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New Testament Satan

Deliver Us from Evil: Interpreting the Redemption from the Power of Satan in New Testament Theology (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 216) by Richard H. Bell (Mohr Siebeck) Richard H. Bell develops a theory of myth which does justice not only to the world of 'narrative' but also to the mysteries of the 'physical world'. He does this by building on the phenomenal distinction as introduced by Kant and further developed by Schopenhauer. He then applies the resulting theory of myth to two seemingly disparate examples of redemption from Satan found in the New Testament: first, the exorcisms of Jesus; secondly, the redemption of the human being from the power of Satan through the cross and resurrection of Christ as found in the Pauline tradition and in the letter to the Hebrews. Then the author makes an attempt to relate these two forms of redemption to each other and to draw some conclusions as to how these myths of deliverance from Satan can be considered true. This can lead not only to an enrichment of New Testament Theology but also to a greater understanding of the world in which we live.

The fundamental question addressed in this book is how the redemption of the human being from Satan in New Testament theology is to be interpreted. I now wish to make a number of concluding comments, first of a "theological and scientific" nature and then of a "pastoral" nature.

1.1. The Existence of the Devil and Demons

My first concluding comment is that one can say that the devil and his demons "exist") I have throughout this book expressed (perhaps indirectly) admiration for Bultmann but also criticized aspects of his program of demythologizing. The idea I focus on here is his much quoted view in "New Testament and Mythology":

It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.'

A little earlier he addresses the issue of demons: Now that the forces and the laws of nature have been discovered, we can no longer believe in spirits, whether good or evil. We know that the stars are physical bodies whose motions are controlled by the laws of the universe, and not daemonic beings which enslave mankind to their service. Any influence they may have over human life must be explicable in terms of the ordinary laws of nature; it cannot in any way be attributed to their malevolence. Sickness and the cure of disease are likewise attributable to natural causation; they are not the result of daemonic activity or of evil spells.'

Bultmann did acknowledge that he has contemporaries "whose confidence in the traditional scientific view of the world has been shaken, and others who are primitive enough to qualify for an age of mythical thought". But "[w]hat really matters is the world view which men imbibe from their environment, and it is science which determines that view of the world through the school, the press, the wireless, the cinema, and all the other fruits of technical progress".

Bultmann wishes to present a gap between first and twentieth century people. But this is an oversimplification. First of all, there are many today who rightly or wrongly do believe in demons (and this was also the case in 1941!) John Meier, in a discussion of "miracles and modern minds" (rather than "demons"), refers to a Gallup poll of 1989 which found that 82% of Americans believe that God can perform miracles and only 6% completely disagreed with the proposition that God works miracles. So if Bultmann is correct Meier writes (sardonically) that "only 6 percent of Americans completely qualify as truly modern persons".

The second problem with Bultmann's approach is that just as there are those who believe in demons in the twenty-first century (even in societies which are technologically highly developed), there were conversely sceptics in the first century. This was briefly discussed in chapter two, and it is worth underlining again the atmosphere of doubt about the miraculous among certain groups in the first century. This is found not only among "pagan" writers such as Cicero' and Philostratus8 but also among Jewish authors, for example Josephus and Philo. In particular the Sadducees did not believe in angels or demons." If there was a period of "gullibility" among the ancients it may have been among certain groups in the second century' or possibly in the later period of the Roman empire."

In opposition to Bultmann I have attempted in the above chapters to argue that today we can speak of the "existence" of the devil and demons. The devil, as I argued, has an ontological status which one can compare to Adam, a point to which I will shortly return. But his existence is not symmetrical with that of God's "existence"."

