Religion Wiki

In mainstream Christianity, the Devil is named Satan, sometimes Lucifer. He is a fallen angel who rebelled against God. He is often identified as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, whose persuasions led to original sin and the need for Jesus Christ's redemption. He is also identified as the Accuser of Job, the tempter of the Gospels and the dragon in the Book of Revelation.

Traditionally, Christians have understood the Devil to be the author of lies and promoter of evil; however, he can go no further than the word of God allows. Liberal Christianity however, often view the devil metaphorically - this is true of some conservative Christian groups, too, such as the Christadelphians and the Church of the Blessed Hope (see The devil as metaphor below). Much of the popular history of the Devil is not biblical; instead, it is a post-medieval Christian reading of the scriptures influenced by medieval and pre-medieval Christian popular mythology.

Characteristics of the Devil

Teachings about the Devil vary, depending on the local folklore. Still, the characteristics present in the Bible are present in most depictions.

The Devil as rebel

According to the gospels of Matthew (chapter 4) and Luke (chapter 4), the Devil tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. After Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, the Devil approached Jesus with offers of stones turned to bread, rulership over the kingdoms of the Earth (but with subservience to the Devil himself) and spectacular protection from physical harm. Satan uses the Scripture of the Old Testament to solidify his arguments. This would indicate Satan's full knowledge of all of Scripture and a use of that knowledge to tempt and deceive man (Mat 4). Jesus refused all three temptations, rebuking Satan with his own knowledge of Scripture (Mat 4).

Christianity holds several different views on Christ's role in defeating Satan. Some emphasize Christ's death and resurrection as sealing Satan's fate, so that the Devil is already defeated though not banished. Others emphasize the Devil's final judgment when Christ returns, at which time the terror and deceit of Satan will have no more effect on the world. This is because mankind will face final judgment and the earth will be purged or cleansed with fire. Satan will be bound to the lake of fire (Rev 20) with the Beast, the false prophet and all those whose names are not in the Book of Life. There will no longer be any way for Satan to have an impact on mankind. Sealed in the Lake Of Fire, he will have his own pain and misery like those who had on earth.

Possession by the Devil

The Devil, as well as his demons, are portrayed as able to possess and control humans. The Roman Catholic Church occasionally performs exorcisms, usually only after medical and psychological evaluation has taken place to ensure it is not merely a mental or physical ailment.

The Devil and black magic

Since the Middle Ages, the Devil has been described as granting spells and magic powers to sorcerers and witches. In Acts of the Apostles 16:16 Saint Paul meets 'a slave girl who had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future'. He performs an exorcism using the name of Jesus Christ.

History of the Devil in Christianity

The Devil in the Old Testament

In some Christians' views, the Devil's first appearance in the Old Testament is as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God had forbidden them to eat, thus causing their expulsion from the Garden and indirectly causing sin to enter the world. In God's rebuke to the serpent, he tells it "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:14-15)

Christian scriptures are often interpreted to identify the serpent with the Devil. The deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom says, "But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world and they who are in his possession experience it." (Wisdom 2:24) Satan is implicitly identified, in the New Testament, with the serpent in Eden, in Revelation 12:9: "This great dragon--the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world--was thrown down to the earth with all his angels." Alternative readings of these pericopes may, however, alternatively refer to the Devil instigating the murder of Abel and the ancient serpent being Leviathan.

When identified with the term, "Satan" (from Hebrew שָׂטָן, Adversary), the Devil also appears in the heavenly court to challenge Job, with God's permission. This seems to be Satan's primary role- to use whatever guiles he may to cause humans to sin and ultimately cause them to get sent to hell.

