Devil In Christianity

In mainstream Christianity, the Devil (or Satan) is a fallen angel who rebelled against God. Satan was expelled from Heaven and sent to Earth. The devil is often identified as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, whose persuasions led to the two corresponding Christian doctrines: the Original Sin and its cure, the Redemption of Jesus Christ. He is also identified as the accuser of Job, the tempter of the Gospels, Leviathan, and the dragon in the Book of Revelation.

Christian teachings

In Christianity, the title Satan (Hebrew: הַשָּׂטָן ha-Satan), “the adversary”, is a title of various entities, both divine and human, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible. “Satan” later became the name of the personification of evil. Christian tradition and theology changed “Satan” from an accuser appointed by God to test men’s faith to God’s godlike fallen opponent: “the devil”, “Shaitan” in Arabic (the term used by Arab Christians and Muslims).

Traditionally, Christians have understood the devil to be the author of lies and promoter of evil. However, the devil can go no further than the word of Christ the Logos allows, resulting in the problem of evil.

Liberal Christianity often views the devil metaphorically. This is true of some Conservative Christian groups too, such as the Christadelphians and the Church of the Blessed Hope. Much of the popular lore of the devil is not biblical; instead, it is a post-medieval Christian reading of the scriptures influenced by medieval and pre-medieval Christian popular mythology.

demon devil

Devil in Hell


Old Testament

The serpent (Genesis 3)

In the view of many Christians, the devil’s first appearance in the Old Testament is as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God had forbidden them to eat, thus causing their expulsion from the Garden and indirectly causing sin to enter the world. In God’s rebuke to the serpent, he tells it “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Christian scriptures are often interpreted to identify the serpent with the Devil. The deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom says, “But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world and they who are in his possession experience it.” (Wisdom 2:24) Satan is implicitly identified, in the New Testament, with the serpent in Eden, in Revelation 12:9: “This great dragon — the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world — was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.”

Job’s adversary (Job 1-2)

Christian teaching about the Satan (Hebrew שָׂטָן, Adversary), to whom God proposes his servant Job is that he appears in the heavenly court to challenge Job, with God’s permission. This is one of two Old Testament passages, along with Zechariah 3, where Hebrew ha-Satan (the Adversary) becomes Greek ho diabolos (the Slanderer) in the Greek Septuagint used by the early Christian church.|}

David’s satan

Christian teaching about the involvement of Satan in David’s census varies, just as the pre-exilic account of 2 Samuel and the later account of 1 Chronicles present differing perspectives:

  • 2 Samuel 24:1 And the anger of the LORD was again kindled against Israel, and stirred up David against them, saying: Go, number Israel and Judah.
  • 1 Chronicles 21:1 However, Satan rose up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

Zechariah 3

Zechariah’s vision of recently deceased Joshua the High Priest depicts a dispute in the heavenly throne room between Satan and the Angel of the Lord (Zechariah 3:1–2). Goulder (1998) views the vision as related to opposition from Sanballat the Horonite.

Isaiah’s Lucifer (Isaiah 14)

Since the time of Origen and Jerome, some Christian concepts of the devil have included the Morning Star in Isaiah 14:12, which is translated Lucifer (“Morning Star” as a noun, “light-bringing” as an adjective) in the Latin Vulgate, and transferred directly from Latin into the King James Version as a name “Lucifer” When the Bible was translated into Latin (the Vulgate), the name Lucifer appeared as a translation of “Morning Star”, or the planet Venus, in Isaiah 14:12. Isaiah 14:1-23 is a passage concerned with the plight of Babylon, and its king is referred, in sarcastic and hyperbolic language to as “morning star, son of the dawn”. This is because the Babylonian king was considered to be of godly status and of symbolic divine parentage (Bel and Ishtar, associated with the planet Venus).

Arms of Satan - based on Revelation 16:13-14:

Arms of Satan – based on Revelation 16:13-14: “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the Dragon, and out of the mouth of the Beast, and out of the mouth of the False Prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”

While this information is available to scholars today via translated Babylonian cuneiform text taken from clay tablets, it was not as readily available at the time of the Latin translation of the Bible. At some point the reference to “Lucifer” was interpreted as a reference to the moment Satan was thrown from Heaven. And despite the clarity of the chapter as a whole, the 12th verse continues to be put forth as proof that Lucifer was the name of Satan before the fall. Thus Lucifer became another name for Satan and has remained so, owing to popular tradition.

