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Happy Halloween! Pete and Jared embrace spooky season in this episode of The Bible for Normal People as Gregory Mobley discusses the biblical roots, origin stories, and cultural myths surrounding the Satan figure. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • When do we first encounter Satan in the Bible?
  • What is Satan’s job?
  • Is Satan a title or a name?
  • Does the satan figure always perform the same function? Is there possibly more than one character labeled as “Satan” throughout the Bible?
  • How did the serpent in Genesis get connected to the satan figure?
  • What does it say about our Bible that we have a satan figure that is pretty ambiguous in the Hebrew Bible, and is maybe slightly clearer, but still not entirely clear in the New Testament?
  • What are some of the different origin stories of Satan and where do they come from?
  • Where does the New Testament end up in terms of developing the character Satan?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Gregory Mobley you can share.

  • Satan’s job, it seems, is to be the Attorney General of the heavenly court and to launch sting operations designed to find out whether humans are faithful or faking it. — Gregory Mobley
  • When you’re a kid and you hear about the devil, you always wonder—but where it is in the Bible? It isn’t! It’s this amalgamation of fleeting references in the Bible, and then a lot of post-biblical lore. — Gregory Mobley
  • The Bible was meant to be a conversation starter. It was meant to be read in community and have the blanks filled in. It invites this kind of continued ornamentation and nuance. — Gregory Mobley
  • Satan is never systematically introduced and explained in the New Testament…It is only subsequent generations of interpreters who are going to continue to kind of spin out and articulate the story of the devil. — Gregory Mobley
  • The crazy thing about Satan is, in the Book of Job, it’s clear that he is still on the divine payroll. And it seems, based on the context of the first couple chapters of Job, and a reference in Zechariah, that Satan is one of the angels that has a special job.  — Gregory Mobley
  • It could be actually that Mark’s view is that this is Satan performing the same function as in the Job story, on behalf of God, just to test Jesus and see if Jesus is ready—to see what Jesus is made of. — Gregory Mobley

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete  

You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared  

And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty music plays]

Jared  

Well hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode! We’re excited to announce the newest title in The Bible for Normal People book series, Romans for Normal People. It’s written by our good friend Daniel Kirk. He’s an award-winning New Testament scholar, author, who spent years engaging normal people about the Bible and nerdy things through blogs, podcasts, books, speaking. This book is great because it doesn’t just give you the historical literary context of the letter, though of course it does all of that. But it also wrestles with what it means to read Romans well. And that’s important because reading Romans well is not always something we as Christians have done…well…well. Romans is not just this collection of one liners that we can wield against those with whom we disagree. It’s Paul’s plea to the early church to put aside their petty squabbles and get on with the business of living like Jesus, to stop waiting for the new creation and just start living it. So with our latest book here, Romans for Normal People, you’re invited to, you know, think about Romans in a new way and engage with the text as it is. And of course, we couldn’t ask for a better guide than our good friend Daniel Kirk. So the book officially comes out on November 1st, but you can preorder “Romans for Normal People” today wherever you buy books online. You can also get a bonus gift when you preorder by going to theBibleforNormalPeople.com/books. 

[Jaunty music ends] 

Jared  

Welcome, everyone to this episode of the podcast. We are excited for this holiday special event on Halloween—called Satan’s Biblical Roots. And we’re talking with Greg Mobley.

Pete  

Yeah, Greg is professor of Hebrew Bible and congregational studies. He’s at Andover Newton seminary, which is now owned by Yale Divinity School. So he’s the author of some books, one of which is a book he’s co-written with TJ Wray called The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots. And we just had a fascinating conversation looking at the Hebrew Bible, second temple apocalyptic, apocryphal kind of stuff, moving into the New Testament to try to understand the development, right? Of this figure?

Jared  

Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. As we jump into the episode, I would encourage you to listen to the subtext of what we’re talking about, because this is about Satan’s biblical roots but in a lot of ways, it’s also a great window through which you can see some ways of understanding what the Bible is—

Pete  

Yes, right.

Jared  

And what we can do with it.

Pete  

And you’ll hear that theme struck now and then, but it’s the biblical roots, but those roots change and grow. They don’t stay the same. Those roots are growing and moving and all that kind of stuff. So.

