Satan’s Origins

The name Satan is derived from a root meaning ‘to oppose’ or ‘to be or to act as an adversary.’ In some cases, he is not necessarily malevolent and he may have even been sent by the Lord to prevent worse harm (such as in Numbers). Examples of passages using this early interpretation include:

“But God was incensed at his going; so an angel of the LORD placed himself in his was as an adversary [Hebrew: satan]” – Numbers 22:22

“He shall not march down with us to the battle, or else he may become an adversary [Heb: satan] in battle.” – 1 Samuel 29:4

“Appoint a wicked man over him; may an accuser [Heb: satan] stand at his right side. – Psalm 109:6

Satan possesses no real demonic qualities in the OT writings. He is mentioned as a distinct personality in 3 passages. These passages are thought to be post-exilic and are dated between 519 and 300 BCE.

“He further showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right to accuse him.” – Zechariah 3:

Here, “Satan” becomes an official title of a distinct personality, although in the Hebrew, the article before Satan indicates a common rather than a proper noun as “the satan”.

“One day the divine beings presented themselves before the LORD, and the satan (Heb: ha-satan) came along with them. The LORD said to the Adversary, ‘Where have you been?’ Satan answered the LORD, ‘I have been roaming all over the earth.’ The LORD said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job?” – Job 1:6-8

Satan Tempts Job

The Book of Job describes Job as a pious, God-fearing man who had many sons and daughters and was quite wealthy. One day, Satan asks God for permission to tempt Job to see just how loyal to God Job was. God granted Satan permission to do whatever he wanted, so long as he didn’t take Job’s life.

Very soon, messengers informed Job that Sabeans have stolen his oxen, lightning has killed his sheep, Chaldeans have stolen his camels, and his sons and daughters were killed while dining in their oldest brother’s home.

When Job still wouldn’t denounce God, Satan again asks permission to inflict Job with boils. He does, and Job is overcome with sorrow and grief. His friends try to console him and ask him to repent for surely he must have done something wicked for God to bestow such bad fortunes on him. Job swears he is innocent and asks God to explain. Finally, God answers, not by justifying his actions but by appealing to his own omniscience and power. Job is content with this and his trust in God is restored.

In this passage, the Satan is the servant of God, whose job is not only to accuse man, but he also urges God to test Job. He does nothing without the permission of God. He appears along with the other ‘ben Elohim’ (sons of God) implying that he is one of the angel-ministers of Yahweh. Also, this passage shows that while he acts in accordance with God’s permission, he seems as if he would be pleased if he could prove that Job wasn’t as loyal to God as God claimed. Despite this, he remains an angel. (For a later version of this story, see Satan and the Testament of Job

“Satan arose against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 21:1

This passage is a later version of the passage in 2 Samuel 24:1 “The anger of the LORD again flared up against Israel; and He incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and number Israel and Judah.’” While the author attributes the census to Satan, he insists that David was personally responsible for his actions and therefore guilty of breaking God’s law. Satan’s substitution for the Lord indicates that he was thought of as the destructive power of God.

In Early Jewish Apocryphal Writings

Rabbinic Literature gives two accounts for the origin of Satan. The first is that Satan was created on the sixth day at the same time as Eve. This ties in with the tradition that Satan played some part in the fall of man. The second and more prevalent tradition is that Satan is one of the fallen angels. Satan is identified with Sammael and his deeds.


In T.B. Baba Bathra (16a), Satan is identified with the Yetzer ha Ra, which is the ‘evil impulse’ in man. The Talmud distinguishes between the personified Satan outside man, and the Yetzer ha Ra that exists within man. It is this evil impulse within man that allows Satan the opportunity to work his will against man.

Rabbinic writings also foreshadow the destruction of Satan. T.B. Succah (52a) talks of the destruction of the evil angel, while the Yalkut Jesaj (359) implies that Satan will be overthrown at a future time by the Messiah, referring to Psalm 36:9.

The general belief is that there are a class of satans with a chief Satan. For example, in 1 Enoch, there are 5 Satans. The first and second are said to have been responsible for leading astray the angels and for bringing them down to earth, where they sinned with the daughters of men (69:4), while the third brought about the fall of Adam and Eve (69:6). The satans are allowed to access heaven in order to accuse men, but they are not confined to heaven.

Satan’s Fall

Before the New Testament, there were many powers of evil, with Satan existing alongside other demon chiefs. Satan did not become the one supreme evil power until NT literature. Many of these apocryphal books were written between the beginning of the first century BCE and the end of the first century CE.

