sa'-tan (saTan), "adversary," from the verb saTan, "to lie in wait" (as adversary); Satan, Satanas, "adversary," diabolos, "Devil," "adversary" or "accuser," kategor (altogether unclassical and unGreek) (used once in Revelation 12:10), "accuser"):



1. Names of Satan

2. Character of Satan

3. Works of Satan

4. History of Satan


1. Scripture Doctrine of Satan Not Systematized

2. Satan and God

3. Satan Essentially Limited

4. Conclusions


I. Definition.

A created but superhuman, personal, evil, world-power, represented in Scripture as the adversary both of God and men.

II. Scriptural Facts concerning Satan.

1. Names of Satan:

The most important of these are the Hebrew and Greek equivalents noticed above. These words are used in the general sense justified by their etymological significance. It is applied even to Yahweh Himself (Numbers 22:22,32; compare 1 Samuel 29:4; 2 Samuel 19:22; Psalms 109:6, etc.). The word "Satan" is used 24 times in the Old Testament. In Job (1:6 f) and Zec (3:1 f) it has the prefixed definite article. In all cases but one when the article is omitted it is used in a general sense. This one exception is 1 Chronicles 21:1 (compare 2 Samuel 24:1), where the word is generally conceded to be used as a proper name. This meaning is fixed in New Testament times. We are thus enabled to note in the term "Satan" (and Devil) the growth of a word from a general term to an appellation and later to a proper name. All the other names of Satan save only these two are descriptive titles. In addition to these two principal names a number of others deserve specific enumeration. Tempter (Matthew 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:5); Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24); Enemy (Matthew 13:39); Evil One (Matthew 13:19,38; 1 John 2:13,14; 3:12, and particularly 1 John 5:18); Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15); Adversary (antidikos), (1 Peter 5:8); Deceiver (literally "the one who deceives") (Revelation 12:9); Dragon (Great) (Revelation 12:3); Father of Lies (John 8:44); Murderer (John 8:44); Sinner (1John 3:8)--these are isolated references occurring from 1 to 3 times each. In the vast majority of passages (70 out of 83) either Satan or Devil is used.

2. Character of Satan:

Satan is consistently represented in the New Testament as the enemy both of God and man. The popular notion is that Satan is the enemy of man and active in misleading and cursing humanity because of his intense hatred and opposition to God. Matthew 13:39 would seem to point in this direction, but if one were to venture an opinion in a region where there are not enough facts to warrant a conviction, it would be that the general tenor of Scripture indicates quite the contrary, namely, that Satan's jealousy and hatred of men has led him into antagonism to God and, consequently, to goodness. The fundamental moral description of Satan is given by our Lord when He describes Satan as the "evil one" (Matthew 13:19,38; compare Isaiah's description of Yahweh as the "Holy One," Isaiah 1:4 and often); that is, the one whose nature and will are given to evil. Moral evil is his controlling attribute. It is evident that this description could not be applied to Satan as originally created. Ethical evil cannot be concreated. It is the creation of each free will for itself. We are not told in definite terms how Satan became the evil one, but certainly it could be by no other process than a fall, whereby, in the mystery of free personality, an evil will takes the place of a good one.

3. Works of Satan:

The world-wide and age-long works of Satan are to be traced to one predominant motive. He hates both God and man and does all that in him lies to defeat God's plan of grace and to establish and maintain a kingdom of evil, in the seduction and ruin of mankind. The balance and sanity of the Bible is nowhere more strikingly exhibited than in its treatment of the work of Satan. Not only is the Bible entirely free from the extravagances of popular Satanology, which is full of absurd stories concerning the appearances, tricks, and transformations of Satan among men, but it exhibits a dependable accuracy and consistency, of statement which is most reassuring. Almost nothing is said concerning Satanic agency other than wicked men who mislead other men. In the controversy with His opponents concerning exorcism (Mark 3:22 and parallel's) our Lord rebuts their slanderous assertion that He is in league with Satan by the simple proposition that Satan does not work against himself. But in so saying He does far more than refute this slander. He definitely aligns the Bible against the popular idea that a man may make a definite and conscious personal alliance with Satan for any purpose whatever. The agent of Satan is always a victim. Also the hint contained in this discussion that Satan has a kingdom, together with a few other not very definite allusions, are all that we have to go upon in this direction. Nor are we taught anywhere that Satan is able to any extent to introduce disorder into the physical universe or directly operate in the lives of men. It is true that in Luke 13:16 our Lord speaks of the woman who was bowed over as one "whom Satan has bound, lo, these eighteen years," and that in 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul speaks of his infirmity as a "messenger of Satan sent to buffet him." Paul also speaks (1 Thessalonians 2:18) of Satan's hindering him from visiting the church at Thessalonica. A careful study of these related passages (together with the prologue of Job) will reveal the fact that Satan's direct agency in the physical world is very limited. Satan may be said to be implicated in all the disasters and woes of human life, in so far as they are more or less directly contingent upon sin (see particularly Hebrews 2:14) On the contrary, it is perfectly evident that Satan's power consists principally in his ability to deceive. It is interesting and characteristic that according to the Bible Satan is fundamentally a liar and his kingdom is a kingdom founded upon lies and deceit. The doctrine of Satan therefore corresponds in every important particular to the general Biblical emphasis upon truth. "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32)--this is the way of deliverance from the power of Satan.

