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Unorthodox Interpretations Of Satan And Demons


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:12 AM

The following research was compiled by Brother Steve Snobelen in response to this challenge by Sir Anthony Buzzard:

‘Alan Eyre's informative book, The Protesters, traces the fascinating history of those who through the centuries have shared the "unorthodox" beliefs of the Christadelphians and groups such as the Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith. These tenets include the firm belief in the future millennial reign of Christ on earth, in the mortal soul, in One God, the rejection of the Trinity, and the refusal to take part in war.

It is however very remarkable that Eyre was able to find only two references to the extraordinary belief that Satan in the Bible refers to the evil in human nature, and not to a personal being.          

[…]         

It would also be fair to ask them [Christadelphians] to produce some evidence of this belief having been seriously entertained by anyone other than those who came under the influence of John Thomas and Robert Roberts.’


Research by Brother Steve Snobelen has produced the evidence requested by Buzzard.

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:12 AM

Men who rejected the concept of Satan or the Devil as a literal supernatural agent of evil, include the following:
  • 1651: Thomas Hobbes
  • 1695: Balthassar Bekker
  • 1727: Sir Isaac Newton
  • 1761: Hugh Farmer (at least in the account of Christ’s temptation)
  • 1791: William Ashdowne
  • 1804: John Simpson
  • 1842: John Epps
Men who rejected the concept of demons as literal supernatural agents of evil (arguing instead that they were physical sicknesses and illnesses), include the following:
  • 1651: Thomas Hobbes
  • 1695: Balthassar Bekker
  • 1727: Sir Isaac Newton
  • 1737: Arthur Sykes
  • 1742: Nathaniel Lardner
  • 1755: Richard Meade
  • 1804: John Simpson
  • 1842: John Epps
It is unlikely that any of these men ‘came under the influence of John Thomas and Robert Roberts’.

A copy of Brother Snobelen's research follows.

#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:13 AM

10/3/1998

SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

More elaborate testimonies of the biblical belief on the devil and demons came in the seventeenth century. One crucial and seminal exposition on demons came from the pen of Cambridge scholar Joseph Mede, who has been called the "father of English premillenarianism," and is thus a very important exegete in the history of the biblical belief in the Kingdom.

Mede's influential innovation was twofold. First, he raised the question of why demon possession should suddenly appear in the Gospels and then disappear immediately thereafter (Mede limited demon possession to the Gospel accounts).

Second, he argued that demon possession was to be equated with the pathology that in his day was called madness and lunacy.

It is not exactly clear whether Mede himself denied the literal existence of demons (in my opinion, it is safer to assume that he did not), but he nevertheless helped open the door to later exegetes who did come to this conclusion.

#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:13 AM

The important exposition comes in a dissertation entitled: "S. Iohn 10.20. He hath a Devill, and is mad," published in his posthumous DIATRIBAE. DISCOVRSES ON DIVERS TEXTS OF SCRIPTVRE: Delivered upon severall occasions (London 1642), pp. 120-131.

Below are two illustrative excerpts:

p. 122:

"Now, to come toward my Text; a like instance to this, I take to be that of the Daemoniacks so often mentioned in the Gospel: For I make no question, but that now and then [123] the same befals other men; whereof I have experience my selfe, to wit, To marvell how these Daemoniacks should so abound in, and about that Nation, which was the People of God; whereas in other Nations and their writings wee heare of no such; And that too, as it should seem, about the time of our Saviours being on earth onely; because in the time before we finde no mention of them in Scripture.

The wonder is yet the greater, because it seems notwithstanding all this, by the Story of the Gospel, not to have been accounted then by the people of the Jews, any strange or extraordinary thing, but as a matter usuall; nor besides is taken notice of by any forraine Story.

To meet with all these difficulties, (which I see not how otherwise can be easily satisfied) I am perswaded (till I shall heare better reason to the contrary) that these Daemoniacks were no other then such as well call mad-men, and Lunaticks; at least that we comprehend them under those names, and that therefore they both still are, and in all times and places [124] have been, much more frequent then we imagine. The cause of which our mistake, is that disguise of another name, and notion, then we conceive them by; which makes us take them to be diverse which are the same."


