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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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DEVIL . The word came into English from Greek either directly or through its Latin transliteration. Used with the definite article, its original meaning was that of the accuser or traducer of men (see Satan), whence it soon came to denote the supreme spirit of evil, the personal tempter of man and enemy of God. With the indefinite article it stands for a malignant being of superhuman nature and powers, and represents the conception expressed by the Greeks in the original of our term ‘ demon .’ At first the idea of malignancy was not necessarily associated with these beings, some being regarded as harmless and others as wielding even benign influence; but gradually they were considered as operating exclusively in the sphere of mischief, and as needing to be guarded against by magic rites or religious observances.

1. Earlier conceptions . Jewish demonology must be traced back to primitive and pre-Mosaic times, when both a form of animism was present in a belief in the ill-disposed activity of the spirits of the dead, and a variety of places and objects were supposed to be rendered sacred by the occupation, permanent or temporary, of some superhuman power. Of these views only traces are to be found in the earliest parts of Scripture, and the riper development of later ages may fairly be ascribed to foreign, and especially Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] and Greek, influences. That certain animals were believed to be endowed with demonic power appears from Genesis 3:1-15 , though here the serpent itself is represented as demonic, and not yet as possessed by an evil spirit ( Wis 2:24 , Romans 16:20 ). So with the ‘he-goats’ or satyrs ( Lev 17:7 , 2 Chronicles 11:15 , Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14 ), which were evidently regarded as a kind of demon, though without the rich accompaniments of the Greek conception. Their home was the open field or wilderness, where Azazel was supposed to dwell ( Leviticus 16:8 f.), and whither one of the birds used in cleansing cases of leprosy was let go to carry back the disease ( Leviticus 14:7; Leviticus 14:53 ). On the contrary, the roes and the hinds of the field ( Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5 ) seem to have been thought of as faun-like spirits, for whose aid a lover might hopefully plead. Under Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] influence the spirit was conceived as abstracted from any visible form, and as still capable of inflicting injury; hence the need of protection against ‘the destroyer’ of Exodus 12:23 . In Greek thought there took place a development partly parallel. The word used by Hesiod for the blessed soul of a hero becomes with Plato an abstract influence sometimes beneficent and helpful, but emerges in the orators and tragedians as descriptive of baleful genii, who bring misfortune and even revel in cruelty.

2. Later Judaism . Under these various influences the demonology of later Judaism became somewhat elaborate. The conception of demon or devil was used to embrace three species of existences. (1) It included the national deities, conceived as fallen, but not always as stripped of all power ( Exodus 12:12 , Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 24:21; cf. Isaiah 14:12 ). (2) It covered such of the angels as were thought to have been once attendants upon the true God, but to have fallen ( 2 Peter 2:4 , Judges 1:6 , Ethiop. Enoch chs. 6, 7). For a variety of personal spirits were interposed between God as mediating agencies according to Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] and Persian views, or, according to the strict Jewish view, as ministers of His will. (3) To these were added a survival with modification of the primitive animism the spirits of the wicked dead (Josephus, Ant . VIII. ii. 5, BJ VII. vi. 3), who were supposed to haunt the tombs, or at least to cause the men they possessed to do so ( Matthew 8:28 ). The devils of later Judaism accordingly are thought of as invisible spirits, to whom every ill, physical or moral, was attributed. Their relation to God was one of quasi -independence. At times they do His bidding and are the ministers of His wrath, but in this sense are not classed in Scripture as devils; e.g. , the demon of pestilence is the destroying angel or even ‘the angel of the Lord’ ( 2 Samuel 24:16 , 2 Kings 19:35 , Isaiah 37:36 , Psalms 78:49 ). Yet they were thought to reside in the lower world in an organized kingdom of their own ( Job 18:14; cf. Revelation 9:11 , Ethiop. Enoch 54:6, Matthew 12:24-27 ); though the kingdom is not entirely outside the sovereign rule of Jehovah, who is the Lord of all spirits and of the abyss in which they dwell (Enoch 40, Deuteronomy 32:22 , Job 11:8 , Psalms 139:8 , Luke 16:24 ).