Jared  

Alright, have a Happy Halloween.

Pete  

Happy Halloween!

Greg  

[Jaunty music plays under clip of Greg speaking] “Satan is never systematically introduced and explained in the New Testament. He is referred to as if everyone in the community already possesses the kind of backstory—has the lore. There’s something going on here, there must be an evil power which is dedicated to harassing the righteous—which in essence is the world’s first conspiracy theory.” 

[Ad break]

Pete  

Greg, thanks for being on our podcast!

Greg  

Hey, thanks, Pete. It’s great to hear your voice again. 

Pete  

Yeah, same here. It’s been a few years but we go way back and, you know, we won’t talk about that though…

Jared  

No, we’re not here to talk about the old days. 

Pete  

They weren’t good necessarily either.

Jared  

We’re here to talk about Satan. 

Pete  

Yeah, let’s start—Okay. Yeah, let’s talk about a figure that we know from the Hebrew Bible, but maybe what we know isn’t always right. So let’s, let’s just clarify what that word or person, Satan or śāṭān, right, in Hebrew? What does that mean and where do we find it? And let’s just start talking about like, where do we go in the Bible to see this figure, and what can we make of him?

Greg  

Satan begins in earnest in the Bible in Job and the book of Zechariah, but I’ll get there in a second. The word satan, or śāṭān in Hebrew means adversary or foe, and that word śāṭān is used about eight times in the Old Testament just to refer to a human foe. Some, some bad king that’s trying to get at David or Solomon is a satan. So it means foe. In the Book of Job, Satan makes his debut—Satan as an angel, Satan as a cosmic figure. And it’s fascinating, you know, he, Satan, makes his cameo and he’s just a big player in the Book of Job. He appears in the first two chapters, and then he never appears again. But it’s kind of like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. He wasn’t the star of the movie, but he made such an impact that there’s going to be a lot of sequels. 

[Jared and Pete laugh]

Jared  

That’s good.

Greg  

So Satan starts as, you know, a character actor, as it were, in the Book of Job, but then he’s going to become a star in his own right. The crazy thing about Satan is, in the Book of Job is, it’s clear that he is still on the divine payroll. It says that, “One day, the sons of God came before the Lord,” and this is the angels kind of reporting for roll call every morning before God in the heavenly court. And it says, “And the adversary, the satan, was among them.” And it seems, based on the context of the first couple chapters of Job, and a reference in Zechariah, that Satan is one of the angels that has a special job.

And eventually, other angels will have special jobs, you know, Gabriel—Gabriel’s job is to visit couples and tell them they’re going to have a baby. And Michael’s job will be to defend the people of God. And it seems that if it’s true that the Book of Job was written after the Babylonian exile, there becomes—a lot of interest in angels starts to emerge in the Bible. They never had names until after the exile, and they especially get named in the Book of Daniel. So anyway, Satan is one of the angels. Satan’s job, it seems, is to be the Attorney General of the heavenly court and to launch sting operations designed to find out whether humans are faithful or faking it. You know, everybody kind of looks pretty good when there’s no pressure. And what Satan does, in the Book of Job, is, Satan, with God’s permission, puts Job in the fire, to see if it’s really true that he’s blameless and upright and turns from evil and fears God. So Satan has this certain job to test mortals. And you know, that kind of remains part of Satan’s portfolio ever going forward. Satan as the tester, as the tempter.

Pete  

Yeah. So just to be clear, though, in Job, the first couple of chapters where this figure shows up, Satan is not his name, right? 

Greg  

Well…

Pete  

Is it more of a title or is it a name?

Greg  

It’s not—Well, that’s, here’s—that’s a great question. It says, “the Satan,” it doesn’t say “Satan.” So in a way, it is a title: the Tempter, the Tester, the Adversary. It’s interesting how language evolves, because we have a phrase, “the devil’s advocate.” And it’s used specifically in cases in Roman Catholicism where someone’s undergoing a kind of an evaluation for sainthood, and there’s someone on that committee who serves the devil’s advocate and tries to point out all the weaknesses of the candidate. And in a way—

Pete  

Right out of Job. 

