Satan or the Devil is the embodiment of evil, and plays a major role in Christian theology and literature, as well as in many other religions, and nowadays used as an epithet for profoundly evil people.

In western art and popular culture the devil is used to represent evil influences or motivations.

The word derives from the Hebrew "ha-satan", meaning the "accuser", "tempter", "persecutor", "calumniator", or "adversary".

Old Testament

Satan was a member of the divine council of God referenced in the Old Testament. He is referenced eleven times in Job and 4 other times in the Old Testament. The New Testament mentions Satan 34 times in all starting with the first book Matthew and ending with the last Revelation. In the Christian tradition he rebelled against God and is now the enemy of God and man alike. He is the father of lies and no good is found in him. He leads a host of fallen angels (or demons) who know their days are numbered before they will be cast in the lake of fire and they seek to take as many humans as possible with them.

It is possible that "Satan" derives from the ancient Egyptian god "Setan", another name for Set.


In Christianity Satan's goal is to lead people away from the love of God, by tempting or tricking them. The only sources of supernatural power in the world are from either God (good) or Satan (evil). In the book of Genesis, Satan takes the form of a snake and tempts Eve with fruit from a tree. This causes sin to come into the world. Kelly (2006) demonstrates how assumptions--such as the identification of the Garden of Eden serpent with Satan, probably first made by Justin Martyr in the second century--have hardened into fact.

Satan, in the Book of Job, listens to God speak highly of Job and accuses Job to God before the host of angels that Job praises God only because he is blessed and would curse God if he was forced to suffer. God allows Satan to do what he will except to spare his life, and Satan causes Job to suffer immensely. (Job remained true to God through his hardships; Satan accused him further and punished him further, but could not get Job to break).

Jesus makes references to demonic possession on multiple occasions that He then casts out. Some believe that Satan is able to possess and control living humans on Earth even today. Even more, some others believe that Satan actually has done this in the past as well. The Roman Catholic Church believes that priests (and sometimes only bishops) are able to exorcise this possession through Jesus.

In the New Testament, Satan tries to tempt Jesus in the desert, and fails. Jesus warns extensively to beware of Satan as does Paul.


The notion of Satan, or an evil force, is noted in many if not all of the major world religions.

Satan, is also called by several different names (the Devil, deceiver, Bealzebub, Beelzebul, Lucifer, Dis, Asmodeus, Abaddon, "Old Scratch," the Crooked One, etc).


Lucifer is a name literally meaning "Son of the Morning" (or "Light-Bearer"), and is mentioned in the Bible only in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12). Though in Christian tradition Lucifer is equated with Satan, the immediate context of the passage is Isaiah's prophecy against the king of Babylon, and the name "Lucifer" was not present at all in the original manuscripts (in the Latin Vulgate, the phrase "Son of the Morning" was transliterated as a proper name).

Whomever Lucifer may be, the Isaiah makes strong prophecy against him, condemning him for 5 pronouncements:

  • 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

Those who take this passage to be a reference to Satan believe that it gives more history of what caused his downfall, that he was created by God as one of His most powerful angels (possibly a Seraphim), but that he fell from grace after he in his pride rebelled against his Creator. Some, however, believe that there is no grounding to interpret the passage as a history of Satan, citing that the passage uses highly figurative and poetic language that was meant as a prophecy against Babylon and nothing more.

Jewish views

The original Hebrew term satan is a noun from a verb meaning primarily "to obstruct, oppose", as it is found in Numbers 22:22, 1 Samuel 29:4, Psalms 109:6.[1] Ha-Satan is traditionally translated as "the accuser" or "the adversary". The definite article ha- (English: "the") is used to show that this is a title bestowed on a being, versus the name of a being. Thus, this being would be referred to as "the satan".[2]

In Jewish tradition, Satan is an angel who faithfully serves God as a prosecuting attorney - one who accuses men of wickedness and impiety. At the direction of God, Satan may be permitted to test these accusations, such as in the Book of Job. In this view, Satan's goal is not to lead men away from their faithfulness to God, but merely to reveal the true depths of their devotion, although in I Chronicles 21:1 Satan provoked David to take a census of the people of Israel against the will of God and 70,000 men are slain because of it.


The three classic defenses against Satan are:

  • mockery, which Satan cannot withstand due to his pride
  • sunlight or exposure, from which Satan hides
  • the Holy Spirit, meaning "The Advocate" (i.e., defense lawyer), or the Armor of God.

Note that Satan lacks self-restraint, which often leads him to failure. In addition, Satan delights in deceit, even to the point of causing his downfall.

Dante and Milton

The classic literary depictions of Satan appear in Dante's Italian poem, Inferno and in John Milton's English poem, Paradise Lost. These are considered the two greatest poems in Italian and English literature.

See also


  1. ed. Buttrick, George Arthur; The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, An illustrated Encyclopedia
  2. Crenshaw, James L. Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV), 1989

Further reading

  • Caldwell, William. "The Doctrine of Satan: I. In the Old Testament," The Biblical World, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1913), pp. 29-33 in JSTOR
  • Caldwell, William. "The Doctrine of Satan: II. Satan in Extra-Biblical Apocalyptical Literature," The Biblical World, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Feb., 1913), pp. 98-102 in JSTOR
  • Caldwell, William. "The Doctrine of Satan: III. In the New Testament," The Biblical World, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Mar., 1913), pp. 167-172 in JSTOR
  • Empson, William. Milton's God (1966)
  • Jacobs, Joseph, and Ludwig Blau. "Satan," The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) online pp 68-71
  • Kelly, Henry Ansgar. Satan: A Biography. (2006). 360 pp. excerpt and text searchISBN 0-521-60402-8, a study of the Bible and Western literature
  • Kent, William. "Devil." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) Vol. 4. online older article
  • Osborne, B. A. E. "Peter: Stumbling-Block and Satan," Novum Testamentum, Vol. 15, Fasc. 3 (Jul., 1973), pp. 187-190 in JSTOR on "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
  • Rebhorn Wayne A. "The Humanist Tradition and Milton's Satan: The Conservative as Revolutionary," Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 13, No. 1, The English Renaissance (Winter, 1973), pp. 81-93 in JSTOR
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (1987) excerpt and text search
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (1987) excerpt and text search
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1986) excerpt and text search
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1990) excerpt and text search
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History (1992) excerpt and text search
  • Schaff, D. S. "Devil" in New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1911), Mainline Protestant; vol 3 pp 414-417 online
  • Scott, Miriam Van. The Encyclopedia of Hell (1999) excerpt and text search comparative religions; also popular culture
  • Wray, T. J. and Gregory Mobley. The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil's Biblical Roots (2005) excerpt and text search
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