1.2. Demons can be Disembodied

My second point is that the devil and demons can be disembodied. In this connection it is necessary to engage with Walter Wink. Wink adopts an "integral worldview". Here the demonic is seen as the inner aspect of a particular earthly entity. He claims that such a worldview "attempts to take seriously the spiritual insights of the ancient or biblical worldview by affirming a withinness or interiority in all things, but sees this inner spiritual reality as inextricably related to an outer concretation or physical manifestation". Although Wink is able to give such a view a certain respectability (relating it among other things to C.J. June' and the "new Physics") the project fails for a number of reasons of which I give two: the fact that the devil and demons can be disembodied (which I attend to now) and the fact that they can be said to be "personal" (a point I discuss in section three below).

Wink asserts that the spiritual (the inner aspect) has to be integrated to the physical (the outer aspect). Demons therefore have to find a place in people (he refers to Mk 1.21-28//Lk. 4.31-37; Mt. 12.43-45//Lk. 11.24-26) or in creatures like pigs (Mk 5.1-20//Mt. 8.28-34//Lk. 8.26-39) or in political systems (Revelation 12-13). Although such an analysis may work in certain instances, it fails to do justice to many New Testament texts which speak of evil spirits. Demons clearly can be disembodied and I consider three examples.

First, Ephesians speaks of unbelievers who walk "according to the ruler of the power of the air" (caret , Eph. 2.2).

The expression "power of the air" suggests a disembodied spirit. Wink argues that the author . . . uses the figure of the 'power of the air' to specify not the locale of demons but the world-atmosphere, which Satan exploits for our destruction. The exousia of the air is not then to be classed with personified spiritual powers, such as the archon who rules over it. It is rather the invisible dominion or realm created by the sum total of choices for evil. . . . It is, in short, what we mean today by such terms as ideologies, the Zeitgeist, customs, public opinion, peer pressure, institutional expectations, mob psychology, jingoistic patriotism, and negative vibes.'

Lincoln rightly questions Wink's exegesis of this verse, arguing that "the air" (and "the heavenly realms" of Eph. 6.12) "indicate the same realm inhabited by malevolent agencies". He suggests that if there is any distinct connotation, it could be that "air" indicates "the lower reaches of that realm and therefore emphasizes the proximity of this evil power and his influence over the world".

The second example is from Eph. 6.12.22 The author explains that the fight of the Christians "is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places"

This text is certainly not implying that evil powers are simply the inner essence of some institution or system.23 Indeed the wording "not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers . . ." suggests a battle against spiritual forces which are not embodied. The same can be said for the phrase "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places": this clearly suggests disembodied evil spirits.24 As Best writes, even if for some New Testament passages one can explain powers in terms of "political, social and economic forces, or as the power of tradition, ethical custom, race or as psychological psychoses or forces like sex within us which we cannot control . . . it is not possible to do so for Ephesians for in it the powers are related to heaven . . . ".

The third text I consider is 2 Cor. 4.4. Paul writes that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God". Again it is unlikely that Paul is simply making a reference to his opponents as being "devil-inspired" and who are thereby blinding the minds of unbelievers. He is speaking of a disembodied "Satan".

There are then New Testament texts which speak of spirits being disembodied. Wink's program seems to be driven by the assumption that there can be no soul/body or matter/spirit divide. So he writes: "In Hebraic anthropology, the split between body and soul, or matter and spirit, was unthinkable". Although this has been an oft repeated idea in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries2it has been rightly questioned29 and I have defended a dualist view of the human person in chapter four above. Also, to assert that there can be no soul/body or matter/spirit split has serious implications for the doctrine of God!

