What Does the Bible Say About Satan or the Devil?
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?)
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
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from
you.(NRSV, James 4:7)
Satan is also known by these names and titles in the Bible:
- The devil (Matthew 4:1, John 8:44, Revelation 12:9, etc.) "Satan"
comes from a Hebrew word meaning adversary. "Devil" comes from an equivalent
Greek word also meaning adversary or slanderer.
- Lucifer. It is often assumed that the reference to "morning star"
in Isaiah 14:12-15 is a metaphorical reference to Satan. "Morning star" is an
old name for the planet Venus, which is "Lucifer" in Latin. The King James Version
of the Bible carried over the name Lucifer from the old Latin Bible without
translating it into English, and thus Lucifer became another name for Satan.
- The ruler of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2)
- The god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)
- One who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14)
- The ruler of this world (John 12:31)
- The cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces
of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)
- Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1)
- The great dragon (Revelation 12:9)
- Angel of the bottomless pit, Abaddon, Apollyon (Revelation
- Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (Matthew 12:24)
- Beliar (2 Corinthians 6:15)
- The evil one (Matthew 6:13, Ephesians 6:16, 1 John 5:19, etc.)
- The tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5)
- The accuser of our comrades (Revelation 12:10)
- A liar, father of lies (John 8:44)
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,
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)
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
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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