Greg  

Well, that’s exactly what ha-Satan is doing in Job. He’s serving as this negative advocate. And then in the Book of Zechariah, which also clearly comes from the period after the exile because there’s a date formula at the beginning of it that tells us when it happens—and there, there is a person who is being evaluated as the High Priest of the temple in Jerusalem. And it says that Satan is there to speak against him. So this is performing the same function as Job. Satan as this auditor of human virtue.

Jared  

Okay, so those were a few—one other thing that comes up to me and I don’t know if there are others, but I was thinking of David’s census. Does Satan—

[Gregory chuckles]

—appear in Chronicles versus Samuel as well?

Greg  

Yes, it does. So another place where the word satan appears, is then, you know, the Book of Chronicles—The Books of Chronicles are rewritten versions of Samuel and Kings. And the Book of Chronicles is clearly written centuries after Samuel and Kings. And in Samuel it says that the Lord put David up to…an evil spirit from the Lord put David up to conducting a census. In 2 Chronicles 24, the same passage, it now names this figure as Satan. So clearly, between somewhere in the post exilic period, we see that Satan appears as the name for, well in this case, he’s not doing what he’s doing in Job at all. This Satan is actually stirring up evil just on his own.

Jared  

And that’s something maybe we can talk about for a minute, is it seems to be from Job, like if you think about these instances of Satan chronologically, not necessarily in the biblical order, but maybe the written order of how they come about—there seems to be this evolution of distancing evil from God and sort of scapegoating this other figure. And I always liked that Samuel/Chronicles distinction, because Samuel says, “It’s an evil spirit from the Lord,” which is something like modern Christians—I mean, the way I grew up, we would have never even considered that that’s possible, that an evil spirit comes from God. And it seems like the chronicler is also moving in that direction of like, “Okay, that’s a little iffy. We should maybe distance this figure and separate it and say it’s that.” But there’s this evolution, it seems, where the Satan figure or function is actually a part of God, and then eventually gets separated out and becomes, “Oh, no, that’s like anti-god.” 

Greg  

Yeah, absolutely. You know, Chronicles represents what sometimes we call a rewritten Bible. It rewrites Samuel and Kings. In between the Testaments there are other examples of rewritten Bibles, of Jewish religious documents that retell the biblical story, and one of them is called the Book of Jubilees. And in the Book of Jubilees, when it tells the story of Abraham’s test, of when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac—which is, you know, a real problem theologically, that God would command someone to kill their own child in order to prove that they love God more than the child. And in Jubilees, when it retells that story, you know, back in Genesis 22, it said, “And God tested Abraham.” In Jubilees, it says, “And Mastema tested Abraham.” Mastema having been another name for the Satan figure.

Pete  

So we have this, let’s just call it an evolution or development of this figure. And in Chronicles, as I recall, it doesn’t say, “the Satan.” 

Greg  

Right, it just says—

Pete  

It just says “satan,” so that seems to be more like a name, or something like that?

Greg  

Yes, I mean, it’s clear—again, if you think about the religion of the First Temple, basically from say, 1000 to 500, and the biblical religion of the Second Temple, from say, 500 BCE up until the turn of the Common Era, we have, you know, the growth of this new kind of thinking called Apocalyptic and satan is part of it.

Jared  

I want to ask about one more thing, because something that’s noticeably absent in our conversation when you started you said, Job is the first instance. But in my Bible, my interpreted Bible from when I was young—

Pete  

[Laughing]

Pete  

Don’t say it, don’t say it…

Jared  

Satan shows up in Genesis.

Pete

Okay, say it.

Jared  

The satan is the serpent.

Greg  

Sure.

Jared  

And I also I want to recognize that at least in Revelation 20, it refers to the “Serpent of Old”, and seems to try to—

Greg  

Yeah.

Jared  

—it does make this connection so I don’t, you know, nothing against my Sunday School teachers when I was a kid. To put the Serpent in there, that is a longstanding tradition. But can you talk about where—Because if you go back now and look in Genesis, it doesn’t actually make that connection. But how did that get connected to satan? The serpent and Genesis.

