I was wondering if anyone knew of any published works (books or papers) that study the development of the hebrew word satan and particularly how it came to be associated in some places with the New Testament figure of "the Devil".

Here are the key things I'm interested in:

  1. When (if at all) did the Hebrews begin to develop an understanding of Satan as "the Devil"?
  2. I have heard it argued that the Old Testament has no concept of "the Devil" - yet Job 1 and 1 Chronicles 21 make reference to capital "S" Satan. Whilst elsewhere it is comfortably translated "adversary". See note 1. Has anyone surveyed the use of the word in the Old Testament and beyond?
  3. Can we know if the original reader of say 1st Chronicles have read it as satan or Satan?
  4. Even coming into the New Testament, I feel like the typical Evangelical Christian perspective (of which I am a part) takes for granted a lot of the things that are believed about the figure of "the Devil". Has anyone (preferably from a Christian perspective) written critically about the development of Satan as a spiritual figure in the Bible and later history?

Note 1: John Sailhamer argues of 1 Chronicles 21 that the lack of the definite article in the word satan should render it as adversary. whilst Tremper Longman III argues in his commentary on Job that the inclusion of the article (hasatan) indicates that in Job it should be translated as adversary. I would like to know if someone has actually studied the use and development of the word in the Old Testament.

  • Many of these things may be found on this site. For example, this question has pretty good discussion and citations for items 1 and 2. Similarly, this question and this question discuss items 3 and 4. @Davïd suggests reviewing Satan by Jeffrey Burton Russel as Susan Mentioned. I know that much modern theology about satan is influenced by paradise lost and Dante's Inferno. Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 4:51
  • You may also find this podcast by Drs. Craig Anderson and Matthew Hauge interesting. Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 4:51
  • @JamesShewey Thanks for those links. The 1st and 3rd link is probably the closest to what I'm after - but alas the author does not show his working for his conclusion on 1 Chronicles. He says that the lack of the article is almost certainly referring to a proper name, but some respectable commentators disagree. Mark Edwards in the first link at least shows his working, but is still sans scholarly reference. I will check out the work of Russel, but whilst I'm sure the historical perspective will be good I suspect I will be let down on the linguistic/theological side.
    – L0ckz0r
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 5:57
  • 1
    I won't try to use comments to answer this question, but do point out that when Job and Chronicles were written, there was no concept of initial capitals in any language. Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 7:43
  • 1
    @DickHarfield yes, in English transliteration it's simply a way to distinguish between the Hebrew noun satan glossed as adversary and the spiritual figure of Satan. I think the translators would have understood this, but at points they made an interpretive decision to translate the Hebrew word as the spiritual figure.
    – L0ckz0r
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 8:00

2 Answers 2


I imagine that there would be several books concerned with "demonology" but most would exclude any notion of "progression" because of a presumption of scriptural infallibility. One book I have read that ponders progression is this one, which you can read online here:


  • Progressive revelation is actually a very common belief among infallibilists.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 5:18
  • "Progression" in "development" is a different notion from "progressive revelation".
    – user10231
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 11:39

I question all the Christian theology, as a quick-and-dirty-hoping-no-one-notices type of efforts to quickly validate their theology concerning [satan/שטן], that circumvents any proper linguistic analysis.

I object to the frequent misconception that [שטן/satan] directly means "adversary". "Adversary" is merely an implied idiomatic placeholder word.

As demonstrated by Numbers 22:22, where an errand-executioner/mlakh of Hashem stood to [hinder/satan/שטן] Balaam.

But many commentaries acrobatically stretch the language construct to say

"angel" of the LORD stood as "adversary" against Balaam.

simply to crowd-source the word as "adversary" to coagulate it into one single referentiable meme. Memes are convenient, low maintenance, imprecise, placeholders. Another meme for [satan/שטן] is "prosecutor".

Incidentally, "angel" is another crowd-sourced meme for [מלאך/MLAKh], because Genesis 2, G'd Himself is a [מלאך/MLAKh] - where G'd rests from His [מלאכת/MLAKheT] which is a gerundish of [מלאך/MLAKh] (as engineer to engine). Or when Jonah was asked by his shipmates "What is your commission [מלאכת/MLAKheT]?". Or when Jacob sent his errand-runners [מלאכים/MLAKhIM] to his brother.

