Satan in Christian and Jewish faith


Focusing on a number of theological issues that separate Christianity from Judaism, one of them is not a major one, but an interesting one. It is the concept of satan. We hear G-d mentioned many, many times through the Jewish Bible but not so much satan. If you have read the Bible from cover to cover, how many times do you find the word “satan” mentioned in Tanach, the Jewish Bible?

Satan or devil shows up around 50 times in the Jewish Bible. The Christian New Testament around 200 times, depending what translation you are looking at. The Jewish Bible is about three times bigger than the Christian New Testament. We have a big Jewish Bible and a small Christian Bible, but we see how the concept of “satan” has gained a great importance in the Christian Bible.


Satan 27 times in NASB
Devil 20 times in NASB
Lucifer 1 time

• שָׂטַן, satan, (Strong’s # 7853), 6 times
Occurrs as a denominative verb form, meaning “to act as adversary” it refers to people who are acting as an adversary, not satan personified
• שָׂטָן, satan, (Strong’s #7854), 27 times
masculine noun, used as satan personified, adversary
• גָּעַר, gaar, to rebuke, (Strong’s #1605), 14 times. As a word for someone who is rebuking another person, not satan

Satan 108 times in NASB translation
Devil 82 times in NASB
Lucifer – time

• ἀντίδικος, antidikos, opponenet, adversary (Strong’s #476), 5 times
• Βεελζεβούλ, beelzeboul (Strong’s #954), 7 times
• Βελίαρ, beliar (Strong’s #955), 1 time
• διάβολος, diabolos (Strong’s #1228), 38 times
• κοσμοκράτωρ, kosmokrator, ruler of this world (Strong’s #2888), 1 time
• Σατᾶν, satan (Strong’s #4566), 2 times

In addition to the words and expressions that are sometimes attributed to satan as a person, we can conclude that words translated as “devil” or “satan” also can refer to people with adversary characters. While the word not explicitly is written as “satan,” many Christian Bibles translate it as “Satan” with capitalized letter, to emphasize his personal treats and proclaimed world power that is also given to this “satan” by Christian Theology.

So we see in the Jewish Scriptures that it is not the biggerst topic in a discussion. It comes up once in a while. In Christian circles, satan and devil is every other word, satan is prevalent all over the Bible! So we see just in terms of real life practice, a tremendous difference between Christianity and Judaism in terms of how they focus on satan. It is a central figure. In the Hebrew Bible, it is mentioned a hand full times, while in the Christian Bible, it is all over the place, hundreds of times! That’s one difference in terms of focus and emphasize. We will see later on in my text, that the devil can be something good and useful for us.

What is the concept of satan and is there a Jewish concept?

To know more, we have to go to the very first time it is mentioned in the Bible. First time we find the word is in Numbers 22:22, easy to remember!

22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the LORD placed himself in the way for an adversary against him.–Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.
(Numbers 22:22-23 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

This is a story of Bileam, a Moabite, non-Jewish prophet who was hired to curse the Jewish people. G-d did not want him to do this, but Bileam is on his way on his donkey to curse the Jews. It says in this story, that G-d sent an angel with a sword to block the path of the donkey and Bileam. The donkey was more receptive than Bileam because the donkey froze on his tracks when he saw this dangerous angel and Bileam started to beat the donkey to move on. This is one of the funniest scenes in the Bible, the donkey turns around and says to Bileam: “Why are you hitting me for?”

The angel of G-d stood on the road “to be a satan to him.” The way it normally translates is “to be an obstacle to him”, “to be a roadblock or an adversary, to oppose him.” The word satan in Hebrew is here not a proper name, and it means in the context of the story that the angel came to be a satan to Bileam, the angel came to block him. This word comes up many times in the Hebrew Bible. Not as a proper name, but the word comes up in the context of an adversary or obstacle.

25 And he was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon, beside the mischief that Hadad did; and he abhorred Israel, and reigned over Aram.
(1 Kings 11:25 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

23 And David said: What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel?
(2 Samuel 19:22[23] Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

Usually when the word appears in the Jewish Bible, it refers to something or someone that is an obstacle or a roadblock. However, the word is used in several occasions as a proper name. The most famous one is in the book of Job.

6 Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
12 And the LORD said unto Satan: ‘Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand.’ So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

(Job 1:6, 12 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

Satan is here refering to as a being. The angel comes to test Job, his power was given by G-d. Satan is not an independent being in competition with G-d, but one of G-d’s angels. He has a task and G-d limits the power of the angel. That is the difference in our viewpoints.

