Since starting this blog, I’ve always maintained that when it comes to paths forward for Christianity to survive its long history of genocide, white supremacy, and empire building, I simply don’t have a horse in this race. If religion is the act of picking a metaphor that best enables you to walk into life’s mysteries, Christianity is not the one that works for me. But if you find in your one deconstruction journey that it works for you, that choice is completely valid. I wish you good physical, mental, and spiritual health on that journey.
That being said, I’ve found immense value in reading the works of Christians who are radically reevaluating Christian theology by taking the Bible seriously while reading it in a more constructive lens. One such online presence is Jacob M. Wright, who posts his thoughts almost daily on his Facebook Page. I particularly appreciate the way he provides deep readings of the Bible that dismantle traditional evangelical notions of its meaning while finding far more profound value by placing it in its proper historical, social, and spiritual contexts. If you’re looking for different ways to consider the Bible while deconstruction from the traditional ways you’ve been indoctrinated into reading it, I cannot recommend his writings enough.
Here’s one he wrote dated February 22, 2022 that I want to post as today’s exvangelical meditation. It is an exceptional Bible lesson about the concept of the Devil in the Old Testament, how it has been misread by modern Christians, and the wisdom found in considering the original meaning of the passages from the Bible that seemingly talk about the Devil. It is my sincere hope that you get at much out of this empowering essay as I did. If you like what you’ve read, consider following Mr. Wright on Facebook.
* * * *
The Hebrew people as documented in the Old Testament did not differentiate between “God” and “Satan.” In fact, “Satan” as a proper name (with a capital S) for a being who was the sum of evil and the archenemy of God did not even exist in their beliefs. Rather, “hasatan” or “the satan”, meaning “the adversary” or “the opposer” was a generic term for a facet of God expressed through angels or divine beings that carried out God’s adversarial or destructive will. This adversarial function was not considered “evil” in the diabolical sense at all.
I’ll say that again. When the Hebrew people talked about “the satan” 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, they weren’t conceptualizing a diabolical cosmic prince of darkness that was the archenemy of God, but rather an adversarial role that was a facet of the divine will. Throughout the Old Testament there are times when nations act as satans, people act as satans, angels act as satans, etc., fulfilling God’s adversarial will. The word was a generic term for an adversarial role willed by God for purposes of judgment, destruction, sifting, and testing.
Then we have the book of Job, a parable that addresses theodicy, meaning God’s relation to the problem of evil in the world. I say “parable” because the Jewish people don’t consider it to have literally happened. While it’s possible there was a man who suffered like this thousands of years ago and had these deeply existential and philosophical conversations with his friends about his sufferings, it’s highly unlikely that whoever wrote about it knew it was because a divine being who performed God’s adversarial tasks made a bet with God that Job would forsake faith if his life was thrown into calamity. Job functions well as a parable and again, “the satan” in the story is not conceived as the diabolical total personification of evil that we attribute to the name “Satan” now, but rather as a being in the “council of the gods” that serves an adversarial function in the story.
During the intertestamental time, meaning the period of time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Hebrew people’s theology was evolving (just as theology does, the Bible is not static, it shows an evolution and wrestling of thought concerning the divine), and “apocalyptic literature” developed which was a prophetic or mystical literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the age (as the word “apocalypse” means “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling.”) This genre of literature imagined a final showdown between good and evil and thus, such as in the book of Enoch, conceptualized a cosmic archenemy of God with the formal name Satan or Adversary who was finally defeated, bringing about the restoration of the world.
So when we get to The New Testament and there is suddenly an evil archenemy of God named Satan whom Jesus has come to drive out and destroy, this reflects an evolved understanding of God where this adversarial function which previously throughout the Old Testament has been attributed to God or an “angel of the Lord” or a “destroyer” or a “satan” sent by God in all of God’s violent and wrathfully destructive acts, has now been broken off of the divine picture and has instead become a separate diabolical enemy of God.
This should absolutely inform how we read the Old Testament.
The obvious conclusion of this is that Old Testament people who saw “the adversary” or the satanic as an extension of God, and therefore attributed all killing and destruction to God, were wrong. Jesus shows us a Father who has no adversarial function, no violence against humanity whose nature is to heal and restore broken humanity. In Christ, the true “apocalypse” or unveiling of God happens where the satanic element which was seen as part of God “falls like lightning from heaven” and therefore is exposed and defeated by the revelation of the triumphant total goodness of the Father.
There is really no getting around the fact that this means that while the prophets had revelation that was built upon, and this revelation was part of the evolving and inspired progression towards the revelation of God in Christ, it was still filtered through an incomplete view of God that would attribute certain things to God that were not actually God. Jesus refines the incomplete revelation of the prophets and through his Spirit helps us keep the baby while throwing out the bath water.
Whoever sees the Son sees the Father. Jesus is the apocalypse, the full unveiling of the face of God. Jesus is the unveiling of the true image of God, and therefore the unveiling of our true humanity, since we are made in that image. In this is the reconciliation of the world because it is the revelation of who we are and how we are to be. Jesus is exactly what God is like.