What did Satan do that was so bad?

I saw this meme about Satan, and it made me ask a question. What horrible acts did Satan do in the Bible?

I know about the horrors God is said to have committed — plagues and smitings and genocide and wars of conquest and murdering all but 8 people on Earth — but all this Satan character seems to do is tempt people away from worshipping the psychopathic deity. I’m not sufficiently informed about the Bible to know all the details, so…are there stories about Satan afflicting people with boils? Siccing bears on children? Asking people to murder their neighbors? There’s a notable lack of specific crimes attributed to the so-called bad guy. It’s a book claimed to be written/inspired by God — do we need to introduce Christians to the concept of the unreliable narrator?


  1. Matt G says

    “Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith! Banish me from Eden when you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge!” -Robert G. Ingersoll

  2. KG says

    are there stories about Satan afflicting people with boils?

    Yes – Book of Job. He also kills Job’s family and deprives him of his possessions. But all this is done as part of a wager with God – Satan says Job only fawns on God because God has given him a family, wealth, health, etc. God gives him the OK to do all these unpleasant things to Job, which Satan does, but Job refuses to “foolishly” blame God for his misfortunes, even though God is, in fact, responsible for them. In the end, God makes him rich and healthy again, and he acquires a new family. So that’s all right then: neither Job, nor God, nor the unknown author, gives a shit about the dead wife and children once he has replacements.

  3. mamba says

    In a back and forth with a church group one time, I challenged them to find me an example in the Bible where Satan DID something evil, malicious, or even lied. The catch is that it had to show him doing/saying it…no hearsay allowed. So for example if Paul declares that Satan is not to be trusted, show me an example of that. If it says he’s evil, I need an actual example.

    NONE of them could do it, and they study the Bible.

    They assured me I was still wrong of course, but at no point could they show me Satan being evil at all. I found that very refreshing frankly, and this meme seems to agree with me.

  4. raven says

    Most of what xians believe about satan isn’t even found in the bible anyway.
    Quite a lot of it was made up by John Milton in his story about satan.

    A few.
    Satan isn’t the magic snake in the garden of Eden.
    That snake was punished by losing its legs and then it found a girl snake and they had a family together.

    Satan doesn’t rule in hell. Satan isn’t even in hell right now.
    He was in Pergamum Turkey but his throne from there was moved to Berlin, Germany.

  5. says

    The classic one people are going to point to is the snake in the Garden of Eden, but that character is never identified as Satan. It is only ever referred to as “the serpent”. That’s all I got.
    I was raised Catholic so there really wasn’t a lot of talk about Satan or the devil. Catholics just don’t believe that sort of thing these days. That’s more for the Evangelicals Baptists, and other such idiots who prefer their religion a bit more SENSATIONAL!.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Birth of Satan by Wray and Mobley is a good book that dissects the Satan story arc.

    Going from memory: much of our perception stems from extrabiblical sources such as Dante and John Milton and more recent movies. He’s not originally the snake in Eden, Tanakh is patchy. The Adversary starts getting scapegoated for God’s bad qualities (weal retained where woe gets offloaded).

    New Testament is where he comes into his own. Christian worldview biased by NT and especially Revelation. On latter point see Pagels’ Origin of Satan.

  7. microraptor says

    What time period was that, @Ray Ceeya?

    Because I went to a Catholic elementary school when I was a kid in the 80s and the idea of Satan was definitely something they believed in then.

  8. raven says


    .1. Satan Doesn’t Live In Hell . . . He Lives In Turkey

    One of the most universally accepted facts about Satan—that he rules over all the demons in Hell—is also one of the most incorrect. According to the Bible, Satan doesn’t rule in Hell and doesn’t live there, either. He lives on Earth, walking among us and tempting us to commit sins and turn to his side.

    The Book of Revelation goes a step farther and names the ancient Turkish city of Pergamum as the “Throne of Satan.”

  9. says

    Never went to Catholic school, just the church. It was a Latino church too in the 90s. Can’t remember Father Paco mentioning the devil or Satan even once. Maybe my experience was abnormal, but I still feel the Evangelicals are far more focused on this destructive dualism than the old school churches.

  10. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Raised Catholic, abandoned it centuries ago. As a child I tried reading the Bibble from cover to cover, got halfway throught the OT, skipped over to the Last Chapter for the exciting stuff.
    All I remember of Satan was spending some time in the desert with Jeebus talking about how their father is so awful and will Jeebus leave him and join Satan for relief.
    All the atrocities documented in the Bibble all seem to have been evil men, who justify their behavior by throwing Satan;s name around.
    I mean who flooded and drowned the entire Earth? Who turned Lot’s wife to salt? etc etc.
    All I know of Satan was the big bad in Dante’s Inferno
    — the synopsis of the Bibble I related, is all me being a bad narrator. Grain of salt is on the way.