Similar we see in Zechariah chapter 3

1 And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
2 And the LORD said unto Satan: ‘The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan, yea, the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this man a brand plucked out of the fire?’
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spoke unto those that stood before him, saying: ‘Take the filthy garments from off him.’ And unto him he said: ‘Behold, I cause thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with robes.’
(Zechariah 3:1-4 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

Satan is rebuked by G-d. It is interesting that those two stories consist of parabels and visions, not real life stories.

1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.
2 And David said to Joab and to the princes of the people: ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring me word, that I may know the sum of them.’

(1 Chronicles 21:1-2 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

Satan stood against Israel to count the people off. There is a concept in the Bible where
G-d does not really appreciate when the Jewish people are counted. In the five books of Moses, whenever the Jewish people were counted, they had to bring special sacrifices to atone for that, but it says here that satan incited David to count the people of Israel.

1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them, saying: ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’
(2 Samuel 24:1 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

It says again that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and He incited David against them saying “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.”

We have here two contradictionary passages; one says that G-d incited David to count the Jewish people, and one passage says that satan incited David to count the people. How can we reconcile these two verses? If we understand that satan is just an agent, a messenger of G-d, then G-d incites David through the agency of satan.

7 I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that doeth all these things.
(Isaiah 45:7 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

In the Hebrew Bible G-d is responsible for everything! Everything is under the jurisdiction of G-d. Evil angels and good angels, satan, devils and everything in the world that can be described as “evil” is created by G-d and is under the power of G-d. Ultimately, it comes from G-d!

We do not believe that evil things come by themselves or from evil powers that run around the world, fighting against G-d. Everything comes from G-d! In the Jewish Bible, satan is a messenger of G-d. Rabbinic litterature says that satan is the greatest blessing G-d created for us. Where do we see this?

4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

(Genesis 1:4,12 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

31 And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:31 Hebrew/English Bible, JPS 1917)

Each day of the creation, G-d saw that everything he created was GOOD! Talmud says that the term “very good” implies to the evil inclinations, the inclinations is satan according to Talmud. Without this evil inclination, a person would not get married and have children, he would not get a job, would not do anything. What it is saying is that the satan, the evil inclination, is NOT evil, it is our ego. In Jewish terms, that is a very vital force! If we did not have this passion inside of us, we would not accomplish anything in life. The Torah slant on satan, since G-d created everything in the world; all the angels, even satan, G-d says that everything He created was GOOD! Then He says it was VERY GOOD!

Talmud’s sayings that it was “very good” implies to the negative forces in the world. Why is that good? One reason is that these negative forces become part of the vital energy that we have as human beings. That vital energy drives us to work like our sexual impulse! Very strong! Another meaning of the word satan is “to be an adversary”, a roadblock or an obstacle. The way the word is usually used in the Bible, is that devil is not a creature with a tail, pitchfork and horns! That is NOT the Jewish concept of satan. It is not so much a person, but an experience. An experience can be one where G-d has put a roadblock in front of us. Anytime in life where there is something which attempts us to do the wrong thing, that is concidered a “satanic experience,” that is “satan.”

Why is that a good thing?

Why are these road blocks and adversaries good?
If we would go through life where there were no “satanic force,” there would be no potential virtue in the world. It says in the Bible not to commit adultery. If there was no sexual impulse, no sexual attraction, if every opposite sex person looked to us like a sack of potatoes, we wouldn’t be virtue as not having adultery. Adultery is only a virtue thing to overcome when it is tempting.

When the Bible says, “do not eat chees burgers”, for example, it might be a virtue for someone to overcome their temptations to have a “BigMac.” Or if the Bible had said “Thou shalt not eat radioactive waste!” People do not become righteous by avoiding radioactive waste, no one is tempted to eat radioactive waste! Clear? So, we are put in a world where we have a lot of friction. The satanic force is a friction!

One image we can use is a world where you are just walking on a nice, smooth oily surface, where you walk and do not get anywhere. There is NO resistance to overcome, no friction. The friction of the world allows us to grow and develope. One of two things can happen when you come up against an obstacle, an adversary, a road block; eighter you crash into it and fall down, thats a negative experience, that is the evil inclination. Or, you have to climb over! By climbing over obstacles in life, you are able to develope your spiritual muscles. If you did not get a chance to grow and climb over things, you will suffer from atrophy.

These experiences, these forces in the world, we concider them very positive for us, because without these experiences and temptations and road blocks, we would be like amoebae, like jelly fish, we would be nothing!

What happened to Job in the Bible, was that satan said to G-d that “it is no big deal for Job to be righteous. You have to give him some more obstacles and road blocks.” A satanic experience is when G-d tests us with these obstacles to overcome. Hopefully, we become bigger people by climbing over them. We become bigger by navigating these obstacles and road blocks.

