The Origins & Existence of Satan, The Serpent & The Lightbringer (Working Paper)
This question is somewhat underlined in the other problem of animal death in Genesis. There is an array of issues both theological and metaphysical that should be adequately addressed when dealing with the origins of Satan in the Biblical scope.
This paper will explore the origins of Satan, the serpent and what we can know without going to the extent that surpasses what is written in Scripture. You'll find quickly that he is not a two-horned angel living in hell, he is not disfigured and dark, but instead, he is an angel of light that sets out to deceive.
2 Corinthians 11:14 ESV
"And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light."
Paul exhorted the Corinthians “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6). When it comes to some traditional Christian interpretations, however, we have not always followed Paul’s advice. Regarding the idea that the snake who deceived Adam and Eve was Satan, we would do well “not to go beyond what is written,” since nowhere does the Bible state that the serpent was Satan.
Who is the serpent?
Genesis 3:1 clarifies that the serpent was an animal among others: “The serpent (nachash; נחשׁ) was craftier than all the other creatures of the field (Hayat ha’sadeh; חית השׂדה).” In response to the serpent’s deception, God says, “Cursed are you more than all the livestock (behemah; בהמה) and more than all the creatures of the field (Hayat ha’sadeh; חית השׂדה); on your belly you shall go, and dust (afar; עפר) you shall eat” (Gen 3:14). Since this curse functions concerning the other animals, it is best to read the serpent as a literal snake. Isaiah recalls this curse in an end-time vision, in which the snake is just another animal: “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust (afar; עפר) shall be the serpent’s food” (Isa 65:25). Isaiah did well not to go beyond what was written in Genesis.
Paul supports Genesis’ description of the serpent as an animal, telling the Corinthians, “I am afraid that as the serpent (ophis; ὄφις) deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Conversing to the church at Rome, Paul states, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). While this statement might remind us of God telling the serpent that Eve’s offspring “will bruise your head” (Gen 3:15), Paul’s language does not parallel the Greek version of Gen 3:15. Paul states that God will “crush” (suntribo; συντρίβω) Satan, but the Septuagint translates the Hebrew “bruise” (shuph; שׁוף) in Gen 3:15 with τηρέω (teréo; “guard”). Rather than pulling on Gen 3:15, Paul remembers the Psalms’ description of God crushing the primordial dragon, Leviathan: “You crushed (suntribo; συντρίβω) the heads of the dragons (drakónton; δρακόντων) on the waters; you shattered the heads of the dragon” (Ps 74[73 LXX]:13-14). The Hebrew terms for “dragon” in these verses are תנינים (tanninim; “sea-monsters”) and “Leviathan” (לויתן), sequentially.
To be sure, Satan is like the serpent in that, being a “liar” (pseustes; ψεύστης, see Jn 8:44), the devil tries to “tempt” (peiradzo; πειράζω, e.g., Matt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2; 1 Thess 3:5; Rev 2:10) and “lead astray” (planáo; πλανάω, Rev 12:9; 20:10; cf. 2 Cor 11:3). But these terms for Satan are not used of the serpent who “deceives” (apatao; ἀπατάω) in Eden (see Gen 3:13 LXX).
Now, Genesis does not attribute the serpent to being Satan. It isn't until the last book of the Bible that we get any picture at all as to who the serpent actually is.
Who is Satan or the Devil?
"So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast out to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him . . . He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years."(Revelation 12:9;20:2)
Revelation describes a heavenly battle in which “the great dragon was cast out, that ancient serpent, called the devil and Satan” (12:9). Satan is called a “serpent” (ophis; ὄφις) might remind us of the creature who deceives Adam and Eve (see Gen 3:1-6, 13). However, while the Greek Septuagint also calls the serpent of the Garden an ophis (Gen 3:1 LXX), the writer of Revelation may not referring to the snake we meet in Genesis.
One clue that Revelation may not be the snake in Eden because the source of John’s language isn’t Genesis; it’s Isaiah. With with calling the devil a “serpent” (ophis; ὄφις), Revelation first describes Satan as a “dragon” (drakon; δράκων). The only other verse in Scripture that we see a creature who is called both a “dragon” and a “serpent” is in Isaiah’s description of the primordial sea-monster, Leviathan. According to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet states, “In that day God shall bring a holy and great and strong sword against the dragon (drakon; δράκων), the serpent (ophis; ὄφις) that flees, upon the dragon (drakon; δράκων), the twisting serpent (ophis; ὄφις): [God] shall defeat the dragon (drakon; δράκων)” (Isa 27:1 LXX). Since Isaiah resounds the words “dragon” and “serpent” several times in this verse, we can be confident that this is the very verse to which John refers in Revelation.
