a number of misconceptions and dubious theological ideas associated with it which tend to obscure the truth rather than promote a more accurate understanding, I prefer the CLNT’s translation (one could, of course, argue that the CLNT’s translation has its own shortcomings; however, I’m inclined to think that it does a better job at more accurately communicating the meaning of the term “diabolos” than the more common translation).

The term diabolos (which is an adjective that functions as a noun) is derived from the verb διαβάλλω (diaballó). Strong’s Concordance defines diaballó as follows: “to bring charges (usually with hostile intent).” According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the verb has the following two meanings: (1) “properly, to throw over or across, to send over”; (2) “very often, from Herodotus down, to traduce, calumniate, slander, accuse, defame” ( Given the meaning of the verb from which it’s derived, the adjective diabolos can be understood as referring to someone who slanders, falsely accuses or brings charges against others (, and is thus, by implication, an “adversary” to them. In light of this meaning of the term “diabolos,” it’s significant that, in Rev. 12:7-12, the Adversary is referred to as ”the accuser of our brethren…who was accusing them before our God day and night.”

As is the case in Rev. 12:12, the term “diabolos” most often occurs in Scripture with the use of the definite article (a total of 31 times). The only exceptions to this are found in John 6:70, Acts 13:10, 1 Tim. 3:11, 2 Tim. 3:3, Titus 2:3 and Rev. 20:2. In the three occurrences from Paul’s letters, the plural form of diabolos is used, and is translated “adversaries” in the CLNT (most other English versions translate the plural form of diabolos as “slanderers,” while – inconsistently – translating the singular form as “devil”). However, when the term diabolos occurs in Scripture with the definite article, it means that a certain “diabolos” is in view, and can be understood as a title for the being to whom the term is being applied. Here are a few examples in which we find references to “the Adversary” (tou diabolou) in the CLNT:

Acts 10:38
“Jesus from Nazareth, as God anoints Him with holy spirit and power, Who passed through as a benefactor and healer of all those who are tyrannized over by the Adversary, for God was with Him.”

John 8:44
“You are of your father, the Adversary, and the desires of your father you are wanting to do. He was a man-killer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, for truth is not in him. Whenever he may be speaking a lie, he is speaking of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it.”

2 Timothy 2:24-26
“Now a slave of the Lord must not be fighting, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, bearing with evil, with meekness training those who are antagonizing, seeing whether God may be giving them repentance to come into a realization of the truth, and they will be sobering up out of the trap of the Adversary, having been caught alive by him, for that one’s will.”

Hebrews 2:14
“Since, then, the little children have participated in blood and flesh, He also was very nigh by partaking of the same, that, through death, He should be discarding him who has the might of death, that is, the Adversary…”

1 Peter 5:8-9
“Be sober! Watch! For your plaintiff, the Adversary, is walking about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to swallow up; whom withstand, solid in the faith, having perceived the same sufferings being completed in your brotherhood in the world.”

1 John 3:8
”Yet he who is doing sin is of the Adversary, for from the beginning is the Adversary sinning. For this was the Son of God manifested, that He should be annulling the acts of the Adversary.”

In addition to the fact that the Adversary referred to in the above verses is referred to by the use of personal pronouns (e.g., “he” and “him”), this being is described as having the ability to speak, a will, desires, emotions and awareness. In light of these considerations, I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that the Adversary is an intelligent, self-aware being who has a capacity for volitional action (and that, unless it can be shown that there are other passages of Scripture that clearly present a different view of the nature of the Adversary referred to in these and other verses – and which make a literal interpretation of what’s said concerning him in these verses untenable – it would be unreasonable not to arrive at the conclusion that the Adversary is a personal being possessing self-awareness, volition, intelligence, etc.).

The first reference in the Greek Scriptures to “the Adversary” is found in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), and provides further confirmation of the view that the Adversary is, in fact, a personal being possessing self-awareness, volition, intelligence, etc. Here is how these verses read in the Concordant Literal New Testament:

Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the spirit to be tried by the Adversary. And, fasting forty days and forty nights, subsequently He hungers. And, approaching, the trier said to Him, “If you are God’s Son, say that these stones may be becoming cakes of bread.” Yet He, answering, said, “It is written, ‘Not on bread alone shall man be living, but on every declaration going out through the mouth of God.’”

