Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  



The Principle Of Personification

Some may find it difficult to accept the explanation of the personification of the devil because the devil is so often referred to in the Bible as if it were a person and perhaps this confuses some people. This is easily explained by pointing out that it is a recognized feature of the Bible that inanimate or non-living things are personified, such as wisdom, riches, sin, the church, but only in the case of the devil is some fantastic theory woven around it. The following examples will illustrate the point:

Wisdom Is Personified

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. SHE is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto HER” (Prov. 3:13-15).

“Wisdom hath builded HER house, SHE hath hewn out HER seven pillars” (Prov. 9:1).

These verses, and indeed the rest of the chapters in which they appear, show that wisdom is personified as a woman, but because of this, no one has the idea that wisdom is a literal beautiful woman who roams around the earth; all recognize that it is a very desirable characteristic which all people should try to acquire.

Riches Are Personified

“No man can serve two MASTERS: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).

Here, riches are likened to a MASTER. Many people strive very hard to gain riches and in this way they become their master. Jesus is here telling us that we cannot do that and serve God acceptably at the same time. The teaching is simple and effective, but no one assumes from this that riches is a MAN named Mammon.

Sin Is Personified

“...Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (Jn. 8: 34). “Sin hath REIGNED unto death” (Rom. 5:21). “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, HIS servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16).

As in the case of riches, sin is likened here to a master and those who commit sin are its servants. No reasonable reading of the passage justifies assuming that Paul is teaching that sin is a person. Notice that there are times when sin is personified as a woman- “all iniquity shuts her mouth”, or as a prostitute in the book of Proverbs. When sin is elsewhere personified as a man, this likewise cannot be read literally. The world is personified (Jn. 15:19)- so why cannot this persona be called ‘satan’, the adversary, or the ‘devil’, the false accuser?

The Spirit Is Personified

“When HE, the Spirit of truth, is come, HE will guide you into all truth: for HE shall not speak of HIMSELF...” (Jn. 16:13).

Jesus is here telling His disciples that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and this was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2: 3-4, where it is stated that “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”, which gave them remarkable power to do wonderful things to prove that their authority was from God. The Holy Spirit was not a person, it was a power, but when Jesus was speaking of it He used the personal pronoun “he”.

The Nation Of Israel Is Personified

“Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O VIRGIN OF ISRAEL: thou shalt be adorned with thy tabrets...” (Jer. 31: 4). “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning HIMSELF thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God” (Jer. 31:18).

The context of these passages reveals clearly that the prophet is not referring to a literal virgin or to Ephraim as a person, but to the nation of Israel, which in this instance is personified, in a similar manner as Great Britain is sometimes personified as “Britannia” or “John Bull”. There are no such persons as this woman and man, but when they are referred to in books or portrayed in pictures everyone knows that Great Britain is meant.

The Believers In Christ Are Personified

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a PERFECT MAN, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). “There is one BODY” (Eph. 4: 4). “Ye are the BODY OF CHRIST, and members in particular” (1 Cor. 12: 27). “...Christ is the head of the church: and He is the saviour of the BODY” (Eph. 5:23). “He (Christ) is the head of the BODY, the church...who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his BODY’S sake, which is the church” (Col. 1: 8 & 24). “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a CHASTE VIRGIN to Christ” (2 Cor.11: 2). “...the marriage of the Lamb is come, and HIS WIFE hath made herself ready” (Rev. 19: 7).

All these verses obviously refer to the community of people who were the true believers in Christ, sometimes referred to as “the church”, though this must not be confused with any of the present churches, which have long since ceased to be the true believers in Christ.

The true believers, that is, those who hold and believe the true doctrines taught in the Bible, are referred to as a “chaste virgin”, indicating the purity of the lives they should lead; and as a body, a suitable figure because just as a natural body has many functions, so the true church has many responsibilities and performs various functions.

When the church is referred to as a “body”, no one mistakes it for some individual, nor would they mistake the devil or satan for some grotesque monster or fallen angel if the words had been properly translated, or if men and women had not acquired wrong ideas derived from the false churches in days gone by.

Adapted from “Christendom Astray”

By Robert Roberts.