CHAPTER 2 - An Ancient Idea Restored
This Truth is Nothing New
So, do you think the idea Satan is not real is a new idea? Does it sound like I am trying to sell you some new truth that no one has ever heard before? The truth I am asking you to consider is not a “New” truth, but it is a truth hidden from most, for hundreds and hundreds of years. I read and interesting way to put it the other day. Take for example the simple fluid of life – blood. If you look at blood from one perspective, that is the perspective of a petri dish of blood sitting on the table, you see blood. However, when your perspective changes, when you place that blood under a high power microscope, you see that blood from a completely new vantage point. The blood is still the same as it was before the microscope came into the picture but now you see it for what it really is. You see it in a way that gives you a complete…or at least more complete picture of blood.
Maybe it will be easier for you to accept this truth if you see it as being reclaimed for your benefit, peered at through a different lens such as a microscope, and seen from a refreshed perspective as opposed to it being a brand new truth for you to accept. God just might be in the business of revealing and restoring truth to those who claim to be lovers of the truth. He’s not in the business of creating brand new truths that are only then believed because of the testimony of one individual who claims to have this new truth. Revealed and reclaimed truth is often brought to light by numerous individuals who have had the pleasure of seeing through the years and layers of the lies that hide the truth from most of the world.
As has been discussed before, the heliocentric model of the universe (where the Sun is the center of the solar system) seemed brand new to many in the Catholic Church when it was first presented. When in fact, it had been a truth that was present in several ancient cultures, long before Copernicus and Galileo advanced it in the 14th and 15th centuries. The truth about the Sun’s position in the cosmos had been hidden from the commoner for centuries and two men were able to advance their evidence and prove that the geocentric concept believed by much of the known world was not true. The astronomical position of the Earth in relation to the Sun did not change; it simply was re-understood by exploring it through a different lens. An error in belief about the Sun and Earth realationship was fed to the masses. That error was accepted as accurate. Changing the error back to the truth was a very extraneous process for those involved.
So too has the concept of a cosmic Satan continually been thrust into common theology and has been effective to hide a truth that was known long ago. I do not have a new truth to share with you but I am one of many who bring to the table a truth that has long ago been lost and forgotten by most of Christianity, Judaism, Messianism, Islam, and other various faiths of the world. So, if I must be frank, my little mantra is repetitive throughout this book only so that it will not be drowned out by the blaring volume of the things one already believes. It is my hope that the things shared here become a seed of potential for changing a belief that is buried way down at the core of one’s belief structure. This will be the beginning for many to reassess what they believe about “Satan” and the bigger question, WHY they believe it.
Is There Evidence In The New Testament That Satan IS NOT Real?
According to the best scholarship available, the “Old Testament” is the standard for doctrine. If that is the case then the “New Testament” has been misused to define a doctrine that is not present in the Old Testament. That said, we should be able to find evidence of a number of things in the New Testament that support the claims I am making of who and what the satan is. We should find evidence that is supportive of the doctrine that says there exists an adversarial force emanating from Yahweh. Can we find evidence in the New Testament that identifies the adversary (satan) is a human being acting in opposition to another human? Is there evidence in the New Testament that enables us to recognize the satan/adversary as the latent potential in humans to choose evil? These concepts should be found in the “New Testament,” or at least there should be evidence of this in the New Testament. And in seeing how “Satan” in not a mere word or a personal name, rather it is a conceptual term to depict evil and opposition; we will be able to recognize that evidence. We will go into the evidence in depth as I outline the numerous passages that affirm the satan/adversary concept in the Hebrew Scriptures. We will see the use of the terms “demon,” “devil”, and “satan” frequently, in the Apostolic Testimony. If the words used however, are meaning what most have come to believe they mean, then there is no case for stating the Apostolic Testimony fully supports the Hebrew Scriptures. Because if that is the case then the doctrine of Satan and demons that is found in the New Testament is not found or supported in the Old Testament as scores of religious and secular scholars have attested to. If however, as I will posit, the words “demon,” “devil”, and “satan” carried a significantly different and deeply metaphorical meaning to the first century hearer than they do to the hearer of today, then one can reconcile the use and understanding of them with what has been presented in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Volume 2, Imagine There’s No Satan, it was displayed beyond question that the “New Testament” is not to be classified as Holy Scripture. Don’t stop reading here because you believe the New Testament is Scripture. I throw down the challenge to explore the evidence in Volume 2. You’ll find sound evidence that expresses the probability that those ancient apostolic writings we have come to know and love as Scripture, are indeed nothing more than letters. I do contest however, that even though they are not “Scripture”, they are still in total agreement with the Hebrew Scriptures. I ask you to be fair in assessing the logic and evidence.
Well How Do You Explain This?
To be fair to the reader, if Satan is not real then you are right to ask for an explanation of all the places it seems he is found in the New Testament. I should be able to explain why a verse says, “and Satan entered Judas.” One should be able to explain why this verse is not meaning a cosmic entity, that many would call a demon spirit, actually inhabited Judas to get him to betray Jesus. And take heart, these things are all explainable. Some might want to just ignore the apostolic record, as it seems too difficult to mine out the meaning of the metaphorical language underlying the English used in the copies we have today. Perhaps that is the appropriate course for some. Alternatively, perhaps it would be prudent not to ignore the available record, but rather try to see how verses such as these would be understood in their correct cultural and linguistic context. That is to place the saying back into the mind of the speaker and consider what he may have been meaning when he spoke those words. Should we understand a statement in an ancient document through the lens of today or should we try to understand it through the lens of the day wherein it was written? We definitely stand to glean far greater insight by attempting to understand the verses in the way they might have been understood by the hearer. A hearer who was a citizen of an ancient Aramaic culture.
Don’t The Verses Just Mean What They Say?