Therefore, we cannot trust crowdsourced theological memes as accurate. They are for the consumption of people who interested in only a quick-and-dirty comprehension of the Bible.

We do not even have to depend on any expert opinion, to see that Numbers 22:22 is the watershed that provides the fundamental meaning of [satan/שטן] - where a godly errand-runner becomes a [satan/שטן].

Numbers 22:22 is the overwhelming question where christian/islam theology has to answer to - why is [satan/שטן] a godly person in this verse???

That is because [satan/שטן] is merely a simple verb that means [hinder/impede] or its verbal-noun [hindrance].

It is quite well-known that [satan/שטן] in the whole book of Job is actually [ha-satan/השטן].

It is not possible or correct to directly map the Hebrew definite article to the English definite article [the]. Being demonstrated by words/phrases such as

  • [ha-yom/היום] = this-day (among other days) = today.
  • [ha-zman ha-zeh/הזמן הזה] = this particular moment (among a continuum of moments)
  • [ha-melekh/המלך] = the-this king (among other kings).

Therefore, the [satan/שטן] in Job is not a personal name, but an instance of a particular person being a hindrance/impediment. The [satan/שטן] in Job is a role assigned to unspecified person. And there is no assurance the same person is being assigned that role throughout the book of Job.

As far as 1Chron 21 is concerned, the Hebrew may be read this way

  • ויעמד שטן
    • and so stood a hindrance
  • על ישראל
    • upon Israel
  • יוסת את
    • being resistant toward
  • דויד למנות את ישראל
    • David's classification of Israel

[מנה] is not merely "counting", but a census to categorize - as used in Genesis "each to its kind".

Where the parallel passage is 2 Samuel 24:

  • ויספ אף יי לחרות בישראל
    • then increase anger of Hashem in heat with/in Israel
  • ויסת את דוד בהם
    • and resistant/apprehended towards David with/in them
  • לאמר
    • saying
  • לך מנה את ישראל ואת יהודה
    • !go! conduct-census of Israel and Judah

This verse simply says

The anger of Hashem then increased upon Israel in apprehension against David for them saying "Go on, go on and conduct a census/categorization of Israel and Judah" and let's see what the consequences are.

When the heroic general Yoav recognized David's delusion and folly and tries to dissuade him from falling into that trap.

1Chron 21:17 clearly clarifies - that G'd was not "inciting" but "apprehended" towards David's census, when David admits it was he himself who initiated the evil act.

  • Yoav is the hero who dared to stand in defiance against David in order to defend the integrity of Israel. Yoav understood G'd more than David did. Good people get punished - when the evil conspiracy between then-dying David and his heir Solomon to terminate Yoav was executed. In 1 Samuel 8, the agreement and disappointment between Hashem and Shmuel is already expressed, and truly Solomon and David themselves instigated the decline by the very fact that Israel had deviated from the representative democracy advocated by Yithro, Moses' FIL.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 11:51
  • Thank you for bringing some linguistic perspective. See I actually agree with most of your conclusions about the passages. The difficulty I have is I can't find anyone whose married all the little ideas together. Because Tremper Longman III (whom I respect) arrives at the same conclusion for Job, and John Sailhamer (whom I also respect) arrives at a similar conclusion for Chronicles. But no one seems to have married these ideas across all the uses of satan. 1/2
    – L0ckz0r
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 13:56
  • Because my suspicion is that New Testament ideas about Satan and the Devil have been anachronistically read into Old Testament passages, which makes me wonder if ideas of Satan that developed after the first centuries have also been read back into the New Testament. So I wondered if anyone has actually done the work to take the historical development of the idea of the Devil and combine that with a critical linguistic study of the words in question. But whilst it seems like lots of people have done small sections of the puzzle, no one has quite put it together yet. 2/2
    – L0ckz0r
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 13:56
  • This may be useful, but it doesn't technically answer the question...
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 13:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.