Is the Devil a Supernatural Being?
Many religions believe there is a monster called the Devil or Satan, who is the originator of all problems and is responsible for the sins we commit. But the Bible teaches that God is all-powerful and that the Angels cannot sin.
This means it is impossible that there is any supernatural being that is opposed to God. We are questioning the supremacy of God Almighty by believing that such a being does exist.
The Source of Evil
There is a belief that good things come from God and bad things from the Devil or Satan. The ancient Babylonians believed in a god of good, and a god of evil. God’s response was “I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God beside me … I form the light and create darkness, I make peace, and create calamity: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7, 22). God is the author, the creator of “calamity” in this sense. There is a difference between calamity and sin. Sin entered the world as a result of man not God (Romans 5:12).
God tells the Babylonians “there is no God beside me.” There is no source of power apart from Him. Thus a true believer in God cannot accept the idea of a supernatural devil or demons.
God: The Creator of Disaster
There are many examples of God bringing “evil” into people’s lives:
- Amos 3:6 says that if there is calamity in a city God has done it.
- Micah 1:12 says that “disaster came down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem”.
- Job recognised that “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). He does not say “The Lord gave and Satan has taken away”. Job commented “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Job’s friends comforted him over “all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him” (Job 42:11 cp. 19:21; 8:3).
So God is the source of “evil” in the sense of being the ultimate permitter of problems in our lives.
The Orthodox Devil – illogical
“For whom the LORD loves He chastens … If you endure chastening … afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:6-11). This shows that trials given by God, eventually lead to our spiritual growth.
To say that the devil forces us to sin while at the same time bringing problems which lead to our developing “the peaceable fruit of righteousness”, sets the Bible against itself. Here the orthodox idea of the devil runs into problems. For example, the passages which speak of delivering a man to satan “that his spirit may be saved” (1 Corinthians 5:5), or “that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). If Satan is really a being bent on causing men to sin, why do these passages speak of ‘Satan’ in a positive light?
The answer: an adversary, a “Satan” or difficulty in life, can often result in positive spiritual effects in a believer’s life.
The Origin of Sin
Sin comes from inside us. It is our fault that we sin. Remember, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) ~ sin leads to death. If it is the devil’s fault that we sin, then a just God ought to punish the devil rather than us. But the fact that we are judged for our own sins shows that we are responsible for our sins.
“There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him …For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders … All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:15-23).
The idea that there is something sinful outside of us which causes us to sin is incompatible with the teaching of Jesus. From within, out of the heart of man, come all these evil things. James 1:14 tells us how we are tempted: “each one is tempted when he is drawn by his own desires and enticed.” We are tempted by our own evil desires; not by anything outside of us. “Where do wars and fights come from among you?” James asks; “Do they not come from your desires for pleasure?” (James 4:1). Each of us has temptation generated by our own evil desires.
Paul Identifies the Source of Sin
Paul laments: “In me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells … For the good that I will to do, I do not do … if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:18-21). Paul does not blame his sinning on an external being called the devil. He located his own evil nature as the real source of sin: “it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with (i.e. within) me, the one who will to do good” (Romans 7:20-21). So he says that the opposition to being spiritual comes from something that he calls “sin that dwells in me”.
The Word ‘Satan’ in the Bible
1 Kings 11:14 records that “the LORD raised up an adversary (same Hebrew word elsewhere translated “satan”) against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite”. “And God raised up another adversary (another satan) … Rezon … He was an adversary (a satan) of Israel” (1 Kings 11:23, 25). God stirred up ordinary men not a supernatural being, to be a satan/adversary to Solomon.
Another example: Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die. Jesus turned and said to Peter “Get behind Me, Satan! … you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). Thus Peter was called a satan by Christ.
Even God Himself Can be Called a ‘Satan’
Because the word ‘satan’ just means an adversary, a good person, even God Himself, can be termed a ‘satan’. There is nothing necessarily sinful about the word itself. God can be a satan to us by:
- bringing trials into our lives,
- or obstructing a wrong course of action we may be embarking on.
But the fact that God can be called a ‘satan’ does not mean that He Himself is sinful.
The books of Samuel and Chronicles are parallel accounts of the same incidents. 2 Samuel 24:1 records: “the LORD … moved David against them (Israel)” to make him take a census of Israel. The parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that “Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David” to take the census. In one passage God does the provoking, in the other Satan does it. Therefore God acted as a ‘satan’ or adversary to David.
