Some today are theorizing that belief in a personal Satan has NEVER been in the Hebraic mindset. These theorizers suggest that the concept of “the Satan,” as a REAL ontological being, is a Greek or Babylonian notion and NOT a Jewish idea, and in fact, NEVER was a Hebraic belief.

Here is my response.

First, to which exact Hebrew mindset are these theorizers referring? Their proposal seems based on the fact that there is only one pure and unadulterated Hebrew mindset floating around out there like some sort of helmeted Holy Grail. In reality, there is no such helmeted Grail we can put on and start officially thinking Hebraically. So, when the term “Hebrew mindset” is used, we need to define WHICH Hebrew mindset.

The Hebrew mindset affected and heavily influenced by their slavery to Egypt?

The Hebrew mindset affected and heavily influenced by their Babylonian captivity?

The Hebrew mindset displayed by the original 12 tribes, the 10 lost tribes, the two remaining tribes, or each separate tribe in each different epoch?

The Hebrew mindset affected and heavily influenced by their divided kingdom, by their wars and comminglings with the Philistines, Canannites, Samaritans, and all the other surrounding tribes and peoples at different times and places over four thousand years?

Here is my point. In identifying any current cultural mindset, how far back should we go to identify a legitimate religious mindset? 20 years, 50 years, 100 years, 200 years? Under any analysis, surely, going from 400 years back to the present would provide ample data as to what legitimately comprised a major cultural or religious mindset during any major era.

Here is why this matters.

The argument referenced above claims that the Jews of Jesus’ day were ONLY highly developed in their “diabology,” (their beliefs in the devil) because of their captivity in Babylon during the 400-year Intertestamental period preceding the coming of Christ.

This argument proposes that Jesus, by repeatedly recognizing, referencing and rebuking Satan and devils as He did, was only really “rolling with the punches” of a primitive mindset which was never really Hebrew to begin with. This mindset, rather, came about only as the result of the Israelite’s time spent in Babylonian captivity combined with later Greek influence. Thus, New Testament diabology is alleged to come from Babylonian and Greek religious influence rather than from genuine evolutionary Hebrew belief.

The bottom line of this argument is that there was no “authentic” Hebrew mindset regarding diabology from the 400 years preceding Jesus’ coming up until His resurrection and ascension.

Obviously, this theory has profound problems.

Rather than seeing New Testament diabology as a quantum leap FORWARD in divine revelation and realization, proponents of this theory just “blow off” New Testament demonology altogether, writing-it-off instead as a “flat world” superstition that was not legitimately Hebrew and thus should be ignored. The Jews over this 400 year period can’t really be considered Hebraically-minded, so this theory says, and therefore their cosmology can’t be said to be legitimately Jewish.

Of course, proponents of this theory quizzically claim that WE can only understand the New Testament if we learn to read it with a Hebrew mindset. But, the obvious question arises… IF, IF, IF the writers of the New Testament did NOT have an authentically Hebrew mindset (at least by the reckoning of these theorizers), then why, oh why, would we need a Hebrew mindset to then understand it.

And, with what do these theorizers suggest we replace New Testament diabology? Well, they suggest we go 2,400 years back in history to find and pick up what the Jews REALLY think about Satan. The only legitimate view of Satan, this theory says, is the ancient pre-400 A.D. view where Satan may or may not have been considered by Hebrew thought as an ontological being. And since there is scant extra-biblical literature from this ancient time, we are left pretty much with just what the Old Testament says.

But, even here, we see that Job, considered by many scholars to be the oldest book in the Old Testament, portrays Satan as an ontological being who accesses and assails the heavenly court with hostile accusations and violent proposals to destroy certain men. While the relationship between Satan and God in this Old Testament narrative is not as combative as subsequently portrayed in the New Testament, it nonetheless can be seen as an earlier and less differentiated version of a belief in an ontological Satan who is in cosmic rebellion to God.

