Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast


In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the writer describes the Adam and Eve with the Serpentcreation of the world and humankind by God. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, are placed by God in the beautiful Garden of Eden, sometimes also called Paradise. There is only one restriction placed by God on Adam and Eve: they are not to eat the fruit of one particular tree – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (See Big ideas: Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, ‘Second Adam'; Creation, creativity, Image of God.) They are, however, tempted by the serpent to disobey God, and their following actions result in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden to live in toil and sorrow.

Devil, Satan

Following a tradition developed by early Christian commentators, the serpent came to be identified with the Devil, or Satan, the enemy of mankind, whose name in Hebrew means ‘adversary, enemy, accuser'. The serpent also came to be identified with Lucifer (meaning ‘Light Bearer') who rebelled and fell from heaven (see Big ideas: Devils; Angels).

In the book of Job, Satan is allowed to test Job's faith in God. The most commonly held view of Satan is that of an evil spirit who seeks the damnation of humankind – and therefore appears in the New Testament as the direct antagonist of Christ, who wishes to bring redemption. He is the evil force who tempts Jesus in the wilderness, urging him to take earthly rather than spiritual power (see Big ideas: Temptation).

Another name sometimes used of the Devil is ‘Beelzebub', which translates as ‘Lord of the Flies'.


In the book of Revelation, chapter 13, two fearsome ‘beasts' are described which are the enemies of God and those who serve him.

Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast in literature

Milton's Paradise Lost

In his epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton uses traditional ideas to identify both the serpent as well as the fallen angel as manifestations of Satan. He also identifies the serpent with the dragon who is described in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, as fighting against God.

‘And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back' (Revelation 12:7).

Miller's The Crucible

The idea of ‘satanism', or devil worship, was closely associated with a belief in ‘witchcraft' in the Middle Ages and later centuries. A witch-hunt in the New England town of Salem in the seventeenth century is the topic of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, which shows how personal greed and spite can unleash horrific forces within an apparently Christian community.

Golding's Lord of the Flies

William Golding, in his novel Lord of the Flies, uses the term ‘The Beast' to suggest the innate evil in humans.

Related topics

Big ideas: Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, ‘Second Adam'; Creation, creativity, image of God; Devils; Angels; Temptation

Other cultural references

Milton's Paradise Lost

Arthur Miller's The Crucible

William Golding's Lord of the Flies

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