I’m not sure that Satan is only a personification of evil. I still think that Satan is a real person; not human, but a spirit. Also, I still believe in demons, the servants of the Devil Satan, who are dangerous and powerful. I believe that Jesus believed in Satan as a person (Luke 22:3, 31; Mark 4:15; 8:33); as did John the apostle, who evidenced his belief in Satan when he wrote the following: “The one who practices sin is of the Devil.” Notice that John was not saying, “The one who practices sin is the Devil,” but “is of the Devil.” See the difference? In other words, the one who practices sin belongs to the Devil, is his servant. If John was thinking of the Devil as a personification of evil, why did he use those words in 1 John 3:8? Perhaps you can help me find the answer.
We take the position that the Bible does not present a “Satan” who is a real and true source of evil. Why? Because if Satan was anything but a personification of evil then:
- God as sole Creator must have created this devil or Satan. Why would God create a superpower of evil diametrically opposed to Himself, wreaking havoc on the rest of His creation?
- Satan must be the originator and source of sin, yet the Bible makes it clear that the human mind is the source of evil. Jesus said that “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries,” etc. (Mark 7:21-23). This is also supported by James 1:14.
There are statements in Scripture which suggest the existence of evil spirits. In the early centuries, anyone with an illness was thought of as being possessed by a devil or demons (in other words—whatever is opposed to a healthy condition of the body). But these must be understood in the light of concepts widely accepted at the time it was written. Among ancient societies, the idea of a superpower of evil was almost universal, and this idea crept into many religions, including Judaism. Naturally, it is comforting to think that some unseen force that we cannot control makes us do wrong, commit adultery, murder, or theft, or any other evil; but it is not realistic, nor is it biblical.
Jesus placed the responsibility squarely on the individuals themselves, not on any external force or power or being. Jesus’ words could not be clearer: “Whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him…from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” (Mark 7:18, 21).
Why, then, did John write that “He who practices sin is of the devil,” instead of saying that he “is the devil”? He is saying that those who practice evil belong to the side of evil; but this in no way necessitates the existence of a ‘real’ Satan. Equally, those who practice doing right are of the righteous (i.e. belonging to the ranks of the righteous). In this way the Bible personifies both sin and righteousness as masters having servants. We “belong to the power we choose to obey” (Rom. 6:16, Phillips).
God is holding us accountable for our own actions (Eccl. 12:13-14). Is it not dangerous to be blaming a supposed Satan or demon for our misdeeds, rather than taking the necessary action to change ourselves?
- In summary, the Bible uses the term “devil” in two ways:
as the name for the personification of evil, which has been given animate characteristics; and
- as a descriptive name applied to one who is at that time committing sin.
In either case the term ‘devil’ is diablos, which means “slanderer, false accuser.”
Jesus, in John 8:34, said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” John writes in his Epistle (1 John 3:8), “He who sins is of the devil.” Here are two parallel statements in which the actions (sin) are identical but one sinner is described as being “servant of sin,” while the other is “of the devil.” It follows, though, that being the “servant of sin” and being “of the devil” are two different ways of stating the same fact. The Devil, then, is the one who sins. Jesus called Peter a devil. Whether one is said to be “Satan” because he is opposing God, or whether he is said to belong to Satan because of his conduct; the fact remains: there is no physical being called ‘Satan’.