Maybe it's an “Old Nick”name.

The Big Lie – A Biblical word study on the Devil

Belial – “Worthless,” A New-Testament Nickname for the Devil


1 Samuel 25:2-34
1 Kings 21:1-19
Nahum 1:1-15
Psalms 101:3-4; Proverbs 16:25-30, 19:28-29
2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1


More of The Big Lie

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1 Samuel 25:2-34 (7/1/13)

Belial isn’t even a name in the Old Testament. It means “worthless” and is used 27 times in the Bible – 26 times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament. In sixteen cases in the OT, belial is used in the idiom “man/men/son/daughter/child/sons/children of belial.” Belial means worthlessness, and we have seen before that “sons of X” is an idiom that means “people with the characteristics of X.” For most occurrences of this particular idiom, the King James Version implies that it’s a name: “sons of Belial.” Notice today how the Bible in Basic English, like most modern translations, gives you a different – and more accurate – idea in English. The first worthless person that we’re going to read about is Nabal.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James Version:
1 Kings 21:1-19, Belial “Worthless” (7/2/13)

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament made by rabbis about 200 - 300 BC) never uses belial as a name, but instead always translates it into Greek with some variation on pestilential or lawless. That’s fair, because it isn’t a name for the Devil or anybody else in the Hebrew OT. In this incident from the reign of King Ahab of Israel (also known as Samaria), his wife Jezebel arranges for two “sons of belial,” that is, “worthless men,” to give false testimony against Naboth.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James Version: Nahum 1:1-15 (7/3/13)

Earlier in the week, we learned that belial is used 26 times in the Old Testament, and that 16 of those are in the idiom, “son of belial,” or worthless person. The other 10 occurrences in the OT are adjectives modifying mostly persons, but also a disease, a thing, and a heart one time each. Nowhere is there a suggestion in the Hebrew that the Old Testament considers belial to be a demon or the Devil. The prophet Nahum uses belial worthless to describe people who separate themselves from God. The King James Version uses wicked, and that’s good, too.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James Version:
Psalms 101:3-4; Proverbs 16:25-30, 19:28-29 (7/4/13)

I looked at or spot-checked a dozen English translations (King James, Jewish Publication Society, Revised Version, American Standard Version, Bible in Basic English, Contemporary English Version, English Standard Version, Good News, God’s Word, International Standard Version, New English, and Jerusalem) to see how they translate belial. Most occurrences in the old translations other than King James and Revised and all occurrences in the new translations have some variation on “worthless” or “lawless.” Only the KJV and its daughter the RV consistently have “Belial” as a name in the OT, and even they use it as a name only as part of the idiom “sons etc. of X.” The other common translations in the King James Version are ungodly and wicked. We look at some of those today. I think we are safe in concluding that the OT doesn’t regard Belial as a name.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James Version:
2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1 (7/5/13)

The New Testament doesn’t have belial, but it does have beliar, once: (Beliar is most likely a slight variation in pronunciation, and it typical comes into English as “Belial.”)

Now, the most interesting thing to me about this verse is that all of the eleven translations that I talked about yesterday (obviously JPS doesn’t contain the NT), plus the Wingate and Murdock New Testaments, have either “Belial/Beliar” with a capital “B,” “Satan,” “Evil One,” or “devil.” You remember that most of them have “worthless” or “lawless” in the Old Testament. But here, Belial appears to be a nickname for the Devil, and that’s how just about everybody translates it.

What in the world is up with that? How did “worthlessness” in the OT become the Devil in the NT in the minds of eleven translation teams?

The answer lies in human nature and the literature of the intertestamental times. You know those awful tee shirts that are labeled “Stupid” and “I’m with Stupid”? We human beings – even Christians, I’m sorry to say – are name-callers. When we don’t like someone, and we think that person is worthless, we use “Worthless” as a derogatory name. During intertestamental times, several books were written that used Belial Worthless as a nickname for the Devil. These books are not considered to be scripture by Jews, Catholics, or Protestants, but people read them then the way we read novels today. Paul uses the nickname “Worthless” in 2 Corinthians 6:15 to say that Jesus has nothing in common with that worthless old Devil.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James and several modern translations:
More of The Big Lie
The Son of God and the Father of Lies
The OT satan is always an adversary, but not always the Devil.
The Hebrew satan is translated various ways.
In the New Testament, both satanas and diabolos normally refer to the Devil.
Sometimes satanas and diabolos are used figuratively to refer to someone acting like the Devil.
Poneros – Evil in the New Testament
Demons cause sickness, not sin.
Sometimes Satan and demons cooperate with each other.
Neither Baalzebub nor Lucifer is a Biblical name for the Devil.
Belial means "worthless," and once it's used as a nickname for the Devil.
Satan's job description: Temptation and Lies
Our job description: Resist him!

Copyright 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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