The Hebrew Bible word for the morning star, which was later translated to “Lucifer” in English, is הילל (transliterated HYLL), meaning “morning star”. Although this word, Heilel, has come to be translated as “morning-star” from the Septuagint’s translation of the Scriptures, the letter ה in Hebrew often indicates singularity, much as the English “the,” in which case the translation would be ה “the” ילל “yell,” or “the wailing yell.”

Later, for unknown reasons, Christian demonologists appeared to designate “Satan”, “Lucifer”, and “Beelzebub” as different entities, each with a different rank in the demonic hierarchy. One hypothesis is that this might have been an attempt to establish a demonic trinity with the same person, akin to the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, but most demonologists do not carry this view.

Cherub in Eden (Ezekiel 28)

The cherub in Eden is a figure mentioned in Ezekiel 28:13-14, identified with the King of Tyre, specifically Ithobaal III (reigned 591–573 BCE) who according to Josephus’ list of kings of Tyre was reigning contemporary with Ezekiel at the time of the first fall of Jerusalem. Christianity has traditionally linked the reference to the fall of Satan.

New Testament

  • The Devil (Greek ho diabolos): Following the use in Job and Zechariah in the Septuagint this title, “the Accuser”, is ascribed to Satan 32 times in the New Testament. The three other uses of the word are for humans – Judas, and gossips.(Revelation 12:9).
  • Satan (Greek ho satanas): Luke 10:18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” See also Matthew 4:10, Matthew 12:26, Mark 4:15, Luke 22:31, Acts 26:18, 1Corinthians 5:5, 2Corinthians 11:14, 1Thessalonians 2:18, 1Timothy 5:15, Revelation 3:9 and Revelation 20:2
  • Beelzebub (Greek Beelzeboul) : In Matthew 10:25, Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22, and openly in Luke 11:18-19 there is an implied connection between Satan and Beelzebub (originally a Semitic deity called Baal, and referred to as Baal-zebul, meaning lord of princes). Beelzebub (lit. Lord of the Flies) has now come to be analogous to Satan.
  • The Wicked One (Greek ὁ πονηρὸς ho poneros) : Matthew 13:19–“Then cometh the wicked one.” Matthew 6:13, 1 John 5:19. This title suggests that Satan is one who is wicked himself. Abrahamic religions generally regarded sin as a physical manifestation of opposition to God.
  • Prince of this World (Greek ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ho Archōn tou kosmou toutou; Latin Princeps Huius Mundi) : in John 12:31 and John 14:30.
  • The Tempter (Greek ὁ πειράζων ho peirazōn) : Matthew 4:3–“And when the tempter came to him.” Also, 1Thessalonians 3:5
  • Liar and father of lies (Greek ψεύστης psěustēs) : John 8:44–“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
  • Belial (Greek Belial) : in 2 Corinthians 6:15 “What agreement does Christ have with Belial?” may be a reference to the devil, or to eating idol meats. In the Old Testament, rebellious people and nonbelievers are sometimes called ‘sons of Belial’. See also Deuteronomy 13:13,Judges 20:13, 1Samuel 2:12, 2Samuel 23:6, 1Kings 21:10, 2Chronicles 13:7
  • The god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • The prince of the power of the air in Ephesians 2:2.
  • Your adversary (Greek antidikos) : in 1 Peter 5:8–“Your adversary the devil.” In the Christian worldview, Satan is the adversary of both God and the believers.
  • The Dragon (Greek ho drakōn) : in Revelation 20:2
  • The Ancient Serpent (Greek ho ophis ho archaios) : also in Revelation 20:2


Main article: Temptation of Christ

The Temptation of Christ (1854) by Ary Scheffer

The Temptation of Christ (1854) by Ary Scheffer

The devil figures much more prominently in the New Testament and in Christian theology than in the Old Testament and Judaism. The New Testament records numerous accounts of the devil working against God and his plan. The Temptation of Christ features the devil, and is described in all three synoptic gospels, (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13), although in Mark’s gospel he is called Satan. In all three synoptic gospels, (Matthew 9:22-29, Mark 3:22-30, and Luke 11:14-20), Jesus’ critics accuse him of gaining his power to cast out demons from Beelzebub, the chief demon (often identified with Satan in mainstream Christendom). In response, Jesus says that a house divided against itself will fall, so, logically speaking, why would the devil allow one to defeat the devil’s works with his own power?

The New Testament includes numerous instances of demonic possession. Satan himself is said to have entered Judas Iscariot before Judas’s betrayal. (Luke 22:3) Jesus encounters those who are possessed and casts out the evil spirit(s). A person may have one demon or multiple demons inhabiting their body. Jesus encountered a man filled with numerous demons in Mark 5:1-20.

