Editor's Note: Clarion is posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
(17) Prolegomena to The Temptation of Jesus
Before we begin our study of the Temptation of Jesus, let’s take care of a few housekeeping details. First, one’s view of Scripture is going to determine how one approaches, interprets and understands Scripture. As I have followed the comments on these musings about ‘the satan’ this has particularly come home time and again, particularly when it comes to asking about the ‘personhood of the satan.” Back in April when I was discussing the perspective of the inerrancy/infallibility tradition I pointed out that this defending the inspiration and authority of the Bible is the starting point for many Protestants. I also pointed out that this view is also a hermeneutic, that is, it does not simply establish the [so-called] nature of the text but functions, in a liminal way, to say what can or cannot be said about any given text. That is, it limits interpretive possibilities.
So, at the risk of being redundant let me again say that I do not accept the standard Protestant paradigm of the inspiration and authority of Scripture (I have worked all of this out in several essays on my website). I mention this because it seems to me that the perceived need to retain the notion of the satan as a person has two distinct warrants from some of my responders. On the one hand there are those who feel as though if the Bible speaks of satan as a person (which begs the question as to what constitutes personhood) then we too should accept that the devil is a personal being. On the other hand there are those who have experienced what they can only describe as real encounters with a force that ‘appears’ evil and manifests itself in rather strange or unusual ways.
In this series I am not interested in showing how the way we view scripture influences the way we read it; I have done that already. Nor do I wish to discredit those who have experienced ‘evil.’ I will say this though: we all interpret our experience, there is no such thing as ‘raw’ experience, it is all filtered through a lens. Our interpretations are bounded and informed by the particular grids we have learned throughout out lives. A person in tribal Africa will have a different interpretation of the demonic than a New York psychiatrist, yet both could be right. It all depends upon the frame of reference of the person.
Finally, let me say this: I am seeking to mine the biblical text for anthropological data, for what it tells us about the human condition. I have made the intellectual choice to no longer accept the metaphysical structuring of reality found from Plato to Hegel (and some points beyond). For me, the main problem of Christianity does not lay in theology first; it is primarily our anthropology that has created all of our conundrums. Because we have the problem wrong (the human condition), we have misread the solution (our view of God and God’s redemptive work). One of the merits of the work of Rene Girard has been to help us get our anthropology back on track with a theory of how we came to be in the situation we are in where we structure our relationships on sacred violence. By showing the connections between mediated desires, rivalry and scapegoating, Girard proffers a way out of the anthropological mess we have created and the problem of viewing ourselves as ‘free moral agents’, a term which plagues our discussions.
When we return to this topic we will take a look at Jesus’ temptations. I was recently asked if the temptation story in the Gospels is a hallucination or a fiction. I do not think it was either but I also think that the way this question is posed indicates that if one questions the notion of a personal devil then one must either take the story to be a fiction or a hallucination. That is not an optimal way of rendering the text. So as we turn to the Gospels to discuss these questions please remember that 1) our view of scripture limits the way we read the biblical texts and 2) that our understanding of what constitutes ‘personhood’ limits the way we will understand Jesus’ relation to the satan in the text.