As for those who claim we can’t take Job literally, but need to see it rather as literature, that misses the point. First, there is no proof on its face that presents or demands that it is to be read as a fictional work. Second, even assuming, arguendo, that Job is fictional, or an amalgam of fact and poetry, then the story still indicates that Jewish thought believed in an ontological Satan who brought destructions and accusations against mankind.

Scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell, who has written multiple volumes on the historical development of our understanding of Satan, notes that the reason early Jewish thought saw Satan as God’s servant is as follows: “Since the God of Israel was the only God, the supreme power in the cosmos, and since, unlike the abstract God of the Greeks, He had personality and will, no deed could be done unless He willed it. Consequently, when anyone transgressed morality, God was responsible for the transgression as well as for its punishment.” THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS: RADICAL EVIL AND THE POWER OF GOD IN HISTORY, Cornell University Press, 29-30.

Russell goes on to trace that later in Jewish history, closer to Jesus’ day, more and more Jews began to see Satan as an evil entity acting independently of God’s approval. This is easily proven by considering the incident in which King David sinned by numbering Israel. This incident is first recorded in 2 Samuel 24:1, and then centuries later in 1 Chronicles 21:1. In the earlier entry, David’s sin is caused by “the anger of God,” while in the later passage “Satan” is the cause of David’s sin. Same sin, same event, entirely different cause. The Jews were beginning to see that they could not attribute BOTH sin and punishment to God, good and evil to God, love and hate to God. They began to develop the idea that Satan was an enemy to God’s purposes rather than an obedient servant.

In fact, the ontological “death angel” of Exodus, which nobody would deny as a Hebraic belief, has been interpreted by Jewish scholars as one of the earliest references to Satan. As THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH CONCEPTS by Philip Birnbaum says, “Satan…is…identified with the angel of death. He leads astray, then he brings accusations against man, whom he slays eventually. His chief functions are those of temptation, accusation, and punishment. Under the control of God, he acts solely with the divine permission to carry out his plots.” (Sanhedrin Press, page 594). Rabbi Benjamin Blech similarly writes, “Judaism sees Satan as a servant of God whose function is to set up choices between good and evil so that we can exercise our free will…. [His] apparent harshness is merely camouflage for divine concern and love.” IF GOD IS SO GOOD, WHY IS THE WORLD SO BAD? Simcha Press, pages 7-9.

So, the claim against ANY Hebraic belief in an ontological Satan pre-400 A.D. is unfounded. “As an ADVERSARY: in the Bible, the term ‘Satan’ is used attributively (1 Samuel 29.4), or when personified it refers to a divine being who answers to God (Job 1.6-12; 1 Chronicles 21.1), rather than to an independent entity whom is God’s adversary. The concept only later developed into “the devil.” THE JEWISH STUDY BIBLE, TANAKH TRANSLATION, Jewish Publication Society, page 329, note 22, 2004.

Some Messianic Jewish commentators do disagree with their orthodox brethren above, however, as to WHEN Satan began to be seen as a cosmic rebel rather than an obedient servant angel, even though there is uniform agreement under either view that Satan was an ontological being. “Both the Tanakh and the New Testament take for granted the existence of a supernatural realm of good, obedient angels who serve God and evil, rebellious (demons) who serve the Adversary.” JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY, David H. Stern, JNTP, 1996.

The non-Job verses in the OT which mention Satan are scant, brief and largely undeveloped. We do know that Judaism interprets the Old Testament to allow for Satan’s ontological reality.

The scapegoat in the Bible is actually called the Azazel goat, a well known alternate name of Satan. Leviticus 16:8 “And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. [1 Footnote [1] 16:8 The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat; also verses 10, 26 ESV.]”

The great church father Origen equated Azazel with Satan. One translation of this word is rendered Za-za-e’il (the strong one against God), according to the Syriac Peshitta Version, as in Qumran fragment 4Q180.