Demons therefore can be disembodied. Like the human "soul" a demon can be said to exist in the noumenal realm and this corresponds to its manifestation as a subject as a sort of "mathematical point" (since the subject has no type of "extension") on the boundary of the phenomenal world.' I argued in chapter four above that God is the integrating principle of the Christian and indeed of every human person (through his Spirit). It would be a profound theological error to suggest that if the Spirit is the integrating principle of the Christian then an "evil spirit" is the "integrating principle" of the possessed person or the one without Christ. This error is likely to arise when a symmetry is understood between the Holy Spirit and the devil or "evil spirit". Such symmetry may be suggested by some texts concerning the exorcisms of Jesus'' and the early Christian tradition which interpreted the exorcisms in the light of Pauline theology that demonic and divine possession were to be considered "correlatively". But, as in a text like 2 Cor. 4.4, any such dualism is apparent rather than real. The "evil spirit" belongs to this world whereas the Holy Spirit transcends this world. But one could make the case that the "evil spirit" is a "disintegrating principle" at work in the possessed person or the person without Christ. In exorcism or in conversion, it is not so much that the evil spirit is driven out and replaced by the Holy Spirit (even though the early Church often thought that way). Rather, the evil spirit is driven out and the Holy Spirit comes in a new way. The prayer "Come Holy Spirit" does not so much mean that the Spirit was previously absent but rather that he comes from one kind of presence to another (as in the case of conversion he is there already as "integrating principle") or from one degree of presence to another degree (as in the case of the Christian).

I suggest then that a "disembodied evil spirit" is not best understood as some "supernatural entity" even though a superficial reading of the New Testament may suggest a correlation between evil spirits and the Spirit of God. The disembodied spirit is a combination of some entity in the noumenal realm together with a subject on the boundary of the world. In a theology stressing the sovereignty of God one does not have to go to the absurd position of arguing that just as the Spirit integrates the human person so the Spirit "integrates" the "evil spirit". This is surely nonsense. But one could legitimately argue that the Holy Spirit as source of all good spirits acts as the principle of integration of such good spirits (i.e. angels), integrating their being in the noumenal world and their subject on the boundary of the world.

How then do we perceive "evil" or indeed "good" spirits? The first means is through their influence in the phenomenal world (e.g. "possession"). But going beyond this (and thus going beyond the view of Wink) they can be perceived as "disembodied" in that they have no "physical" manifestation in the phenomenal world. They have an existence in the noumenon and can be considered a "subject" on the boundary of the phenomenal world. In chapter three above I have discussed how it is possible to access the world of demons through myth (and the same argument can hold for angels). We can access the noumenal world of Satan and demons by the mythical (rather than the mythological, i.e. myth-critical) reception of myth. Satan and his demons can only be perceived when we, the subject, are in a receptive state, when we respect the myth as a "holy narrative".

1.3. The Devil and Demons are Personal

My third point is that the devil and demons have personality. Wink denies this' and prefers the analogy of computer viruses: they are not personal but can nevertheless behave "almost wilfully".38 One problem of this approach is that it so plainly contradicts the New Testament where demons (and angels) clearly have "personality".39 Related to this is the problem that Wink, I believe, does not take myth seriously enough and has engaged in a type of rationalization of myth.' One can, as I argued in chapter three and in the discussion above, both accept the idea of disembodied angels/demons and their personal characteristics. But although demons have "personality" one must also stress that demons prefer anonymity. As Thielicke comments: ". . . if there is one thing one can know for certain, it is that he [the devil] never hands you his visiting card". I shall return to this shortly.

1.4. The Reality of the Devil and Demons depends on Christ's Defeat of them

I have argued that the "defeat" of Satan or, as I have usually expressed it, our deliverance from Satan through Christ, is a myth which is irreplacable. Just as talk of Adam is not dispensible in view of modern biology neither is talk of the devil. Deliverance from Satan is an indispensible part of New Testament myth. But the truth of this myth goes beyond any general idea of the "truth of myth". This redemption myth is true because it is achieved through Christ and its truth can only be discerned through faith. Satan's fundamental existence is dependent on the fact that Christ (the ultimate reality) delivers us from his power (just as Adam's fundamental existence depends on the fact that Christ undoes all his work). Without the Christ event any myth of Satan as found in the Old Testament (e.g. Job; Zech. 3) or in Apocalyptic literature (e.g. 1 Enoch 6-11) would have more the status of a "pagan myth". There may be some sense in which such "pagan myths" are "true"' for, as I argued in chapter three above, they are a means of approaching the noumenon. But they do not have the fundamental status of the redemption through Christ.