When considering the verses in the New Testament that mention the word Satan, many believers quickly jump to the conclusion the words just mean what they say; therefore, they assert, Satan is real. These folks are eager to take the words of the Apostles and Messiah literally. If that is an acceptable principle of New Testament study then one could apply the same philosophy to other concepts and verses in the “New Testament.” What of when Jesus calls the Pharisees “vipers”? Are the Pharisees poisonous snakes? Or what of the case when Yeshua calls Peter Satan? Is Peter the devil in the traditional sense? Let’s consider another instance for a moment. What if a reader of the New Testament decided to accept, without question, that they are to have all things that represent material prosperity in common with all the people in their faith community? That is to say, what if we took as literal the mention of dividing up our personal wealth with others in our faith group? After all, the words say as much when read at face value. It is unlikely the person accepting this as literal would be inclined to look deeply to prove or disprove their belief. The reader in this instance would most probably remain in the belief they have and accept it as correct, especially if it is the common belief about that verse. Look at the verse in Acts that talks about all believers having all things in common. The passage suggests what we might call a “common pot” for the community. A storehouse of sorts that advocates everything is to be in common for all to benefit from.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
What Is The Everything In Common Belief?
The “everything in common” belief is a concept said to be found in the “New Testament” and in fact, there are some religious groups today who have accepted and adopted it as a practice for those who are faithful to “Jesus.” With the words of the above verse in mind, some believers think they are to share all their belongings and earnings with the other believers in the community. This ends up being a philosophy where “everything is in common” for the use of the entire group or community. It is not unreasonable to suggest the concept is represented in the apostolic writings. However, a simple study on the subject reveals not all those who were devout followers of the Messiah were committed to sharing the entirety of their wealth with the entire community. Although the mention of sharing everything with other believers does occur in the New Testament, most first century communities did not ascribe to an “everything in common” philosophy. Not only did this not occur as a regular “church” practice in the first century, but there were many who were rich and continued to maintain their wealth while they were active members of the faith community. Most believers kept their own pot to themselves for the most part.
Only a person who has “sold out”, so to speak, to the belief that they are to have all their possessions and income made available for others who have less than they have, will reject searching further to prove the concept. The “believer” who accepts this idea has not searched the entire Scripture and “New Testament” to try to understand the concept more fully. Poorly investigating the biblical idea underlying this practice will keep the believer of today from seeing the truth. He or she is unlikely to realize that in the first century this practice was done out of necessity to support those who were so oppressed by the political powers of the day that they were constantly in lack. Sharing income and resources was a communal practice for the desperate believers who had fallen on hard times. Failing to explore the cultural, linguistic, and historical context can lead the believer of today to miss the fact that this “practice” is just that, a “practice.” It is not a “Command” to be obediently followed by every
believing community in the world but it is simply the “practice” of a certain group of believers in a certain place at a certain time, in response to certain circumstances. The writer of Acts is in no way implying there is to be a common pot for all the wealth in every community. Yahweh’s people were free to prosper in every way, this included the ability to generate wealth.
It is very simple to see in the Scriptures and the Apostolic Testimony where it is okay for a “believer” to have wealth. In that it is clear, he or she is not obligated to toss it in to a common pot. I say it is simple to see this concept but that is only the case if one is open to it. Otherwise, if one is not open to seeing, the few verses that seem to support the “everything in common” belief are all that is needed for them and there is no need to look further. The problem for this belief and others that are equally as simple when looked at critically in the apostolic writings, has come because bible students have taken the New Testament as being equal to the Hebrew Scriptures. Bible students have taken things in the New Testament to be literal injunctions upon the believer. And in one of the more dire errors committed by bible students, they have allowed what is read in the New Testament to be treated as doctrine in cases where this was not the intent.
Is The New Testament The Place We Should Get Our Doctrine From?
Initially misunderstanding the meaning of the words in a text is only part of the problem of coming to a wrong doctrinal statement. Misappropriating the authority of a letter as if it is Scripture has led to all kinds of doctrinal error and heresy. The person who accepts such heresy does not do so intentionally they do so because they are convinced that what they believe is true. He or she is convinced by their religious background and/or institution, that the way they understand the New Testament is the way God wants it understood. If you or I believe unquestionably that the “New Testament” teaches there is a literal “Satan” to contend with, then we have agreed with an age-old misunderstanding and misappropriation of the words and authority of these apostolic writings. The force of an institution and a traditional view has likely convinced us instead of letting the Scriptures convince us.
If a person admits to believing the doctrine of Satan thinking it is clearly taught in the New Testament, then a deeper search to prove or disprove the belief is often abated. The believer in Satan looks no further because he or she has come to be very comfortable with the historically accepted belief. One is likely to stand on their understanding of the verses that appear to support a Satan belief without any motivation to prove or disprove their belief. That person refuses to employ any critical thinking or effort. Oh, I am not saying proving or disproving a belief is easy. First of all, you will have to allow for the possibility that you may have a wrong belief. Secondly, we may have to realize our belief may be based on the claims and opinion of others who have previously made an erroneous conclusion. We may have to humbly accept that the understanding you or I have come to about information in the New Testament was not correct when it was formulated years ago and is still incorrect today.
If you are serious about establishing the correctness of some of the things you believe then some questions need to be answered.
- Is your opinion yours, or is it someone else’s opinion that you and countless others have adopted?
- Was the opinion you adopted, formed through trying to reconcile all the verses in the “New Testament” to the verses of the Old Testament?
- Was your belief formed through “proof-texting”? Meaning, did you simply stand on a few key verses that have been said to mean a certain thing.
Do You “proof-text” to Determine Your Doctrine?
What is “proof-texting? Proof-texting is the harmfully common practice of finding a single verse or two that seems to support a belief and doctrine, then using the verse to support your view. It is the most go-to tool of religious folk who are trying to defend a belief or doctrine they assert is correct. “See, it’s in the bible!”