The medieval mystic Nachmanides (1194–1270) identified the Hebrew text as referring to a demon and identified this “Azazel” with Samael, one of the well-known appellations of Satan in Jewish tradition. Interestingly, Azazel is one of the several names Muslims use for Satan. Many other Christian, Hebrew and other early sources clearly link Azazel as either a high-ranking captain of Lucifer or, in the alternative, as Satan himself.

The link between Satan and goats doesn’t stop there. There are several passages which seem to link “goats” to demonic activity involving the powers and principalities “of the nations” (Isaiah 13:21; 14:9; Zechariah 10:3). “Sa’yrim,” the Hebrew word for “goat,” is used in all these verses. Some Bibles translate the word “sa’yrim” in the English as “satyr,” “goats,” “goat-like demons,” or “goat-shaped demons.” The word sa’yrim is translated “demons” in 2 Chronicles 11:15.

Historically, the word sa’yrim has always been interpreted as referring to demons or goat demons. The targum of Onkelos paraphrases this as sidim, which means demons or devils. Israel Drazin’s translation of the Onkelos Leviticus targum states: “MT’s ‘goats’ is interpreted as a euphemism for ‘demons’ by most translators and commentators. They are called goats here and in Isa. 13:21 and 34:14 because they dance and skip about like goats (Rashi). The root syrm, ‘goats,’ may be related s’r, ‘hair’ or ‘horror,’ and they may be called ‘goats’ because they appear in the form of goats (Radak, Nachmanides). The word is actually translated ‘demons’ in Deut 32:17 where the word is in MT.” [Drazin p 157-158].

Even modern commentators have understood these verses as referring to demons. Otto Kaiser wrote the following in his commentary to the Westminster Commentary series: “So the place will become the refuge of the desert animals, which occupy a curious position between the world of animals and that of demons, and whose presence helps to increase the uncanny nature of the ruins. Owls and ostriches will dwell there. Among them will leap the ‘hairy ones’, the satyrs or goat demons, whose cult, probably deriving from Canaanite popular belief, seems to have had a location in Jerusalem itself before the time of Josiah.” [Kaiser, p. 20 21].

The Soncino Bible commentary and the Jewish Publication Society translation that it uses both translate this word as “satyr,” and the commentator’s footnote reads: “Goat-shaped demons. The Hebrew also means goats.” [Slotki, p. 66]. Other translations pickup on the demonic nature of these creatures. The Italian Diodati has “i demoni.” The Spanish Reina Valera has pelugos meaning “hairy creatures.” Luther’s Bible has Feldgeister, which means “field-spirits” or “satyrs.” The Living Bible has “demons.” The Amplified Bible has “wild goats [like demons] will dance there.” The CEV adds a footnote “or demons.”

Substituting “goat-like leaders” or “goat-like demons” in these passages produces some interesting possibilities, particularly along “the principalities and powers” line which the New Testament takes in defining certain spiritual structures as fallen and demonically driven.

“Even the pit underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in. At you it has awakened those impotent in death, ALL THE GOAT-LIKE LEADERS OF THE EARTH. It has made all the kings of the nations get up from their thrones. All of them speak up and say to you,`Have you yourself also been made weak like us? Is it to us that you have been made comparable? Down to the pit your pride has been brought. Beneath you, maggots are spread out as a couch and worms are your covering.'” Isaiah 14:9.

“Against the shepherds, my anger has grown hot, and AGAINST THE GOAT-LIKE LEADERS I SHALL HOLD AN ACCOUNTING; for God has turned his attention to his drove.” Zechariah 10:3.

“And there the haunters of waterless regions will certainly lie down, and their houses must be filled with eagle owls. And there the ostriches must reside, and the GOAT-SHAPED DEMONS themselves will go skipping about there. And the jackals must howl in her dwelling towers, and the big SNAKE will be in the palaces of exquisite delight. And the season for her is near to come, and her days themselves will not be postponed. God has broken the rod of the wicked ones, the staff of the RULING ONES, the one striking peoples in fury with a stroke incessantly, the one subduing nations in sheer anger with a persecution without restraint.” Isaiah 13:21.