Whether or not Mede is saying demons are real and still afflict mankind, this was a crucial move that allowed others to go further and to use the same argument of uniformity of pathology to prove that what they called demons were nothing other then we call madness. Note also that Mede wants to confine demons possession to the Gospels--another crucial move.

#5 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:14 AM

p. 126:

"Having thus sufficiently stated, and explicated my assertion; now you shall hear what grounds I have for the same. First therefore, I prove it out of the Gospel it selfe, & that in the first place from this Scripture, which I have chosen for my text, Daimonion echei kai mainetai [transliterated from the Greek], he hath a Devil & is mad.

Where I suppose the latter words to be an explication of the former. Secondly, I prove it out of Mat. 17.15. where it is said, There came to our Saviour a certain man kneeling down to him, and saying; Lord have mercy on my sonne, hoti seleniazetai [transliterated from the Greek], because he is Lunatick and sore vexed; For oft times he falleth into the Fire, and [127] oft into the water.

That this Lunatick was a Dжmoniack, is evident both out of the 15. ver. of this Chapter, where it is said, Our Saviour rebuked the Devill and he departed out of him, and the child was cured from that very houre: As also out of the 9. of the Gospel of Saint Luke, where it is said of the self-same person, Lo, a spirit taketh him, and he cryeth out, and it teareth him, that he foameth againe, and bruising him, hardly departeth from him.

By comparing of these places, you may gather, what kind of men they were which Scripture calls Daimonizomenoi [transliterated]."


It is also interesting that Mede points out that Josephus and Justin Martyr believed demons to be departed spirits (pp. 128-9)

#6 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:14 AM

Mede also wrote an entire commentary on 1 Timothy 4:1, in which he outlined the rise of Gentile demonology. Mede took the phrase "doctrines of demons" in this work to be an objective genitive, that is, he believed the prophecy had reference to doctrines *about* demons, not doctrines *from* demons. This work was also published in 1642 and it full title is:

THE APOSTASY OF THE LATTER TIMES. In which, (according to divine prediction) the world should wonder after the Beast, the Mystery of Iniquity should so farre prevaile over the Mystery of Godlinesse, whorish Babylon over the virgin-Church of Christ; as that the visible glory of the True Church should be much clouded, the True unstained Christian Faith corrupted, the purity of the true worship polluted. OR, THE GENTILES THEOLOGY OF DAEMONS, i.e. inferiour divine powers:

Supposed to be mediators between God and man: Revived in the Latter Times amongst Christians, in worshipping of Angels, deifying and invocating of Saints, adoring and templing of Reliques, bowing downe to Images, worshipping of Crosses, &c.

All which, together with A true discovery of the Nature, Originall, Progresse, of the great, fatall, and solemn Apostasy, are cleared. Delivered in publique some years since upon I Tim. 4. 1,2,3. By Ioseph Mede B.D. and late Fellow of Christs Colledge in Cambridge. London 1642.


In this work Mede focused on demons as departed spirits and argued that the Catholic doctrine of saint worship and mediation was a form of demonology.

#7 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:15 AM

The next important work to deal with this general subject was Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan (1651). Usually treated as a study of political theory, a full half of Leviathan deals with theology--and a very radical theology at that. On almost every point, Hobbes presents doctrines that are in accord with biblical truth and directly at odds with orthodox teachings: he denies the immortal soul, eternal hell-fire, the orthodox trinity and heaven-going, and presents sound arguments for baptism by immersion and a Kingdom on earth. On the devil and demons, he rejects the orthodox conceptions as unbiblical.

Hobbes, like Mede, took the phrase "doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1) to be an objective genitive: "the Doctrine of Devils, signifieth not the Words of any Devill, but the Doctrine of Heathen men concerning Daemons, and those Phantasms which they worshipped as Gods (ch. 36, p. 288).

In another place, Hobbes asserts that those who are "in Tartarus, or in the bottomless pit [are] Corah, Dathan, and Abirom, [who] were swallowed up alive into the earth (ch. 39, p. 312).

Hobbes saw demons as pagan and as mere "Idols, or Phantasms of the braine, without any reall nature of their own, distinct from humane fancy; such as are dead mens Ghosts, and Fairies, and other matter of old Wives tales" (ch. 44, p. 418).

Note here again the association made between demons and ghosts.

#8 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:15 AM

Hobbes explains the presence of the language of demon possession in the Gospels with a variant of the accommodation approach (ch. 45, p. 442).

