Additional Thoughts on Satan

A final thought on Satan’s progression in Revelation. I noted in my last post that the destruction order of the Satanic corruption a reversal of the creation order.

Creation Order                                  Destruction Order
Dragon                                                       Land Beast
Sea Beast                                                   Sea Beast
Land Beast                                                Dragon

This is an interesting parallel to the judgment order in the Garden of Eden. God questions the man, woman and serpent in a different order than the judgment, which reverses the order.

Question Order                                    Judgment Order
Man                                                                Serpent
Woman                                                         Woman
Serpent                                                         Man

There are parallels between the books (Revelation picturing a new creation and a new Eden), but they are not precisely identical. That is, we cannot simply run down the list and apply them to one another, the Dragon and the Man, the Sea beast and the woman, etc. Rather, the corruption order begins with Satan, who does not poison the Bride (Eve) first. Rather, he assaults the symbolic man first. He corrupts the protector beast of Rome and provokes it against the Bride (Israel, the Land Beast). Just as Adam’s duty was to guard the garden and the woman, so too were the protector beasts, which culminates with Rome. Satan poisons this guardianship role of Rome’s, and the Roman influence corrupts the Temple and priests of Israel, as well as the Herodian rulers.  So the order presented seems to be:

Corruption Order                                  Judgment Order
Satan (Dragon)                                             Woman (Land Beast)
Man (Sea Beast)                                           Man (Sea Beast)
Woman (Land Beast)                                 Satan (Dragon)


Thoughts on the Role of Satan in Revelation

In my work on Revelation, I have noticed an interesting chiasm with regard to Satan’s role and activities within the book (particularly in ch. 12-20)

Within this section of Revelation, Satan falls from heaven to the land, and from the land raises up the sea beast, which raises up a land beast in its image. When evil is destroyed in the book, the land beast falls first (Jerusalem), the sea beast second (Rome), and the Dragon (Satan) third. The destruction reverses the order of their creation. Which looks like this:

Creation Order                                          Destruction Order

Dragon                                                          Land Beast (Jerusalem)
Sea Beast                                                      Sea Beast (Rome)
Land Beast                                                   Dragon (Satan)

This same section of Revelation (12-20) forms an interesting chiasm with regard to Satan’s activities and the vertical progression of his story. His motion is up and down the heavenly scale, a descent from heaven to the land to the sea.

Satan’s Vertical Progression

A. Heaven (falls from)
–    B. Land (falls to)
–         C. Sea (raises beast)
–    B. Land (raises beast)
A. Heaven (judgment from)

Once Judgment is provoked from heaven, we move back down the cosmic structure to the abyss.

A. Heaven (judgment from)
–    B. Land (judgment upon)
–          C. Sea (judgment upon)
–                D. Abyss (judgment – thrown into)

Thus we can see that Satan’s activity is a descent from heaven and corrupting various institutions within the land and sea, which provokes judgment from heaven. The heavenly judgment then moves back through each of these zones clearing them of Satanic influence, and finally hurling those influences and corruptions from the earth into the abyss.

Rethinking Mainline

In the Church tradition I was raised in, the nooks and back alleyways of Reformed Presbyterianism, the common view of “mainline” denominations was that they were apostate. Hopelessly compromised. Run completely off the road. Rife with unbelief. I’m sure those back alleyways still think this way, though I no longer frequent them very often (still Reformed, just outside the narrow confines in terms of readership and participation).

As my love for ecumenism has grown, I have gradually reached out and been reached out to by people of diverse faith-traditions. As always, I am grateful and blessed by them. So when I began attending a UMC (United Methodist Church), I was surprised by what I found. I found that there are faithful still there, even among the pastors and teachers and theologians. In a very illuminating conversation with the pastor of this church, I was told that when he was getting ordained, all the ministerial candidates were asking questions like “Do we really have to believe in a virgin birth and a resurrection from the dead?” Today, he said, more and more people in these mainline denominations are answering that question with, “Yes, you really have to believe in a virgin birth and resurrection from the dead.”

What I found in the mainline churches is mostly what I found in the supposedly more faithful evangelical churches. And in the mainlines, however, there has been a good deal more generosity. The radical forms of hospitality displayed by the pastor of this Methodist church and his wife is nothing short of astonishing–and humbling. If “by their fruits you will know them,” then a lot of evangelicals should probably take a closer look at the mainlines. We might disagree about a lot of adiaphora issues, but in the essentials there is still life to be found there. If we really believe that the gospel is more than theological precision and finicking, the way we demonstrate this is to look at more than just where we differ theologically.

In short, the story of mainlines losing their vitality is true, but only half the story. That other half is lesser known because it hasn’t finished yet. The story of their regaining their vitality.

Inspiration and Incarnation (2)

As I continue to read Enns (Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament), it occurs to me that he has allowed two key terms to go totally undefined and undiscussed which must be carefully defined before any meaningful progress on Genesis 1-11 can move forward.