Acts and epistles

The Epistle of Jude makes reference to an incident where the Archangel Michael argued with the devil over the body of Moses. According to the First Epistle of Peter, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”


According to most Christian eschatology, Satan will wage a final war against Jesus, before being cast into Hell for aeonios. A few early Church Fathers are known to have prayed for Satan’s eventual repentance but it was not generally believed that this would happen. On the other hand, Dispensationalists teach that Jesus returns to earth before the Great Tribulation to reclaim the righteous, dead and living, to meet him in the air (known as the Rapture. Many Fundamentalists believe that immediately following this, the Tribulational period will occur as prophesied in the book of Daniel, while others (especially Seventh-day Adventists) believe that immediately following Jesus’ Second Coming, Satan will be bound on this Earth for a thousand years, after which he will be “loosed for a little season” –this is when the battle of Armageddon (the final confrontation between good and evil) will be waged–and Satan and his followers will be destroyed once and for all, the Earth will be cleansed of all evil and there will be “a new Heaven and a new Earth” where sin will reign no more.


Middle Ages

Particularly in the medieval period, Satan was often shown as having horns and a goat’s hindquarters (though occasionally with the legs of a chicken or a mule), and with a tail. He was also depicted as carrying a pitchfork, the implement used in Hell to torment the damned, or a trident, deriving from the regalia of the sea-god Poseidon. Occasionally more imaginative depictions were illustrated: Sometimes the Devil was depicted as having faces all over his body, as in the painting of a Deal with the Devil. Depictions of the Devil covered in boils and scars, animal-like hair, and monstrous deformities were also common. None of these images seem to be based on biblical materials, as Satan’s physical appearance is never described in the Bible or any other religious text. Rather, this image is apparently based on pagan Horned Gods, such as Pan, Cernunnos, Molek, Selene and Dionysus, common to many pagan religions. Pan in particular looks very much like the images of the medieval Satan. These images later became the basis for Baphomet, which is portrayed in Eliphas Levi’s 1854 Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (English translation Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual). Even some Satanists use Baphomet as the image of Satan in Satanic worship. It has been alleged that this image was chosen specifically to discredit the Horned God.


What is known of the Cathars largely comes in what is preserved by the critics in the Catholic Church which later destroyed them in the Albigensian Crusade. Alain de Lille, c.1195, accused the Cathars of believing in two gods – one of light, one of darkness. Durand de Huesca, responding to a Cathar tract c.1220 indicates that they regarded the physical world as the creation of Satan. A former Italian Cathar turned Dominican, Sacchoni in 1250 testified to the Inquisition that his former co-religionists believed that the devil made the world and everything in it.

The Reformation

Luther taught the traditional personal devil. Among his teachings was a recommendation of music since “the devil cannot stand gaiety.”

The devil being fought by Christian using a gold sword, Norwich Cathedralcloisters ceiling detail.

Calvin taught the traditional view of the devil as a fallen angel. Calvin repeats the simile of Saint Augustine: “Man is like a horse, with either God or the devil as rider.” In interrogation of Servetus who had said that all creation was part of God, Calvin asked what of the devil? Servetus responded “all things are a part and portion of God”.

Anabaptists and Dissenters

David Joris was the first of the Anabaptists to venture that the devil was only an allegory (c.1540), his view found a small but persistent following in the Netherlands. The view was transmitted to England and Joris’s booklet was reprinted anonymously in English in 1616, prefiguring a spate of non-literal devil interpretations in the 1640s-1660s: Mede, Bauthumley, Hobbes, Muggleton and the private writings of Isaac Newton. In Germany such ideas surfaced later, c.1700, among writers such as Balthasar Bekker and Christian Thomasius.

However the above views remained very much a minority. Daniel Defoe in his The Political History of the Devil (1726) describes such views as a form of “practical atheism”. Defoe wrote “that to believe the existence of a God is a debt to nature, and to believe the existence of the Devil is a like debt to reason”.

John Milton in Paradise Lost

Until John Milton created the character of Satan for his Paradise Lost, the different attributes of Satan were usually ascribed to different entities. The angel who rebelled in Heaven was not the same as the ruler in Hell. The ruler of Hell was often seen as a sort of jailer who never fell from grace. The tempting serpent of Genesis was just a serpent. Milton combined the different parts of the character to show his fall from near-divine beauty and grace to his eventual skulking role as a jealous tempter. He was so successful in his characterization of Satan as a romantic hero who “would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” that his version of Satan has displaced all others.

Rudolf Bultmann and modernists

Rudolf Bultmann taught that Christians need to reject belief in a literal devil as part of first century culture. This line is developed by Walter Wink.