Proof-texting is often harmful to use if one is trying to gain a full understanding of a message. Failing to use the full context of the Bible by simply picking out a few verses to stand on, precludes the need to view the writing from the correct cultural, historical, social, and linguistic point of view. After all, if a scholar or bible teacher uses a proof-texting manner to determine doctrine and disseminate teaching, he or she is unlikely to consider all the available writings on a topic. This proof-textor neglects to explore the other verses that support or refute the particular doctrine on which he or she has set their feet in concrete. We can find support in Scripture for any view or belief if we pick-and-choose the verses that seem to support our views. Unless we consider every passage that speaks to an issue, we really shouldn’t conclude how a doctrine or idea fleshes out.
For instance, there are verses that suggest polygamy is good and there are verses that speak against polygamy. There are verses that say the Mosaic law is done away with and there are verses that say the law brings life and will be the standard for believers in the future Kingdom of God. There are verses that say we should not try to gain wealth and there are verses that indicate great wealth is a blessing from Yahweh. Repeatedly, the Scriptures and apostolic witness are replete with verses and instructions that seem to contradict each other. These are known as “apparent contradictions.” Unless the entire counsel, that is the whole Scripture, is consulted on any matter, then the one consulting by using just a verse or two is “proof-texting”.
Did Bible Verses Sound The Same In The First Century As They Do To Us Today?
If some of the letters of the New Testament were available to the first century believer, then how would the first century hearer have understood the words they heard? It is not possible that the first century hearer had a 21st century mindset. Irrefutably, the listener would have had a first century Near-Eastern mindset. This mindset, vastly different than our mindset today, would have been found in first century Israel?
Studies of first century culture identify the Aramaic flavor of the Jewish culture. The culture of the New Testament period was drastically different from our culture today. History indicates that although the melting pot of Greco-Roman beliefs and values was inextricably mixed with “Jewish” culture, the predominant cultural mindset for the writers and the audience of the “New Testament” writings, was Hebraic and Aramaic. The issue of a mixed culture does explain some of the verses that seem to affirm the concept of a cosmic “Satan” but we will discuss those as they come up in the forthcoming catalogue of Satan in the “New Testament.” Get ready, because in a few pages you will be treated to the most compelling and logical view of every Satan passage in the New Testament. In the pages to come are explanations that make sense and I will share these with you in the remainder of this Volume and in Volume 4.
Looking at an Aramaic scholar’s understanding of the first century mindset and culture will be helpful to understanding the metaphorical and idiomatic usage of the words “satan”, “devil”, “demon”, and “unclean spirit” in the New Testament. We will see how the Hebraic/Aramaic mindset that was prevalent in the period, is profoundly different from the Western mindset many of us view the apostolic writings through today. Words only have meaning when used within and with an understanding of the cultural context. It is rudimentary to give a definition of words from lexicons or Greek linguists. It is a completely different and more equitable task to use the available resources and the source text itself to find the meaning of the words. The meaning of the word and term is far more beneficial than simply giving the definition of a word. With that in mind, we will try to see the words in question as they would have been used in the cultural period of the “New Testament.” We will be well served by frequently asking ourselves a very helpful question;
“What would a word in the New Testament mean
to that specific culture in that specific time?”
Words Mean Different Things At Different Times.
It is said that language has a major shift about every forty years. This makes sense as a generation is considered to be forty years by many. A word as simple as the word “gay” no longer means what it meant years ago. The word “gay” has almost no meaning of being a lighthearted, happy individual anymore as it did prior to the 70’s. The cultural understanding of the word “gay” has come to be understood in a vastly different manner than how it was understood a generation ago. Perhaps this is a simple example, and perhaps the word “gay” is used on occasion in an intentional way with the meaning it held in the 60’s and before. However, this word spoken to a 12-year-old child today typically has only one meaning - homosexual.
Below are three different dictionary entries for the word “gay” from three different periods in time. Take a look at how there has been such a drastic change in the meaning of the word “gay” since 1828;
Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary of American English
1. Merry; airy; jovial; sportive; frolicksome. It denotes more life and animation than cheerful.
Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay.
2. Fine; showy; as a gay dress.
3. Inflamed or merry with liquor; intoxicated; a vulgar use of the word in America.
GAY, n. An ornament. [Not used.]
The Standard Book of Essential Knowledge: The practical Self Educator Copyright 1949
Excited with merriment or delight; merry; sportive; frolicsome; fine; showy (a gay dress); given to pleasure, often to vicious pleasure; dissipated.
The New International Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language, Trident Press International Copyright 2002
1.Filled with or inspiring mirth; merry; sportive.
3. Loving pleasure; wanton.
3.Slang Homosexual; also intended for homosexuals: a gaybar.
Oh, That’s Just Sic!
Where the slang definition for gay as meaning “homosexual” did not appear in any of the earlier dictionaries, we see it found its way into later dictionaries as we note the appearance of it in the 2002 edition of Webster’s dictionary. Language today is different in many ways from the vernacular used forty or fifty years ago. A word that meant something in my generation means something very different in the present generation. To be sick/sic can mean you are excelling in a particular arena, be it social favor, athletic prowess, or other. To be “sick/sic” is readily heard today as a desirable position to be in because it now indicates to the hearer, particularly the younger segments of culture, a reference to a really cool thing, situation or position. I am not sure I am remembering the quote exactly but in a recent TV commercial for Nike™, we are shown the marketing team having a meeting to design a marketing campaign. After dialoguing about the wording to use in a commercial for the shoes, one of the middle-agers (perhaps thirty-somethings) concludes that the market they are after will understand the awesomeness of their shoes by the statement; “If you wear our shoes it’ll be so sick that it’s phat.” The group soon sees the audience will get the message the shoes are good quality and have a high degree of being seen as “cool.” For many in the senior age category today, they would not understand the message in the same way as a teen or early twenties listener would understand it. This is a case of language evolution and if given enough force, the new meaning of a word can often completely overshadow and render as non-existent, the old meaning of the word.
