Where does the Devil come from?

In reading through the Christian Bible  (the New Testament), it is easy to picture Satan as an evil being who is God’s archenemy.

Texts such as Acts 5 and 26 suggest that Satan is not only other than God, but counter to God. For example, we read in Acts 26:18, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God”. Clearly this text is suggesting a force of “darkness” that is working against the powers of “light”, but the view of a cosmic battle between good and evil was not the commonly held view in the Hebrew Scriptures, in fact the idea of a Devil is nowhere to be found in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.[1]

How did the idea of a Devil come to dominate the Christian mind?


In Chapter four of The River of God, Dr. Riley explains the evolution of Judaism from monism (a belief that the world is unified) to dualism (the belief in a comic battle between good and evil). For much of the time leading up to the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish people, along with all the surrounded ancient Near Eastern cultures, had no teaching or belief of a Devil, demons, or an eschatology including a heaven or a hell.[2] Texts such as Ps 78:69 which states that God, “founded the earth forever” and Ps 93:1 “the world is firmly established; it will not be moved” reflect the commonly held belief that the world would exist throughout eternity. In other words, they had no belief in the end of the world – what is called eschatology.

Concerning the beginning of the Hebrew dualistic view, Dr. Riley writes, “Such a cosmic dualism does not enter the River of God until the Persian invasion of Mesopotamia in the sixth century BCE. Before that time, all of the cultures of the ancient Near East lived in a world more or less at peace with itself”.[3] The conquering of Babylon by the Persian Empire brought with it Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was a dualistic way of seeing the world in which there were two cosmic powers at war with one another, each with their own following of angels or demons.[4] While people who lived in the ancient Near East had a belief that the world was created out of chaos or already existing matter, Zoroastrianism brought a new view that the creation of the cosmos was brought about by God as a “battleground” where God and the Devil would fight for the loyalty of humankind.[5]

This duality took root very slowly in Israel after the return from Exile, and the majority of Jews still believed there was a most supreme God who lorded over other lesser gods or angels.[6] As dualism increased, people began to see that evil was the result of some form of lesser beings that choose to go against the most powerful deity.[7] Evil was now understood to be  brought about by Satan and his demon followers.

One of the clearest examples of this evolution in belief is found in comparing two Hebrew texts: 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. The text from 2 Samuel, which was written before the exile, states, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them saying, ‘Go, count the people of Israel and Judah’”. I Chronicles, written after the exile states, “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel”.

So which is it?

Did God incite David or was it Satan?

This is a problem text for many who hold to an inerrant view of Scripture, but I think it clearly shows the evolution of belief among human history.

Dr. Riley shows that the idea of the Devil grows tremendously in the inter-testament period, and by first century, the idea of a Devil had fairly well solidified into the minds of many. This solidification was so dominant, as shown in Acts 5 and 26, that it’s impossible to understand the Christian Scriptures without the view of a Devil, demons, and a cosmic battle that will finally end with the destruction of the world and creation of a new one.



[1] Gregory J. Riley, The River of God (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 102.

[2] Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 100.

[7] Ibid.

10 thoughts on “Where does the Devil come from?”

  1. A couple a observations:
    Nothing happens unless Jehovah causes it or allows it to become. For example:
    Jehovah did not force the angels to come to earth and take the daughters of men for wives and getting them pregnant, but he allowed it. He also did not force a Angel to slander his (Jehovah) reputation by lying to Eve. He allowed it to happen.
    Such as in the case with Pharaoh. Jehovah allowed his heart to become harden so as to show his power to both the Egyptians and Israel.
    As in the case with 185,000 elite Assyrian soldiers that died overnight as a direct response to the Assyrians taunting Jehovah, the Israelite’s God.
    And the Sun standing still at Joshua’s command.

    A s free mortal agent, we all have choices. Often times, our decisions come into play when Jehovah allows circumstances to occur, not necessarily to test us directly. However, you will never read anything in the bible where Jehovah is causing someone that he approves to sin or do something in opposition to his will. The principle at James 1:13-15 helps us to understand that Jehovah does not try anyone with evil. So why would Jehovah cause David to do something just to administer sanctions against him? Make no sense.

    So, your understanding of the incident associated with the registration is limited if the entire Bible is not used. Simply put, your conclusions as well as the reference book cited share a narrow focus concerning the person of Jehovah God. Therefore, since the above was not considered in the development of your argument, the conclusion becomes flawed.

    1. Steven,
      When I wrote this post, I said nothing about my own thoughts or views about the Devil or Satan. I was simply conveying a view (of course there are others) of the origins of this evil entity many call Satan. In summary, I believe the idea of Satan as an evil being that fought against God was a concept that evolved – this is suggested by reading through Scripture and taking it, as you mentioned, in light of the entire biblical narrative.
      thanks for sharing your thoughts,

      1. My apologies for any misunderstanding.

        To your point, you are correct concerning the end game. There are rebellious Angels in opposition to their God and Creator. And yes, the engagement has escalated since Adam and so has the knowledge and understanding of the issue between them.

        The issue started in the spirit realm and spilled over to the earthly realm. It is not possible for mankind to fully comprehend the spiritual aspect which is why Jehovah has reveal thing at their proper time to mankind who is being used as pawns by the demons. Hence, the reason for the many prophecies in the hebrew scriptures; Each design to bring mankind closer to the truth.

