The Three Rejected Roles of Satan


 EDIT: This is following is presented as one narrative interpretation, which is not without valid contest. See the discussion in the comments below – especially the comments by aquinas – for how this interpretation may or may not have validity with the history of this text. I believe this narrative reading cam be of interest, regardless whether it presents the actual original intent . This is also not designed to be an expression or declaration of belief 


There is a fascinating narrative string in LDS scripture and sacred drama as it currently canonically stands involving the Satan figure, and his repeated rejection and rebellion against the “chosen others” granted key roles in the Eternal Plan of God. Each event involves an explanation as to how Satan distanced himself from God, and was “cast out”.

Read critically, Moses 4:1–4 and Abraham 3:26–28, in connection with the Temple’s Endowment narrative, each involve separate motives and events, but, upon completion, craft an intriguing continuity.

While we are accustomed to reading the first two of these narratives as telling the same story (Satan’s desire to be the Savior figure and being rejected for pride), a close reading shows that it is possible that this is not the only productive reading.

Moses ( actually a part Joseph Smith’s revision and expansion of Genesis) tells of the rejection of Satan as the Savior figure. I propose we read Abraham  presenting the rejection of Satan as the First Man. The Temple Endowment Ritual presents the rejection of Satan as the authorized Granter of Knowledge.

First is the text of Moses 4:1–4:

Satan…came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I willredeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved andChosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should becast down;

4And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of alllies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.

Note particularly that “the first” to make a proposal here is Satan, which is rejected in light of the proposal of “the second”, which is the humble response of the Beloved Son. The writing of this in mid to late 1830 was probably  contemporary with the writing of Doctrine and Covenants 29:36–37, which reinforces the desire for the Lord’s role of honor:

[T]he devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels;

Abraham 3:26–28, probably written around 1842, present the significantly different account of Satan’s rebellion in a different setting. Due to the oblique nature of referring to the personages, I’ve added editorial labels to clarify the individuals in play in the proposed interpretation:

And God [IE, the Father] saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

And there stood one among them that was like unto God [Jesus, the ‘Son of Man’], and he [IE, Jesus] said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

And the Lord [Jesus] said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man [IE, Michael] Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.

And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.

Here, it is “the first”, one “like unto the Son of Man” that is accepted for being sent, and “the second” which is angry, and “kept not his first estate” – here, the mission under consideration is the beginning of ‘keeping their second estate’.

We can take these as two individual unrelated and contradictory narratives (which, to a degree they are), or we can view them as a fascinating narrative progression, where first the Satan figure initially strove for the highest level position, was rejected, and then tried out for the next highest position – the next most important role in the Eternal Plan, underneath the authority of the role he was initially rejected for.

And he’s rejected there, too.

In the course of the development of the Fall narrative, this adds some nuance as to the next essential role we see Satan playing: usurping the role of the Granter of Knowledge.

He is tired of getting rejected, and takes matters into his own hands. While the idea of Satan being the one tempting Adam and Eve to take the forbidden fruit is old and traditional – even appearing explicitly in the earliest strings of uniquely Mormon scripture –  certain elements of the motivations and method were not fully expressed and developed until the presentation of the Temple ritual, where the figure of Satan expresses, both to Adam and to God,  that he is, “doing that which has been done” before, doing that which would “make them wise”. That he is helping them progress the same way God did. When he is punished, it is not not denied that what he did was something that would have been done anyway – it was simply not his to do, and not at that time.

And once again, he is rejected and cursed, which leads to an extended and specific plan and vow/rant of rebellion. If he cannot play a starring role, he will attempt to ruin and overturn the plan.

It will be noted that even after rejection, Satan still claims the titles of the roles he was explicitly rejected for. He proclaims himself as “Son of God” worthy of worship (see Moses 1:19), and even later, explicitly proclaims himself,  “God of this world”, the object of prayer.

In separate narrative strings, he strives to frustrate and tempt the roles he desired to fill. He famously tempts Jesus to get him to fail, and submit to him (see Luke 4). He tempts Adam. He tempts and threatens the messengers of Knowledge.