1.5. The Question of Demythologizing

This issue has arisen at a number of points in this work. Although I have often referred to the myth of the redemption from Satan, the myth especially as it appears in Paul, Colossians and Ephesians contains within itself elements that distance it from myth pure and simple. One of these elements is the fact that the believer undergoes an existential displacement. It is not necessary to "do" anything to these texts (e.g. demythologizing by deleting the scholastic theoretical knowing - i.e. the "Welterklärung"). The texts, so to speak, do any necessary "demythologizing" for us. Hebrews, I argued, has a more mythical view of Christ. But all the texts I have discussed have this in common: through some historical occurrence (whether that be the death of Jesus or the exorcisms of Jesus) a new myth is being formed.

1.6. Demons in the Noumenal, not in the "Supernatural"

I argued in chapter three above that demons are to be related to the noumenal world. So in the exorcisms Jesus heals sickness by casting out demons. He does this by accessing the noumenal through the myth of Satan and then through his authoritative word changing this noumenal world. This change in the noumenal then has a manifestation in the phenomenal world. But Jesus also provides us with a theological interpretation as in Mt. 12.28. This is where "revelation" comes in.

One of the things I have attempted to do in this work is to replace the old nature/supernature dichotomy with a world of phenomena and noumena (or noumenon) on the one hand and God on the other. The devil, demons, angels and souls all belong to the world, albeit the noumenal world. But God transcends this world of phenomena and noumena. Essentially I am demoting Satan to a mythical figure which, according to the biblical tradition, is where he belongs. This I think is a healthy counterbalance to some modem popular evangelical thought (and, as we shall see, some sixteenth century thought), which credits Satan with dignity, viewing him as "His Infernal Majesty" or something similar.

Placing Satan firmly in the world also puts another possible question mark against Bultmann's famous definition of myth as "die Vorstellungsweise, in der das Unweltliche, Göttliche als Weltliches, Menschliches, das Jenseitige als Diesseitiges erscheint . . . "46 This definition lacks precision for my pur poses since it makes no distinction between the "phenomenal world" and the "noumenal world". Satan, according to my understanding, is precisely not part of "das Unweltliche" or "das Göttliche", although one could say he is part of "das Jenseitige" in that he is part of the noumenal world.

1.7. Satan's Influence on the Human Person

At times Luther could be accused of putting forward Satan as "His Infernal Majesty". Yet to be fair Luther does often parallel the devil to the world. In fact he brackets Satan with the world and the flesh. All three then are part of this world. All three lead to sin and stand against God, his world and faith. In particular, according to Luther what the "world" does the "devil" also does .

So although Satan is a "mythical figure" he can still exercise devastating power in the world. As we have seen he has power in regard to sickness (e.g. 2 Cor. 12.7) and even death (Heb. 2.14). Further, he has power in regard to our sinful nature. But although in one sense the devil can be seen as an alien power, the devil is also a power which resides in the depths of our being. As Thielicke puts it, "right from the start the diabolos can be certain that he has a foothold on the terrain of our soul". Further, "I belong to [the demonic power] in the sense that I belong to myself". So Satan directs the paths of those who are under him. They are directed in the way of sin yet it is a voluntary sinning. As Luther puts it, Satan "rides" upon the will of the sinner but the sinner acquiesces:

In a word: if we are under the god of this world, strangers to the work of God's Spirit, we are led captive by him at his will, as Paul said to Timothy (2 Tim. 2.26), so that we cannot will anything but what he wills. For he is a 'strong man armed,' who keeps his palace to such good effect that those he holds are at peace, and raise no stir or feeling against him — otherwise, Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself, and could not stand; but Christ says it does stand. And we acquiesce in his rule willingly and readily, according to the nature of willingness, which, if constrained, is not 'willingness'; for constraint means rather, as one would say, 'unwillingness'. But if a stronger appears, and overcomes Satan, we are once more servants and captives, but now desiring and willingly doing what He wills — which is royal freedom (cf. Luke 11.18-22). So man's will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills: as the Psalm says, 'I am become as a beast before thee, and I am ever with thee' (Ps. 73.22-3). If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it.'

