Considering Matthew 16:23:

Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Why did Jesus choose the "Get behind me Satan" phrase here? Is there context for this elsewhere in the gospels or in the Bible?

  • 2
    I have sometimes wondered just how "rude" Jesus is being here - where this falls on the scale from "go away" to "f--- off". – James T Jan 14 '13 at 14:15
  • Better on Biblical Hermeneutics – DJClayworth Jan 14 '13 at 16:56

In context:

21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

The context here is that Peter was suggesting that Jesus take a course of action other than the one that He was predestined to fulfill. Jesus knew His destiny, and he knew the will of the Father. What Peter was suggesting was that Jesus go against the will of the Father.

As such, Peter's words were the words of an adversary of God. Not consciously, I'm sure. I have no doubt that Peter sincerely didn't understand what he was suggesting - He just wanted Christ to live. He loved Jesus, and didn't want to see Him die. Nonetheless, his suggestion was in direct opposition to the will of God. The word translated Satan here is usually applied to Satan as we think of him, but it literally simply means "adversary".

From Barnes' Notes on the Bible:

Get thee behind me, Satan - The word "Satan" literally means "an adversary," or one who opposes us in the accomplishment of our designs.

It is applied to the devil commonly, as the opposer or adversary of man; but there is no evidence that the Lord Jesus meant to apply this term to Peter, as signifying that he was Satan or the devil, or that he used the term in anger. He may have used it in the general sense which the word bore as an adversary or opposer; and the meaning may be, that such sentiments as Peter expressed then were opposed to him and his plans. His interference was improper. His views and feelings stood in the way of the accomplishment of the Saviour's designs. There was, undoubtedly, a rebuke in this language, for the conduct of Peter was improper; but the idea which is commonly attached to it, and which, perhaps, our translation conveys, implies a more severe and harsh rebuke than the Saviour intended, and than the language which he used would express.

This is also the understanding in Clarke's Commentary on the Bible:

Get thee behind me, Satan - Υπαγε οπισω μου σατανα. Get behind me, thou adversary. This is the proper translation of the Hebrew word שטן Satan, from which the Greek word is taken. Our blessed Lord certainly never designed that men should believe he called Peter, Devil, because he, through erring affection, had wished him to avoid that death which he predicted to himself. This translation, which is literal, takes away that harshness which before appeared in our Lord's words.


The word Σατανα is always translated as Satan in the New Testament, at least in the ESV version that I have looked up. The following verses use this word to indicate Satan in the gospels:

Matt 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Matt 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 1:13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Mark 8:33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Apart from the gospels it is also used as Satan as found in:

Acts 26:18, 1 Cor 5:5, 2 Cor 2:11, 2 Cor 12:7, 2 Thess 2:9, 1 Tim 1:20, 1 Tim 5:15, Rev 2:9, Rev 2:13, Rev 2:24, Rev 3:9

I personally do not see any reason why the severity of the rebuke should be of any alarm. ‘Get thee behind me’ is Jesus putting the suggestions of Satan, who had whispered this idea to Peter, out of the way. It is the same as saying ‘Be gone, Satan!’ In Matt 4:10. The only difference is that when Jesus said 'Be gone' the Devil was tempting Jesus to do something wrong. In this instance Satan is trying to get Jesus 'not to do something he must', therefore the Devil was standing directly in front of Christ's straight path. He must get behind him, if Jesus was to continue his mission.

Peter was considering only the outward part of his sufferings, with the shame and scandal that it would cause and did not think of it according to faith. Ironically, he had just made his confession of faith which shows how easy a spiritual view can be turned into a carnal one, with the Devil seizing upon the weakness of our ignorance to insert his own suggestion through even godly men.

Clearly this was one of the most evil suggestions ever offered to Jesus by any man, thus it was from the Devil. Peter was opposing the very purpose for which Jesus came into the world with reasons that would be appealing to Jesus as a temptation. This was the Devil putting forward this idea so why not look past Peter and label it for what it was.

  • Answers to this almost always focus on Satan vs devil vs adversary. Thank you for giving me a decent heuristic for the "get behind me" phrasing that I couldn't understand! – user26869 Aug 10 '16 at 2:58

The scriptures containing this statement were written in Greek, by Greek thinking people, and to refer the word Satan to an earlier spoken language distorts both the translation and the interpretation of a memorized meaning.

Whatever Jesus said, and whichever language he spoke in, the writers of the scriptures were recalling his words and translating the sense and meaning of them into their language. This is how interpretation works, meaning is converted into currently used words and contained in what is then said or written, and to assume that a back-referenced, literal translation of Satan holds the meaning of an earlier-spoken language, can only lead to confusion.

Satan, in the form of Greek used by the writers of New Testament scriptures meant accuser, as in someone who is prosecuting a case that seeks to allocate guilt, blame and shame, and an admonishment for the tone of voice that Peter spoke to him in, as well as his choice of words, is contained in Jesus reply.

Jesus is said to have used the same word when he spoke of his time in the desert. What he said was meaningful, and Jesus Satan, as recorded by Greek writers, was a voice that tried to blame him and others, while ignoring the house of glass that this accuser lived in.

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