Perhaps, with the thought that if they failed, he would be justified in saying, “See? That wouldn’t have happened if you’d picked me.” – like a jilted actor rejected from a dream role who now openly desires the whole production to fail – and then blames its failure on its lack of inclusion of he as the star.

12 thoughts on “The Three Rejected Roles of Satan

  1. Interesting. However, you seem to have missed one possible reading of Abraham in equating the one “like unto God” with Jesus. The name Michael can be translated “who is like God?”

    I wonder how this changes the analysis.

  2. I do recognize it – I didn’t miss it. The context appears to me, however, to be one of descending authority – much like the lesson using the symbols of astronomy at the beginning of the same chapter.

    God gathers, then one ‘like unto God’ presents, under which ‘one like unto the Son of God’ speaks up.

    I think given the context, the implication is that the ‘one like unto God’ is the Son of God, which the third figure is then ‘like unto’.

    As early as 1839, Joseph was teaching the hierarchy of God -> Christ -> Adam – it doesn’t seem a leap to find this expressed in Abraham, which appears to have been in process, and completed just a couple years later.

    While some parts of the Abraham text are clearly influenced by Joseph’s Hebrew education, he also was known to take his knowledge, and expand on or ‘riff’ on it.

    Also, this was being presented right around the time the first Endowments were being performed, in which the direct sequel to this text in question is enacted.

    Apart from the original Hebrew meaning, is there anything else that would lead you to think, in this context, that the “One like unto God” was Michael?

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Interesting post. What I find most interesting about Book of Abraham exegesis is the fact that Mormon exegetes have a long tradition of assigning proper names to the unnamed roles in the Book of Abraham, and they do so for various reasons. While the history of exegesis can often be useful in interpreting texts, in this case, it raises more questions than answers. The exegesis is all over the map. That being said, it doesn’t appear any Mormon exegetes (except Toscano, 1990) have read Abraham in the way you suggest. That isn’t meant to say it is wrong, but rather to suggest that there is no tradition of giving it that meaning. That being said, there is also no exegetical tradition of interpreting the one “like unto God” as Michael, appeals to the Hebrew etymology notwithstanding (for example, see Hutchinson, 1988). There seems to be a lack of evidence of early Latter-day Saints taking these readings.

  4. Aquinas, thanks for your thoughts.

    It does raise an interesting question – when, where, and by whom do we find the first exegetical discussion of the passage in question, and how do they assign identities to the personages? That would be a fascinating historical thread to follow. Clearly, the current popular usage loves (understandably) to put “here am I, send me” in the mouth of Jesus, as well as attempting to harmonize it with the rejection of Satan as Savior in Moses. As I noted above, the text themselves don’t appear, contextually, to be telling the same story.

    Any additional thoughts or clues on your end as to Joseph’s originally understood intent in this passage? Tradition aside, I don’t see any strong in-text evidence for the current popular reading.

  5. The first thing I would ask is whether assigning identities to these roles is the best approach in reading Abraham. The text itself provides no proper names and my own thought is that perhaps this is by design. I wonder if assigning names is the problem and not the solution. Clearly, readers of the text have asserted various readings. Of the passage in question, as early as 1859 Orson Pratt identifies the one like unto the Son of Man to be Christ (JD 7:251), and he was extremely influential in creating Mormon narratives. There is almost a universal tradition of equating Son of Man with Christ. It may not be a question of trying to harmonize Moses and Abraham, but it may be the case that the Son of Man is so strongly connected with Jesus Christ that this reading is the more obvious reading.

    One hermeneutic principle is that the intended meaning of a text can be discovered by taking the reading of those closest in time to the text. Their reading receives greater weight. However, if we have a theory of scripture where Joseph Smith translated the text and did not author it, then this hermeneutic principle is weakened. In that case, early readings of a text enjoy no particular advantage since there is no necessary connection between the intended meaning of the text and the original readers of the text.

