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Satan in the Bible
When dealing with the related doctrines of Satan and demons, it has become almost customary to cite the warning from C.S. Lewis that two equal excesses persist.32 One is to dismiss the reality of Satan altogether, which is difficult to do if one interprets the New Testament literally. The other, I believe, is to become perilously indulgent with “devil-talk.” It seems fair to say that early twentieth century Pentecostals, in general, were preoccupied with talk of Spirit-baptism. Similarly today, some church leaders may be guilty of over-emphasizing Satan’s power to the point that the devil has grown larger than life—certainly larger than Scripture presents him.
Whether or not Satan once held a prominent position in heaven before he rebelled is a moot point. Popular interpretations of Isaiah 14:12-15 (reputed to be the account of Satan’s fall) in the U.S. were once fueled by American fundamentalist scholars such as M.F. Unger and L.S. Chafer.33 More recent scholarship reveals a much sharper division over the assumption that Isaiah had Satan in mind when he wrote 14:12-15.34 In fact, in view of the scant references to the devil or demons between Genesis and Malachi, and the complicated use of the name, “Satan,” it may be impossible to identify and organize a biblical demonology based solely on the Old Testament. As Page remarks:
Satan is a very minor figure in the Old Testament, where he is mentioned explicitly in only three passages. Even in these, he plays a secondary, not a major role. … It appears that the concept of Satan was not well developed in the Old Testament period and that it did not exercise the sort of influence on the faith of ancient Israel that it would on late Judaism and early Christianity.35
Satan’s prominence in Jewish literature more likely arose at the time of the worst persecutions of Israel’s history, under the ruthless Antiochus IV during the late second century B.C. As the Jewish people suffered unimaginable oppression and suffering,36 they searched for answers of cosmic proportions. They longed for a Messianic visitation to deliver them from hellish conditions, and they found their answers to the problem of evil in the cosmic struggle between angels and Satan.37 Thus, extra-canonical literature was reared out of a background of Hellenistic and Persian Dualism and the desperate hope of an anguished nation.
If we fail to pay attention to the fundamentals of doctrine and neglect to teach people to walk as Christians, no amount of spiritual warfare will help us.