Bible Mythbusters: Who is Lucifer?

Posted by Clark Bates
August 9, 2018

I was recently inspired by an apologist friend’s article discussing popular biblical urban legends that tend to circulate through the church even to this day.  For those interested in the original article, you can read it here.  What really struck me, aside from recognizing all the myths from my own church experiences, was how important it is for Christians to really know what they believe and where the information they repeat comes from.  After all, if we are to love the Lord our God with all of our mind, as Jesus commands, then we owe it to ourselves, our communities and to our Lord, to vigilantly investigate everything presented to us.

The common myth I’d like to bust this week is the name of Satan.  Many Christians, and non-Christians, tacitly believe that the name of the devil in Scripture is Lucifer.  This is also encouraged by popular television shows, stories, fiction novels and the like.  But where does this come from?  Is it true that the Bible names Satan as Lucifer?

The short answer is “No.”

But where did this pernicious myth begin?  Technically speaking, it began nearly 500 years ago.

What’s in a Name?

The origin of this pesky myth is found in the wording of Isaiah 14:12. You might turn to your ESV or NIV Bible and say, “I don’t see the problem.”  And you wouldn’t see it.  That’s because most modern translations have changed the English wording of this particular passage.  In the ESV you read:


“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!”


However, if you read the King James Version of this passage, you find:


“How art thou fallen from heaven,

    O Lucifer, son of the morning!

How art thou cut down to the ground,

    which didst weaken the nations!”


This is a rather significant difference.  Before anyone picks up a conspiracy theory regarding modern translations of the Bible, it needs to be noted that both texts are using the same Hebrew passage.  The word in Hebrew is, הילל (hā·lāl), which is actually an uncertain term.  It can mean many things, all involving some form of brightness.  The Question is, “Is it a proper name?” and “Where did Lucifer come from?”

Is it a Proper Name?

The subject of Isaiah 14, is the king of Babylon (v.4), and while some might find the imagery reminiscent of Satan, there is no indication that this is who it is directed to.  What makes the translation more difficult, is that this is the only occurrence of the Hebrew word in the Bible.

If we were to examine the LXX, or the Greek OT, it doesn’t get any clearer.  The Greek word used is εωσφορος (eōsforos) which literally means the exact same as the Hebrew הילל, meaning “bringer of light”, “morning star” or some other definition involving light and brightness.

What this means is that, from the original languages, there is no conclusive data to prove that the term is a proper name, as rendered in the KJV.  More importantly, “Why Lucifer?”  This is not a transliteration of either the Hebrew or Greek.[1]

Where did Lucifer Come From?

Here’s a small tip for anyone who’s ever faced an issue like this and can’t find an answer in the original languages.  There’s actually one more language that you’re probably ignoring, when it comes to English translations, especially the KJV: Latin.  Prior to The King James Bible being published, the primary language in which the Bible was read was Latin.  Before the Wycliffe translation of the Bible, there were no Bibles in English, and prior to Luther’s German translation, there were no Bibles translated into the language of the people.  Latin remained a language of the church and the educated.

The most popularly know Latin translation of the Bible was compiled by a priest known as Jerome.  While it isn’t certain how much of the Bible he personally translated into Latin, what is now known as the Vulgate (Latin for “publish”) is reckoned to him.  It is from this Bible, along with some Greek manuscripts, that the KJV was translated.  So, to continue our investigation, and hopefully find an answer, we must turn in the Latin Vulgate to Is. 14:12:


“Quomodo cecidisti de caelo,

    Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris?

Corruisti in terram,

     qui vulnerabas gentes?”


Now, I don’t expect most of my readers to know Latin, but I think you can see a familiar word at the beginning of the second line, Lucifer!  So, what does lucifer mean in Latin?  It is a reference to the planet Venus, which also means, “morning star”.  So, what’s the answer to this conundrum?

Conclusion

The translators of the KJV, like just about every other translator, did not know what to do with the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin word.  Rather than translate it improperly, they transliterated the Latin word into English and left it to the reader.  When you think about it, that’s a fairly clever way to dodge blame as a translator!  But is it a proper name or not?

Well, the word lucifer appears in three other verses of the Latin Vulgate: Job 11:17; 38:32 and 2 Pet. 1:19.  In Job 11:17 it is translated as “morning” in the KJV.  In Job 38:32, the translators simply transliterated the Hebrew word (which is a different word than in Is. 14:12), and in the case of 2 Pet. 1:19, it is translated “day star”.  Nowhere else in the KJV is the word lucifer used as a proper name, and given that there is no clear reference to Satan in the Isaiah passage, there is no reason to consider it a proper name for the devil there.

Despite what may be your favorite TV show, or movie, and despite what you may have even heard in Sunday School, Lucifer is not the name of the Devil.

 

[1] A transliteration is simply the copying of the letters in one language over to another.  Examples of this often involve proper names like Jesus, Zacharias, etc.  But can be found in the NT in places like “Abba” or “Corban” or “Rakah”.

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