Now it would seem that to make Satan pre-eminently the deceiver would make man an innocent victim and thus relax the moral issue. But according to the Bible man is particeps criminis in the process of his own deception. He is deceived only because he ceases to love the truth and comes first to love and then to believe a lie (2 Corinthians 1:10). This really goes to the very bottom of the problem of temptation. Men are not tempted by evil, per se, but by a good which can be obtained only at the cost of doing wrong. The whole power of sin, at least in its beginnings, consists in the sway of the fundamental falsehood that any good is really attainable by wrongdoing. Since temptation consists in this attack upon the moral sense, man is constitutionally guarded against deceit, and is morally culpable in allowing himself to be deceived. The temptation of our Lord Himself throws the clearest possible light upon the methods ascribed to Satan and The temptation was addressed to Christ's consciousness of divine sonship; it was a deceitful attack emphasizing the good, minimizing or covering up the evil; indeed, twisting evil into good. It was a deliberate, malignant attempt to obscure the truth and induce to evil through the acceptance of falsehood. The attack broke against a loyalty to truth which made self-deceit, and consequently deceit from without, impossible. The lie was punctured by the truth and the temptation lost its power (see TEMPTATION OF CHRIST). This incident reveals one of the methods of Satan--by immediate suggestion as in the case of Judas (Luke 22:3; John 13:2,27). Sometimes, however, and, perhaps, most frequently, Satan's devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) include human agents. Those who are given over to evil and who persuade others to evil are children and servants of Satan (See Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33; Luke 4:8; John 6:70; 8:44; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:8). Satan also works through persons and institutions supposed to be on the side of right but really evil. Here the same ever-present and active falseness and deceit are exhibited. When he is called "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) it would seem to be intimated that he has the power to clothe himself in apparently divine attributes. He also makes himself an angel of light by presenting advocates of falsehood in the guise of apostles of truth (2 Corinthians 11:13,15; 1 John 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 12:9; 19:20). In the combination of passages here brought together, it is clearly indicated that Satan is the instigator and fomenter of that spirit of lawlessness which exhibits itself as hatred both of truth and right, and which has operated so widely and so disastrously in human life.

4. History of Satan:

The history of Satan, including that phase of it which remains to be realized, can be set forth only along the most general lines. He belongs to the angelic order of beings. He is by nature one of the sons of Elohim (Job 1:6). He has fallen, and by virtue of his personal forcefulness has become the leader of the anarchic forces of wickedness. As a free being he has merged his life in evil and has become altogether and hopelessly evil. As a being of high intelligence he has gained great power and has exercised a wide sway over other beings. As a created being the utmost range of his power lies within the compass of that which is permitted. It is, therefore, hedged in by the providential government of God and essentially limited. The Biblical emphasis upon the element of falsehood in the career of Satan might be taken to imply that his kingdom may be less in extent than appears. At any rate, it is confined to the cosmic sphere and to a limited portion of time. It is also doomed. In the closely related passages 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 it is affirmed that God cast the angels, when they sinned, down to Tartarus and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. This both refers to the constant divine control of these insurgent forces and also points to their final and utter destruction. The putting of Satan in bonds is evidently both constant and progressive. The essential limitation of the empire of evil and its ultimate overthrow are foreshadowed in the Book of Job (chapters 38-41), where Yahweh's power extends even to the symbolized spirit of evil.

