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.
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. 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”. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
 Gregory J. Riley, The River of God (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 102.
 Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 95.
 Ibid., 100.