“By the envy of the devil death entered into the world,
And they that belong to his realm experience it.”
– Book of Wisdom 2:24
This passage usually is interpreted to refer to the temptation and fall of Eve. The following passages describe this encounter. (It may also be noted that this passage could also be interpreted as referring to Cain because according to Genesis, physical death did not enter the world until Cain murdered Abel.)

2 Enoch explains that the angels were created on the second day of creation and were assigned to various positions. One of the angels, called Satanel, rebelled because he thought he could become more powerful than God. God, therefore, threw him out of heaven.

“But one from the order of the archangels deviated, together with the division that was under his authority. He thought up the impossible idea,that he might place his throne higher than the clouds which are above the earth, and that he might become equal to my power. And I hurled him out from the height, together with his angels. And he was flying around in the air, ceaselessly, above the Bottomless.” – 2 Enoch 29:4-5

In his jealousy, Satanail decided to lead Adam astray, even though he was aware of his own sinfulness. When his plan worked, God cursed evil and ignorance, implying that it is through man’s ignorance of his own nature that is the root of sin, not Satanail.

“And the devil understood how I wished to create another world, so that everything could be subjected to Adam on the earth, to rule and reign over it. The devil is of the lowest places. And he will become a demon, because he fled from heaven; Sotona, because his name was Satanail. In this way he became different from the angels. His nature did not change, (but) his thought did, since his consciousness of righteous and sinful things changed. And he became aware of his condemnation and of the sin which he sinned previously. And that is why he thought up the scheme against Adam. In such a form he entered paradise, and corrupted Eve. But Adam he did not contact. But on account of (her) nescience I cursed them. But those whom I had blessed previously, them I did not curse; (and those whom I had not blessed previously, even them I did not curse) – neither mankind I cursed, nor the earth, nor any other creature, but only mankind’s evil fruit-bearing.” – 2 Enoch 31:3-7

Satan Tempts Adam and Eve

The Apocalypsis Mosis 16 tells of how Satan used the serpent as a vessel to lead astray Adam and Eve. The serpent tells him that he fears the Lord’s wraith, but Satan convinces him that he only has to be a vessel – it will be Satan speaking through him.

“And the devil spake to the serpent saying, Rise up, come to me and I will tell thee a word whereby thou mayst have profit.” And he arose and came to him. And the devil saith to him: “I hear that thou art wiser than all the beasts, and I have come to counsel thee. Why dost thou eat of Adam’s tares and not of paradise? Rise up and we will cause him to be cast out of paradise, even as we were cast out through him.” The serpent saith to him, “I fear lest the Lord be wroth with me.” The devil saith to him: “Fear not, only be my vessel and I will speak through thy mouth words to deceive him.” -Apocalypsis Mosis 16

This book then mentions that it was the devil that spoke through Eve that led Adam astray.

“For, when he came, I opened my mouth and the devil was speaking, and I began to exhort him and said, “Come hither, my lord Adam, hearken to me and eat of the fruit of the tree of which God told us not to eat of it, and thou shalt be as a God.” – Apocalypsis Mosis 21:3

A similar account of the fall of Satan takes place in the Books of Adam and Eve. These books give an account of how Satan tempted and brought about the fall of Adam and Eve. In the beginning, Satan is represented as being an angel of God. It then explains that when Adam was formed in God’s image, Michael commanded the angels to worship him. Satan refused to do so because Adam was inferior and younger then himself. He claimed that Adam should worship him. Because of this, Satan and the other angels who refused to worship Adam were banished from heaven. Satan then decided to bring about the ruin of Adam and Eve. There is no reference to the Watchers or the union of angels with women.

“And with a heavy sigh, the devil spake: ‘O Adam! all my hostility, envy, and sorrow is for thee, since it is for thee that I have been expelled from my glory, which I possessed in the heavens in the midst of the angels and for thee was I cast out in the earth.’ Adam answered, ‘What dost thou tell me? What have I done to thee or what is my fault against thee? Seeing that thou hast received no harm or injury from us, why dost thou pursue us?’ The devil replied, ‘Adam, what dost thou tell me? It is for thy sake that I have been hurled from that place. When thou wast formed. I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of the angels. When God blew into thee the breath of life and thy face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought thee and made (us) worship thee in the sight of God; and God the Lord spake: Here is Adam. I have made thee in our image and likeness.’ And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: ‘Worship the image of God as the Lord God hath commanded.’ And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God the Lord.’ And I answered, ‘I have no (need) to worship Adam.’ And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why dost thou urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being (than I). I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.’ When the angels, who were under me, heard this, they refused to worship him. And Michael saith, ‘Worship the image of God, but if thou wilt not worship him, the Lord God will be wrath with thee.’ And I said, ‘If He be wrath with me, I will set my seat above the stars of heaven and will be like the Highest.’ And God the Lord was wrath with me and banished me and my angels from our glory; and on thy account were we expelled from our abodes into this world and hurled on the earth. And straightway we were overcome with grief, since we had been spoiled of so great glory. And we were grieved when we saw thee in such joy and luxury. And with guile I cheated thy wife and caused thee to be expelled through her (doing) from thy joy and luxury, as I have been driven out of my glory.” – Vita Adae et Evae 12-16

