Paul told the Corinthians, "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14)
It is quite common for people to quote this verse when members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talk about how Joseph Smith saw angels, such as Moroni, who shone with a radiance that was brighter than the sun at noonday. The critics of the Church say that these beings of light are really Satan in disguise and they base their claim for this assertion on the scripture just quoted.
Members of the LDS church have a tendency to counter this criticism by saying that while it is possible for Satan to appear as an angel of light, so can true messengers from God. Therefore, they believe that what Joseph Smith saw were indeed genuine angels from God. However, the critics reject that argument saying God no longer sends angels to earth as He once did. They reason that since God has recorded everything in the Bible that He intends for us to know then there is no reason for Him to send angels to earth any more. Therefore, they contend that any appearance of an "angel of light" has to be from Satan.
Too often, members of the LDS Church accept this interpretation of 2 Corinthians 11:14 as meaning that Satan can indeed appear as an angel of light. However it should be noted that those who quote this one verse never put it in context. That is to say, they always quote just this one sentence to make their case and in so doing are able to assign it a meaning different than what Paul intended. To better understand Paul's comment, we need to understand the point he was trying to make when he made this statement.
Beginning in the first verse of chapter 11 he says, "I hope you will bear with me and indulge me in my foolishness, but I am jealous over you. Don't take that the wrong way because this is a godly jealousy. You see, I worked to bring you to Christ. If you will, I have married you to Christ like a wife is married to her husband. In the same way I presented you to Christ as a pure virgin. You had your sins washed clean and you were pure and spotless before Him who is your head.
"However, I have this fear that you may be turning away from Him. Just like Satan tricked Eve through the use of his subtle crafty words and arguments to disobey God, so likewise I fear that you too may be having your minds corrupted to the point that you will be lead away from the simple gospel of Christ.
"What do I mean by this? If someone comes along and teaches another kind of Jesus than what we have taught, you seem to accept that. If someone preaches about a different kind of holy spirit than what we have preached, you seem to believe them. If someone teaches a different gospel than the one we have preached, you seem to embrace it. Why are you doing this? Do you suppose I didn't know what I was talking about when I told you these things? Do you suppose that these new teachers know more about the gospel than I do?
"Let me tell you something. Those other preachers have nothing on me. I am not the lest bit inferior to any of them. Oh, I will admit that I may not be as eloquent as they are and my speech may be a little rough, but when it comes to the knowledge of the gospel, I know what I'm taking about. Have I not demonstrated this to you in many different ways when I was with you?
"Have I committed some offense because I behaved humbly so that I could brag about you? Have I committed some offense by preaching the gospel to you without any charge? I accepted money from the other churches but I did this so that I could come and serve your freely. When I was there with you and I needed anything I didn't asked you to provide it for me. If there was something I needed, my brothers who came from Macedonia supplied them to me. In all that I did, I made sure that I wasn't a burden to you and I intend to continue doing that.
"As God is my witness, I will continue to boast about you in all the regions of Achaia. And why do I boast about you? Is it because I don't love you? As God is my witness, He knows I do.
"But there are false teachers among you who say that I don't know what I'm talking about and they are looking for any kind of an occasion to prove that I am a false apostle and discredit me in your eyes. But I will do what I said I would and in that way I will prevent them from having any reason to bring an accusation against me. What they are trying to do is show that they have just as much authority in the church as I do, if not more. They seek after my glory and the way they attempt to build themselves up in your eyes is by tearing me down.
"This is the way these false teachers work. They are deceitful, going among you pretending to be apostles of our Lord, Jesus Christ when they are not. But this shouldn't surprise you because Satan himself does the same thing. He goes about pretending he is an angel sent from God. Therefore, it is no great thing for his ministers - those false preachers who follow the teachings of Satan - to likewise go about pretending they are ministers of righteous when they're not. But woe be unto them for they will suffer the same fate as the wicked."
This was the message Paul gave to the Corinthians. He had worked hard to bring these people to Christ. He had taught them the gospel and they were living it faithfully. They were dedicated to Christ and they had become such a righteous people that Paul was bragging about them as he traveled from city to town. But he didn't give himself the credit for this. Instead, he gave all the credit to them for their righteous living.
But as he was traveling, word came to him that these people, whom he loved so much, were starting to believe in false doctrine. But how could that be? Because there were some members of the Church in Corinth who were teaching heretical ideas. But why would these faithful saints believe these false teachers? Because these false teachers claimed they were apostles, just like Paul was. But didn't the faithful saints question why these new teachings didn't fit with what Paul taught? Apparently some of them did and what these false teachers told them was that Paul didn't really understand the gospel as well as they did. Then, to bolster their claim and to gain the confidence of the congregation, they started a smear campaign against Paul. They started looking for anything they could to criticize him for in an effort to diminish his reputation among the saints in Corinth.
When Paul heard about this he wrote them a letter to counter this insidious and treasonous attempt to undermine their faith. He likened these false teachers to Satan who deceived Eve by using flattering words, subtly crafted to lure her into disobeying God. He referred to these imposters as followers of Satan who were imitating their master by pretending they were "ministers of righteousness" but who were leading people away from the gospel of Christ.
