Yesterday, New York Magazine published an interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in which is he quoted as saying that he believes "the Devil" has given up taking possession of humans to make them sin, in favor of causing them to be atheists. His reasoning is as follows:

I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

So, to him, I guess, the fact that we don't see demonic possession on a regular basis, yet people are sinning and not believing, proves that The Devil is changing tactics - because in what Christians call the New Testament he is a regular feature. But, as far as I know, there isn't much of an occurrence of "the Devil" in TaNa"Ch, or what Christians refer to as the "Old Testament".

I know what the standard Jewish approach is regarding "the Devil" (short version: he doesn't get a mention, and we don't believe in such a being - at least not in the way commonly talked about by Christian preachers). But according to the Christian view (across most denominations, as far as I can tell), there is some being called "The Devil" who possesses people and causes them to sin, etc. Where is he in what you call the Old Testament, and why would he just suddenly appear later?

  • A lot of people blame "the devil" or "demons" for evil things, but they have zero evidence. People do evil things out of themselves.
    – David
    Dec 18, 2021 at 13:22

5 Answers 5


While שטן (satan) does indeed mean "adversary," I doubt that every occurrence in the Tanakh of the word שטן should be understood as a (human) adversary as opposed to the angelic adversary whom most Christians refer to as "the devil" (from Gr. ὁ διάβολος). In fact, this isn't the standard in Jewish literature either.

For example, in the Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Massekhet Sanhedrin 95a, Gemara, it is written,

יומא חד נפק לשכור בזאי אתא שטן ואדמי ליה כטביא פתק ביה גירא ולא מטייה...

that is,

One day, he (King David) went out to Shekhor Bezai. Satan came and appeared before him as a deer. He shot an arrow at him, but it did not reach him...

Now, based on the reasoning that שטן always means a human adversary, we're forced to believe that the rabbis of the Gemara wrote that a man appeared as a deer in front of David. Obviously that idea is nonsensical. Elsewhere in Jewish literature, Satan is said to assume the form of a bird (כציפרתא; San. 107a), a woman (כאיתתא; Kid. 81a), a poor man (כעניא; Kid. 81a), etc. Therefore, this particular שטן is no mere man.

Coincidentally, the New Testament refers to Satan as "the old serpent" (ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος) (Rev. 12:9, 20:2), an allusion to the serpent in Gan Eden (Gen. 3). This Greek phrase has its equivalent in the Hebrew phrase הנחש הקדמוני (ha-nachash ha-kadmoni), which is mentioned in various Jewish literature, such as Tzeror ha-Mor, Sotah 9b, Sanhedrin 29a, etc.

Jewish literature often equates Satan with the evil inclination (yezter ha-ra) and the Angel of Death (Bava Batra 16a: הוא שטן הוא יצר הרע הוא מלאך המות). But, it also equates him/ it with Sama'el, the name of an angel. For example, in Tzeror ha-Mor,1 it is written,

נחש הקדמוני הוא שטן הוא יצר הרע הצד ציד הוא סמאל

The old serpent is Satan; he is the evil inclination; he is "he who has taken venison" (cp. Gen. 27:33); he is Sama'el.

  1. Should Satan always be understood as a human adversary? No.

  2. Where is Satan in the OT? Many places.

    • As the evil inclination (יצר הרע), he influences man to sin (Bava Batra 16a; Gen. 6:5, 8:21).
    • As the Angel of Death, he has power to take a man's soul (תנא יורד ומתעה ועולה ומרגיז נוטל רשות ונוטל נשמה; Bava Batra 16a; Job 2:6: אך את נפשו שמור).

I see no evidence that שטן in Job 1-2 is a human adversary, especially when many Jewish sources insist it is a supernatural being.


1 Avraham ben Ya'akov Saba. Tzeror ha-Mor, Parashat וישלח יעקב, folio מו , second column. | Hebrew |

  • I didn't say it had to be human in those instances. I am just asking where Christians see evidence that there is one powerful being whose job it is to cause evil. This is a good answer in that it acknowledges interpretative variance and explains why the interpretation is being made (rather than assuming it as obvious - which it's not).
    – Seth J
    Oct 8, 2013 at 13:59

The Devil is derived from the Greek word διάβολος (diábolos) which means slanderer or accuser. Satan is derived from the Hebrew word הַשָּׂטָן (ha-Satan) which also means accuser. So the two terms are essentially synonymous. Christians use Devil because the NT is of course written in Greek.

Satan, the Devil or Lucifer are mentioned throughout the Book of Job. Also mentioned in:

1 Chronicles 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

Psalms 109:6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.

Zechariah 3:1,2 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?

Isaiah 14:12-14 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

So it does not appear that he materialized in the New Testament.