Against this come the works of writers like Jeffrey Burton Russell, a believer in a literal personal fallen being of some kind. In Lucifer, the Devil in the Middle Ages, the third volume of his five volume history of the devil, Russell argues that such theologians [as Bultmann, unnamed] are missing that the devil is part and parcel of the New Testament from its origins.

Modern Christian doctrines by denomination

Roman Catholic views

A number of prayers and practices against the devil exist within the Roman Catholic tradition. The Lord’s Prayer includes a petition for being delivered from evil, but a number of other specific prayers also exist.

The Prayer to Saint Michael specifically asks for Catholics to be defended “against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” Given that some of the Our Lady of Fatima messages have been linked by the Holy See to the “end times”, some Catholic authors have concluded that the angel referred to within the Fatima messages is St. Michael the Archangel who defeats the devil in the War in Heaven. Author Timothy Robertson takes the position that the Consecration of Russia was a step in the eventual defeat of Satan by the Archangel Michael.

The process of exorcism is used within the Catholic Church against the devil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing”.

The Catholic Church views the battle against the devil as ongoing. During a May 24, 1987 visit to the Sanctuary of Saint Michael the Archangel, Pope John Paul IIsaid:

“The battle against the devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the archangel, is still being fought today, because the devil is still alive and active in the world. The evil that surrounds us today, the disorders that plague our society, man’s inconsistency and brokenness, are not only the results of original sin, but also the result of Satan’s pervasive and dark action.”

Pope Paul VI expressed concern about the influence of the devil and in 1972 stated that: “Satan’s smoke has made its way into the Temple of God through some crack”. However, Pope John Paul II viewed the defeat of Satan as inevitable.

Father Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, warned about ignoring Satan, saying, “Whoever denies Satan also denies sin and no longer understands the actions of Christ”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Church regards the devil as being created as a good angel by God, and by his and his fellow fallen angels choice fell out of God’s grace.

Satan is not an infinitely powerful being. Although he was an angel, and thus pure spirit, he is considered a creature nonetheless. Satan’s actions are permitted by divine providence.

Eastern Orthodox

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Satan is one of humanity’s three enemies, along with sin and death (in some other forms of Christianity the other two enemies of mankind are “the world”, and self (or the flesh), which is to be taken as man’s natural tendency to sin).

Evangelical Protestants

Evangelicals agree with the Protestant orthodox of theology that Satan is a real, created being given entirely over to evil and that evil is whatever opposes God or is not willed by God. Evangelicals emphasize the power and involvement of Satan in history in varying degrees; some virtually ignore Satan and others revel in speculation about spiritual warfare against that personal power of darkness.

Anglican Church

The literal existence of the Devil is referred to in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

Unitarians and Christadelphians

Some Christian groups and individuals view the devil in Christianity figuratively. They see the devil in the Bible as representing human sin and temptation, and any human system in opposition to God. Early Bible fundamentalist Unitarians and Dissenters like Nathaniel Lardner, Richard Mead, Hugh Farmer, William Ashdowneand John Simpson, and John Epps taught that the miraculous healings of the Bible were real, but that the devil was an allegory, and demons just the medical language of the day. Simpson in his Sermons (publ. posthumously 1816) went so far as to comment that the devil was “really not that bad”, a view essentially echoed as recently as 2001 by Gregory Boyd in Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy. Such views today are taught today by Christadelphians and the Church of the Blessed Hope.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan was originally a perfect angel who developed feelings of self-importance and craved worship that belonged to God. Satan persuaded Adam and Eve to obey him rather than God, raising the issue—often referred to as a “controversy”—of whether people, having been granted free will, would obey God under both temptation and persecution. The issue is said to be whether God can rightfully claim to be sovereign of the universe. Instead of destroying Satan, God decided to test the loyalty of the rest of humankind and to prove to the rest of creation that Satan was a liar. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan is God’s chief adversary and the invisible ruler of the world. They believe that demons were originally angels who rebelled against God and took Satan’s side in the controversy.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Satan lives in Hell or that he has been given responsibility to punish the wicked. Satan and his demons are said to have been cast down from heaven to the earth in 1914, marking the beginning of the “last days”. Witnesses believe that Satan and his demons influence individuals, organizations and nations, and that they are the cause of human suffering. At Armageddon, Satan is to be bound for 1,000 years, and then given a brief opportunity to mislead perfect humanity before being destroyed.