In the few times the Bible talks about satan in the context of a road block, an adversary and a personified force, he is simply an agent of G-d, an angel that G-d keeps on a very short leash. He is under the control of G-d and he is there to tempt us and to provide an obstacle for us in life, not to kill us!


And even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NASB)

New Testament says that one of the reasons that the Jews do not believe in Jesus, is that they were blinded by satan. New Testament terms “the god of this world” that blinds the minds of them who does not believe: satan!
New Testament is calling satan “the god of this world.” Paul, who wrote the letter to Corinth, sees this world as a battle ground in which satan and his hosts, contend with G-d and his forces for the lives of men. This is an opposite concept as we have in the Jewish Bible.

In the Jewish Bible, everyone is under the control of G-d and satan is one member in G-d’s army. In the Christian sence, there is a battle in the world between two armies or forces; that is G-d and satan! According to the New Testament, this force called “satan” is not under the control of G-d, it is a competing force against G-d, so powerful that it says in 1 Cor. 4:4 that he is called “god of this world/age.” It is the same idea that satan is called “god of this world” as we see in John 12:14 and chapter 16, where satan is called “the prince of the world.” That is how powerful satan is according to Christianity.


The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
(1 John 3:8 NASB)

It says here that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Before Jesus came, there was no way of dealing with the devil. It was a force in the world that could not be dealt with. The entire purpose of Jesus’ coming was to smash satan. One of the problems with Christianity is that Jesus did not come with visible changes in the world that showed that Jesus had accomplished what he was supposed to do when he was here (that is, fulfilling around 300 prophecies.) What happened with the Christian theology is that Jesus will not do anything against satan until the very end. It is important to realize what 1 John 3 says that satan was here to oppose G-d from the beginning. And then Jesus finally was able to defeat satan. There was no way to do anything to satan until Jesus came!

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 NASB)

It does not speak about satan and the devil in terms of being under the oak of G-d, but as an independent force ruling the world.

and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:26 NASB)

“…by him to do his will.”
Here we see that satan has his own will, he is not subservient to G-d in any passages in the New Testament.

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(John 8:44 NASB)

This is one of the most antisemitic verses in the New Testament!
Satan is here his own contractor!

rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.
(Acts 26:17, 18 NASB)

There is nothing about G-d controlling satan. Here is the power of satan against G-d and that is the purpose of the Christian Gospel! It is to get people away from satan to G-d. In Judaism, satan is on G-d’s team, but in the New Testament, satan is a manager of an opposing team!


The intention of my texts is not to present easy answers about the sufferings we often meet in our lives, but rather ask more questions. Asking questions is a way to make way for a change. Let me just add one brief comment, and a further development of my ideas. Firstly, I fully believe in the idea of an adversary from G-d, and I do not believe in satan in persona, but then the question arises unsought, and this is important. Do all evil, temptations and adversities we meet in life have a divine origin or is it the devil? Could it be because there is a concept of “Original sin”/“born in sin?” Is the Christian notion of an inherited sin a sustainable argument? I do not think so!

I am convinced that the evil that we see does not have a divine origin! It is not from the devil or satan either, because if we meet obstacles in life that make us grow and develop as humans and spiritual beings, that is DIVINE in nature, but if it, on the other hand, leads to destruction or destructive acts to fellow human beings, then it is people’s own evil inclination that is the cause! That is what we see today. Therefore it is a bad excuse to blame gay bashing, bullying and other violence on the devil or satan, when the true origin is humans themselves! Imagine the following:

What do I say to someone who have suffered a hellish agony for a wrong doing, what do I say to the victims of violence, what do I say to the mother of a child who committed suicide because of bullying? What about people with a “same sex attraction” who feel non-accepted and ostracized from the community? My conclusion is that not much of evil that we encounter in life comes from G-d as a punishment, nor does it comes from satan, but a lot of garbage originate from people who in their blind zeal chose to follow their own interpretations of moral laws and rules in an attempt of controling people, often supported from a heavily revised and destorted Bible, without any thought that it could seriously harm fellow human beings! That is satanic! So, if I do believe in a personified satan or devil, its origin is very much human! We are inclined to do evil things but we are all sacred, inviolable individuals, we have all the same rights and freedoms, we are born free, more or less gifted with the ability to do what is right, to ourselves and others. With empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, we are able to grow and develop so that the name of G-d may be raised, there is no other way to achieve this.

© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
אתר הבית של יונתן
Twitter @tzedaqyal


About Meadow of Tzedaqyal

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955)
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