Some Christian concepts of the Devil include Lucifer, which traditionally gives a name to the Devil. The name, Lucifer, is translated from the Latin, meaning loosely, "Light Bringer" (analogous to the Greek, Phosphorus) and is also used symbolically to mean the "Morning Star", (i.e. Venus), which held some significant meanings for Babylonians as mentioned in Isaiah 14:12. Since the time of Origen, Lucifer is not used to refer exclusively to the "king of Babylon", but rather solely (or additionally) makes reference to Satan before he fell, while he was yet uncorrupted, but powerful and glorious and an angel of God.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Satan is one of humanity's three enemies, along with sin and death (in some other forms of Christianity the other two enemies of mankind are "the world",[1] and self (or the flesh), which is to be taken as man's natural tendency to sin).[2]

The Devil in the New Testament

The Devil depicted in The Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.

The Devil figures much more prominently in the New Testament and in Christian theology generally. The New Testament records numerous accounts of the Devil working against God and his plan. The Temptation of Christ features the Devil, and is described in all three synoptic gospels, (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13), although in Mark's gospel he is called Satan. In all three synoptic gospels, (Matthew 9:22-29, Mark 3:22-30, and Luke 11:14-20), Jesus' critics accuse him of gaining his power to cast out demons from Beelzebub, the chief demon (often identified with Satan in mainstream Christendom). In response, Jesus says that a house divided against itself will fall, so, logically speaking, why would the Devil allow one to defeat the Devil's works with his own power?

There are numerous incidences of demonic possession in the New Testament. Satan himself is said to have entered Judas Iscariot before Judas's betrayal. (Luke 22:3) Jesus encounters those who are possessed and casts out the evil spirit(s). A person may have one demon or multiple demons inhabiting their body. Jesus encountered a man filled with numerous demons in Mark 5:1-20. Jessie Penn-Lewis's "War On The Saints" includes dates and recorded examples of demon possession in recent history.

Middle Ages

The Devil on horseback. Nuremberg Chronicle (1493).

Particularly in the medieval period, Satan was often depicted as having horns and a goat's hindquarters. He has also been depicted as carrying a pitchfork, and with a forked tail. None of these images seem to be based on Biblical materials, as Satan's physical appearance is never described in the bible, Qur'an or any other religious text. Rather, this image is apparently based on pagan horned gods, such as Pan and Dionysus, common to many mythologies [3]. Pan in particular looks very much like the images of the medieval Satan. These images later became the basis for Baphomet, which is portrayed in Eliphas Lévi's 1854 Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (English translation Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual)[4]. Even some Satanists use Baphomet as the image of Satan in Satanic worship. It has been alleged that this image was chosen specifically to discredit the Horned God [5].

The Devil in classical literature

St. Michael the Archangel's defeat of Satan by Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione church, Rome, 1636

In John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, the theme is further developed — Satan is believed to have been an archangel who turned against God before the creation of man. Prophecies in Isaiah 14[6] and Ezekiel 28 are thought by some to be referring metaphorically to Satan, rather than to the king of Babylon.

According to most Christian eschatology, Satan will wage a final war against Jesus, before being cast into Hell for "aeonios." [7] The Unification Church, a sect that deviates from mainstream Christianity, teaches that Satan will be restored in the last days and become a good angel again [8]. A few early Church Fathers are known to have prayed for Satan's eventual repentance[5]; it was not generally believed that this would happen. On the other hand, Dispensationalists teach that Jesus returns to earth before the Tribulational period to reclaim the righteous, dead and living, to meet Him in the air (known as the Rapture [9]. Many Fundamentalists believe that immediately following this, the Tribulational period will occur as prophesied in the book of Daniel, while others (especially Seventh-day Adventists) believe that immediately following Jesus' Second Coming, Satan will be bound on this Earth for a thousand years, after which he will be “loosed for a little season” [10]—this is when the battle of Armageddon (the final confrontation between good and evil) will be waged—and Satan and his followers will be destroyed once and for all, the Earth will be cleansed of all evil and there will be “a new Heaven and a new Earth” where sin will reign no more.[11]

In the New Testament, Letter of Jude (Jude 1:9) the Archangel Michael is described arguing with the Devil over the body of Moses. This dispute is shown in the painting by Guido Reni called "St. Michael the Archangel" showing Satan being crushed underfoot.

