Paradise Lost 



The Poem One God
Pantheon Restored When and Where
The Renaissance The Challenge


The Poem

English poet John Milton wrote an epic poem, one of the most magnificent in the English language, on the theme of Satan's pre-mundane rebellion and subsequent government of the world through God's delegation. This beautiful work of the imagination might be compared to popular modern fantasies like 'The Matrix' series. Unfortunately, some people, including such founders of new religions as Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Smith, seem to have taken it for Holy Writ and to have developed doctrine from it. They used to read this work in American elementary schools, where both these men received their education. We meet the hero of this work early on, and learn that he plummeted down to the pit after challenging God for the sovereignty:



  • "Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was whose guile,
    Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
    The mother of mankind, what time his pride
    Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host
    Of rebel Angels, by whose aid, aspiring
    To set himself in glory above his peers,
    He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
    If he opposed, and with ambitious aim
    Against the throne and monarchy of God,
    Raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud,
    With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
    Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky,
    With hideous ruin and combustion, down
    To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
    In adamantine chains and penal fire,
    Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms."
  • (John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I).



While it is a shame to put such verbal music under the microscope, this strange misuse of a work of fiction requires us to sort the wheat from the chaff. What, in this poem, is Biblical, and what is imaginative? The concept of a created being challenging God is present in prophetic denunciation of two self-deifying kings, the king of Babylon and the prince of Tyre:

"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." (Isaiah 14:12-15).

"Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee." (Ezekiel 28:13-15).

Both of these passages begin with a specific human being in mind, but then step back and draw aside the curtain, allowing the reader to see the spiritual power lurking behind the throne of these megalomaniacs. Is there specific Bible evidence for a pre-mundane rebellion of Satan and his angels, who were in punishment cast down upon the earth and specifically tasked to rule the earth?:



  • "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.


  • "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.


  • "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."


  • (Revelation 12:1-17.).



Jesus Christ


This sounds promising, except for the looked-for condition 'pre-mundane,' before the world. When does this happen: when is the dragon cast down, for a "short" time? The child who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron is Jesus, and He is caught up to heaven in the ascension. This is not the right time frame; moreover Jesus reports seeing the event: "And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18). What John Milton's theogony presupposes is that Satan's fallen angels became the gods of the pagans:



  • "And Powers that erst in Heaven sat on thrones,
    Though on their names in Heavenly records now
    Be no memorial, blotted out and rased
    By their rebellion from the Books of Life.
    Nor had they yet among the sons of Eve
    Got them new names, till, wandering o’er the earth,
    Through God’s high sufferance for the trial of man,
    By falsities and lies the greatest part
    Of mankind they corrupted to forsake
    God their Creator, and th’ invisible
    Glory of him that made them to transform
    Oft to the image of a brute, adorned
    With gay religions full of pomp and gold,
    And devils to adore for deities:
    Then were they known to men by various names,
    And various idols through the heathen world."
  • (John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I).



Russian Icon


According to John Milton's theory of pagan religion, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the fallen angels and the pagan gods. The pagans were not deceived as to their object of worship; they had the right name, the proper attributes; they erred only in failing to grasp the system entire, because the pantheon is not anarchic, but is presided over by Jehovah. This remained the theology of Charles Taze Russell. It is remarkably respectful, even considerate, of the claims of paganism. The outlines of this system originated with pagan converts to Christianity during the early Christian centuries; perhaps the Hebrew prophets' nullification of pagan religion was a difficult doctrine for these thinkers. The Bible teaches that pagan worship is offered to "devils:"



  • "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.
  • "And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation."
  • (Deuteronomy 32:15-21).


  • "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils."
  • (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).



Who are they?

Holy, Holy, Holy

One God

Paul's word for "devils" is δαιμονιον, 'daimonion.' Some people respond, 'Fair and good, the gods of the pagans are demons; therefore, demons are gods.' This is already a problem, because the Bible teaches only One is a god by nature: "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods." (Galatians 4:8). Summarizing Bible teaching as follows, 'The gods of the pagans are demons, and the gods of the pagans are veritable gods; therefore demons are gods indeed,' is in error because the Bible withholds true deity from all but One. The identification of pagan gods with demons does not intend to concede real deity to either one, neither the (non-existent) resplendent beings the pagans thought they were worshipping, nor the foul demons whispering in the deluded worshippers' ears who were the only real recipients of this misguided and misdirected worship. Nor would the pagans have accepted this equation: 'your gods are demons:'— without a fight, perceiving in it a demotion and degradation of what was most precious to them. Someone is missing the entire point in concluding that the Bible intends to acknowledge the real deity of the gods of the nations by using this language.

