And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)

This appears to be one of two references in 2 Corinthians to a Jewish myth circulating in the 1st Century.

The original primary source “The Life of Adam and Eve” appears to have been written in Aramaic in the 1st Century BC.  However in the clean up of rabbinical literature which followed the fall of Jerusalem (70AD) and the Bar Kohba revolt (132AD), there was a reaction against this sort of legend in Judaism and the story only survives in secondary versions: Greek (Apocalypse of Moses, probably a direct Jewish translation of the lost Aramaic), and then several Christian versions — Latin, Slavonic, Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, some of which may also be from Aramaic. The existence of these Christian versions are in direct contradiction to Paul’s warning to Titus to avoid Jewish myths (Tit.1:14). These secondary versions then spawned tertiary, entirely Christian, versions of the myth — such as the 4th Century Cave of Treasures by Ephrem the Syrian.

The second reference, to a “third heaven paradise”, is found in 2Cor.12:1-4.

2Corinthians 12:1-4
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

The original source references in Life of Adam and Eve

The reference to Satan as an angel of light is found in Ch.17 of the myth where Satan persuades the serpent to cooperate with him to trick Eve into eating the fruit. In the myth (contrary to the clear teaching of Genesis) the serpent is outside the paradise/garden and his objective is to get Eve to unlock the gate and let him in, since she fears to pluck the fruit from the tree herself.

17:1 Then the two of them [The diabolos Satan and the serpent] came to me [Eve] at the wall of the paradise. And when the angels went up to worship God then Satanas took on the image of an angel [Greek egeneto en eidei angelou] and praised God as the angels. 2. And I [Eve] looked over the wall and I saw him like an angel. And he said to me “Are you Eve?”. And I said “I am” [Greek ego eimi]. 3. And he said to me “What are you doing in the paradise?” And I said “God set us to guard the paradise and to eat from it”. 4. And the Accuser [Greek diabolos] replied through the mouth of the serpent; “You do well, but you don’t eat from every plant?”. 5 And I [Eve] said “Yes, we eat from all, except from only one which is in the middle of the paradise,  concerning which God commanded us do not eat of it, or you will die the death”.  (Greek version, also found in Armenian, Georgian and Slavonic, missing in Latin version)

The reference to a Third Heaven paradise is found in God’s instructions to Michael to wash and bury the body of Adam:

Take [his body] to paradise, to the Third Heaven, until the Great Day (Greek version  37:5)

However it should be noted that Paul’s usage of these texts are not direct quotes (unlike the Jude 14 refutation of the apocryphal Book of Enoch the Seventh from Adam 1En.1:9, which is a verbatim quote) but Paul’s usage is more in the nature of allusions. That makes it likely that neither Paul nor his informants in Corinth had seen any physical written copy of the Life of Adam and Eve, but instead Paul was reacting to verbal teaching sharing a common source. This would support the view of some academics (e.g. M.D. Johnson 1985, M.E. Stone 1994) that the variation found in the surviving Greek, Latin, Slavonic, etc. versions of the Life of Adam and Eve indicate more than one (spoken or written) version circulating among Jews in the 1st Century.

A third reference (in this case a parallel rather than a source) is found in 2Co.11:3 — “the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning” — which is in contrast to the version given in Life of Adam and Eve where the serpent deceived Eve through being entered by his master Satan’s cunning:

Satan said to the serpent:  ‘Do not fear, be my skin, and I will speak through your mouth’ (Greek version 16:4, Georgian similar.)
Satan said to the serpent:  ‘You be, in your shape, a lyre for me, and I will speak through your mouth’ (Armenian version 44:4/16:4)

This is one of the many indications that demonstrate that the Life of Adam and Eve preserves a significant amount of original Jewish material despite transmission in the hands of Christians. Separation of the serpent and Satan is a Jewish rabbinical idea. A Christian would simply have taken the serpent and Satan as the same creature. Paul’s comment — “the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning” — is not then just a passing confirmation of the Genesis version, but a direct disagreement with the Jewish myth preserved in Life of Adam and Eve.

Paul and the Jewish “Superapostles”

The immediate question is why would Paul introduce Jewish mythical material when he himself condemns dabbling in “Jewish myths” to Titus?

Titus 1:14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

The context appears to be connected with the Jewish-Christian “Superapostles” who were subverting the largely Gentile church at Corinth with what Paul describes as “boasting”

2 Corinthians 11:3-5  But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15  And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 12:1-4 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

The section 2Cor.11:13-15 is particularly revealing, since it demonstrates that the real “Satan” who “disguises himself” are the Super-apostles.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

… false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising [transforming] themselves as apostles of Christ.
14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises [transforms] himself as an angel of light.
15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise [transform] themselves as servants of righteousness.

The verb Paul uses for “transform” (metaschēmatizō) can refer to a physical transformation: the same verb is used in Phil.3:21 for the “transformation” of mortal bodies at the resurrection. Or it can refer to a significant disguise, such as used by the wife of King Jeroboam who dressed as a man in an attempt to deceive the prophet Ahijah (1Kings 14:5 LXX, Josephus Antiquities 8:267).