Roman Catholic views

Luca Giordano's painting of Archangel Michael and Fallen Angels, Vienna, 1666

A number of prayers and practices against the Devil exist within the Roman Catholic tradition.[12][13] The Lord's Prayer includes a petition for being delivered from Evil, but a number of other specific prayers also exist.

The Prayer to Saint Michael specifically asks for Catholics to be "defended in the day of battle", referring to the battle in War in Heaven when Saint Michael the Archangel defeats Satan. This prayer was added to the Leonine Prayers by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 and continued in the Low Mass until the Leonine Prayers themselves were suspended.[14] The Chaplet of Saint Michael is also used as a prayer against the Devil.

Given that some of the Our Lady of Fatima messages have been linked by the Holy See to the "end times"[15], some Catholic authors have concluded that the angel referred to within the Fatima messages is St. Michael the Archangel who defeats the Devil in the War in Heaven.[16][17] Author Timothy Robertson takes the position that the Consecration of Russia was a step in the eventual defeat of Satan by the Archangel Michael.[18]

The process of exorcism is used within the Catholic Church against the Devil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing".[19]

The Catholic Church views the battle against the Devil as ongoing. During a May 24, 1987 visit to the Sanctuary of Saint Michael the Archangel, Pope John Paul II said:[20]

"The battle against the devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the archangel, is still being fought today, because the devil is still alive and active in the world. The evil that surrounds us today, the disorders that plague our society, man's inconsistency and brokenness, are not only the results of original sin, but also the result of Satan's pervasive and dark action."

Pope Paul VI expressed concern about the influence of the Devil and in 1972 stated that: "Satan's smoke has made its way into the Temple of God through some crack".[21] However, Pope John Paul II viewed the defeat of Satan as inevitable.[22]

Father Gabriele Amorth the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome warned of ignoring Satan and stated that: "Whoever denies Satan also denies sin and no longer understands the actions of Christ".[20] He also stated that Satan is active in current media such as the Harry Potter books and films.[23]

Other views


In various Gnostic sects, Satan was praised as the giver of knowledge, sometimes with references to Lucifer, “the light-bringer.”


The medieval Cathars identified the devil with the demiurge of older gnostic and Neoplatonic tradition. Earlier sects believed the Old Testament Yahweh was, in fact, the devil, based partially on ethical interpretations of the Bible and partially on the beliefs of earlier gnostic sects (such as the Valentinians) who regarded the god of the Old Testament as evil or as an imperfect Demiurge. Early Gnostics called the Demiurge Yao, the Aramaic cognate to the Tetragrammaton, YHWH (Yahweh). Moreover, modern research into Ugaritic texts revealed that the names of the Jewish god were the same as earlier gods worshipped in the same region; Yahweh is cognate to Ugaritic Yaw who was the Semitic deity of chaos, evil, and world domination.

Latter-day Saints

In Mormonism, the devil is a real being, a literal spirit son of God who once had angelic authority, but rebelled and fell prior to the creation of the Earth in a premortal life. At that time, he persuaded a third part of the spirit children of God to rebel with him. This was in opposition to the plan of salvation championed by Jehovah (Jesus Christ). Now the devil tries to persuade mankind into doing evil. Because they have no physical bodies, they can and do attempt to possess the bodies of mortal beings. His goal is to make mankind as miserable as he is. Mankind can overcome this through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the Gospel.[24]

The devil as metaphor

Some Christian groups and individuals view the devil in Christianity figuratively. They see the devil in the Bible as representing human sin and temptation, and any human system in opposition to God. The Christadelphians [25] and the Church of the Blessed Hope are groups that hold this view; John Epps and Sir Isaac Newton also held to such a belief.

As a sympathetic character

Satan, from Gustave Doré's illustrations for Paradise Lost.