Greg  

Right. I don’t know of one of these non-biblical texts that identifies the serpent with satan, prior to the Book of Revelation. But what we do know and you can see from reading the Gospels, especially Matthew, is that once there were Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah, they re-read the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, Tanakh, whatever you want to call it—they reread it, to find, where’s Jesus? And of course they found Jesus all over the place. And that’s part of the Christian interpretation, especially in the Prophets, and in the Psalms. And while they were finding Jesus in the Old Testament, they also found satan, or the devil.

Jared  

Okay, it’s part of that…”We re-read our Bible now in light of this.” And, again, that development of the satan figure by the time we get to the New Testament—which I hope we get to here in a minute—is more prominent, and so it makes sense that in the same way, we’re going to find Jesus, we’re also going to find these later developments in our theology, like angels and demons and devil back into the Hebrew Bible.

Greg  

Yeah. And it’s such a kind of complicated mess and stew. It’s not all systematically articulated because even though, for the most part, Satan in the New Testament has become the head of the demons, the archenemy of God, it’s possible that in Mark’s gospel, in the story of Jesus’s temptation, that ha-satan is still performing that function that he did back in Job and Zechariah. Because it says that the spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, there to be tested by—Well, the Greek is diabolos but that’s their form of “satan.” So it could be actually that Mark’s view is that this is Satan performing the same function as in the Job story on behalf of God just to test Jesus and see if Jesus is ready—to see what Jesus is made of.

Jared  

So when you say the “messiness,” it’s that the New Testament still seems to be a little bit in flux about this figure, and is this figure from God? Is this figure opposed to God? Even within the New Testament, we see a little bit of this ambiguity, maybe, is the right word?

Greg  

Yeah, this is the only place I can think of where we still might see the satan pre-fall as it were. But it’s there.

[Ad break]

Jared  

Whenever we think about the Bible in this way, and maybe we can talk a little bit about it from the perspective of the New Testament, but it seems again, to be this—I keep coming back to the development. And I wanted to maybe draw some connections to what kind of Bible do we have where we start with this figure that sort of functions in one way and then it doesn’t develop…I mean, would it be fair to say that the clear hierarchy of Satan as opposed to God, with Satan’s own hierarchy of angels and demons that rule and roam the Earth, that’s not really fully articulated until well after the New Testament? And I guess what I’m trying to ask is, what does it say about our Bible that we have a satan figure that is pretty ambiguous in the Hebrew Bible, and is maybe slightly clearer, but still not entirely clear in the New Testament?

Greg  

Yeah, well, one thing it says about the Bible, is that it’s, you know, if we would use Jewish terms, there’s always Torah and Talmud. There’s always the text, but then there’s the interpretation. The text never exists by itself. And in this case, the text of the Bible continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted, and our understanding of it to evolve. And it was meant to be that way. The Bible was meant to be a conversation starter, you know? It was meant to be read in community, and have the blanks filled in. It invites this kind of continued ornamentation and nuance.

Pete  

Yeah. Okay. Well, one thing I’m still a little confused about here, and it’s not your fault. It’s just the nature of the topic. But how—I want to get back to something you touched on earlier, and this is the development, the evolution, of this figure. And we go from somebody who is on Yahweh’s payroll, as you said, right? 

Greg  

[Laughs] Yep. 

Pete  

Great way of putting it. He said, “Hey, how are you? Have a seat. Any news to tell me?” This is not the ruler of the underworld, right? So we have—This is a different thing entirely than what people are used to thinking of from, you know, medieval theology and things like that. But then we move from that to this figure who is hostile to God, which he’s not in Job. He’s not hostile to God, because God’s egging him on in that story.

Greg  

Right, right.

Pete  

Like, “Come on!”

Greg  

And setting limits!

Pete  

Right. Yeah. So I’m trying to understand…I mean, maybe this is unrecoverable, I just don’t know. But why?

Greg  

It’s not unrecoverable. You can trace it in these documents, again, religious documents, Jewish documents between the Testaments. And Satan—that’s where Satan really fully emerges with three different origin stories. One of them is based on that funny little paragraph that’s the prelude to the flood story back in Genesis 6, where it says that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair, and they came down and had a little hanky panky, these angelic figures, with women. And as a result, there were giants in those days. And the first kind of explanation for where the devil came from is people believed, and this is in these apocryphal texts, that angels had sex with women and spawned demons. And that then one, the demon who was like the main guy, was Satan. And then another story emerges—we can call that the Watchers Myth.

