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.


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