“The Israelites will then stop sacrificing to the demons (sa’yer) who [continue to] tempt them.” Leviticus 17:7. THE LIVING TORAH: A NEW TRANSLATION BASED ON TRADITIONAL SOURCES, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Mazneim 1981.

Many of these above verses are the basis for the image of the goat being so prevalent in Satanic rituals, from its image overlaying the pentagram to the severing of goats heads during Satanic rituals, the goat symbolizes demonic rule and power.

Brown, Driver, Briggs has as its third definition: “satyr, demon (with he-goat’s form, or feet, hairy demons inhabiting desolate ruins, so pl wa’yrim; name for idols…” Fuerst’s Dictionary has: “rough, hairy,…the shaggy, hairy one; hence a buck, specially a he-goat…” and most importantly: “A goat-shaped deity, which was idolatrously worshipped beside the bamot and egelim, a thing which was strictly forbidden the Israelites Lev. 17,7; 2 CHR. 11,15. It was believed that such hostile beings inhabited the deserts and woods (Is. 12:21; 34:14), and that they must be appeased by divine worship. Hence the LXX have daimonia, the Targ. and Pesh. Sheddin; and Jerome describes them “vel incubones vel satyros vel silvestres quosdam homines &c.” This superstition was probably derived from Egypt, where a goat (Josephus contra Ap. 2,7) or Pan who was depicted with a goat’s head and feet (Herod. 2,46. 145; Strabo 17. page 802), was worshipped. The latter symbolized the procreative and male power (Steph. Byz. s.v. Panos polis; Horap. 1, 48).”

Peter France in his An Encyclopedia of Bible Animals theorizes about the purport of the word satyr in these verses:

“The same word appears in 2 Chronicles 11:15 where it is translated as devils, ‘And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.’ Tristram convincingly argues that these devils are the half goat half man gods that were worshiped in Egypt. These devils, or se’irim, Bocharrt and many other commentators consider to be the goat-gods of Egypt, an idol half goat, half man, with the worship of which the Israelites had been familiar in Egypt, and which Jerobaom re-introduced from thence; and consequently, the se’irim of Isaiah’s prophecy would mean really what we understand by Satyrs i.e., demons of the woods and desolate places with the human head and arm, and the body and legs of a goat. The popular superstitions of Arabia and Syria are full of such fabled monsters, which people all the ruins.” [France, p. 132] It might be added here as an aside that Masons to this day still worship Baphomet, a demonic creature that is part goat part man in his iconological images. In this case, it is the head of a goat on the body of a man. The goat’s head itself shows up in Satanic imagery to this day and also is depicted in Masonic imagery, including the upside-down five-pointed star of Mendes.”

So, in the New Testament, devils clearly had the power to inhabit animals (such as pigs), while in the Old Testament they appeared to have some form of habitation with or as goat-like creatures. Jesus mentioned devils went to dry places. The Old Testament seems to concur.

My point in all this is that an ontological Satan is warranted by a fair reading of both Old and New Testaments. Concerning Jewish writings the Intertestamental period, consider this: Satan’s role, as the leader of fallen angels, is elaborated upon in Jubilees 4:22; 1 Enoch 6-8; Life of Adam and Eve 12-17. Demons are subject to Mastema aka Satan until the messianic age (Jubilees 10.8; 23:29; cf Assumption of Moses 10.1). Satanael is called the prince of the rebellious angels (2 Enoch 18:3; 29:4-5). Satan, or Beliar, tempts human beings through seven spirits, which are the personified lists of men (Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs passim). According to the rabbinical literature, Sammael, the chief of all Satans, said to have been created on the sixth day and to be a fallen angel (b. Pesachim 54a). With his threefold office as accuser, seducer, and destroyer, Satan is identified as the yetzer hara, the evil impulse in man. Source: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY, Editor Everett Ferguson, Satan entry (1990).

