What does the Bible say about Satan the Devil?

A study on what the Scriptures tell us about mankind’s arch-enemy

For the latest version of this document, click here: www.biblepages.net/rda042.htm

There is a saying, “man’s worst enemy is man himself”. But, that is not true. Had not wicked spirits been around, men’s egos would not be so dangerous. It can be said that the Devil is mankind’s arch-enemy.

There are numerous myths and sayings regarding Satan and other evil spirits, myths and sayings which many think to be biblical but which often do not have any scriptural basis at all. This article has some notes on what the Bible actually says about Satan the Devil.

Some linguistic and other details are discussed in an appendix at the end of this document. Among other things, that appendix shows that the old Hebrew noun satan was not a personal name but had a wide range of use. An example of this is that the first two occurrences of the word satan in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, Numbers 22:22 and 32, refer to the angel whom the Lord sent to stop Balaam.

Is Satan an ‘arch-angel’?

Again, there are numerous myths and sayings regarding Satan, often without any biblical basis at all. Let us consider the concept that Satan would have been an “archangel”, at some time.

The word “archangel” occurs only in two places in the Bible, both of them in the New Testament, Jude 9 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

Jude 9 yet Michael, the chief messenger [Greek archangelos], when, with the devil contending, he was disputing about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring up an evil-speaking judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke thee!’ (YLT, comment added)

That verse mentions Michael who was, as the Greek text has it, an archangelos, “chief messenger”. The Devil is also mentioned, but not as an angel or archangel.

Here is the other passage where the Greek text contains the word archangelos:

1 Thessalonians 4:16 because the Lord himself, in a shout, in the voice of a chief-messenger [archangelos], and in the trump of God, shall come down from heaven […] (YLT, comment added)

Chief messenger – who does that verse refer to? Well, when Jesus the Son of God was here on Earth in the first century, he certainly acted as God’s chief messenger. And, he will be that also when he returns to this planet. Again: Jesus the Son of God is God’s chief messenger. (Not an “angel”, but a messenger sent by God.)

In short: The concept that Satan would have been an archangel, does not have any scriptural basis.

Is Satan an angel?

Above, it was noted that the Scriptures do not say that Satan is or was an “archangel”. But, was he at some time an angel of God? The Bible does not say that, either. That is, the Scriptures do not say that Satan would have been a messenger of God.

Clarification: Where many bible-versions have the word “angel”, the Hebrew and Greek texts have malak respectively angelos. In the Scriptures, those two words often refer to God’s superhuman messengers, but they were also used of humans who in some way acted as messengers.

Again, the Bible does not contain any mention or indication that Satan would have been a messenger of God (his malak or angelos).

A side-note: The Greek text of Revelation 9:11 mentions an angelon tês abussou, “messenger of the abyss”.

Revelation 9:11 and they have over them a king—the messenger of the abyss—a name is to him in Hebrew, Abaddon, and in the Greek he hath a name, Apollyon. (YLT)

But, the fact that the apostle John called the figure which he saw in that vision, “the messenger of the abyss”, Greek ton angelon tês abussou, does not make Satan a messenger of God.

Does 2 Corinthians 11:14 mean that Satan could appear as an ‘angel of light’?

The context of 2 Corinthians 11:14 is that the apostle Paul was talking about religious deceivers, false apostles. He likened their deceiving ways to those of Satan.

2 Corinthians 11:13 For such men are false apostles, workers of deceit, pretending [a] to be the Messiah’s apostles. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself pretends [a] that he is a “messenger of light”. [b] 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants pretend [a] to be “servants of righteousness”. Their end will be according to their actions. (BPT)

a “Pretending”, “pretends” and “pretend” – the Greek text has metaschêmatizô, from schêmatizô which among other things referred to pretence. See the entry on the word schêmatizô in ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott.

b Verse 14: The Greek wording is angelon phôtos, “messenger of light”. The word angelos meant “messenger”; it was related to angelia, “message”, “news”, “announcement”. As for the part phôtos, “light” – again, the context is regarding false apostles, religious deceivers. As we know, deceivers often present their “message” as “new light”, “truth”, or something similar.

