The Devil and Satan
The Devil and Satan is one of the most talked about Bible topics and yet one of the least understood. Not least this misunderstanding has been fueled by a very bad Swahili translation based upon mistakes and misunderstandings carried over from the English translations. If only the translators had gone back to the original Hebrew and Greek texts rather than using the English as the basis, then many of the resulting doctrinal errors would have never come into existence. Instead today, many believe falsehoods carried over from Egyptian and Greek mythology along with pagan and tribal superstitions.
This booklet is an attempt to correct many of these misunderstandings and false doctrines.
The Devil and Satan
Nearly 100 years ago these lines were written (by an unknown author) to accompany a drawing of "His Satanic Majesty":
"This is he, with horns and hoof,
The parsons call the devil;
They tell us he lives in a sultry place
Where ghosts and imps all revel.
They say that he wears a great long tail,
And carries a three-pronged fork,
That he sometimes leaves his sultry home,
And through the earth doth walk.
They say he can assume with ease
The garb of an angel bright,
And then, for a change, he takes the form
Of a roaring lion at night:
That he's power to act and do as he likes,
Be in fifty places at once;
And that to fulfil his evil designs,
Can be as wise as a sage, or a dunce."
Today most people no longer think of the devil like that. But there are still many people who believe that the devil exists, that he wields immense power for evil (some say he is a fallen angel) and is constantly trying to destroy the work of God among men and women. They think it is the devil that secretly whispers in your ear and tempts you to evil.
Of course there are real difficulties about accepting such an idea. If the devil was a real angel to begin with, how ever did he come to revolt against God? And why does God allow a supernatural being to destroy His work in the earth? Where is the devil now, anyway? And how can he really work?
Where to find out?
One thing is clear: this is a religious question. So if we are to settle it, we must refer to the Bible, the great source of all that we know about God and Jesus Christ. Where else would you go for a serious answer on a question like this?
Now the Bible certainly does contain a number of allusions to the devil and Satan. And so to the Bible we turn. But let us get one thing clear right at the beginning: we must make every effort to understand what the Bible writers themselves meant by "devil" and "Satan". It is very easy for us, as we read Bible verses, to give to the terms devil and Satan the meaning which we prefer. And if that meaning is not the same as the Bible writer intended, then we are changing the true sense!
Many of us have had the experience of discussing the devil and Satan with others and have found that the discussion does not seem to get anywhere. And the reason is obvious: when Bible passages are read, devil and Satan are being understood by different readers in different senses. The conclusion is clear: if we are to arrive at the truth about the devil and Satan, we must find out what the Bible writers meant when they used those terms. It is no good relying upon our own understanding or other people's. We must know what the inspired writers of the Word of God understood about this important subject.
What we really need is a key-a basic understanding of what these terms mean. Armed with this, we should be able to unlock quite a lot of Bible passages.
To find the vital key it is important to begin with the Old Testament, and not with the New. To modern ears this may sound strange, but remember that the Old Testament was written first, many centuries before the New. And since they both really form one revelation from God, the New Testament writers knew the Old Testament very well indeed. They quoted from it and they used its terms; and among the terms they used is Satan. (In fact the term "devil" occurs rarely in the Old Testament and is used differently there from the way it is used in the New).
So we begin with Satan, the Old Testament term. What does the word "Satan" mean? It is not hard to find out. Take the case of Balaam who lived in the days when the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. He was a prophet who had been told by God not to go on a certain hired mission to curse the Israelites. But he wanted the money offered him as a reward, so he went. Riding upon an ass, he soon found his way blocked by an angel: "The angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary" (or enemy) (Numbers 22:22).
Adversary or Enemy
The word for "adversary" is Satan (from which we get our "Satan") and that is just what it means. Notice two things: Satan here is an ordinary word meaning adversary or enemy, and not the name of a person. The word occurs again only 10 verses later: the angel said to Balaam, "Behold, I am come forth to withstand you" (verse 32), literally "to be an adversary to you".
This is the first time the word Satan appears in the Hebrew record. Notice that this Satan is a good angel, "the angel of the LORD", who is doing what God wants, and not an evil one! If we look up in a Bible concordance the way the word Satan is used in the Old Testament, we shall find that it means an adversary and an enemy (If you do not have access to a concordance then see the full list later). For example: "Why," cried David, "should you (Joab and his brothers) be adversaries (satans) unto me?" (2 Samuel 19:22). And so in half a dozen other cases, where the allusion is usually to men.
Satan in the Book of Job
Here we have one of the most frequently quoted cases in all the Bible. The first few verses of chapter one describe Job as living in the land of Uz, a God-fearing man who had many possessions. Then, verse 6:
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them."