Paul’s reference to Satan “transforming himself” sandwiched between (vs.13) “false apostles [Greek pseudo-apostoloi], deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” and (vs.15) “So it is no surprise if his servants, also, transform themselves as servants of righteousness” is evidently designed to cast the Jewish teachers as the Satan of their own story. Paul’s very phrase “so it is no surprise” is characteristic of Paul at his most ironic, if not sarcastic. While western readers today, in particular, have difficulties with the idea of a New Testament author being sarcastic, it is completely in character with the norms of both Old Testament writers (Elijah and the prophetical books on false teachers), the norms of Greek and Latin rhetoric (compare Lucian on the false prophet Alexander, Greek and Roman law court transcripts, etc.), and even Jesus himself in his attacks on the Pharisees (compare Matthew 23, and all three sections of Luke 16).

This again is difficult for us today, but the practice of turning a false teacher’s own teaching back on him is well documented in the Bible.  The most spectacular example is perhaps Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal with barbed comments which illustrate Elijah’s own knowledge of, but contempt for, the teachings of Baalism. Similar taunting is found in Isaiah and Jeremiah’s veiled comments on Edomite, Babylonian and Egyptian religion in their prophecies against those nations.

“Boasting”

The section 2Cor.12:1-11 then confirms that the “boasting” of Paul about (his own) vision of Christ 14 years earlier, is a contrast to the “boasting” of the Super-apostles, with the difference that the “boasting” of the Super-apostle visitors to Corinth may not have been personal claims for their own visions, but simply their teaching of mythical visions such as found in Life of Adam and Eve. Alternatively, another reading of 2Cor. interprets Paul’s own boasting of his vision to suggest the Super-apostles in Corinth were making claims of similar visitors to Colossae:

Colossians 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and a religion of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,

Conclusion

It is difficult to draw precise conclusions about exactly the purpose of these allusions to teaching similar to the Jewish myth of Life of Adam and Eve since we do not have the letter from Paul’s supporters in Corinth to Paul containing their questions or description of the teachings of the Super-apostles. We also do not have a reliable pre-AD70 source text for the Jewish myth. Unlike the Enoch material in 2 Peter and Jude which was proven to be based on pre-AD70 Jewish teaching by the discovery of Aramaic originals among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1948, but not published until 1960s), no source for the Life of Adam and Eve has been discovered at Qumran. This, and the wide distribution of sources (Egypt, Greece, Black Sea, Ethiopia)  may indicate that it was a legend that circulated primarily outside Palestine among Diaspora Jewish communities.

However some tentative conclusions can be made about what Paul’s references do not mean:

  1. The reference to Satan as an angel of light does not have to mean that Paul believed the myth about Satan having appeared as an angel of light to trick Eve to be true, any more than Christ had to believe Pharisee ideas about the “Bosom of Abraham” and a gulf dividing Hades in two.
  2. The comparison of Satan transformed/disguised to the false apostles being transformed/disguised does not have to mean that Paul literally thought that an angelic being called Satanas was literally using the Jewish superapostles “as a lyre”, as the transformed Satan had used the greedy serpent in the story. Any more than Christ’s description of the “goats” as “the devil and his angels” (Matt.25:41) has to mean that Christ  literally thought that the “goats” were literally “of your Father the devil” (John 8:44) or “children of the devil” (1John3:10). This is just a figure of speech. It is only literal, physical, concrete, if someone comes to the verse having already decided that the devil must be literal, physical, concrete.
  3. The context of the Jewish myths preserved in the Life of Adam and Eve do not support later Christian mythology about Eden from the Dark Ages, Medieval and Renaissance periods (culminating in Milton’s Paradise Lost), nor ideas popular among Christians today. In the Jewish version the serpent and Satan are two separate creatures working together – Satan to get back into heaven, the serpent to gain access to the garden/paradise.

Likewise, a conclusion about 2Co.12:1-4.

  1. The reference to Paul himself (since he is clearly talking about himself) being caught away to the Third Heaven paradise does not support Christian traditions about either paradise or heaven.  The paradise/Third Heaven in Life of Adam and Eve is simply a place, back inside the walls of the garden from which Adam and Eve have been cast out, where God permits Michael to bury Adam’s corpse to wait for the resurrection. While a fanciful story, the basic ideas of this story : resurrection not heaven going, paradise being a restoration of Eden (Gen.2:8 LXX, Rev.2:7, etc.) actually confirm basic OT ideas about the hope of Adam, not the idea of paradise found in later European traditions.

Notes:

The standard scholarly commentary is found in Johnson, M.D. (1985). Life of Adam and Eve, a new translation and introduction. in Charlesworth, J.H.. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol.2 (Doubleday 1985).

The standard textual edition of the Greek and Latin (with English translation of Armenian, French translation of the Georgian, German translation of the Slavonic in parallel columns for reference) is found in Gary A. Anderson and Michael E. Stone A Synopsis of the Books of Adam and Eve. (SBL, Georgia 1994) http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/anderson/vita/vita.html

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