  11. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    RE 10:
    of course I failed to add the obvious question:
    Q: Who commanded Abraham to kill his first born son?
    A: I don’t think it was Satan.
    PS: rewarding Abraham for passing the test, by Abe refusing to follow the command, is not a good characteristic of a god, in my book

  12. birgerjohansson says

    In the oldest iteration of the OT “the satan” (it is a descriptive title, not a name) is just this angel that is apparently some enforcer for Jahwe .
    Later, he was considered too much of a c*nt to be associated with Jahwe, so he was retconned as a baddie spirit.
    He is NOT named Lucifer, that is a Roman-era latin translation of light-bringer, in a passage that referred to the King of Babylon.
    BTW when Tolkien said “Sauron” was just the elvish word for “the enemy” he was inspired by the naming of the satan – it means “adversary:, but in a legal context. When he messed with Job, be was just doing quality control for his boss.

  13. consciousness razor says

    From the wikipedia entry:

    The Synoptic Gospels identify Satan and his demons as the causes of illness,[68] including fever (Luke 4:39), leprosy (Luke 5:13), and arthritis (Luke 13:11–16),[68] while the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the Devil as “him who holds the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14).[74] The author of Luke-Acts attributes more power to Satan than both Matthew and Mark.[75] In Luke 22:31, Jesus grants Satan the authority to test Peter and the other apostles.[76] Luke 22:3–6 states that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because “Satan entered” him[75] and, in Acts 5:3, Peter describes Satan as “filling” Ananias’s heart and causing him to sin.[77] The Gospel of John only uses the name Satan three times.[78] In John 8:44, Jesus says that his Jewish or Judean enemies are the children of the Devil rather than the children of Abraham.[78] The same verse describes the Devil as “a man-killer from the beginning”[78] and “a liar and the father of lying.”[78][79] John 13:2 describes the Devil as inspiring Judas to betray Jesus[80] and John 12:31–32 identifies Satan as “the Archon of this Cosmos”, who is destined to be overthrown through Jesus’s death and resurrection.[81] John 16:7–8 promises that the Holy Spirit will “accuse the World concerning sin, justice, and judgement”, a role resembling that of the satan in the Old Testament.[82]

    Causing illness and death, making Judas sell out his friend to the Romans, a big-time liar…. Satan was a bad dude, and he ran a bunch of bad boys.

    Also from wikipedia:

    The Book of Revelation represents Satan as the supernatural ruler of the Roman Empire and the ultimate cause of all evil in the world.

    That definitely sounds bad too. And it’s fine in terms of what the book represents to be true. However, in addition to what KG said about the Job story, in numerous other parts of the Bible, the implication is still that evil is at least ultimately (if not directly) caused by God, who is understood to be more powerful and is responsible for allowing it to exist at all (as well as Satan, etc.). You’re just supposed to find some way of not being upset about that, because God will kick your ass if you complain too much.

    Satan would torture you too, but if you join God’s team (and assuming he’s okay with that), he’ll “protect” you, meaning you’ll get to experience his preferred form eternal torture instead of Satan’s. It’s generally thought to be the less painful option — whether it’s the morally better option is a totally different question — but of course that’s not saying very much. I mean, on the one hand, he’s not Donald Trump, but on the other, he’s not Donald Trump. And that’s probably all you need to know. Or it isn’t. The world may never know.

  14. 00001000bit says

    The character of Satan is actually pretty interesting. It is mostly a retcon that was applied to earlier stories to fit with a later philosophy of opposing forces. The early Hebrew faith didn’t have a “Satan” character. The mentions in early books, like Job, are about “ha satan” (the adversary/the accuser) which is not a name, but the title of someone who is playing the role of the adversary. This adversary, in the book of Job, is an adversary of MAN, not of God. The accuser is taking the role of prosecuting attorney and talking about man’s unworthyness in front of the judge, El.

    It wasn’t until the Hebrews mixed with other cultures that the stories became intermingled. Zoroastrian influence made its impact, as its characters of Ahura Mazda / Angra Mainyu brought the concept of diametrically opposed good/evil gods to the Hebrew mythology. After this is when the old stories get morphed to make Satan out to be an adversary to God. It even went so far as to cast him as the “serpent” in the garden story, even though that story clearly is talking about an actual snake. (Otherwise, the punishment makes absolutely no sense.)

    Much of the back story comes from the Book of Enoch, which is not canon for most Christian sects. It was known enough, though, that it was referenced by other canon books, and the stories it contains of fallen angels seems to have made its way indelibly into the Christian mythos, even though there are only vague refrences when using only canonized sources.