We deal with this evolving language situation in our daily lives all the time. Moreover, the concept is so well accepted, that when people hear a word or phrase that doesn’t make sense in the strict sense of hearing and interpreting the words alone, they try to understand it through the eyes of the culture they presently exist in. This is no less true for trying to understand the words we read in the Apostolic Testimony. Instead of arguing further my point of view that many of the words in the New Testament are misunderstood by the majority of teachers and scholars in Christianity today, I suggest we explore another plausible option for what is meant by some of the popularly quoted phrases. Phrases that are thought to be clear to most readers of the New Testament today. The only way to do this is to adhere to a number of foundational perspectives about the New Testament and the Scriptures in general. Based on sound biblical scholarship I suggest the following.
We must accept;
- the “New Testament” did not introduce new doctrine;
- that the Hebrew Scriptures teach us who and what a “satan” is;
- the language used that we see in English, can mean something quite different from what is presently understood;
- when the words are interpreted through a 2011 definition as opposed to 0050CE definition, the meaning is vastly different; and
- there has to be a plausible explanation for every passage about Satan in the “New Testament” that will reveal the testimony of the Apostles is in agreement with the testimony of the Torah the Psalms and the Prophets.
If one can look at a word or phrase used by the youth of 2011 in their everyday vernacular and recognize the colloquial properties of it, then perhaps one could ask if it is possible to determine the unique colloquial characteristics of the vernacular of 0050CE. We must try to understand what is meant of certain words and phrases in the New Testament by determining the meaning of the words and terms as was intended over 1900 years ago. Hebrew and Aramaic are not the same as Greek when the language styles are looked at.
In an article by Dennis Bratcher on the word meanings for Old Testament Theology and Study, we are taught comprehensively on concepts relating to biblical language. Bratcher teaches how to interpret and understand a language we are so far removed from. There is lots of interesting info on his web site and Bratcher’s teaching material is comfortably grounded in sound biblical study and exegesis. Things I have learned from this writer are numerous and the fact that many of His teachings on Biblical interpretation focus on “Old Testament” language does not mean the concepts are not to be applied to the “New Testament.” Without fully engaging in the debate of whether the “New Testament” has a Hebrew language origin or not, it is clear that the writers are writing from a Hebrew perspective. That is to say, the mindset of the Hebrew authors of what is called the New Testament today was much more Hebraic/Aramaic than it was Greek, Roman, or English. Aside from some minor character differences, the Hebrew perspective on life, religion, faith, and language, appears to be akin to Aramaic. Bratcher adds this insight on the issue with a specific address to the word “demon”;
In spite of the translations, there is no word in Hebrew equivalent to the English word "demon," nor any word that communicates the same meaning that the term communicates in English as a malevolent being in the service of the devil out to destroy humans. That idea today has been shaped by the imagination of medieval writers and popularized in the modern church in terms of evil beings against which Christians need to wage "spiritual warfare." Yet, the ancient Israelites lived in a world in which that view of "demons" was not part of their culture or way of thinking.
This disparity between our own modern notions and what lies behind the Hebrew terms and concepts often leads to misunderstanding the point of the biblical text and what it communicates. It is always a good idea to read what the biblical text actually says about a topic, and understand the passage against the social and cultural background of ancient Israel and the early church before we impose too many of our modern assumptions and preconceptions about meaning onto Scripture.
Was The New Testament Originally A Hebrew Document?
A Hebrew origin for many of the “New Testament” writings seems likely when we consider the testimony of early second century writers. Many of these men claim such things as the book of Matthew was an originally Hebrew document, as well as other strong arguments. Many of these arguments are made based on the undeniable use of Hebraisms and Hebrew concepts in the “New Testament” writings. It is broadly accepted the Aramaic language and culture of which Yeshua and the first century Apostles existed in, is almost imperceptibly the same as Hebrew.
As for the Hebrew origins of the apostolic documents, it is almost certain that whether they were written by the authors indicated in the titles at the top of the documents, or even by their successors, they would have originally written them in either Hebrew or in the language of the day. The language of the day would have been Aramaic. Yeshua spoke Aramaic and the common language of a Hebrew individual in that period would have been Aramaic. Indeed some Greek, Latin, and Hebrew were spoken. However, if the writers of the “New Testament” were the Jewish apostles as is claimed, then it would have been unlikely the documents penned by them were written in a language other than a Hebrew or Aramaic dialect. It is rarely disputed that Jesus spoke and taught his Disciples in Aramaic and the consensus of documentary evidence reports the parables of Jesus were passed on in the Hebrew language. It is important to understand the mindset of the writers of the New Testament if we want to understand the meaning of the words they wrote. The likelihood of the apostolic writings being originally communicated in a Hebraic/Aramaic tone is significant. In the first century, the Roman Empire was firmly in control of Israel and the Hebrew language, which had been a lost tongue for some time because of the Persian exile, had been replaced by Aramaic. Aramaic was a parallel in many ways to the Hebrew language. The Wikipedia internet encyclopedia tells the story of the Aramaic Language much better than I can, below are two excerpts from the entry on this topic.
Around 500 BCE, Darius I made Aramaic the official language of the western half of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. …
Imperial Aramaic is sometimes called Official Aramaic or Biblical Aramaic. For centuries after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire (in 331 BCE), Imperial Aramaic as prescribed by Darius, or near enough for it to be recognisable, remained the dominant language of the region.
Languages during Jesus' lifetime
During Jesus' lifetime, in the first century CE of Israel's Roman Period, Jews are believed to have spoken Hebrew and Aramaic. Additionally, Koine Greek was an international language of the Roman administration and trade, and was widely understood by those in the urban spheres of influence. Latin was spoken in the Roman army, but had almost no impact on the linguistic landscape.