1. The meaning of “myth.” Enns correctly points out that the popular connotation of “myth” is “something that isn’t true,” when many scholars use it in the more technical sense of “a foundational story which defined the praxis of a culture or nation.” This is helpful progress, but he does not discuss the manifold understandings of myth and what each dimension might mean when brought into contact with the narratives of early Genesis. A simple consultation of Myth: A Very Short Introduction displays over seven schools of thought on what ancient mythology was. No engagement of this sort is even attempted by him. This does not even include the understanding of myth given by literary critic Northrop Frye or famed scholar Rene Girard, both of which shed a great deal of light on how Genesis both participates in and is distinguished from myth in the wider sense.

2. The meaning of “history.” This subject he does not even breach in his book (thus far, and it seems unlikely that he will). Even a cursory glance at a dictionary will give many different definitions of history. He does not deal with the fact that most of the scholars who tell us that we can’t bring a modern viewpoint with us when we come to ancient texts like Genesis are themselves actually dependent on modernist categories of “myth” and “history.” The highly modernist views of Comte and Hegel were influential in the founding of the JEPD Hypothesis and the later form-critical method, and in the last fifty years the neo-Kantian split of “secular history” and “existential meaning” or “theological history” has been predominant in the assumptions of many scholars. The whole narrative of the development of religion from loose polytheism to monotheism and priesthoods is rooted in a Darwinian view of historical development from less to more complex. He does not discuss the fact that hermeneutical scholars actually know that, at least when it came to Hebraic understandings of their own Scriptures (typology), there was considered to be an essential unity between event and meaning. That an event was presented with theological meaning intact was a sign that the proper interpretation was being linked to the very real event it was intended to communicate and interpret. Beginning with the sacramental conflicts of the Middle Ages these two things, fact and meaning, began to be seen as separate categories, a division finalized by Spinoza during the Enlightenment.

Enns includes no examination of principles at all in this regard and how they might influence his reading. I think this is a pity, because they would greatly assist the discussion.

Inspiration and Incarnation (1)

Peter Enns (Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament) writes primarily out of a noble concern: how does our growing knowledge of the Ancient Near East (ANE) impact how we look at the Bible and how can we preserve an understanding of the Bible as the word of God?

He is in particular concerned to address three questions that our knowledge of the ANE now presents us with:

1. Given that there are ancient pagan myths which share certain similarities to the OT, in what sense is the Bible still unique? What makes it special, that we listen to it as the Word of God, in contrast with these other documents?

2. Given that there appear to be disharmonious elements in the OT, in what sense can we say that the Bible has integrity? How can it be following a unified narrative when it seems to teach different things in different places?

3. Given that the NT writers seems to use the OT randomly and take it out of context to suit their own purposes, how does this impact our interpretation of the OT?

I am only neck-deep in chapter one yet, which has been interesting and compelling. I wholeheartedly endorse his effort to preserve the Bible as God’s Word, and think his “incarnational analogy” (on which more later) is perfectly square on the money. Yet his methodological approach leaves much to be desired, an approach which I would disagree with on a fairly wide margin. So I like his conclusion, but strongly take issue with the route he has chosen to get there as unnecessary and unhelpfully muddling the issue of the OT.

Once again, it is our foundational presuppositions which Enns refuses to analyze. I say “our,” but I really mean “his own.” He is presenting a certain, late scholarly tradition as though it presented “brute facts” to which we must now “face up.” It seems to me this sort of behavior is exactly what he accuses unbelieving liberal and fundamentalist/conservative scholars as exhibiting. Enns refuses (so far) to admit that his reading is a reading, itself an interpretation of which there are several strong competitors. Given how little we still know about the ANE, there is no more evidence for a late-Babylonian-Exile era of writing for the OT as there is for a reading which favors that God gave it to them at the time of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt or during the time of the Exodus.

What is ultimately frustrating about his approach is that it appears slightly disingenuous. That is to say, he presents is with difficulties and offers his solution to them. That is fine. But he doesn’t offer them as “his” solutions. He presents them as the only solutions. In fact, he presents them in such a way as to imply that the problem itself demands his solution as though by sheer virtue of pointing out that there are other ANE texts which have certain similarities to Biblical narratives, his answer of how those are to be understood must of necessity be correct. But I don’t know of anyone who is now unaware that there are certain pagan parallels to Biblical literature or difficult passages to reconcile in the OT. Yet he presents these things as if they were remarkable claims. Further, his answers are dependent upon a certain reading of the text, a reading that has its own problems. He doesn’t even suggest there could be other readings that might make equal sense of the text in a totally different way. Which is why I say that my key difficulty with him will be methodological and not directed toward what he’s ultimately trying to get at.

I hope to continue interacting with Enns’ book here. As I say, I’m only midway through chapter one.

