The Accuser

If you ask the average Christian in the United States about the Trinity, or about the Holy Spirit in particular, you probably will not get a very meaningful answer. On the other hand, if you ask that same person about the devil, they will probably have a very systematic and detailed view of exactly what the devil is, what his purpose is, and how he came to be. Most people would then site the Bible as their primary source of knowledge. To me, this is perplexing, even a little troubling.

Most people use the term devil, Satan, Beelzebub, and Lucifer all to mean the same thing, and believe that all the Biblical uses of these terms are about the same evil being.

The most famous cases in the Bible of the devil are in the book of Genesis, Job, and the Gospels. In Genesis, though, there is no use of any of the devil-like words. There is simply a talking serpent, who tells Eve that nothing will happen if she and Adam eat the fruit. In Job, the Hebrew ha-satan is used, which means the accuser. By making ha-satan the word Satan, it appears as if this is a proper name of a being, instead of a desrciption or title. I wonder how much of our cultural misunderstanding of Satan would be different if the King James Version had translated ha-satan into the lower-case “accuser.”

In the Gospels, the appearance of the word “devil” comes from the Greek diabalos, which also means accuser. The devil appears to Jesus in the wilderness immediately after his baptism, and tempts Jesus.

All three of these “appearances” differ much from the cultural understanding of Satan. With Eve, Job, and Jesus, the accuser is seen as an instrument of temptation – not the personification of evil. Many understand Satan as a fallen angel, at odds with God, trying to rule the world and overthrow God. This image does not match up with most of the Biblical images of the Satan. To a certain extent, this depiction is supported by images of Satan in Revelation.

It is unlikely though, that the Satan in Revelation is meant to be the same being as the Satan in Genesis, Job and the Gospels. Revelation was written in a rich and dense symbolic code to a people under heavy persecution by the Romans. It had a much different purpose, audience, and meaning than much of the Biblical narrative.

This is obviously a brief scratching of the surface of the concept of the devil, but I think it is an interesting topic. Maybe someday I will write a book comparing the cultural concepts of the devil, which has roots in propaganda against Pagan religions in Europe, and the Biblical concept of the accuser.

I suspect that an in-depth word study of the 51 appearances of the word “Satan” and the 36 uses of the word “devil” in the Bible, compared to a survey of what people think is in the Bible about the devil or Satan would reveal much about our culture.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Accuser

  1. very interesting. So if it is unlikely that the Satan in Gen. is the Satan in Rev. Who are these guys? Different fallen angels? If ha-satan means the same as diabalos then isn’t it the accusser in both cases? Hmmm got me thinking,

  2. I have to stress that this is a cursory look at the concept of Satan, and not an in-depth analysis. What I meant though, is that the writer of Revelation probably did not have in mind the same concept of Satan as the writer of Job, or even the same concept as the writer of the Gospels. (I do not believe that the writer of Revelation is the same person as the writer of the Gospel of John or the three letters of John). This, I admit, poses a problem if one believes that God is the lone author of all of the books of the Bible, but this comes down to fundamental differences in the way people interpret the Bible.

    You also point to an important aspect that I did not cover. In the New Testament, there are instances of the devil – from the Greek diabalos, but there are also uses of the word Satan, and I could not find what the difference is in Greek. Are they different translations of the same Greek word, or is there another Greek word that is used to derive Satan. I am not sure. Maybe someone with Bibleworks or a Greek N.T. could tell us.

  3. Grant

    I think Matthew 4 is telling, somewhat. Here, you have the gospel writer using both names, “diabolos” in 4:1, and “Satanas” in 4:10. In this pericope, the accusor is intentionally described as acting in ways very similar to the acts of the serpent in Genesis. It had to be that way to establish what folks like Irenaeus would call a “recapitulation.” From this position, the Christ had to face the temptations that caused the fall, and come out better than the first “head of humanity.”
    Revelation 20:2 offers some insight as well. “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…” How’s that for the author going for a canonical approach?
    The term “devil” can be used much more in a general case, it seems. That term can occasionally also be used to describe the work of an accusor in the NT – like in John 6:70 describing Judas (though the clear implication is that he is being controlled by Satan – no coincidental word usage here).
    If one operates from the assumption that there is a literal personification of evil – that is Satan – and that Satan/Devil/Serpent are synonymous, I think it possible to make a congruent narrative surrounding the Scriptural accounts of Satan. Interestingly enough, the serpent was in the garden, and temptation was present in paradise. Job articulates that the angelic “Accusor,” or the “tester-of-man” had a role in the heavenly order. Except by tradition, we miss the part where this member of the board started a hostile stock buyout. Still, it’s pretty clear that this Satan has been given some significant power, and is greatly unlikable (putting it mildly).
    Note the temptation that most follows the mention of the accusor – typically an offer to become like God. I find that connection interesting. It isn’t that God doesn’t want us to enjoy and utilize divine power, or share the mind of Christ. In most narratives, the Satan simply tries to offer a shortcut that is bereft of relationship and justice. That seems to be the real temptation. It’s as Johnny Cash sang on U2’s “The Wanderer”: They say they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it.
    Anyhow, my $0.02. Carry on.

  4. New Testament (Greek) for “devil”
    G1139 daimonizomai dī-mo-nē’-zo-mī possessed with devils, possessed with the devil, of the devils, vexed with a devil, possessed with a devil, have a devil
    G1140 daimonion dī-mo’-nē-on devil, god
    G1142 daimōn dī’-mōn devils, devil
    G1228 diabolos dē-ä’-bo-los devil, false accuser, slanderer
    from strongs. Appears 33 times New Testament (Hebrew) for “Satan”
    H7854 satan sä·tän’ Satan, adversary, withstand
    New Testament (Greek) for “Satan”
    G4566 Satan sä-tä’n Satan
    G4567 Satanas sä-tä-nä’s Satan
    appears 37 times in 33 verses.

    I think Grant hit something. Notice how the cults all promise,”you too, can be like God”? coincidence? he is s5till at work fellas.

  5. Dana

    There’s a fine book tracing the history of our ideas of Satan through the Bible, titled The Birth of Satan, by T J Wray and Gregory Mobley, published in 2005, by Palgrave MacMillian. The citations, sources and analysis give an excellent overview, regardless of your religious bent, because you can then examine the texts yourself. Many non-canonical scriptures are cited, such the books of Enoch. Another excellent resource is a series of books on Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, etc. by Jeffrey Burton Russell.

  6. Dana, Thanks. I’ll have to look that book up. What I would really like to see is a cultural history of our idea of Satan, or a comparative work on the Biblical concept of Satan and the one that is commonly held in folklore. It sounds like those books may do that too.

  7. Fat Pastor ,read them for me, and blog it up, will you? If I bring those books home my wife may think I went over to the other side!

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