Like Mede, Hobbes noticed that preponderance of demons in the Gospel accounts and the lack of demon-possesion in his own time. On this problem, he came to the same conclusion as Mede (indeed, Hobbes may have been dependent on Mede to this):

"That there were many Daemoniaques in the Primitive Church, and few Mad-men, and other such singular diseases; whereas in these times we hear of, and see many Mad-men, and few Daemoniaques, proceeds not from the change of Nature; but of Names" (ch. 45, p. 445).



#9 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:15 AM

As for Satan, Hobbes rejected the literal, orthodox doctrine. In speaking of "The Enemy, or Satan; The Accuser, or Diabolus; The Destroyer, or Abaddon," Hobbes argues that these:

"significant names, Satan, Devill, Abaddon, set not forth to us any Individuall person, as proper names use to doe; but onely an office, or quality; and are therefore Appellatives; which ought not to have been left untranslated, as they are, in the Latine, and Modern Bibles; because thereby they seem to be the proper names of Daemons; and men are the more easily seduced to beleeve the doctrine fo Devills; which at that time was the Religion of the Gentiles, and contrary to that of Moses, and of Christ.

And because by the Enemy, the Accuser, and Destroyer, is meant, the Enemy of them that shall be in the Kingdome of God; therefore if the Kingdome of God after the Resurrection, bee upon the Earth, (as in the former Chapter I have shewn by Scripture it seems to be,) The Enemy, and his Kingdome must be on Earth also.

For so also was it, in the time before the Jews had deposed God. For Gods Kingdome was in Palestine; and the Nations round about, were the Kingdomes of the Enemy; and consequently by Satan, is meant any Earthly Enemy of the Church." (Ch. 38, p. 314).

(Incidently, Hobbes' material on the terrestial, political and future nature of the Kingdom of God makes wonderful reading, and can hold its own against the best exegesis of Christadelphians and members of the Church of God in this subject).



#10 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:16 AM

Hobbes treats the language of Satanic influence in the following way:

" . . . where St. Luke sayes of Judas Iscariot, that Satan entred into him, and thereupon that he went and communed with the Chief Priests, and Captaines, how he might betray Christ unto them: it may be answered, that by the Entring of Satan (that is the Enemy) into him, is meant, the hostile and traiterous intention of selling his Lord and Master.

For as by the Holy Ghost, is refrequently understood, the Graces and good Inclinations given by the Holy Ghost; so by the Entring of Satan, may bee understood the wicked Cogitations, and Designs of the Adversaries of Christ, and his Disciples.

For as it is hard to say, that the Devill was entred into Judas, before he had any such hostile designe; so it is impertinent to say, he was first Christs Enemy in his heart, and that the Devill entred into him afterwards. Therefore the Entring of Satan, and his Wicked Purpose, was one and the same thing" (ch. 45, p. 444).


It is interesting to see how similar this presentation is to that of the yetzer hara of the ancient Jews.

Finally, Hobbes took the wilderness temptation of Christ to be a vision (ch. 45, p. 443).

#11 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:16 AM

Another example of someone who came to understand the devil and demons in a less literal, orthodox way, was Isaac Newton, who may have arrived at these ideas through his own independent exegesis.

Newton saw Satan as a symbol and demons and ghosts as fictions, and he explained the language of demon possession with a variant of the accommodation approach.

I will be posting excerpts from Newton's remarkable writings on the devil and demons separately.

#12 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:17 AM

At the end of the seventeenth century, perhaps the most important work on the non-orthodox view of the devil and demons was published by the Amsterdam Calvinist pastor Balthassar Bekker. His extensive treatise on this topic was originally published in Holland in 1693 as De betoverde wereld.

A full translation was made into French, and an English translation was begun from the French, but it was unfortunately suppressed after the first volume appeared. It is fortunate, however, that the first English volume contains summaries of the rest of the work. The bibliographic details of the English partial publication are as follows:

The World Bewitch'd; Or, An examination of the common opinions concerning spirits: their nature, power, administration, and operations. As also, the effects men are able to produce by their communication. London: Printed for R. Baldwin, 1695.


This was a very influential and controversial work. Bekker argues against a literal view of Satan. He claims that the satan of Job was a human adversay and also presents arguments against literal demons. He takes the temptation of Christ in the wilderness to be a vision. He also sought to undermine and eliminate belief in witchcraft.

