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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Belial, Beliar


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This word occurs only once in the NT (2 Corinthians 6:15). To understand its meaning there we must trace its use in the OT. The word is Hebrew (בְּלִיַעַל), but its etymology is uncertain. The ordinary derivation (from בְּלִי, ‘without,’ and rt. [Note: root.] יעל, which in Hiph. הוֹעִיל = ‘to profit’) seems to be the best, and this makes the word mean ‘worthlessness,’ But T. K. Cheyne (Expos., 5th ser., i. [1895] 435ff.; cf. also article ‘Belial’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica ) makes it mean ‘one may not ascend’ (so suiting Sheol in Psalms 18:4 f.; see below), or ‘hopeless ruin.’ The Talmud makes it mean ‘without the yoke’ (בְּלִי עוֹל). The Syriac lexicographers (see R. Payne Smith, Thesaur. Syr., Oxford, 1879-1901, i. 534) understand it to mean ‘prince of the air’; they seem to have derived it from בַּעַל, ba‘al, ‘lord,’ and the Syriac אאד = ἀήρ, ‘air.’ But the last two derivations are certainly wrong.

Taking the meaning ‘worthlessness,’ we note that the ordinary use of ‘Belial’ in the OT suits it very well; ‘sons of Belial’ or ‘men of Belial’ means ‘worthless or wicked men,’ according to the common Hebrew idiom which substitutes a genitive for an adjective. The word is, however, twice used in the OT as a quasi-proper name. In Psalms 18:4 f. we read of ‘the cords of death,’ ‘the floods of Belial,’ ‘the cords of Sheol,’ ‘the snares of death’; here Belial = the under world. Again, in Nahum 1:15 we read that Belial shall no more pass through Judah; he is utterly cut off. In this passage Belial almost exactly corresponds to the ‘man of lawlessness, the son of perdition’ of St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3, on which see Milligan, Thessalonians, London 1908).

In 2 Corinthians 6:15, where the best Manuscripts (B C L P א) and most of the VSS [Note: SS Versions.] (but not the Vulgate) read ‘Beliar’ rather than ‘Belial’ (Peshiṭta ‘Satan,’ but the Ḥarklensian Syriac ‘Beliar’), the word is used as a proper name = Satan, or else Antichrist, Satan’s representative. This use of the word is found frequently in the literature of the period. In the Test. of the XII Patriarchs (Benj. 3) Belial is the ‘aerial spirit’ (see Air), and frequently in this book (circa, about a.d. 100?) is identified with Satan. In the Sibylline Oracles (iii. 63, 74, where the reference to the ‘Augustans’ or Σεβαστηνοί shows the passage to be a later interpolation, probably of 1st cent. a.d.; see also ii. 167), Belial is Antichrist. In the Ascension of Isaiah (iv. 2), Beliar is ‘the great angel, the king of this world.’ This work in its present form is probably not later than a.d. 100.

There are many forms of this name, chiefly due to the phonetic interchange of liquids: Belial, Beliar, Beliam, Belian, Beliab, Belias, Berial.

Literature.-W. Baudissin in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 ii. [1897] 548, and in Expository Times viii. [1896-97] 360, 423, 472, ix. [1897-98] 40; T. K. Cheyne in Expositor, 5th ser., i. [1895] 435, in Expository Times ix. 91, 332, also in Encyclopaedia Biblica , s.v.; P. Jensen in Expository Times ix. 283; F. Hommel in Expository Times ix. 567; W. Bousset, Der Antichrist, Göttingen, 1895, pp. 86, 99; R.H. Charles, Ascension of Isaiah, London, 1900, pp. li, 6; Levi-Kohler in Jewish Encyclopedia ii. 658.

A. J. Maclean.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Belial, Beliar'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/b/belial-beliar.html. 1906-1918.

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