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I heard somewhere (can't remember where) that Satan is more of a term than a person. In other words, Satan is not so much a fallen angel, person, or being, but rather a designation for evil.

Is this a standard position of any churches or denominations?

If so, please clarify where this idea comes from and what backing (if any) it has from Scripture.

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If such a group exists, there is no guarantee that it justifies its position on the basis of Scripture (what counts as scripture for this unknown group?) – Alypius Apr 7 '13 at 6:45
This page covers the topic well. Basically, Satan is not Lucifer. Satan, meaning adversary, is that which is against God. Satan is not a person. This is not an answer; that's why it is in the comments. – fredsbend Apr 7 '13 at 7:26

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The "Swedenborgian" or "New Church" denominations that accept the Christian theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) do not see Satan, or the Devil, as a person, but as a personification of, or collective term for, evil and hell.

The following rather long (for this site) explanation of this position, and its Biblical basis, is extracted and slightly edited from my even longer article, "Is there Really a Devil? Why??"

The Devil in the Bible

First, it helps to understand the original meanings of the words that are commonly translated as "the Devil," "Satan," "demons," and so on.


The primary meaning of the Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) is "an adversary, an opponent." So in the Old Testament, satan is commonly used to mean "an enemy." For example, 1 Kings 11:14 says:

Then the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal house in Edom.

The word translated "adversary" in this verse is the Hebrew word satan. It is used the same way for another enemy of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:23-25.

In fact, outside of the book of Job, the Hebrew word satan is most often used to refer to human enemies, though it is also sometimes used of spiritual figures who stand as adversaries. In many of the places where it is traditionally translated "Satan," it should really be translated as "an enemy" or "an adversary."

There are no capital letters in the original texts of the Bible. Editors and translators must use their judgment in deciding whether or not words like satan in the original languages are meant to be proper names ("Satan") or just a description of something or someone ("an adversary, opponent").

The Greek word σατανᾶς (satanas), comes from the Hebrew word satan, and has the same meaning: an adversary or enemy. In the New Testamant, Satan is more often used as a personification of evil, traditionally interpreted as a powerful evil angel who opposes God and tempts humans to sin and destruction.

However, even in the New Testament it is sometimes used to refer to human beings. Consider, for example, this passage from Matthew:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"

Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." (Matthew 16:21-23 - see also Mark 8:31-33.)

Though the Greek word is usually translated "Satan" in this passage, it should probably be translated as, "you adversary!" In other words, Jesus uses the Greek word satanas to refer to a human being who is, at that time, opposing God’s will and God's truth.

So even though the Greek word satanas is commonly used in the New Testament to mean Satan, a figure who is the personification of evil, it still also retains its original meaning of an enemy or adversary—specifically, anyone or anything who stands in opposition to God.

If we keep this original meaning of the word satan in mind when we read about "Satan" in the Bible, it gives new meaning to many statements about this evil being, or force, in the Bible.

And it's clear from the Bible that "Satan" comes from a very human reality. Its original meaning was human enemies and adversaries.

The Devil

Although the word "devil" appears in a few places in traditional translations of the Old Testament such as the King James Version, the Hebrew words so translated are actually words for hairy goats, satyrs, idols, or perhaps demons. The idea of some evil overlord called the Devil doesn't appear until the New Testament.

In the Greek of the New Testament, there are two primary words commonly translated "devil."

One of them is διάβολος (diabolos). Most of the time, this word means a ruling evil figure, the Devil, which is also called Satan. This is the figure that led Jesus into the desert to be tested:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." (Matthew 4:1-3; read the full story in Matthew 4:1-11)

However, even this word is sometimes used to speak of individual human beings. For example:

Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil." He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:70-71)

Notice that Jesus didn't say "one of you has a devil," but "one of you is a devil."

So even the Greek word most commonly used to mean "the Devil" can also be applied to an individual human being who is bent on evil.

And the underlying meaning of the Greek word διάβολος is "a false accuser, a slanderer." So once again, when we read "the Devil" in the New Testament, it refers to a very human reality: those who slander others and make false accusations.