Latter-Day Saints

See also: Latter Day Saint movement

In Mormonism, the Devil is a real being, a literal spirit son of God who once had angelic authority, but rebelled and fell prior to the creation of the Earth in a premortal life. At that time, he persuaded a third part of the spirit children of God to rebel with him. This was in opposition to the plan of salvation championed by Jehovah (Jesus Christ). Now the devil tries to persuade mankind into doing evil. Mankind can overcome this through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the Gospel.

The Latter-day Saints traditionally regard Lucifer as the pre-mortal name of the devil. Mormon theology teaches that in a heavenly council, Lucifer rebelled against the plan of God the Father and was subsequently cast out. Mormon scripture reads:

“And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning! And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ—Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.”

After becoming Satan by his fall, Lucifer “goeth up and down, to and fro in the earth, seeking to destroy the souls of men”. Mormons consider Isaiah 14:12 to be referring to both the king of the Babylonians and the devil.

Unification Church

The Unification Church teaches that Satan will be restored in the last days and become a good angel again.


Teachings about the Devil vary, depending on the local folklore. Still, the characteristics present in the Bible are present in most depictions.


Christianity holds several different views on Christ’s role in defeating Satan. Some emphasize Christ’s death and resurrection as sealing Satan’s fate, so that the devil is already defeated though not banished. Others emphasize the devil’s final judgment when Christ returns, at which time the terror and deceit of Satan will have no more effect on the world. This is because mankind will face final judgment and the earth will be purged or cleansed with fire. Satan will be bound to the lake of fire (Rev 20) with the Beast, the false prophet and all those whose names are not in the Book of Life.According to the gospels of Matthew (chapter 4), Mark (chapter 1), and Luke (chapter 4), the devil tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. After Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, the devil approached Jesus with offers of stones turned to bread, rulership over the kingdoms of the Earth (but with subservience to the Devil himself), and spectacular protection from physical harm. Satan uses the Scripture of the Old Testament to solidify his arguments. This would indicate Satan’s full knowledge of all of Scripture and a use of that knowledge to tempt and deceive man (Mat 4). Jesus refused all three temptations, rebuking Satan with his own knowledge of Scripture (Mat 4).


The devil and his demons are portrayed as able to possess and control humans. The Roman Catholic Church occasionally performs exorcisms, usually only after medical and psychological evaluations have taken place to rule out a mental or physical ailment.

Black magic

See also: Black magic

The Devil has been described as granting magical powers to sorcerers and witches, usually in exchange for worship or souls. In Acts of the Apostles 16:16 Paul the Apostle meets ‘a slave girl who had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future’. He performs an exorcism using the name of Jesus Christ.

Christian tradition

Christian tradition differs from that of Christian demonology in that Satan, Lucifer, Samael and Beelzebub all are names that refer to “the devil”, and Prince of this World, The Beast and Dragon (and rarely Serpent or The Old Serpent) used to be elliptic forms to refer to him. The Enemy, The Evil One and The Tempter are other elliptic forms to name the Devil. Belial is held by many to be another name for the devil. Christian demonology, in contrast, does not have several nicknames for Satan.

The name Mephistopheles is used by some people to refer to the Devil, but it is a mere folkloric custom, and has nothing to do with Christian demonology and Christian tradition. Prince of Darkness and Lord of Darkness are also folkloric names, although they tend to be incorporated to Christian tradition.

In English, the devil has a number of epithets, including Old Scratch and Old Nick.

Theological disputes


The Bible states that Satan roams Heaven and Earth. It also states that Satan appeared with other angels “before the Lord,” presumably in heaven. When God asked Satan where he had been, Satan replied, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it”. 1 Peter 5:8 declares, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. The only point in the Bible where Satan is in Hell is at the end of the Book of Revelation, where he is thrown into Hell to face his eternal punishment along with the beast. As demonstrated by Dante, Milton, and several other writings, the Devil is commonly thought to be in Hell.

Sinfulness of angels

Some theologians believe that angels cannot sin because sin brings death and angels cannot die, or because they are spiritual beings that are completely aware of God’s will.

Supporting the idea that an angel may sin, Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, wrote:

“An angel or any other rational creature considered in his own nature, can sin; and to whatever creature it belongs not to sin, such creature has it as a gift of grace, and not from the condition of nature. The reason of this is, because sinning is nothing else than a deviation from that rectitude which an act ought to have; whether we speak of sin in nature, art, or morals. That act alone, the rule of which is the very virtue of the agent, can never fall short of rectitude. Were the craftsman’s hand the rule itself engraving, he could not engrave the wood otherwise than rightly; but if the rightness of engraving be judged by another rule, then the engraving may be right or faulty.”

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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