The Bible says that God has an enemy: Satan (Revelation 12:9).  Oftentimes this enemy is attributed inventive abilities that run counter to biblical teaching.  Therefore it is important to have an accurate understanding of Satan, his origin, and ultimate limitations as an originated being.

One of the false notions of Satan is that he is coeternal with God and possesses an equal balance to His power.  This is known as “ethico-religious dualism” which, “… asserts that there are two mutually hostile forces or beings in the world, the one being the source of all good, the other the source of all evil.”[1]  Implied in the phrase “mutually hostile forces” is the notion of both entities having equal strength.  Therefore, whatever God is (eternal, omniscient, and omnipresent) Satan must be as well.

Practical religious applications to this view can be seen in both the Manichaeistic and Catharist sects.  Both held to a supernatural battle (Manichaeists characterized it as Light vs. Darkness[2]) that has been waged for all eternity.  However, these particular worldviews lead to false doctrine.  For example, Manichaeists believed, “… in the imprisonment of Light particles in plant, animal, and human life.”[3]  Since human beings contain Light (or good), they must therefore be, “… one in substance with God.”[4]  Catharists believed that, since the world was created by evil spirits and that matter was inherently evil, the creation itself was not “good” (Genesis 1:31) and that, “… redemption involved the rescue of the human spirit from the bondage of matter…”[5]

In order for ethico-religious dualism to have any merit, many passages of Scripture must be ignored about the true nature of Satan and his conflict with God.  The Bible says that Satan is not an eternal being but was created by God (Ezekiel 28:15) and is not equal in power to Him but wished to be (Isaiah 14:12-15).  So he rebelled and was cast down to earth (Revelation 12:7-9) where he is allowed to defy the Lord but only in a limited capacity (Matthew 12:29; Ephesians 2:2).

There are theologians that do not accept the Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 passages (I listed above) as descriptions of Satan because both prophets appear to be talking about the kings of Babylon and Tyre.  While I do find this argument to be compelling, other passages in Scripture seem to dovetail with this notion of Satan as a rebellious angel (Job 1:6; Revelation 12:7-8).  Also, there is a, “… close connection Satan has in Scripture with the government of the satanic world system… of which both ancient Babylon and Tyre were an inseparable part.”[6]  Therefore, I’m inclined to accept the Ezekiel and Isaiah passages as legitimate descriptions of Satan.

Because Satan was a created being and he is the supreme purveyor of evil in the world it could be said that God is the ultimate source of evil.  But, in order for this assertion to be true, one must assume that God created Satan, specifically, to be evil.  But Ezekiel 28 describes God’s original intention for Satan as “full of wisdom”, “perfect in beauty”, and “blameless” in his ways.  It was Satan’s free choice to become evil therefore God is not to blame for evil in the world.

The story of Job provides several inferences to the limitations of Satan.  He is accountable to God (1:6), he is not omnipresent (1:7), he is not omniscient (1:8), and he cannot do anything without God’s express permission (1:12; 2:6).  Therefore, one cannot simply blame Satan when he yields to temptation because, at best, Satan’s power is merely relegated to external influences.  “Unlike the Holy Spirit who can influence believers’ minds directly, angels are limited to external impulses.”[7]  Satan, as an angel, therefore cannot be blamed for one’s sin.

Satan as a created, limited, and inferior being to God is not some coeternal, coequal force that the Manichaeists or Catharists would believe.  Various passages in Scripture tell of the real Satan who fell from Heaven because of his wickedness and, while openly wages rebellion against the Lord, cannot do a thing without His permission.  In order for Christians to fully comprehend God’s enemy, they must not dismiss (partially or otherwise) the only record they have of him – which is Scripture.

[1] Kuhn, H.B., “Dualism.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 357. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001

[2] Hoffecker, W.A., “Manichaeism.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 729. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Oliver Jr., O.G., “Cathari.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 214. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 2001

[6] Unger, M.F., “Satan.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 1054. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 2001

[7] Towns, Elmer, Theology For Today, 2nd ed. (Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008), 347.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Again, great article Nate. I must say, I was wondering about the fact that God created Satan, and that Satan is now evil. I thought that he must have been able to choose as well but it can seem as if God is directly the source of evil then. I liked how you answered this, that God had good intentions towards Satan from the start. It lines up with the fact that God is always good. Also, what you said about Satan not being able to do anything without God’s permission, in our church we have a saying that everything that happens to us is “Father filtered”. I remember a friend of mine was held at gun point in front of his house and the robbers kept telling him that they were going to kill him when they got everything they wanted. My friend just openly answered “only if my God allows that”. They left without really hurting him and I think if we truly believe this, it can give us tremendous peace and calm in difficult situations as it did for him. God often use evil to bring about good. I am going through Jeremiah at the moment, and the more I read, the more I realize that God is never to blame. He ALWAYS has good intentions flowing from His good nature.

    Thank you for putting Satan in his place 🙂

  2. Prior to the Babylonian Captivity, Satan was known as “ha satan,” – “the satan”, who, according to his press agent, was not evil and did only what his master ordered. It was only after exposure to the Zoroastrian religious system of the Persians who rescued the Jews by defeating Babylon and freeing them as well as helping rebuild their temple, that Satan earned his reputation of being evil. In the Zoroastrian belief system, there were two gods, Ahura Mazda, the good god, and Angra Mainyu, the evil god (whose characteristics were transferred to Satan by Jewish authors. Within Zoroastrianism, there is also a story about a figure known as the Saoshyant, who is born of a virgin, and who, at the end of the world, will wade the world’s souls through a river of fire that will burn away their sins so that they can live happily ever after in paradise.

    Much of common thought about Satan comes from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. The concept of a life after death and a “hell” for the unrepentant is not seen in the early parts of the Bible, in fact, the Sadducees of Jesus’ time believed that all life ended in irreversible death.

    Though nearly an hour long, this video may go far to clear up many of the misconceptions about Satan in the Bible:

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