    As a corollary, there is the question as to whether we should draw a distinction between Joseph’s intent, and the intent of the author of the Abrahamic papyri. Are they one in the same, or is it possible we might have two layers of intent? If there are distinct intents, it could be argued that early readers may be just as susceptible of misreading texts or not noticing insights.

    I agree with you that we should take the texts as we find them, and read them on their own, to discover the texts own internal logic, structure and meaning. I like how you have provided a provocative kind of reading. In exploring this issue, I might ask, why did not early readers of the Book of Abraham ever entertain the reading that the Son of Man is Michael? Is there any reason for them to have taken that reading? Was there ever a tradition of the Son of Man being applied to Michael?

  6. I want to clarify that I don’t see the ‘son of man’ as Michael in this text, but the individual noted as ‘like unto the son of man’ — just as the previous speaker is noted as being ‘like unto God’. It appears to be comparative, not assigning a name title. If I identify Jesus as the Son of Man (which I do), then I cannot identify one “like the Son of Man” as that same Son of Man.

    I am surprised this hasn’t been noted more – especially with the context of the opening scenes of the Endowment drama, which was presented in extremely close proximity to the initial publication of this text.

  7. Nibley (1999) suggested the possibility that the “one like unto the Son of Man” is better understood as stage directions to one playing the part in the drama. While this is an interesting possibility, it is far from conclusive. It would be a stronger case if all the roles contained the adjective “like unto” so that we have “like unto the Lord,” “like unto God,” “like unto the first,” “like unto the second.” However, this adjective is not consistently used in the chapter.

    Compounding the problem is that the complete phrase “like unto the Son of Man” is actually used in the scriptures. It has scriptural precedent. Rev. 1:13; Rev 14:14, Daniel 7:13. In these passages, the phrase is nearly uniformly understood to indicate Jesus Christ, regardless of the additional words “like unto.”

    In terms of original intent, there is a lack of evidence that Joseph Smith used the term “Son of Man” or any possible variants to refer to anyone other than Jesus Christ. Another difficulty is Daniel 7:13, where we have the “one like unto the Son of Man” coming unto “the Ancient of Days.” Before the Book of Abraham was translated, Mormons understood the Ancient of Days to be Adam or Michael. Readers would be forced to read Michael as both the “one like unto the Son of Man” and the “Ancient of Days,” which is an awkward reading. Lastly, as I suggest in my post on Adam to Michael, there are difficulties with using the temple liturgy to infer understandings of Michael in early Mormonism. All of these reasons make this alternative reading extremely difficult, or at the very least offers an explanation of why we do not see this alternative reading in Mormon exegetical history.

  8. Not gonna lie, your arguments are quite convincing. Especially with the presentation of the original scriptural use of the term in Daniel, which was then carried over to Revelation. (And yes, Rigdon was making the Ancient of Days/ Adam connection very early).

    The Abraham 3:22–27 as a stand-alone narrative, however, is very hard to read that way. It seems very indicative of a change of characters.

    We have God identified as God, and standing among the intelligences. Then it says there was one among them who was ‘like unto God’, and then ‘one’ like unto the Son of God answers.

    The context in this periscope makes it very hard to identify God with the one “like unto God” – if the one “like unto God” actually is God, then the traditional hierarchy can remain in place, where the next figure, “like unto the Son of Man”, appears, and can then be identified as Jesus.

    But if the initial “like unto God” figure is Jesus – or someone else (which is unlikely), then a wider range of options presents itself for interpreting the rest.

    While it is true that there is a disconnect in time between the presentation of the first Endowments in 1842 (which was immediately around the time we have the earliest records of Abraham 3, and when it was published) and the first full description of the roles in creation from December 1845, there is no discussion or comment of any such major innovation among those keeping notes within the Quorum of Anointed up to that point, who were, corporately, the guardians of the presentation. There is a significant continuity in recordkeeping within the quorum – which while in and of itself certainly isn’t conclusive, it does suggest that major doctrinal changes unprecedented by Joseph’s teachings were not necessarily introduced at this time (although I recognize at least the use of Peter, James and John was most likely an innovation)

    I think I agree that the only conclusion we can definitively come to with the current evidence is that it is, at best, ambiguous. And confusing as it is written.

