To understand why Paul doesn’t refer to Satan in his extensive letter on the subject of sin, we must understand what the word satan means, and how it is used in the Bible.
The word satan is a Hebrew word, and has been transliterated into the English language. This means that the word itself has been left unchanged, but each letter of the Hebrew alphabet that is used has been substituted with the corresponding English letter. The word simply means ‘an adversary’. Since the Hebrew language does not distinguish between capital and small letters, the use of the capital ‘S’ depends solely on the translator’s preference. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and so when the New Testament writers wanted to express the Hebrew word, they also simply carried it over to their language by transliteration, as we have done into English. And so the Greek meaning is exactly the same as that for the Hebrew word. The Greek alphabet consisted of only capital letters, and again the use of a capital ‘S’ merely reflects the choice of the translators. Knowing these elementary facts behind the word enables us to see why Jesus reprimanded the apostle Peter in the way he did, when the latter tried to negate the crucifixion of Jesus, when Jesus had intimated that it was close at hand.
“Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said, ‘this shall never happen to you!’
“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ ” Matthew 16: 22, 23
Now, in this incident, Jesus was not talking about the intentions of any devil, but the actual and genuine intentions of the apostle Peter. However well-meaning Peter may have intended his remarks, they were in opposition to the declared will of God; that Jesus would have to die for the people.
Peter’s comments were contrary to this mission, and he was therefore inadvertantly acting as an adversary, or in the Hebrew or Greek, a satan.
Consequently, the adversary, or satan, can take on many forms, according to the context of the situation. In one instance the adversary relates to God Himself.
“Satan rose up against Israel and incited David top take a census of Israel.” 1Chronicles 21:1
“Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and count Israel and Judah.‘ ” 2 Samuel 24:1
These two passages relate to the same incident, and by understanding that the word ‘satan’ is an adversary or opposing spirit enables us to see that even God can be a satan under certain conditions — even an angel of the Lord, or an ordinary person can be a satan.
“But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose [Heb.: satan] him.” Numbers 22:22
“May my accusers [Heb.: satan] perish in shame;
may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace.” Psalm 71:13
With this understanding in mind, many passages in the Bible referring to Satan become much clearer.
“To the church at Pergamum write:
“These are the words of him who has the sharp double-edged sword. I know where you live – where Satan has his throne Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city — where Satan lives.” Revelation 2:12, 13
So Satan lived in Pergamum! Yes, that Satan did, because Pergamum was the headquarters of the Roman government for that part of the province of Asia, and the Romans at that time were determined to suppress any Christian movement.
There are principally two Greek words that have been translated as devil in the King James version of the Bible…The intended meaning and application of the word satan can be understood only when we understand its meaning. To falsely think of it purely as a proper name leads to a completely misleading picture. Similarly, the consideration of the devil leads to a trure perspective of the intended meaning only if we understand the meaning of the word ‘devil’. The devil is not an Old Testament concept, and so is not found as such. We must turn to the New Testament, which was originally written in Greek, in order to understand the word.
There are principally two Greek words that have been translated as devil in the King James version of the Bible, though more modern translations generally distinguish between the two words by using ‘devil’ or ‘demon’ according to whichever of the two Greek words is being translated.
When the word used is ‘devil’ then the translation is from the Greek word, ‘diabolos’, which means ‘a false accuser, a slanderer’. As with the term ‘satan’, the word is used for any occasion where someone is being slandered or falsely accused.
“In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers [Gk.: diabolos] but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” 1 Timothy 3: 11
“People will be lovers of themselves without love,unforgiving, slanderous [Gk.: diabolos], without self-control, ” 2 Timothy 3: 3
It is obvious that these devils were people, just as the satans were also people.