Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: Satan

Three terms are used to describe Christ’s adversary in the Synoptic temptation accounts; ‘satan’ (ho satanas in Mark 1:12, with the vocative satana without the definite article only in Matthew 4:10), ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazwn, only in Matthew 4:3), and ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos). Elsewhere in Matthew (and only Matthew), the term ‘the evil one’ (ho ponēros), may also be used (Matthew 5:37; 6:13; 13:19, 38), though this is debated in the literature.¹

Lexicographical evidence contradicts the assumption that these terms normatively referred to a supernatural evil being in the first century. In Second Temple Period literature the term ‘satan’ (whether in Hebrew or Greek), is predominantly used as a common noun rather than a personal name, the term ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos), is rarely if ever used to refer to a supernatural evil being, and the terms ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazwn), and ‘the evil one’ (ho ponēros), have no pre-Christian witness with such a meaning.

The term satan, whether in Greek (satanas), or Hebrew (śāṭān), is used rarely in pre-Christian literature² and never as a proper name.³ Consequently, Laato notes that ‘we lack an established tradition whereby the name of the personal Evil or the leader of demons is Satan’.⁴

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Author: Jon Burke

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Bible reference(s): Matthew 4:1-11, , Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2-13

Source: “Satanological Terminology in the Synoptics: Satan,” Berea Portal.

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