The Word ‘Devil’ in the Bible
Similarly with the word ‘devil’. Jesus said “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spoke of Judas Iscariot …” (John 6:70-71) who was an ordinary, mortal man. The word ‘devil’ here simply refers to a wicked man.
Another example is found in 1 Timothy 3:11: The wives of church elders were not to be “slanderers”; the original Greek word here is ‘diabolos’, which is the same word translated ‘devil’ elsewhere. Thus Paul warns Titus that the aged women in the ecclesia should not be “false accusers” or ‘devils’ (Titus 2:3).
The words ‘devil’ and ‘satan’ do not refer to a fallen Angel or a sinful being outside of us.
Sin, Satan and the Devil
The words ‘satan’ and ‘devil’ are used figuratively to describe the natural sinful tendencies within us. These are our main ‘satan’ or adversary. They are also personified, and as such can be spoken of as ‘the devil’ – our enemy, a slanderer of the truth. This is what our natural ‘man’ is like – the very devil.
The connection between the devil and our evil desires – sin within us – is made explicit in several passages: ·
- “As the children (ourselves) have partaken of flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise shared in the same, that through (His) death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). The devil is here described as being responsible for death. But Romans tells us that sin is responsible for death: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Therefore sin and the devil must be parallel.
- Similarly James 1:14 says that our evil desires tempt us, leading us to sin and therefore to death; but Hebrews 2:14 says that the devil brings death. The same verse says that Jesus had our nature in order to destroy the devil.
- Contrast this with Romans 8:3: “God by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (that is, in our human nature), …He condemned sin in the flesh.” This shows that the devil and the sinful tendencies that are naturally within human nature are effectively the same.
It is vitally important to understand the Jesus was tempted just like us. Misunderstanding the doctrine of the devil means that we cannot correctly appreciate the nature and work of Jesus. It was only because Jesus had our human nature – the ‘devil’ within him – that we can have the hope of salvation (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:15). By overcoming the desires of his own nature, the Biblical devil, Jesus was able to destroy the devil on the cross.
If the devil is a personal being, then he should no longer exist.
‘Our Sins’ = ‘the Works of the Devil’
“He who sins is of the devil” (1 John 3:8), because sin is the result of giving way to our own natural, evil desires (James 1:14, 15), which the Bible calls ‘the devil’. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If we are correct in saying that the devil is our evil desires, then the works of our evil desires, i.e. what they result in, are our sins. This is confirmed by 1 John 3:5, “He (Jesus) was manifested to take away our sins”. This confirms that “our sins” and “the works of the devil” are the same.
Acts 5:3 provides another example of this connection between the devil and our sins. Peter says to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart?” Then in verse 4, Peter says “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?” Conceiving something bad within our heart is the same as Satan filling our heart.
However, the Bible does talk as if the devil is a person! Hebrews 2:14 speaks of “him who had power of death, that is, the devil”. The Bible often uses personification – speaking of an abstract idea as if it is a person. Thus Proverbs 9:1 speaks of a woman called ‘Wisdom’ building a house, and Romans 6:23 likens sin to a paymaster giving wages of death.
Our devil, the ‘diabolos’, often represents our evil desires. Yet you cannot have abstract diabolism; the evil desires that are in a man’s heart cannot exist separately from a man; therefore ‘the devil’ is personified.
Sin is often personified as a master (eg. Romans 5:21; 6:6, 17; 7:3). It is understandable, therefore, that the ‘devil’ is also personified, seeing that ‘the devil’ also refers to sin. In the same way, Paul speaks of us having two beings, as it were, within our flesh (Romans 7:15-21):
- the man of the flesh, ‘the devil’,
- fights with the man of the Spirit.
Yet it is evident that there are not two literal, personal beings fighting within us. This sinful part of our nature is personified as “the evil one” (Matthew 6:13) – the Biblical devil.
The devil is a common figure for our own nature; sin and temptation originate from within. The real arena of spiritual conflict is the human heart.
If we grasp this, we will battle daily for control of the mind, we will strive to fill our mind with God’s word, we will read the Bible daily, we will be cynical of our motivations, we will examine ourselves, we will appreciate the latent liability to sin which we and all men have by nature. We won’t take the weakness of others towards us so personally; we will see it is their ‘devil’. Belief in a personal devil is so popular, because it takes the focus away from our own struggle with our innermost nature and thoughts.