I am intrigued by this conversation between God and Devil in the Book of Job:

"One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

If Job was a historical person and the conversation between God and Devil is the verbatim reproduction of what really happened, I wish to believe that they were not such sworn enemies as we have been trained to believe. I prefer to believe that heaven is the place where the faithful who choose to live for ever with God go, and hell on the other hand, is that state of continued existence which the people who consciously choose to ignore God are assigned to be in. The very fact that those who choose the 'adversary' above God are deprived of God's presence, itself becomes their agony after death.

My question is whether there has been a continuous degradation to the 'image' of devil through the history of Church ?

  • From my read of Job, Satan is just as evil then as he is today. Don't forget that God rebukes Satan in Zechariah.
    – Beestocks
    Jul 30, 2015 at 16:45

1 Answer 1


Yes, there has been an evolution in thinking about the nature of the devil. Jeffrey B. Russell says, in The Prince of Darkness, page 37, that in Job, Satan is already a personality with the function of accusing, opposing, and harming human beings. He is not yet the principle of evil, for he is still one of the heavenly court and does nothing without God's consent and command. Here, Satan works as the shadow, the dark side of God, the destructive power wielded by God only reluctantly. It is Satan himself who as mal'ak goes down to the earth and torments Job. In the somewhat later, apocryphal Book of Jubilees the evil mal'ak has become Mastema, prince of evil spirits and virtually independent of the Lord. He tempts, accuses, destroys and punishes humans, taking onto himself all the evil characteristics Russell says were once ascribed to God.

Many modern Christians see Lucifer as a second name for Satan, and Russell says (page 43) the earliest Christian text making the equation of Lucifer with Satan is Against Marcion (2.10), by Tertullian. On page 63, Russell says it was Justin who established the connection between the Devil and the serpent of Eden, accepted by Christians forever after.

Russell explains that in the early Middle Ages, the monastic tendency to emphasise the Devil's power was balanced by the opposite tendency of folklore and legend to make Satan seem ridiculous and impotent. This was a natural psychological reaction against the terrors of the monastic view. The more threatening Satan's power, the more comedy was needed to tame him and relieve the threat. Giving the devil an absurd name was a popular antidote to the terror he struck. A host of popular nicknames followed through time, including Old Horny, Old Hairy, Black Bogey, Lusty Dick, Dickon, or Dickens, Gentleman Jack, the Good Fellow, Old Nick, and Old Scratch, with comparable names in other languages. The pagan god Pan was feared for his association with the wilderness and for his sexuality, so Pan's horns, hooves, shaggy fur, and outsized phallus became part of the Christian image of Satan. Even today, as we think of Satan's evil powers, we can also think of his horns and hooves.

The Reformation did not introduce a sudden change in the belief in the Devil. To Luther, the devil was a real, living power, a concrete personality, and he used to characterise him as the good Lord's hangman, and the instrument of his anger and punishment. He believed God needs the Devil for a servant and utilises his malignity for the procreation of the good.

Martin Luther saw no place for comedy in the understanding of Satan. Russell says Luther came to the conclusion that the Devil, against his will, always does God's work. All evils come from both the Devil and God, but the Devil wills the evil in them and God wills the good that comes out of them. “God incites the Devil to evil, but he does not do evil himself.”

The Catholic catechism (2851) takes a somewhat different view than Martin Luther, saying that Satan, the Evil One, is the personification of evil, and opposes God. We can compare this to Satan's role in the Book of Job, where he talks to God about ways of testing Job to prove whether Job was really as righteous as he believed himself to be.

  • Just as supplemental info regarding the equation of Lucifer and Satan (paragraph 2): I think this is tied firmly to the (purported) connection between Isaiah 14:12 and Luke 10:18. Somehow we got caught up on the history of this Christian interpretive tradition on a Q&A on Hermeneutics.SE a while back, and David went to pretty great lengths to tease out just when this showed up.
    – Susan
    Jul 30, 2015 at 13:30
  • Also, it may be helpful to explain mal’ak here. Even knowing that the word means angel/messenger, I’m unclear on how it’s being used. There is a reference in Job to Satan (/satan) using this term?
    – Susan
    Jul 30, 2015 at 13:33
  • 3
    On ¶2: Russell's paragraph on pp. 43-4 is unguarded for such a fine scholar. Tertullian does not equate Satan with Lucifer in Against Marcion II.10 (see Latin or English) though Origen does in De principiis (thread linked above). But those two works are almost contemporary: Tertullian's ~208 CE, and Origen's ~212 CE. Russell's 5-volume "history" of the Devil is the "go to" for this subject. See also (different focus) Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy (Princeton, 1989).
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 30, 2015 at 14:52
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    P.s. Tertullian does connect Isa 14:12 with Luke 10:18, but does not go the further step (as Origen does) of using the term "Lucifer". FWIW!
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 30, 2015 at 14:57

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