Who killed more people in the Bible, God or Satan? According to a chart that has circulated for several years around the internet, Scripture records 2,038,344 killings by God, compared to Satan's meager death toll of 10 victims. Of course these totals are intended to have shock value, seemingly making God a much greater villain than Satan. What should believers make of such numbers?
In the first place, there is no question that the Bible depicts God as a holy God, whose abhorrence of sin and desire for justice is such that at times He imposed severe penalties. In fact, I will go so far as to stipulate that the numbers reflected in charts like the one I linked above are correct. God did indeed take many human lives in Scripture.
However, like many statistics, this one can be very misleading if not placed in its proper context. It is unfair to pick these numbers out of the Bible without interpreting them in the context of the overall biblical message. Here are some key considerations:
1. The Bible does not teach that God arbitrarily or capriciously killed people. It teaches that He did at times impose the penalty of death on those who deliberately and defiantly broke His laws.
2. The Bible teaches that God desires that the wicked should repent and live rather than face such consequences. "As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11).
3. Since God created humanity with free will, it is our choice as to whether we will be blessed or punished. The fact that many people in Scripture chose the course that led to punishment says more about human sinfulness and recalcitrance than anything else.
Further, the notion that Satan only killed ten people in Scripture (the family of Job) is a grossly unfair reading of the Bible. Scripture teaches that Satan wreaks havoc in the world in many ways.
1. He tries to entice humanity to rebel against God, thus facing God’s judgment. The very first story of temptation – Adam, Eve, and the forbidden fruit – is a classic illustration of this point. God gave Adam and Eve a rich garden full of wonderful things to eat, with one restriction. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). What did Satan then do? He came to Eve and said, "You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). He deliberately lied to entice Adam and Eve to eat and then die. No wonder Jesus said of the devil in John 8:44, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Did God evict Adam and Eve from the garden when they ate so that they would die? Yes. But is God culpable on the same level as Adam, Eve, or Satan? Of course not. When the state makes a law, and that law is broken and the state imposes a penalty, do we blame the state? No, we blame the criminal. And in the case of God’s judgment, the immediate blame should go to those who choose to break the Law, and to Satan for his part in aiding and abetting.
2. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that Satan has limited power to use the forces of nature to cause harm. In fact, the ten people mentioned in the chart that Satan killed were actually victims of “a great wind” according to Job 1 – but obviously a wind that Satan manipulated. Such suffering is not limited to the Old Testament. Jesus encountered a woman who was bent over for 18 years with a crippling disease in Luke 13, but according to Jesus, it was Satan who had bound her with this condition (Luke 13:16).
3. Further, Scripture teaches that Satan not only entices humanity to rebel against God, but also to do harm to one another. It was Satan who entered the heart of Judas to entice him to betray Jesus, for instance (John 13:2). In that light, every example of man’s brutality against his fellow man is a reflection of the work of Satan.
For these reasons, the number 10 is hardly an accurate body count for Satan. In reality, he is liable for every one of those people God punished for sin, and in addition, he is responsible for many more deaths which are the result of disease, disaster, and inhumanity. How could you begin to place a number on that?
Now someone who is a skeptic may question why God created us in the first place, why He endowed us with free will, or why He created Satan with free will, who then uses that will to do the horrible things that he does. Those are good questions worthy of deep contemplation (quick answers: God decided to create beings who could choose a relationship rather than function as robots, and at the end of time He will put the world to rights). But there is nothing inherently contradictory with the basic concepts of God’s holiness, justice, and judgment and our free will.
Finally, the Bible teaches that God is not only a God of justice, but also a God of love and mercy. Such love in fact that He gave His own Son to pay the price for sin, to settle the demands of justice, so that we do not have to face His judgment but can receive mercy. Only by looking at the full landscape of God’s character can we truly make sense of the portrait of God in Scripture.