The Biblical View of Satan

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class on the Gospels.


We do not know as much as we sometimes believe about Satan. Although Satan figures as a key player throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Bible does not give a detailed theology regarding this evil being. It is important to come to terms with what the Bible does offer us, and understand Satan in the biblical view. We must determine what the Bible calls Satan, how the Old Testament views him, and what the New Testament has to say as well, so that we can gain a biblical view of Satan.

The Bible uses several names for Satan. It has a small collection of proper names that it attributes to him. The Bible calls him Satan–Adversary or Accuser–in 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6; John 13:27; Acts 5:3; 26:18; and Romans 16:20. It calls him Abaddon in Revelation 9:11. Abaddon in Hebrew is identified as Apollyon in Greek, meaning Destroyer.1 He is called Beelzebub, which probably comes from the Philistine deity known as the Lord of the flies (Matthew 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15).2 He is called Belial, which may mean Worthlessness (2 Corinthians 6:15).3 The Bible also has a wide variety of titles for Satan. Revelation 12:10 calls him the accuser of our brothers. He is called the adversary (1 Peter 5:8). Revelation 9:11 calls him the angel of the bottomless pit. He is called the devil (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:2, 6; Revelation 20:2). He is called the enemy in Matthew 13:39. He is called the evil spirit in 1 Samuel 16:14. He is called the lying spirit in 1 Kings 22:22. The Bible calls him the liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is called a murderer in John 8:44. He is called the great red dragon in Revelation 12:3. He is called the old serpent in Revelation 12:9; 29:2. He is called the serpent (Genesis 3:4, 14; 2 Corinthians 11:3). He is called the power of darkness in Colossians 1:13. He is called the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He is called the prince of demons in Matthew 12:24. He is called the prince of the power of the air in Ephesians 2:2. He is called the ruler of the darkness of this world in Ephesians 6:12. He is called the spirit that works in the children of disobedience in Ephesians 2:2. He is called the tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5). He is called the god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4:4. He is called the unclean spirit (Matthew 12:43). He is called the wicked one in (Matthew 13:19, 38). The Bible has a large collection of names or titles to refer to Satan, but it favors the name Satan when referring to him. The name Satan occurs 18 times in the Old Testament, and 35 times in the New Testament.4

The Old Testament has a lesser view of Satan in terms of his role or function as an evil being. Satan is understood to be the serpent in Genesis 3, in which he is abruptly introduced. The book of Job adds some important details. Satan is identified as one of the sons of God (Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-7). It appears that Satan is part of the heavenly council–the sons of God or heavenly beings (Psalm 89). Job identifies that Satan roams the earth (1:7; 2:2). He is able to be in heaven even though he is able to roam the earth. Satan means adversary when used in reference to a military or political opposition, but when in reference to legal matters it means accuser.5 The Old Testament image bound up in the name of Satan is a heavenly prosecutor accusing people of breaking the law. In Genesis 3, Satan is depicted as a serpent who does not accuse Eve but twists the perception of the tree from which she was not able to eat. In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan provokes David to sin. In Job 1 and 2, Satan does not accuse Job of sin but accuses him of being obedient only because God caused him to prosper. In Zechariah 3, Satan is present and he is accusing Joshua the High Priest, but he is rebuked by the Lord. For the Old Testament, Satan is identified as a heavenly being who stirs up trouble.

The New Testament has a higher view of Satan as an evil being. Satan is not seen simply as troublesome in the New Testament. He has gone beyond the accusing idea from the Old Testament and has become much more proactive. The gospels reveal several proactive actions. Satan tempts Jesus in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. He seeks to take away the word of the kingdom planted in the hearts of the hearers (Matthew 13:19). Furthermore, he grows his own children (“tares”) to choke out the good seed (Matthew 13:38-9). Satan is able to bind or possess (Luke 13:16; John 13:27). Jesus identifies Satan as a murderer (John 8:44). In the rest of the New Testament, Satan is understood to be at war with Christians. He seeks to fill Christians’ hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). He seeks to pervert the righteous ways of the Lord (Acts 13:10). Satan has power over those who do not belong to God (Acts 26:18). He blinds the minds of those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 4:4). He corrupts the minds that belong to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). Satan works to create disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). He hinders the work of God’s human agents (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He condemns and snares believers (1 Timothy 3:6). He is a roaring lion seeking to devour those who believe (1 Peter 5:8). In the book of Revelation, Satan throws people into prison so that they will stand trial (2:9). Satan has progressed in function from the Old Testament to the New. While before he was present and mettlesome, he is now in the New Testament the key opponent of Jesus and his disciples.

The biblical view of Satan is certainly not good but it is not very detailed either. There is not a lot in the Bible concerning Satan. It seems as though he is not a subject or a topic that it is severely concerned about. What we do see are the names and titles regarding Satan. The names and titles given to him throughout the Bible–mostly from the New Testament–portray Satan to be a troublesome enemy who seeks to do physical and spiritual harm. The Old Testament portrays Satan to be a heavenly being who is able to be in heaven and on earth, but he accuses people, twists information around, and provokes people to sin. He is understood to be evil, but he does not play a prominent role throughout the entire Old Testament except for a few key instances like in Genesis 3, Job 1 and 2, and Zechariah 3. When the New Testament comes around, Satan is much more prominent. He is not one to be taken lightly. He proactively seeks to fight against Jesus and his followers by tempting people to sin, to inflict pain on people, to cloud the minds of those who follow Jesus, to bind the minds of those who do not believe, and pervert the ways of the Lord. Where he comes from we do not know other than he is one among the sons of God that form his heavenly council, but he has been cast out from heaven and currently awaits punishment while he roams the earth (Revelation 12:9-12; 20:1-10).

1 BDAG, 2.

2 BDAG, 173.

3 BDAG, 173.

4 Oroville Nave, Nave’s Topical Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1979), 1238. This section and the paper as a whole closely follows the concordance information made available in Nave.

5 Walter Baumgartner and Ludwig Koehler, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2000), for Accordance Software.