According to synoptic tradition, our Lord in the crisis of temptation immediately following the baptism (John 12:31), "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." In view of His approaching passion He says again (John 14:30), "The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me." Once again in connection with the promised advent of the Spirit, Jesus asserted (John 16:11) that the Spirit would convict the world of judgment, "because the prince of this world hath been judged." In Hebrews (2:14,15) it is said that Christ took upon Himself human nature in order "that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil." In 1John 3:8 it is said, "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil." In Revelation 12:9 it is asserted, in connection with Christ's ascension, that Satan was cast down to the earth and his angels with him. According to the passage immediately following (12:10-12), this casting down was not complete or final in the sense of extinguishing his activities altogether, but it involves the potential and certain triumph of God and His saints and the equally certain defeat of Satan. In 1John 2:13 the young men are addressed as those who "have overcome the evil one." In Revelation 20 the field of the future is covered in the assertion that Satan is "bound a thousand years"; then loosed "for a little time," and then finally "cast into the lake of fire."

A comparison of these passages will convince the careful student that while we cannot construct a definite chronological program for the career of Satan, we are clear in the chief points. He is limited, judged, condemned, imprisoned, reserved for judgment from the beginning. The outcome is certain though the process may be tedious and slow. The victory of Christ is the defeat of Satan; first, for Himself as Leader and Saviour of men (John 14:30); then, for believers (Luke 22:31; Acts 26:18; Romans 16:20; James 4:7; 1 John 2:13; 5:4,18); and, finally, for the whole world (Revelation 20:10). The work of Christ has already destroyed the empire of Satan.

III. General Considerations.

There are, no doubt, serious difficulties in the way of accepting the doctrine of a personal, superhuman, evil power as Satan is described to be. It is doubtful, however, whether these diffificulties may not be due, at least in part, to a misunderstanding of the doctrine and certain of its implications. In addition, it must be acknowledged, that whatever difficulties there may be in the teaching, they are exaggerated and, at the same time, not fairly met by the vague and irrational skepticism which denies without investigation. There are difficulties involved in any view of the world. To say the least, some problems are met by the view of a superhuman, evil world-power. In this section certain general considerations are urged with a view to lessening difficulties keenly felt by some minds. Necessarily, certain items gathered in the foregoing section are here emphasized again.

1. Scripture Doctrine of Satan Not Systematized:

The Scriptural doctrine of Satan is nowhere systematically developed. For materials in this field we are shut up to scattered and incidental references. These passages, which even in the aggregate are not numerous, tell us what we need to know concerning the nature, history, kingdom and works of Satan, but offer scant satisfaction to the merely speculative temper. The comparative lack of development in this field is due partly to the fact that the Biblical writers are primarily interested in God, and only secondarily in the powers of darkness; and partly to the fact that in the Bible doctrine waits upon fact. Hence, the malign and sinister figure of the Adversary is gradually outlined against the light of God's holiness as progressively revealed in the providential world-process which centers in Christ. It is a significant fact that the statements concerning Satan become numerous and definite only in the New Testament. The daylight of the Christian revelation was necessary in order to uncover the lurking foe, dimly disclosed but by no means fully known in the earlier revelation. The disclosure of Satan is, in form at least, historical, not dogmatic.

2. Satan and God:

In the second place, the relationship of Satan to God, already emphasized, must be kept constantly in mind. The doctrine of Satan merges in the general doctrine concerning angels (see ANGEL). It has often been pointed out that the personal characteristics of angels are very little insisted upon. They are known chiefly by their functions:

merged, on the one hand, in their own offices, and, on the other, in the activities of God Himself.

In the Old Testament Satan is not represented as a fallen and malignant spirit, but as a servant of Yahweh, performing a divine function and having his place in the heavenly train. In the parallel accounts of David's numbering of Israel (1 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1) the tempting of David is attributed both to Yahweh and Satan. The reason for this is either that `the temptation of men is also a part of his providence,' or that in the interval between the documents the personality of the tempter has more clearly emerged. In this case the account in Chronicles would nearly approximate the New Testament teaching. In the Book of Job (1:6), however, Satan is among the Sons of God and his assaults upon Job are divinely permitted. In Zec (3:1,2) Satan is also a servant of Yahweh. In both these passages there is the hint of opposition between Yahweh and Satan. In the former instance Satan assails unsuccessfully the character of one whom Yahweh honors; while in the latter Yahweh explicitly rebukes Satan for his attitude toward Israel (see G. A. Smith, BTP, II, 316 f). The unveiling of Satan as a rebellious world-power is reserved for the New Testament, and with this fuller teaching the symbolic treatment of temptation in Ge is to be connected. There is a sound pedagogical reason, from the viewpoint of revelation, for this earlier withholding of the whole truth concerning Satan. In the early stages of religious thinking it would seem to be difficult, if not impossible, to hold the sovereignty of God without attributing to His agency those evils in the world which are more or less directly connected with judgment and punishment (compare Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). The Old Testament sufficiently emphasizes man's responsibility for his own evil deeds, but super-human evil is brought upon him from above. "When willful souls have to be misled, the spirit who does so, as in Ahab's case, comes from above" (G. A. Smith, op. cit., 317). The progressive revelation of God's character and purpose, which more and more imperatively demands that the origin of moral evil, and consequently natural evil, must be traced to the created will in opposition to the divine will, leads to the ultimate declaration that Satan is a morally fallen being to whose conquest the Divine Power in history is pledged. There is, also, the distinct possibility that in the significant transition from the Satan of the Old Testament to that of the New Testament we have the outlines of a biography and an indication of the way by which the angels fell.

