The Adversary in Job

In a recent Christianity Today article, it talked about how the word “satan” in Hebrew is a word that means “accuser,” or “adversary,” so “the satan” is a title, not a name. Thus, many Old Testament scholars believe that “the satan,” in the book of Job is not actually Satan, the devil, that we find in the New Testament.

Among those scholars is August Konkel, the author of the notes for the ESV Study Bible. He had his notes changed by the editors to say that “the satan” is indeed Satan, contrary to his views and his commentary on Job.

But before we start writing angry letters to the editors of the ESV Study Bible, we have to understand what they were working with. In the ESV text itself, “the satan” is translated as “Satan.” So the translation itself already made the determination that “the satan” was Satan. Would it make sense to have study notes that contradicted the text of the Bible itself? That would be problematic.

The ESV is not alone in this. English Bible translations have translated “the satan” as “Satan” ever since Wycliffe translated the first English Bible. You can view all the translations of Job 1:6 on Bible Gateway and see that the vast majority translate it as “Satan” (CSB, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV) or “the accuser, Satan” (NLT, cf. Amplified, God’s Word, The Message, REB). These translations exclude the view that the accuser is not Satan.

Putting aside the theological question of whether “the satan” is indeed Satan or not, I think it would be more transparent and accurate to the Hebrew text to translate “the satan” as “the accuser” or “the adversary” in English Bibles.

This would not exclude the view that Satan is the accuser in Job. For example, most identify the serpent in Genesis with Satan, but we don’t need to put “Satan” into the text of Genesis. A footnote could be added that “the adversary” is “the satan” in Hebrew, and that some identify “the adversary” with Satan.

So what translations do that? Very few. The Common English Bible (CEB), Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), Jewish Publication Society (JPS 1985), the Modern English Version (MEV), and Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) have “the Adversary.” The Voice has “the Accuser.” The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) has “the satan,” replacing “Satan” in the original NAB. The Tree of Life Version also has “the satan.”

How would you translate “the satan” in the Book of Job? Would you keep the traditional rendering of “Satan”? Would you translate it “the accuser” or “the adversary”? Would you add a footnote? If so, what would it say? Comment below.

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