#13 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:18 AM

10/3/1998

THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

With the eighteenth century came a number of works on demons. One of the more important and seminal of these was Arthur Ashley Sykes's An enquiry into the meaning of demoniacks in the New Testament (London 1737).

Below are some gleanings from the second edition (also from 1737).

In his preface Sykes begins by alluding to Mede's treatise on John 10:20 and then argues that in either case, Christ's miracles of healing are still real: this is a crucial point.

p. 2f: general notion of demons among the Greeks that of departed souls

p. 3: demons also used by Greeks of gods in general

p. 4: [omitting footnotes]

Fourthly, This Notion of Demons, that they were the Souls of such as once had lived upon Earth, is so universally allowed by Jews and Christians as well as by Heathens, that scarce will any one dispute it. Justin Martyr says The Gods of the Heathens are Demons: and more expressly still he calls them The Souls of the deceased. And defining what he meant by Demoniacks, he says, They, who are seized by the Souls of deceased Persons, are such as all Men agree in calling Demoni[5]acks. Josephus calls them the Souls of wicked Men.


p. 7:

The Epilepsy, I say, was looked upon as a Sacred Disease, and was supposed to have its Origin immediately from some or other of the Gods, according as its Symptoms were stronger, or less so; and thence it was called Lues deisica, and Morbus sacer.


pp. 9-10: demon possession believed by some Greeks

p. 30:

We meet with nothing of Demoniacks excepting the Case of Saul, in the Old Testament. But yet Jospehus, (who professes a strict Regard to the Sacred Writings,) mentions certain Charms which Solomon left behind him, by which they could cure Diseases, and so expel Demons, that they should no more return: and this Manner of Cure, says he, continues amongst us even to this Day.



#14 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:18 AM

p. 35:

"It must be remembered likewise, that Demon in none of the Instances already produced, signifies what we in English call Devil, but always is applied to the departed Souls of Dead Men. And lastly, that Epilepsy and Madness were peculiar Disorders attributed to the Gods."


p. 36 Sykes appears to use John 10:20 in a similar way to Mede, i.e. he argues that to say someone had a demon, was equivalent to calling someone mad.

p. 39: when people claimed others had demons they did it purely on the basis of observable effects (of health) and thus argue from the effect to the cause

p. 53ff: the python account

p. 54:

"Satan is nothing else but Adversary, and is to be understood according to the Subject to which it is applied."


p. 55:

"Thus being bound of Satan "means no more than that which was an Adversary to Health, be it what it would."



#15 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:19 AM

p. 55:  "Thus being bound of Satan "means no more than that which was an Adversary to Health, be it what it would."

"Why then should we imagine the Devil, or the Prince of the Devils, to have been in her so many Years? Might not one have Grounds to think that he would have perverted her Mind, and not her Body; or have distorted her Soul, and not have made her Carcase crooked?"


pp. 55-6: Sykes then goes on to give examples from the Bible of human adversaries/satans

p. 69: the gospel writers speak of the unclean spirits falling down before Christ: but it was the humans that did so: an example of metonomy.

p. 70:

"It was a Remark made at least as long ago as the Author of the Questions and Answers to the Orthodox, usually annexed to Justin Martyr, That the Scripture attributes to the Demoniack the Works of the Demon. The Reverse of this is as true, That the Scriptures attribute to Demons the Acts of the Demoniack: which shews, that in these Cases, we are not to regard the Letter, but the real and exact Meaning of the Sacred Writers.



#16 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:19 AM

p. 79:  "Q. What then were those Possessions which are so frequent in the New Testament?

A. They appear all to be such Cases of Madness, or of Epilepsy, as all the Antients agreed in imputing to their Gods, or Demons. The New Testament Writers made use of the Terms and Language usual in their Times: And as the Hypotheses they then had in Philosophy equally served the Purpose of our Saviour in his great Designs, as the very exactest Truth would have done, it had been to no Purpose for him to have engaged in Disputes, or to have opposed the received Notions. His Cause would not have been in a better Way; nor would the Cause of the One God in Opposition to Vice, have been better promoted, by refuting the Demonology then received, than by using the common ordinary Language: it was enough that our Saviour shewed a Power over all that was before Him, and cured the Diseases with a Word, which to every body else were incurable."

