The word "Lucifer" also known as "Satan" to Christians first appears in the bible in Isaiah 14:12, and nowhere else: "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!"

Lucifer is a name frequently given to Satan in Christian belief. This usage stems from a particular interpretation, as a reference to a fallen angel, of a passage in the Bible (Isaiah 14:3-20) that speaks of someone who is given the name of "Day Star" or "Morning Star" (in Latin, Lucifer) as fallen from heaven. The same Latin word is used of the morning star in 2 Peter 1:19 and elsewhere with no relation to Satan. However, in many writings later than those of the Bible the Latin word has been used, without being translated as "Morning Star" and the like, as a proper name with which to designate Satan.

In Latin, the word "Lucifer", meaning "Light-Bringer" (from lux, lucis, "light", and ferre, "to bear, bring"), is a name for the "Morning Star" (the planet Venus in its dawn appearances). The Latin Vulgate version of the Bible used this word twice to refer to the Morning Star: once in 2 Peter 1:19 to translate the Greek word "Φωσφόρος" (Phosphoros), which has exactly the same literal meaning of "Light-Bringer" that "Lucifer" has in Latin; and once in Isaiah 14:12 to translate "הילל" (Hêlēl), which also means "Morning Star". In the latter passage the title of "Morning Star" is given to the tyrannous Babylonian king, who the prophet says is destined to fall. This passage was later applied to the prince of the demons, and so the name "Lucifer" came to be used for Satan, and was popularized in works such as Dante Alighieri's Inferno and John Milton's Paradise Lost, but for English speakers the greatest influence has been its use in the King James Version (more modern English versions translate the term as "Morning Star" or "Day Star").

A similar passage in Ezekiel 28:11-19 regarding the king of Tyre was also applied to Satan, contributing to the traditional picture of Satan and his fall.

The first problem is that Lucifer is a Latin name. So how did it find its way into a Hebrew manuscript, written before there was a Roman language? What Hebrew name was Satan given in this chapter of Isaiah, which describes the angel who fell to become the ruler of hell?

The answer was a surprise. In the original Hebrew text, the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah is not about a fallen angel, but about a fallen Babylonian king, who during his lifetime had persecuted the children of Israel. It contains no mention of Satan, either by name or reference. The Hebrew scholar could only speculate that some early Christian scribes, writing in the Latin tongue used by the Church, had decided for themselves that they wanted the story to be about a fallen angel, a creature not even mentioned in the original Hebrew text, and to whom they gave the name "Lucifer."

Why Lucifer? In Roman astronomy, Lucifer was the name given to the morning star (the star we now know by another Roman name, Venus). The morning star appears in the heavens just before dawn, heralding the rising sun. The name derives from the Latin term lucem ferre, bringer, or bearer, of light." In the Hebrew text the expression used to describe the Babylonian king before his death is Helal, son of Shahar, which can best be translated as "Day star, son of the Dawn." The name evokes the golden glitter of a proud king's dress and court (much as his personal splendor earned for King Louis XIV of France the appellation, "The Sun King").

The scholars authorized by ... King James I to translate the Bible into current English did not use the original Hebrew texts, but used versions translated ... largely by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Jerome had mistranslated the Hebraic metaphor, "Day star, son of the Dawn," as "Lucifer," and over the centuries a metamorphosis took place. Lucifer the morning star became a disobedient angel, cast out of heaven to rule eternally in hell. Theologians, writers, and poets interwove the myth with the doctrine of the Fall, and in Christian tradition Lucifer is now the same as Satan, the Devil, and ironically the Prince of Darkness.

So "Lucifer" is nothing more than an ancient Latin name for the morning star, the bringer of light. That can be confusing for Christians who identify Christ himself as the morning star, a term used as a central theme in many Christian sermons. Jesus refers to himself as the morning star in Revelation 22:16: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star."

And so there are those who do not read beyond the King James version of the Bible, who say 'Lucifer is Satan: so says the Word of God'...."

Henry Neufeld (a Christian who comments on Biblical sticky issues) went on to say, "this passage is often related to Satan, and a similar thought is expressed in Luke 10:18 by Jesus, that was not its first meaning. It's primary meaning is given in Isaiah 14:4 which says that when Israel is restored they will "take up this taunt against the king of Babylon..." Verse 12 is a part of this taunt song. This passage refers first to the fall of that earthly king...

How does the confusion in translating this verse arise? The Hebrew of this passage reads: "heleyl, ben shachar" which can be literally translated "shining one, son of dawn." This phrase means, again literally, the planet Venus when it appears as a morning star. In the Septuagint, a 3rd century BC translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, it is translated as "heosphoros" which also means Venus as a morning star.

