After examining a number of issues about Satan, we come to the question of whether Satan exists at all. I cannot give an unqualified answer to this question, but I don’t think he does.
Brief Review of Previous Posts on Satan
We looked at all the evidence on the story of a war in heaven and the fall of Satan, and I conclude that it is a myth that the Bible does not even teach.
We also discovered that the rare uses of the word ‘satan’ in the Old Testament were simply references to adversaries who were sometimes messengers and sometimes God himself. The two references of Satan as a personal name in Zechariah and Job were late in Jewish history and probably reflect new ideas picked up from Persian thought during the captivity.
Finally, we considered the story of Satan in the temptation of Jesus in the desert, and I conclude that it is not an historical account but a representation of Jesus’ deliberating the path he should choose.
Satan in the Gospels
When we go to the gospel accounts of Jesus, which provide us with the best recollections of what Jesus did and said, we find few references to Satan and they don’t seem to support the idea of a personal being.
1. Jesus’ famous words to Peter, when Peter tried to discourage him from choosing the path of suffering and death, were: Get behind me, Satan! (Mark 8; Matthew 16). Did Jesus think Peter was Satan, or was he, instead, calling him an adversary at that moment?
2. We are told that Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot who betrayed Jesus (Luke 22; John 13; John 6). Was Judas possessed–or did he become an adversary against Jesus’ plan?
3. Jesus includes Satan in two parables about planting seeds (Mark 4; Matthew 13; Luke 8). In one of them Satan steals the seed; in the other he sows weeds. Satan is acting the role of an adversary. In the parable of The Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25), Jesus makes reference to recent popular Jewish books like Enoch: Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
4. When Jesus says to the 72 in Luke 10: I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, he simply cheers the success of their mission.
5. On one occasion, Jesus said to a group of Jews who claimed God as their father: If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language. (John 8)
This sounds to me like repartee, or a playful insult, in the back-and-forth argument rather than a factual reference.
6. When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the prince of demons, he responded rhetorically according to the accusation: If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? (Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 11)
7. In Luke 13 when Jesus asks: Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?, it seems more like a traditional reference than a diagnosis.
None of these passages suggest to me that Jesus was concerned with, or even acknowledged, a literal being called Satan or the devil.
Satan in Other New Testament Writers
The writers of the New Testament were people of their time and culture, and the fairly recent ideas about Satan popularized after the captivity were strong. As they wrote letters, which are now part of the New Testament, they sometimes seem to assume Satan was a an actual force—especially Paul.
As much as I respect Paul’s tremendous insights into the law, the inclusion of the Gentiles, and other important issues, I cannot expect Paul to be correct in every detail. After all, he was a person of his time as we all are. I cannot burden him with the heavy load of inerrancy.
What Do You Think?
I don’t believe a being called Satan or the devil exists, but even if he does we have no need to fear him or even to consider him. If there is such a thing as Satan, he is of no consequence to us, and for us to fear him or exaggerate his significance takes our eyes off much more important things.
Our life as believers should be about Jesus, the Father, and our attitude of love toward others.
After 14 posts exploring the question of Satan, we will begin next time with something entirely different! But now I would like to know: What do you think about Satan?
Articles in this series:
Is the Fall of Satan a Myth?
The Fall of Satan in Isaiah 14
The Fall of Satan in Ezekiel 28
The Fall of Satan in Revelation 12
The Fall of Satan in the Book of Enoch
Satan in the Old Testament
Was Satan the Serpent in Eden?
Was Satan in the Desert with Jesus?
Does Satan Exist?
Do Demons Exist?
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