The Devil is in the Details

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (KJV)

Devil – Raised in a western Christian community, I imagine a red figure with horns and a long tail when reading the word, “devil.” I might even think of a dragon or serpent as symbolic representations of this word.

In Greek, the word is diabolos which is familiar to many of us. We have seen or heard this word in movies, episodes, video games, etc. Diablo is very commonly used for “devil.” Its root is found in the word diaballō which means “to accuse.” So this reveals that diabolos can mean “accuser” or “slanderer.”

In the LXX, diabolos is used 12 times for “Satan.” Most of these occurrences are in the book of Job where Satan plays a key role in accusing Job of rewards based righteouseness. Turns out that was not the case. But looking through the rest of the Old Testament, Satan and the devil are hardly mentioned at all. In fact diabolos is used to represent “Hamas the Jews’ accuser” in Esther 8:1. It is also used as the adversary of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:14. The point being that while diabolos is used to represent the devil or Satan, it really just means an accuser of sorts, Satan being an embodiment of that. When it comes down to it, Satan is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament to gain any notice.

The OT references to satan are infrequent and the concept is not central.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

So with this in mind, we return to James’ writing. James is addressing the 12 tribes of Israel. They are now reunited through the death of Yeshua, but there is a recurring problem. The wealthy and more knowledgeable house of Judah (Jews) are questioning the right of the house of Israel, the poor and unlearned that are grafted in through faith, to come back into the fold. His whole letter thus far has focused on verbal accusations that are happening between the groups within the 12 reunited tribes. Because of the verbal battle, the house of Israel is straying and challenged with figuring out how to integrate. They are double-minded and often returning to their old ways. The strict and judgemental house of Judah condemns them continually. James seeks to help resolve this conflict as any great leader should.

James instructs them to submit to God and resist the devil (diabolos). Really? Out of the blue, it appears that James is suddenly concerned about them being misguided by the devil. I do not think so. James is still addressing the very thing he has been addressing all throughout his letter. He is using the word diabolos to simply indicate the accusers that are speaking falsely and condemning one another. The accuser being someone on either side of the argument that is riling up arguments and opposition. This has nothing to do about Satan or the devil in any way. In fact, as we learned from the Old Testament, the devil was not of any significant importance in the Hebrew worldview. James makes this realization in verse 11.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. […]

James 4:11

So whenever you encounter the word “devil” in your English New Testament, try replacing that word with “accuser” instead. How does the text change for you? What else is revealed that may not relate to a red figure with horns and a long tail? I bet you might find something more applicable and telling about ourselves rather than hefting it all on some other creature. You see, often times, we are the accuser in these stories and stopping to reflect on that can help us repent and readjust our lives and focus.

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