According to the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 27:1, the dragon that God will stop at the end of days is called “Leviathan”: “In that day the Lord, with his heavy and great and strong sword, will punish Leviathan (livyatan; לויתן) the fleeing serpent (nachash; נחשׁ), Leviathan the twisting serpent (livyatan nachash ‘aqalaton; לויתן נחשׁ עקלתון), and he will slay the dragon (tannin; תנין) that is in the sea.” Subsequently, the Bible makes mentions to Leviathan as a great chaos monster of the sea that God defeats at the creation of the world (e.g., Ps 74:12-14). It is this ancient chaos creature that John calls “the devil and Satan” in Rev 12:9, rather than the snake in the Garden of Eden. The dragon of Revelation is a primal monster that embodies the forces of chaos and disorder.
This concept appears in Revelation 12:7-9, NKJV. “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
We have to ask ourselves, how does Satan get to this point? The point where he is a mighty dragon taking on the forces of heaven. We go back to the Ruler of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 where we see Satan controlling a ruler for the purpose of his own. However, the text (which is covered in literary devices) depicts a mystery to readers.
Commentator Ironside says,
"It is very evident that of no earthly ruler could these words be spoken. Undoubtedly we have here the original condition and the fall of Satan himself. It was of him that God could say, “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.” Men often ask why God created the devil. The answer is He never created the devil; He created a pure spirit-being of great wisdom and glory, but this spirit dared to conspire against the throne of God, and so the greatest of all the angels became the arch-enemy of God and man."
"The prophet says of this spirit leader, “Thou wast in Eden, the garden of God.” This would seem to suggest that before man himself was created, this glorious being had charge of the lower creation. There is a mystery here that we may not be able to solve, but Jesus Himself says, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18). He may have been the one appointed from the beginning to take charge of this world. We do not speak dogmatically, however, as to this, but these verses seem at least to suggest it. Every precious stone was his covering. These precious stones speak of the glories in which God’s saints are yet to stand before Him, as we find in the book of Revelation; and here we see them all combined in the robes of this great angelic leader. It was his to lead the praises of the angelic host. The workmanship of his tabrets and of his pipes suggests this: in the day that he was created he was prepared to lead the heavenly choir. He is described as the “anointed cherub that covereth”: that is, he was the angel that attended on the throne of God. It was Jehovah Himself who had set him there. He dwelt in the very presence of Deity, walking up and down in the midst of the stones of fire, for we read, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). He was created perfect, but how long this condition continued we are not told. The Word simply says, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till unrighteousness was found in thee.”
This text does something incredible for readers; it shows that God is showing that Tyre is under Satan and God does something, poetic, he speaks at Tyre while looking at Satan, his once perfect creation. He says look at who you were and what you're becoming. Ezekiel 28 addresses two at once, the Ruler of Tyre and Satan. The closing verses, as we have mentioned, link this great being so intimately with the literal Tyrian ruler that one can hardly be distinguished from the other. Because of the way in which he dominated the heart of the last prince of Tyre, the judgments depicted were to fall.
The question arises from there whether or not Satan embodied or was the transcendental phenomenology behind the serpent in Genesis. There is little evidence of this, so we are left with speculation. This might come as a surprise because we are raised on the stories that are told in bible class on Sundays that Satan was the one original tempting Eve. There is, however, a theological case that we can make that gives weight to the notion that Satan was, in fact, the serpent in the Genesis.
However, there is much to think of when it comes to the phenomenology of sin and Satan. Some people link the two directly; one cannot bear without the other. Is sin a force that embodied itself in Satan? is Satan the sole portion by which sin was "brought forth" or is sin simply action and not a metaphysical embodiment at all? is sin simply an action that angels or men "do" that separates them from God. There is an eery weight to this thought of sin, Satan, and mankind. How can something perfect become sin? Does the existence of perfection (or holiness) require the existence of sin?
These are many questions that should be pondered and approached Biblically, Theologically and Spiritually.
Continuing, the verse Genesis 2:17 states that this tree that Adam and Eve shall not eat from contained knowledge of "good and evil." This implies that both good and evil existed already, in some fashion. You cannot include knowledge of something that does not exist. That knowledge cannot be known unless it exists, somewhere.