3. In the NT . In the period of the NT the belief in devils as spirits, evil and innumerable, was general amongst the nations, whether Jewish or Gentile; but in Jesus and His disciples the cruder features of the belief, such as the grotesqueness of the functions assigned to these spirits in the literature of the second century, do not appear. The writers of the Gospels were in this respect not much in advance of their contemporaries, and for Jesus Himself no theory of accommodation to current beliefs can be sustained. The Fourth Gospel is comparatively free from the demonic element. Possession is thrice alluded to ( John 7:20; John 8:40; John 10:28 ) as a suggested explanation of Christ’s work and influence; but evil generally is traced back rather to the activity of the devil ( John 6:70 , where ‘a devil’ is not a demon, but the word is used metaphorically much as ‘Satan’ in Matthew 16:23 , John 13:2; John 13:27 ), whose subordinates fall into the background. The Synoptics, especially Lk., abound in references to demons, who are conceived, not as evil influences resting upon or working within a man, but as personal spirits besetting or even possessing him. The demon was said to enter into a man ( Luke 8:30 ) or certain animals ( Matthew 8:32 ), and to pass out ( Matthew 17:18 , Luke 11:14 ) or be cast out ( Matthew 9:34 ). This demoniacal possession is referred to as the cause of various diseases, the cases being preponderantly such as exhibit symptoms of psychical disease in association with physical (see Possession). St. Paul and the other writers in the NT evidently shared the views underlying the Synoptics. Possession so called is a familiar phenomenon to them, as it continued to be in the early years of the Church, though there is a marked disposition towards the Johannine view of a central source of evil. St. Paul speaks of doctrines emanating from devils ( 1 Timothy 4:1 , where the word should not be taken metaphorically). The devils of 1 Corinthians 10:20 were demigods or deposed idols. St. James recognizes the existence of a number of devils ( James 2:19 ), whose independence fit God is not complete. The Apocalypse ( Revelation 9:20; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 18:2 ) similarly speaks of a diverse and manifold activity, though again its derivation from a common source is frequent. In all these books the conception of devils seems to be giving way to that of the devil; the former gradually lose any power of initiative or free action, and become the agents of a great spirit of evil behind them.

In the OT this process has advanced so far that the personal name Satan (wh. see) is used in the later books with some freedom, Asmodæus occurring in the same sense in Tob 3:8; Tob 3:17 . But in the NT the process is complete, and in every part the devil appears as a personal and almost sovereign spirit of evil, capable of such actions as cannot be explained away by the application of any theory of poetic or dramatic personification. It is he who tempted Christ (Matthew 4:1 ff., Luke 4:2 ff.), and in the parables sowed the tares ( Matthew 13:39 ) or snatched up the good seed ( Luke 8:12; cf. ‘the evil one’ of Matthew 13:19 ); and for him and his angels an appropriate destiny is prepared ( Matthew 25:41 ). According to Jn., the devil prompted the treason of Judas ( John 13:2 ), and is vicious in his lusts, a liar and a murderer ( John 8:44 ), a sinner in both nature and act ( 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10 ). He prolongs the tribulation of the faithful who do not yield to him ( Revelation 2:18 ); after his great fall ( Revelation 12:9 ) he is goaded by defeat into more venomous activity ( Revelation 12:12 ), but eventually meets his doom ( Revelation 20:10 ). Judges 1:9 preserves the tradition of a personal encounter with Michael; and St. Peter represents the devil as prowling about in search of prey ( 1 Peter 5:8 ), the standing adversary of man, baffled by Jesus ( Acts 10:38 ). To St. James ( James 4:7 ) the devil is an antagonist who upon resistance takes to flight. If ‘son of the devil’ ( Acts 13:10 ) is metaphorical, St. Paul considers his snare ( 1 Timothy 3:7 , 2 Timothy 2:26 ) and his wiles ( Ephesians 6:11 ) real enough. To give opportunity to the devil ( Ephesians 4:27 ) may lead to a share in his condemnation ( 1 Timothy 3:6 ). Death is his realm ( Hebrews 2:14 , Wis 2:24 ), and not a part of the original Divine order; though not inflicted at his pleasure, he makes it subservient to his purposes, and in its spiritual sense it becomes the fate of those who accept his rule. Such language, common to all the writers, and pervading the whole NT, allows no other conclusion than that the forces and spirits of evil were conceived as gathered up into a personal bead and centre, whose authority they recognized and at whose bidding they moved.