Any Bible believer must confess the futility, ineptness and imbecility of pagan worship: "Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you." (Isaiah 41:22-24). This inutility of pagan worship however is not a natural consequence of the 'Paradise Lost' paradigm. Rather, if the 'Paradise Lost' theology were correct, Isaiah's denunciation of pagan worship for its futility would be null and void. If the demons really are fallen angels,— and this identification is not made in the Bible, it is post-Biblical,— then they would be mighty, powerful and beautiful.

The doctrine here taught, in 'Paradise Lost,' is that fallen angels are "gods:"

"He through the armed files
Darts his experienced eye, and soon traverse
The whole battalion views—their order due,
Their visages and stature as of gods;
Their number last he sums." (John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I).

This poem is a theogony; it supplies the origin of the gods. Is this exactly what the Bible intends to communicate in identifying the false gods as "devils," or is this an inversion of the Biblical point? Also, how did the 'fallen angels' come to be identified as 'demons'? Both are real entities discussed in the Bible, yet the two species are never identified as one and the same. Contemporary authors like Philo Judaeus are aware of angels and also aware of demons, yet are unaware the two are the same by nature; rather, demons are much further down the chain of being. Angels, Biblically, are creatures of great might and power, while demons are never so described:



  • "Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure."
  • (Psalm 103:20-21).



God of This World


Pantheon Restored

How did demons, lowly parasitizers whose origin is unexplained in scripture, come to be identified with the mighty and beautiful angels? The Greek philosopher Socrates claimed to be in communication with a familiar spirit, a daimon, which gave him good advice at turning places in life. Someone might think the voice Socrates hears is simply his own, the better angels of his nature one might almost say, except that is conceding too much. But what if the daimon knows things Socrates does not know? Under the Bible framework, the demons are real entities, but they are not real gods; those who worship them are deluded. The gods are imagined to be the powerful rulers of the universe, and demons are nowhere in the neighborhood. The gods of the pagans don't exist. John Milton's scheme simply reclassifies them, but he is reclassifying non-entities.

The end result of this equation is the pantheon restored. We learn in 'Paradise Lost' that it's all real: Zeus, Hera, the Titans, are all present and accounted for, and, what do you know, that whole crew are really very much like their admiring worshippers thought:

"Their boasted parents;—Titan, Heaven’s first-born,
With his enormous brood, and birthright seized
By younger Saturn: he from mightier Jove,
His own and Rhea’s son, like measure found;
So Jove usurping reigned. These, first in Crete
And Ida known, thence on the snowy top
Of cold Olympus ruled the middle air,
Their highest heaven; or on the Delphian cliff,
Or in Dodona, and through all the bounds
Of Doric land; or who with Saturn old
Fled over Adria to th’ Hesperian fields,
And o’er the Celtic roamed the utmost Isles." (John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I).

As noted, part of the missing connective tissue in this argument restoring the sky gods to the air is supplied above from prophetic denunciations of two self-deifying kings, the king of Babylon and the prince of Tyre:


Prince of Tyre

This, however, does not close the circle. While it is plausible enough that Satan is a fallen angel, what is missing is any identification of his demon legions as fellow angels. Satan is the archon or ruler of the demons: "But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils." (Luke 11:15), an identification Jesus does not dispute. Is that sufficient to make their nature the same as his, lacking any other indication? If so the shepherd must be of the same nature as his sheep. That Satan has not the same nature as man does not prevent him from ushering men into his dark kingdom. To be sure the Bible does not explain the origin of the demons; no doubt they were created good, as all things were, but fell through rebellion into their present evil condition. However the Bible also does not expressly explain the origin of elephants, which fails to prove that elephants are fallen angels either. Efforts have been made to classify angels according to rank, as Principalities, Thrones, etc., but these are more imaginative than Biblical. We don't know from what rank the demons fell, but assuming they are just the same by nature as the ranks of Jehovah's hosts, who are in turn deemed fully equal in power and might and precisely coordinate to what pagans imagine of Zeus and Athena, is fanciful rather than Biblical.

If the skies are empty of gods after all, then Charles Taze Russell must lose his disdain for Jesus' claim to be God, a very common and unexceptional title in this world-view but not in the Bible. One inconvenience in the Bible evidence for this combined pagan/monotheist pantheon is that Jude gives a locale for the fallen angels; they are confined, not roaming free: "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." (Jude 1:6). John Milton deals with this inconvenience by simply allowing the prisoners to fly away, after all they have wings. How to keep them in the pit if someone forgot to put a net over the aviary? So they flew the coop. Their captain Satan rouses them to arms:

"'Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen!’
They heard, and were abashed, and up they sprung
Upon the wing, as when men wont to watch
On duty, sleeping found by whom they dread,
Rouse and bestir themselves ere well awake.
. . .As when the potent rod
Of Amram’s son, in Egypt’s evil day,
Waved round the coast, up-called a pitchy cloud
Of locusts, warping on the eastern wind,
That o’er the realm of impious Pharaoh hung
Like Night, and darkened all the land of Nile;
So numberless were those bad Angels seen
Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell,
‘Twixt upper, nether, and surrounding fires;. . ."
(John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I).

