Satan / Devil

The Bible Commentary

by Robert Nguyen Cramer

Satan (Greek: Satan or Satanas) as used in the New Testament is a word of Hebrew origin. It means the accuser, the adversary, the opponent, the prosecution (in a legal case). In the Greek New Testament the Hebrew word Satan is often translated into the Greek word diabolos, which most commonly is translated into English as Devil. Diabolos means the accuser, slanderer, calumniator, backbiter, enemy, one who separates.

In Kittel's classic and nearly definitive Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume II (Ann Arbor, MI: Eerdmans, 1964, page 73), Gerhard von Rad describes the Old Testament view of Satan as follows:

In Luke 13:10-17, we read an account that may depict an image of Satan as a prosecutor who had effected a guilty verdict and a harsh sentence against the accused -- a woman. This sentence included having the accused and convicted woman being bound in chains of a crippling illness for eighteen long years. Jesus' action, healing the woman, may be viewed as overruling the earlier guilty verdict, acquitting the woman of the prosecutor's (Satan's) accusations, and immediately annuling the sentence. Jesus spoke of setting free the woman whom Satan had held in chains for eighteen years. See Matthew 9:2-9, where the Greek word translated as "forgive" is sometimes used in classical Greek as a term for acquittal in a legal proceding. (The BibleTexts commentary on Matthew 9:2-9 is at

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus implies that he himself had been serving as a paraclete (Greek: parakleytos; in English, a defense attorney, counsellor, or advocate -- translated in the KJV as "Comforter."), and 1Jo 2:1 refers to Jesus as a paraclete. He also spoke of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, as "another paraclete" that would continue to teach all things and remind Jesus' followers of what Jesus had taught. See John 14:16, 17, 25, 26; John 15:26; 16:7-15. For additional insights on gospels' use of this legal metaphor, browse

In the book of Revelation, the following terms are considered as synonymous: the dragon, that ancient serpent, the Devil, Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, the accuser.

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Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

devil. A personification of evil, used in the N.T. to mean Satan*. Luke 4:5; John 8:44; Eph. 4:27; Heb. 2:14.

Satan. In the O.T., the adversary of men, one who challenges the ways of men or brings them to trial; always subject to God, whose servant he is. 1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1:6-12 Zech. 3:1-2.

In Late O.T. times there arose beliefs in Satan as a definite being, chief of all evil spirits, the adversary of God in a struggle between good and evil (this idea came from Persion beliefs.)

In the N.T., Satan is the source of evil. Mark 1:13; Luke 22:3; Acts 5:3; 2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Tim. 5:15. Other names or expressions for Satan are devil, John 8:44; the evil one, Matt. 13:19; Beelzebul and prince of demons, Mark 3:22-23; ruler of this world, John 12:31; prince of the power of the air. Eph 2:1-2; Belial, 2 Cor. 6:15.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

devil, the English translation of a Greek word (diabolos) meaning ‘accuser’ or ‘slanderer,’ used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew ‘Satan’ and in the nt as a virtual synonym for the same term. In the kjv, it is also regularly employed as a translation of another Greek word (daimon), which, however, in the rsv is transliterated as ‘demon.’ The idea that Satan was an angel put out of heaven because of his rebellion against God and his desire to assume the prerogatives of divinity seems to be reflected in Luke 10:18. Jesus’ ability to expel the demons who were Satan’s minions was understood to be the result of his having conquered and ‘bound’ Satan (see Mark 3:27)

Satan, the English transliteration of a Hebrew word whose literal meaning is ‘adversary.’ This is the basic idea associated with Satan in the ot. The figure of Satan is found in only three places in the ot, and all of these are postexilic in date (i.e., after 538 b.c.): Job 1-2; Zech. 3:1-2; and 1 Chron. 21:1.

In the first two instances (Job 1-2; Zech. 3:1-2), Satan is depicted as a member of God’s court whose basic duty it was to ‘accuse’ human beings before God. He is clearly not at this point an enemy of God and the leader of the demonic forces of evil, as he becomes later. There is some question as to whether, in 1 Chron. 21:1, a specific personality is being described as in Job and Zechariah, or whether the ‘adversary’ is to be understood here as a general tendency toward evil. In the Hebrew text, there is no definite article with the noun ‘Satan,’ and the word is probably best translated simply as ‘an adversary.’ In either case, the figure in 1 Chronicles is not yet the embodiment of evil. It should be noted that ‘the serpent’ of Genesis 3 is never in the ot identified as Satan.