This opinion is confirmed by the representation of the devil’s relation to men and to God, and by many phrases in which he is referred to under other names. He is the moral adversary of man (Matthew 13:39 , Luke 10:19 , Ephesians 4:27 , 1 Peter 5:8 ), acting, according to the OT, with the permission of God (cf. Job 1:9-12 ), though with an assiduity that shows the function to be congenial; but in the NT with a power of origination that is recognized, if watched and restrained. Hence he is called the ‘tempter’ ( Matthew 4:3 , 1 Thessalonians 3:5 ), and the ‘accuser’ of those who listen to his solicitation ( Revelation 12:10 ). In hindering and harming men he stands in antithesis to Christ ( 2 Corinthians 6:15 ), and hence is fittingly termed the evil and injurious one ( Matthew 6:13; Matthew 13:18 , John 17:15 , Ephesians 6:16 , 2 Thessalonians 3:3 , 1 John 2:13 f., 1Jn 3:12; 1 John 5:18 f. but in some of these passages it is open to contend that the word is not personal). Bent upon maintaining and spreading evil, he begins with the seduction of Eve ( 2 Corinthians 11:3 ) and the luring of men to doom ( John 8:44 ). Death being thus brought by him into the world ( Romans 5:12 , Wis 2:24 ), by the fear of it he keeps men in bondage ( Hebrews 2:14 ). He entices men to sin ( 1 Corinthians 7:5 ), as he enticed Jesus, though with better success, places every woful obstacle in the way of their trust in Christ ( 2 Corinthians 4:4 ), and thus seeks to multiply ‘the sons of disobedience’ ( Ephesians 2:2 ), who may be rightly called his children ( 1 John 3:10 ). In the final apostasy his methods are unchanged, and his hostility to everything good in man becomes embittered and Insatiable ( 2 Thessalonians 2:9 f., Revelation 20:7 f.).

In regard to the devil’s relation to God, the degree of independence and personal initiative is less in the OT than in the NT, but nowhere is there anything like the exact co-ordination of the two. The representation is not that of a dualism, but of the revolt of a subordinate though superhuman power, patiently permitted for a time for wise purposes and then peremptorily put down. In Job 1:6 the devil associates himself with ‘the sons of God,’ and yet is represented as not strictly classed with them; he has the right of access to heaven, but his activity is subject to Divine consent. Another stage is marked in 1 Chronicles 21:1 , where the statement of 2 Samuel 24:1 is modified as though the devil worked in complete and unshackled opposition to God. In the Book of Enoch he is the ruler of a kingdom of evil, over which kingdom, however, the Divine sovereignty, or at least suzerainty, stands. The NT preserves the conception in most of its parts. God and the devil are placed in antithesis ( James 4:7 ); so ‘the power of darkness’ and ‘the kingdom of the Son of his love’ ( Colossians 1:13 ), as though the two were entirely distinct. The devil is the prince and personal head of the demons ( Mark 3:22 ). According to Jn., he is ‘the prince of this world’ ( John 12:31 ), and Jesus is contrasted with him ( John 8:42; John 8:44 , John 18:36 ), and outside the sphere of his influence ( Mark 14:30 ). St. Paul expresses similar views; the devil is ‘the god of this world’ or age ( 2 Corinthians 4:4 ), ‘the prince of the power of the air’ ( Ephesians 2:2 ), ruling over the evil spirits who are located in the sky or air ( Luke 10:18 , Revelation 12:9; cf. ‘heavenly places,’ Ephesians 6:12 ), and who are graded in orders and communities much like the spirits of good ( Ephesians 1:21 ). The dualism is so imperfect that Christ has but to speak and the demons recognize His superior authority. He is the stronger ( Luke 11:22 ), and can even now, under the limitations of the moral probation of men, frustrate the devil’s designs ( Luke 22:32 ), and destroy his works ( 1 John 3:8 ), and will eventually bring him to nought ( Hebrews 2:14 ). Already the triumph is assured and partially achieved ( John 16:11 , 1 John 4:4 ), and Christians share in it ( Romans 16:20 ). It becomes complete and final at the Parousia ( 1 Corinthians 15:26 , Psalms 110:1 ).

The personality of the devil must consequently be regarded as taught by Scripture. He is not conceived as the original or only source of evil, but as its supreme personal representative. His existence, like that of evil itself, may be ascribed to the permissive will of God, with analogous limitations in each case. The psychical researches of recent years have tended to confirm the belief in spiritual existences, good and bad, and thereby to reduce a fundamental difficulty, which would otherwise attach also in a degree to the belief in the Holy Spirit. And the tradition of a revolt and fall of angels has this in its favour, that it fits in with the belief in devils and the devil, and provides a partially intelligible account of circumstances under which such a belief might take shape. It supplies the preceding chapters in the history, and enables the career to be traced from the first stage of moral choice through the process of hardening of purpose and increasing separation from God to the appropriate abyss at the close. The devil thus becomes a type of every confirmed evil-doer: and the patience and the righteousness of God are alike exemplified.

R. W. Moss.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Devil'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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