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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The importance of the subject of the "Evil One" is greater than most people may imagine. It is common to think it is of no importance at all to know what the truth of the matter may be. This will not be maintained by those who estimate matters by the Bible standard of importance. By this standard, it is made of prime importance to understand the mission of Christ among mankind; and one of the primary aspects of this mission lays hold of the subject of the devil. First as to his works (whatever we may find these to be), John says: "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3: 8). Then as to the devil himself, we are informed by Paul (Heb. 2: 14) that the very object of Christ's assumption of the nature common to man, was that "through death he might destroy . . . the devil". It is manifest, therefore, that it is no empty discussion that is raised when we enquire who the devil is that Christ came to destroy. We must know him, or we fail to comprehend one of the most vital aims of the work of Christ.

The Alteration In The Lord's Prayer

We consider first, the alteration in the Lord's prayer in the Revised Version of the Bible. The petition there stands: "Deliver us from the Evil One". Is this translation justifiable? In plain cases it is unquestionable that the Reviser's acquaintance with the usages and idioms of the Greek tongue qualified them to render reliably into English the ideas expressed in the Greek: but suppose a case that is not plain, and on which their doctrinal predilections would incline the scale, it is evident their reliability in that case would be a little in question. This is just such a case. It is a case surrounded with uncertainty. They have shown this by the way they have presented the alteration. They have not given us the phrase "The Evil One" in plain unchallengeable Roman letters. "The Evil" comes out boldly enough, in Roman type, but then there is a falter, and the word "one", which is the pith of the alteration, emerges modestly and uncertainly in italics.

The meaning of italic letters in such a connection, must, of course, be known to everyone: it is an intimation to the English reader what the word so printed is not in the original. If such English reader is tempted to ask, "Why introduce such words at all if they are not in the original?" The answer is that they are often needed to complete the expression of the sense of the original. The structure of the Greek and Hebrew languages is so different from English as to make a word-for-word translation impossible; and it often happens that additional words are needed in English to complete the expression of an idea which in the original is only hinted at. In the majority of cases the necessity for the additional words is so self-evident that the added words legitimately form part of the translation and need not be italicized: in some cases, however, there is room for doubt, and therefore the safe rule is adopted of italicizing in all cases where the words used in the translation have no corresponding terms in the original. By this means, the English reader is, to some extent, placed on a level with those who can read the text in the original.

But the case in question is one of extreme doubt. The highest authorities differ. There is as much weight of learning on the side of the old translation "deliver us from evil", as on the side of the new. Not only so, but the Revisers themselves who give us "the evil one" give the reader the liberty of choice between "the evil one" and the old translation "evil". Not only have they italicized the essential word in the altered translation, but they state in the margin that "evil" may be read instead of "the Evil one".

Who Is The Devil?

The question that must govern all grammatical criticism on the subject, is, "Who is the devil?" or, "Who is the evil one?"

There can be no doubt that the popular conception of the devil is largely due to Milton's work, Paradise Lost. But when we ask scriptural evidence in support of it, we are referred to various parts of the Bible which may be woven into a tolerably complete argument in its favour, if we are at liberty to wrench them from their place and surroundings, and piece them together without the least reference to the significance imparted to them by their several contexts. If we judge them by their contexts, we find them to have no relevancy to the subject whatever. Indeed, nothing tends more effectually to dissipate the popular theory of the Evil One than the study of these portions of scripture. Let us glance at them in the order in which they come naturally to be adduced.

The Serpent In Eden

We are first referred to the garden of Eden. We read the account of the temptation and the fall. We ask where are we to find the popular devil in this transaction? We are directed to the tempter. We look at him. We find him a serpent-an animal. We say, "Here is the tempter, but where is the devil?" We are told the serpent was the devil in the shape of a serpent, or contained the devil who had taken possession of him. We ask for proof. There is none forthcoming except such as may be contained in an argument on the improbability of a serpent speaking unaided. The idea that the serpent was the popular devil in animal shape is perfectly gratuitous. It is unsupported by a single hint to this effect in the whole course of scripture. It is a pure piece of tradition. The only distinct allusion to the transaction in the scriptures discountenances the idea of "possession". It is in Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians, 11:3, where, expressing his fears for the steadfastness of the believers under trial, he says, "I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ". In this, Paul recognizes the serpent pure and simple as the tempter, his power to be which he attributes to "his subtlety".

It is doubtless a natural feeling that recoils from the idea of a serpent performing the intelligent part of the tempter of Eve in the garden of Eden; but let reason act, and the feeling will disappear. The narrative gives as nothing but the serpent. To add the devil to the serpent is to go beyond the record. Our business is to add nothing to the testimony, but to aim to understand it. A speaking serpent has not been disclosed in the records of natural history; but this does not exclude the possibility of such a creature at such a time if circumstances called for it. It is a mere question of throat mechanism, and the necessary nerves of volition. It is not, of course, in human power to produce such a mechanism, but a fool only would place it beyond divine power. It is authentically recorded (and Peter commends the record to our confidence) that a dumb ass was enabled to speak in rebuke of the madness of Balaam (Num. 22:28), and there is neither more nor less difficulty about the serpent. The parrot gives us the case of a speaking creature minus ideas. The Edenic serpent had both the ideas and the power to express them.

There is nothing in this impossible to be received in all the circumstances of the case. There was a need to put the obedience of Adam and Eve to the proof; and this required the plausible enticement of an external tempter. Left to themselves, obedience would have been a matter of course, but it is not obedience of this mild description that is well pleasing to God. Obedience under trial is what pleases God. To give Adam and Eve an opportunity for obedience of this sort, or to terminate and set aside the obedience they were rendering if it should prove of the flimsy order of a mere circumstantial compliance, the serpent provided the test. It was a divine arrangement with a divine object. The same principle was afterwards illustrated when "God did tempt Abraham" (Gen. 22:1), that is, put him to the proof, by requiring at his hands a performance which seemed on the face of it inconsistent even with God's own purposes in the case. There is no contradiction in this to James' deprecation of any man saying "I am tempted of God" (James 1:13), for, in the case of James' discourse, it is a question of enticing to evil for evil's sake. God never does this to a just man; He tries him, and in this sense, tempts him, which is another thing. We may be quite sure if we are children of God that some time or other, we shall be similarly put to the proof. To him that overcometh (offering the stout front of a determined obedience to God to all suggestions or incitements in any direction forbidden), will the palm of victory be finally awarded.

This view of the case harmonizes with the fact that the serpent is classified with "the beasts of the field which the Lord God had made". It also harmonizes with the sentence passed upon the serpent: "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle . . . dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Gen. 3:14), a sentence inexplicable upon the hypothesis either that the serpent was the devil in serpent shape, or that the serpent was a passive and irresponsible tool in the hands of external power. The suggestion that the supernatural adversary of God and man insinuated himself, with malevolent intent, into the happy environs of Eden, has only to be fairly looked at to be rejected as an anomaly-a pagan graft upon a simple and reasonable and divine narrative.

 Next Page
"The Fallen Angels"
"Lucifer, King of Babylon"
"The King of Tyre"
"The Woman, The Dragon, and The Man Child