The Big Lie – A Biblical word study on the Devil

The Hebrew word satan is translated various ways.


Zechariah 3:1-10, The Satan is normally a specific adversary, the diabolos Devil.
Job 1:1-12, 2:1-7
Esther 7:1-8, 8:1-8, Occasionally the Greek OT translates other words with diabolos, too.
1 Chronicles 21:1-13; 2 Samuel 24:1-4, Once only, a satan is translated into English as Satan.
Psalms 109:1-20, Occasionally we see something else entirely.

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Throughout this study, I will give you the Hebrew or Greek word that we’re looking at (or sometimes both) in bold italics, right before the English word.


Zechariah 3:1-10, The Satan is normally a specific adversary, the diabolos Devil. (5/13/13)

What’s the difference between a white house and the White House? Right. It’s that little word “the” that comes before. Hebrew and Greek are both like English in that – normally – the designates a specific, previously mentioned specimen of a whole group of similar items.

Last week, we saw that A satan is an adversary. This week we see that – again, normally – The Satan in Hebrew is a specific adversary, and it’s beginning to look like the specific adversary that’s being referred to in the Old Testament books of Zechariah and Job is the Devil. The Septuagint translates the satan into the diabolos. Probably most of the translations that you are reading just have “Satan,” but the Hebrew and Greek have “the Satan,” and you can actually see this in our reading from the Bible in Basic English. But keep in mind that the Satan still has the character of an adversary.

From the Bible in Basic English:
Job 1:1-12, 2:1-7, The Satan is normally a specific adversary, the diabolos Devil. (5/14/13)

Diabolos false accuser, devil, slanderer occurs 20 times in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and 13 of those are in the book of Job. In every case in Job, diabolos is used to translate the Hebrew word satan adversary. Job is a fairly late book, as OT books go, and by this time there seems to have been a fairly strong conviction in the writer’s mind that the Satan was a specific trouble-maker. You need to keep this connection between satan and diabolos in mind when we get to the New Testament. In Job we see the Satan acting true to type: he uses the truth that Job fears God, but he doesn’t tell the truth. He slanders Job by saying that he will curse God at the first sign of trouble, and then he proceeds to make trouble.

By the way, I’m not sure why the BBE has “sons of the gods” in vss. 1:6 and 2:1. Mercifully I’m going to spare you a long technical explanation; however, what it boils down to is that I think they are just mistaken. The BBE is the only translation I looked at that doesn’t have “sons of God.” The Greek OT has “angels of God.” Have I mentioned lately that you need to read more than one translation?

From the Bible in Basic English:
Esther 7:1-8, 8:1-8, Occasionally the Greek OT translates other words with diabolos, too. (5/15/13)

Sixteen of the 20 uses of diabolos in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek Old Testament, are satan in the original Hebrew. But the rabbis who translated the Bible around 300 BC used diabolos another way, too – to translate tsar and tsarar, both of which can mean adversary/enemy, or trouble. If you look at several different translations, you’ll see both meanings used in 7:4. Verse 8:4 is talking specifically about Haman, the villain of the book of Esther, so probably almost all translations go with the meaning adversary, enemy. The BBE uses hater, as we see below.

It may be worth noting that we get the diabolos both times in the Greek. It has been said many a time that the Satan or the devil in the Bible is the one and only Devil, and that doesn’t appear to be true. Haman was a bad guy, but he wasn’t the devil – a distinction that is worth making about our own enemies, my brothers and sisters.

From the Bible in Basic English:
1 Chronicles 21:1-13; 2 Samuel 24:1-4, Once only, a satan is translated into English as Satan. (5/16/13)

Remember that I said that many people have said that the satan, which goes into Greek as the diabolos, always designates the actual Devil, but a satan is just an adversary. Ooh-kay. There is one case, and one case only, in which a satan goes into Greek as a diabolos, but is translated Satan in every English translation I looked at. Why does 1 Chronicles 21:1 have “Satan,” when the does not appear in either Hebrew or Greek? Especially when the same story in 2 Samuel doesn’t have either satan or diabolos, and in fact it doesn’t have any word at all for adversary, enemy, slanderer, tempter, or any other sort of bad guy whatsoever!

This is a mystery to me. My normal advice, as you know, would be to read more than one translation, but this time, all the translations seem to be doing the same odd thing. In a week or two, I hope to have some tables on the website that give you every single occurrence of satan and diabolos. That will allow you to do your own comparisons.

From the Bible in Basic English:
Psalms 109:1-20, Occasionally we see something else entirely. (5/17/13)

Yesterday we saw an example of a satan, not the satan, that most English translations render Satan. I thought that was a little odd. Just to show you that it may in fact be a little odd, here’s another example of a satan, which most English translations do not render Satan. Instead, they use adversary (e.g., American Standard, Revised Version), worthless fools to accuse him (Contemporary English), accuser (English Standard), enemies (Good News), or evil man, as we see below. God’s Word and the King James use Satan. The context is that David is hoping that his enemy will be judged and have the decision go against him, so that his wife is widowed and his children orphaned. How is Satan going to accomplish all that? I think the idea of and adversary or accuser who personally appears in court is much more suitable than Satan. But keep that job description of a satan in mind as we move on to the New Testament.

From the Bible in Basic English:
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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