The Hebrew word satan [f'f] means "an adversary, one who resists." It is translated as "Satan" eighteen times in the Old Testament, fourteen of those occurrences being in Job 1-2, the others in 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2. There is some dispute as to whether it should be taken as a proper name or a title. In Job and Zechariah the definite article precedes the noun (lit., "the satan" or "the accuser"). Thus some argue it should be a title, while in 1 Chronicles (no article) it should be a proper name. The word is used also of various persons in the Old Testament as "adversaries, " including David ( 1 Sam 29:4 ), Rezon of Damascus ( 1 Kings 11:23 1 Kings 11:25 ), and the angel of the Lord ( Numbers 22:22 Numbers 22:32 ).
In the Old Testament, then, Satan is not an evil principle opposing God. In Job "the Satan" is not God's adversary, but Job's. He Acts as one of God's subordinates/courtiers to follow his directives. (This view is premised on the idea that there is a difference in this being while he is still in heaven, rather than being cast out and being assigned to the realm of earth.) He does not seem, at this point, to be an adversary of all humans, but rather, of selected people. In Zechariah 3:1, he is a potential accuser; in 1 Chronicles 21:1, one inciting David to evil. Within the Job narrative, Satan Acts at God's directive. While 1:12; 2:6-7 point to Satan's causal role in Job's life, later texts like 6:4; 7:14; 9:17 appear to lay blame on God. Thus Satan carries out divine directives.
Not Job's piety, but the connection between his piety and his prosperity was what Satan was questioning. (This is one of the "wisdom" themes of the Old Testament.) He implied that Job's piety was based on self-interest. The tests that followed were meant to demonstrate what that relation was.
"Satan" occurs thirty-six times in the New Testament, eighteen of that number in the Gospels and Acts. The Greek term satanas [Satana'"] is a loan word from the Hebrew Old Testament, and twenty-eight of the total occurrences are accompanied by the definite article. Often in the Gospel accounts Jesus is in contact with Satan directly or indirectly. He was tempted by Satan ( Mark 1:13 ). In the famous "Beelzebub controversy" Jesus made clear his intention to drive Satan out of people's lives and to destroy his sovereignty ( Matt 12:26 ; Mark 3:23 Mark 3:26 ; Luke 11:18 ). He liberated a woman "whom Satan (had) kept bound for eighteen long years" ( Luke 13:16 ). Paul spoke of his being sent to turn people "from the power of Satan to God" ( Acts 26:18 ), and that the works of the "lawless one (were) in accordance with the work of Satan, " in doing sham miracles, signs, and wonders ( 2 Thess 2:9 ). Christ will come, he wrote, to overthrow that agent of Satan.
While the activity of Satan is carried out in "the world" (i.e., among those who do not acknowledge Christ as Lord), he also works against the followers of Christ. He influenced Peter's thinking about Jesus to the extent that Jesus said to his disciple, "Get behind me, Satan!" ( Matt 16:23 ). He asked for all the disciples in order to severely test them ( Luke 22:31 ). He "entered" Judas Iscariot ( Luke 22:3 ), and "filled the heart" of Ananias ( Acts 5:3 ). Believers can be tempted by Satan due to a lack of self-control in sexual matters ( 1 Cor 7:5 ), and he can even masquerade as "an angle of light" to accomplish his purposes ( 2 Cor 11:14 ). He tormented Paul by means of "a thorn in (his) flesh" ( 2 Cor 12:7 ). Some people even turn away from their faith to follow Satan ( 1 Tim 5:15 ).
Satan opposes the proclamation of the gospel, snatching away the seed (the word) that was sown in people's hearts ( Mark 4:15 ; Luke 8:12 ). He also "stopped" Paul from traveling to Thessalonica ( 1 Thess 2:18 ).
Satan is regarded in the New Testament as "master of death and destruction, " who carries out God's wrath against sinners. Twice we read of persons "handed over to Satan" for spiritual discipline by the church ( 1 Cor 5:1-5 ; 1 Tim 1:19-20 ). This appears to mean that excommunication puts people out into Satan's realm, a sovereignty from which believers have been rescued ( Col 1:13 ; cf. Heb 2:14-15 ). In other cases, Satan attacked the disciples of Jesus by "sifting" them ( Luke 22:31 ), a figure that is enigmatic. It may have meant to test their faith (with the intent of destroying it), or, it may have meant "to separate off the rubbish" (I. H. Marshall). In any case, Satan was up to no good. He was able to "enter" Judas Iscariot ( Luke 22:3 ; cf. John 13:27 ), resulting in that disciple becoming a betrayer of his Master. Peter's sifting may have brought about his threefold denial of Jesus.
The nascent church in Jerusalem felt the brunt of Satan's attacks. He "filled" Ananias' heart and he lied to the Holy Spirit ( Acts 5:3 ), resulting in his sudden demise. The believers in Smyrna felt the sting of persecution ( Rev 2:9-10 ). The nations of earth in John's vision were deceived by him ( Rev 20:7-8 ).
Jesus spoke of seeing Satan "fall like lightning from heaven" ( Luke 10:18 ), a fall not identified but spoken of within the context of demons being cast out a sign of Satan's loss of authority. In Revelation, amid a war in heaven, Satan was "hurled to the earth" along with his angels/demons ( 12:9 ). He, the Accuser, was overcome by One stronger than he. Finally, he is bound, imprisoned in the abyss for one thousand years, then ultimately banished in the fiery lake to suffer eternal torment ( Revelation 20:1-3 Revelation 20:10 ; cf. Matt 25:41 ).
The other common appellation for Satan in the New Testament is "the devil" (diabolos [diavbolo"]), not found in the Old Testament, but thirty-four times here, meaning one who is traducer, a slanderer. The word often translates satan [Sata'n] in the Septuagint (either as "the satan" or an "adversary"). In the New Testament the "devil" becomes "an evil principle/being standing against God."
In the New Testament the word appears to be used interchangeably with "Satan." Mark refers to "Satan" five times, but never uses "devil." Matthew has three of the former, but six of the latter. The Fourth Gospel has one instance of "Satan" (with none in the Epistles of John), while the "devil" (as Satan) occurs twice in the Gospel and three times in the Epistles.
Jesus would drive out "the prince of this world" by his cross ( John 12:31 ); the latter would have no hold on Christ, for he was without sin ( 14:30 ); and Satan stood condemned at the bar of God's judgment ( 16:11 ). While the devil has had a career of sinning "from the beginning, " the Son of God came to destroy his wicked works ( 1 John 3:8 ). Those unable to hear and receive Jesus' words belong to the devil, who is their "father" ( John 8:44 )they share a family likeness to him.
Believers need to exercise care about anger, so as "not to give the devil a foothold" ( Eph 4:26 ). They are to don God's full armor so as to stand against the devil's schemes. With the shield of faith they are to thwart his "flaming arrows" ( Ephesians 6:11 Ephesians 6:16 ). Ultimate victory comes by "the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, " as the devil is cast down from heaven to the earth ( Rev 12:11 ).
Walter M. Dunnett
Bibliography. H. Bietenhard, NIDNTT, 3:468-72; O. Bocher, EDNT, 1:297-98; D. J. A. Clines, Job 1-20; W. Foerster, TDNT, 2:1-20; E. Lanyton, Satan, A Portrait; D. W. Pentecost, Your Adversary, The Devil; G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Satan'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".