The epic poem by John Milton, Paradise Lost, has a stylized depiction of the devil that influenced C. S. Lewis (The Screwtape Letters and Space Trilogy), and the J. R. R. Tolkien characters Morgoth and Sauron. Satan acts much like a protagonist of the first half of the story, styling himself as an ambitious underdog rebelling against Heaven. He becomes less sympathetic in the second half as the snake that tempts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Both Faust and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus feature the demon known as Mephistopheles, (also spelled Mephistophilius), whom Faust summons in order to sell his soul for a limited number of years of pleasure. Mephistopheles often shows regret and remorse for rebelling against God. In one famous scene from Faustus, Mephistopheles tells Faust that he cannot leave Hell. When Faust tells him that he seems to be free of Hell at that moment, the devil responds with "Why this is hell, nor am I out of it./ Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/ Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/ In being deprived of everlasting bliss?" Rather than glorifying the Devil, he is shown as a sad figure.

Names of the Devil in Christianity

Old and New Testament names

Originally, only the epithet of "the satan" ("the adversary") was used to denote the character in the Hebrew deity's court that later became known as "the Devil." (The term "satan" was also used to designate human enemies of the Hebrews that Yahweh raised against them.) The article was lost and this title became a proper name: Satan. There is no unambiguous reference to the Devil in the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings.

Zechariah 3:1 has been erroneously interpreted by some to mean Satan, "the Devil", but such is not the case. The Hebrew Bible views ha-satan as an angel ministering to the desires of God, acting as Chief Prosecutor.

  • The Wicked One: Matthew 13:19--"Then cometh the wicked one." Matthew 6:13, 1 John 5:19. This title suggests that Satan is one who is wicked himself. Abrahamic religions generally regarded sin as a physical manifestation of opposition to God, and therefore evil; dissent only comes from the topic of 'where does sin come from?'
  • In John 12:31 and John 14:30 Satan is called Prince of this World (Rex Mundi); this became a nickname for him.
  • 1 Peter 5:8--"Your Adversary the devil." By adversary is meant one who takes a stand against another. In the Christian worldview, Satan is the adversary of both God and the believers.
  • The Devil, diabolos: This name is ascribed to Satan at least 33 times in the Christian scriptures and indicates that Satan is an accuser or slanderer (Revelation 12:9).

There are some who erroneously claim that the word 'devil' is from 'd'evil' -'of evil.' Some also believe that because the word 'evil' itself is 'live' spelt backward, the word originated through the nature of evil being "against living things," or the antithesis of life itself. Both claims are false, as the words are etymologically derived from pre-existing languages. Evil is in fact descended from the Old English yfel (Kentish evel) meaning "bad, vicious," and descended from the Proto-Germanic *ubilaz, with the Old Saxon ubil and Gothic 'ubils as cognates.[26] "Lived" is the adjective combining form of live[27] itself descended from the O.E. lifian (Anglian) or libban (W.Saxon) meaning "to be alive," both forms being from P.Gmc. stem *libæ, itself from PIE base *leip- meaning "to remain, continue", cognates of live include the Old Norse lifa, Old Frisian libba and German leben all meaning "to live".[28]

Further development

When the Bible was translated into Latin (the Vulgate), the name Lucifer appeared as a translation of "Morning Star", or the planet Venus, in Isaiah 14:12. Isaiah 14:1-23 is a passage largely concerned with the plight of Babylon, and its king is referred to as "morning star, son of the dawn". This is because the Babylonian king was considered to be of godly status and of symbolic divine parentage (Bel and Ishtar, associated with the planet Venus).

While this information is available to scholars today via translated Babylonian cuneiform text taken from clay tablets, it was not as readily available at the time of the Latin translation of the Bible. Thus, early Christian tradition interpreted the passage as a reference to the moment Satan was thrown from Heaven. Lucifer became another name for Satan and has remained so due to Christian dogma and popular tradition.

The Hebrew Bible word which was later translated to "Lucifer" in English is הילל (transliterated HYLL). Though this word, Heilel, has come to be translated as "morning-star" from the Septuagint's translation of the Scriptures, the letter ה in Hebrew often indicates singularity, much as the English "the," in which case the translation would be ה "the" ילל "yell," or "the wailing yell."

Later, for unknown reasons, Christian demonologists appeared to designate "Satan", "Lucifer", and "Beelzebub" as different entities, each with a different rank in the hellish hierarchy. One hypothesis is that this might have been an attempt to establish a hellish trinity with the same person, akin to the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, but most demonologists do not carry this view.

