Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara Woods-Washington

‘Peter’s Denial Prophesied’ is a triple tradition pericope set by all three Gospel writers at the Mount of Olives. Peculiar to Luke are two verses embedded in his account of this event, and is for him alone an occurrence of ‘Faith’. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32).

As a New Testament Student during my first year in Seminary, I was challenged on every hand by the work of Rudolf Bultmann. First with his awesome work entitled ‘Primitive Christianity’ which was required reading for the course New Testament History; then with discovering his work entitled ‘Kerygma and Myth’ (where Kerygma is ‘the preaching of the early Church’). It is here that I begin this discussion on ‘satanology’. At the risk of over simplifying, he makes these statements: “The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three storied structure. …Man is not in control of his own life. Evil spirits may take possession of him. Satan may inspire him with evil thoughts.” After a complete sobering statement of Christian Mythology, (Christology), he says “Can Christian preaching expect modern man to accept the mythical view of the world as true? To do so would be both senseless and impossible. …no man can adopt a view of the world by his own volition— it is already determined for him by his place in history.”

I am most informed in my thinking on the place that ‘satan’ has in my theology by the Old Testament course Job which I studied under the late Dr. G. Murray Branch who, during my years with him he also served as Pastor to the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. So convinced am I of the importance of the Book of Job in Christology that in most all Churches that I have taught Bible Study across the years, I have begun the study with the Book of Job. Significant to point out here that Old Testament scholarship has long separated the Prologue/ Epilogue from the body of the book which can clearly be seen based upon cosmological view alone. Having done so, you will not find a single reference to ‘satan’ in the original body text of The Book of Job. Biblical studies have identified the origins of the ‘Prologue/Epilogue of Job’ as ‘post-exilic’— originating during the Babylonian exile while under the thought and influence of Babylonian Religions. A place where the question is raised: “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land!” Bultmann is on target with his “task of demythologizing the new testament proclamation”!

I can’t help but be exasperated with the preaching in our times. Satanology has evolved into a full-time occupation that now dictates the proclaimed word in most Christian Worship experiences. The ‘sway’ that his ‘Enemy’ holds over the Christian’s life; this ‘Devil who is a Liar’ pronounced daily in the Christian’s life; this superhuman personification demi-god who even has control over… the children AND the purse of the believer! Alas! The consistent everyday battles of life have come to be identified by the preacher as the work of ‘The Enemy’ who is the destroyer of all things GOD. In that small ‘space in the life of the believers week,’ the Hour of Proclamation now delivers most of that word to ‘the works of the enemy’

A difficult task indeed. I attended a Wednesday night Bible Study session as a first-time participant, where the discussion leader’s entire discourse was on the ‘power of Satan’ with heads bobbing in affirmation. After some time, I interjected with this statement, “in the oldest biblical faith traditions of Old Testament, there is no Satan! God is the author of both good and evil.”

The ‘beat down’ came swift and sure. With no personal investment, I continue to move on.

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