But what if the Jews were unduly influenced by their time in Babylonian captivity? What if the idea of a personal Satan is a Babylonian invention which infected Hebrew thought, rather than an evolutionary step forward in their cosmology?

First, the Jews have been impacted by every nation they have encountered, just like all the other ancient races were likewise affected by the Jews. That’s the way culture encounter works. Israel was impacted by dozens of other cultural encounters, so to act as if the Babylonian exile was the ONLY one to leave a significant fingerprint of change on Israel is extremely errant.

Second, even if true, does that mean that the evolution of Jewish thought over the 400 year period between testaments was wrong or misguided? Do we have so little confidence in the Lord’s ability to prepare the people for the coming Messiah? Is it so inconceivable that the Spirit would wisely posture the people conceptually so that they could better grasp the unseen realities of the kingdom of God about which His son would be teaching?

Third, the Old Testament DOES present an ontological Satan, not a highly differentiated and developed Satan, but definitely a real being with a real personality.

Fourth, the early church clearly believed in the ontology of Satan. Ignatius of Antioch warns of the “snares” and “torments” of the devil (Trall; Romans 5; 8. False teachings have a “bad odor” as “inventions of the devil” (Ephesians 17; cf Trall. 10). The devil invents falsehoods against Christian martyrs (M. Polyc.). We are not to fear the devil, but doubt, adulterous lust and coveting luxuries are the “daughter of the devil” (Hermas, Mand. 7; 9; 12.2, 6).

Justin Martyr speaks much of the serpent and Satan’s role in temptation (Dial. 100; 125). The Gospel of Nicodemus dramatizes Satan’s role in Jesus’ harrowing of Hell (2:21-24). To Iranaeus, Satan is a fallen angel who introduced murder thorough Cain’s corruption, but who thereafter was the strongman whom the stronger man, Jesus, bound so that all men could thereafter be perfected into the image of God. He said the Antichrist will come in the power of the devil. (Haer. 3.8.2; 3.18.6; 3.23.1; 5.22. 2-3; 5.22.3; 5.22.1; 5.24.1; 25.1; Dem.16-17).

Clement of Alexandria calls Satan our true adversary, a thief and robber, the serpent, and ruler of death, from whom Christ set us free (Str. 1.17; 4.14; Exh. 9;11). Origen believed that Jesus was delivered as a ransom to a deceived or tricked devil, whom Jesus overcame via resurrection (Comm. in Mt. 13.8-9; 16.8; Cels. 7.17; 8:54; Hom. in Lc. 6.6). The Christian life is a daily struggle against the missiles and nets of Satan. (Cant. 3.8, 13; Princ. 3.2.5; Or. 22.4).

Origen is a crucial source because he makes a clear statement as to what the majority of the early church believed about Satan and his devils. “Regarding the devil and his angels, and the opposing forces, the teaching of the church is that these beings do indeed exist. However, the church has not explained with sufficient clarity what they are, or how they exist. Most Christians, however, hold this opinion: that the devil was an angel and that, having become an apostate, he induced many of the angels as possible to fall away with him.” (c. 225, E), 4.240.

Tertullian believed Satan deceived Eve (Cult. fem. 1), is responsible for the making of idols (Idol.3), is the originator of impatience (Pat. 5) and the instrumental agent for persecution (Fuga 2-3), and blinds the hearts of unbelievers (Marc. 5.11). The violent “shows” of the gladiatorial games were instituted for the devil’s sake (Spec. 24).

So here then is the bottom line. Core Hebraic thought has always believed in a personal Satan. It evolved significantly in the Intertestamental period from a “friendly” ontology of Satan who serves God to a “hostile” ontology of Satan who resists God, but under either view, Satan WAS an actual personage. Thus, Hebrew thought has always believed in the actuality of Satan.