September 22, 2009

Jesus, Satan, and Bible Kryptonite

"Jesus defeated the devil with the Word of God." This commonly heard saying refers to Jesus' temptation by Satan in the parallel passages of Luke 4 and Matthew 4. Is this adage correct, however, and what is usually meant by those who say it? Using the terminology of the OIA method, we can analyze this statement and note the range of interpretations (I) and applications (A) that are assumed or implied by it:

The devil was defeated (I)
Scripture (not Jesus?) defeated the devil (I)
3. The devil would have / might have been victorious if Jesus hadn't quoted the Scripture (I)
4. The devil did not decide to leave, or choose to leave, or agree to leave Jesus, but was powerless to resist the Bible quotations (I)

And therefore:

1. We can use scriptures to defeat the devil, just as Jesus did (A)
2. Scripture should be our primary weapon against the devil (A)
or perhaps
3. Scripture is our only weapon against the devil (A) 

Backing up however, we should also note some facts or observations (O) about this story:

1. Jesus quoted some Bible verses to the devil (O)
2. The devil "left him" (Matthew 4:11, Luke 4:13) (O)

The devil left him. The question is whether it was because of the Scripture quoting. This is a possible case of the Correlation / Causation error.

Two nearby events can but don't always mean that one caused the other.

If we were to spend more time in the Observation stage of our reading, and if we held back the urge to jump to the "obvious" conclusions, then we should also notice the following:

3. The devil did not immediately disappear after hearing the first scripture (O)
4. The devil did not eventually leave after the first instance of Jesus quoting the Scripture, either (O)
5. The devil still hadn't been driven off after the second scripture (O)
6. The devil himself knew and quoted the Scripture (O)
7. The devil quoted the Scripture, seemingly without harming himself (O)
8. Jesus (in Matthew's account) eventually added some other words to a third scripture (O)
9. Those words were "Away from me, Satan," by the way (O)
10. After the third Scripture quote, and (in Matthew) the command to leave, the devil left (O)
11. In Luke's gospel, the devil left—not "driven off by the scriptures," but when he "had finished all this tempting" (O)
12. In both accounts, the verb used is translated as "left" or "departed," rather than "fled" or "retreated."

So, when we try to interpret and apply this story, we have several questions to ponder. If scriptures have the power to drive away the devil, why did it take three tries? Wasn't the Scripture powerful enough? Wasn't Jesus powerful enough? Wasn't scripture in the mouth of Jesus powerful enough? And what does this mean for us?

Now, is the Bible important? And relevant when facing temptation? I believe so, from experience, and from Jesus' example. But is the Bible the devil's Kryptonite? I don't think the two versions of our gospel story support such a conclusion, and I'm wary of creating a doctrine out of a single episode in the Bible. Especially a doctrine that trivializes the Scriptures by reducing them to magical incantations and charms to ward off Satan or his minions. "The devil is a better theologian than any of us," A.W. Tozer cautions, "and is a devil still." He already knows the Bible—and in the original languages, I'll wager.

Could Jesus have defeated the devil without the Scripture? I would hope so. Are we powerless without Bible verses? Is that the source of all power we have? I would hope not. How about you?


franklins7 said...

So, perhaps the key is obedience??? It is not or wielding of the sword or our amazing words, but our obedience to His will, isn't that where Jesus "succeeded" if you will. He only did what He saw the Father doing. Power comes through obedience and submission, not knowing the right combination of words and phrases.

keo said...

Obedience and submission. I like it. Power through weakness. Die to live, even. Sounds familiar....

Of course, that doesn't sell well -- certainly not in America. If only Jesus had better marketing.