Untranslated: Satan and the Devil

Sometimes the original words of the Bible text are left untranslated (“Mammon”, in Matthew 6:24, is an Aramaic example of this). ‘Satan’ is an untranslated Hebrew word which means ‘adversary’, while ‘Devil’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘diabolos’, meaning a liar, an enemy or false accuser. ‘Satan’ has been transferred from the Hebrew untranslated, just like ‘Sabaoth’ (James 5:4), ‘Armageddon’ (Revelation 16:16) and ‘Hallelujah’ (Revelation 19:1-6). If we are to believe that Satan and the Devil are some being outside of us which is responsible for sin, then whenever we come across these words in the Bible, we have to make them refer to this evil person. The Biblical usage of these words shows that they can be used as ordinary nouns, describing ordinary people. This fact makes it impossible to reason that the words Devil and Satan as used in the Bible do in themselves refer to a great wicked person or being outside of us.

J.H. Walton comments upon the word “Satan”: “We would have to conclude… that there was little of a sinister nature” in the word originally. The negative associations of the word were what he calls “a secondary development” as a “technical usage”. They arose in the interpretations of men rather than from the Bible text itself. He continues: “Based on the use of “Satan” in the Old Testament, we would have to conclude that Israel had little knowledge of a being named Satan or of a chief of demons, the Devil, during the Old Testament period”¹. This of course highlights the fact that the popular idea of the Devil grew over time, and requires to be ‘read back’ into Old Testament texts. The Old Testament of itself simply doesn’t state any doctrine of Satan as a personal being. How come they would be left in ignorance about this matter, if such a being exists and God presumably wishes to inform us about him and save us from him? How much effort did God make to save His people from a personal Satan, if throughout the entire Old Testament He never tells them of him? It should be noted that nearly all the Old Testament instances of the word “satan” refer to an adversary to people rather than to God. The picture of “Satan” opposing God hardly has a Biblical foundation.

George Lamsa grew up in a remote part of Kurdistan which spoke a language similar to the Aramaic of Jesus’ times, and which had survived virtually unchanged. He moved to America and became an academic, writing over 20 books of Biblical and linguistic research. Significantly, he came to the conclusion that the idea of a personal Satan was unknown to the Biblical writers, and that Western Christians have built their concept of it on a serious misreading of Biblical passages, failing to understand the original meaning of the word “Satan” and the associated idioms which went with it. Consider a few of his conclusions in this area: “Satan” is very common in Aramaic and Arabic speech. At times a father may call his own son “Satan” without any malicious intent. Moreover, an ingenious man is also called “Satan” (Arabic shitan)”². “Easterners in their conversations often say, “He has been a Satan to me”, which means that he has caused me to err or mislead me”³.

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Author: Duncan Heaster

Keywords: George Lamsa, Lamsa, Satanology, Demonology, Adversary, Christ tempted, Christ tempted in the wilderness, Christ's temptation, Christ's temptation in the wilderness, Devil, Devil and Jesus, Devil tempts Jesus, diabolos, Evil angel, Evil Inclination, Evil nature, Evil one, Hara Yetser, Ha-ra Yetser, Hara Yetzer, Ha-ra Yetzer, Hara Yezer, Ha-ra Yezer, Jesus' temptation, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Jesus tempted, Jesus tempted by Satan, Jesus tempted by the devil, Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Jesus's temptation, Man's sinful nature, Personification of evil, Satan, Satan and Jesus, Satan tempts Christ, Satan tempts Jesus, Seducer, Sin in the flesh, Sin within, Sinful nature, Snatcher, Temptation, Temptation from within, Temptation in the wilderness, Tempted in the wilderness, Tempted of Satan, Tempted of the devil, Tempted sexually, Tempted to do evil, Tempts Christ, Tempts Jesus, The devil tempts Christ, The devil tempts Jesus, The Evil Inclination, The Evil One, Wicked one, Wilderness temptation, Yatsar, Yetsarim, Yetser ha ra, Yetser ha tov, Yetser ra, Yetser tov, Yetzer, Yetzer ha ra, Yetzer ha tov, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer ra, Yetzer tov, Yezer ha ra, Yezer ha tov, Yezer Hara, Yezer tov, Two inclinations, Tempter, Envy of the devil

Bible reference(s): 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6-9, Job 1:12, Job 2:1-7, Isaiah 14:12, Zechariah 3:1-2, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 12:26, Matthew 13:19, Matthew 13:38-39, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 25:41, Mark 1:13, Mark 3:23, Mark 3:26, Mark 4:15, Mark 8:33, Luke 4:2-5, Luke 4:13, Luke 8:12, Luke 10:18, Luke 11:18, Luke 13:16, Luke 22:3, Luke 22:31, John 6:70, John 8:44, John 13:2, John 13:27, John 17:15, Acts 5:3, Acts 10:38, Acts 13:10, Acts 26:18, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 3:6, 1 Timothy 3:7, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, Jude 1:9, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 2:24, Revelation 3:9, Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:12, Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:10

Source: “The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration.”

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