Why Is Satan Called Belial?
By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
"What accord has Christ with Belial?" Paul asks. The answer to his rhetorical question is, of course, "None." But most Christians don't understand who Belial is, or the origin of his name.
In previous articles, we have discussed Satan's origin as Lucifer; his essential nature as the adversary of God and the saints, and the father of lies; his role as the destroyer; and his relationship to this present world. In our last two articles, we began addressing questions regarding Satan's relationship to believers in Christ. We saw that it is impossible for Satan to cause a believer to lose his salvation, and that it is impossible for Satan or demons to possess a true believer in Christ.
Today we consider the essential nature of the believer's relationship with Satan. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, the Apostle Paul uses the nature of this relationship - more accurately, non-relationship - as a central point of his inspired argument for the imperative of Biblical separation:1
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.' 'I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.' Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
"What accord has Christ with Belial?" Paul asks. It is, of course, a rhetorical question. The answer is, "None." But most Christians don't understand who Belial is, or the origin of his name.
Belial: A Name Almost as Old as Sin
Belial is a Hebrew name that appears sixteen times in the Old Testament, and is also translated "ungodliness" in other passages. The Hebrew name was later directly transliterated into the Greek of the New Testament. The only New Testament occurrence is in 2 Corinthians 6:15. The name is pronounced Be-lee-ál in Hebrew (emphasis on last syllable) and Be-lée-al in Greek, although most modern English speakers pronounce it Be-líe-al.
The origins of the name are rooted in antiquity. It was apparently in use soon after the Flood, which indicates that the name may have also been known in the sinful degradations of the pre-Flood world. Belial appears to have been a very early name for a pagan god, and the name soon became synonymous with Satan. Belial is translated "ungodliness" in 2 Samuel 22:5 and Psalm 18:4. The Hebrew expression, "the floods of ungodliness (Belial)," that appears in those passages was sometimes used as a euphemism for pagan deities. From the earliest days of Israel, Belial was a principal Hebrew name for Satan. Evil men are spoken of in several Old Testament passages as "sons of Belial" (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:13). The sinful sons of Eli, who like their father were priests of the Levitical tabernacle, bore the key identifying mark of an unbeliever: They "were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (1 Samuel 2:12).
The Personification of Pride, Lawlessness, Unprofitableness
Among Bible language scholars there are three schools of thought on the origin of the name. Belial may stem from the Hebrew words beli, meaning "not," and âl, meaning "over." The combination of the two words describes a person who is so filled with pride and envy that he will not tolerate having anyone over him, in a position of superiority or authority.
A second possible derivation of Belial is from the Hebrew word beli, meaning "not," coupled with ol, meaning "yoke." The combination of these two words describes a person who is utterly lawless, who refuses to be governed.
A third possible origin of Belial is from beli ("not") and yah-al, meaning "profit." This combination of words describes a worthless person who is good for nothing, neither to himself nor to others, and continually devotes himself to evil.
Some linguists think that as the Hebrew language developed over time, all three meanings may have contributed to the identification of Satan by the name Belial. All three vividly describe Lucifer, whose heart was lifted up with pride (Ezekiel 28:2), who said, "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God...I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14), and is continually devoted to evil.
The Believer's (Non)Relationship With Belial
Paul emphatically declares that the believer's relationship with the one named Belial is to be, in fact, a non-relationship. Righteousness has no fellowship with lawlessness. Light has no communion with darkness. Christ has no accord (or "concord" in the KJV) with Belial. The word translated "accord" or "concord" is symphonesis, from which comes our English word symphony. The basic meaning of the word is "harmony or agreement of sound," and metaphorically, harmony or agreement of any kind. There is no harmony or agreement, of sound or any other kind, between Christ and Belial. Jesus Christ is the Truth personified (John 14:6), while Belial is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
Therefore, Paul declares, believers are to maintain a position of spiritual separation from those who are aligned with and in concord with Belial, whether in the organized church or outside it. Peter writes:
"Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.' " (1 Peter 1:13-16)
"Be holy" (hagios, a word denoting set-apartness or separatedness), God says, "because I am holy" - I Myself am in a position of infinite separation from all that is sinful. The believer must always remember that his inherent relationship with Belial is a non-relationship. We have no part in the things of Satan, and any time we dabble in them or give him an opening to incite our old natures to sinful thoughts, words, or deeds, it is a living profanity against Christ Himself.
1. The vital Biblical doctrine of separation is much neglected in the 21st-century church, largely due to the influences of postmodernism. The Lord willing, we plan to present a series of questions and answers on this topic in coming months.