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5-21 An Angel Of Light

2 Corinthians 11:13-15: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works”

Popular Interpretation

This is taken to mean that Satan is an angel who deceives Christians by pretending to be righteous.


1. It is also commonly believed that Satan was originally an angel of light and then transformed himself into a serpent or became a sinful angel of darkness. This is the exact opposite of what this verse teaches. This transforming of Satan occurred in Paul’s time - not in Eden, nor in 1914. The popular idea is that Satan was punished for rebellion by being turned from an Angel of light into some kind of 'dark Angel'. But this verse states that Satan transforms himself, in the time of Paul in the first century. Yet the orthodox view of Satan is that he was an Angel of light who was punished by God to become an Angel of darkness. Yet here Paul is saying that in the first century, in the city of Corinth, here on planet earth, 'Satan' transformed himself into an Angel of light. Transformed himself from what? From his fallen state back into his state before he fell? In this case God's supposed punishment of Satan has little meaning if Satan is able to transform himself back into his previous state.

2. We have seen in section 2-1 that an “angel” in some cases can refer to a man

3. Concerning Satan’s ministers, we are told “whose end shall be according to their works”. This recalls Paul’s words about false Christians in Philippians 3:19: “whose end is destruction”, and also Revelation 20:12-13, which speaks of the resurrected dead believers being “judged every man according to their works”. If Satan’s ministers are to be judged and destroyed, then they cannot be angels, seeing that angels cannot die or be destroyed (Lk. 20:35-36).

4. These verses speak as though the believers to whom Paul was writing were in contact, literally, with Satan’s ministers. The believers were being troubled by “false apostles”, not sinful angels.

Suggested Explanations

1. Verse 4 speaks of some who had entered the church preaching a wrong Gospel and another Jesus. This sets the context for the rest of the chapter. A comparison of verses 13 and 15 clearly shows that these “false apostles” are the “ministers of Satan” - thus they are men, not angels.

2. “Satan” often refers to the Jewish system, especially in its being opposed to Christianity (see section 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”). These ministers of Satan were therefore people working on behalf of the Jews who were infiltrating the Christian churches spreading wrong doctrine. There are frequent references to this infiltration and undermining:

- “False brethren (cp. “false apostles”) unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal. 2:4). “Bondage” in Galatians refers to the bondage of keeping the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:23; 4:3,9). “After my (Paul’s) departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 - the leaders of apostate Israel are likened to wolves in Ez. 22:27 and Zeph. 2: 3).

-As there were false Jewish prophets among Israel in the wilderness, so there would be the same types among the Christian Jews to whom Peter wrote (1 Pet.1:1), “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1).

- “These are spots in your feasts of charity (i.e. the love-feasts; the Breaking of Bread), when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear...these speak evil of those things which they know not” (Jude :12,10 ), i.e. they spoke falsely about Christianity, which they really knew little about.

- “His (Paul’s) letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor. 10:10). Thus Paul showed that he was “not ignorant of (Satan’s) devices” (2 Cor. 2:11) to undermine Christianity.

- “Him whose coming in (Greek) is after the working of Satan” (2 Thess. 2:9) probably refers to these people too. Their possession of “all power and signs” was due may be to some of the apostate Jewish Christians still possessing the miraculous Spirit gifts (as in Heb. 6:4-6; 1 Cor. 14).

3. The apostles or ministers of John are called his “angels” - Lk. 7:19,24 (cp. 2 Cor. 11:14-15). Thus we can understand the parallel between the apostles of Christ and the angel (apostle) of light. Remember, too, that Christ is the light (Jn. 1:8; 8:12).

False apostles

transforming into Apostles of Christ


transforming into Angel (apostle) of light (Christ)

His ministers

transforming into ministers (angels) of righteousness (Christ)

4. The application of these ministers of Satan to Jews infiltrating the Christians is confirmed by Paul saying in 2 Cor. 11:22 that he was also a Jew as they were.

5. That the ministers of righteousness are to be interpreted as ministers, or apostles, of Christ, is confirmed by Paul saying that he was also a minister of Christ, as they claimed to be (:23).

6. The individual “Satan” in the singular referred to in :14, can either be the Jewish system as a whole trying to give a Christian facade (an angel of light, i.e. a minister of Christ, the true light), or an individual leader of the Jewish system. Bearing in mind the reference of “the prince of this world” to the High Priest (see section 5-20), there may be a reference here to some unrecorded pronouncement by the High Priest concerning Christianity which would give the implication that a bridge could be built between Judaism and Christianity.

7. The “deceitful workers” of :13 who were ministers of the Satan are clearly defined in Philippians 3:2 as “evil workers...of the circumcision”, i.e. those who were teaching that Christians had to be circumcised and thus keep the Law of Moses to be saved. This faction of Jewish believers in the church is described as “them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

8. It needs to be recognized that Paul's writings very often allude to extant Jewish and Gentile literature, sometimes quoting verbatim from them, in order to correct popular ideas. Thus Paul quotes Aratus (Acts 17:28), Menander (1 Corinthians 15:33) and Epimenides (Titus 1:12)- he uses odd phrases out of these uninspired writings by way of illustration. I've shown elsewhere (1) that much of the Biblical literature does this kind of thing, e.g. the entire Pentateuch is alluding to the various myths and legends of creation and origins, showing what the truth is. The fact Paul's 21st century readers are largely ignorant of that literature, coupled with Paul's rabbinic writing style not using specific quotation rubric or quotation marks, means that this point is often missed. It's rather like our reading of any historical literature- parts of it remain hard to understand because we simply don't appreciate the historical and immediate context in which it was written. When Paul speaks of satan being transformed as a bright Angel, he's actually quoting from the first century AD Life Of Adam And Eve (12-16) which speculated that 'Satan' refused to worship the image of God in Adam and therefore he came to earth as a bright Angel and deceived Eve: "Satan was wroth and transformed himself into the brightness of angels, and went away to the river" (2) . Paul's quoting from that document; although in the preceding verse (2 Cor. 11:3) he has stressed that "the serpent beguiled Eve by his subtilty". He's reaffirming the Genesis account, which doesn't speak of a personal satan, but rather simply of a serpent, created as one of the "beasts of the field". So we could paraphrase Paul here: 'I know that the Jewish writings say that the serpent wasn't really a serpent, it was 'Satan', and was actually in the form of a bright Angel. Now that's not the case- let's stick with Genesis, which speaks of a literal serpent. But OK, in the same way as in the Jewish myth Satan became a bright, persuasive Angel, well, these false teachers from the Jews appear as wonderful, spiritual people- but following them will lead you to the same catastrophe as fell upon Eve as a result of being deceived'.

9. The way Paul uses the word metaschematizo ["transform"] three times is interesting- "the stress is so heavy here because Paul is turning their own word against his opponents" (3). If this is the case, then we would yet another example [of which there are so many in Corinthians] of Paul using a term used by his enemies in order to answer them- which would mean that he is not necessarily agreeing with it. Indeed the apocryphal Jewish Apocalypse Of Moses claims that because Satan appeared as such a dazzling, shining Angel, Eve was inevitably deceived by him. Paul here would thus be alluding to this idea- not that his allusion means that he supported the idea.


(1) See the digressions The Intention And Context Of Genesis 1-3 , Romans And The Wisdom Of Solomon, Jude And The Book Of Enoch.

(2) For references, see Susan Garrett, The Temptations Of Jesus In Mark's Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) p. 45. The Life Of Adam And Eve was apparently widely quoted and alluded to in the first century- see throughout M. Stone, A History Of The Literature Of Adam And Eve (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1992).

(3) Neil Forsyth, Satan And The Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 269.