So, regarding 2 Corinthians 11:13–15: Verse 13 does not mean that those false apostles would have “transformed” themselves in some way. The meaning is simply that they pretended that they were Jesus’ apostles (representatives, messengers), though they were not. It is the same with verse 14. It does not mean that Satan “transformed” himself in some way. It is obvious that Paul merely meant that Satan (whom Jesus called “a liar and the father of it”, John 8:44) has through deception caused others to think that his lies are “truth” or “light”.

Is Satan a ‘son of God’?

Does the Bible ever call Satan “a son of God”? No, but the way some bible-versions render Job 1:6, might cause a casual reader to think so. Let us consider that verse.

Job 1:6 Now it happened on a certain day, when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, that the Accuser also came in the midst of them. (LSR)

“The Accuser” – the Hebrew text has satan which meant such things as “accuser”, “opponent”, “adversary”.

So, does Job 1:6 make a “son of God” of Satan? No. It only says that on some occasion when the “sons of God”, whoever they were, had come to present themselves before the Lord, then even Satan came to that place. That does not mean that Satan the accuser and adversary would have been a “son of God”.

Some writers have claimed that Satan is a ‘beautiful’, ‘charming’ and ‘loveable’ person. How is it with that matter?

The Scriptures are our only source of knowledge regarding Satan, and they do not describe him as anything close to “charming” or “loveable”. Instead, the Bible repeatedly calls Satan “snake”. (Most probably, that refers to his character and ways.)

A side-note: One bible-commentator claimed that the snake in the garden of Eden (Paradise) was a “beautiful winged serpent”. But, the Bible does not say anything of that kind. This has to do with Genesis 3. In the Hebrew text, the relevant word is nachash, “snake”. See the use of that word for instance in Micah 7:17, “they will lick the dust like a snake [nachash]; they will come trembling out of their hiding places like reptiles slithering on the ground” (HCSB, comment added).

In the eyes of most people, snakes are disgusting and repulsive and not in any way “charming” or “lovely”. Also: The Bible does not say that the snake in Eden would have been “beautiful”.

Regarding the talk about a “winged serpent”: “Serpent” is an archaic Latin-based word which refers to a snake. And, as we all know, snakes do not have wings. – The keruwbim had wings, but they were neither angels nor snakes but beings of a quite different kind. The article rda012.htm has more on that matter. See also the article rda032.htm.

The snake in the garden of Eden – was it Satan?

The Bible does not spell it out who or what the talking and deceiving snake in the garden of Eden (Paradise) really was. But probably, it was Satan who was behind the deception and evil that was done and caused by that snake.

The Hebrew text of the book of Genesis does not contain the word satan (“adversary”). In Genesis 3:1, 2, 4, 13 and 14, the relevant word is nachash which simply means “a snake”. (See even Exodus 7:10 which says that Aaron’s rod became a nachash, snake, and Numbers 21:6 which records how snakes, nachash, bit the Israelites. Also, Psalms 58:4, “their poison is like the poison of a snake”, nachash.)

(Some English bible-versions use the word “serpent”. Again, that is an archaic Latin-based word which refers to a snake.)

So, in a number of bible-passages the Devil is referred to as a snake. That is probably connected to his ways and character, and does not have to mean that he ever had the form of a snake.

Is Satan called ‘Lucifer’ in the Bible?

At the end of this article, there is an appendix with some notes on a number of words and names that are used of Satan in the Bible (Hebrew, Greek and English). Right here, let us consider the word “lucifer”. Is it a name for the Devil, in the Bible? No; lucifer is a Latin word. The bible-manuscripts are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

In the religious context, that word comes from the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version. It has lucifer or luciferum in Job 11:17 and 38:32, Isaiah 14:12, Psalms 110:3 (109:3) and 2 Peter 1:19.