"There you are", some people say, "Satan was in heaven among the angels! He must be a supernatural being!" But let us remember our vital rule: we must understand Bible terms in a Bible sense. "Sons of God", for instance: it is true that once in Job (38:7) this term is used of the angels; but in the Bible as a whole it is often used of men and women who really worship God as contrasted with those who do not. God used it of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:
"Bring my sons from far and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name..." (Isaiah 43:6-7)
So in the New Testament the apostle John, referring to believers in Christ, wrote: "Beloved, we are God's children now" (1 John 3:2). So the "sons of God" among whom "Satan" came (in Job chapter 1) need not be angels in heaven; they could be people on the earth.
But how could they "present themselves before the LORD" if they were not in heaven? Again the Bible itself gives us the answer. Moses and Joshua were once told to "present themselves" in the "tent of meeting", where God would appoint Joshua as the next leader of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:14-1 5). Many years later Joshua called together all the elders of the tribes of Israel to Shechem, where "they presented themselves before God" (Joshua 24:1). Later still, Samuel in his turn told Israel: "Present yourselves before the LORD..." (1 Samuel 10:19).
In the New Testament it is said that Mary, the mother of Jesus, shortly after the birth of her son, came to the temple in Jerusalem "to present him to the LORD... and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the LORD" (Luke 2:22-24). The "sons of God" in Job, then, who came to "present themselves before the LORD", had come together to worship God in the appointed place, and, of course, in the presence of the appointed priest at that time. This is a scene of worship upon the earth, not in heaven.
But what of "Satan" who came among them? Here the Swahili translators have not really played fair with us, for all the Hebrew says is "the adversary". The capital S in Satan is the translators' own invention, for Hebrew makes no distinction between capital letters and others. Even in the margin the Union Version translators have printed "Adui", suggesting by their capital A (for which they have no evidence) that this is that special Adversary, Satan. All that the Hebrew justifies us in saying is "the adversary came among them".
God is All-powerful
But who could this adversary be? If this was a group come together to worship, he would be one of them; in other words he was a man; and he was an enemy to Job, because he was jealous of him and wished him harm. But how then could there follow a conversation between the LORD and the adversary? Again the Bible itself supplies the answer, for in Old Testament times men often received messages from God through the appointed priest at the time. David, for instance, more than once consulted the priest when he wanted to know what God's will for him was, and the priest spoke to him on behalf of God. So this jealous enemy of Job-perhaps one who posed as his friend-said to God through the priest, "Job only serves you for what he can get. Just try bringing some trouble on him and then you will see." And God, because He had a great purpose with Job and desired to see him perfected, allowed the adversary to carry out his envious desire upon Job. But as the book clearly tells us, the power was God's and not the adversary's (Job 2:4-6). The Bible does not clearly inform us who the man was but there is much evidence that Eliaphas the Temanite is the culprit as it is he whom the LORD was wrath with (Job 42:9).
So there is in this episode no need for a supernatural satan and no proof of one. All the expressions are commonly used of men. The Old Testament word Satan means an adversary; but as the example of Job shows us, there develops a natural tendency to use it of an evil adversary.
Peter - a Satan!
With this valuable background understanding we now look at an example of the use of "satan" in the New Testament. Peter had just made his great declaration of belief in Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" and Jesus had pronounced a blessing upon him as a result. But Jesus then went on to speak of his own fate; he would have to go to Jerusalem and there the leaders of the Jews would seize him and he would be killed, but he would rise again the third day (Matthew 16:21). Peter could neither understand nor accept this and began to rebuke Jesus: "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you." In other words, "You must not think of such a thing." But Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan: you are a hindrance to me."
Why was Peter a "satan"? Because he was being "an adversary" to Jesus; he was trying to persuade the Lord not to do what he knew had to be done in his obedience to the will of God. If Peter had had his way, Jesus would have rejected his Father's will and his great sacrifice for sin upon the cross would never have taken place. So Jesus had to tell this "adversary" (satan) to "get behind me". And then he adds a comment which is most important for our understanding: You are an adversary and a stumbling block to me, says Jesus in effect to Peter, for your mind is not on the "things of God, but the things of men" (verse 23).
So this most important New Testament example teaches us some valuable lessons. First, this "satan" was a man; second, he rejected the will of God; third, what marked him out was that he desired to do the will of man instead-a most important clue, as we shall see later.
Let us remind ourselves what we have learned so far: a "satan" is an adversary, and not always an evil adversary. In the examples we have looked at, "satan" was:
an angel of God, doing his will;
a man posing as a worshipper of God;
other men who were "adversaries";
and now Peter, an apostle of the Lord, who was opposing the will of God.
With this general understanding of the meaning of "satan", we should find a lot of Bible passages much clearer.