The other Greek word commonly translated "devil" is δαιμόνιον (daimonion). This word is most commonly used to mean an individual demon, or devil, who possesses a person, and causes that person to harm self or others. When the Gospels speak of Jesus casting out devils, this is the Greek word used.

However, the New Testament also refers at times to "the prince of the devils," or "the ruler of the demons," who is synonymous with the Devil. For example, after Jesus had healed a mute man who was possessed by a demon, the Pharisees said, "By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons" (Matthew 9:34).

The ancient Greek word δαιμόνιον originally meant simply a spirit or spiritual messenger, or even a deity (in early polytheistic Greek culture), whether good or evil. But in the New Testament, it is almost always used to mean evil spirits.

So the general picture that emerges is of a host of evil beings, or spirits, ruled over by a figure called Satan, the Devil, or the ruler of the demons. This is the usual picture painted in traditional Christianity.

And yet, the Bible also uses the words for "devil" and "satan" to refer to human beings who are evil and who speak falsehoods and lies.

Swedenborg on the Devil

This use of the original Hebrew and Greek words for Satan and the Devil to also mean not only individual evil spirits, but also human beings who oppose God, speak falsehood, and do evil things suggests that there is more to the Devil and Satan than meets the eye.

And according to Emanuel Swedenborg, that is precisely the case.

Contrary to all of the Christian teachings of his day—the teachings that still hold sway in most of Christianity—Swedenborg said that there is no such thing as a Devil, or Satan, who had been a powerful angel that fell away from God and became the ruler of hell. After all, that idea of Satan as a fallen angel isn’t in the Bible. It comes from non-Biblical books, and from various traditions that had grown up over the centuries. In fact, most "Christian" beliefs about the Devil and Satan come from various human traditions rather than from the Bible itself.

Swedenborg presented a very different reality—one that is more in line with the Bible’s use of these words to mean both evil spirits and evil human beings.

In fact, Swedenborg said that these are really one and the same thing.

Evil spirits, he said, are all human beings who have lived evil and selfish lives here on earth, and have gone on to live in hell after their death. According to Swedenborg, there is no separately created race of angels, nor are there fallen angels who have become devils instead. All angels and devils were once human beings living in the material world.

Then what about the Devil and Satan?

These, Swedenborg says, are really just personifications of hell.

You know how the United States is sometimes called Uncle Sam? Have you heard of the Russian Bear? Have you seen China depicted as a Panda?

Likewise, in the Bible hell is personified as the figure of the Devil and Satan. And hell is simply the combination of all human evil gathered together in one vast evil region of the spiritual world.

So when the Bible talks about Jesus or human beings being tempted by Satan or the Devil, it's really talking about the evil influence of hell working on us, and trying to drag us down into false beliefs and evil actions.

The figures of evil such as the Devil, Satan, and the ruler of the demons, that appear in the Bible were either individual evil spirits who were once humans, or they were whole communities of hell that banded together to attack Jesus, or to infest human beings.

These collective demons can be seen in the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5:1-20. In this story, Jesus confronts a demon-possessed man:

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you impure spirit!"

Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"

"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:6-10, italics added)

Here the demon possessing the man speaks of himself in the singular, yet names himself "Legion," with the explanation, "for we are many."

The angels and the demons that appear in the Bible may be individual angels or evil spirits, or they may be whole communities of angels or evil spirits banded together and acting as one. This, according to Swedenborg, is a very common occurrence in the spiritual world. And it explains many seemingly strange things about the angels and evil spirits who appear throughout the Bible.

Further, according to Swedenborg, while we humans may be attacked by individual evil spirits and by whole crowds of evil spirits, Jesus Christ was attacked by all of hell together, meaning by the combined power of all human and spiritual evil. So when Jesus was tempted by the Devil, he was fighting not just individual evil spirits, nor merely communities of evil spirits, but against all of hell working together as a single vast Devil in a futile attempt to destroy him and derail his work of saving the human race from the power of evil, falsity, and hell.

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