    It also solidified more as the ancient Hebrew pantheon whittled it’s way down to just a few characters. Many of the old characters needed to be merged to fit the new “monotheistic” narrative. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” pretty much means there WERE other gods, just that they were supposed to be lower raking. As time went on and they worked it down to a single “good god” (Yahweh) and a single “bad god” (Satan) – they each took on roles that were attributed to others in an older, more varied, pantheon.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    The Satan in the TV series is a cool nightclub owner. And he believes in free will.

  16. JoeBuddha says

    Sees Jesus struggling with his fate. Challenges him to define just who he is. The tempting of Jesus was so bizarre. Satan was obviously acting as a mentor.

  17. call me mark says

    What did Satan do that was so bad? Failed to bend the knee. Non serviam. The tyrant-god of the bibble doesn’t like disobedience.

  18. asteraceae says

    My impression of the story of Job was that Satan tricked God into torturing his most loyal servant:

    Satan: This dude Job really think’s you’re the shiz.
    God: Yep.
    Satan: That’s just because you give him stuff.
    God: Nope.
    Satan: Prove it.
    God: Watch this!
    Job: suffers, remains faithful
    Satan: Wow, you’re right. You win, God!

    So the moral of the story is that God is vain, cruel and gullible. A real man God would have had the self-regard, and would have loved his loyal subjects enough, to tell Satan to fuck off. Satan has merely proved it to the reader. (At great cost, obvs. Not saying he’s a good guy or anything.)

  19. birgerjohansson says

    For silly claims about Satan/Iblis, go to the quran and hadith. This is not muslim-bashing. At most it is Muhammed-bathing because that dude said a lot of stupid things about Satan.
    However, M also said that when people ask about things like inherent contradictions in the scripture, that curiosity comes from Satan. So I guess Satan is a pretty clever one.

  20. says

    slithey tov @11

    PS: rewarding Abraham for passing the test, by Abe refusing to follow the command, is not a good characteristic of a god, in my book

    No, if Abraham refused he would have failed the test. He was going to do it until a messenger from God stopped him, thus passing the test. That’s how fucked up that is.

  21. davidc1 says

    Is the devil the same as satan and that other name beginning with B that i am too lazy to look up the correct spelling ?
    @16 See you made a reference to” Good Omens “? Best line in the Book was “Pestilence Took Early Retirement After the Invention of Antibiotics ,to be Replaced by Pollution “.

  22. Akira MacKenzie says

    asteraceae @ 20

    A real man/ God would have had the self-regard, and would have loved his loyal subjects enough, to tell Satan to fuck off. Satan has merely proved it to the reader.

    Ah, but that’s a very 21st century way of looking at a deity, isn’t it? Try looking from the perspective of the original authors. Much like the kings and emperors of the time, a god was a being of terrible power and wrath who demonstrated its “love” by not smiting you out of spite. Just as you were supposed to grovel before a king you are supposed to grovel before a god, and if god/king decides to kill you on whim, that’s his right to do.

    Yahweh is just an extension of the temporal despots of the author’s time. The claims of omnibenevolence would come later as more recent theologians needed to combat those nosy, Enlightenment-era thinkers who started asking why anyone would want to worship a cosmic sociopath.

  23. asteraceae says

    @24 I don’t buy it. They knew their rulers were full of shit. They were enough like us enough to scrawl “Caesar sucks donkey dick*” on the walls of Pompeii.

    I made that up but it’s not far off the truth.

  24. ORigel says

    In the Book of Job, the titular character was a super-righteous man. He never sinned, but made sin offerings in case he accidently sinned. He was prosperous, with a huge farm, ten children, and servants.

    Satan accused Job, saying that he was only righteous because God had blessed him. If he lost his home and children, Satan said, he would curse God. So God and Satan made a bet. Satan would be allowed to do anything to Job’s property and children, if he left Job untouched.

    So Job’s children suddenly died, his home was destroyed by Satan. Yet Job didn’t curse God. So Satan made another bet with God: afflict Job with painful boils, and he would currse God. So Satan inflicted Job with boils. Job still did not curse God, though he did curse the day he was born.

    So Satan killed ten people, with YHWH’s permission. Interestingly, Job is thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. There is no hint that Satan even rebelled against God in that book, but God did ask Satan where he had been like He was not omniscient. Satan replied, “To and fro in the earth.”

  25. dianne says

    @24 and 25: I suspect it was some of each: Some loved their emperor and believed him chosen by the gods to lead the great empire, others not so much. Rather like the US in 2020.

  26. blf says

    What did the horny red myth do? Hire all the best musicians… chefs… storytellers… and many other interesting people. Without regard to their skin colour, culture, language, ethnicity, or preference in cheeses.

  27. microraptor says

    @9: Hmm, may have been due to the Satanic Panic still going strong at the time, or might have been a regional thing. They weren’t as obsessed as the Evangelicals but there was definitely “beware the power of SATAN!” going on.

  28. says

    It’s funny how Soviet communists opposed christianity when they were so similar (i.e. Marx making people think, Trotsky being cast out like satan, Lenin’s old testament and Stalin’s new testament eras, etc.).

