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The word 'satan' is being used and heard as if it were a name. How could it be rendered in a way not distracting from its actual meaning of opposition and enmity?

The texts where this is an issue are the following:

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Voted to close as primarily opinion-based. You can either translate literally or translate to convey dogma; "what should we do" absent more constraints is not really a good fit. –  Gone Quiet Jan 21 '14 at 13:50
This doesn't seem opinion-based to me, but it would benefit from asking about the translation in a specific passage or specifying from which language it is being translated into which (from Hebrew to Greek, Hebrew to English, Greek to English, etc.). If anything, it's unclear. Even so, it attracted a good answer (yours). –  Dan Jan 21 '14 at 17:57
I was considering deleting that answer for being subjective, actually. But then I realized the problem was actually with the question. –  Gone Quiet Jan 21 '14 at 19:40

1 Answer 1

In the Tanakh the concept of a "satan" exists, but it is not a personification of evil and there's no particular reason to believe there's even just one for all time. The word "satan" is a job description. The best way to render the Hebrew הַשָּׂטָן is probably literally: "the satan", lowercase 's', with definite article (the הַ). It would be misleading to render this "Satan", formatted as a proper name. An alternative is to translate the job description; this translation renders it as "the Adversary". (I don't know why they use a capital 'A'.)

Christian texts refer to a specific, evil being with super-human power. This being is named Satan. (Well, some Greek word that is rendered that way, I guess.) When translating texts using it as a proper name it would be misleading to render this as "the satan" because it's not referring to a role but a named individual.

The challenge, then, is how Christian editions of Tanakh (aka "old testament") should render הַשָּׂטָן. A scrupulous edition will render it as "the satan" or perhaps "the adversary", which is accurate, consistent with the original context, and non-doctrinal; Christian readers would understand it differently, but the translation shouldn't mislead. A translation that values doctrinal consistency among books would render it as "Satan" to reinforce the point; this of course obscures the original meaning. In the latter case a better edition would footnote the decision.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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