The Origin of Satan & Demons

Robert I. Bradshaw

...Him the Almighty Power
Hurl'd headlong from th' Ethereal Skie
With Hideous ruin and combustion down
To the bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal fire
Who defie th' Omnipotent to Arms.
Paradise Lost.

F.F. Bruce[1] and Robert Mounce[2] agree that the popular Evangelical view of Satan owes more to John Milton than to the teachings of Scripture: indeed it difficult to approach the 'proof texts' used without reading them through a preconceived theological framework.

In the OT five main passages are cited: Genesis 3; Job 1:6-12; Isa.14:12-16; Eze.28:11-19; Zech.3:1-2. Of these the Genesis passage does not refer to 'Satan' by name, but to 'the Serpent'. Job.1:6-12 & Zech.3:1-2 tell us a little about his role as 'the accuser', but nothing whatever about his origin, except that as he approached God with 'the Sons of God' (Job 1:6) presumably he too was an angel.

Isaiah 14:12-16 in its context refers to the King of Babylon, the 'Lucifer' of the KJV being more accurately translated 'Morning Star' as in the NIV.[3] Although the passage is often said to have a double meaning, referring to both the King of Babylon and to Satan, who stands as the real power behind the throne, this view is a result of reading the OT from the perspective of the NT. Grogan[4] points out that this was probably the passage that Jesus was alluding to in Luke 10:18[5] In that case Jesus was more likely to have been using the King of Babylon's fall as a type of Satan, rather than giving the passage a completely new interpretation. Doctrine based on typology is notoriously suspect, yet the popular view of Satan is largely built upon it.

It is Ezekiel 28 that has been most misused in an attempt to formulate a doctrine of Satan, and yet it is one of the most difficult passages in Ezekiel to interpret.[6] A number of sections in this passage are used to point to a double referent to both the King of Tyre and to Satan. 'You were in Eden' (v.13) could not be true of a literal King, but as Ezekiel uses 'Eden' in a non-literal sense elsewhere (31:9) and as 'Elohim' can also be translated 'god', depending on the context, Alexander[7] sees the phrase 'Eden, the garden of a god' as referring to a garden that was frequently enclosed in the Temple complexes of the Ancient World. While not perfect this explanation is at least plausible. In verse 14 the King is said to have been ordained as the 'Guardian Cherub', a sphinx-like creature that protected temples (and were also found on the Ark of the Covenant, see Exod.37:8-9). The passage is probably suggesting that the king was identifying himself with the patron deity of Tyre, Ba'al Melkart. The view that it refers to Satan as the guardian Cherub of Eden has no basis elsewhere in Scripture and has no exegetical basis here.[8] 'The holy mount of God' is never used of heaven in Scripture. The description in vs.15-17 fit better a human king than an angelic one, although Ryrie and others build extensive theories on it.[9] Alexander concludes that

This description of the fall and judgement of Tyre's king is befitting a human, but does not coincide with what we know of Satan's fall and ultimate destruction as revealed elsewhere in Scripture.[10]

In contrast to the Greeks (who saw demons as beings between 'gods' and men, who could be controlled by magic or incantations[11] the OT tends not to mention demons or their activities, concentrating instead on the ministry of angels.[12]Rabbinic Judaism soon developed a complex demonology, suggesting their origin could be found in Gen.6:1-4 - the offspring of the 'Sons of God' and the daughters of men becoming demons on their death. Others claimed them to be a special creation by God.[13]

G.H. Pember (who publicised and popularised Dr. Chalmer's 'Gap Theory') drew a distinction between 'Satan's Angels' and 'demons' on the basis of Acts 23:9. As demons were, to the classical writers, the disembodied spirits of the pre-Adamite race so there does not "appear to be any reason for changing the meaning of the term in the NT".[14] Ryrie points out that there is no scriptural evidence for a pre-Adamite race (Jesus said that Adam was the first man [Matt.19:4], and nowhere indicates that dead people are free to return to the earth[15]).

The NT, as mentioned briefly above, expands on the theme of Satan and gives us some new information about his origin. The theme of the Serpent (Gen.3) is returned to by Paul (2 Cor.11:3; cf. 1 Tim.2:14), but it is not until Rev. 12:9 (cf. 20:2) that the Serpent is identified with Satan. Indeed it is from Rev.12 (another very difficult passage) that most of the teaching about Satan from the NT is based. Yet once again we fail to find any statement about Satan's origin, nor does it tell us when he fell, as it probably does not refer to his original fall from Heaven.[16] While it is commonly thought that a third of the angels fell with him and became demons ('a third of the stars' - 12:4), all that John might have intended to indicate was that it was a great number.[17]

What then can we say with the support of Biblical evidence about the origin of Satan and demons? From Job 1:6 we know that Satan was an angel, and was therefore created by God (Gen.1:1; Col.1:16) sometime in the Creation week (Job 38:7). The NT hints very strongly that Satan's fall was through pride (I Tim.3:6) and Jesus stated that he was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). No distinction can be made, as Pember claimed, between 'angels' and 'spirits' in Acts 23:9, as these words are spoken by Pharisees and are obviously based on their traditions. Of all the theories of demons discussed above the one that fits the small amount of data available best is that they are angels who followed Satan in a rebellion against God. Passages such as Matt.25:41 'The Devil and his angels' (cf. Rev.12:9) and Mark 3:20-30 prove beyond reasonable doubt that 'the Devil's angels' = 'demons'. The only alternative would be a dualism of God and Satan. Beyond these basic facts all else is speculation.

While their origins are shrouded in mystery the eschatology of Satan and his demons is very clear (Matt. 25:41; Rev.20ff.). Not all subjects mentioned in Scripture are as clear as we would like, or as our systematic theologies would lead us to believe. This, I think, is one of them.

© 1992 Robert I. Bradshaw


[1] F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Downers Grove: IVP, 1983, p.133.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation', New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977, p.240.

[3] Bruce, p.133.

[4] G.W. Grogan, "Isaiah," F.E. Gaebelein, gen.ed., Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 6. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986, p.105.

[5] I.H. Marshall, "The Gospel of Luke," New International Greek Testament Commentary. Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1989, p.429.

[6] R.H. Alexander, "Ezekiel," F.E. Gaebelein, gen.ed., Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 6. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986, p.882.

[7] Alexander, p.883.

[8] Alexander, p.883.

[9] C.C. Ryrie, Basic Theology. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988. pp.142-143.

[10] Alexander, p.883.

[11] Bietenhard, H. "Demon," Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986, p.450.

[12] D.E. Aune, "Demon," G.W. Bromiley, gen.ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979, p.920. Bietenhard, p.451.

[13] Bietenhard, p.451. Ryrie, p.158.

[14] G.H. Pember, Earth's Earliest Ages. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1975, p.58.

[15] Ryrie, p.158.

[16] Mounce, p.240.

[17] Mounce, p.239.

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