Satan in the Thought of Lactantius and Athanasius

In the third and fourth centuries, Lactantius and Athanasius appeared as the leading Christian thinkers about the Devil. They continued the struggle to justify belief in a personal, fallen angel Devil against the obvious holes in the argument. In doing so they succeeded in accreting [expanding] yet more to the Devil idea, at times backtracking to or contradicting the arguments of previous “fathers”, as well as adding their own variations on the theme.

Lactantius especially developed the idea of dualism towards its logical conclusions. Dualism was the error picked up by the Jews in captivity which influenced the first significant corruption of the Biblical concept of the Devil and Satan. They had been influenced by the old Persian idea that there is a god of evil who somehow mirrors and stands in independent opposition to the God of love. This idea remained embedded in Judaism and eventually crept into early Christianity¹. Lactantius really became obsessed with the idea, and concluded that Christ and Lucifer were originally both angels, sharing the same nature, but Lucifer fell “for he was jealous of his elder brother [Jesus]” (Divine Institutes 3.5). This idea meshed in with the growing departure from the Biblical position that Jesus was the begotten Son of God and as such had no personal existence in Heaven before His birth. The whole of Hebrews 1 and 2 are devoted to emphasizing the superiority of Christ over the angels, and how He had to be human in order to save us; and that He was a human and not an Angel precisely because He came to save humans and not Angels. But that was overlooked due to the pressing need to explain how Christ and Lucifer were somehow parallel with each other. And of course Lactantius created another problem for Christianity by claiming that Christ was of the same nature with Lucifer—for if that nature was capable of sinning and falling, then what guarantee is there that one day Christ may not likewise fall, and the whole basis of our salvation come crashing down? The Persians believed that the good god would always win out over the evil god; but that was their assumption. If there are indeed these two gods, why assume one is bound to win? Not only does the Bible insist this theology is untrue (e.g. Isaiah 45:5-7); but if there are indeed two gods, why make the a priori assumption that the good god has to win out? What concrete evidence is there for that, beyond blind hope?

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Author: Duncan Heaster

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Bible reference(s): 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6-9, Job 1:12, Job 2:1-7, Isaiah 14:12, Zechariah 3:1-2, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 12:26, Matthew 13:19, Matthew 13:38-39, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 25:41, Mark 1:13, Mark 3:23, Mark 3:26, Mark 4:15, Mark 8:33, Luke 4:2-5, Luke 4:13, Luke 8:12, Luke 10:18, Luke 11:18, Luke 13:16, Luke 22:3, Luke 22:31, John 6:70, John 8:44, John 13:2, John 13:27, John 17:15, Acts 5:3, Acts 10:38, Acts 13:10, Acts 26:18, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 3:6, 1 Timothy 3:7, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, Jude 1:9, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 2:24, Revelation 3:9, Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:12, Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:10

Source: “The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration.”

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