It is during the late postexilic period (after ca. 200 b.c.) and in the intertestamental literature that one first finds the development of the idea of Satan that is assumed in the nt writings. Probably under the influence of Persian ideology, there developed in Hebrew thought the idea of a dualism rampant in the created order—a dualism of good versus evil. There existed already the idea that God had a heavenly host, a group of messengers to carry out his work and orders. The Persians also believed in a ruler over the powers of evil, who had many servants in this realm known as demons. The Hebrews could easily understand and assimilate such thinking into their already existing ideas, but they had not yet developed any idea of a major being as a leader of the forces of evil. Thus, in the development of the religious thinking of the Jewish people, several different names were used to designate the leader of those forces hostile to God: the devil, Belial (also Beliar), Mastemah, Apollyon (meaning the ‘Destroyer’), Sammael, Asmodeus, or Beelzebub. Satan, however, came to be the most usual designation (in Greek, Satan was translated as ‘the devil’). Another interesting development took place during this period: the figure of the devil or Satan came to be identified with ‘the serpent’ of Genesis 3.

Satan and his cohorts then came to represent the powers of evil in the universe and were even known in Jesus’ time as the Kingdom of Satan, against which Jesus had come to fight and to establish the Kingdom of God (e.g., Mark 3:23-26). The demons were considered to be the cause of sickness, both physical and mental, and of many calamities of nature (e.g., storms, earthquakes); in general, they were the forces responsible for much of human sin (and therefore misery), and they were always opposed to God’s purposes and God’s people.

In the nt writings, Satan appears frequently, especially in the Gospels. The figure is also known by numerous other designations, among which are the devil (e.g., Matt. 4:1), the tempter (e.g., Matt. 4:3), the accuser (e.g., Rev. 12:10), the prince of demons (e.g., Luke 11:15), the ruler of this world (e.g., John 12:31), as well as certain of the proper names listed above. One of the most interesting designations is ‘the evil one.’ In fact, it is quite possible that, in the Lord’s Prayer, the original meaning of the petition, ‘deliver us from evil,’ may have been, ‘deliver us from the evil one’ (Matt. 6:13b).

In both Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings, it is clearly affirmed that, no matter how powerful Satan may appear to be, his final overthrow by the power of God is certain (e.g., Rev. 20:1-10, where ‘the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan’ is to be ‘thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone…and tormented day and night for ever and ever’).

Much modern thought about the figure of Satan, particularly at the popular level, owes its origin to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), not to the biblical writings (e.g., the application of Isa. 14:12-15 to Satan and his ‘fall’ from heaven). While the figure of Satan is powerful and even heroic in Milton’s work, it should be remembered that Milton’s Satan and the biblical figure are not always the same.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume,

edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985)

The OT View of Satan. 1. The satan is basically the enemy (cf. 1 Sam. 29:4; Ps. 71:13), but specifically the legal accuser (Zech. 3:1) who is placed at the right hand of the accused (cf. Ps. 109:6). Ezek. 21:28-29; 29:16 express the same concept in another term (cf. 1 Kgs. 17:18).

2. Job offers the picture of a heavenly accuser—not a demonic being, but an official prosecutor who comes before God at special times and is part of his entourage. This accuser can act against Job only with God’s approval and on God’s behalf. A sinister element enters in, however, with his power to use natural disasters and sickness. In Zech. 3:1ff. we again have the accuser at a trial, although here grace overrules law and the accusation is quashed. The OT references to sŒaµtaµn are infrequent and the concept is not central. Only in 1 Chr. 21:1 (and possibly 1 Kgs. 22:19ff.) does the idea of a tempter occur. The legal element is still present in 1 Chr. 21:1 but Satan (now a proper name) is hostile and harmful. As distinct from Persian dualism, Satan is still under God and the event recorded is not removed from the divine plan of salvation. The OT Satan embodies a threat from God’s world, whether as divine prosecutor or as destructive principle.

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