June 2017 Bible Questions & Answers

Topics: Satan’s appearance, gender of angels, James 5:15’s prayer of faith, Melchizedek, Judas Iscariot

Why does everyone imagine Satan as red, horned, and evil-looking?

The Bible does not give Satan a set description.  He appeared in the form of a serpent to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1ff; Rev. 12:9; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3), and he is metaphorically described as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).  Thus, the image of him being a being red in color, horned, hoofed, and carrying a pitchfork  (as well as any other popular descriptions of him throughout history) originates with man.

In reality, the attributes which make up this currently popular description of the devil are a bizarre combination of images, the majority of which are inherited from various tenets of different classical mythologies.

For example, the description of Satan having horns, a beard, and goat legs comes from the influence of the satyrs of Greek mythology.  Satyrs were fertility spirits with goat-like features (horns, beards, hooves) who were generally associated with lust, barbarity, and wickedness.  Some Bible scholars have linked satyrs with the hairy wild beasts mentioned by Isaiah (Is. 13:21; 34:14) which might have been the object of pagan worship during his day.

The notion that Satan carries a pitchfork comes from the Greek myth of Pluto, the god of the underworld.  At times Pluto was depicted as carrying a two-pronged pitchfork, mirroring his brothers Neptune and Jupiter.  Satan ended up getting the same tool in the minds of men because he was put in the same role as Pluto (being associated with the underworld and wickedness.)

The color red was not always associated with Satan.  In medieval imagery at times he was green.  Historically, the most common color associated with him is black, most likely because the Bible associates Satan with darkness and God with light.  The color red is associated with blood, violence, passion, wickedness, and the fires of hell; thus it’s understandable why Satan is commonly thought of as red.  Plus, Satan is depicted as a red dragon in Revelation 12:3.

Why does the Bible only refer to angels as male?

There are many mistaken conceptions of angels which are nonetheless popular today.  One of them is how people generally describe angels.

Angels are thought of as having two wings and halos.  They are thought of to be either male or female or both, or as small children (including infants).  The Hollywood film City of Angels depicts them as grown males, all wearing black trench coats.

However, the Bible describes them in a different way.  No haloes are ever associated with angels in Scripture.  They always appeared in the form of grown human males.  With the exception of the cherubim (Ezek. 1:11, 22-23; 10:1) and seraphim (Is. 6:2), angels did not have wings…although they are shown as flying (Rev. 14:6).  (It must also be pointed out that cherubim and seraphim are never specifically classified as angels in the Bible; thus it’s speculation as to whether it would be right to call them angels.)

Please explain James 5:15. In what way will the prayer of faith save the sick? How does this forgive him of other sins if they don’t ask for forgiveness and were baptized for the remission of sin?

“Prayer” (James 5:15) comes from the Greek term euche, which means “vow,” not “prayer.”  Euche is found only two other times in the New Testament, and is translated “vow” both times (Acts 18:18; 21:23).  The Greek term commonly translated “prayer” is proseuche; a derivative of this word is used in James 5:14 to refer to the prayer of the elders over the sick man.  However, James 5:15 is actually saying that the VOW of faith will save the sick person and his sins, if he has committed any, will be forgiven.

This changes the entire meaning of the passage.  Rather than understandably assuming from reading “PRAYER of faith” in James 5:15 that James is talking about the prayer of the elders over the sick man (James 5:14), we must understand that verse 15 is actually talking about a VOW of faith.   Who is making this vow of faith that promises definite forgiveness of sins (“he WILL be forgiven” )?

The only type of vow that undoubtedly produces forgiveness is a vow of repentance made by a Christian (1 John 1:9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).  Thus, the person making this vow in James 5:15 is the sick Christian talked about in the context.  He’s basically making a vow of faith to God, which biblically means that he would be acknowledging his sins and repenting of them, which produces definite forgiveness.

Melchizedek was king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God.  We are told that Jesus was from the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17; Ps. 110:4).  Please explain.

You can read about the Old Testament account of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20.

The purpose of the book of Hebrews was to persuade Jewish Christians to not fall away from Christianity and return to Judaism.  Thus, the author gives several arguments throughout the book as to why Jesus is superior to various aspects of Old Testament Judaism.  In Hebrews 7, the author uses Melchizedek to prove the superiority of Jesus to the Levitical priesthood.

Under Mosaic law, priests had to be from Levi’s tribe (Heb. 7:5).  Once they died they stopped being priests (Heb. 7:23).  However, Melchizedek was a priest not from Levi’s tribe, having lived well before the Levites came into existence as a tribe.  Plus, we know nothing of his ancestry, birth, or death (Heb. 7:3).  That makes him and his priesthood very different from the Levitical priesthood.

Jesus is very much like Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17; Ps. 110:4; cf. Heb. 7:11-25).  Christ also was not from Levi’s tribe (Heb. 7:14).  While Melchizedek was a priest forever metaphorically due to the absence of any record of his death, Jesus is a priest forever literally.  That’s why He is more like Melchizedek than the Levites, and His priesthood is superior to theirs.

Likewise, the Israelites would pay tithes to the Levitical priests (Heb. 7:5).  However, the ancestor of the Levites, Abraham, paid tithes to the priest Melchizedek (Heb. 7:6-9).  In fact, in one sense even Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham (Heb. 7:9-10).  This shows Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to that of the Levites (Heb. 7:7).

Jesus’ priesthood is similar to that of Melchizedek’s (Heb. 7:17; Ps. 110:4) in that they both are superior to the Levitical priesthood because we as Christians likewise give to Jesus, our Priest, who in turn blesses us and thus shows His superiority over us.

Why did Jesus choose Judas as a disciple?

Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  That means that God knew ahead of time that Jesus would be betrayed by a friend, and planned it that way.  Jesus Himself knew this as well (John 13:18; cf. Ps. 41:9).

Why did Jesus choose Judas to begin with?  Jesus knew what was in people’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so it is likely that Judas had as pure a heart as the other apostles whom Jesus chose at the beginning of His ministry.  This would have been a man who had chosen to follow Jesus in the first place, thus volunteering to commit himself to the sacrifices involved with following Jesus.  Judas was one of the men whom Jesus had sent out two by two on the domestic missionary journey throughout Galilee (Matt. 10).  Thus, Judas was likely a godly man at first.

However, over time Judas’ heart became corrupted.  By the end of Jesus’ ministry, Judas had begun to steal from the group (John 12:6) and Satan had entered Judas’ heart.  He began to plot his betrayal of the Lord at this time (Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2, 27).

Why did God plan that a close friend would betray the Messiah?  I believe it was to teach us that we also, in spite of our own closeness to Christ, can and oftentimes do betray Him.