Some English bible-translators have put into Isaiah 14:12 the word “lucifer”. That is copied from the Catholic Vulgate version which in that verse translates the Hebrew phrase helel ben shachar into Latin as lucifer qui mane oriebaris, “light-bringer who rise in the morning”. In the Hebrew text, the wording is helel ben shachar which means either “wail, son of the morning” or “shining one, son of the morning”.

Please note that Isaiah 14:12 does not refer to Satan. That verse belongs to a prophecy with mocking words, regarding what was to happen to the king of Babylon (in practice, the last of them, Belshazzar).

Isaiah 14:4 that you shall take up this proverb against the king of Babylon and say, How the oppressor has ceased! The golden city has ceased! […] 12 How you are fallen from the heavens, O shining one, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! (VW06)

The article rda051.htm has more on Isaiah 14, but in short: It appears that for instance the kings of Babylon were seen as “light-bringers” or “sun-gods”. Perhaps it was for that reason, that the Lord through the prophet Isaiah used of the king of Babylon the mocking epithet “son of the morning”, verse 12. That prophecy noted that the ruler of Babylon was to fall down from his lofty heights. Chapter 5 in the book of Daniel records how that prophecy was then fulfilled, when the kingdom of Babylon fell and its last ruler (Belshazzar) was killed.

There is a similar passage in Ezekiel 28, but it does not refer to Satan either but to a man of flesh, a ruler of Tyre. The article rda051.htm has more on Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.

Was Satan a ‘cherub’?

Some writers have claimed that Satan was a “cherub”, and even that he “overshadowed the throne of God” as one of two supposed cherubs by a mercy seat in the heavenly temple. But, the Scriptures do not say so. We do not even know whether such creatures exist in Heaven. [c] What we know, is that Jesus said that Satan was a liar and murderer, from the beginning. Would God have liars or murderers on his side, by his throne?

c Catholic myths, and possibly even some Jewish ones, might say that the keruwbim were angels, but the Bible does not say so. A closer study of the matter, including the Hebrew text of the OT, shows that the keruwbim were huge winged creatures of some kind. The article rda012.htm has more on this.

What does Satan look like?

Some people perhaps think of Satan as a being with wings. This is because they have been caused to think that Satan was a “cherub”. But again, a closer study shows that the keruwbim were huge, winged creatures of some kind, and that there was no connection between them and Satan (or angels, for that matter). Nor is there any mention in the Bible of Satan (or angels) having wings.

Then, some people perhaps think of Satan the Devil as a figure with horns, hoofs and tail, maybe with red skin. But, the Bible does not say anything of that kind.

Was or is Satan a “dragon”? For understanding this with “dragons”, it is good to know that the old Greek word drakôn (whence the English “dragon”) simply meant “a snake”. In other words, Satan was not and is not a “dragon” of the kind that appears in various stories and myths. But: Is he a drakôn in the literal meaning of that word – that is, does he look like a snake? That question was discussed earlier, but in short: It might be that he controlled the snake in Eden, but as to the scriptures where Satan is likened to a snake – again, that probably refers to his character and ways.

So, what does Satan look like? The answer is that we simply do not know. The Bible does not tell us that.

Is Satan immortal?

The Bible does not say so. Instead, it indicates that even Satan can die, and that he will die.

The article rxa043.htm has some notes on Satan’s fate, as it was pictured by certain rituals on the Day of Atonement.

2 Corinthians 4:4, ‘the god of this world’.

2 Corinthians 4 records that the apostle Paul called Satan “the god of this world”, or “the god of this age” as the Greek text also can be interpreted. In John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11, Satan is called “the prince of this world”. In Ephesians 2:2, he is called “the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience”.

(In those sentences, “world” obviously refers to the planet Earth, and not the entire universe. Or, an age, here on Earth.)

See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendix below.

Appendix – Regarding Satan’s different names and their meaning. On various bible-passages which may or may not refer to Satan.

In the Bible, Satan is called by many different names and descriptions: “Adversary”, “accuser”, “the old snake”, “the ruler of this age”, “the ruler of the demons”, “liar, and the father of it”, “murderer”, “the evil one”, “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour”, and so on.

