Does Satan Exist?

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.

Does Satan Exist?

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?

Photo Credit: LZ Creations via Compfight cc
I invite your comments and observations below.
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46 Responses to Does Satan Exist?

  1. michaeleeast says:

    I don’t believe that there is a being called Satan.
    The references to Satan in the New Testament are varied.
    Jesus seems to use the term figuratively.
    It appears to mean the adversary.
    It is interesting that this mostly comes after the exile
    because Iranian dualism is the source of this kind of thinking.
    But the Lord is one.

    Like

  2. Marc says:

    Hi Tim,
    I find your reflections and conclusions regarding Satan the devil interesting, but I do not find them convincing. Having said that, I believe that you are spot on regarding not being fearful or giving to much attention to this evil creature and his minions.

    Like

    • Thanks Marc, I don’t write to convince people to agree with me but to offer food for thought that some might find useful.

      I am glad you are not fearful though; so many people are!

      Like

      • Marc says:

        I think part of the fear stems from the fact that the spiritual realm is outside of time/space and is not subject to observation using empirical means. The many myths about the spiritual realm are often used to intimidate and control people. This type of baggage should be discarded.

        Like

        • You are right. Fear of mysterious things that cannot be understood are often used to manipulate people. Whether we fully understand them or not, there is no need to fear.

          Like

        • sheila0405 says:

          I watched a documentary last night on Netflix, called “Hellbound.” It compares the traditional view of hell which is an eternity of conscious suffering, annihilation, and universalism. It’s quite good, and it takes its time to thoroughly present all sides: even the Westboro folks are in it. I recommend it to anyone who is grappling with sola Scriptura theology. The topic just happens to be hell.

          Like

  3. Sabio Lantz says:

    The question “Does Satan exists?” invites the question “Does God exist?”
    But if we use the same methodology you used to answer the Satan question, then the answer is simple: “Yes”.

    But your question is not really “Does Satan Exist?” but “Do the various writers in the Christian anthology (the Bible) ALL feel that “Satan” exists.

    In my book, if you really cared if “Satan” existed, you’d see if any claims for a Satan had empirical ramifications and then test them.

    But you question is merely a textual, narrow question — not an interesting one.
    Well, only interesting if you think the Bible is: (1) Authorative and (2) Exhaustive

    Obviously I think it is neither. But you did a good job trying to eat away at literalist Christian’s use of “Satan”.

    So, to answer your final question: “Satan” or spirits of evil have been conjured up in many cultures, and I think they are all fictitious — and I don’t have to spend decades studying all their various scriptures to figure that out.

    Like

    • Thanks Sabio. My blog has a two-fold purpose: to better understand Jesus and his message, and to help people work through religious baggage that interferes with that message. So this is the starting point of all discussion.

      My purpose is not to persuade people to change their minds but to help them see a different perspective in order to evaluate it for themselves.

      Though I am happy if people who do not believe in God, or Jesus, see something useful, my primary audience includes many who are coming to grips with various conservative or fundamentalist issues they suspect are misguided.

      Because of what Jesus tells us of the Father, I already believe God exists. I also believe there is value in the Bible, particularly the New Testament, even if we have to sort through it. So to me it is appropriate to discover what the Bible and Jesus actually have to say on various issues–in other words to ask “Do the various writers in the Christian anthology (the Bible) ALL feel that “Satan” exists.”

      So far, I feel that it has been worth the decades I have spent trying to figure it out.

      Like

      • Sabio Lantz says:

        Right, so your only source of knowledge in understanding this question is Tim’s interpretation of the Bible. Just wanted to make that clear. It sounds like an empirical question, but it is merely a literary question.

        Like

  4. lotharson says:

    I think one should ask the questions in the following order:

    1) Does God exist?
    2) Are there spiritual beings other than God?
    3) Are some of these beings hostile?
    4) How accurate is their description in the Bible?

    If you answer “no” to one question it logically follows you will have to answer “no” to all the following ones.
    Of course, agnostism is a viable option too.

    I believe that Jesus throught demons were real, but as I argue he was a man of his time:

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/the-central-message-of-jesus-die-zentrale-botschaft-von-jesus-unten/

    I would be very glad to learn your thoughts on the last point.

    Otherwise you might be intersted to notice I have started a series of posts on Calvinism.

    Lovely greetings in Christ.

    Like

    • Sabio Lantz says:

      Lothar,
      (1) Can you put your Christology in a taxonomy: tell us who else has a Christology like yours?
      (2) Your questions are good, but as I submitted, first, you should decide HOW you decide such things. I think the best method is:
      (a) Describe your epistomology & method of testing claims
      (b) Make claims that have punch — claims with testable consequences
      (c) Now apply (a) to (b)
      Without doing these — conversations are jumbled.