        By the time Jesus comes from heaven, more is known and revealed than what was known during Moses time. Even though Moses wrote what was dictated to him about Genesis, he did not understand it fully nor did the people he wrote about in Genesis. In other words, it would have been like trying to explain airplanes and automobiles without having the fundamental concepts and foundations to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. Additionally, among other reasons, Jesus was sent to break up the works of the Devil who had up until that time concealed himself pretty good. The Jews referred to a Chief Demon as being Beelzebub but it was Jesus who really opened the Jews eyes to the Devil/Satan. This is the reason, as you stated, why there is not much spoken about Satan in the Hebrew Scriptures.

        By the time Jesus leaves the Earth, he has done much to educate a small group responsible for teaching and preaching the full truth. An example of there expanded understanding can be found at Jude 9. Since Jude (Jesus half brother) became a believer after Jesus left the earth, his knowledge of Jesus/Michael disputing over Moses’s body had to had been told to him by someone taught by Jesus. No place else is this inside information written in the Bible.

        So, in summary, your point is correct but not based on someones book. You do not need someone’s book to point out the obvious. Beside, what that person you were referrecncing is writing about has nothing to do with the bible truth. You do not need worldly wisdom to explain spiritual issue. The Bible is just find.

        1. Stephen,

          You wrote quite a lot, but I would like to note one small thing and respond to one other. First, you seem sure of your view of Satan and the “fallen angels”. I just want to point out that this is one view, among others, who take the Bible seriously. In other words, while you may find your view to align with Scripture, there are others that do not – this helps us keep an open mind and heart to the wide stream of Christianity.

          Second, your last paragraph is very problematic for me. In essence you are suggesting that we do not need two thousand years of biblical scholarship, science, archeology because the Bible is fine.

          If I read the Bible apart from scholarship, science, archeology, I can grasp the overall message. In other words, I don’t think everything else is necessary, but it sure does make it relevant and it has enhanced it a lot. Why would I not seek out people who have spent their lives understanding the Hebrew context, the ancient cosmologies, and the other ancient Near Eastern influences? In doing so, it brings the Bible to life in ways that it would not otherwise. I think God wants us to engage our minds as people of faith.

          In summary, one can read the Bible and if that’s all they have available, they can come to some great conclusion, but it will be limited because we are all limited by our own understandings, perspectives, biases and worldviews. When we engage with others (and the great tradition), we come face to face with these biases and our limited understandings and are invited to see things from another’s perspective. The more we engage with others (particular those who see differently than we do), the more our biases and perspectives are revealed, and the better we can understand the Bible in the 21st century. What a privilege it is to live in such a time!

  2. As to the devil being mentioned in the hebrew scriptures, keep in the mind that this is a descriptive name to denote what he did in the garden that was so egregious. The full identity of the Angel as being a devil and satan, the original serpent, was not know until Jesus exposed him. Devil means slanderer which is what that Angel became when the first lie was told about Jehovah back in the garden. San is a descriptive term as well which mean resister. that same Angel became such when he rebelled against Jehovah’s sovereignty. So, while we may refer to him a Satan, we really do not know that Angel’s real name. That is why Revelation 7:9 refers to this Angel as “the one called Devil and Satan”. Both words are descriptions of the Angels character.

    1. Steven,
      Here you assume that “Satan” was in the garden, which is never explicitly stated. Some have assumed the snake to mean Satan. Since I do not read this story literally it is open to different ways of interpreting and understanding. Some believe Satan to be a literally fallen angel, some do not believe in Satan at all (people just made this up), and some believe Satan to be evil anthropomorphized.
      Thanks for sharing your views!

    1. So, for sake of time let me suggest that we could go rounds back and forth but what is different is the distinct lenses we use to read and interpret the Bible. In Revelation, (I’m assuming your referring to chapters 12 & 20?) some would interpret this literally while others would not. I do not interpret the Genesis story literally, neither do I read the snake as “Satan”, though that is a way to interpret these texts. I do not read the Bible as an inerrant rule book, nor as a science text book, but as a story written by humans that reflect God’s story. Thus, I do not see everything they say as fact, nor do I take their views of the world (e.g. three tier universe) as binding. They simply spoke about God, evil, Satan, the cosmos, from their vantage point.

      Some would interpret Revelation chapter 12 to be referring to Satan. Some would also interpret Chapter 20 literally, in that Satan as a fallen angel, will be literally bound for 1,000 years and then released to once again wreak havoc. I do not interpret these texts literally. It is apocalyptic literature, very complex and full of imagery which I think should not be taken literally. However, that’s my view and there are others.

  3. Okay.

    In the end, most of mankind is going to be wrong. Eph. 4:4-6 speak of one way to worship Jehovah, although there are millions of gods and hundreds of religions. So, like you stated, there are many views on many things including the bible of which make that fact clear within its own pages.

    In the end, there is only be one view. Jehovah has made it plain and clear. If you are comfortable with seeing things through your impartfect lens, great!!! However, based on our brief conversation, I can tell you I have already walked in your shoe on this subject. Your understanding use to be mine.

    This does not make me better than you, just better informed. I am interested in helping people gain life eternal here on earth. You have my email. if you are interested in expanding your knowledge and appreciation, reach out. It is not about ego. It’s about life.

    1. hmm…I am not comfortable seeing things the way I do which is why I think it is so important to learn from others (such as the post). In the end, we are all looking through imperfect lenses (both you and I and the entire world). I think we are all just trying to better understand the divine or sacred and if we are honest we should be up front in that none of us can fully comprehend the divine (I posted a little about this before).

      I see God as benevolent and my trust is in this. I think love will win and the good news is that God loves everyone. While I know I do not see things perfectly clear, I am open to learning more from others – that is why I am in seminary 🙂
      Thanks for sharing and engaging in conversation,

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