Could it be Satan? – An Exegetical Inquiry into 2 Corinthians 4:4 – Pt. 1

This semester I have been attempting to determine the referent of the phrase  ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου in 2 Corinthians 4:4. For me, this text was never in question until I read a blog post by Michael Heiser. Previous to his post I had never actually considered any other referent than Satan as possible for this phrase (BTW, I have learned that is step one in producing really bad exegesis yet, it seems that I unconsciously keep committing this faux pas!). After the article, I realized that I needed to do some work on this passages so I took an independent study on the NT’s use of the OT to hash out my thoughts. During this course, I have come to realize that YHWH, in many but not all ways, would make better sense as the implied referent of the phrase.

Of course, after I had done all my research I attended SBL only to hear a marvelous paper by Frederick Long (from Asbury) that made a compelling argument for another unconsidered referent: Caesar. Not only did his paper thoroughly thrash me for lacking knowledge in the vast aspects of the Greco-Roman world, the session itself challenged the view of intertextuality as solely relying on texts. Dr. Long forcefully demonstrated and argued, in response to an objection, that intertextuality must not only include texts (i.e., written works) but inscriptions, coins, statues, even ceremonial rights etc. He claimed, following a scholar I cannot remember, that this view understands intertextuality as really being intertexturality (look closely), that is, this aspect of exegesis must include the ubiquitous availability of texts, symbols and such that may be echoed in a given cultural context.

In the following posts I will do my best to make the best case available for all three possible referents. Hopefully, by the time I get to the view on Caesar I will have received Dr. Long’s paper so that I can properly summarize his view. Now on to the subject of this post: Could it be Satan?

When surveying the commentaries, monographs and articles one thing becomes immediately clear: Satan is so clearly the referent to the phrase in question that no argument is necessary to substantiate the assertion. (An error that ostensibly is not banished from the works of careful, trained scholars.) This was not always the case though. Amongst the patristic interpreters of this text Hippolytus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrosiaster and Didymus the Blind think that YHWH is the referent to the phrase. The most cogent justifications for identifying Satan as the god of this age/world seems to be:

  1.  1) The similarity with other language view: Eph 2:2. εν αις ποτε περιεπατησατε κατα τον αιωνα του κοσμου τουτου, κατα τον αρχοντα της εξουσιας του αερος. Here we find the writer of Ephesians claiming that those who were “dead” used to walk in accordance with the present age that was ruled by the prince of the ruler of the air. So, the logic goes that since the two verses share this language ―  the lexeme αιων along with the qualifier οὗτος, and the concept of authority αρχοντα/θεος ―  that supposing the link fair. If one wonders how Satan could be called θεος, then the reply would be that this is how he postures himself in this age.[1]
  2. The apocalyptic view which is best represented by C.K. Barrett: “The god of this age is a bold expression for the devil (cf. 1 Cor. 2:8), based on the commonplace apocalyptic presupposition that in the present age the devil has usurped God’s authority, and is accepted as god by his fellow rebels; only when in the age to come God establishes his kingdom will the devil be driven out.[2]”

Finally, while Hafemann does not have his own view per se, he does add a few more pieces of substantiating evidence explaining “how” this description fits into Paul’s understanding of Satan.[3] I believe he has contributed three additions to this theory:

  1. He notices Paul’s exclusive and careful use of νοηματα. Paul states the Corinthian saints are not ignorant of Satan’s “evil schemes” (νοηματα) whereas the unbelievers have their minds (νοηματα) blinded.
  2. There is an explicit (and unique) emphasis on Paul’s ministry attempting to “take every thought captive” to Jesus’ lordship.
  3. The thought that must be taken captive is the desire to reject Paul because of his suffering. If they do this then they we be misled (“thoughts taken away”) just like the serpent deceived Eve.

In the next post I will attempt to lay out the case for understanding YHWH as the ο θεος του αιωνος τουτου.

[1] Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, 126-27.
[2] Barrett, C. K. Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. London: Continuum, 1973, 130. Also cf. Furnish, Victor Paul. Vol. 32A, II Corinthians: Translated With Introduction, Notes, and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 220.
[3] Hafemann, Scott. Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel: The Letter/Spirit Contrast and the Argument from Scripture in 2 Corinthians 3. Peabody, Mass: Paternoster, 2005.

This entry was posted in New Testament, Paul, Uncategorized and tagged , , by S. Daniel Owens. Bookmark the permalink.

About S. Daniel Owens

I am a follower of Jesus the Christ, a husband to Brittny, a father to Isabella and Qorban, a graduate of DTS, and an SpEd teacher at La Academia de Estrellas Charter School. My interests are Pauline theology, OT soteriology, Genesis 1-11, Martyr Theology and the Gospel of Matthew. The way I see the Scriptures is that they are theological texts and not historical texts. By this I mean, I do not feel the need to either confirm or deny the "historicalness" of any text. I have opinions about the text of Scripture but I am willing to, and have, changed my opinions. I do not insist that the Scriptures conform to a preconceived notion of what they should be. I believe this is the attitude of faithfulness that a mature Christian should have. Contact Info: daniel.owens@mac.com

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