Another story emerges, we can call it the Envy of Adam Myth that says, you know, at the beginning, Lucifer was just one of the angels, another name for the devil, and was in good stead. And then God created Adam and Eve, and Lucifer had some kind of sibling rivalry. This is like, you know, there’s a new baby in the family, and Lucifer was no longer the apple of God’s eye. And so Lucifer became envious and then dedicated the rest of his eternal, not quite eternal life, to harassing Adam and Eve and their children. And this is actually the story that’s in the Quran about the origin of Satan. 

Pete

Oh, interesting. Okay.

Greg

And then the final origin story is the Lucifer Myth, if you will. There are two passages—in Isaiah, and another in Ezekiel—about, they are diatribes against a foreign king who’s oppressing the Israelites, but in both cases, they tell a story about a king. This king who thought he was so great he thought he could rule the world. He even tried to ascend to heaven, and as a result, God knocked him down a notch or two, and he fell. And so from those passages, which are clearly explicitly about foreign kings, people looked back and said, “Yeah, but those are allegories, and what they’re talking about is actually how Satan was an angel, and he got above his raisin’ and God had to knock him down a notch. That’s when he fell. Now, this Lucifer figure is, you know, in revolt against God.”

Pete

Okay. Well, alright, so we can trace it textually in literature written in between, nearing the end of the Hebrew Bible and the beginning of the New Testament. I’m wondering though, again, this is the part that might be very hard to answer. I do not have an answer for this myself. Why? Not just “that”- we see the “that,” we see the texts. But why have these texts that talk about this figure in this way? Why did that evolution even happen?

Greg

Yeah, well, I think there’s two things going on. One is, monotheism is an incredible idea that emerges most clearly with the eighth century prophets. And then it’s championed by the Hebrew prophets. But monotheism is tough, you know? Amos says, speaking with God’s voice, “I am the Lord, I create weal,” that is goodness, “and I create woe.” Well, that’s tough! That’s tough to maintain faith in a God who’s ultimately responsible for everything. And so there is a kind of existential insecurity to pure monotheism. Because there’s no one, this—you are blessing and praising and thanking the same God who’s responsible for all your, all your trials and all your troubles. So that’s one part of the problem. Satan, in a way will solve that, by creating—

Pete  

It would be easier if you had multiple gods.

Greg  

Well, yeah, it would be.

Pete  

Right. 

Greg  

But the other thing that happens is, it seems that around the time of the Book of Daniel, and let’s just say, 200 BC—BCE, as you prefer—that there was a real crisis in the religious thinking of ancient Israel. And it happened because, you know, there’s this Syrian ruler in Palestine who condemns the practice of Judaism, who sacrifices a pig on the altar in the temple, who persecutes and executes faithful Jews. You know, for the most part, forever and a day, faithful people have struggled with the kind of vicissitudes of life, and how things go up, things go down, and sometimes you just, you know, you understand it by and by. But it seems this was a point where it became…Even that kind of every day just rolling with the punches didn’t work anymore, and all of a sudden the idea emerged, “Wait a second, there’s something going on here, there must be an evil power which is dedicated to harassing the righteous.” And, you know, this apocalyptic worldview emerges, full blown, which in essence is the world’s first conspiracy theory. 

Pete  

[Laughing]

Greg  

It’s saying that, behind appearances, there is this network. And it’s got a Professor Moriarty, and that’s Satan. And then there’s this whole network of demons under his control and they are behind the scenes, trying to bedevil humanity.

Jared  

So it’s an explanation. It’s an explanation in a time of intense persecution and crisis, and an explanation in face of, given all of these things that are happening when you have monotheism, for there to be some sort of hope or outlook. It’s hard to manage the theology of good and evil within monotheism. And so kind of, you’re introduced to some instability within monotheism. You get a lot of good things, but it creates some instability in this ethical realm and then when you add to that this crisis and persecution, it spawns, you know, this idea of, again—how do we have this explanation for what’s going on around us? 

Greg  

Absolutely.

Pete  

I mean, it’s so…what Jared just said, I think is…I mean, in my opinion, Greg, it’s like an explanation of like, all of theology. You’re trying to account for your reality using the old structures of the tradition and if you have to augment them, or shift them in some way, well, then you just do that.

