Who Is Satan? (Part 3)

Updated: Jul 18, 2021


If you’ve read my previous articles on Satan and the Spiritual Realm, you may have found them interesting, but you may also be a little perplexed wondering, “What are we to take from all this?”

Here is a brief summary of the scholarly information I presented:

  1. The snake of Genesis 3 most likely would not have been understood as God’s cosmic enemy to its original readers.

  2. Ultimately, there are no Old Testament passages that clearly link the word satan to God’s cosmic enemy.

  3. It is possible that “the Satan” may not have necessarily had an evil or sinister role throughout the Old Testament, but rather a role of accusation and judgment in God’s divine counsel.

  4. The word Satan is not applied explicitly to the divine cosmic enemy of God until the New Testament and is not unmistakably combined with the snake of Genesis 3 until Revelation.

  5. There are other Satan-like, or demonic, figures that we can find in the Old Testament that are not referred to with that language.

Since there was a development of the idea of Satan (the śātān) from the OT to the NT, it becomes necessary as Christians to understand this development in view of biblical authority and inspiration. To me it seems there is no way to understand this development other than through progressive revelation in some form of another.

In this article, we need to clarify the nuances of what kind of progressive revelation is at work. Although each of the ideas I present in this article will reflect progressive revelation in some way, I will attempt to show how some ways better account for the scholarly data than others.

Filling in the Gaps from the “Breadcrumbs”

We can interpret the Old Testament as God “building the plot lines” on the story of evil without giving away everything at once. We are given hints here and there throughout the Bible, but we don’t know everything going on behind the scenes (even as we can’t know everything even now).

I mentioned a few examples in my first and second articles of these “breadcrumbs,” although these three articles don’t have nearly enough space to point to all of them. If you want a more complete picture, I highly recommend Michael Heiser’s 2020 book Demons. This book has a high view of Scripture along with exceptional and honest scholarship on the subject of demons and Satan.

I highly recommend getting the book and reading chapters 3 and 4 if you need any gaps filled in from these articles. This book is not based on conjecture or theories, but completely centered around the scholarly data we have. Conjecture and speculation is fine (it could also be called “using your imagination”), but ultimately we need to know when we are delving into speculation and conjecture rather than the data that Scripture gives us.

Paradise Lost by John Milton is a great example of how spiritual speculation can be both interesting and edifying for believers when it comes to exploring what’s going on behind the scenes in the spiritual or unseen realm.

However, some of the imagination from Milton’s epic has actually gained so much popularity over time that we sometimes assume that we have the biblical picture when our view of the unseen world is actually more informed by the cultural influence of Paradise Lost!

Second temple literature is also filled with speculation and conjecture that is obviously more fully informed by the culture and context of the Old Testament. Some of these ancient Jewish writers had no problem filling in the gaps of the biblical text with different ideas of what may have occurred, and these different theories do not always agree. These ancient Jews were simply trying to connect the dots of what they saw in Scripture, and we have access to many of their attempts to make sense of Old Testament passages.

The “Information About Satan Revealed Later” Approach

Now I want to mention an approach to progressive revelation regarding this subject that is not the result of careful thinking or scholarship. This is to contend that the change in the use of Satan in the New Testament could be meant to give us divine insight into what was really going on behind the scenes and is not explicitly laid out in Scripture.

According to this approach, the new information we are given about Satan in the New Testament is not based on literary development, but is divine revelation of the person of Satan given directly by God.

Is it possible that the śātān in Job and Zechariah was actually the one opposed to humanity from the very beginning, even though God did not reveal this yet in the Old Testament Scriptures? Is that why he is rebuked by God in Zechariah and seems to have a desire to get Job to be unfaithful? Is the opposer in 1 Chronicles 21:1 actually an evil figure that is a cosmic enemy of God whom God uses in that instance to bring about judgment–but we don’t get this behind-the-scenes insight until the New Testament?