And now the Devil
This is a Greek term, not a Hebrew one, and so it is found only in the New Testament. [The word "devils" in "casting out devils" etc. is a different word, which really means "demons"]. Again we must try to discover what the term really means. We can easily do this, for there are passages where the translators themselves have shown us. Writing to Timothy the apostle Paul says that "in the last days there will come times of stress"; in these times "men will be lovers of self, lovers of money... slanderers," etc. (2 Timothy 3:1-3). The word translated "slanderers" is the plural of the one usually rendered "devil" and is related to the English word "diabolical" (Swahili meaning: madhumuni mbaya sana).
Again, giving instructions on how believers are to behave as they meet to worship, he comes to the women members:
"Women in like manner must be serious, no slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things" (1 Timothy 3:11).
Again the word is the one usually translated "devil", though here it is plural. The translators in these two passages have given us the basic sense of the word. Notice once more: these "devils" are people.
But the great test passage for understanding "the devil" in the New Testament is in Hebrews chapter 2. As we read the early verses of this chapter, it is clear that the Apostle is writing about Jesus and his followers; and he calls the followers "children". Now, in verse 14, he comes to his great statement about "the devil". We set it out here in full first, and then we shall go over it, phrase by phrase, to make sure of understanding it:
"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature; that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil..."
The first phrase says quite clearly that the followers of Jesus are "flesh and blood", that is, they are ordinary men and women. No problem there.
The second says that Jesus shared the same nature, "flesh and blood". The apostle must have been very anxious indeed that his readers should clearly understand that the nature of Jesus really was the same as that of his followers - human nature - for he emphasizes the point: "he himself likewise took part of the same". There was no need for the apostle to write in this emphatic way unless he had felt that it was particularly important for his readers to understand this vital truth: that Jesus was a man, in every respect.
The third sentence contains three declarations:
that Jesus destroyed the devil;
that he did it "through death", and that can only mean through his own death, by dying himself; and
that the devil has "the power of death".
Before we go any further, we must clear up one cause of misunderstanding. The Swahili reader, seeing a phrase like "him who has the power of death", is naturally led to assume that the devil must be a person, or a being. But this is not necessarily so.
Feminine and Masculine are absent from Swahili - A male is happy “amefurahi”, a female is happy “amefurahi”. I have have no idea what it is that makes a table masculine and and chair feminine in Greek – but they are? We have a very disimilar system to the Greeks of arranging gender. But at times we also refer to things as if they were persons: a car maybe described as "she" for example. This is called personification.
Greek, (in which the New Testament was written), is very different to the Swahili. It has three genders, and they are used in a way that may be confusing to us. Males are treated differently to females; and objects may be any one of the three genders, masculine, feminine, or neuter.
Now the Greek word for devil is masculine, and so the pronoun standing for it is "he". But this does not make clear whether the devil is a person or is not. The Greek is quite neutral. If we wish to prove that the devil is, or is not, a person, we must get our evidence from somewhere else, not from this expression.
Destroying the Devil
We look now at our "three declarations" in this verse.
Jesus destroyed the devil. So the devil is "dead", or at the very least will be destroyed by the time the work of Jesus is finished. But there are two remarkable points about this statement in Hebrews 2:14. The apostle distinctly says that in order to destroy the devil, Jesus partook of human nature. Now is not this an astonishing thing? If Jesus' purpose was to destroy a powerful enemy, would he not have done far better to have had a strong, immortal nature like the angels? What was he doing sharing the weak nature of flesh and blood? Obviously there is a mystery here that needs explaining.
But that is not all. The apostle distinctly says that the way Jesus destroyed the devil was "through death". Now this can only mean through his own death. What an extraordinary way to get rid of a powerful enemy, by dying oneself!
From these two points, that in order to put an end to the devil Jesus first shared weak human nature and then had to die himself, it is clear that "the devil" of the Bible must be something quite different from the idea of the devil usually held.
When you come across a Bible passage difficult to understand, it always helps to find another one saying much the same thing, though in different terms. The two passages will throw light on one another. Now there is such a passage to help us in this case. The same apostle, in the same letter, in Hebrews chapter 9, is writing about the work of Christ. He refers to his first coming (which led to his death on the cross) like this:
"But (Jesus)... has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (verse 26).
We notice at once that one of the things said here is the same as in Hebrews 2:14. "By the sacrifice of himself" clearly means the same as "through his own death". So probably the other terms mean the same thing. Let us set them out side by side:
through (his own death)
by the sacrifice of himself
he might destroy the devil
= put away sin
From this valuable parallel comment we learn that "destroying the devil" is the same as "putting away sin". The devil, then, must be a way of referring to that human. rebellion against God which the Bible calls sin.