  • Chronicles doesn't say "the devil", it says an adversary. Same with Psalms (which seems to refer to a military enemy). Isaiah does not mention Lucifer, because that's a bastardization of a Latin translation from Hebrew. Zechariah's word, again, is adversary, and it can mean just about any adversary against Israel, at least contextually. Nowhere does it say "devil" or mention some being waging a spiritual war.
    – Seth J
    Oct 8, 2013 at 0:52
  • I edited this answer to explain that Satan and Devil are synonyms. If you want to ask why Christians interpret the Bible as referring to a single being called Satan/the Devil, well that's a different question.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 8, 2013 at 2:13
  • 2
    Thank you for the edit and for acknowledging interpretive variance. This is mostly a good answer in that regard, although you're still using "Lucifer" like it's a name of some powerful, evil being, which it's not. Like I said, and as acknowledged elsewhere on this site by a high-rep user (and I presume a Christian), Lucifer is a take-off of the Latin translation of a Hebrew phrase.
    – Seth J
    Oct 8, 2013 at 14:05
  • 2
    History means that we often use translated or transliterated names - such as using Jesus rather than Iesous or Yeshua! Whether you say Lucifer or The Morning Star doesn't really matter, and it doesn't affect the question as to whether we should interpret Isaiah 14 as talking about the King of Babylon, the fallen angel called Satan, or both. But although Lucifer may or may not be another reference to the accuser, it isn't an example where the accuser is mentioned in the OT, so I guess it isn't a direct answer of this question.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 9, 2013 at 1:08

Where is the devil now? According to Job 1:7, in which God asks the devil, "From where do you come?" Satan answers, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it."

So Satan is still "all over the place," and he also gets called to the throne of God now and then. Even Jesus encountered him on earth (Matthew 4). The devil is not now in Hell or any such place, contrary to the paintings of the masters and cartoonists everywhere.

  • This answer ignores my question. I linked to a decent (although brief) summary of the Jewish view about what is happening in Job. Without substantiating that this, in fact, is a mainstream Christian alternative to the Jewish interpretation, you've just taken the exact same episode and inserted the word devil.
    – Seth J
    Oct 7, 2013 at 23:50
  • Also, the question is very explicitly not about now or about the NT.
    – Seth J
    Oct 8, 2013 at 0:53
  • @SethJ My apologies! I will delete if you wish.
    – Steve
    Oct 8, 2013 at 16:06
  • No worries. You got some upvotes, so I'm obviously the minority opinion here.
    – Seth J
    Oct 8, 2013 at 16:10
  • It seems that my post answered the overall question of this page, but that question has been changed. So people won't be confused by my answer, I was addressing, "Where is the devil now?"
    – Steve
    Oct 8, 2013 at 16:16

'ha-satan' in Hebrew does indeed refer to 'the adversary' or 'the accuser', but there are a few occasions in the Old Testament where 'satan' appears without the definite article- i.e. 'the' - (most notably 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Psalm 109:6b) and therefore it reads like a name. In Job, although it has the definite article, 'ha-satan' / 'the accuser' is certainly a divine being, and a member of the divine council.

The Wikipedia page has a list of references (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satan#Judaism) and also explains the emergence of the 'Devil' idea in Second Temple Judaism. It's certainly a pre-Christian idea. You'll notice that Jesus doesn't have to explain to the crowds who the Devil is!

Just a point of clarification: in the New Testament the Devil tempts but doesn't 'possess'. It is demons and evil spirits who inhabit people, causing oppression and illness - and it is these that Jesus and the apostles cast out. The devil is a much more authoritative figure in the NT - he is 'god of this world' (2 Cor 4.4) and 'prince of the power of the air' (Eph 2.2). Again, see the excellent list on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil_in_Christianity#New_Testament.


In the book Ezekiel we can find a description of a cherub that was removed from the mountain of God. He is called the king (מֶלֶךְ) of Tyr there. Although some believe this is about the prince (נָגִיד) of Tyr in the prophecy earlier in the chapter, the description is commonly believed to be that of Satan.

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 12 Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God;

Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God;
every precious stone was thy covering,
the sardius, topaz, and the diamond,
the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper,
the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold:
the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes
was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so:
thou wast upon the holy mountain of God;
thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created,
till iniquity was found in thee.
16 By the multitude of thy merchandise
they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned:
therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God:
and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty,
thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness:
I will cast thee to the ground,
I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.
18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities,
by the iniquity of thy traffick;
therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee,
it shall devour thee,
and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth
in the sight of all them that behold thee.
19 All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee:
thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more. — [Ezekiel 28:11-19](https://tinyurl.com/Ezekiel-28)

(Note that the description of the covering of this cherub (verse 13 and 14) is very similar to the clothing of the high priest Ex. 39.)

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