In addition to the formal, literary dialects of Aramaic based on Hasmonaean and Babylonian there [were] a number of colloquial Aramaic dialects. Seven dialects of Western Aramaic were spoken in the vicinity of the land of Israel in Jesus' time. They were probably distinctive yet mutually intelligible. …
Galilean Aramaic, the dialect of Jesus' home region, is only known from a few place names, the influences on Galilean Targumic, some rabbinic literature and a few private letters. It seems to have a number of distinctive features: …
The three languages mutually influenced each other, especially Hebrew and Aramaic. Hebrew words entered Jewish Aramaic (mostly technical religious words but also everyday words like ‘ēṣ 'wood'). Vice versa, Aramaic words entered Hebrew (not only Aramaic words like māmmôn 'wealth' but Aramaic ways of using words like making Hebrew rā’ûi, 'seen' mean 'worthy' in the sense of 'seemly', which is a loan translation of Aramaic ḥāzê meaning 'seen' and 'worthy')
Knowing the language of the day was Aramaic does cause one to think that it might make sense to have had the very first, the original writings of the Apostles, in Aramaic if they were written during their lifetime. If by chance they were written in Hebrew, the understanding of the terms and metaphors would be in line with those that an Aramaic speaker and listener would comprehend.
Whether Greek Or Aramaic It’s Hebrew In Meaning
As far as translating the writings of the “New Testament”, one need not prove which language they were originally written in because one can see the mindset of the writer would have been very Hebrew/Aramaic. Whether the language was Greek, Latin, Hebrew, or Aramaic, we soon see from the style, structure and tone of the words that the mind behind the words was Hebrew. Concepts learned from Bratcher are things such as; not hanging too much weight on single words in a specific translations. This is a very common mistake of those who don’t pursue understanding the words at a rudimentary level, with the cultural and historical background of the original language in view. I agree with Bratcher who asserts that becoming an expert in Hebrew is not required but extra effort will be required to correctly understand the meaning of the writer in many of the cases of ancient Biblical writings. They who believe they can simply read the Greek or English words of the New Testament and take them at face-value without working to understand the culture of the time they were written in, are tragically uninformed.
Bratcher also teaches that English is a precision language. Unlike Hebrew and Aramaic, English targets precision when communicating. Conversely, the pronounced dependence on context and rhetorical shaping is the pattern of the Hebrew language. Context and rhetoric is not to be interpreted apart from the cultural and historical references. We will see by looking at a more correct understanding of the combined word meanings that the Hebrew Apostles would have communicated in a Hebrew style of language. Seeing the broad meanings of words is often the path to successful communication of the message as opposed to defining literal speech.
Why Handicap Our Understanding?
It is apparent that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament often said what they meant in a way that is not understandable today. In essence, any word or term the Hebrew writers of the “New Testament” used to communicate, must be understood against the backdrop of Hebrew thought and the instruction contained in the Torah the Psalms and the Prophets. The Hebraic worldview is far more Eastern in its style and form than it is Western. Therefore a Western mindset unduly imposed on an Eastern text, will definitely render the hearer handicapped to understand the original meaning and intent of the author. I find it interesting that our Western mode of scientific thought, with algorithmic and linear manners of viewing the world, have been imposed on the words of the “New Testament.” The result of imposing a current view onto an ancient Aramaic idea has affected the understanding of the satan. What was understood as a metaphor for sin in a man’s heart has been molded into a being called “Satan.” Sadly, today there are many who have an earnest desire to see metaphysical signs and phenomenological representations. This intense desire causes them to refuse to look critically at some of the words and their original meanings in the “New Testament.” The hyper-spiritual person who has carté blanche accepted so many of the false ideas about satan and demonic phenomenon, abjectly refuses to look through a less tinted pair of glasses in order to properly understand the concept of Satan as well as other doctrines like demonic possession. The fact that there is a dichotomy of views between the Western and Eastern worldviews is a huge factor that has led to the idea of “satan” and “demons” being seen as tangible entities. Allow me to quote Bratcher on this next point. He states it so clearly I don’t want you to miss out on his thought, please pay special attention to the end of the quote which I have highlighted for emphasis.
Two thousand years of Christian interpretation cast in radically different philosophical assumptions than was most of the Old Testament often causes us to hear the Faith of the early church when reading the Old Testament rather than hearing the Hebrew terms for what they communicated apart from that later accretion of meaning. For example, “salvation” means something quite different in the Old Testament than it does in Christian doctrine.
None of this means that we must despair of ever understanding these terms. But it does call for a careful and intentional effort in trying to hear what the biblical text communicates with these terms. We cannot just assume that a single English word used in translation says everything that needs to be said about the meaning. This also suggests to us that some meanings that we have accepted as clear and normative, upon closer inspection of the Hebrew terms that lie behind them, may need to be reexamined in light of what the Hebrew words actually mean in context.
Can We Rethink How We Understand Certain Words?
It is so important to accept that some meanings we have agreed on for words and phrases may need to be inspected a little closer. We may need to do so to determine what lies behind the word or phrase. Obviously, we must try to determine what is the original focus, intention, and use of a term. Basically we have two options. We can just accept everything we have been taught by all our parents and Sunday school teachers, most of our Rabbis and scholars, and thousands of our Pastors and Preachers as correct; or we can exercise our right to understand the original intent and meaning of a word or term in its cultural context. Doing so causes us to use our own brains to get to the bottom of it through study and exploration. I hope you choose the latter path on this one, as millions of others have who have come to more sound conclusions on what the words about “satan” in the Bible are saying.
An Idiom Removed From Its Culture Can Be Confusing.
Before we talk of the Aramaic mindset in comparison to the Greek mindset as it relates to the “New Testament” writings, I would like to talk about an important piece of the puzzle. Many Hebrew idioms have been lost from our understanding or have suffered the fate of becoming literally interpreted when the words were translated into the Greek language and written in a body of literature. The Hebrew and Aramaic dialect are full of idiomatic expressions, metaphorical language, hyperbole, personification, simile, and mytho-poetic tone. All this is done by the writer with an expectation that the reader knows not to take the words literally in the majority of cases. Hebrew concepts cannot always be easily explained through a simple Greek word. This language barrier makes for a challenge in interpretation of the language the Greek uses. Knowing that the intended thought is not clear from the literal definition of the provided Greek word, directs us to assess the idiomatic terminology of the Hebrew mind. Where Hebrew uses a metaphor to describe something, the Greek frequently translates it by employing a literal label or descriptor for the word or term. And the English doesn’t come any closer to what was meant by the Hebrew minded writer.
