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Satan Was a Prosecutor. Jesus was a Defense Lawyer.

It’s true. You may not like it. You may wonder why I’m writing this. But it’s true, and I’ll get you there.

The word “devil” comes from the Greek word diábolos, which means “accuser.”[1] In early Judaism, unlike modern Christianity, Satan was not viewed as a fallen angel or an adversary to God, but as a prosecutor in God’s court (with God, of course, being the ultimate judge). [2] In fact, the Old Testament mentions “satan” a scant 14 times: once in 1 Chronicles, 11 times in Job, and twice in Zechariah.[3] In all but one instance, Satan is obediently serving God in his role as an accuser: presenting men to God for judgment.[4] In the original Hebrew, Satan is not a proper name, but a title.  The Hebrew term ha-satan or “the Satan,” can be translated as “the prosecutor.”[5]

The book of Job is evidence of ha-satan serving this role. The book opens by saying “One day Sons of God [Bene ha-Elohim] came to present themselves before Yaweh, and the satan [ha-satan] also came among them.”[6] God asks the satan to consider the righteousness of Job, to which the satan replies (in a nutshell), “It’s only because you’ve been so nice to him. Let me ruin his life.” So God does, and it turns out Job really was a pretty decent guy despite having his family slaughtered, his crops burned, and his life destroyed. But at least our prosecutor friend got some trial experience…

4/19/2014 Edit: Found this video and thought it added to the discussion. Please enjoy.

Satan appears again as a prosecutor in the book of Zechariah. Zechariah chapter 3 describes the Angel of Yaweh showing Zechariah a vision of the high priest, Joshua, on trial before the heavenly court: “Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua.”[7] Joshua stands before the court in dirty, ragged clothing, and God recognizes Joshua’s guilt, but absolves him saying, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.”[8]

Having established that the Old Testament Satan was a prosecutor in God’s court, we turn to Jesus. As Mark Bennett has previously pointed out, Jesus was a defense lawyer.

In the book of John, a woman is set upon by an angry mob and in jeopardy of being stoned to death. When pressed by the Pharisees, Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”[9] Jesus then turns and begins writing something in the dirt. He was likely writing the names of those members of the mob he recognized as sinners.[10] Whatever it was, it worked, and “When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.”[11]

Legendary Texas defense lawyer, Stuart Kinard, echoed this sentiment and is often quoted as saying, the function of the defense is “protecting the Lord’s children who have fallen short of perfection from the wrath of those who believe they have attained it.”

So there you have it. Satan was a prosecutor and Jesus was a defense lawyer.

But why am I writing this? Do I think that prosecutors are evil? Of course not. In fact most prosecutors I know are decent, professional people trying to do a job. I never have been a prosecutor, and I never could be. But that doesn’t mean prosecutors are the devil. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that I’m a little tired of the way our culture glorifies law enforcement and prosecutors while demonizing the defense—as though the defense lawyer himself is a snake or a criminal. How did Nancy Grace and her perpetual sneer end up in so many living rooms?

It shows up in less insidious ways as well. People often ask me something that sounds like “How can you defend those people?” or “Don’t you care if your client is guilty?” I’ll leave the answers to those questions for another time, but the fact remains: the conversation has changed and defense lawyers are seen as, at least to some extent, outsiders in today’s society.

Whatever happened to the defense lawyer as a hero? What about Atticus Finch, Matlock, and the Public Defender comics? When did the culture change and why?

 


[2] See Lawrence J. Epstein, The Basic Beliefs of Judaism: A Twenty-first-Century Guide to a Timeless Tradition 67 (2013).

[3] 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-7; Zechariah 3:1-2.

[4] The reference in 1 Chronicles refers to Satan without the use of the definite article ha. This was likely a clerical oversight.

[5] Lawrence at 67.

[8] Id.

[10] “Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.” Jeremiah 17:13.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John Doney April 16, 2014, 5:09 am

    Amen!

  • Mark Griffith April 16, 2014, 12:43 pm

    Jesus was a defense attorney because he came to every sinner with compassion and advocacy, challenging the accuser to continue with the judgment as long as you are free of sin. None of us are, he was the best defense attorney ever. Because he came from a place of compassion and passion.

    • Tony July 2, 2015, 2:08 pm

      Yes to Mark Griffith, my go to guy near Waxahachie, Texas

  • Daniel Abasolo April 16, 2014, 1:42 pm

    Great post Charlie. I’d never thought of it that way this is a nice foil to all the claims of righteousness I hear from the state.

  • Liza Trevino April 16, 2014, 1:54 pm

    Great read! I absolutely agree with the idea that criminal defense attorneys have been vilified simply for expecting the Constitution to mean something..

  • Kim Vitz April 16, 2014, 10:47 pm

    Great article.

  • Donnie Yandell April 17, 2014, 8:02 pm

    Interesting take on things. I really like the post! I wonder why comparing Nancy Grace to Satan does not surprise me?

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