Masquerading as an Angel of Light: An example of lexicography and semantic range

Within the discipline of New Testament Greek, there are various subsets: lexicography, textual criticism, grammar, syntax, and exegetical methodology to name a few. In reference to lexicography, basically, the practice of compiling dictionaries, the Greek student must deal with the fact of the semantic range of a word. For instance, in English, we have the noun “bar” that can be used in a legal manner, “She joined the bar.” It can be used in a metaphorical manner as a standard, “The team decided to raise the bar for excellence for the coming year.” And can be used of someone’s favorite watering hole, “He is down at the bar.” In the New Testament the authors used words for a particular reason and a good exegete works through a passage to observe and interpret how the author is using a particular word. Here is an example of what I mean.

The verb μετασχηματίζω is used only five times in the New Testament and in those five uses we find three distinct uses of the verb: “transform,” “disguise oneself,” and “apply to” in a figurative sense. These three classifications of usage are those found in BDAG. We will assume for the moment that this standard lexicon is correct and almost exclusively Greek scholars from every theological stripe have conceded that assumption. Now a good exegete works through a given passage to observe and interpret how the author is using a particular word in that particular case. Here are the three distinct uses of the verb μετασχηματίζω.

In Philippians 3:21 Paul uses μετασχηματίζω to stress how God will transform our body when he glorifies us:

Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6 he uses the verb to denote how he is applying the truth of 4:1-5 to Apollos and himself in a figurative manner:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

And finally we have the use of μετασχηματίζω that is used to show how one disguises himself.  In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 the remaining three uses of the verb are found and used in the exact way. Paul writes,

 13  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

14  No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

15  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

Some versions (NIV, Philips) translate the verb into English as “masquerade.” What we see is uniformity in how the versions have all translated this verb into English and it should be an encouragement that though there is a challenge, context and hard work allow us to clearly capture in any language just what an author had in mind when he chose to use a particular word.

Just a side note here: While popular culture loves to portray Satan with a “mask” in his masquerading that denotes a hideous face,


it is far more likely that were we to see his true colors, he would look more like this…

angel of light

Anyway, just an example of challenges facing the interpreter of Scripture when dealing with a word that is used several ways.

Categories: 2 Corinthians, Angel of light, Greek, μετασχηματίζω, Lexicography, Satan, Uncategorized

2 replies

  1. Pastor Dan Fabricatore is right on target. We don’t really see Satan for what he really is . . . and at our peril. It is very important for us to understand what “masquerading” means in 2 Cor. 11.

    Most of us think of Satan in terms of obvious temptations to do evil. Yet, I think the most common manifestation of Satan is masquerading as an angel of light. It takes discernment to recognize the temptations because they often take the form of otherwise “good” things (like “settling for just going to church”) that may subtly distract us from the truly “godly” things (like “being the church”). Unfortunately, many believers never become mature enough to identify temptations for what they are, but rather live “Christian lives” that are far from being truly “Christ-like.”

    I’ve done quite a bit of study on the word “Satan” in Hebrew. I think its root meaning is “betrayal.” Satan is much worse than an adversary. He is a betraying adversary who may be at your “right hand” (a position of closeness and trust). In fact, I preach a sermon called “Satan: Your Most Attractive Enemy.”

    Even though I encourage others to study verses in light of the verses, chapters, and books in which they are found, I had not done so with regard to my own study of 2 Corinthians 11 until I read this blog. When I see that “masquerading” was used three times in three verses, it calls for us to be very cautious about those who claim to be church leaders, but care only about church attendance, offerings, or superficial matters of their own personal interests, but not the deep matters of truly following Christ and participation in the progress of the Gospel.

    As I reconnect with Pastor Dan and did a little Internet snooping, it was nice to jump right into a little theological discussion. One of our first conversations was in fall 1982 at Moody Bible Institute freshman orientation as we couldn’t wait to finish singing “I’ll Fly Away” for the hundredth time and get into some serious Bible study!

    Thanks Dan for helping me to improve my understanding and sermon about this important topic.

    – Steve Kemp

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