Is Satan ‘Sin personified’?

Have you noticed that ‘The Devil’ and ‘Satan’ does not get mentioned at all when Paul deals with the cause of sin and death in the book of Romans?

I came across a 27-page paper on this subject that is a very interesting read for anyone interested in exploring this subject. I’ve included a couple of key quotes below, but the full paper can be read here: “Paul, Sin and Satan: The Root of Evil according to Romans”

“What Paul does in Romans is write about sin. He does not write much about specific sins (although he gives several examples of sins in Rom 1:18–32), more about sin in general. His language strikes the casual reader as odd. He writes about sin as though it were a person. For example, he writes: “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin” (Rom 5:12); “just as sin exercised dominion in death” (5:21); “do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies” (6:12); “sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (7:8); “apart from the law sin lies dead” (7:8); “when the commandment came, sin revived” (7:9); “For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (7:11); “sold into slavery under sin” (7:14); and the classic line: “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (7:20). This personification of generic sin in the singular is unusual, and in Paul’s letters we find it almost exclusively in Romans. The literally minded reader may ask, How can sin come or go anywhere by itself? How can it spread from person to person? How can sin exercise dominion? How can sin seize an opportunity? How can sin kill a person? How can sin in fact do anything? How can sin have a body, and how can this body be destroyed (Rom 6:6)? How can sin be dead if it was never alive to begin with? And how can it come back to life? The literal reader may notice that these things Paul says of sin are reminiscent of what has been said of Satan elsewhere in the New Testament and Christian tradition: Paul said that sin exercised dominion in death (Rom 5:21), while Heb 2:14 identifies the one who has power over death as the devil; he used people’s fear of death to hold them in slavery (Heb 2:15)…”

“What Paul does say is that sin came into the world through one man (Rom 5:12); he does not say it came into the world through the devil. Paul’s view of sin is consistent with his learned Jewish background, and is comparable to that of James. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (Jas 2:13–15). In this dogmatic statement, James does not allow the reader to blame anyone but himself and his own desires for his sin. Yet this conviction does not keep him from personifying desire, sin and death. Paul writes, “we were enemies to God” (Rom 5:10; compare Rom 11:28). It is worth taking those words seriously – according to Paul we humans were God’s enemies, we were not just a battlefield in a cosmic fight between God and the devil. Nowhere does Paul absolve people of responsibility for their actions, not even in Rom 7:20.”

“Considering that Paul believes that there is only one God, we may ask whether the existence of an independently existing evil counterpart to God fits in his worldview. Is it reasonable to interpret sin personified as Satan, or to take Paul’s language about Satan literally?”… “While Paul does not equate Sin and Satan, we have seen how some Christian theologians and Jewish rabbis have made such equations. Is there any significant difference between Sin personified and Satan? Both refer to a power that induces people to do evil, and neither can be defeated by the individual’s own efforts. Perhaps Sin personified and Satan are two ways of looking at the same thing”? 

All quotations are from this published paper: “Paul, Sin and Satan: The Root of Evil according to Romans”
by Torsten Löfstedt (2010)
Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok, 75: 109-134

Read the full 27-page paper here:

“Paul, Sin and Satan: The Root of Evil according to Romans”

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One Comment

  1. As far as I understand, when humans were tempted and ate from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden they choose to replace God as the one who determines right from wrong. If they had chosen to eat from the tree of life (which I believe represents Jesus) they would have his eternal Spirit in them, guiding and empowering them to do God’s kingdom will for eternity on earth. By choosing to be like God, but without His Spirit, because of our physical human bodies, we became susceptible to going away from the truth and God’s kingdom will (sin), preferring instead lies that gave them temporary feeling of pleasure or power. To me sin therefore is more like a virus, that is only seen to be alive when it has a host.

    However, it seems from Ezekiel 28 that Satan is a fallen angel, influencing the king of Tyre, who once was perfect and beautiful angel (lucifer) who walked in the garden of Eden. At some point his beauty made him prideful and he was thrown to earth. Being an intelligent being, yet evil, it seems most likely he was behind the temptation of Adam and Eve, not God or indeed a reptile. The humans believed him, but the words were lies. Satan became the enemy of not just God but humanity. Of course most of the lies in the world are passed on through people, but now according to the Bible, Satan, as ruler of demons, ruler of the world and the accuser of God’s people is the Father of lies.

    I believe the enemy and his demons have limited power over people, but can influence us especially our perception and imagination, whether good or bad. They can deceive and tempt us into sin. However, the good news is, we can now we can eat of the tree of life (Jesus) and have His eternal Spirit live in us guiding us into his Kingdom will. His Spirit is helping us by transforming our hearts and minds in line with the truth. We are no longer under the control of the enemy or sin. As we grow as Jesus’ disciples hopefully, we become less susceptible to the enemies lies. Not only is Christ’s death and resurrection a cure for sin, (by grace, through faith) but His Spirit gives us power over sin and helps inoculate us from the lies of the enemy, as we grow to be more like Him.

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