A SHORT HISTORY OF THE DEVIL
By Tim Lambert
The Devil is the biggest villain in history. In Christian theology the Devil is a powerful evil spirit, the opponent of God. The word Devil is derived from a Greek word meaning accuser. He is also known as Satan (a Hebrew word which also means accuser). The Devil is also called Beelzebub, which means Lord of the Flies. It was derived from the name of a Philistine god (The Philistines were enemies of Israel in the Old Testament).
However the Devil was never called Lucifer. In fact Lucifer is the Latin word for morning star (the planet Venus was called the morning star because its often seen just before sunrise). When the Bible was translated into Latin the word Lucifer was used. When the Bible was translated into English in the King James version the Latin word Lucifer was left unchanged. But modern translations say 'morning star'. So what has the morning star got to do with Satan? Nothing. the Bible mentions the morning star in Isaiah 14:12 when it talks about the King of Babylon. Some Christians believed that this passage was actually talking about Satan but today the consensus among Bible scholars is that its only talking about the King of Babylon and he is called the morning star. Ezekiel 28: 12-18 talks about the King of Tyre (a city in Lebanon). Some Christians believed this passage was talking about Satan but its now believed its only talking about an earthly ruler, the King of Tyre.
Its sometimes said that the Devil used to be an angel who rebelled against God. The Bible says that certain angels sinned and were thrown out of Heaven (2 Peter 2-4, Jude 1:6) but it doesn't explicitly say that Satan used to be an angel.
In Genesis the first man and woman live in the Garden of Eden. God commands them not to eat fruit from a certain tree. However a talking snake tempts the woman to disobey and eat some of the fruit (Genesis 3: 1-6). Traditionally Christians interpreted it to mean the talking snake was the Devil in disguise. But the writer of Genesis does not identify the snake as Satan. He merely writes that the snake was more cunning than any of the wild animals that God had made. He does not say who or what this talking snake is. It was later identified with Satan.
Satan is first named in the Bible in 1:Chronicles 21:1. He is literally called The Satan, the accuser. He tempts David the King of Israel to take a census, something that displeases God and brings punishment in the form of a plague. He next appears in the book of Job. The angels appear before God and The Satan, the accuser comes with them. God asks Satan where he has been. Satan replies that he has been roaming around on the Earth. God asks him if he has considered Job, an upright man. Satan is not impressed. He answers 'Does Job fear God for nothing?' and points out that God has blessed Job and he is a very prosperous man. He claims that if Job loses it all he will curse God to his face. So God gives Satan permission destroy everything Job has but forbids him to harm the man himself. Satan does so but Job does not curse God. (Job 1). Once again the angels appear before God and Satan comes with them. This time he claims that Job will curse God if he is afflicted in his body. God gives Satan permission to make Job ill but he forbids him to take the man's life. Satan then afflicts Job with painful sores but once again he refuses to curse God. The story has a happy ending as Job is restored to health and God blesses him with great wealth.
The Devil makes his next appearance in Zechariah 3:1. The prophet Zechariah sees him standing by the Joshua, the high priest ready to accuse him. However Satan plays a very minor role in the Old Testament. He is not shown as the deadly enemy of God. Instead he seems to be the enemy of certain human beings.
However the Devil plays a much bigger role in the New Testament. He is shown as a powerful being, totally opposed to God. Jesus called him the ruler of this world (John 14:30). Jesus also called Satan a murderer and a liar (John 8: 44). He is also very dangerous. He is compared to a lion roaming around seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). However according to the Bible the Devil will eventually be destroyed (Revelation 20:10).
In the Middle Ages Satan was depicted in art as a figure with horns, a tail and clawed feet. Sometimes he was also shown with wings. However in the early 19th century William Blake depicted Satan as a human like figure. However in the 20th century with the decline of religion the Devil became a comic figure often portrayed in cartoons. The Devil was also used in advertising. He featured in the song Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones (1968).
A brief history of Angels
A brief history of Ancient Israel
A timeline of the Bible