True Prophet

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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filled with the spirit of God powerful meek, tranquil, humble refrains from all evil and futile desire poor, does not accept payment does not answer when consulted speaks only when God wants it speaks what the Lord wishes speaks only in a gathering of just men

False Christians, illicit desire, evil spirits, the devil, and the vices become inextricably linked in this passage.110 Pseudo-prophets are animated by the devil. They lead Christians to idolatry and to becoming "like the gentiles." In this way, those who listen to false Christian prophets are no better than idolaters: they consult oracles "like the gentiles" and "bring upon themselves greater sin by becoming idolaters."111 They tempt people by offering to fulfill wicked desires. They live in riotous luxury, seeking payment to maintain their decrepit lifestyle. Mandate 11 offers a taxonomy of the typical false prophet, a taxonomy of charges that appears elsewhere in denunciations of "false" Christians.

Paul claims that his rivals in Corinth were in league with the devil: "For such men are pseudo-apostles, deceitful workers, disguised as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. It is not a great thing, therefore, if his servants disguise themselves as servants of justice" (2 Cor 11:13-15). The author of 1 Timothy warns that in the last days some (Christians) will listen to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (4:1). The typical false prophet in The Shepherd "exalts himself." So, too, do the false prophets denounced by the author of James, 1 Peter, the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas (Jas 4:10; 1 Pet 5:6; Did. 3.9; Barn. 19.3. Compare Matt 23:1-12). The model false prophet pursues "luxury" (tryphe).112 So, too, do the false teachers in 2 Peter (2:13).113 False prophets are said to pander to the desires of their audience, telling people what they want to hear. Justin accuses Crescens, a Cynic philosopher, of a similar crime.114 In short, the description of the prototypical false Christian prophet in the Shepherd turns out to be virtually identical to the representation of supposedly real, antinomian false prophets or teachers in numerous other Christian texts.

Jude and 2 Peter do not make an explicit connection between "wicked desire" and the devil, preferring instead to propose that desire brings about the end time. The Shepherd, however, combines the suggestion that bad Christians are in league with the devil with the view that desire is a dangerous threat to faithfulness. Hermas is told that false Christians are to be identified both by their lusts and by the true source of their (illegitimate) prophecies: the devil. In this way, wicked desire and the machinations of the devil are explicitly connected. False prophets are not only contaminated and ruled by desire, they are filled with evil spirits who, in turn, use them as instruments to deceive others. The best and only protection against them (prophets and evil spirits), The Shepherd insists, is single-minded devotion to God.115 Anything less leaves the faithful open to the seductive powers of the evil spirits. A similar point is made later in the document when disobedient Christians are said to fall into rebelliousness after allowing themselves to be tempted by evil spirits. A detailed description of this process is found in the Similitude 9.


The Ninth Similitude recapitulates and extends a vision of the church first given to Hermas in the Vision 3. In the earlier vision, Hermas is shown a tower by the lady/church and told that the stones that are either being placed in the tower or thrown away represent Christians of different types. The stones that easily fit into the tower are church leaders who have lived in purity and remained at peace with one another, those who have suffered for the name of the Lord, and those who are righteous and have obeyed God's commandments (Herm. Vis. 3.3-5). The rest of the stones, as yet unfit for the tower, are rejected for various failings, including having given themselves up to depraved licentiousness (Herm. Vis. 3.6-7). In the Similitude 9, Hermas revisits this vision, this time with the Shepherd as his guide. Though the vision of the tower is similar in the Vision and the Similitude versions, there are some elaborations and new elements were added.116 One of the new elements is a juxtaposition of twelve virgin virtues with twelve personified vices.117 The virgins (parthenoii) carry the stones/Christians to the tower. The twelve vices carry defective stones away.

