Free Online Bible Library | Belial

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BELIAL be’ lĭ əl (בְּלִיַּ֫עַל, H1175; Βελίαρ). The word is generally understood to come from two common Heb. words meaning “without” and “to profit,” hence signifying “worthlessness” or “wickedness.” From the general concept of unprofitableness the thought moved into the realm of moral force, thus the resultant rendering of “wickedness.” In the OT uses of the word there is no indication of a proper name. The Talmud considers it a compound word meaning “without a yoke,” but with many this view has little or no acceptance. However, others equate it with one who has thrown off the yoke of heaven, hence lawless.

In four instances the meaning appears to be that of destruction: “torrents of perdition” (Ps 18:4); “deadly thing” (41:8 lit., thing of Belial); “counseled villainy” (Nah 1:11); “the wicked” (1:15).

For those who see many reminiscenses of mythology in the OT the word suggests a remnant of mythology relating to the subterranean watery abyss. There is no proof for this beyond the claim itself.

The apocalyptic concept of Belial as a person is carried over into a question by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:15, where the name is Beliar, a not uncommon substitution of a liquid letter for another. The apostle is arguing the incompatibility of the Christian faith with the heathenism experienced by the new Corinthian believers. The new truth does not allow the mingling of disparate concepts or ways of life. In v. 14 the two contrasts are between abstracts, but in v. 15 the argument and questioning move into the realm of the concrete: Christ over against Beliar and a believer contrasted with an unbeliever. Here the conclusion is compelling that Beliar is used of Satan. It has been suggested that “the man of sin” (2 Thess 2:3) is actually “the man of lawlessness,” the equivalent of Belial. The most that can be said for this position is that the Gr. anomia is lawlessness, but this does not warrant the conclusion that the person intended is Satan rather than the personal antichrist, though the concepts are undeniably similar.


G. Kittel, ed., Theol. Dict. of the N.T. (1964), I, 607; A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (ICC), 207, 208; KB, 130.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


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