It's interesting to note that the ancient Near Eastern combat myth motif, exemplified in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat in Enuma Elish and Baal and Yam/Mot in ancient Canaan, typically depicted the bad guy as a serpent. As we've seen in other articles, Genesis is a polemic against other ANE writings of that time. It is not a surprise that Genesis depicts the "bad guy" as a serpent here.
Some argue that in the span of days 1-5, Satan was created, fell and brought upon temptation once Adam and Eve were created the next day. This is absurd for many reasons but is often portrayed by the Young Earth Creationist who attempt to force a bundle of things into seven days.
The argument would have to maintain that God created Satan day one (most likely) and in that span of a few days, Satan fell due to pride, left the Spiritual Realm, entered our realm, entered creation as a serpent and prepared to deceive the humans who were yet to be created. If you wish to follow this argument, I will present to you that you spend more time in precisely what Scripture tells us rather than speculating on what might have been.
Satan, or the Satan, starts to take a different shape from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In the Old Testament, we see, the prophet describes a vision of the high priest Joshua standing in a similar divine council, also functioning as a tribunal. Before him stand YHWH’s messenger and the satan, who is there to accuse him. This vision is Zechariah’s way of pronouncing YHWH’s approval of Joshua’s appointment to the high priesthood in the face of adversarial community members, represented by the satan. The messenger rebukes the satan and orders that Joshua’s dirty clothing be replaced, as he promises Joshua is continuing access to the divine council. Once again, the satan is not Satan whom we read about in the New Testament.
Who is Lucifer?
The word or even proper name for "Lucifer" never appears in the Bible, despite what people believe. The usage in the KJV to translate "הֵילֵל" into Lucifer is incorrect and never was written in or used in the originals. Rather, "helel" means "Lightbringer" or "morning star". It wasn't until the King James Version mixed with John Milton in the 1600s that this becomes a tradition within Christianity. Therefore, it is perfectly fine to say "Lucifer" is Satan but that is not based on Scripture, but rather pure mythology.
It is difficult to determine at which point in Israel’s history the Accuser began to take on a much more sinister role in the Israelite/Jewish belief structure, or how heaven’s great prosecutor became the prince of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). It is indeed easy to make the connection between Israel’s time in exile and the likely influence of the cosmic dualism of Persian religion. It is clear, however, that by the first century C.E., Judaism developed a belief in the divine forces of darkness doing battle against the forces of light. This can be seen within the New Testament and other extra-Biblical writings such as those found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Greek word diabolos (from which “devil” is derived), meaning “slanderer,” comes from a verb that means “to hurl” (i.e., accusations). Diabolos was typically used as the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew śāṭān (in the Septuagint version of Job, for example), though it was not uncommon to simply transliterate the word into the Greek satanas (1 Kings 11:14). Other names used for the leader of the forces of evil at this time include Maśṭēmāh, which means “hatred” (1QM 13:4, 11; Jubilees 10:8), and Belial, a popular name among the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which means “worthless” or “corrupt.” “Children of Belial” (Hebrew: bene-belial) was a typical phrase used to describe evil people in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:13; 1 Samuel 1:16; 2 Chronicles 13:7, etc.). If someone were searching for a name that personified evil in the Hebrew Bible, it would be Belial, not Satan. Interesting enough, the name only occurs once in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:15), as Paul’s stark contrast to Christ.
Throughout the Gospels, Satan’s “kingdom” is never considered to be a burning underworld full of the tormented dead, but, rather, is equated with the bondage of sin and the curses brought upon humanity for acts of unrighteousness. According to Jesus (Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21–22), a “strong man” (Satan) must be bound in order to plunder his house for treasures (humans), and it is clear he viewed his ministry and that of his disciples within this context.
We've established various points in the realm of Satan, the Serpent and what the Bible teaches. We started with a thought on Genesis and the serpent, was this a literal serpent or was it a way of conveying that Satan was present and enticing Eve? Ezekiel 28 tells us that it is possible that Satan was once the guardian of Eden. It's also possible that Satan, in standard angelic form, enticed eve and she related him to a cunning snake, which gives way to the tradition. Though, all this being speculation, I would still wish to adhere to what the Bible says and leave speculation for friendly conversations.
This paper is working and will be updated as research continues.
Citations and References to explore.