So, if Satan isn’t the devil, who is!?
Well, Satan, at least according to the greeks. So, let me set the stage. Israel in the centuries surrounding the time of Jesus had been conquered by the Romans, who took over from the Greeks who had conquered a couple hundred years earlier. The Romans turned Jerusalem and Israel into, in their minds, any other Roman province including the spreading of their religions.
Roman and Greek mythology and pantheology are very similar, so when the Romans took over, they didn’t need to destroy any statuary or shrines that the Greeks had built. These shrines, the ones that depicted pagan gods to the Jews, were still quite creepy. The Jews felt the power from them and felt that they were inhabited by something, but it couldn’t be gods because there was only one God.
And so the spirits which inhabited such shrines were called demons. The greek word for demon simply means spirits or lesser gods. It is also of note that Greeks personify just about everything in their deities and spirits. If there is a human emotion or act, the Greeks gave that emotion or act a spiritual ruler. Lust, beauty, hunger, etc. Anything you could think of. This type of personification became accepted by the Jews in the acceptance that demons were responsible for negative emotions and behaviours, particularly lying and deception.
So, with Greek influence, the writers of the Gospel heard the title Satan, took the understanding of what that mean, and created a word of their own to represent that, but they added the negative connotations also associated with demons. Diabolos is the greek word for Satan, and there is absolutely no record of it before the Jews and Christians of Jesus’ time started using it.
Thus, it is my understanding that the devil is a misrepresentation of Satan which never got fixed. You can see this gradual association as you read the New Testament. In Matthew’s temptations of Jesus, the writer uses devil freely to refer to the person tempting Jesus, but Jesus is quoted as speaking to Satan.
In the first three gospels, Jesus speaks about Satan casting out Satan after being accused of worshipping Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Beelzebub has since been seen as a name for Satan. In all three cases, there are different contexts. In Matthew 12:26-27 and Luke 11: 18-19 Jesus separates Satan and Beelzebub by example. If Satan, and if Beelzebub, suggesting that they are not the same. In Mark 3:23, it is explicitly separated from the Beelzebub reference by Mark’s telling us that Jesus spoke to them in parables before referencing Satan.
Satan’s reputation for being an opposing force for God doesn’t arrive until Acts 26:18 where, according to Paul, Jesus talks about power being transferred from darkness to light, from Satan to God. It isn’t until Romans, however, that the real Satan-bashing begins. Romans 16:20, Paul claims that God will crush Satan.
In this trend, it continues until Revelation, when there appears a true hatred of Satan, and a solid understanding of Satan as synonymous with the Devil, opposer to God in all ways, and evil incarnate.
It seems reasonable to me, that Jesus most likely spoke of the old Satan, the agent of God who placed stumbling blocks in the way of the righteous that they might grow in faith. It also seems reasonable to me, that the malevolence of spirits and demons from Greece and Rome influenced the Jewish understanding of who Satan was, which grew until Satan and the Devil are what they have become today.
So, if you’re wondering. No, I don’t believe in the popular Satanic figure. I think humans get in their own way plenty and have no need of a personified spirit to represent that. We need to take responsibility for our own sabotage, to both self and others.