How did the translation "lucifer" arise? This word comes from Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Was Jerome in error? Not at all. In Latin at the time, "lucifer" actually meant Venus as a morning star. Isaiah is using this metaphor for a bright light, though not the greatest light to illustrate the apparent power of the Babylonian king which then faded."

Therefore, Lucifer wasn't equated with Satan until after Jerome. Jerome wasn't in error. Later Christians (and Mormons) were in equating "Lucifer" with "Satan".

So why is this a problem to Christians? Christians now generally believe that Satan (or the Devil or Lucifer who they equate with Satan) is a being who has always existed (or who was created at or near the "beginning"). Therefore, they also think that the 'prophets' of the Old Testament believed in this creature. The Isaiah scripture is used as proof (and has been used as such for hundreds of years now). As Elaine Pagels explains though, the concept of Satan has evolved over the years and the early Bible writers didn't believe in or teach such a doctrine.

The irony for those who believe that "Lucifer" refers to Satan is that the same title ('morning star' or 'light-bearer') is used to refer to Jesus, in 2 Peter 1:19, where the Greek text has exactly the same term: 'phos-phoros' 'light-bearer.' This is also the term used for Jesus in Revelation 22:16.

Biblical references

  • 2 Kings 1:2-4 contains a reference to Baal-zebub. This passage describes how King Ahaziah of Samaria had an accident. He fell through a latticed window in his roof-chamber and injured himself. He decided to send messengers to Ekron, a nearby Phoenician city to inquire of their god Baal-zebub whether he would recover from the accident. Baal was the principal god of the Phoenicians; his name might have meant "Master of the Heavenly House." The ancient Israelites followed Baal's name with "zebul" which means "dung;" this produced the insulting term "Baal-zebul" which was later corrupted to "Baal-zebub." "Baal-zebub" was simply a religiously intolerant, insulting term for "Baal," the main deity of a neighboring tribe. The name had no connection to Satan. (Conservative Christians would disagree with this assessment; to many of them, all gods and goddesses other than Jehovah are in fact demons.) By the time of Jesus' ministry, the related name "Beelzebul" had apparently become a nickname for Satan. It remains so today.
  • Isaiah 14:12-24 is interpreted by some as referring to Satan by the name "helel" in Hebrew. This is often translated as "Lucifer" or "Morning Star." The passage describes how he had fallen from heaven, was thrown to earth, expressed a desire to sit "on the mountains where the Gods assemble", wished to be like God, and had attacked many cities, leaving them in ruins. At first glance, this looks like a description of some of the activities of Satan. However, verse 4 clearly states that the passage refers to the King of Babylon, not to Satan. Isaiah was simply showing "sarcastic contempt for the mighty Babylonian monarch that had recently fallen, vanished as does [the morning star] Venus from the daytime sky." 1
  • Ezekiel 28:13-17 is similar. It describes an individual as full of wisdom and flawless in beauty, dwelling in an Eden. But "iniquity came to light" in him, and "lawlessness filled his heart." God flung him to the ground. Again, this sounds a bit like Satan. But verse 11 links the passage to the King of Tyre. Note that verse 19 describes how God killed the king and reduced him to ashes so that he "will be no more." Satan is recording in subsequent passages of the Bible as being very much alive and kicking.

Satan's attributes as per the Bible

There are many passages in the Bible that are often associated with Satan. Some examples are:

  • the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4 & Genesis 3:14)
  • Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1)
  • the adversary playing the role of prosecuting attorney in a heavenly court with God and the angels (Job 1:6 & Zechariah 3:1-2 & 1 Peter 5:8)
  • as the devil (from the Greek "diabolos" which means "slanderer"), the temper of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-3, Luke 4:2)
  • the prince of the demons, Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22, Luke 11:15)
  • unclean spirit (Matthew 12:43)
  • the evil one (Matthew 13:19 & 1 John 2:13)
  • the author of all evil (Luke 10:19)
  • a murderer and the father of lies (John 8:44)
  • the prince of this world (John 12:31 & 14:30 & 16:11)
  • a demon able to enter into a human body (John 13:27)
  • god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15)
  • prince of the powers of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2)
  • power of darkness (Colossians 1:13)
  • an adversary, like a roaring lion who walks about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8)
  • the angel of the abyss, named Abaddon in Hebrew, Apollyon in Greek (Revelation 9:11)
  • a great red dragon (Revelation 12:3 & 12:9 & 20:2)
  • the accuser of our brethren who accuses Christians before God day and night (Revelation 12:10)
  • the dragon, the old serpent (Revelation 20:2)

Last updated by Nelson Mar 5, 2009.

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