QUESTION: Who is the “Devil” of the Bible?
ANSWER: The “devil” is a New Testament term referring to the basic sinful tendency inherent in human nature, and is used to label individuals or human powers who are false accusers or slanderers. It is quite often used as a personification of sin or opposition to God as manifested in some human or power. Therefore it is incorrect to claim that “the devil” is a rebellious fallen angel who brings sin into the world, and who deceives mankind into following that way that leads to destruction.
- The word “devil” (Greek diabolos, one who throws things against) is found only in the New Testament, but is used to personify the Old Testament idea of the rebellious human heart, as the following references show.
- The human heart, ie, mind, is the source of evil thoughts (Mark 7:21; Gen 6:6; Pro 6:14; Jer 4:14; 17:9; 23:26; Psa 64:1-6). Thus Scripture points to ourselves, not a fallen angel, as being the source of all temptation.
- Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires (Jam 1:14; cp 1Jo 2:16). If that person yields to the temptation of his own passions, he sins (Jam 1:15) and is labeled “of the devil” (1Jo 3:8). On the other hand, not to yield is described as “resisting the devil” (Jam 4:1-4,7). Similarly, to withstand the wiles of the devil is to put off being corrupt as through deceitful lusts, and living in the passions of the flesh, following the desire of body and mind (Eph 2:3; 4:22,27; 6:11).
- That “the devil” means “the tendency of human nature to sin” is well illustrated in the life of Christ. Since Jesus shared our human nature, he was tempted in every respect like ourselves (Heb 2:14; 4:15). His temptation “by the devil” in the wilderness (Mat 4:1-11) is readily understood as being prompted by his own thinking and desires (e.g., hunger pangs, sensationalism, human glory: cp 1Jo 2:16). Never giving in to his own human will made Jesus sinless (Mat 26:38-42; 1Pe 2:22; Heb 4:15), and thus he overcame sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:26; 10:4-10; cp Rom 8:3). In other words, by figuratively and literally crucifying the flesh, Jesus destroyed the “devil” in himself (Heb 2:14; 1Jo 3:8; Gal 5:24; 6:14; Col 2:13-15; Joh 3:14).
- The betrayer Judas is called a devil (Joh 6:70). Being a thief greedy for money, Judas decided to sell out his Lord; this is described as: “the devil put it into his heart” (Joh 12:6; 13:2; cp Luk 22:3-5). Similar expressions are used in connection with Ananias (Act 5:3,4), Elymas (Act 13:8-10), and the murderous Pharisees (Joh 8:44). Other passages of similar character are: Jam 3:15; 1Ti 3:6,11; 2Ti 2:26; 3:3; Tit 2:3. Roman and Jewish persecuting powers are also personified as “the devil” (1Pe 5:8,9; Rev 2:9,10; 12:3,9,17; cp Mat 2:16; Act 4:26,27).
- The Bible nowhere refers to the origin of the devil, and those verses which are sometimes used to suggest that it does (like Isa 14:12 and Eze 28:13) plainly refer in picturesque language to arrogant human powers, in the first case Babylon, and the second Tyre.