[Ad break]

Pete  

There’s a story I would love to have you comment on: the story of Balaam. 

[All laugh]

Pete  

And, see, Satan appears there too, although I think the word never shows, does not show up in English translations.

Greg  

Right? It’s…I looked at it earlier today just to see what it was in the New Revised Standard Version, it said “adversary.” 

Pete  

Right. 

Greg  

But you know, in the case of Balaam, which appears in the Book of Numbers, Balaam is an ancient prophet, but not from Israel, but from Jordan. And the king of Moab wants Balaam, with his special powers, to curse the children of Israel as they’re making their way through Moabite territory toward the Promised Land. And so he sends an emissary to Balaam. Balaam actually receives, it says, a message from the Lord, telling him first, “Don’t curse these people, don’t do what the Moabite king Beor asked you to do.” But then eventually it seems God says, “Alright, go with them” as if God is going to teach him a lesson. So Balaam on his donkey begins to travel in order to curse the Israelites. And then, of course, the great story is, his donkey sees the Angel of the Lord in the road. And Balaam doesn’t. And the donkey rears and the donkey won’t go forward. And they go through this three times, and he’s being increasingly angry and punitive with the donkey and finally the donkey says, “Hey, buddy, you know, we’ve been pals for a long time, I don’t, I don’t hit you. Why are you hitting me?” And then Balaam sees the angel. That angel is referred to as a Satan. A Satan.

Pete  

So this is the Angel of the Lord, right? 

Greg  

It’s an Angel of the Lord. So this is not the Satan of Job, but just another…It’s an angel acting as a Satan, as an adversary. 

Pete  

So again, it just underscores that the, I guess, the flexibility in the Hebrew Bible of the term. I mean, the default is not, let’s say, the Satan of maybe the New Testament, or later on, or in Second Temple Judaism. It is more of an adversarial title, regardless of who holds it. That can be the Angel of the Lord, it could be…

Jared  

It’s a function. 

Pete  

It’s a function. 

Jared  

It’s describing how something functions. 

Pete  

Right.

Greg  

It’s a function that turns into an identity.

Pete  

Right, right, right. That’s a good way of putting it.

Jared  

Yeah. And so maybe, as we wrap up, and, you know, this is getting outside of the, outside of the Bible itself—But I do think we read a lot of this back into it and so, you know, maybe comment just a few more minutes on, where do we—where does the evolution stop in the New Testament? Like, what’s the most developed we get with this figure in terms of how we can paint how the ancient, you know, writers would have thought of Satan or the Devil? And then where does it go from there? Like, it seems like we have this point at which, okay, the Bible has a certain way, but it clearly keeps developing until we get to the Middle Ages, you know, medieval theology, where it gets really ornate and really crisp and clear, in a lot of ways that it’s not in the New Testament. So kind of where does the New Testament end up, I guess my question?

Greg  

Right. Well, I mean, it’s a great question, because it doesn’t have a simple answer. Satan is never systematically introduced and explained in the New Testament. He is referred to as if everyone in the community already possesses the kind of backstory, has the lore. You know, the devil is walking around like a lion seeking whom he can devour. Or all the Satan figures in the Book of Revelation, whether it’s the beast, or the red dragon. But it is only, you know, subsequent generations of interpreters who are going to continue to kind of spin out and articulate the story of the devil. And I think one of the most influential things in American Protestant Christianity was the Scofield Bible. And the Scofield Bible from the 19th century, in his notes he will explain when he’s glossing, you know, Isaiah 14, or Ezekiel 12, he’ll gloss the story, those references to foreign kings as referring to the fall of Lucifer. But it’s never actually, you know…When you’re a kid and you hear about the devil, you know, you always wonder: but you know, where is it in the Bible? It isn’t! You know, the story of where the devil came from. It’s this amalgamation of fleeting references in the Bible, and then a lot of post biblical lore.