A note: In the Scriptures, the word “lucifer” is not used as a name for Satan. Some bible-translators have put the word “lucifer” into Isaiah 14:12. That is copied from the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version. The book of Isaiah was written in Hebrew and not in Latin, and Isaiah 14 is not about Satan. This matter is discussed in the main part of this article.

The word satan in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

The old Hebrew noun satan meant “an opponent”, “an adversary”, “an enemy”. It occurs in 23 Old Testament passages.

Numbers 22:22 and 32 are the first OT verses where the Hebrew text contains the noun satan. There, it is used in the meaning “opponent” or something like that, and refers to the angel whom the Lord sent to stop Balaam.

Numbers 22:21 And Balaam arose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the rulers of Moab. 22 And God’s anger burned because he went, and the Angel of Jehovah stationed Himself in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants with him. […] 31 Then Jehovah opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of Jehovah standing in the way with His sword drawn in His hand; and he bowed down and prostrated himself on his face. 32 And the Angel of Jehovah said to him, Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary against you, because your way is perverse before Me. (VW06, highlighting added)

In verses 22 and 32, where the above-quoted translation has “adversary” (the same as “opponent”), the Hebrew text has satan. As you can see, in those verses that word refers to an angel in the Lord’s service.

In 1 Samuel 29:4, 2 Samuel 19:22 and 1 Kings 5:4 and 11:14–23–25, the word satan refers to enemies or opponents on the human level.

The old Hebrew noun satan was not a name but simply a word that could be used in different ways, of opponents, adversaries, enemies.

In some bible-versions, 1 Chronicles 21:1 is the first passage where the Hebrew noun satan is left in the untranslated form “satan”.

1 Chronicles 21:1 And Satan 1 stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

1 Or an adversary

(ASV, original footnote)

Apparently, the translators thought that in this case the word satan might refer to the Devil. But, does it? The above-quoted edition of the ASV has in a footnote the remark “or an adversary”. Even Young interpreted it as “adversary”, in that verse:

1 Chronicles 21:1 And there standeth up an adversary against Israel, and persuadeth David to number Israel (YLT, highlighting added)

(Adversary = enemy.)

It appears that in that passage, the noun satan refers to a military opponent (enemy). The wider context indicates that there was a threat of war or invasion, and that king David was for that reason trying to find out the potential size of his own army. That leads to this translation:

1 Chronicles 21:1 An enemy stood up against Israel. This incited David to number Israel.

Then, there are 13 Old Testament verses where some bible-translators have interpreted the Hebrew noun satan, “adversary”, as a reference to the Devil: Job 1:6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 and 2:1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7, and Zechariah 3:1 and 2.

There is even Psalms 109:6, but it seems clear that in that case, the noun satan refers to an “accuser” or something similar.

Psalms 109:6 They say, “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty […] (NRSV, highlighting added)

All in all, there are only around a dozen Old Testament passages where the noun satan in the Hebrew text might eventually refer to the Devil. And, it is not fully clear what or whom that word actually refers to, in each of the above-mentioned eleven verses in the book of Job. Nor is it clear, in the case of the vision of Zechariah 3:1–2, what kind of an accuser or adversary that passage refers to. (Where the below-quoted LSR has “accuser”, the Hebrew text has satan.)

Zechariah 3:1 And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and the accuser standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said unto the accuser, The Lord rebuke thee, O Accuser; yea, the Lord rebuke thee that hath chosen Jerusalem: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (LSR, highlighting added)

How the Hebrew noun satan is translated in the Septuagint version.

The Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX) has the word satan only in 1 Kings 11:14 which refers to Hadad the Edomite who was an adversary to king Solomon.

The Septuagint translates the Hebrew noun satan into Greek with such words as diabolos, epiboulos, endiaballô, antikeimai, et cetera.

The word satanas in the Greek text of the New Testament.