    Thanks for your notes and references. All very helpful and useful. I’m still working it out. Your series on Adam/Michael is fantastic.

  9. Aquinas, I’m adding a disclaimer to the body of my post text directing readers to this discussion down here. While I think the thoughts and themes are still worth consideration, I think the discussion of the history of this interpretation (or rather lack thereof!) and its problems are also very useful and informative. Thanks very much for your always valued contributions.

  10. I appreciate your comment. I want to press you just a little on one point. It is true that God is identified as God, but who is God? The text itself identifies God as Jehovah. (Abraham 1:16; Abraham 2:8). But if we accept that Jehovah is Christ, how is it that the Jehovah asks “Whom shall I send?” (Abraham 3:27). For me, theological history can provide some clues. The distinction that Jehovah is used exclusively for Jesus Christ was not yet in existence at this time (see Alexander, 1980; Kirkland, 1984). In early Mormonism, Jehovah was often used in reference to the Father. Thus, we need to be careful with imposing on the original text a later understanding or theological distinction that was not in existence when the text was produced. So I might still want to argue that even the text itself has ambiguities.

    My own view is that the purpose of having roles unnamed in Abraham 3 is to indicate the general plurality of the Gods in the divine council, and to illustrative the deliberations in the divine council regarding the creation of the world. The lack of proper names is suggestive of plurality among the Gods—a key theme in Abraham. Thus, I believe the unnamed aspect of the text is by design, at least we should explore the possibility that the very aspect of unnamed characters serves a theological function.

    Finally, as I wrote above, that if we have a theory of scripture where Joseph Smith translated texts (whether the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham) and did not author them, then exegetical history is not limiting. Under this theory, it could be possible for all subsequent readers to fail to grasp certain meanings intended by the original author of the text. Therefore, I do not want to stifle your readings of these various texts.

    Terryl Givens once spoke of scripture as “infinitely recontexualizable.” In fact, he argues that some doctrines found in the Book of Mormon lay “buried, unnoticed and appreciated.” Thus, for Givens, some ideas can be completely passed over by the translator and early readers. It’s quite a fascinating idea when you think about it. For all those reasons, I still think that you provide thoughts and themes very worthy of consideration. There is much to explore.

  11. I think the initial identity/roles of the Three Gods of Creation in the Temple Drama is a fascinating and somewhat frustrating question.

    I think you are very right in your observation that in Abraham, the key principle plurality and hierarchy. I think, to a degree, that passed over into the temple ritual.

    As a somewhat of a parallel, it appears that in the first iteration of the Endowment, as presented by BY, the figures of Peter, James, and John were not present – their roles were just filled by present Apostles, and not playing a distinct role. (The only roles being played were Elohim, Jehovah, Michael, and The Serpent). About two days after the first Nauvoo Temple Endowments were given, there was a little bit of a restructuring, and the instruction now included the roles of Peter, James and John.

    It appears that a didactic function (That of an apostolic teacher presenting covenants and charges) became identified with specific Individuals for liturgical standardization purposes.

    While Elhoim, Jehovah, and Michael were there at the beginning, the roles of Elohim and Jehovah are not clear at this point in time. Michael’s identity is clear. But the general use (before and after) by the participants of Jehovah as the Father (specifically of the Father of Christ), and also using the mixed term “Jehovah Elohim”, or “Elohim Jehovah”, adds to the confusion. Perhaps “Elohim” was used to refer to the principle of hierarchy and plurality, going along with the Sermon at the Grove where Joseph declared he had discovered there was “a god above the Father of Jesus Christ”.

    As terminology standardized with Jehovah meaning Jesus, then Elohim became, of necessity, understood as the direct and concrete figure of “The Father”.

    I think Givens’ note of being “infinitely recontexualizable”, if applicable to written scripture, is even more appropriate to lived liturgical ritual!

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