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When Did Satan Fall?

Craig Smith on September 19, 2014 - 3:00 am in Angelic/Demonic Realms, Bible, Biblical Studies, Craig Smith, Genesis, Tough Questions
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Christians and non-Christians alike are often surprised to discover that the Bible does not contain much information about Satan’s rebellion and expulsion from heaven.  Much of what the average Christian imagines about Satan’s fall actually comes from a strange mish-mash of the apocryphal book of Enoch and a smattering of relatively enigmatic biblical texts such as Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-18 and Revelation 12:9.  While I do think that these texts have some bearing on our understanding of Satan and his rebellion, none of them appear to be exclusively concerned with Satan’s original rebellion[1], and certainly none of them speak directly to the question of when the Satanic rebellion occurred.

It is common to assume that Satan’s fall occurred somewhere prior to the events recorded in Genesis 3 since there we see Satan leading Adam and Eve to commit their own rebellion against God (for more on how we know the serpent in Genesis 3 was actually Satan, see this article).   Certainly this assumption has some foundation:  God declared the entirety of his creation, both the heavens and the earth, “very good” in Genesis 1:31 so it is unlikely that Satan had already been hurled from the heavens and was doing his insidious work on earth prior to this.  Therefore, as the thinking goes, Satan must have rebelled sometime between God’s declaration recorded in Genesis 1:31 and the beginning of the events recorded in Genesis 3.

The primary difficulty with this view is that it seems strange that God did not warn Adam and Eve not to listen to Satan.  If Satan had already fallen, wouldn’t it be natural to expect God to give some instruction to the man and woman, something like “don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden and, oh yeah, don’t listen to that bad angel!”? Of course, it is always possible that God did warn them not to listen to Satan and this warning simply isn’t recorded.  It is also possible that Adam and Eve didn’t realize the talking serpent was actually Satan, so even if they had been warned, his deception might have simply have taken them in; perhaps they really did think they were simply talking to a snake.[2]

While this is possible, it seems to me that there is a much better, more biblical answer to the question of why there is no recording of Adam and Eve having been warned not to listen to a fallen angel:  no such warning was necessary because Satan hadn’t yet fallen.

What I am suggesting is that the first shot in Satan’s rebellion against God was actually his attempt to persuade Adam and Eve to listen to him rather than to God.

This interpretation has several advantages:

1.  This explains why Adam and Eve weren’t warned about Satan.

As I mentioned above, it seems strange for there to have been an evil angel wandering the earth and yet Adam and Eve not be warned not to listen to him.  In this view, though, we wouldn’t expect any such warning because the Satan’s rebellion hadn’t yet occurred.

2.  This (partially) explains why Satan is not directly named in Genesis 3.

Keep in mind that Satan is essentially a descriptive name; that is, it means “the Adversary” (for more on how Satan got his name, see this article).  But this is a description that became a proper name only after his rebellion against God.  The fact that this being (who Rev 12:9 and John 8:44 identify as the Devil/Satan) is not named in Genesis 3 suggests that this name was not yet appropriate for him.  In other words, in Genesis 3 he had not yet earned the name “the Adversary” but instead was in the process of earning that name by the very events described in Genesis 3.

3.  This view explains the curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:14-15.

Seeing this curse, which includes the statement “you will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life”, as a curse on all snakes, perhaps even to the point that they lost their legs, seems rather unfair.  After all, even if this were a snake possessed by Satan rather than simply a symbolic reference to Satan, why should all snakes be cursed simply because of what Satan used one of them to accomplish?  On the other hand, when we recognize that there is some symbolic language present throughout this chapter,[3] we can see immediate parallels in this curse to other statements about Satan’s fall in Scripture.  For instance, he was “hurled to the earth” (Rev 12:9, cf. also Eze 28:17) which can easily be seen to parallel the statement that he would “eat dust”.

4.  This view fits very well with other statements about Satan’s fall.

For instance, if Isaiah 14:12-14 is, at least in part, a reference to the angelic rebellion led by Satan, then we are told there that Satan’s desire was to “make myself like the Most High”.  What better way could there be for Satan to attempt to be “like the Most High” than to get God’s representatives (i.e. God’s “Image”) to obey him?  Similarly the satanic pride that may be hinted at in Ezekiel 28:12-18 is easily connected to Satan’s arrogant attempt to get Adam and Eve to listen to him rather than to God.

5.  This view answers the question of why the Bible doesn’t tell us more about the angelic rebellion.

When Christians realize that much of their view of Satan’s fall comes not from the Bible but from the apocryphal Enoch, they often ask “So why doesn’t the Bible say more about this event?”  Perhaps the answer is that the Bible does say more about Satan’s fall but we have missed it.  In other words, if Genesis 3 describes not just Adam and Eve’s rebellion but also the first shot of Satan’s rebellion, then we actually have a more comprehensive depiction of Satan’s fall than we have tended to recognize.

In short, then, what I am suggesting is that the satanic rebellion did not occur prior to his temptation of Adam and Eve but rather that his temptation of Adam and Eve was his first act of rebellion against God. If this is correct, then the human fall and the angelic fall were actually intimately linked together, occurring at one and the same time.  While it is impossible to determine with certainty if this view is correct, it does seem to fit the biblical evidence quite well and even provides satisfactory answers to some questions that would otherwise be unaddressed by the traditional view.



[1] At least in the cases of Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-18, there appear to be evil human kings in view as well.  In my opinion, these kings are symbolically linked to Satan who is understood to operate behind the scenes of the kings’ power and for this reason, these texts do reveal something of Satan’s nature and of the demonic rebellion.  However, one must be careful not to read too much Satanic information out from these texts since they obviously have other intended purposes as well.

[2] As an aside:  while it is not uncommon for Christians to think that animals may have originally been able to talk, there is simply no biblical evidence for this.  The only thing that really might be taken in support of this position is the talking serpent in Genesis 3 but since the rest of Scripture plainly identifies this as Satan, it seems better to understand this as a symbolic reference to Satan or perhaps to Satan possessing a literal serpent.  In either case, though, this provides no evidence for the idea that animals could talk prior to the Fall.

[3] For instance, as most Christians will agree, the statement “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” is a reference to Christ’s eventual defeat of Satan.  This statement is both literal (i.e. there is literal animosity) and symbolic (i.e. the woman’s eventual seed, Christ, would defeat Satan at the cross, but not by literally stomping on his head!).  Note  that the presence of symbolic language does not mean that the events being described are not historical; it simply means that the events are of more significance than simply as things which actually happened.  They also have long-term, theological/spiritual significance which goes beyond the historical events themselves which are themselves a kind of foreshadowing of the things to come.

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