Then the Adversary is taking Him along into the holy city, and stands Him on the wing of the sanctuary. And he is saying to Him, “If you are God’s Son, cast yourself down, for it is written that ‘His messengers shall be directed concerning Thee’ and ‘On their hands shall they be lifting Thee, Lest at some time Thou shouldst be dashing Thy foot against a stone.’”

Jesus averred to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not be putting on trial the Lord your God.’”

Again the Adversary takes Him along into a very high mountain, and is showing Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these to you will I be giving, if ever, falling down, you should be worshiping me.”

Then Jesus is saying to him, “Go away, Satan, for it is written, ‘The Lord your God shall you be worshiping, And to Him only shall you be offering divine service.’”

Then the Adversary is leaving Him. And lo! messengers approached and waited on Him.

I believe that a natural, straight-forward reading of Matt. 4:1-11 will lead the unbiased student of Scripture to the conclusion that the entity referred to as “the Adversary” in this passage was a living, conscious and intelligent being who had just as much of a capacity for thought and volitional activity as Christ himself. The Adversary by whom Christ was tried in the wilderness is clearly depicted as a self-aware being who could speak and refer to himself with the use of first-person singular pronouns (thus manifesting the possession of a unique “first-person perspective”).

Some, however, understand the Adversary being referred to in these verses as the personification of a certain selfish inclination or impulse within Christ (i.e., a “fleshly desire” for self-gratification, self-glorification, etc.). In support of this interpretation, James 1:14 is sometimes appealed to: “Now each one is undergoing trial when he is drawn away and lured by his own desire.” In response to this argument, it must first be noted that James wasn’t saying that one’s own desire is the only thing that’s involved when someone undergoes the sort of “trial” (or “temptation”) to which he was referring. James’ words here do not preclude the possibility of an external agent (or external source of temptation) being involved in one’s “trial” as well. He was simply pointing out that, apart from the presence of a certain desire within oneself, no one could undergo the sort of “trial” to which he was referring (and that it’s one’s own desire – and not God – that directly results in sin being “brought forth” whenever a person yields to their desire and transgresses).[1]

Contrary to the view that the Adversary should be understood as simply a personification of Christ’s own desire or inclination to do that which he knew he ought not do (and which would’ve resulted in him sinning), the Adversary by whom Christ was tried is depicted as a being whose existence was just as external to Christ as the existence of the “messengers” referred to in Matt. 4:11 and Mark 1:13. As is the case with the “messengers,” we’re told that the Adversary had to approach Christ to be in his presence (v. 11). And after the trial was completed, we read that the Adversary left him (v. 11). We thus have no more reason to believe that the Adversary had a merely “internal” existence (i.e., existing only in Christ’s mind, feelings, or “flesh”) than we have reason to believe this concerning the messengers referred to in these verses.

The individuality (and externality) of the Adversary is further confirmed from the nature of the last trial referred to in the above passage:

Again the Adversary takes Him along into a very high mountain, and is showing Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these to you will I be giving, if ever, falling down, you should be worshiping me.”

Here is how this trial is described in Luke’s account:

And, leading Him up into a high mountain, the Adversary shows Him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in a second of time. And the Adversary said to Him, “To you shall I be giving all this authority and the glory of them, for it has been given up to me, and to whomsoever I may will, I am giving it. If you, then, should ever be worshiping before me, it will all be yours.”

Notice that Christ didn’t dispute the claim of the Adversary to have been given “all the authority and the glory” that pertained to “all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth.” He simply rejected the Adversary’s offer. Notice also that the Adversary wanted (and thought it was possible for) Christ to be “falling down” and “worshiping” him. If “the Adversary” responsible for this trial was simply the personification of a certain “fleshly desire” within Christ’s heart, then it would mean that Christ was being tempted by his own desire to fall down and worship before himself and then receive from himself something that he already possessed.