But despite his power Satan is still part of this world and in this sense the devil/Holy Spirit symmetry which the above passage may suggest, breaks down.

One of the arguments used in Christian apologetics is that the devil is so cunning that he does not want people to believe in him. This is a rather speculative argument which I would not necessarily wish to pursue. But some scriptures do imply, as Thielicke suggests, that "the demonic power always seeks to remain anonymous".' So Eph. 2.2 speaks of "following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient". My analysis that the demons belong in the world of the noumenon and only manifest themselves as "mathematical points" in the world of the phenomena, coheres with this. So whereas the soul can be viewed as the "body in itself', a principle of individuation occurring in the noumenon through the activity of God, the demonic is just "part" of the one mass of the Schopenhauerian noumenon. As I say, if one can speak of the manifestation of demons in the world of "phenomena", it is as mathematical points or subjects on the boundary of the world.

The world of the demonic is therefore a real world. The devil was not simply "made up" since, as a mythical figure, he is "discovered" rather than "invented". But, as I argued above, his reality goes beyond that of say Odin or Zeus in that the biblical witness affirms that Jesus Christ defeats Satan. Satan's reality depends upon that of Christ, the ultimate reality, the concretissimum.

The exorcisms of Jesus demonstrate the defeat of Satan and the coming of the kingdom of God. I heard a story of an exorcist of the Church of England who wished to deny any "glamour" or "excitement" in his work; rather he likened the work of exorcism to cleaning out toilets. That may well be the case but the narratives of the synoptic gospels suggest a "heroic" aspect to Jesus' exorcisms. This could be called a "theologia gloriae" or a "triumphalism" which certainly has its place in the synoptic gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles if not elsewhere in the New Testament. The exorcisms of Jesus and of the Apostles can be an inspiring example. In relation to the heros of Wagner's music dramas, Scruton writes:

Precisely because we live in a morbidly unheroic world — a world of cost-benefit calculation, in which gods and heros have no place — we are driven to regard our own existence as some kind of cosmic mistake. If it is to have a meaning, this can come only through a gesture that throws all calculation aside, that recklessly disregards both cost and benefit and freely embraces its own absurdity.

Scruton believes that it is in erotic love that we aspire to this condition, in "those sublime moments when love prepares to sacrifice itself for the beloved"59 and show life to be worthwhile.

Such a view of making life worthwhile has its validity; but it could be a life without Jesus Christ. For the Christian it is not only such erotic love which shows life to be worthwhile. It is above all in those moments when we see and experience the presence of the kingdom of God — it is in those moments when we see God at work — which make life worth living. The Rabbis believed that illud tempus would arrive one day. But the Christian can experience it today. As Eliade writes:

In Christianity . . . the evangelical tradition itself implies that is already present 'among' those who believe, and that hence the illud tempus is eternally of the present and accessible to anyone, at any moment, through metanoia. Since what is involved is a religious experience wholly different from the traditional experience, since what is involved is faith, Christianity translates the periodic regeneration of the world into a regeneration of the human individual. But for him who shares in this eternal nunc of the reign of God, history ceases as totally as it does for the man of the archaic cultures, who abolishes it periodically. Consequently, for the Christian too, history can be regenerated, by and through each individual believer, even before the Saviour's second coming, when it will utterly cease for all Creation.'