3. Satan Essentially Limited:

A third general consideration, based upon data given in the earlier section, should be urged in the same connection. In the New Testament delineation of Satan, his limitations are clearly set forth. He is superhuman, but not in any sense divine. His activities are cosmic, but not universal or transcendent. He is a created being. His power is definitely circumscribed. He is doomed to final destruction as a world-power. His entire career is that of a secondary and dependent being who is permitted a certain limited scope of power--a time-lease of activity (Luke 4:6).

4. Conclusions:

These three general considerations have been grouped in this way because they dispose of three objections which are current against the doctrine of Satan.

(1) The first is, that it is mythological in origin. That it is not dogmatic is a priori evidence against this hypothesis. Mythology is primitive dogma. There is no evidence of a theodicy or philosophy of evil in the Biblical treatment of Satan. Moreover, while the Scriptural doctrine is unsystematic in form, it is rigidly limited in scope and everywhere essentially consistent. Even in the Apocalypse, where naturally more scope is allowed to the imagination, the same essential ideas appear. The doctrine of Satan corresponds, item for item, to the intellectual saneness and ethical earnestness of the Biblical world-view as a whole. It is, therefore, not mythological. The restraint of chastened imagination, not the extravagance of mythological fancy, is in evidence throughout the entire Biblical treatment of the subject. Even the use of terms current in mythology (as perhaps Genesis 3:1,13,14; Revelation 12:7-9; compare 1 Peter 5:8) does not imply more than a literary clothing of Satan in attributes commonly ascribed to malignant and disorderly forces.

(2) The second objection is that the doctrine is due to the influence of Persian dualism (see PERSIAN RELIGION; ZOROASTRIANISM). The answer to this is plain, on the basis of facts already adduced. The Biblical doctrine of Satan is not dualistic. Satan's empire had a beginning, it will have a definite and permanent end. Satan is God's great enemy in the cosmic sphere, but he is God's creation, exists by divine will, and his power is relatively no more commensurate with God's than that of men. Satan awaits his doom. Weiss says (concerning the New Testament representation of conflict between God and the powers of evil):

"There lies in this no Manichaean dualism,.... but only the deepest experience of the work of redemption as the definite destruction of the power from which all sin in the world of men proceeds" (Biblical Theology New Testament, English tanslations of the Bible, II, 272; compare G.A. Smith, op. cit., II, 318).

(3) The third objection is practically the same as the second, but addressed directly to the doctrine itself, apart from the question of its origin, namely, that it destroys the unity of God. The answer to this also is a simple negative. To some minds the reality of created wills is dualistic and therefore untenable. But a true doctrine of unity makes room for other wills than God's--namely of those beings upon whom God has bestowed freedom. Herein stands the doctrine of sin and Satan. The doctrine of Satan no more militates against the unity of God than the idea, so necessary to morality and religion alike, of other created wills set in opposition to God's. Just as the conception of Satan merges, in one direction, in the general doctrine of angels, so, in the other, it blends with the broad and difficult subject of evil (compare "Satan," HDB, IV, 412a).


All standard works on Biblical Theology, as well as Dictionaries, etc., treat with more or less thoroughness the doctrine of Satan. The German theologians of the more evangelical type, such as Weiss, Lange, Martensen (Danish), Dorner, while exhibiting a tendency toward excessive speculation, discern the deeper aspects of the doctrine. Of monographs known to the writer none are to be recommended without qualification. It is a subject on which the Bible is its own best interpreter.

Louis Matthews Sweet

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SATAN'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.