Periodical Reviews -- By: John A. Adair

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 176:703 (Jul 2019)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: John A. Adair

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary

John A. Adair


“The Intimate and Ultimate Adversary: Satanology in Early Second-Century Christian Literature,” Thomas J. Farrar, Journal of Early Christian Studies 26, no. 4 (2018): 517–46.

An examination of references to Satan in the earliest noncanonical Christian documents suggests two areas for analysis: (1) “For what kinds of evil did Satanology account?” and (2) How was Satanology incorporated into Christian religious life “through liturgical forms, hermeneutics for reading the Jewish Scriptures, and theological debates about the nature of God and evil” (517). Farrar, senior lecturer in statistics at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, argues that Satanology was both pervasive and distinctive in this earliest postapostolic period. Farrar catalogs references to Satan in all canonical and noncanonical Christian literature from AD 100–150, analyzing the explanatory power of Satan for these writers and communities and exploring applications of Satanology in liturgical, hermeneutical, and theological realms.

Farrar first accumulates a list of references to Satan in the noncanonical Christian literature through the mid-second century, with a final tally of 162. Combined with 137 references in the New Testament, Farrar notes that the early Christians referred to Satan frequently in the first century of the church’s existence. The persistence of Satanology in the second century “demonstrates the explanatory power it held in Christian communities during this period” (534).

Farrar divides his discussion of this explanatory power into five broad categories. Category 1, “Satan in the Individual,” sees the devil as a tempter who “threatens the faithful, not only the ungodly” (535). Farrar notes that the Shepherd of Hermas renders the devil not only as a tempter, but as one who possesses negative character attributes such as craftiness and irritability (535). Category 2, “Satan at the Boundaries of the Community,” finds Satan at the root of false teaching, in disobedience to ecclesiastical authorities, and in false prophecy (536–37). “Satan’s Political Hegemony in the World,” Farrar’s third category, portrays Satan as manipulating “earthly political forces, which he uses to persecute Christians” (538). Farrar offers “Satan in a Cosmic Dualistic System” as a fourth option. The dualistic system, which could be “ethical, eschatological, and/or cosmological” (539), pits Satan in contrast to God. Farrar concludes

with “Satan in the ...

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