Child of the Devil
John A. Tvedtnes
The Book of Mormon prophet Alma2 occasionally described the wicked as “children of the devil” (Alma 5:25; cf. Alma 30:60) and designated the sinful individual as “a child of the devil” (Alma 5:39-41). That the term was not original with Alma is suggested by the fact that the people of the city of Ammonihah cried out against Alma’s missionary companion Amulek, saying “that this man is a child of the devil” (Alma 10:28). Indeed, since Nephi1 wrote of “the devil and his children” (1 Nephi 14:3), it is likely that Lehi’s family brought the term with them from Jerusalem.
A survey of the King James version (KJV) of the Bible discloses that the terms “child of the devil” (Acts 13:10) and “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10) occur only in the New Testament. Similarly, the term “child of hell” is found only in the Book of Mormon (Alma 11:23; 54:11) and in Matthew 23:15. At first glance, one might suppose that Joseph Smith drew on the New Testament terms for the verbiage used in the Book of Mormon.
A better explanation is found in the term “son(s)/child(ren) of Belial,” frequently used in the Old Testament to denote the wicked (Deuteronomy 13:13; Judges 19:22; 20:13; 1 Samuel 2:12, 10:27; 25:17; 2 Samuel 23:6; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chronicles 13:7). Related terms include “daughter of Belial” (1 Samuel 1:16) and “man/men of Belial” (1 Samuel 25:25; 30:22; 2 Samuel 16:7; 20:1). Though scholars have long considered the term Belial to mean “worthless,” deriving it from Hebrew beli (“without”) and cal (“above,” hence value).
Paul asked the Corinthians, “And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). He clearly employed the term as the personification of evil, i.e., the devil. It is thus employed in a number of ancient Jewish texts, including some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In early Greek texts (including some manuscripts of 2 Corinthians 6:15), it usually takes the form Beliar. For example, this title appears 30 times in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, where it is clearly a personification of the devil. Belial or Beliar is the name given the devil in the writings of some of the early Church Fathers. For example, a letter attributed to the second-century AD Christian leader Ignatius reads:
Thou, O Belial, dragon, apostate, crooked serpent, rebel against God, outcast from Christ, alien from the Holy Spirit, exile from the ranks of the angels, reviler of the laws of God, enemy of all that is lawful, who didst rise up against the first-formed of men, and didst drive forth [from obedience to] the commandment [of God] those who had in no respect injured thee; thou who didst raise up against Abel the murderous Cain; thou who didst take arms against Job: dost thou say to the Lord, “If Thou wilt fall down and worship me?” (Epistle to the Philippians 11).[i]
The Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, prepared in the early fifth century AD by Jerome and considered the official Roman Catholic version for many centuries thereafter, understood Belial to denote the devil. Thus, in 1 Kings 21:10 and 13, the same Hebrew term is rendered Belial once and “the devil” twice.
Bible scholars typically believe that the Hebrew term originally meant “worthless” and only later was considered a title of the devil. The Book of Mormon’s use of “child of the devil” and related terms represents independent confirmation that Belial was already considered to be a title or name of Satan in the sixth century BC. This is one of the many ways in which the Nephite text clarifies portions of the Bible.
[i] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:119. Some scholars believe that Ignatius did not author this epistle, but it is a sufficiently ancient (no later than the 6th century AD) to illustrate the beliefs of early Christianity regarding Belial/Beliar.