[This is the concluding paragraph]



#17 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:20 AM

Sykes, who was indirectly involved in Newton's circle, met objections to his initial work with his A further enquiry into the meaning of Demoniacks in the New Testament. Wherein the Enquiry is vindicated against the Objections of the Revd. Mr. Twells, and of the Author of The essay in answer to it (London 1737).

In this work he responds to Twells and possibly others like Waterland who argued against him that demons in the NT were fallen angels. Sykes goes into origin of idolatry in a similar way to Newton.

Pages 105-107, present a variant of the accommodation approach. For Sykes, demons are ghosts, nothings, vanities.

Sykes' works created a small controversy and there were several replies and at least one supporter.

See also:

[D.N. Sharte?]
A review of the controversy about the meaning of demoniacks in the New Testament.
London: Printed for J. Roberts, 1739

Cites Mede's Discourse on John x. 20 on title page. Argues for accommodation, similar to Sykes and looks at idolatry.

#18 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:20 AM

The physician Richard Mead, who claimed to be related to Joseph Mede and who cared for Isaac Newton in the latter's last illness, also wrote on demons in his Medica Sacra; Or, A commentary on the most remarkable diseases, mentioned in the Holy Scriptures (London 1755).

The crucial section is "Of dжmoniacs" (ch. IX, pp. 73-92), but see also ch. X, "Of lunatics" (pp. 93-102).

Mead argues that demoniacs were afflicted with purely natural causes--clearly a medical advance in itself.

Mead hints at accommodation as the means to explain the biblical language. He links belief in demons to idolatry, and cites Isaac Newton's Chronology for support.

#19 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:21 AM

He cites his namesake and relative Joseph Mede's short treatise on demons. He then concludes with a non-exorcist method of treating those so afflicted.

p. 73: opening sentence:

That the Doemoniacs [sic], daimonizomenoi [transliterated], mentioned in the gospels, laboured under a disease really natural, tho' of an obstinate and difficult kind, appears to me very probable from the accounts given of them.


p. 82:

"From what we have said, it manifestly appears, how many different ways the lessons of imagination, when they are confirm'd by long habit, are capable of affecting a man, and entirely ruining his whole frame. But everybody knows, that the human mind is disturbed by nothing more than by fear; the cause of which is self-love ingrafted in all men.

Where[83]as then, as Cicero very justly observes, there is no nation so savage, no man so rude, as not to have some notion of the gods; 1 [1 Tusc. quaet. Lib. i. 13.] it is no wonder, that men conscious of wicked deeds, should be struck with the fear of God, whose empire over all created things they acknowledged.

For, as they attributed every good thing, every benefit of this life, to the gods; so they were of opinion, that evils and calamities were sent down by them in punishment of crimes. Now, idolatry, as I said above,2 [2 Cap. i. p. 5.] had its origin among the Chaldeans; and at first it consisted in the worship of the sun and moon, but afterwards it was extended to the adoration of daemons.3 [3 See Sir Isaac Newton's Chronology, p. 160.]

But these were believed to be divine ministers; and that they were originally the souls of heroes and [84] great men, who were worshipped for services done to mankind in general, or to their native country in particular. And this daemoniac religion being propogated from the Chaldaeans to the Phoenicians, then to the Egyptians, came afterwards to the Greeks, thence to the Romans, and in progress of time to the other nations."



#20 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 09:21 AM

Another important very important work is Nathaniel Lardner's The case of the demoniacs mentioned in the New Testament: Four discourses upon Mark v. 19. with an appendix for farther illustrating the subject (London 1758).

The preface notes that the discourses were first spoken to an audience in 1742. Lardner argues against the literal existence of demons.

We should not omit Hugh Farmer's An inquiry into the nature and design of Christ's temptation. (1761), which argues against a literal, orthodox Satan in the wilderness temptation of Christ.

See also A dissertation on the Demoniacs in the Gospels (London1775), which mentions two main opinions: that sick people were possessed by literal demons and that they were just sick. The second opinion is thus inferred to exist by this time.

Finally, we can conclude our summary of the eighteenth century with reference to William Ashdowne's An attempt to shew that the opinion concerning the Devil, or Satan, as a fallen angel, and that he tempts men to sin, hath no real foundation in Scripture. Canterbury 1791.




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