The Devil is a figure of mystery, deceit and destruction in numerous religious faiths around the world.The figure of the Devil has been alluded to, taken shape and refigured ever since the dawn of man’s consciousness.In Christianity, the Devil is referred to as Satan, Lucifer or Beelzebub and is seen as the willful adversary to God’s will and a key player in the battle between good and evil.The Bible is widely believed to be the ultimate reference point for understanding the Devil’s role in the world. But what does it say about what he looks like?
Realities of the Bible’s Text
The Bible offers few universally agreed direct visual descriptions of the Devil, instead using a range of colorful metaphors and allegories, including those of a roaring lion and serpent.In terms of religious texts, some say that it is the most significant in terms of offering up direct knowledge of the true nature of both man and God, but in terms of offering a clear vision of what the Devil looks like, there is significant disagreement.
The four books of the Gospels offer minimal details, with the iconic moment of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness of the desert seemingly non-visual. The Book of Revelation in the Nuveau Testament does offer a description of an unusual figure of what appears to be a mythical beast referred to as the “beast from the sea” who “had seven heads and ten horns and on his horns ten crowns and on his heads a blasphemous name”.
This is just one instance in the Bible, however, and there is no real consensus discernible from the body of the text on what the Devil looks like.The Apocrypha and the Old Testament are both thought to provide more details yet still it is difficult to find a universal description.
In the opinion of many theologians, it can be assumed that the devil’s physical form is wholly dependent on the perception of those beholding him.Varying descriptions of the devil have abounded since early Christianity, with some seeing the Devil as a normal man whilst some perceive a monstrous form.At the same time, some Christians doubt the existence of a physical devil at all, instead seeing him as an abstract concept.
From a Biblical perspective, Professor Emeritus of Bible and Archaeology Richard Elliott Friedman points to the story of Jacob wrestling a “man” in the Book of Genesis as being a possible allusion to a physical Devil.Regardless, Friedman emphasizes that whilst what the Devil looks like is a subject which many feel the need to know, the Bible itself is not definitive on the subject.
Alternative Religious Perspectives
The Biblical version of the Devil as commonly known by the majority of the world’s population is not the only one.Many Islamic scholars, for example, view the devil as a force in line with the idea of evil and corruption, represented by a metaphorical force instead of an actual being.Other religious systems, such as gnosticism, feature the devil in a range of roles and forms.
In classical Chinese myth and folklore, the demons of the underworld are generally depicted as grotesque figures and ghosts, often of huge scope and power. Depictions here are generally closer to the traditional mythological variant than the religious traditionalist perspective, with the Devil as a being of physical form, not merely as a symbol.
My Own Insights
From my point of view, trying to decide what the Devil looks like is in one way a futile task – after all the Bible does not necessarily provide a decisive answer in the first place. At the same time, however, the devil figure can act as a powerful symbol of the world’s inherent inequities and anxieties, reminding us of the need to keep the forces of darkness in check.
We can thus use this symbol, in whichever form we choose to visualise it, as a representation of the pointlessness of the everyday struggles which we all relentlessly fight with, and which ultimately are so meaningless. In this sense, one cannot rely on the Bible to provide a definitive answer, but personal exploration and intellectual understanding can help us to perceive the Devil in a way meaningful to us.
Devil’s Legacy in Art and Literature
The Devil has had a lasting impact across the ages, thanks in part due to the rich literary and artistic associations which have been attributed to, or else inspired by, the character. In much of western art, the Devil is portrayed to look like a winged, horned humanoid and is often be associated with other mythical beasts, such as the dragon and the basilisk, in a bid to illustrate their unknowable power.
Themes of demonic imagery continued around into the 16th and 17th centuries, as works such as ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ tell of epic battles between heaven and hell.The death of Satan in the former work, in particular, has been acclaimed as a victory over evil, yet again demonstrating the persistence of the Devil figure in literature and art.
Scientific Explanations For Belief in the Devil
In an age of science, it can seem quite paradoxical that any belief in a tangible, physical form of the Devil still persists. From a scientific point of view there have been various explanations offered as to why belief in this concept so persists.
For example, some believe that the fear of the Devil is a throwback to the fear of the unknown and the subconscious terror which this can produce. Even as humans understand more of their world and its intricacies, such basic fears remain seemingly ever-present in the human psyche, destined to be refigured and portrayed in whatever form seems most convenient at the time.
Leading neurologists, meanwhile, have tended to suggest that a fear of the Devil exists due to a need for the human mind to externalize threats and physical manifestations which it does not understand. As a figure of violence, disaster and retribution, the Devil offers a comforting pretence to explain the darker elements of human nature, with a tangible being to blame just as much as a metaphysical concept.
Devil’s Connotation with Evil
Although the figure of the Devil can be seen as a useful metaphor for various aspects of human experience, including our own feelings of guilt and alienation, there is little argument that the character of the Devil is generally associated with a range of negative connotations.
References to different acts of evil and sin are often attributed to the word ‘Devil’, with the concept often being used as an exaggerated means to explain away unfavorable behavior. As such, it can be commonly seen that any activity perceived as ‘bad’ from a religious perspective will be quickly associated with the devil, a further example of the pervasive power of this fundamental figure in the human imagination.
The Devil’s Role in the Bible
Despite a plethora of differing interpretations, it is safe to say the devil is a prominent figure in the Bible and it remains one of the few religious texts that offers a comprehensive account of satanic activity. Some point to Genesis 3 as a particularly crucial scene in terms of understanding the devil’s character and wider aims as outlined in the Bible.
The chapter describes the Devil as a ‘serpent’ tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit, putting into motion the Christian theory of Original Sin and setting in motion a series of events which leads man to his place of diminished relationship with God. The Bible outlines throughout the rest of the text of how Man’s battle with this Devil then continues throughout life, with a variety of attempts to resist him detailed.
The Devil’s Future in the Bible
The Bible concludes its narrative in the Book of Revelations by outlining the respective roles of God and the devil in what appears to be the ultimate struggle for the soul of mankind. Here we understand the Devil is ultimately defeated, a fate which is commonly taken to illustrate that Man’s decisions are ultimately more powerful than the influence of the Devil.
Whilst giving us a clear idea of how Christianity believes the future will play out for the Devil, the book once again fails to provide us with even a hint of what his physical form may be. Instead, it underlines the thought that the figure of the Devil is more of a concept than a physical being, offering a reoccurring theme in the Bible that his identity remains ever illusive.