Moreover God had rather thoughtlessly handed the key to the place to one of Satan's relations. So they end up running earth, the task for which they had been destined. Clearly there is a problem here. The details of this narrative do not match up with the Bible; its sequential 'when' and 'where' cannot be confirmed. Paul still found spiritual wickedness in heavenly places: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12). This neat little narrative of a pre-mundane fall tidies up what is obviously a very complex reality, and also pancakes it, smashing different orders of entities (angels, demons) into one another. It would be left to Joseph Smith to mix human beings and God into the same blender.

Clearly there is a problem with Milton's synthesis. Like the popular dispensational premillenial end-times prophecy teaching, this system can be taught to a willing student, but it can never be demonstrated to a skeptic. Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Smith imbibed the system from their school-books and apparently never questioned it. Just as the 'Left Behind' novels give a push from the human imagination to a doctrinal system unable to stand on its own two feet, so this great poem of the English language gave a doctrinal equation that could never convince a skeptic, 'fallen angels=demons=pagan gods of genuine might and power,' the force to convince many people it's actually true, that Zeus and Hera are up there, never mind what those ill-dressed and ill-tempered Hebrew prophets say. But no doctrine should ever be based on a mere work of the human imagination. If 'Paradise Lost' can give birth to a new religion, why not 'The Matrix'?

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How Many?

When and Where

When did monotheism begin? The seventeenth century, say some people:

"Who invented real monotheism? That is, the idea not only that the god of Abraham was supreme but that he was alone? One persuasive recent scholar thinks this may have been the fourth-century writer Firmicus Maternus, whose surviving books include an astrological manual and a fiercely antipagan tract whose enthusiasm may derive as much from his desire to please the reigning emperor as from any theological passion of his own. The issue is so contentious that one of that scholar’s reviewers insisted on dating the innovation to the seventeenth century!"
(O'Donnell, James J. (2015-03-17). Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity (p. 65). HarperCollins.)

If we're waiting for everyone to agree, we'll wait forever; the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses do not agree even at this late date, they say there are many gods. One should not, and cannot, describe Milton's system as true monotheism, it is rather a synthesis, a combination of two different theologies. It did not start with him, though he is likely to have provided the transmission line through which it passed to Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell. It is not very likely that an earnest inquirer sitting down with the Old and New Testament could rediscover some a complex construction! It must have started when the gospel was presented to pagans who had not even been God-fearers. These people could not bring themselves to believe their former religion had been an exercise in self-delusion, though they could accept it had been rather on the left hand than on the right. In time, entire nations were ushered into the kingdom of God; when the barbarian chieftain accepted baptism so did his people, not having been taught nor believing their former views were in error. The realm of nature was already fully populated with gods who managed its various aspects. These were never ejected by the Northern barbarians, just demoted a few steps. Nature thus became the realm of Satan, which no doubt found resonance in the Manichaean survivals so popular in the following period, like Catharism. Hints of these ideas are found in some of the early Christian writers, though the partial fusion of medieval Christendom, and the full fusion of the Renaissance lay in the future.

If one is looking for a full and complete presentation of the monotheistic system, it's Moses, though there is no real reason to question the patriarchs' faith. That the pagans were wasting their time was stated also very clearly by the psalmist and by the prophets:

"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them." (Psalm 115:4-8).

The pagans did not think they were trusting to a block of wood, they imagined the block to be inhabited; but since there was, objectively, nobody home, they were in fact worshipping a useless piece of inert material. Gods made by human hands are no gods. The atheist or the skeptic could not describe pagan worship in more scathing terms than did the prophets of Israel. It was a waste of time, pure and simple. Some people just couldn't bring to believe it.

The consequences of this system were unintended but brutal. In the Dark Ages, tribes and nations were 'converted' to Christianity in batches; they were not really even nominal believers, just baptized pagans. Ambrose, in the late fourth century, still understood that Jupiter had nothing to do with the thunder, and the people who thought he did were fools: "Let them also ascribe to Jupiter the thunderbolts which he did not possess, so that they witness to the disgrace with which he was laden." (Ambrose, Concerning Virgins, Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 7). But the recently converted barbarians retained certain convictions about the world: they heard Thor's hammer in the thunder storm, not the voice of Jehovah. They might believe, for instance, that one could start a tempest by dropping a stone into a certain lake. Everyone knew how to do it, but you should not do it; magic wasn't futile, it was just a bit naughty.

