(Job 1:6) Is Satan the evil spirit known as the Devil? Or is he merely God’s prosecuting attorney?

CLAIM: Critical scholars argue that “Satan” is merely a prosecuting attorney that brings human sins to the divine council for the purpose of prosecuting them before God. In other words, Satan is not God’s adversary; he is merely one of God’s agents who prosecutes people for their sins—much like the angel of the Lord is an agent of God’s judgment (Ex. 12:23; Ps. 78:49). Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Our answer to this question reveals our assumptions about the inspiration of Scripture. Critical theologians hold a presupposition that we should not treat Scripture as collectively inspired by God through many different authors (e.g. 2 Tim. 3:16; see “A Case for Verbal Plenary Inspiration”). Instead, critics treat these books as separate writings of individual authors. Thus, when they exegete (or interpret) an individual book, they refuse to allow the whole of Scripture to aid in their interpretation. After all, in their view, why would we allow other biblical authors to inform our interpretation if these authors were separated by hundreds of years? For instance, David Cline writes that we should prevent ourselves from “identifying the figure of the Satan with ‘Satan’ of later Jewish and Christian theology. Although the latter is clearly derived from the former, it would be best to ignore the later development of the figure when establishing the nature and role of ‘the Satan’ in Job.”[1] This view holds that Satan was an evolutionary development of the various authors of Scripture, rather than a progressive revelation of the authors (see “Did the Concept of Satan Evolve?”).

Furthermore, this view leads to horrible conclusions. Cline continues, “Though [Satan’s] question prompts the assault on Job, and though he is the immediate instrument of Job’s sufferings, his responsibility is certainly no greater than Yahweh’s—and is actually less, since Yahweh is under no compulsion (as far as the story is concerned) to take the slightest notice of the Satan. The Satan, in short, is Job’s adversary; from the point of view of the action, more so than Yahweh, but from the point of view of the ethics, less so than Yahweh.”[2] In other words, Satan is less ethically responsible for Job’s suffering than God! This perverted interpretation is the exact opposite meaning of the text. Satan is not an innocent prosecutor working for God. Consider several arguments:

Arguments for Satan being a malevolent angel—the Devil

First, the definite article appears before Satan’s name (“the Satan”).[3] This shows that this figure is unique among the angels (“sons of God”). This is similar to the use of the definite article in Genesis 3:1 (“the serpent”), who is identified as “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9; cf. 20:2).

Second, Satan is in some sense separate from the other angels. The angels appear before God, and Satan appears “among them” (Job 1:6; 2:1). This implies that he is somehow distinct from the larger group of angels (Ezek. 28:14ff).

Third, Satan tried to “incite” God to “ruin [Job] without cause” (Job 2:3). Why would God want to commit senseless evil on a righteous man (Rom. 8:28)? The word “allure” can be translated as “attempting to persuade.”[4]

Fourth, why would a good and innocent angel want to harm a righteous man and get him to “curse” God? (Job 1:11; 2:4) “Satan” is described as an accuser (Zech. 3:1; Rev. 12:10), who provoked David to do evil (1 Chron. 21:1).

Fifth, God doesn’t not harm Job, but rather Satan does. God permits Satan’s evil, but he does not cause it (Job 1:12; 2:6). In the subsequent context, thousands of animals die, as well as Job’s servants and children. In context, this came from Satan—not God (Job 1:13-19). Moreover, the text explicitly states that “Satan… smote Job with sore boils” (Job 2:7). This fits with Jesus’ statements that Satan is a murderer and a liar (Jn. 8:44).

Sixth, the language of Satan “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:6; 2:2) fits with Peter’s language of Satan who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Seventh, the NT authors transliterate the Hebrew term “Satan” 36 times to refer to God’s angelic enemy. In other words, the NT authors clearly were identifying the title Satan with God’s accuser.

[1] Clines, D. J. A. (1998). Job 1–20 (Vol. 17, p. 20). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[2] Emphasis mine. Clines, D. J. A. (1998). Job 1–20 (Vol. 17, p. 20). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[3] Clines, D. J. A. (1998). Job 1–20 (Vol. 17, p. 20). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[4] Clines, D. J. A. (1998). Job 1–20 (Vol. 17, p. 20). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.