“Adversary” In Hebrew Is Satan In English And Greek
We need to be extra careful when looking at the word Satan. the use of the term “adversary”, which is the meaning of the Hebrew word sawtawn, is usually mistaken to refer to a cosmic enemy. The word is sawtawn in Hebrew and satanas in the Greek and it is a term that generally depicts a behavior of a person or force of
nature that is adversarial or oppositional to someone or something. However, when translated into Greek and English the term is inappropriately given wings and identified as a literal, active, autonomous creature called “Satan.” Where the Hebrew uses an idiomatic expression or a personification of a concept, the Greek affixes a literal noun to it. With its inherent weakness to flow successfully out of the meaning intended by a Hebraic writer, the Greek language implies a concrete form, a tangible entity if you will. When the Hebrew term suggests an internal impetus for an action, or dynamic behavior, the Greek is often left to generate its own literal understanding of the Hebrew action or behavior by turning it into a noun. Where Hebrew language intended to describe something with a verb or adjective, the Greek forced it to become a noun or proper noun. The evil inclination was called the sawtawn in Hebrew but in many cases Greek language extends the meaning of that adjective to become the proper noun “Satan” . We see an example of morphing an adjective into a noun from the game of Golf right in our own language. Look at how the description of something can be turned into the name of something as it is given a name by the culture that is able to understand it in context.
Green Is A Name And A Color
The Golf Green
When you walk through a field and the grass is wet from the dew, you look down as the droplets of moisture splash off your shoes and you notice the luxurious color of the grassy ground cover beneath your feet. You have never seen it so rich, but this shade of green, at this time of day, with this morning sunlight is a feast for the eyes. Ah! green…a beautiful color which in this context indicates the life and health of the grass.
The next morning at your 6 a.m. golf game, you look at the fairway on the second hole and as you tee up your ball to drive from the tee box, you again are reminded of the luxurious color of the carpet-like covering beneath your club head just before you swing and make perfect contact with the ball. The fairway grass is short and the dew covering the far end of the fairway has already dried from soaking up the early morning sun. You watch your ball bounce twice and then stand up on your toes to watch it roll as it moves closer to the target and doesn’t seem to be slowing down too much. “Nice shot,” your golf buddy says, “What an amazing roll you got. Your about four feet short of the Green!”
There it is, the “green”, as an adjective describing the color of the grass has become the “Green,” a full-on proper noun with a capital letter and all. No one existing in the context of the golf game would think you are describing a colorful, bladed, natural carpet but clearly understands you are referencing the putting surface which you are going to be putting on for birdie right away. And this has occurred right in our own language. How does this happen? Does it happen often? How can a word used to describe a characteristic be changed into a title or name of something?
Here’s another example. Let me ask you if you have ever had one of those Japanese seedless mandarins around the holiday season when they are 6 bucks a box? What color is it? Oh, “orange” you say. Well what do call that seedless mandarin that always proves to be a pleasure to eat because it is so juicy and sweet? Oh, an “Orange.” Oh my goodness there it is again, the description of an object has become its name. Something which was colored orange became the “Orange.”
In using the word Green to name the place where the pin is on a Golf course, the present day hearer fully understands you are talking about a well-groomed piece of grassy land that can be found at the end of a fairway on a golf course. The hearer today knows this GREEN has a small receptacle cut into it to putt your golf ball into when you have finished hitting your ball and walking down the “green” fairway. Even on prairie golf courses that once used sand for the putting surfaces we still call it a Green. One would never call the fairway a “Green” even though it is also green in color. Could you call a granny smith apple a “Green” because it is green in color? I don’t think so.
How about if you call someone stupid by saying they are as dumb as a rock? You are describing what you perceive to be a behavior or attribute of that person, yet when discussing this person with your buddies on the golf course you say, “Boy I can’t believe what a Rock John is sometimes!” Used frequently enough John might begin to be called “Rock” by his friends thus turning the label into a proper noun. Not the best nickname to display intelligence but when done by friends it might have an endearing tone. However, is the subject of your comment really a rock? Hardly, but in using that term within the context and culture that is understandable to the hearers, they will perceive you are saying so and so is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The same can be said of many descriptors used to indicate the qualities, characteristics, attributes, or behaviors of a subject. When the New Testament says “Satan” is attacking someone or influencing someone, it is no more likely meaning a real entity is at work in a human than is booze a living entity at work in the drunk. Consider the statement “It’s the Booze talking” when the drunken fool makes a stupid comment to the doorman at the door of a night club. Booze is not an entity any more than satan is an entity.
In the article on the Septuagint from Wikipedia internet encyclopedia, the discussion of how there are difficulties in translating Hebrew concepts and thoughts into Greek language enumerates a number of issues. One such issue points to the difficulty in moving idiomatic phrases and words across the language barrier so as to adequately represent them in the Greek. I might add the Greek is the standard from which most “Old Testaments” have been translated into English and is practically the exclusive language that all versions of the present “New Testament” have been translated from.
Differences as a result of idiomatic translation issues (i.e. Hebrew idioms may not translate into Greek easily, thus some difference is intentionally or unintentionally imparted.) For example, in Psalm 47:10 the MT reads "The shields of the earth belong to God.” The LXX reads "To God are the mighty ones of the earth. The metaphor "shields" would not have made much sense to a Greek speaker; thus the words "mighty ones" are substituted in order to retain the original meaning.
In translating the Greek word sawtawn we find this language barrier has presented some difficulty. This term has become a proper noun in our understanding when it was really a Hebrew word, sawtawn, which described the behavior of the subject as adversarial. One can find this term is intended to describe the adversarial behavior of an individual acting either against Yahweh, against him or herself, or against another individual. This term also does well at describing the adversarial force that emanates from Yahweh. An action of God that comes as a response to human activity that is in need of correcting via judgment.