In some Protestant theology there has been an unhealthy emphasis on the "theology of the cross".62 The "cross of Christ" has to be taken with the utmost seriousness. But the cross together with the resurrection is for the liberation of human beings. Much of the New Testament, as I have already intimated, speaks of what one could call a "theology of glory" or a "triumphalism". The synoptic gospels point to Jesus overcoming the power of Satan in his healing ministry. Acts presents a Church starting in Jerusalem and spreading out into the Roman empire, the work reaching its climax with Paul preaching in Rome. Paul's letters, although presenting a "theology of the cross", also stress the tremendous progress of the gospel (Rom. 1 5.1 7-21). Such a "theology of glory" can be more fully appreciated in the light of the myth of the redemption from Satan. And such a view of the redemption from Satan and demons was of tremendous power for the Church in the first centuries. Eusebius, describing the growth of the early Church writes:

In every city and village arose churches crowded with thousands of men, like a teeming threshing-floor. Those who by hereditary succession and original error had their souls bound by the ancient disease of the superstition of idols were set free as if from fierce masters and found release from fearful bondage by the power of Christ through the teaching of his followers and their wonderful deeds. They rejected all the polytheism of the demons, and confessed that there is only one God, the Creator of the universe.

By speaking of the redemption from Satan, Christians could make clear the victory of Christ over paganism and idolatry. In the context of a discussion of Christ's resurrection, Athanasius asks "how, if he had not risen but is dead, could he chase away, cast out, and lay low those false gods said to be alive by the unbelievers and the demons they worship?" He continues:

For where Christ and his faith are named, thence all idolatry is uprooted, all the deceit of demons is refuted, and no demon endures that name but, as soon as he hears it, takes to flight. This is not the work of a dead man, but one alive, and rather of God. It would be particularly ridiculous to call the demons who are cast out by him and the idols which he destroys alive, but to call dead him who casts them out and by his own power makes them disappear, and whom all confess to be the Son of God.'

One of the main points of this work is that the casting aside or the rationalization of the myth of deliverance from the power of Satan impoverishes New Testament theology. A case can also be made that such casting aside and rationalization weakens the mission of the Church. This takes us beyond the scope of the present work but it is worth emphasizing that the vision of Eusebius and Athanasius that the risen Christ destroys demons and delivers people from pagan and false gods has been essentially lost in many of the "established" Western Churches. Mission to a needy world has been replaced by inter-religious dialogue.

A mythological reception (i.e. a myth-critical reception) of the deliverance from the power of Satan impoverishes a New Testament theology. In particular, it impoverishes a reflection on Christian existence and on the extraordinary world in which we find ourselves, major themes of the present work. And such a world can astound us with its wonder, excitement and enchantment. But it can also horrify us in its ghastly depths. I began my work by referring to Thielicke's belief in the devil and demons. Karl Barth wrote this about his visits to Germany after the war:

It is significant that at the conferences of theologians which I visited there was much talk of demons. 'We looked Satan in the eye.' Such statements were almost uttered with enthusiasm. I listened to them for a long time. Finally I couldn't keep quiet any more. `Are you about to slip back into a magical view of the world?' I asked my friends. 'Why do you keep talking about demons? Why don't you say outright that you were political fools? Please let your Swiss colleague admonish you to adopt a more rational way of thinking' .

Barth, I believe, was fundamentally mistaken in his dismissal of the "world view" (or perhaps one should say "world narrative") of these theologians. Such a "world view", contrary to what many say, does not necessarily lead to an abrogation of responsibility. Indeed a biblical approach stresses that we are responsible before God for our actions even if we are driven by demons or "cannot do other otherwise". But the issue I wish to close on is not that of human responsibility but rather the extraordinary nature of our world. Barth chides the German theologians for having a "magical view of the world". I would not say the world is "magical"; but the world is truly mysterious and part of that mystery is the world of demons. In the words of Hamlet:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'

By respecting the myth of the redemption from the power of Satan as "holy narrative" and by relating the demonic to the noumenal world (which is one meaning of "heaven"), I hope I have taken seriously Hamlet's admonition. 

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