Pete  

Yeah. And again, I think to underscore…That’s the way of it, isn’t it? I mean, these texts never just stay where they are, they’re always adapted and brought into a new reality. And in a way, looking at ha-satan is almost like an example of what we see, really in the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation. It doesn’t tell us anything. I mean, in Revelation 20 when it refers to the dragon or the serpent—Actually, let me ask you, so I’ve always been bothered by that. It says the serpent, the dragon or the serpent who is the devil or Satan. This is never explicitly tied to the Garden of Eden. And I wonder, I’ve wondered, I don’t—I would not want to—I’m not gonna fall on the sword. But I don’t know if this is the chaos monster we’re talking about here in Revelation 20.

Greg  

Oh, this is The Serpent. Not that little snake in the Genesis 3.

Pete  

Exactly, yeah.

Greg  

Yeah, this is Lotan, this is Leviathan. This is the serpent referred to in several passages in the Psalms, in the prophets, who God kind of defeated before time in order for us to have a world that works. Right?

Pete  

Right. 

Greg  

Absolutely.

Pete  

So now it’s like round two or something. I don’t know that either and the text doesn’t say that. But it’s just the dragon…I just don’t know if dragon makes more sense of—

Jared  

[Hums in agreement]

Pete  

You know, speaking of Elish for example, it makes a little more sense. We see depictions of Tiamat, right? In Akkadian mythology, that looks awfully dragon-like, you know? Sometimes it looks like a serpent, sometimes it looks more like a dragon. It’s got claws, sort of like a lion’s head with wings and things. It’s this rather ominous kind of creature. And I don’t know, I just…I just wonder if we’re suffering from like, lazy reading of these texts? “Well, this clearly connects to our Christian piece of theology.” In other words, I’m not sure if New Testament writers connected the serpent—

Greg  

In Revelation. Sure. But at any rate, you’ve still got Satan falling like lightning in the Gospels. So you still got Satan as a character who’s important in the New Testament.

Pete  

Yes. 

Pete  

Right, right. Right. Yeah. Yeah, I’m not taking that away.

Jared  

Well, in this again, for me to kind of wrap this up also underscores, I think you’re right, Pete, that this is a great example to follow through in terms of these questions of: What is the Bible? And what do we do with it? And what it points out to me too, is this whole world. You mentioned several times, Greg, these intertestamental books. And I think, sometimes, Christians can forget that there’s this whole—I think of it as like world building, right? So J.R.R. Tolkien and George Martin, like these books, these universes that are being built—The universe of the New Testament is being built in this place where we don’t have a lot of familiarity. And so we fill a lot of gaps where, actually, if we just read Jubilees, and we read these, we might say, “Oh, a lot of the New Testament seems at home here. There’s some good background information in these books.” And when we don’t do that, I feel like we end up cramming a lot of stuff that maybe doesn’t belong, because we have to do something. So we’re filling the gaps in a way that we’re like, “Oh, I guess I don’t know where this comes from,” instead of like, “Oh, well, we kind of do know where it comes from. There’s a lot of books here, that if we took time to read…” So I just think that’s an important piece I’m coming away with too, is to understand our New Testament really, is to make sure we situate it in the Second Temple in apocalyptic worldview, where these other texts that we have access to were being written. 

Greg  

Yeah. 

Jared  

Well, thank you so much, Greg, for coming on and elucidating Satan for us.

Pete  

Yeah, you know the topic a little bit too well, if you ask me, Greg. 

Greg  

Ahh! [Chuckles]

Jared  

Suspicious…

Pete  

A little suspicious. That’s okay. Hey, man, it was great to talk with you. Thanks so much for being on. A lot of fun.

Greg  

Hey, thanks for having me on guys.

Outro  

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You’ve just made it through another episode of The Bible for Normal People! Thanks to our listeners who support us each week by rating the podcast, leaving a review, and telling others about our show. We couldn’t have made this amazing episode without the help of our Producers Group: Gabrielle Dion-Kindem, Pastor Josh Andrews, Andy, Bruce Simms, Jane Smith, James Christoferson, MM Branch, Hite Baker, Sam and Nicole Galambos, and Travis Mallett. As always, you can support the podcast at patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3/month you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more! This episode was brought to you by The Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Prescott, Savannah Locke, Stephanie Speight, Tessa Stultz, Nick Striegel, Haley Warren, Jessica Shao, and Natalie Weyand!

[Jaunty outro music ends]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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