The Bible and the Myths

(I am here slightly following G. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment in the first paragraph for an on-going research project on the Bible and mythology)

The original scholars who advocate for the Bible’s dependence upon pagan mythology, Gunkel and Eissfeldt, admit Genesis 1-11 does not contain erotic creation myths, nor that Genesis 1-11 is mythological in the sense that it is not focused on gods as personifications of nature. The abyss, sea, and darkness of Genesis 1:2 shares none of the personifications which such things held in pagan mythology. Genesis does not name nor personify the sun, moon or stars as did pagan mythology. The concept of the “image of God” is used to denote man, not the idols of the gods as in pagan myths. The pagan deities threw a massive feast after their acts of creation, unlike Yahweh, and the Babylonian word related to Sabbath (shabattu) referred to days of ominous danger, not blessing. The accounts of the creation of man are equally different, the pagan versions blending in the human person the earthly and divine natures. There is no concept of a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in pagan literature. Nowhere in Genesis is there presented a demonic threat; the serpent is not presented as a power of nature, as it is in the Babylonian myths. Livingston notes that as a literary production, “Genesis 2 and 3 have no parallel in ancient Near East literature. The Epic of Adapa, often presented as a parallel, is not really so, either in literary structure, in moral emphasis, or in theological content.” Kramer suggests the Sumerian myth “Emesh and Enten” is a source for the Cain and Abel story, but “such a comparison must be very loose at best.” Emesh and Enten were personified fertility gods, and while Enten is finally chosen, the story features no violence or rejection of a heavenly warning.

In point of fact, the connections between the wider Mesopotamian literature and Genesis 1-11 are so slight and incidental that one must be forgiven for thinking that a literary dependence beyond the vaguest of hints to be something of a reach. The only common elements between texts appears to go not further than the common elements you might expect from any creation account – gods made heaven and earth, gods made people. I really don’t see how the suggested allusions are anything more than incidental, and do not need to imply dependence.

Praying the Promises

I’ve always struggled with prayer in my life, making time for it, not getting distracted while doing it, never knowing what to say. I don’t think I’m totally alone in this. The following are things I believe are important, though I hardly do them perfectly. They are reminders to me as much as suggestions to others.

Some of the reasons I believe I struggled for a long time are myths about prayer that Evangelicals believe, or ways in which we make it harder on ourselves than it has to be.

Prayer is communication. You’re talking to God. Pretty hard to do if you can’t express yourself. Evangelical theology can many times cut short our expressiveness in prayer by distracting us with ideas of how we should be doing, or who we think we should be. But God is dealing with who you are, not who you ought to be, and you can’t fool Him anyway. We think that having God as the center of our life means total, unquestioning acceptance of every situation. Paul said to be content in all things, not to be a limp, emotionless rag in all things. If you’re angry with God, be angry. Tell Him you’re angry. If you’re sad, tell Him. As I say, express yourself, just as you would to a close friend.

Pray the Psalms. The Psalms are the prayerbook of the Church. A divinely-inspired prayerbook, no less. Read them out loud in a posture of prayer, as if it was you saying it first. Think of yourself as the Psalmist, and the words are yours. Make the Psalmist’s belief your own. Don’t worry about whether you understand it all exactly or whether it really is true of you. Don’t get caught in a self-evaluative process at this stage. Just read them out loud, making them your own. Over time, this will shape your desires to the point that they really will become your own prayers. It will ingrain in you some powerful and deep the0logy. It will change you over time, if you persist.

Use a prayerbook. I know when I prayed on my own without and aids, I was often helpless and unsure of what to say, My prayers became functional and rushed, repeating the same things over and over. But we are not alone. Many wise people in the Church have been praying for two thousand years. Find some good prayerbooks and pray the prayers in them. Something with a bit of meat is best, like the Book of Common Prayer. It has written prayers in aesthetically skilled language, for nearly every occasion that might come up in a Christian life. Pray them. Learn and benefit from the collective wisdom of the Church.

Pray the promises. Many times I found I would just pray when I needed something. Eventually, I realized that if Jesus was the King, this process ought to be a bit better. We do not receive because we do not ask with faith, says James. Such a verse has been misused to justify praying for all sorts of things, but the thing more than anything else we ought to pray for are the gift of God’s promises, for Him to give us what He has promised us. We are adopted sons of Abraham, told to enter the dwelling place of God with boldness. My prayers usually go something like this: “Heavenly Father, I thank you for the blessing and grace of salvation through your Son, Jesus Christ. By my baptism into union with Him, I have become a co-heir with Him in the heavenlys, inheritor of all the gifts you have given Him. I ask you now as an adopted son of Abraham, brother to your own Son Jesus Christ, please bestow on me all these things in full.” That sort of thing. “Remember your humble servant,” sort of thing. God delights in us reminding us of His promises, and our false humility stops us from asking for fear it would sound demanding. We do not receive because we do not ask.

Pray with the body. A sense of place is important. Associations with various locations color how we see and understand them. If you got beat up in a park, you’re not going to want to hang out there much. Memory helps set the tone. Because evangelicals have such a false humility, we think praying anywhere is okay. And it is. But you really should have a place set apart for prayer time. If you pray on your bed, you’ll probably get sleepy. Where you do the bills and get distracted. But place is important. Having a place set apart for prayer helps (though does not fix) this problem. It is also important to pray with the body. Because we are proto-gnostics, we fear the body and want to pray any way we want. But kneeling or bowing can have an electrifying effect on your prayer life.