Beliefbusters: “Lucifer is Satan”
Welcome to the first ever Beliefbusters! In this feature, we will examine popular beliefs, traditions, and “Christian myths” to see if there is any Scriptural warrant for us to believe them. Many of us have grown up with such beliefs, traditions, and myths that we held unquestioningly, never checking to see if the Bible actually taught these things. As a result, much of what the average Christian believes is actually un-Scriptural, and therefore un-Christian.
Today we will look at a very popular and unquestioned belief, namely:
Lucifer is Satan
What is this belief? Well, quite simply, it is the belief that the Lucifer of the Bible is a name for the devil, Satan. Some say that it is even “his original name before he fell from heaven.” As the story goes, Lucifer was the chief of the archangels in heaven, until in his pride he tried to dethrone God. Lucifer got a third of the angels to side with him against God Almighty, and he and his ilk were cast out of heaven to the earthly realms, where he roams to this day until the judgment. But is such a belief biblical? Let’s examine the Scripture.
The only instance of the word (not merely the name) “lucifer” occurs in Isaiah 14:12 in the King James Version:
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!
Interestingly, the KJV is the only translation in which it occurs. It also occurs in the New King James. Why is that? Because the KJV translators did not translate the Old Testament exclusively from the Hebrew, but adjusted their translations to fit the Greek Septuagint (LXX, or the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek) or the Latin Vulgate. This was usually done to conform to Christian tradition or when the then-more familiar Vulgate was deemed appropriate. Most modern translations do not contain these Latinized forms of Scripture, translating the actual meaning of the Hebrew words.
This is not to disparage the KJV, for “lucifer” actually is a Latin translation of the Hebrew here. Here’s the verse as it appears in the New American Standard Bible (NASB):
How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!
This literal translation shows us what the Hebrew actually says. “Lucifer” in Latin means light-bearer. In Roman poetry, “lucifer” was used often to signify “morning star” (or “star of the morning,” above), and it often was the name given to the planet Venus. So “Lucifer” is an appropriate Latin translation.
Now, we must ask the question, who is the “morning star” of this verse? Context is king here, so let’s expand the context to the 14th chapter of Isaiah, beginning with verse 4:
You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: “How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased! The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution. The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing. The cypresses rejoice at you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Since you were laid low, no woodcutter comes up against us.’ Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers. “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! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities,who did not let his prisoners go home?’ All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb; but you are cast out, away from your grave, like a loathed branch, clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, like a dead body trampled underfoot. You will not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people. May the offspring of evildoers nevermore be named! Prepare slaughter for his sons because of the guilt of their fathers, lest they rise and possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.”
Whew, that was a long quote.
We can see from the context of this passage that the name “Lucifer” does not in fact refer to Satan, but to the king of Babylon. What is interesting is that most Jewish theologians do not attribute this name to Satan, but correctly attribute it to the king of Babylon as a play on an honorific title. So where do we get the idea that Lucifer is equated with Satan?
The roots of this “Christian myth” lie in the very language the word “lucifer” is from, that is, from the Latin. As the earliest Christians dealt with Scriptural interpretation of Revelation 12, such early fathers as Tertullian and Origen, who read the Vulgate, made the identification of “Lucifer” with Satan. The early church fathers made intensive use of the allegorical method of interpretation, that is, giving a figurative meaning to the Scripture interpreted rather than what the Scripture actually said, and perpetuated this identification. This identification was further connected with an allegorical interpretation of a second account of a kingly fall found in Ezekiel chapter 28, which describes the king of Tyre being cast down from the “mount of God.” This connection laid the foundation for the modern “Lucifer” doctrine which I roughly outlined at the beginning of this post. The identification then became a tradition which carried through the centuries until it was immortalized in two popular classical literary works, Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. With the addition of the “war in heaven” of Revelation 12, we are given the idea that Lucifer/Satan gathered an “army” of a third of the “stars” (meaning angels) in heaven and at his defeat he and this third were cast out of heaven.
As such many Christians have looked at the occurrence of the “Lucifer” passage, seen that it refers to the king of Babylon, and ascribed Satanic possession or influence over the king of Babylon. But again we must ask, where is that seen in the Isaiah passage? It is nowhere to be found. Such ascriptions have been read into the passage, rather than allowing the passage to speak for itself. The same applies for the Ezekiel 28 and instance. In Revelation 12, however, we do have warrant to see some of the “fallen angel” belief, but we still do not have any warrant to conflate this fallen angel with the “Lucifer” of Isaiah 14. There is simply no connection to be made without making giant hermeneutical leaps between the testaments.
So we have now seen and hopefully understood that the “Lucifer” of Isaiah 14 is not Satan. “Lucifer” instead is an honorific title, “Morning Star,” given to the king of Babylon. There is no need to believe that Lucifer is Satan. This belief is a “Christian myth,” invented by tradition. In true “Mythbusters” tradition, we can declare this belief:
Discarding this “Christian myth” from your faith will not cause you to lose your salvation, make you less godly, or prove that Christianity is false, nor does it mean I’m saying the KJV isn’t “pure.” How silly and immature! Instead, it should encourage you to further mature in your ability to read the Bible critically and test what you are told and expected to believe, especially if you are expected to believe it unquestionably.