The Christian Bible Reference Site

What Does the Bible Say About Satan or the Devil?

Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction

Old Testament

There are only a few mentions of Satan in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6 ff., Zechariah 3:1-2). "Satan" comes from a Hebrew word meaning adversary.

New Testament

Satan is mentioned many times in the New Testament. The New Testament presents Satan (or "the devil") as the supreme evil being of the universe and the enemy of both God and mankind.

Origins

The Bible does not actually say very much about Satan and his origins. However, there are several passages in the Bible suggesting Satan lost his position in heaven at some point in time:
[Jesus] said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” (NRSV, Luke 10:18)
And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (NRSV, Revelation 12:7-9)
Everything in Revelation has symbolic meaning, and it is difficult to tell if the war in heaven it describes is a past event, a future event, or just a word picture describing God’s ultimate defeat of the forces of evil.

There are also two Old Testament passages which often have been interpreted out of context as applying to Satan: Isaiah 14:12-15, is a taunt against the king of Babylon, but it has sometimes been taken as describing Satan’s fall from heaven:

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! (NIV, Isaiah 14:12)

Ezekiel 28:11-19 is a similar taunt against the king of Tyre:

Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. (NIV, Ezekiel 28:17)

Popular Conceptions of Satan

Paradise Lost

Many of our popular ideas about Satan are actually based not on the Bible, but on John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” which was published in 1667. It tells a fanciful story of Satan, the most beautiful of all angels in Heaven, who rebels against God, is defeated, and is banished to hell along with his followers. Milton's Satan is charismatic, cunning and deceptive. He is able to rally the fallen angels to continue the rebellion even after their stunning defeat. Many of these ideas have made their way into popular beliefs, but Milton's poem is a fictional work that is only loosely based on the Bible.

Appearance

Satan is often depicted as a human-like being with red skin, hooves, horns, a forked tail, wings and a pitchfork. However, those images do not have any basis in the Bible.

The Legend of Faust

The idea that one can make a bargain with Satan is based on an old legend about a man named Faust who makes a deal with Satan to exchange his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Dozens of books, plays, operas, films, TV shows and songs have been based on that same idea. However, there is no indication in the Bible that such a bargain is possible. In Christian teaching, we can always repent and save our souls. (See What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?)

Methods

Satan's aims are to oppose God and to hinder God's rule over the world. Temptation and deception are Satan's primary methods of inducing people to disobey God's commandments. Satan tempts us to commit sins (e.g., idolatry/rejection of faith, self-righteousness/pride/arrogance, murder, adultery, theft, greed/envy, lying, hatred/prejudice, unkindness/heartlessness, apathy/idleness) with lures such as money/wealth, pleasure, security, status, power/domination, popularity/admiration, knowledge, etc. (Matthew 4:3-10, Matthew 13:22 Mark 14:38, Mark 10:21-25, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Peter 5:8-9, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 1 John 2:15-17).

Satan also attempts to deceive us into believing that wrong is actually right (or at least not too bad) or that sinful actions will somehow achieve a greater good. (Genesis 3:1-5, Matthew 4:8-10, John 16:2, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, 1 John 4:1).

Satan is a powerful evil force (Jude 1:9, John 12:31, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 5:19), but he can be resisted with prayer and determination (Matthew 6:13, Ephesians 6:13-19):

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 10:13)
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.(NRSV, James 4:7)

Names

Satan is also known by these names and titles in the Bible:

Ultimate Defeat

Satan is powerful, but the Bible assures us that God is in control, and all evil will be finally defeated when Christ returns (Matthew 25:41, Luke 10:18, John 12:30-33, Romans 16:20).
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (NRSV, Revelation 20:10)

Conclusion

The Bible often speaks of Satan in vague and metaphorical terms. However, the Bible makes it clear that evil is a powerful force in our world. Temptation and deception are constant dangers. However, with prayer and determination, we can resist temptation and remain faithful to God's commandments.

God is in control and allows Satan to tempt and test us now. But when Christ returns, all evil finally will be destroyed.

Questions

Can Satan Read our Thoughts?

The Bible does not specifically say whether Satan can read our thoughts. But Satan's methods include temptation and deception, and that suggests he might have some ability to know what we are thinking.

Where Does the Bible Tell About Jesus Being Tempted by Satan?

Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13

Was Satan a Musician in Heaven?

The Bible does not say Satan was a musician in heaven. That idea may come from the word "pipes" (as in bagpipes) in Ezekiel 28:13 in the King James Version:
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. (KJV, Ezekiel 28:13)
No one is sure why the KJV translated the original Hebrew word as "pipes," but it really has to do with jewelry, not musical instruments.

Was Satan the Serpent in the Garden of Eden?

That is commonly assumed, but the Bible does not specifically connect the serpent with Satan.

Why Does God Allow Satan to Attack Us?

Almost everyone wonders why God has done things as He has, but there are almost never any answers in the Bible. The Bible tells us the things we need to know to live holy and moral lives, but it does not attempt to explain or justify God’s actions.

One possible answer is that God allows Satan to test us to see if we are truly committed to practicing our faith (Job 1:8-12, Matthew 7:21-23, 1 Peter 1:6-7). It is easy to say we believe and trust in God and Christ, but our actions demonstrate our true motives and beliefs.

Related articles: What Does the Bible Say About Heaven, Hell, Eternal Life and the Resurrection of the Body?, What Does the Bible Say About the Second Coming of Jesus?

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