  29. says

    @#26, ORigel:

    And don’t forget, it was all okay with Job, because god gave him a replacement wife, children, and riches.

    Quick show of hands, parents in the audience: if your children and spouse died because somebody else had made a bet, and that person then came to you and said “oh, hey, it’s alright, I’m going to give you another spouse and you can have more kids” would you be okay with that?

  30. CJO says


    Interestingly, Job is thought to be the oldest book in the Bible.

    Job is a late poetic work, incorporating what is, indeed, an old folktale, which material may be among the oldest texts in the Hebrew bible. But it’s important to understand that the bulk of the text is not as old as the source material. Translations often obscure this by smoothing out the differences between the (prose) folktale and the poetic extrapolation from it, which is the bulk of the text.

    An interesting development in the Hebrew bible is the transition from older texts that unproblematically attribute evil to the direct actions of Yahweh to later texts that attribute the perpetration of evil to “The Adversary,” (Ha Shaytan; Satan) who is understood to be ultimately a creation of and an agent of Yahweh but has greater or lesser independent agency in various texts. The classic case study for this development is the parallel between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, where 1 & 2 Samuel are “J texts,” that is generally understood in the Documentary Hypothesis to be the work of the so-called Yawehist, and the books of Chronicles are part of the later Deuteronomist History, contemporary with the book of Deuteronomy.

    2 Samuel 24:1

    Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

    1 Chronicles 21:1

    Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.”

    (Incidentally, why taking a census was a bad thing to do was that counting something implied that collection of things belonged to one; the people of Judah were not David’s to count, they were God’s.)

  31. billmcd says

    Yep, as has been pointed out multiple times in these comments, ‘Satan’ is a job title, and the angel given the job (sometimes ID’d as Sammael, sometimes not) is, in fact, doing God’s Will. Isaiah 45:7 makes it even more clear: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

    It’s all God. Satan is just executing God’s Will, something that as a being of questionable free will (angels aren’t supposed to have it, after Azazel’s rebellion [cuz they wanted to have sex with women] in Enoch), he can’t not do. Pretty dick move from God, if you ask me.

  32. kaleberg says

    “Most of what xians believe about satan isn’t even found in the bible anyway.
    Quite a lot of it was made up by John Milton in his story about satan.”

    Raven’s right. Milton wrote some great Bible fanfic. His Satan character is one of the greats. (Of course, The New Testament was just an Old Testament fanfic sequel, which shows that fanfic can transcend.)

  33. wzrd1 says

    The offense was, you failed to submit.
    All is cool if you submit to being strangled on the street to death, object and earn heeeeelllllllllllllll!
    As kaleberg said, most of that bullshit was invented, little was said of Satan, “the devil” or the Dewey Decimal Point System, for the latter, well, for a book of prophecies, oddly silent.
    I’ll stick with Dewey, despite being an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.
    My wife still is confused, as she insists on what she was raised with.

    But, in oppositions to kaleberg, I submit that Christianity was Buddhism writ Christian easy path out to heathen, erm, heaven.
    Or Nirvana or whatever choice of living it up after turning into scavenger food.

  34. publicola says

    @23: Beelzebub is the name you were looking for. Christians have to have someone to blame for all God’s mischief, (just like Comrade Trumpski). Satan is a convenient scapegoat.

  35. Owlmirror says

    If you have a collection of sacred writings which are, in some sense, supposed to be “true”, and those writings contain a talking snake, you’re going to run into problems when you see real snakes and realize that they cannot, in fact, talk (snakes can often barely hear). So while it’s true that the text says “snake”, it didn’t take too long for interpretations to arise where the snake wasn’t actually a snake; it was “really” an evil spirit pretending to be a snake, or the tool of an evil spirit.

    As I recall, the name of the evil spirit wasn’t necessarily “Satan” . Samael was another popular name for the spirit (and of course, some said that Samael and Satan were the same, or that “Satan” was a role (accuser), while “Samael” was the name).

    Since I was curious, I looked up my book of legends. No name is ascribed to the snake in there, still, here’s some LOLMIDRASH about MAGIC SNEKS:

    R. Simeon ben Menasya said: What a pity that a great servant was lost to the world! Had the serpent not been cursed, everyone in Israel would have had two useful serpents at his beck and call, and would have been able to send one north and the other south to bring him valuable sardonyx, precious stones, pearls of purest ray, and every kind of exquisite thing of great worth in the world. Not only that, but the serpent could have been used instead of a camel or donkey or mule, for a strap could have been fastened under its tail and it would then have brought earth and manure for everyone’s garden and waste­ land. (B. Sanh 59b; ARN l)

  36. Matthew Currie says

    Just a quick heads-up. If you have not read Anatole France’s “The Revolt of the Angels,” you should.