In the Greek text of the New Testament, the Hebrew noun שׂטן (satan) is transcribed as σατανας (satanas). That word is found in 36 NT passages. 2 Corinthians 12:7 contains the shorter form σαταν (satan).

Matthew 4:10 is the first place where the Greek NT text contains the noun satanas. Verses 8–9 record how a person called diabolos (Greek for “slanderer”, “accuser” and even “enemy”) tempted Jesus, offering him the kingdoms of this world if he just bowed down before him (before the one called diabolos). Jesus did not do that, of course, but said to the diabolos, as the Greek text has it, hupagê satana, “go away, satan”, verse 10. And again, the old Hebrew noun satan meant such things as “adversary”, “opponent”, “enemy”. And yes, it is quite clear that that passage refers to Satan the Devil.

The word ‘devil’ in the Old Testament.

For instance in the 1769 KJ version Old Testament, the word “devil” occurs only in the plural form, “devils”, and only in four passages, Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, 2 Chronicles 11:15 and Psalms 106:37. The relevant Hebrew words in those verses are saiyr and shed. Those passages are general references to idols and evil spirits, not specific to Satan.

The words ‘devil’ and ‘devils’ in the New Testament.

The Old English form of the word “devil” was deofol. It came from the Greek noun diabolos which meant “slanderer” (and so on) and was related to the verb diaballô which meant, among other things, “to slander”, “to accuse”.

In the Greek text of the New Testament, the first occurrence of the word diabolos (of a total of 38) is found in Matthew 4 which was mentioned above. There, verse 10 records that Jesus used the word “satan” (the Greek text has satanas) of a person who was also called diabolos (verse 8).

In the case of 1 Timothy 3:11, 2 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 2:3, the noun diabolos in the Greek text refers to human accusers or slanderers. In John 6:70, it refers to Judas Iscariot.

Where the NT part of the KJV1769 contains the word “devil” in the singular form (around 60 passages), the Greek text has either diabolos (35 passages, referring to Satan the Devil), or daimonion, daimôn or daimonizomai (circa 24 passages, referring to wicked spirits in general).

Where the NT part of the 1769 KJ version has the plural form “devils” (around 44 passages), the Greek text has daimonion, daimôn or daimonizomai. Those words refer to wicked spirits in general.

In James 3:15, the KJV1769 has “devilish”; the Greek text has daimoniôdês.

The article rda082.htm has more on the words daimonion and daimôn, and on the word and concept “demon”.

The epithet ‘accuser’, used of Satan.

The Greek text of Revelation 12:9–10 connects to one and the same person the words drakôn (“snake”), ophis (another word for snake), diabolos (“slanderer”, “accuser”) and satanas (of Hebrew origin, meaning “adversary”, “enemy”).

In verse 9, the Greek text has ho drakôn ho megas ho ophis ho archaios ho kaloumenos diabolos kai ho satanas, “the big snake, the old snake who is called diabolos [slanderer] and satanas”. (Again, the word satanas in the Greek NT text comes from the Hebrew satan which meant “adversary”, “enemy”.)

Verse 10 adds to this the word katêgoros which meant “accuser” – “the accuser [katêgoros] of our brothers is cast down [to the Earth], the one accusing [katêgorôn] them before our God day and night”. So, that verse contains both the noun katêgoros as well as the verb katêgoreô, in reference to Satan. Elsewhere in the NT, the words katêgoreô, katêgoria and katêgoros refer to human accusers and accusations.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

What does the Bible say about angels? → rda072.htm

On the “dragons”, “satyrs”, “unicorns”, “flying serpents” and other odd creatures that appear in some bible-versions. → rda032.htm

The cherubs or keruwbim, what did they look like? → rda012.htm

Some writers have claimed that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan. Is that correct? → rda051.htm

On the Day of Atonement and its symbolism. → rxa043.htm

On what the Scriptures say about demons. → rda082.htm

Why does God allow evil, sickness, pain, war and suffering? → rwa012.htm

What all should know about Christmas and the Advent period and what they symbolise and point to. → rwa051.htm

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