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PROGRESSIVE REVELATION:

Three paradigm shifts of beliefs and practices in the Bible:

Satan, Ritual animal sacrifices, Holy days

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The concept of progressive revelation in the Bible suggests that God gradually revealed truths as the Hebrews and Christians needed the information, at a rate that the people were capable of absorbing. This produced a number of paradigm shifts in people's beliefs and actions, in which old structures were replaced with new ones. Some are described briefly below.

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The evolution of Satan:

The concept of Satan evolved throughout the Bible

bulletSatan started out as a simple enemy or adversary: This is seen in the older parts of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
bulletIn Samuel and Kings, term "satan" (root Hebrew word "s'tn"), was used to refer to a person who acted as an accuser or enemy. Most translations of the Bible obscure this; they translate Satan as adversary, enemy, opponent, etc.
bulletIn Numbers 22:22, an angel was sent by God as a satan to kill Balaam.
bulletIn 1 Chronicles 21:1, Satan, a supernatural emissary acting on God's behalf, convinced David to hold a census.
bullet Satan became a type of prosecuting attorney in God's court:
bulletIn Job 1 and 2, Satan is described as one of the members of the court of heaven.
bulletIn Zechariah 3:1-7, Satan also appears as a member of God's council.
bulletSatan evolved into an all-evil supernatural being with great powers:
bulletAuthor G. Messandé 1 and many other religious historians and theologians theorize that from the middle of the 5th century BCE until 53 BCE and later, the Hebrews were on particularly good terms with the Persians. Jews picked up a number of concepts from the Persians' religion: Zoroastrianism. These included the immortality of the soul, Heaven, Hell, angels, and Angra Manyu, (a.k.a. Ahriman), the God of Evil.
bulletHebrew theologians began to portray Yahweh as wholly good deity, and attributed evil activity to Satan. History was seen as a battle between the two. Satan became humanity's greatest enemy.
bulletSatan and his demons were viewed as the cause of mental illness, and as evil figures:
bulletSatan figures prominently throughout the Gospels. Jesus and his disciples accepted the common belief of the 1st century CE that mental illness and some physical ailments were caused by indwelling demons, led by Satan.
bulletIn Matthew 4:1-3, Luke 4:2, Jesus is tempted by Satan.
bulletIn Matthew 12:24, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of "Beelzebub, the prince of the demons."
bulletIn John 8:44, one of the most anti-Judaic passages in the Bible, Jesus is recorded as accusing Jews of being children of the Devil.
bulletSatan viewed as an extremely powerful force for evil:
bulletIn the writings of Paul and the other apostles, the character and range of activities of Satan and his demons is further developed. The duality is established between an all-good God and an all-evil Satan --  the two most powerful forces in the universe.
bullet2 Corinthians 11:12-14: Satan is responsible for false teaching by "false apostles, deceitful workers."
bullet2 Corinthians 12:7: Satan has given Paul a "thorn in the flesh" to trouble him.
bullet1 Thessalonians 2:17-18: Satan hindered Paul's travels.
bulletI Timothy 1:19-20: Paul excommunicated Hymenaeus and Alexander and "delivered them unto Satan" for tormenting.
bulletIn Revelation 2:8-9, Satan is portrayed as the power behind the Roman Empire's persecution of the Christians. The author apparently condemns ex-Christians who pretend that they are Jewish in order to avoid the persecution. They are referred to as the "Synagogue of Satan."
bulletSatan involved in a great battle with God at the end of the world as we know it:
bulletRevelation 12:9: Satan, viewed as the great dragon, and his fallen angels were cast down to earth.
bulletRevelation 20:2-3: Satan is bound and sealed into an abyss for 1000 years
bulletRevelation 20:7-8: Satan is released after 1000 years, deceives the nations, and gathers them together for war. He eventually loses.

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Ritual sacrifice of animals:

Through much of the Hebrew Scriptures, the ritual killing of animals was mandated to alleviate sin or overcome ritual impurity. Much of the Mosaic Law in the Hebrew Scriptures required ritual sacrifices of animals as a mechanism by which a person could either attain forgiveness for their sins or terminate an interval of ritual impurity. Some procedures are quite elaborate and specific. For example:
bulletA person healed from a running skin sore -- called a "running issue" in the King James Version -- was to take: "two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and give them unto the priest. And the priest shall offer them, the one [for] a sin offering, and the other [for] a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD for his issue." [Leviticus 15:14-15]
bulletIf a ruler has inadvertently committed some sin, then he is to bring an offering: "a kid of the goats, a male without blemish: And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering. And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out his blood at the bottom of the altar of burnt offering. And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him." [Leviticus 4:23-25]
bulletMany dozens of such rituals involving animal sacrifices are contained in the book of Leviticus alone.

But Isaiah 1:11 quoted God as giving to Isaiah a new revelation which essentially overthrew the ritual sacrifice system: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?...I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats....incense is an abomination unto me;" In place of the ritual sacrifices, they are to engage in good works: "put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."

Micah 's writings reinforce Isaiah's revelation that God is not impressed with animal sacrifice. He asks believers to act with justice, mercy, and humility. Micha 6:6-8 states: "Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

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Special religious observances and seasonal days of celebration:

The ancient Israelites were instructed to hold special observances on the new moons, Sabbaths and other holy days.
bulletLeviticus 23:2 records God speaking to Moses, stating: "Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts." Subsequent verses define:
bulletWeekly sabbath: This is a day of rest to be observed forever on Saturday (actually Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown. [Leviticus 23:3]
bulletPassover and the feast of unleavened bread: These holy days were held on the 14th day of the first month of each year, and during the following week. It is a remembrance of their period of slavery in Egypt and their Exodus to the promised land. [Leviticus 23:5-8]
bulletFeast of Weeks:  This involves the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. A sheaf was to be brought to the priest, along with an unblemished lamb for ritual slaughter and sacrifice. [Exodus 34:22 & Leviticus 23:10-22]
bulletSeventh month sabbath: The first day of the seventh month was to be "a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation." [Leviticus 23:24]
bulletDay of Atonement: This is another "holy convocation," to start on the tenth day of the seventh month. God promised to execute any person who worked on that day. [Leviticus 23:27-32]
bulletFeast of Tabernacles: This "holy convocation" starts on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and is to last for eight days. [Leviticus 23:34-44]
bulletPsalms 81:3 refers to a feast at the time of the new moon: "Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day."

But Isaiah 1:13-15 quoted God as giving a new revelation to Isaiah which essentially abolished the ritual sacrifice system: "the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood."

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletThree additional examples of progressive revelation:
bulletWhether the sins of the one generation are visited on the next.
bulletLife after death.
bulletThe status of women.
bulletTypes of sin, as defined by the Mosaic Code in the Hebrew Scriptures
bulletSatan: His early history: 300 BCE to 100 CE
bulletSatan: More recent history: 100 CE to now

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References:

  1. G. Messandé, "The History of the Devil", Newleaf, London, England, (1996)

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-DEC-23
Latest update: 2003-DEC-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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