      Like

    • Hi Lothar, I really like your hierarchy of four questions! And I agree that agnosticism (not knowing the answer) is very much a viable option. I am not sure Jesus believed demons were real, but I will take up that question at some future time. For now, I feel like we have talked enough about the devil already!

      By the way, you might recall regarding the link you provided that I commented positively on it in when it was posted in September. It was a good post!

      Like

  5. Hey Tim. Nice post. I struggle with my opinion of whether Jesus really believed in Satan / Demons or whether all of that talk was created-in about him by the gospel writers. If I had to guess I would say yes to both in part – that he did believe Satan was literal (a house divided against itself), and also that he used the words in figurative terms quite often (get behind me Satan)…and that the writers added some of that extra made up stories in addition (the Temptation).

    I remember I once heard an fundamentalist say that Satan would win when the world became convinced that he didn’t exist. In fact, I’ve heard many fundamentalists say something like that. So your post may not be able to get through that paradigm for some people who think you are too liberal here, and for others you will come across to conservative because you presuppose a hermeneutic of general honesty and authority to Jesus and the gospel writers… sometimes ya just can’t win 🙂 I however think your posts do a good job of helping people think about these questions for themselves which is the most important thing (evidenced by good engagement!)

    Like

    • “Liberals to the left of me–fundies to the right; here I am stuck in the middle with you.”

      Well, not necessarily with you personally, as you may be a bit to the left of me yourself–I don’t know. But it is fun sometimes getting whacked from both sides. It makes me feel balanced. And so far nobody has threatened to shoot me.

      As a former fundamentalist, I have also heard it said many times that Satan’s strategy is to cause people not to believe in him. Thanks for the nice comments!

      Like

  6. Sabio Lantz says:

    So here are the assumptions of some readers:
    (1) I don’t care if Jesus believed in Demons or Angels, he had limitations.
    (2) The Bible can be shown to say Jesus didn’t believe in demons, angels or satan
    (3) The Bible may say those things but those are mistakes of the writer
    (4) Jesus believed in demons and Satan and the Bible and so do I.

    Me, I just want some empirical claim about what demons or Satan does so I can see if it is even testable.

    Like

    • I have not made any claims about what Satan does because I don’t believe he exists. What claims have you heard that you might want to test Sabio?

      Like

      • Sabio Lantz says:

        Right, Tim. Being a former Fundie, I will leave that to you to tell us.
        I am sure you know all the things Satan has been given credit for, much like you know all the things God and demons and angels have been given credit for though all your opinions on these things have changed radically over the decades you studied. Could you refresh us and tell us about what age you stopped believing like other fundamentalists.

        Like

        • Sabio, I am always willing to answer anyone who has a serious question, concern, or challenge. Sometimes my interactions are quite comprehensive, and occasionally I post an entire article in response to a serious question.

          But I have no obligation to engage in questions designed to prolong discussions that lead nowhere. I am not certain why you are interested in my blog at all, since you seem to have settled conclusions that are not compatible with mine.

          I have tried to be generous with you even though you tend to provoke rather than dialog. I am not interested in competing with you, and I will not spend my time in games and quarrels.

          Like

          • Sabio Lantz says:

            I’ve been very generous with you too. Help with blog and more.
            These are not “games” but real questions you are trying to dismiss.
            But I get that you don’t want to do them here.
            Another blog suggestion: Put up a comment policy as a tab and make one of your main bullets.
            I am here to discuss things with other folks who take the Bible as a source of authority. If you don’t, I wont discuss that. If you want to discuss things in terms of the Bible itself, I may consider.

            With that, I leave and unsubscribe from your blog and leave you to your fellow believers.
            I’d suggest you’d be clearer both in your comment policy and in the source of your theology.

            Like

  7. sheila0405 says:

    Tim, this was very good. I also keep in mind that people with epileptic seizures were thought to be demons. When Jesus “cast out” those demons, it was a phenomena restricted to the time in which the Gospels were written. In reality, Jesus cured the epileptics, just as he cured other diseases (I still believe in miracles.)

    Like

    • Good answer Sheila! I absolutely agree with you that when Jesus dealt with ‘demons’ he was simply healing people who were ill, such as epileptics!

      It would have created confusion and done little good for Jesus to say, ‘You are not possessed by demons; it is only an illness But I am going to heal you anyway.’ Giving instruction on demons was not on Jesus’ priority list.

