Moses by John August Swanson. Image from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn. Original source © 1983 by John August Swanson.
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Tempted in the Wilderness
Matthew 4:1-17 Commentary
by Richard Swanson
The tester in Matthew’s story, the diabolos, retains at least some of the responsibilities of the satan in older stories.
The satan is an ally of God who tests the Creation to determine its soundness, a cosmic building inspector who enforces the Universal Building Code. In later stories and later religious imagination, the satan becomes Satan, the enemy of God, Creation, and all that is good and life-giving. The figure who appears in Matthew’s story is somewhere in between. You can hear that in the name the character is given: the diabolos. The word later gives us the Italian “Pollo alla Diavola” and the English “diabolical.” The Greek word is not quite so devilish: it refers physically to the act of throwing something across someone’s path, and is well-translated as “slanderer.” Such a character is no ally, but neither is a slanderer necessarily a cosmic force of evil. Ask people in the building trades about code inspectors. Such officials enforce the Uniform Building Code so that no one will ever look at your house and use the words “creative” and ...
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Summer 2020 Readings
2020-21 Readings (Year 3)
The narrative lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. Read more.
NL160: Tempted in the Wilderness
January 18, 2015
Narrative Lectionary podcast on readings for Jan. 18, 2015: Matthew 4:1-17 (Accompanying text: Psalm 91:9-12).