Does Paul reference Jesus as a sort of deus ex machina?

While perusing Romans, I found that most of the questions I could have asked strayed too far into the arena of theology. However, I finally stumbled across some verses that caught my attention in a more literary way. Romans 5 raised a question in my mind about the function that Jesus served within the context of the solution of salvation, so to speak. Romans 5:18-21 states:

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So the question I ask is this: Does Jesus Christ serve as a sort of deus ex machina in this scenario? First, we must establish what function a deus ex machina serves within literature. Deus ex machina is defined as being “a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” Or, as this website shows, the attributes of a deus ex machina can be delineated through a few key points:

“1.) Deus ex Machina are solutions. They are never unexpected developments that make things worse, nor sudden twists that only change the understanding of a story.

2.) Deus ex Machina are sudden or unexpected. This means that even if they are featured or referenced earlier in the story, they do not change the course of nor appear to be a viable solution to the plotline they eventually “solve”.

3.) The problem a Deus ex Machina fixes must be portrayed as unsolvable or hopeless. If the problem could be solved with a bit of common sense or other type of simple intervention, the solution is not a Deus ex Machina no matter how unexpected it may seem.

In this case, the problem that requires solving is the referenced transgression of Adam: his failure in the eyes of God perpetuated the dilemma for which the arrival of Jesus must provide a solution. As the above requirements state, Jesus does not worsen the situation in any way, and indeed, his sacrifice can only improve things for the plight of those who are condemned through sin. So in that way, Jesus does serve as a solution for an otherwise hopeless problem; as stated throughout the New Testament, salvation is impossible without Jesus Christ. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that the transgression of Adam can be made right. So on those points, Jesus does fulfill the requirement of being a deus ex machina.

However, one of the stipulations of deus ex machina is that it is sudden and unexpected in its arrival to solve the problem. There were numerous prophecies that foretold the arrival of the Messiah long before Jesus’ arrival. Although some doubted Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah, the concept of the Messiah itself was a long-held belief of the time. So in that way, Jesus does not fulfill the stipulations of being a deus ex machina.

As demonstrated, although Jesus does not fulfill all of the requirements for being a deus ex machina figure within Romans, he does meet a surprising number of those requirements. This is also interesting because the concept of deus ex machina had its origins in the ancient Greek theatre and was popular amongst both Greek and Roman plays, so in some ways, it was a contemporary of Jesus’ time. While Jesus does not match every single one of the requirements in order to be a deus ex machina, I do think it serves as an interesting device in illustrating the way in which he provided a solution for a perceived problem.



Religious Overlap Within Acts

In the midst of my reading of Acts, I came across Acts 2:27 and Acts 2:31, which collectively gave me pause. I found these verses to be of particular interest, given our recent focus on the historical factors and cultural attitudes of the time. Acts 2:27 was the first one of interst: “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” In it, Peter references Satan as Hades in his sermon to the people at Pentecost. This also happens in Acts 2:31, “…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”

hadesWhile Satan has many variant names and titles within the Bible, I found these references to him as Hades to be very interesting, as Hades is the name given to the ruler of the underworld of the Greek religious pantheon. This puzzled me, because it is not just another derivative of Satan’s many names; Hades is an individual god in an entirely separate religion with his own unique origin and back story, the likes of which do not parallel that of the devil in Christian religion. While the devil in Christianity is depicted as a fallen angel who acted in opposition to God and was cast down, Hades was the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and his appointment to the underworld was a result of the brothers drawing to choose their places of dominion.

GustaveDoreParadiseLostSatanProfileWas this done to represent the speaking of tongues so that all of the different cultures gathered there could understand the message? Or was the message transcribed this way later, in order to provide a greater overlap within the two religions and therefore reach a wider demographic? Religions of that time borrowed different elements from one another, so it very well could have been a crossover element that demonstrated that concept of borrowing or adding familiar elements in order to appeal to more people or ease the transition from one religion to another. Despite their vast differences in origin stories, perhaps there were certain similarities between Satan and Hades that allowed for this overlap. They were both seen as acting in opposition to God (or, in the case of Hades, Zeus, who was not the only god but who was represented as the most powerful), and they sought to win power and followers against this god which they opposed. It would seem that their similarities lie more within the realm of their moral ideologies and motivations rather than in their origins and backgrounds. Perhaps it was felt that this overlap would allow for a greater demographic to be reached if the reference to Satan by the name Hades was made.

Although there are numerous reasons why the reference to Hades could have been used in these verses, I found it particularly interesting because of this crossover with Greek religious elements of the time, despite the conflicting back stories and elements of Hades and the devil as he is known within the Christian religion.