What Is the Bible’s View?
Satan the Devil—Personification or a Person?
THE Holy Bible makes frequent mention of Satan the Devil. With reference to the chief adversary of God and man, the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) speak of Satan (meaning “adversary”) eighteen times. The Christian Greek Scriptures (New Testament) refer to the same one thirty-four times as Satan and over thirty times by the term Devil (meaning “slanderer”).
Many believe that the Devil is a wicked spirit person who can influence man toward evil. Others deny this. They hold that the Devil is not a person, but merely the personification of an abstract principle of evil. According to the New York Times Magazine of February 4, 1973, a Catholic Scripture scholar recently said: “No up-to-date theologian believes that Satan is a person.”
Which is the truth? Is the Devil a personification or a person? Knowledge of the Bible’s view of this matter will prove to be most beneficial. Bible scholar Louis Matthews Sweet explains why: “Not only is the Bible entirely free from the extravagances of popular Satanology, which is full of absurd stories concerning the appearances, tricks, and transformations of Satan among men, but it exhibits a dependable accuracy and consistency of statement which is most reassuring.”
The earliest direct references to Satan (literally, “the Satan”) in the Bible are found in Job, chapters one and two. These chapters introduce Satan when he is speaking with Jehovah God. (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7) This alone presents difficulties for any who, while professing belief in the Bible, claim that Satan is simply a personification of evil in someone. If “Satan” is only the evil in any person, the evil must have been in Jehovah God with whom Satan was speaking. But the Bible describes God as one “in whom there is no unrighteousness.”—Ps. 92:15.
An experience that Jesus had with the Devil is similar. Matthew 4:1 relates that “Jesus was led by [God’s] spirit up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” Was Jesus tempted by evil within himself? Such a view does not harmonize with the Bible’s description of Jesus as “a righteous one” who “committed no sin.” (1 John 2:1; 1 Pet. 2:22) No, the Satan that appeared before Jehovah God and that tempted Jesus Christ was separate from them.
You will note, too, that these accounts relate conversations between the Devil and God, and between the Devil and Jesus Christ. Both Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are persons. Can an unintelligent ‘force’ carry on a conversation with a person? Also, the Bible calls Satan a manslayer, a liar, a father (in a spiritual sense) and a ruler. (John 8:44; 14:30) Only an intelligent person could fit all those descriptions. Therefore, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia states: “All the forms of personal agency are made use of by the sacred writers in setting forth the character and conduct of Satan. . . . Every quality, every action, which can indicate personality, is attributed to him in language which cannot be explained away.”
The Scriptures indicate that the Devil was originally a perfect, righteous spirit creature. But he “did not stand fast in the truth.” (John 8:44) Only after he willingly took a course of opposition and resistance to God was he called Satan.
In the case of Adam and Eve, he portrayed God as exercising his sovereignty in a wrong way in prohibiting their eating of the fruit of a certain tree. He presented disobedience to God as the way to freedom. However, their succumbing to this selfish desire “to be like God” (or ‘to become their own boss’) brought about, not freedom, but their death and that of their offspring. Thus Jesus called the Devil “a manslayer.” (John 8:44) Later Satan tried to make Job and Jesus Christ abandon God for selfish reasons. But in this he failed.—Job 1:9-11; 2:4; Luke 4:1-13.
However, Satan’s activity has not been limited to individuals. Jesus called him “the ruler of the world.” (John 14:30) Revelation 12:9 shows that the “Devil and Satan” is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” Do we see in human history evidence of the influence of a wicked spirit person of superhuman intelligence?
Andrew M. Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest associated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, commented about the pattern of evil evident throughout human history:
“The magnitude of the evil is not proportionate to the malice of the people involved. . . . If there is a superintelligence guiding the powers of evil, one must say that his strategy has been brilliant.”
The twentieth century is especially significant in this respect. Professor of History René Albrecht-Carrié writes: “The nineteenth century is now often regarded as a century of peace, a view certainly warranted by the contrast between it and our own time of cataclysmic strife. That era sharply came to an end in 1914.” That was the year that World War I broke out.
Dr. Scott Nearing of the University of Pennsylvania points out that many believed that World War I could not happen “because people were too civilized, war was too expensive, there was too much feeling against war.”
Nevertheless, world war came in 1914. This ushered in a generation of “total war” in which World War II and numerous other wars have drenched the earth with innocent blood. Also, food shortages, disease epidemics, violence and crime on an unprecedented scale plague the present generation. But if people did not want these conditions, what brought them about?
Once again the Scriptures point the finger of blame at the person of Satan the Devil. How so? Bible chronology points to 1914 as the year for the establishment of God’s messianic kingdom of the heavens in the hands of Christ Jesus. This kingdom is to bring an end to the rule of the earth by human governments under the invisible control of Satan the Devil.
How would God’s chief opposer respond to the birth of God’s kingdom in 1914? Revelation chapter twelve explains: “War broke out in heaven” between the enthroned Christ Jesus and Satan. (Rev. 12:7) As a result, Satan “was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.” This would cause “woe for the earth and for the sea.” The unprecedented woes of this generation testify to the truthfulness of this prophecy.—Rev. 12:9, 12.
As a mighty person, Satan the Devil presents a danger to everyone alive today. First Peter 5:8 warns: “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” Will he devour you? How can you defend yourself against such superhuman odds? Certainly not by denying the Devil’s existence as a person. But by recognizing his existence and by obeying the Scriptural command: “Take your stand against him, solid in the faith.” (1 Pet. 5:9) To do so requires careful study of the Bible.2