The virgins, Hermas is told, are "holy spirits" and the very "powers of the Son of God" (Herm. Sim. 9.13.2). Without them a man cannot enter the kingdom of God. They are Faith, Self-Mastery, Power, Patience, Simplicity, Innocence, Holiness, Cheerfulness, Truth, Understanding, Harmony, and Love, with Faith, Self-Mastery, Power, and Patience said to be the principal four (Herm. Sim. 9.15.2). These are matched by twelve vices, also revealed to be "spirits" and depicted as women in black: Faithlessness, Lack of Self-Control, Disobedience, Deceit, Sorrow, Wickedness, Licentiousness, Quick Temper, Lying, Foolishness, Slander, and Hatred, with Faithlessness, Lack of Self-Control, Disobedience, and Deceitfulness designated as the chief four (Herm. Sim. 9.15.3).118 These spirits, Hermas is told, play a key role in the rejection or acceptance of the "stones":

"All of these," he said, "received the name of the Son of God and the power of these virgins. And so, they were empowered by receiving these spirits and they accompanied the slaves of God, sharing one spirit, one body, and one clothing. For they were harmonious with one another and did what was righteous. And then, after some time, they were seduced by the women you saw wearing black garments, with uncovered shoulders, loose hair, and beautiful figures. When these men saw them they desired them and clothed themselves in their power, taking off the clothing and power of the virgins. And so they were cast out from the house of God and handed over to those women."

In other words, the source of their apostasy was evil desire and evil spirits: they desired the wicked but beautiful spirits/vices. When they proved unable to resist desire and the seductive power of the vices/women, God gave them over (paradidomii) to evil.119 If they repent, clothing themselves with the virtues once again, they may still be placed in the tower. Their time is running short, however, for those who know God and yet do wrong will be doubly punished, dying forever (Herm. Sim. 9.18.3).120


What is the significance of the assertion in The Shepherd and elsewhere that the source of apostasy, wicked desire, and false prophecy is "the devil" or "evil spirits"? In her discussion of the origin of Satan, Elaine Pagels suggests that sectarian Jews began to invoke Satan to characterize their

Jewish opponents when the dichotomy "Israel" against "the nations" was no longer satisfactory. Identification of rival Jews with "Satan"—once simply God's adversarial angel but later the leading evil angel, the Evil One—was a way of indicating which Jews are "really on God's side."121 Christians adopted this strategy, Pagels argues, demonizing outsiders ("the nations," Rome, "pagans") but, even more, fellow Christians, "the most intimate enemies of all."122 Bernard McGinn has also suggested that Satan or the devil—together with his peculiarly Christian extension, the "Antichrist"—are especially useful characters when the object of concern is one's "intimate enemy." The myth of the Antichrist, McGinn suggests, asks the believer to consider the possibility that the ultimate evil and the most dangerous threat may come "from within the righteous themselves, or even from within the believer's own heart."123

Be that as it may, identifying one's opponent with personified evil—all the while claiming direct access to the divine for oneself and those one hopes to persuade—is a potent rhetorical move, a move that was popular among such diverse early Christians as Paul, Polycarp, the author of the Johannine epistles, and the author of The Shepherd. As is clear from The Shepherd, an actual opponent was not necessary, for this document can hardly be read as an attack against any "real" false prophets. The Shepherd offers a description of the typical false prophet in an attempt ensure that "the slaves of God" will recognize a bad Christian when they see one. In a world populated with "others" who are condemned to a final death, true Christians who were figured as the representatives of God, and (allegedly) false Christians who were cast as Satan's representatives, staying true to the faith—as the author conceived of it—was granted absolute importance. Christians who remained obedient, who practiced self-mastery and who demonstrated that they experienced the requisite transformation in Christ gained eternal life for themselves, were granted mastery over their desires, and avoided becoming aligned with evil. In this way, the true, manly Christians were not only rewarded in the world to come, they were promised an escape from the horrific punishment that God has specially reserved for Satan and his collaborators at the end of time.124

Later Christian authors followed the example of Jude, 2 Peter, and The Shepherd, accusing their opponents of demonic inspiration and wicked desire, often in prurient detail. Not only do the alleged "heretics" succumb to their desires, these authors asserted, they engage in orgies,125 seduce women with promises of spiritual fulfillment,126 and attempt to cover their debaucheries with the name of Christ.127 A new charge was added, however: some heretics take sexual renunciation too far, rejecting marriage as Satanic and declaring all flesh to be corrupt.128 Yet the very same authors who labeled the "heretics" in this way also insisted that Christians must maintain sexual purity or face the wrath of God, boasting that the "gift" of sexual abstinence offers the best sort of Christian life.129 Perhaps charges of sexual licentiousness, outlined in increasingly prurient detail in such writers as Justin and Irenaeus are linked to these ever more strident claims about the heroic sexual renunciations of the followers of Christ.

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