Although such an interpretation as this may make sense to some, I’m convinced that it’s far more reasonable to believe that Christ was being offered something that he didn’t, at that time, possess, and that it was being offered to him by a being who did, at that time, possess it (and who would’ve given it to Christ had Christ met the specified condition). It’s also reasonable to believe that the nature of the being who offered Christ “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” was such that Christ could’ve fallen down and worshiped before him (cf. Rev. 22:8-9, where we read that the apostle John fell down “to worship in front of the feet of the messenger” who was speaking to him). In light of these considerations, I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that the Adversary by whom Christ was tried in the wilderness belongs to the same order of created, superhuman beings as Michael and Gabriel.

I’ll close part two of this study with some remarks on Hebrews 2:14 (since what we read in this verse is closely connected with the subject considered in the previous installment). In this verse we read the following:

“Since, then, the little children have participated in blood and flesh, He also was very nigh by partaking of the same, that, through death, He should be discarding him who has the might of death, that is, the Adversary…”

Thus far I’ve argued that “the Adversary” referred to in Scripture is the being who indwelled and controlled the serpent referred to in Genesis 3:1-6 (and who, for this reason, was referred to by John as “the ancient serpent”). If the view for which I’ve argued is correct, then our understanding of the Adversary’s actions in the garden of Eden can, I believe, shed some light on why the author of the letter to the Hebrews was able to refer to him as the one “who has the might of death.” We know that, absolutely speaking, God has the ultimate authority over who lives and who dies (and that, according to Rev. 1:18, this authority has been given to Christ). But we also know that, because of Adam’s transgression, death entered into the world of humanity (Rev. 5:12-14). In Genesis 2:16-17, God declared the following to Adam: “From every tree of the garden you may eat, yea eat. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat from it; for on the day you eat from it, to die, you shall be dying. In accordance with this stated consequence for Adam’s disobedience, we read that, on the very day that Adam sinned, the death sentence was passed upon him (Gen. 3:19). And as a result of this sentence, both Adam and his wife Eve – and well as all of their future posterity – were banished from the garden of Eden and denied access to the tree of life (vv. 22-24). Humanity was, in other word, excluded from the only means by which we could’ve lived indefinitely on the earth without the inevitability of death. 

Thus, despite the mortal condition in which Adam and Eve were created (and which made them able to die), they were not condemned to die until after they transgressed. But what does this have to do with the Adversary referred to in Hebrews 2:14? Well, we know that Adam’s transgression was a result of Eve’s prior transgression (for, after Eve ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she then ”gave some to her husband with her, and he ate.”). And we know that Eve came “to be in the transgression” as a result of her having been “deluded” by the serpent (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). Thus, it was the Adversary (indwelling and speaking through the serpent) who, by deluding Eve, set off the chain reaction that ultimately led to the death sentence being passed upon Adam (and, by extension, all of his descendants). It is, I believe, because of his key role in causing sin to enter the world of humanity (which, in turn, caused death to pass through into all mankind) that the author of the letter to the Hebrews could refer to the Adversary as “him who has the might of death.”

Part three:

[1] It would seem that some of the Jewish believers to whom James wrote were attempting to justify their sinful conduct on the basis of the mistaken assumption that, when they were “tried” (tempted to sin), it must’ve meant that it was God’s intention that they not endure the trial. For if God is indeed sovereign over whether we are led into trials or not (Matt 6:13), then – they erroneously reasoned – it could only mean that it was God who was “trying” them (tempting them to sin), and that it must therefore be God’s intention that they yield to the temptation and sin (for, in the words of Paul, “who can resist his intention?”). It is against this mistaken view that I believe James was arguing.

The fact that one is being tried does not necessarily mean it is God’s intention that one fail to endure their trial. Thus, those being “tried” have no reason to think that, when they’re being tried, it is inevitable that they sin (as if it were necessarily God’s sovereign will for them). Since God doesn’t directly try anyone in this way, one’s being tempted to sin is not evidence that it’s in accord with God’s intention that one yield to the temptation. Thus, when tempted, those to whom James wrote could keep their eyes on the prize which he mentioned in the previous verse (the “wreath of life,” which we’re told God has promised those who endure such trials), instead of thinking that failure to endure the trial was inevitable.

1 comment:

  1. Well thought out study. Makes perfect sense and is convincing. Thank you for this.