      Like

      • Sabio Lantz says:

        Wait, I hear one of two things Sheila is saying:

        (1) Like Lothar, Sheila thinks Jesus was human and limited in how he understood demons and disease — sure, he was god incarnate (in some sense), but being human, meant being limited in knowledge too.

        (2) Like Tim: Jesus, being god and all wise, knew exactly that they weren’t demons. But he also realized how stupid people were and didn’t want to confuse them so he gave demons all the credit — he just wanted to heal people so he could accomplish his mission — to create community???
        Jesus set out to confuse people all the time — according to some Bible authors.

        Which Christiology do you hold, Sheila?

        Like

        • sheila0405 says:

          I believe Jesus chose to limit himself when he was a man on earth. There is a story in which a man comes out to ask Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus offers to go with him, but the man declines, saying “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Just say the word and my daughter will be saved.” That’s actually a part of our liturgy now, during Communion. Anyway, the Gospel author writes that Jesus is amazed at the man’s faith. There is also a passage in which Jesus can’t do miracles because of the lack of belief in the people. I believe Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine, but chose to experience the world as an ordinary man for the most part. This is affirmed later on in the Epistles, in which we are told that Jesus emptied himself of his divine right, and humbled himself to be just like us. I have another example but this is too long now. I hope that helps. If not, let me know.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Sheila, answer Sabio if you wish but do not feel obligated. He seems to delight in ‘trapping’ people with his ‘superior intellect’. He pushes people to define themselves to his satisfaction, while he rarely defines his own positions.

        Like

        • sheila0405 says:

          Sabio is tamed compared with a couple of people I’ve had discussions with on other forums. I don’t care if Sabio believes me or not. If I am asked a question, I will answer it. If someone starts to try to bait me with silliness or name calling, I stop the discussion. I’m a big girl with thick skin, don’t worry about me. And, I sign my name to every post. That’s why my user id is Sheila. That’s me. But thanks for letting me know about your concern.

          Like

          • Good! I will not worry.

            Yes, I realize he is tame compared to others. I have interacted with some real doozies on other blogs. But while I hope to foster open discussion and dialog I don’t want conversations repeatedly disrupted or hijacked by comments that disregard the purpose of the blog. People can disagree without one-upmanship.

            Truthfully, I really like Sabio. In fact, I appreciate his kind of adversarial discussion, but I think it is more appropriate elsewhere.

            Like

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  18. luckyotter says:

    I don’t know whether Satan exists or not, but if he does, he can’t be very powerful. If he does exist, he was merely an archangel, with about as much power as Michael. How did he get to be nearly as powerful as God himself, as most fundamentalists would have you believe? They tell us he “planted” the evidence for evolution, causes certain natural disasters, and can even create life (parasitic creatures, viruses, and cancer cells, for example). But angels never had that power; only God himself can do those things! Satan is given way too much credit, in my opinion, and attributed with way too much power. Isn’t that a form of idolatry? Personally, I think evil resides in the hearts of men, and since we humans have trouble accepting our dark side, we project our own evil onto a fictional character. If there’s a supernatural element, I think there may be malicious or evil entities (and for that reason I believe in being careful not to tamper too much with the occult), but not a single, powerful being named Satan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Lucky, I don’t believe Satan exists; but I agree that if he does exist he has little power. I like your statement, “Satan is given way too much credit, in my opinion, and attributed with way too much power.” However, I think your later statement is even more on target. “I think evil resides in the hearts of men, and since we humans have trouble accepting our dark side, we project our own evil onto a fictional character.” Well said.

      Liked by 1 person

      • luckyotter says:

        Thank you! I wish more Christians thought this way. Why are so many Christians so in love with the idea of Hell and an all powerful devil? I don’t get it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Lucky, I wish more believers thought this way too. I think one reason so many are consumed with hell and Satan is that certain traditions promoted these beliefs and have been handed down from one generation to another.

          I have noticed that when someone becomes part of a tight ideological group, they tend to resist questioning the things they are taught; they do not think for themselves or consider the validity of their beliefs. However, there are others who do question and change; we are among them.

          Like

  19. Bill Ectric says:

    Regarding the comment that Jesus was either “limited in how he understood demons and disease” or “knew exactly that they weren’t demons” – Those aren’t the only two possibilities. A third possibility is, that’s just the way people spoke. We talk about “getting the bugs out” of something, or “tired blood,” or being “haunted by demons” and people can take it any way they want, but they know what it means.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Bill, I really like that! Makes great sense. Many believers must hear everything literally–without regard to the use of non-literal language.

      Liked by 1 person

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