Fun With Bible Words 2: satan

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All these years, I thought Satan was his name. Or maybe Lucifer. Come to find out, satan is only a description and not a name. Our “adversary” is never once named in the whole Bible!

Satan is the untranslated Hebrew word that literally renders, according to Strong’s #7854: adversary, one who withstands. This word is not a name, but a description. What is interesting about satan is that it’s sometimes translated as “adversary” and sometimes left as “satan,” which sort of lends to the false assumption that it is a name (it really should always be translated as “adversary” to be consistent). This word is used 23 times in the Old Testament, and is left untranslated as “Satan” 14 times. The other 9 times, it is translated as “adversary.” People and even messengers of God are described as “satans” or adversaries! Take a look…

But God was angry because [Balaam] was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary (satan) against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. … The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I [God] have come out as an adversary (satan), because your way was contrary to me” (Numbers 22:22, 32).

Another interesting factoid is that the word “Satan” is used 33 times in the New Testament, yet it is a Hebrew word, not a Greek word (the NT is all from Greek). I’m not sure what this means except that maybe it is a scribal error of some kind, since there appears to be a word in Greek for adversary, which is antidikos.

Devil is from the Greek word “diabolos” which means, according to Strong’s #1228: prone to slander, slanderous, accusing falsely; a calumniator, false accuser, slanderer. Diabolo is actually an adjective (devilish/slanderous), but is often used as a noun (devil/malicious gossip). It appears to be used of both humans and immortals.

  • Judas is called a devil (diabolo—John 6:70).
  • Women are exhorted not to become “malicious gossips” (diabolos, Titus 2:3)

Lucifer is the name that has frequently been attributed to Satan from Isaiah 14, but King James is the only Bible version that uses the word “Lucifer” and it is a total mistranslation (which is why no other version uses it). This is a study in itself, but the Hebrew word is “yalal” which means to howl or lament (see the picture from the Hebrew Interlinear).

Hebrew Interlinear Bible|Scripture4all.org

All this is to say that we have built entire doctrines around words that aren’t exactly what we thought.

  • Who knew that “Satan” isn’t a proper name and that anyone who is an adversary is a satan?
  • Who knew that our Adversary in this plan of the ages is never named?
  • Who knew that Lucifer comes from an error when the Greek Scriptures were translated into Latin by Jerome way back in the late 4th century?

“Serpent” and “dragon” are two more words that are used to describe our Adversary. Still no name.

I think this is all very significant, but what it means, I don’t know yet. Any thoughts as to why there is so much inconsistency here?

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  • interesting but not very clear

    • jferwerd

      What don't you understand? Maybe I can clarify.

  • Erin

    So I have been learking….. :)….Whom was Jesus talking with the 40 days in the wilderness? I also find this interesting because I have always had a hard time with why Jesus would say "get thee behind me Satan" while talking to one of his disciples…. According to this and I must add that it fits translation "sense" that he was calling his disciple at that point and Advesary and not actually calling him the Devil????

    I will keep learking ;) xo

    • Erin

      Also, what are your thoughts on When the scripture says… The Devil your advesary?

      • jferwerd

        Hey Erin, sorry for taking so long to respond. I started school this week and it's really hectic. I agree completely about Peter…Jesus was not calling him SATAN, He was calling him an adversary to the will of God. While the Hebrew word "satan" translates as adversary, the Greek word "diabolo" (devil) translates "slanderer" or "false accuser." A good example that this is not a title reserved for a celestial being is that it is used in relation to people, such as 1 Tim. 3:11: Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips (diabolos), but temperate, faithful in all things."

        So they are a bit different, which is why they might occur in the same verse. I still do believe in an actual being who is our adversary (many people don't) because I see a lot of evidence for a literal adversary.

        However, I also think that translators have sometimes taken liberties with words that have caused false traditions to come about.

  • Erin

    Or it could mean that there are two different persepectives being revealed to us… One from the perspective of our humaness and then from the spirtiual realm.