Friday, July 2, 2010

Angels & Demons 14: Can Angels Rebel Against God?

While some Christians are familiar with the notion of angels marrying human women, and while that Fallen Angel Story is the most prevalent one in the period preceding the New Testament, most Christians are more inclined to link the fall of the angels to some rebellion of angels. Specifically, Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12-14 (who many Christians believe is Satan) is thought to have led an angel rebellion against God.

The motif of lesser gods rebelling against Zeus is the basis for the “Clash of the Titans” in Greek mythology. Therefore, the motif of angels rebelling against God made a good deal of sense to Jews who were living in the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great and his successors (between the Old and New Testaments). Furthermore, although the Isaiah 14 account has Lucifer “die like men” and be, thus, shown to be far inferior to God, many Christians view this Lucifer/Satan who led the supposed angelic rebellion against God to be almost equal to God in his strength and power. They believe that God and Lucifer/Satan are currently at war with one another, and some even believe it is possible that Lucifer/Satan will win. This motif of a Good God who is locked in struggle with an Evil God is neither Greek nor Jewish/Hebrew; it is Persian. (See Angels & Demons 4: “The Great Satan” of Iran.) Both the New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism from the New Testament period reject the view that angels can rebel against God.

Bereshit Rabbah 27:4, a passage to which I referred in an earlier commentary, presents evidence that angels were incapable of rebellion against God. There, in his exposition of Genesis 6:6 (in which God repented that He had made man), Rabbi Judah, from the second century A.D., quotes God as saying regarding MAN: “For behold, (if) I had created him from above, he would not have rebelled against Me.” The point of Rabbi Judah’s remark is that, if man had been created out of the same substance as heavenly beings, he would have been incapable of rebellion against God. Even if one accepts the view of Rabbi Nehemiah, also from the second century A.D., in the same Bereshit Rabbah passage, that if God had made man in Heaven, he would have caused the heavenly beings to rebel against God, one still finds the same basic conclusion: that heavenly beings have never rebelled against God. Otherwise, Rabbi Nehemiah would not have presented God as “relieved” that he had made man “on the earth.”

In Tanhuma Book I, page 30 (an account that parallels Bereshit Rabbah 27:4), the common term for “angels” is used instead of the term “heavenly beings.” Rabbi Judah is quoted as saying that angels do not sin. Rabbi Nehemiah says that God was consoled that He had not made man in heaven, because he would have caused the angels to rebel. Here, then, as in Bereshit Rabbah 27:4, angels remain non-rebellious.

The authoritative Judaic teaching of the period under consideration is in line with this Bereshit Rabbah passage. Angels did not rebel against God. However, we should hasten to add that this was not the position of the Church Fathers—those Christians who wrote in the centuries following the New Testament period. As I mentioned in an earlier commentary, in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho a Jew, Dialogue 79, Trypho accuses Justin of blasphemy, because Justin says that angels sin and rebel against God. Here, it is clear that the Church Father taught that angels rebel, and it is equally clear that Judaism rejected that teaching.

The Jews of this Post-New Testament Period even REWROTE the Book of Enoch. The Hebrew Book of Enoch, written by various authors of this time, contains NO FALLEN REBEL ANGEL STORIES. It contains no account of rebellious fallen angels, such as the versions of the Book of Enoch written BETWEEN the Old and New Testaments do.

According to Bamberger (p. 94), “nowhere in Talmudic sources is Satan depicted as a rebel against God.” Neither is any account of Satan rebelling against God to be found in the New Testament. According to the New Testament, the account of Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12-14 is NOT TALKING ABOUT THE FALL OF SATAN. Lucifer is NOT SATAN. I will discuss Lucifer and who he is in my next commentary.

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