These later accounts (Vita Adae et Evae 12-16 and Apocalypsis Mosis) give a much more highly developed concept of Satan, that is close to the presentation of Satan in the New Testament. He appears as the great enemy of mankind and God, and is directly associated with the fall of Adam and Eve (which isn’t the prominent teaching of the New Testament, although Paul does mention it briefly in 2 Corinthians 11:3). The Apocalypsis Mosis also is one of the only books to develop the idea that the Devil can take possession of a person (the other being the the Book of Tobit in which Asmodeus appears to take possession of Sarah).

Satan In Hellenistic Writings

In the Greek translation of the Bible (the Septuagint) written in Alexandria, the word satan was translated as diabolos on many occasions. In Hebrew,satan simply means accuser. In the Greek as diabolos, the word obtained a negative connotation to mean false accuser or slanderer.

Satan in the Gospels

In the New Testament, Satan emerges as the principal power of evil, although there are still traces of earlier powers of evil such as in the Synoptic gospels, Beelzebub, and in Paul’s letters, Beliar (2 Cor 6:15).

In Mark 3:22ff. the Scribes say of Jesus “‘He is possessed by Beelzebub,’ and ‘By the prince ofdemons he drives out demons.’” Jesus then rebuts the statement by asking “How can Satan drive out Satan?” This rebuttal seems to identify Beelzebub with Satan, however, it can be noted that there may be two concepts here with Jesus identifying Satan with the prince of demons and Beelzebub being a separate identity.

Both Matthew 12:24 and Luke 11:15 specify Beelzebub as the prince of demons, however in Jesus’ rebuttal, He mentions both Satan and Beelzebub, implying the two are identical terms.

The first reference to Satan is in the temptation of Jesus. Mark says that Jesus was ‘tempted of Satan,’ while Matthew and Luke say that He was ‘tempted of the devil.’ (Mk 1:13, Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:2-13) The terminology used throughout the NT generally consists of identifying Satan with the devil and the evil one. The parable of the sower demonstrates this. Mark 4:15 uses ‘Satan,’ while Luke 8:12 uses ‘the devil,’ and Matthew 13:19 uses ‘the evil one.’ This parable of how Satan comes and ‘takes away the word which has been sown in them’ (Mk 4:15) is very similar to the parable in the Book of Jubilees where the prince, Mastema (identified with Satan), sent ravens and other birds to devour the seed which had been sown. (11:11ff.)

The Gospels speak of both demons and Satan as being able to possess an individual. An example of an evil spirit taking possession is the case of the woman who had a spirit of infirmity’ for eighteen years, which was attributed to her being ‘bound’ by Satan (Lk 13:11ff.) Here, the condition of the woman is regarded as being caused by demon possession, with Satan as the chief of evil spirits. It is most often portrayed in the Gospels that when a demon takes possession of an individual, it is usually by force and the demonized are not regarded as willful sinners or as excessively wicked people. However, when Satan is said to enter into a person, the possession is not forceful, and the man is held accountable for allowing Satan to influence him. Examples include when Jesus addressed Peter by saying ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ (Mk 8:33, Mt 16:23) and in Luke 22:3 and John 13:2, which both portray the betrayal of Judas as an effect of Satan entering into Judas.

Also, only a few passages in the Synoptic Gospels mention the final destruction of Satan. Luke 10:18 describes Jesus saying ‘I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven.’ This may refer to either the original fall of Satan from heaven or it may imply that Jesus believed that the success of His disciples casting out demons could symbolize a complete overthrow of Satan. The most direct allusion in the Gospels is that found in Matthew 25:41 where at the last judgment, Jesus will say to the wicked ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

Satan in Acts of the Apostles

In the book of Acts, the terms, ‘Satan’ and ‘the Devil’ are used synonymously to portray the chief power of evil. Acts regard Satan as an instigator of falsehood and deceit in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1ff) This agrees with the statement in John which says that the devil tells lies.

“He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character because he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

Acts also make reference to Satan as the head of the kingdom of evil. When Paul spoke to king Agrippa, he told the king of how Jesus wanted him to preach to the Gentiles in order “to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God” (26:18)