Sawtawn Became Satanas in Greek
The use of the Hebrew term sawtawn is visible in the Apostolic Testimony where the Greek word satanasis used. That is to say, where the Greek language uses the word satanas, which becomes the English word Satan, the original term underneath that Greek word is a Hebrew term for adversary. One only needs to agree the writer was Hebrew and lived in an Aramaic culture where he had a Hebrew/Aramaic base for his writings. It is not a stretch to assert the writer of any one of the New Testament documents wrote to relay his message in the vernacular of the Aramaic culture he lived in. He wrote so his audience of the day could understand the message not so our audience today could understand. One must also agree that the Hebrew writer, whether he wrote in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek, would not betray the Hebrew Scriptures or the Hebrew cultural meaning. It is from those sources and perspective he had gained all the instruction and knowledge that brought him to be a Hebrew Disciple of a Hebrew Messiah. A Messiah who had come to teach the proper understanding of the Hebrew Law. What then do we need to understand a little better about the Aramaic culture that hosted Yeshua and His followers in the first century? I am going to lean on the available resources on Aramaic culture, customs, and language. Many of these scholars have been introduced previously in Volume I of Satan Christianity’s Other God. However, scholarly work on the Aramaic flavor of the writings is often rejected by contemporary Christianity. This concept is given little credence by contemporary Christian theologians because it is outside the box of their traditional view of what they believe about the New Testament. However, I trust you will make your own assessment and resist standing on the opinion of me or any other who claims to know and teach the Bible. Keep exploring as long as you need to. I guarantee it will pay off.
Aramaic To Greek Does Leave Some Word Meanings Intact
As an example of the influence and uses of Aramaic language in the apostolic period, we can take note of the number of Aramaic words that have been brought over into the English translations of today’s “New Testament.” There are 12 Aramaic phrases in the “New Testament” and a number of other Aramaic words that were copied directly out of available sources. These Aramaic words and phrases were placed in the Greek version of the NT. Aramaic names of places as well as personal names are seen in the NT. When viewed alongside the dozen Aramaic phrases, including those that proceeded from the Messiah’s mouth, we begin to see the Greek copyists would not have had an original Greek document. The presence of these Aramaic words is evidence that the writer did not start with a Greek document and then place an Aramaic word in where the original Greek word was. Neither would the copyists likely have had a Hebrew original document and then in translation to Greek, decide to apply an Aramaic word in place of the Hebrew word found in the document they were presently using to generate a Greek translation.
Evidence is strong for an other than Greek original and the popular take of many scholars is to stand on an Aramaic Primacy view of the New Testament. While numerous Aramaic primacy arguments are raised up, often fortified and “proven”, there are always acceptable arguments to disprove the Aramaic Primacy view. The argument as to what the original language of the New Testament writings is may not be so important in order to resolve our issue. I do not believe there is a need to have proof of the original language of the writings. What will benefit, is simply determining that the “New Testament” is not Scripture. In so doing we find there really is little value to determining or affirming the original written language for this discussion. Validity and authority of the “New Testament” has long been in question and as was shown in Volume 2, Imagine There’s No Satan – How Satan Got Into The New Testament, the New Testament is clearly not authoritative to determine a doctrine of Satan. Even in questioning the language and the authority, one cannot refute the fact that the mind behind the words was a Hebraic or Aramaic mind.
One cannot dispute the existence of layers of Hebrew and Aramaic speaking culture underneath the historical Greek text. Along with the recently quoted Dennis Bratcher, George Lama’s and Andrew Gabriel Roth’s scholarship are arguably some of the most convincing collections of scholarship that testify to the Aramaic mindset of the writers and of the culture of the first century. That was a culture that communicated in so many idioms and metaphors, that if North Americans today were to hear a dialogue of people from this culture, we would be hard pressed to understand the meaning of the speakers. Mr. Roth makes great sense of this concept in his work;
My approach is to look at the full breadth and dimension of Semitic linguistics as a way to ascertain the proper meanings of the Hebraic idioms in the B'rit Chadashah[New Testament]. This is done by first looking at the Aramaic word used in a given New Testament passage, and then seeing how it tracks throughout the text for its breadth of meaning.
Once this task is completed, then we can turn to Tanakh [Old Testament] to find the Hebrew counterpart that best expresses the same idea. In many cases, because of the close proximity of the two languages, these words are identical.
A further advantage in using the Aramaic New Testament is that when these words from Tanakh do match up, we can be sure that the full transmission of the intended meanings is accomplished. In other words, Hebrew and Aramaic are languages that tend to have many meanings within a given phrase. However, Greek and English have the opposite trend, usually having one discrete meaning per word. As a result, when we translate a Hebrew/Aramaic phrase into Greek, confusion can often arise. Either the depth of meaning of the Hebrew/Aramaic word is not carried over into Greek, or the way the Greek word might be understood in another context does not match up with the original Semitic intent.
Would The Apostles Who Spoke The New Testament Oppose The Old?
There is one important thing to keep in mind when studying the writings called the “New Testament.” We can be one-hundred percent assured that the writers would not claim to be Hebrew-Israelite-Jews, worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, testifying to the death and resurrection of the Hebrew Messiah, and then proceed to oppose the clearly understood Scriptural teaching that there is not a “Satan.” The spiritual men who are said to have written the New Testament were raised as Jews and were Hebrew believers in Messiah. There is no chance they would testify to a cosmic evil being that is acting in the role of the arch-fiend of Yahweh and man while trying to take over the universe. With the foundational understanding that what is taught in the Hebrew Scriptures cannot be changed by the Apostolic Testimony nor can a new doctrine be introduced, we will then be equipped to determine what is meant by the words of the Greek New Testament when it uses words like “Satan,” “demon” and “devil.” If something different is meant than what the words seem to be saying, then can we understand what is being said in the New Testament? Is there a way to uncover the author’s intent? What is the message that is given by a Hebraic thinker that underlies the words we see on the page? Words that to a Western thinker speak of a tangible devil. The long answer is only reached by going methodically through the apostolic writings and assessing each occurrence of anything related to Satan as we come across it. When doing so we must uphold the message in the context of each occurrence.