So when we look at the witch trials that convulsed Europe, we wonder: where did these people get the idea that witches could start a tempest? Why did they believe society needed to be protected against this terribly powerful source of harm and damage to crops and farm animals? It's not like the Bible says that the storm is the voice of pagan gods, or devils, and that the witch controls them. It was all paganism. They believed this because they learned it at their grandmother's knee. The 'gods=demons' equation, on equal terms, was the back-door through which all manner of paganism could be smuggled into Christendom. It's better not to go that route in the first place. It's simply not correct that the Bible teaches paganism is wonderfully effective at achieving its goals.

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The Renaissance

The Renaissance saw a revival of interest in pagan culture. Esteem for pagan authors had never been lost; to Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle is 'the Philosopher,' and Plato too had his admirers during the middle ages. This narrow focus, as misfortune would have it, spot-lighted the most anti-democratic authors whose works survive from the age of democracy. During the modestly named 'Renaissance,' this focus broadened out to include ancient writings on morals, history and even pagan theology, the last a topic in which the medievals had no interest. John Milton squared the circle and reconciled pagan theology with Christianity, marrying these two incompatible parts into one jumbo system. Like many of his contemporaries, Milton wanted to have his cake and eat it too; he wanted to write pagan poetry like his Comus,

"What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove;
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love.
Come, let us our rights begin;
’Tis only daylight that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne’er report." (John Milton, Comus).

. . .and also not go to Hell. In any event, no one, not Charles Taze Russell nor his followers, should base theology on this conglomeration of disparate and inharmonious parts, myths about the 'Titans' melded with the Christian gospel. So the next time the Jehovah's Witnesses tell you something like this: "The demon controlling the man is actually one of Satan's angels." (The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, p. 23),— ask them, 'How is it that you know this? Chapter and verse, please.' Do not let them get away with saying, 'But everybody knows this,' because all that means is 'It's in Paradise Lost.'

John Milton's vision was a spring-board for Joseph Smith as well, though one can scarcely blame the blind bard for this unlooked-for outcome: "Devils are demons, the spirit beings cast out of heaven for rebellion. (Rev. 12:7-9)" (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 190); "Devils are the spirit beings who followed Lucifer in his war of rebellion in pre-existence. They comprise one-third of those spirit children of the Father who were destined to pass through a mortal probation on this earth." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 195-196). What reason is there to assume that all 'spirit' creatures are of one and the same species, rather than divided into different and non-intersecting species as are material beings? No one supposes that 'turtles' and 'elephants' must be different stages of the same life-form, simply because both are 'material,' so why assume 'demons' and 'angels' share a common nature merely because both are 'spirit'? Yet once that supposition is admitted, how far can it be taken? Suppose that all spirit beings are one and the same thing, only in different conditions and stages of progression rather than of different nature. Of course John Milton, who evidence suggests was an Arian heretic but no Mormon, never took his own line of thinking this far. Again, ask for scripture when visiting Mormon missionaries 'explain' that demons are fallen angels; since there is none, asking closes the door. The Bible no more says that demons are fallen angels than it says that they are human criminals executed at the cross-roads. While people are free to indulge in creative speculation, no binding doctrinal conclusions follow therefrom.

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The Challenge

Muslims challenge infidels to produce as noble a work of literature as the Koran, believing that those who cannot do so, must concede the inspiration of that document. This challenge is laid down in the Koran itself: "The boldest argument for the divine inspiration of the Quran was its inimitability, primarily its literary excellence. . .This is the challenge of the Quran: no one can produce anything that rivals it." (Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, p. 224). The Koran is not, in fact, the greatest work of literature ever written, because it lacks any organization above the level of the verse; the suras, themselves cobbled together of heterogeneous material, are ordered according to length. If several verses are strung together in meaningful sequence, that is a sustained effort for the unlettered prophet of seventh century Arabia. "The chapters are simply random compilations of sayings." (Hussein Hajji Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, p. 57). In judging literary excellence, it is not unreasonable to look for organic structure, the kind of interconnectedness one finds in a living organism. So the Koran fails its own test.

But heaven help us if proponents of John Milton's theology demand that we produce something comparable before we can refute him! No can do. Fortunately we do not have to produce a poem as beautiful as John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' to retain our right to point out, that the theology isn't quite right.

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