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Stress-testing the
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Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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When were angels created?

Or, put another way, how quickly did Satan fall?

I’m going to make some brief observations in response to Steve Hays’ recent post, ‘Angels from the realms of glory’.

Steve is basically assessing the question of when angels were created. It’s a good post in its own right, and worth reading. And he explicitly says he has addressed the question from other angles; so possibly he’s elsewhere canvassed what I’m about to say:

I think it is a given that the angels—which I’m using as a broad term for spiritual or divine beings—were created before the physical world. Now, Steve rightly points out that “before” is a problematic term here, so let me clarify: angels were present at the creation of the physical world. Job 38:7, at least, says as much. Contextually, stars in the ancient Near East were commonly worshiped as divine beings, or at least physical representations thereof. The Bible repudiates such nonsense, but it still employs ANE metaphors, such that divine beings are described poetically as stars. By the same token, “sons of God” is stock lingo for God’s divine family or council—and Job certainly has a well-developed theology in that regard (cf Job 1-2). So the parallelism in Job 38:7 seems to leave no serious doubt that angels are in view.

With that in mind, there seems to be a subplot running between the lines of Genesis 1-3. Why does Satan tempt Adam and Eve? Presumably because he wants them dead; he knows God has made execution the penalty of disobedience. Why does he want them dead? Well, the chief point of Genesis is that Adam and Eve get dominion over the physical world. Yet that’s odd given the existence of superior beings like Satan. It’s an inversion that parallels a classic element of Christianity, especially in the gospels: the first will be last; the last will be first. Satan naturally expected to get dominion of the world himself. He’s the superior being. You put the greatest in charge. The angel of angels. So in his mind, how dare God give the world to a pathetic creature like Adam?

You don’t need to read too far between the lines to see a plot to eliminate Adam, so God will restore dominion to its “proper” order by placing Satan in charge.

And in a way it works. Satan is indeed the god of this world—for now. But God was on to Satan. He gave him what he wanted for a while, as punishment on man. But he also promised an ironic reversal which puts Satan under the seed of the woman; under even the animals—not in terms of dominion, but in terms of ultimate importance. Because Satan tried to usurp power, he will be brought to nothing. There’s a definite thematic link to Jesus’ parables about the bad stewards in the latter half of Luke, for instance. Those parables aren’t about Satan, per se, but the same principle is in play. Satan’s plot ultimately backfires. Everything he wanted is taken away.

4 comments

  1. DaBudaMasta

    Why do you assume that when god gave Adam dominion over the physical world it refers to the entire cosmos? At the time the old testament was written, the entire world was the earth. The earth was the centre and the purpose of the act of creation. God focuses Man as the centre of creation. The earth was all there was and is. The cosmos was not even suspected to exist. If Lucifer (Satan) was created endowed with great powers, knowledge and intelligence, he should have known that the earth is an infinitissimally insignificant piece of rock compared to whatever exist outside of the earth. Why should he want to want to eliminate Adam for having dominion over the earth. The cosmos is googletrillions over googletrillions of times greater that a puny earth we now know how vast the cosmos really is.

    With your vast theological knowledge, Was the cosmos created after Lucifer’s creation, you implied that the earth was created after Lucifer. Was the earth created after the cosmos or the other way around. Your opinion on this issue will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Your point is well taken. One of the difficulties in finessing Satan’s motivations is that we don’t know what it’s like to be a spiritual being. It’s hard to put ourselves in his shoes because he doesn’t have any shoes.

    That said, I don’t think Satan cares about the cosmos per se. Adam’s dominion isn’t over geography but rather over the living order. He is to tame the plant and animal life and bend it to his will. In one sense, it’s hard to see why Satan would care about doing this. In fact, I suspect he doesn’t. But it is easy to see why he would care about taming man and bending him to his will. So I suspect, if we want to be very specific, that Satan’s beef was not so much with Adam getting dominion over the earth, but with him not getting dominion over Adam. In Satan’s mind, it’s fine for Adam to have a kind of intermediary authority; he is “head beast” over all the other beasts. But for Adam to be a viceroy of God, not answerable to Satan at all—indeed, for Satan to be excluded from the authority hierarchy entirely—that would certainly rankle.

    That suggests that Satan’s rebellion was even more a case of cutting off his nose to spite his face than it first appeared. Not only was he rebelling, ultimately, against God, which he had to know was a bad idea, but he didn’t even want what Adam had. He really wanted Adam under his thumb, rather than the world. But if he couldn’t have that, he’d rather see Adam dead and get the world anyway.

    Of course, this is all speculative. We aren’t told what Satan’s plans were. We aren’t let in on what he was thinking. It doesn’t really matter to us at this point. I’m just trying to follow the clues.

    Your question about the cosmos also raises another interesting point: to what extent are angels bound by physical laws when they are interacting with our physical world? Indeed, what kind of relationship do they have with the physical world in the first place? In Genesis 6, we see that many of them find human women attractive and wish to marry them. (I agree with Michael Heiser’s assessment that the evidence is in on this one.) That seems bizarre on first blush. But perhaps what it illustrates is that when angels take physical form, they are constrained and even strongly influenced by natural laws. Perhaps they cannot frisk about in the far reaches of space.

    In terms of whether the cosmos was created before the earth, you might find my comments here interesting:

    http://bnonn.com/how-would-a-hebrew-have-pictured-genesis-1/

  3. Pieter

    You write:
    “I agree with Michael Heiser’s assessment that the evidence is in on this one.”

    I followed the link which led me to an excerpt of a lengthy article by Amar Annus, “On the Origin of the Watchers, etc”. Is this the assessment you are referring or is there a separate article by Michael Heiser where he explains his view more briefly?
    Thank you

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    That’s the assessment, yeah; it’s a scholarly review of the larger contextual data. I believe Heiser explains his views more briefly in his own words, in earlier articles; if you search for “nephilim” on his site you’d probably find something.

    I also wrote a rundown here:

    http://bnonn.com/what-is-genesis-61-4-talking-about/

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