We Still Need To Honor The Context Of Each Passage.
The context of one use of the word “Satan” may differ from the context of another use, as would also be the case for devil, demon, and unclean spirit. All these words mean something different than what you and I have been taught by common religion and culture. And although the short answer is that the term “satan” means to speak of the evil inclination in man or a human adversary that opposes man, we will see more clearly by spending a valuable chunk of time going through every passage that uses
the word “Satan.” We will also investigate all of the passages that use demon, devil, unclean spirit and the like. As we begin this exercise, I must remind you that the words and the writings we are assessing are not Scripture. Also of importance to share with you, is that as a writer and researcher; I cannot guarantee that my interpretive opinion of what is being said is 100% accurate all the time. There are too many specifics missing from the New Testament to interpret the situation with complete accuracy. If you contend with my assertion that the New Testament is not “scripture” then I refer you to Volume 2 in this series. In that book you will be amazed at how clearly I show the New Testament was not considered Scripture by any of the Apostles or by Jesus… therefore, we are mistaken to believe the decision of the early Catholic Fathers who claim the New Testament is Scripture.
Is There Another Possible Suggestion To What Satan Is?
My objective is to present you with another option, a more informed concept, for understanding the “New Testament” as it relates to “Satan.” Some of the following writing is more encyclopedic than it is prosaic in that I have attempted to catalogue every account of “satan” or the associated terms as well as identify the strong arguments from the apostolic writings that show how man’s heart and motivational force is the “adversary” that guides man to choose to do evil. The result of the following commentary will hopefully be more of reference guide than it will read like a novel. Please don’t expect yourself to read through this entire volume in one or two sittings. You may find the repetitive aspect of a number of interpretations for various passages might be an inhibitor to encouraging extended continuous reading. Do consider there are often paragraphs that contain nuggets of illuminating information on context in the following pages, so I suggest you pick through these pages over the course of time as you begin to answer questions about what is meant by the terms for “satan” in the New Testament.
In some cases, I will present two possibilities for an understanding of the focus text. With the dimness of understanding many of us have held thus far in our lives, it is prudent to accept there must be a more correct understanding for many passages that speak of Satan.
The cornerstone for the following interpretations is this; that because there is no “Satan” doctrine in the “Old Testament”, then there must be plausible explanations for the terms representing Satan in the “New Testament.”
In saying this, I am admitting there may be room to move in some of my arguments and explanations of stories we encounter along the way. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable to the point that I am submitting some subjective opinion on what is meant by the terms relating to “Satan” in the “New Testament.” It is possible a more precise answer to the question exists. However, any plausible answer must be based on the same premise of, if there is no “Satan” then the verses in the New Testament must mean something other than what we have been told they mean for years.
Is It Even Possible To Know What The Writer Meant?
Some may say we can’t know or understand for sure exactly what the writer meant, and it’s possible that’s correct. I am inclined to consider however, that when Yeshua was going to leave the earth He said He would send us His Spirit that would “lead us into all truth.” If this is true as spoken by the Messiah, then I believe it is possible to conclude the matter, conceptually speaking, if one is willing to lay his or her present understanding down and entertain a full critical assessment of the issue. We can do this by exploring the idea of a supernatural Satan in a way we have resisted before. My earnest desire is that you will be inspired to place your own opinion of the verses relating to our topic in front of others. Discussing and digesting, digesting and discussing. In that way we can all benefit by breaking through the concrete barrier of hundreds of years of tradition and skewed teaching. Teaching that has been taken from a skewed understanding, which is far from that of a people and period the stories about Satan came from.
In this exploration, as we brush past the gates of Hell and watch them close forever before our eyes, we will see how our thinking needs to change. Changing, to think less like a Greek theologian, is necessary if we intend to see who the Devil was that Jesus knew.
 Dennis Bratcher’s work can be accessed here: http://www.crivoice.org/demonsot.html
 Demons in the Old Testament -Issues in Translation,
Dennis Bratcher, http://www.crivoice.org/demonsot.html
 From the article titled, “Hebrew and Aramaic Terms, Word Meanings for Old Testament Theology and Study”, by Dennis Bratcher. http://www.crivoice.org/terms/wordhebrew.html
 Taken from the article on Wikipedia website titled “Septuagint” Article can be viewed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint#Language_of_the_Septuagint
 The Path to Life: Understanding The 18 Greatest Mistakes In New Testament Interpretation – By Andrew Gabriel Roth
 Please write me for an e-book copy of Volume 2- Imagine There’s No Satan. I would be happy to forward a copy in order to aid you in understanding how the New Testament is not Scripture. I can be contacted through my website, www.imaginenosatan.com or by email
Now for a sneak peek at . . .
CHAPTER 3 - Think Like A Greek And You’ll See Satan (A Sneak Peek )
To come to a correct understanding of the Greek writings as they affirm the Hebrew Scriptures, it is vital we recognize the difference in thought and language between Hebrew thinkers and Greek thinkers. It is really quite simple. The style of thinking and writing that is expressed in the Hebrew mind is dramatically different than the style of thinking and writing that comes from a Greek mind.
In “Who Wrote the New Testament” by Burton Mack, we are given an example of difference in thought betwixt Hebrews and Greeks. Mack writes of the contrast in thought regarding the word “raised”, as in speaking of Christ being “raised” from the dead. This is only one example of a word that produces a different idea when seen through the eyes and ears of a Hebrew thinker as opposed to through the eyes and ears of a Greek thinker. To a Greek there was no resurrection of the physical body and the Greek word used to express someone being raised would not have been thought of as a physical raising by the Greeks. On the contrary, “being raised” would have meant a literal resurrection of the physical body in the mind of the Hebrew thinker. (To
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