In Christian tradition

Christian tradition differs from that of Christian demonology in that Satan, Lucifer, Leviathan and Beelzebub all are names that refer to "the Devil", and Prince of this World, The Beast and Dragon (and rarely Serpent or The Old Serpent) use to be elliptic forms to refer to him. The Enemy, The Evil One and The Tempter are other elliptic forms to name the Devil. Belial is held by many to be another name for the Devil. Christian demonology, in contrast, does not have several nicknames for Satan.

It should be noted that the name Mephistopheles is used by some people to refer to the Devil, but it is a mere folkloric custom, and has nothing to do with Christian demonology and Christian tradition. Prince of Darkness and Lord of Darkness are also folkloric names, although they tend to be incorporated to Christian tradition.

In English, the Devil has a number of epithets, including Old Scratch, Old Nick and others.


Is the Devil in Hell?

The belief that Satan is in Hell has its roots in Christian literature rather than in the Bible.[29] The Bible states that he still roams heaven and earth.[30] It also states that Satan appeared with other angels "before the Lord," presumably in heaven. When God asked Satan where he had been, Satan replied, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it". 1 Peter 5:8 declares, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour". As is demonstrated by Dante, Milton, and many writings that follow, the devil is commonly thought to be in hell.

Could an angel sin and rebel?

Some theologians believe that angels cannot sin because sin brings death and angels cannot die,[31] or because they are spiritual beings that are completely aware of God's will.[32]

Supporting the idea that an angel may sin, Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, wrote:

"An angel or any other rational creature considered in his own nature, can sin; and to whatever creature it belongs not to sin, such creature has it as a gift of grace, and not from the condition of nature. The reason of this is, because sinning is nothing else than a deviation from that rectitude which an act ought to have; whether we speak of sin in nature, art, or morals. That act alone, the rule of which is the very virtue of the agent, can never fall short of rectitude. Were the craftsman's hand the rule itself engraving, he could not engrave the wood otherwise than rightly; but if the rightness of engraving be judged by another rule, then the engraving may be right or faulty."

In fiction and popular culture


  1. Jam 4:4
  2. Rom 6:6
  3. Powell, Barry B. Classical Myth. Second ed. With new translations of ancient texts by Herbert M. Howe. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998.
  4. Eliphas Lévi: The Man Behind Baphomet
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kelly, Henry A. Satan: A Biography. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  6. For example, see Jerome, "To Eustochium", Letter 22.4, To Eustochium
  7. Aeonios, literally translated, means of or pertaining to an age, which is incorrectly translated as "all eternity."
  8. see Lucifer, A Criminal Against Humanity
  9. see 1 Thess 4:17
  10. a short time, see Rev 20:1-3
  11. Rev 21:1-4
  12. Gordon Geddes 2002, Christian Belief and Practice - The Roman Catholic Tradition Heinemann Publishers ISBN 043530691X page 57
  13. Burns and Oats, 2000, Catechism of the Catholic Church ISBN 9780860123279 page 607
  14. EWTN Prayer to St Michael [1]
  15. Cardinal Ratzinger's Interview on Fatima
  16. Thomas W. Petrisk, 1998, The Fatima Prophecies, St. Andrews Press, ISBN 9781891903304 page 4
  17. Thomas Petrisko 2001 Fatima's Third Secret Explained St. Andrews Press, ISBN 9781891903267 page 79
  18. Timothy Robertson Fatima, Russia and Pope John Paul II ISBN page 118
  19. Vatican Catechism
  20. 20.0 20.1 Ignatius Insight
  21. Michael Cuneo, 1999 The Smoke of Satan ISBN 0801862655
  22. Vatican website: Christ's Victory Conquers Evil
  23. Catholic News
  24. LDS Bible Dictionary - Devil
  25. 'Do you believe in a devil?' (CMPA)
  29. Hell and the Devil: In the Bible, the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls
  30. Job 1:6-7