We have to remember that an angel is nothing more than a messenger. The Lord has His angels and Satan has his as well (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 12:9). In most instances in the Bible when an angel from God appears to deliver his message he is surrounded by brilliantly white light. That is why they are called angels of light. But Paul didn't say that Satan or any of his angels can also appear clothed in bright light.
The King James Version of the Bible says that Satan can "transform" himself into an angel of light. There are some who interpret this word to mean that he can "turn himself into" a being who looks just like a shinning angel sent from God. However, other translations of the Bible use the word "disguises," "masquerades," "pretends," or "tries to make himself look like" an angel. In other words, he doesn't actually succeed at looking exactly the way an angel looks. Instead, he puts on a disguise and goes about masquerading and pretending he is an angel from God.
The way he does this is not by his appearance but by his subtle, crafty, flattering words. He tries to talk people into believing he's an angel. Notice what Paul also said about the false teachers of his day. In verse 15 he says, "Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed (disguised, masqueraded, pretended to be) as the ministers of righteousness."
Obviously, these men didn't actually turn themselves into ministers of righteous; they only pretended to be one. And they did this by the things they said, not by the way they looked. They deceived people by trying to convince them with words, carefully crafted to sway them to accept their lies. Paul paints a picture of them as being con-men and compares their smooth talk to the way Satan was able to beguile Eve into disobeying the commandments of God with his words.
If Satan or one of his angels were to appear they could not do so shining with bright light because it is impossible for them to do that. And the reason why is because Satan is the prince of darkness. The scriptures refer to him as the "ruler of darkness" (Ephesians 6:12), that "his kingdom (is) full of darkness" (Rev. 16:10), and it talks about his "powers of darkness" (Luke 22:53, Col 1:13). In the end, he and his angels will be "cast into outer darkness." (Matthew 8:12, 2 Peter 2:4).
Jesus taught, "If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light." (Luke11:36). The apostle John wrote, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5). The reason why an angel of God appears brightly shining like a candle is because he is full of light and there is no darkness at all in him. On the other hand, Satan is darkness precisely because there is no light in him.
Jesus taught, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16), On the other hand, Jesus taught, "if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." (Matthew 6:23). Satan has no good works that can shine because all of his works are evil. That's why he is full of darkness.
Because of this condition it is impossible for him to appear radiating with light. Therefore, in order to deceive us into thinking he is a messenger from God, he has to convince us with words. Perhaps we can illustrate this by way of a parable.
An angel appeared before a man and said he had a message from God.
The man said, "But you look no different than me. I thought angels were supposed to glow with bright light."
The messenger replied, "They do but God specifically commanded me not to come to you that way this time."
The man then asked, "But why would God do that?"
The messenger answered, "If I did, my light would be so bright that it would destroy you."
Confused, the man asked, "But other men have seen angels glowing with light and they weren't destroyed."
The angel answered, "That's because they were men of righteousness and were found sinless before God. You are not." And then the angel asked menacingly, "Do you want me to destroy you?"
Fearfully, the man responded, "No, not at all."
"Then you better do as I tell you or that's what God will do to you," the angel threatened.
And the man did as he was told, thinking he was following God's commandments.
This is what Paul meant when He said that Satan pretends he is an angel of light just as the false teachers in Corinth pretended they were ministers of righteousness. Since they couldn't produce any evidence to prove they were an apostle the only way they could convince others to accept their claim was by the subtly of their words. But it wasn't just the Corinthians who had this problem. To the Romans Paul likewise complained about those in their midst who "by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:18), and he also warned the Ephesians, "Let no man deceive you with vain words" (Ephesians 5:6).
Satan is the foremost deceiver. The Bible tells us that he "deceiveth the whole world:" (Revelation 12:9) and the way he does this is through guile, deception, trickery, and cunningness. Those are his trademarks. Since he can't produce the evidence of a righteousness life, which is evidenced by a shining countenance, he has to trick us with seducing words into believing he is someone different than who he actually is. Jesus said that the devil "is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44) and Paul told Timothy, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy." (1 Timothy 4:1-2) To tell a lie means to utter words that are not true.
When Paul says that Satan can disguise himself, masquerading as an angel of God, what he is referring to is how Satan goes about in the world, speaking words that make it sound as though he is a man of righteousness who is delivering a message from God but is lying to us. Paul further says that those who do the same thing are following their master, the Devil.
In 1820 when fourteen year old Joseph Smith saw God the Father and the Son and later the angel Moroni and described them as beings who shone brighter than the sun at noonday no religious faith of that time taught such a concept. In fact, they taught just the opposite. Citing 2 Corinthians 11:14 as their source of doctrine, all Christian denominations of that day taught that only Satan can appear that way, and that is still the prevailing doctrine of today's Christian churches. However, when we actually study what Paul wrote and what the Bible teaches we see that it is only the true messengers of God who can actually appear as an angel of light.
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