Lucifer image copyright @ Caelicorn

Much of what the early church believed about God it learned from Judaism. Likewise, her beliefs about Satan flowed out of the same mindset.

Today, much of what we believe about Satan does not come directly from clear explanations of the origin of Satan found in the Bible. Instead, it comes from tradition, both Christian and Jewish, inferences from a smattering of passages, and from a strange exegesis of some passages in the Hebrew Bible, namely: Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. The exegesis of these passages is strange because neither is referring to Satan, the Devil, or even anything supernatural. Both are specifically referring to human beings. Isaiah is addressing the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the king of Tyre.

General Discussion of Isaiah 14:12-17.

  • Isaiah 14:12-17 has been used to explain the origin of Satan since the second century AD.[1]
  • The Hebrew phrase הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן־שָׁ֑חַר  (Helel ben Shahar) found in Isaiah 14:12 is notoriously difficult to translate. It seems to mean:
  • Helel – “The Shining One” or “The Bright One” (derivative of the verb hll, “to shine”).
  • Ben-Shahar – “son of the dawn” or “son of the morning.”
  • It seems to refer to the morning star—the first “star” visible in the morning, Venus (technically a planet).
  • The Greek uses ἑωσφόρος (heosphoros – phosphorus), which means “light carrier.”
  • The Latin word for the Greek heosphoros is lucifer, which was used in the Latin Vulgate, the foundational text for the King James Version in English. Hence, the KJV renders Isaiah 14:12 thus: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (notice the capitalization of the word, making it a proper name).

Christian Evolution of the Understanding of Satan (the Devil).

  • The idea of Satan has evolved within Christianity and Judaism through the centuries.
  • Many argue that not all of this evolution is the result of sound exegesis of Scripture, particularly when various Old Testament passages are applied to Satan.
  • Regardless, the following appears to be the basic Christian understanding of Satan and his origins (again, not every assertion can be clearly established by Scripture):
  • Satan was originally an angel, created by God and serving God in heaven, whose name was Lucifer (from Isaiah 14:12).
  • Lucifer was perhaps the greatest, most beautiful angel God had created—“the brightest in the sky” (again from Isaiah 14:12).
  • But, his pride led him to refuse to bow to God, as all the other angels did.
  • In his self-worship, Lucifer sought to rule heaven himself and rebelled against God.
  • Other angels followed Lucifer in this rebellion against God.
  • This understanding is derived in part from the following passage in Ezekiel:

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 18 By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. 19 All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’” (Ezekiel 28:12-19, NIV).[2]

  • Following his fall from heaven, Lucifer took on other names and identities:
  • The Devil. This term comes from the Greek διάβολος (diablos), which means slanderer or accuser.
  • Satan. In the New Testament, “Satan” occurs 35 times in 33 different verses.[3] In Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 the terms are used side-by-side and refer to the same being, hence, the Devil is Satan, the accuser.
  • Beelzebub.The New Testament uses the name Beelzebub seven times.[4] This is a contemptuous name given to a Philistine god whose original name has been reconstructed as most probably “Ba’al Zabul,” meaning “Baal the Prince.” He was the head of the house, the lord of the house, or the “master of the house” (Matthew 10:25). However, the house over which he was master was demonic; hence he is the prince of the demons. His household was also considered to be made up of garbage or, worse, flies and so he is known as “The Lord of the Flies.”
  • The Serpent. Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 refer to Satan, the Devil, as that ancient serpent.
  • The Deceiver.Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as “the Deceiver.” Hence, it is assumed that Satan is also the serpent in the Garden of Eden who deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.
  • The Prince of this World.John 12:31, 14:30 (prince of the world), 16:11.
  • Prince of the Powers of the Air. Ephesians 2:2 (the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience (ASV)).
  • The god of this World. 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • The Accuser of the Brethren. Revelation 12:10.

Popular, Non-Biblical Works that Contribute to Our Understanding of the Devil.

Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost“ by Gustave Doré, 1866

Several popular works have contributed to our understanding of the Devil, Satan. It is often difficult to discern which of our beliefs come from the Bible and which come from these popular works. Here is an abbreviated list of the most influential:

  • Dante Alighieri, Inferno (1321).
  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1604).
  • Joost van den Vondel, Lucifer (1654).
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667).
  • C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942).

Satan in the Hebrew Bible.

  • The Hebrew word satan occurs over 30 times in the Hebrew Bible.[5]
  • It means adversary or one who opposes.
  • When the New Testament links Satan with the Devil, it is clear then that he becomes the accuser (See Revelation 12:10).
  • Sixteen times[6]the word “satan” appears in the Hebrew Bible with the definite article.
  • Standard rules of grammar would normally require these passages to be rendered, “the satan,” the adversary, or the one who opposes.
  • However, the direct article in these passages has been omitted and the term satan has been capitalized (Satan), thus leading to the conclusion that a specific person is being indicated.
  • For example, Job 1:6 reads in English: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.”
  • It seems clear, however, that these texts are referring to a role being played or a function being carried out rather than the proper name of a specific being.
  • Based on this data, most biblical scholars assert that, “Nowhere in the [Hebrew Bible] does Satan appear as a distinctive demonic figure, opposed to God and responsible for all evil.”[7]
  • According to this view, the present understanding of Satan as a distinctive person did not develop until the inter-testamentary period.[8]

Summary of My Understanding of the Development of Our Understanding of Satan.

  • I agree that neither Zechariah nor Job refer to Satan as a specific, known person.
  • Instead, they both indicate that a role of an Accuser existed within the divine council.
  • By the time of the New Testament it is obvious that there is one person who fills that role—the person to whom we refer as Satan.
  • Many biblical scholars argue that this conception of Satan did not develop until inter-testamentary period.
  • I disagree. I assert that the Hebrew Bible contains evidence that this conception of Satan developed before the inter-testamentary period.
  • Specifically, this conception of Satan was in the mind of the Chronicler when he revised Israel’s history for the post-exilic community. He inserted a specific reference to the person Satan, the archenemy of Yahweh, by clearly using his proper name in 1 Chronicles 21:1.

[1] Such early interpreters as Origen (184/185 – 253/254 AD), Tertullian, (160 – 225 AD) and Augustine (354 – 430 AD) used the text in this way.

[2] As mentioned, the king of Tyre is being addressed in this passage.

[3] Matthew 4:10, 12:26 (twice), 16:23; Mark 1:13, 3:23 (twice), 26, 4:15, 8:33; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:15; Revelation 2:9, 13, 24, 3:9, 12:9, 20:2, 7.

[4] Matthew 10:25, 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 18-19.

[5] According to my research in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word satan occurs 33 times, in 6 different forms, in 28 verses as follows: Numbers 22:22, 32, 1 Samuel 29:4, 2 Samuel 19:23 (19:22 in English), 1 Kings 5:18 (5:4 in English), 11:14, 23, 25, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7, Psalm 38:21, 71:13, 109:4, 6, 20, 29, Zechariah 3:1 (twice), and 3:2 (twice).

[6] Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7; Zechariah 3:2 (twice).

[7] T. H. Gaster, “Satan,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (New York, New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 224.

[8]  Ibid., 1377. “The earliest texts that indisputably contain the proper name Satan date to the second century BCE.” The texts that do contain such references are The Assumption of Moses 10:1, Jubilee 23:29, and possibly Sirach21:27, all of which are clearly dated within the inter-testamentary period.