The Devil is a Degenerate Creation of God

The following is from Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, published in its final form in 1559 (for more on Calvin and the Institutes, read this). In his summary of the originSt. Michael Expelling Lucifer and the Rebellious Angels from Heaven, c. 1622 of Satan, see if you can tell what’s conspicuous by its absence, and what Calvin writes that has some bearing on what 21st century Christians generally would expect to see here. This passage is from Book 1, chapter 14, section 16.

Yet, since the devil was created by God, let us remember that this malice, which we attribute to his nature, came not from his creation but from his perversion. For, whatever he has that is to be condemned he has derived from his revolt and fall. For this reason, Scripture warns us lest, believing that he has come forth in his present condition from God, we should ascribe to God himself what is utterly alien to him. For this reason, Christ declares that “when Satan lies, he speaks according to his own nature” and states the reason, because “he abode not in the truth” [John 8:44 p.]. Indeed, when Christ states that Satan “abode not in the truth,” he hints that he was once in it, and when he makes him “the father of lies,” he deprives him of imputing to God the fault which he brought upon himself.

But although these things are briefly and not very clearly stated, they are more than enough to clear God’s majesty of all slander. And what concern is it to us to know anything more about devils or to know it for another purpose? Some persons grumble that Scripture does not in numerous passages set forth systematically and clearly that fall of the devils, its cause, manner, time, and charater. But because this has nothing to do with us, it was better not to say anything, or at least to touch upon it lightly, because it did not befit the Holy Spirit to feed our curiosity with empty histories to no effect. And we see that the Lord’s purpose was to teach nothing in his sacred oracles except what we should learn to our edification. Therefore, lest we ourselves linger over superfluous matters, let us be content with this brief summary of the nature of devils: they were when first created angels of God, but by degeneration they ruined themselves, and became the instruments of ruin for others. Because this is profitable to know, it is plainly taught in Peter and Jude. God did not spare those angels who sinned [2 Peter 2:4] and kept not their original nature, but left their abode [Jude 6]. And Paul, in speaking of the “elect angels” [1 Timothy 5:21], is no doubt tacitly contrasting them with the reprobate angels.

Give up? Calvin didn’t identify the pre-fallen Satan as bearing the name Lucifer, based on Isaiah 14:12! That would be because the word Lucifer is used to translate the Hebrew word for “morning star” or “day star” in the King James Version. This was carried over from the Latin Vulgate by the King James translators. “Lucifer” was historically a name for the planet Venus, which happens to be the morning star. Besides, the passage in Isaiah is a prophecy of judgment against the King of Babylon. It’s use in reference to the chief fallen angel is allegorical at best and simply out of context at worst. Before he fell, the Lord and his angels up in heaven did not call him Lucifer as if it were his name. This was popularized in Dante’s Inferno, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. See this Wikipedia article on Lucifer, and this one on Venus for more information.

Furthermore, our eagerness to derive a portrayal of the fall of Satan in Isaiah’s passage is just the kind of  “lingering over superfluous matters” that “feed our curiosity with empty histories to no effect.” Calvin writes that things like this have “nothing to do with us” and that “the Lord’s purpose was to teach nothing in his sacred oracles except what we should learn to our edification.” Justin Taylor’s post at “Blogging the Institutes” summarizes Calvin’s remarks well (read Justin’s post here).

Therefore, class, your homework assignment is to memorize what the Bible explicitly (and actually), albeit sketchily, teaches about the fall of Satan and his angels–Jude 6. “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—”

Class dismissed.

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2 responses

  1. I knew you were headed here from the beginning. But lately I’ve thought about the “I saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven” line. I heard a teacher recently claim that was obviously symbolic in the context speaking of the disciples casting out of demons and other spiritual victories they had seen. So Calvin doesn’t single out that verse as fitting in with Rev. 12 and Lucifer…..

    Good post. You reading through the Institutes in this year of Calvin’s 500th birthday?

    I wish I was, but I have too much else to read.

  2. I’m kind of hobbling through it. I got ambitious this year (or is it stupid?). In addition to the Institutes, I’m working through the ESV Study Bible reading plan and six books books (two months per book) with Gage’s PCA church. My last post talks about it.

    Yeah, I’m behind, but I’m having fun trying to keep up for now.

    I’m with that teacher on Satan falling like lightning. You know, probably better than I, how important it is to keep the “big idea” of the passage in view when interpreting curious verses such as Luke 10:18. Wouldn’t you say that even if you have some superficially parallel passages elsewhere in the Bible, that they shouldn’t take priority over the immediate context of a given passage, like this one, if the context seems to lead the interpreter toward a different sense?

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