Who is "Lucifer"?

by Brian Knowles


Just about every Christian I know takes for granted that "Lucifer" is the devil. If you look up the name "Lucifer" in the dictionary, you will find him defined as "…a proud, rebellious archangel, identified with Satan, who fell from heaven."

Throughout much, though not all of, Christian history, it has been thought and taught that "Lucifer" is one of the names for the devil. In Christian writing, Lucifer’s identify as the devil is taken for granted: "His name is Lucifer (Satan)…" and "Lucifer, known as Satan after his rebellion…" etc. etc. Typically, "Lucifer" is depicted as a goat-like figure with horns, cloven hoofs, and a tail.

The fact of the matter is that Satan the devil is no where described in the Bible as Lucifer. The only Scriptural reference to a "Lucifer" is in Isaiah 14:12 – and then only in some translations. The proper name "Lucifer" does not appear in the original text of Isaiah.

Isaiah 14 Not About Satan’s Origins
It is also commonly taught in Christian circles that Isaiah 14 includes a description of the origins of Satan the devil. It does not. The subject of Isaiah 14 is the "King of Babylon" (v. 4) and he is not a "type of Satan." The Lord is telling Israel through the prophet Isaiah that a time will come when the cruel yoke of Babylon will be lifted from the national shoulders. The language is dramatic and poetic. Isaiah tells of the demise of the tyrant by saying, "The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you…" (v. 9). Should we take this language literally?

The king is doomed. All of his vaunted worldly and political power will avail him nothing. The great military strength through which he oppressed the nations will do him no good in the "weakness" of death: "…all those who were leaders in the world…will say to you…you also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us…" (vs. 9,10).

That these verses are talking about a mere mortal is obvious from verse 11: "All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you." This is not a description of an archangel, but of a mortal man lying in a grave decaying in death.

Now we come to the key verse (12). The King James Version renders it as follows: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art though cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations."

In spite of this rendering, the proper name "Lucifer" is not in the original Hebrew text. In Hebrew "Lucifer, son of the morning" is helel ben shachar. It could be translated "Shining one, son of the dawn." It is not a proper name, but an epithet for the king of Babylon.

Why then did the King James translators translate "Lucifer" for "Shining one" in this passage?

The answer lies in two earlier translations. In the third century B.C.E., Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.E.), the Greek-speaking Pharoah of Egypt, commissioned a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures for his own library. Seventy-two scholars performed the work. They became known as "The Seventy." Their translation itself was called "The Septuagint" or "LXX," which are the Roman numerals for "70."

In translating Isaiah 14:12, the Seventy chose the word Heosphoros for the Hebrew helel ben shachar. Heos means "in or of the morning" and phoros means "that which is borne, or bearing." This is not an exact translation of the original Hebrew, but it’s reasonably close.

Jerome’s Translation
As mentioned above, the Septuagint (LXX) translation was commissioned during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus. The Prophets section wasn’t completed until around 200 B.C.E. By the time of Jesus and the apostles, the LXX was in common use throughout Palestine. It is clear from the wording that many of the New Testament’s quotations from the Old Testament are taken from the Greek (LXX), rather than the Hebrew, text.

Because Greek is a very different language than Hebrew, much of the original meaning and intent was lost in the LXX.

As empires rose and fell, the fortunes of languages rose and fell with them. The longer the Romans ruled, the more prominent Latin became. During Constantine’s reign, the Roman Empire took over gentile Christianity, politicized it, and made it the state religion. By the fourth century C.E., the Latin "father" Jerome (340 AD – 419 AD) had risen to prominence within the Roman Catholic Church. At the suggestion of Pope Damasus, Jerome began work on a Latin translation of the Bible. After 20 years of toil, the translation now known as the Vulgate was completed in the year 405 C.E.

Jerome used the LXX version, along with the Hebrew, in making his translation. As Church historian Schaff explains, "From the present stage of biblical philology and exegesis the Vulgate can be charged, indeed, with innumerable faults, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and arbitrary dealing, in particulars…"

When he translated Isaiah 14:12, Jerome did not strictly translate the Hebrew helel ben shachar, nor did he use the Greek (LXX) Heosphoros, which term, by his day, had fallen largely into disuse. Instead he translated as though the original word had been lukophos. Lukophos, by Jerome’s time, had become an epithet for the gods Apollo and Pan. Earlier, Catholic theologians Tertullian and Origen had begun to read Satan into the story of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14. Jerome’s selection of words may have been influenced by this theology.

As a result of Jerome’s translation, the images of Pan and the Devil were morphed together. Today, the devil is often depicted as "Lucifer," and his appearance is similar to the ancient god Pan, with goat-like features including horns and cloven hoofs. Yet there is nothing in the text itself that would indicate that a figure named "Lucifer" is intended. Nor do these verses in Isaiah 14 represent an account of the fall of the devil. As Dr. John D. Watts explains in his commentary on Isaiah: "…the OT [Old Testament] knows nothing of attempts to dethrone Yahweh…" Watts also observes, "When the poem has been used in apocryphal and Christian circles to picture the fall of the angelic Satan, the reference must be to the shadowy mythical background of the poem rather than to the poem itself. It is significant that the account of the fall of Satan (Rev. 12) makes no reference to Isa 14" (ibid. p. 212).

Who then is Lucifer?
Dr. Roy Blizzard, a well-known Hebrew roots scholar, offers some insightful background, "The history of the origin of a being called Lucifer is interesting. The word Lucifer comes from the Latin verb, luceo, lucere, luxi, which means to shine, to glow, glitter, to be clear. It is light, day dawning. The adjective, lucidus-a-um, means shining, bright, clear, lucid. The noun, lucifer-eri, means the morning star, the planet Venus, or a day. It comes from the adjective lucifer-era-erum, shiny."

The Bible includes no character named Lucifer. Isaiah had never heard of such a being. Nor had the apostles of Jesus’ day. Lucifer, as a manifestation of the devil, is a later invention. We find no association between helel ben shachar of Isaiah 14:12 and Satan until the time of Tertullian (c. 160-230 C.E.) and Origen (c. 185-254 C.E.). The proper name "Lucifer" does not find its way into a translation until Jerome’s time, some 150 years later.

Dr. Watts summarizes, "The apparent reflection of a ‘Lucifer myth’ in v. 12 is just that. It is a simile to picture the fall and disgrace of the tyrant." We learn nothing of the origins of Satan from this story.

Is There a Real Lucifer?
Isaiah 14 is not speaking about the devil, or Lucifer. It is a prophecy against the King of Babylon. The prophecy is delivered in almost florid language. It is colorful and poetic, but it contains no "type of the devil," and no figure called Lucifer. The question then arises, could there be a real Lucifer who is not the devil?

The name Lucifer has been closely associated with various pagan gods including the planet Venus, Apollo and Pan. Venus of course is the morning star which "brings light." Pan was the god who looked like a goat and who entered the fields where peasants worked, frightening them with his presence. This is where the word "panic" originates.

Scripture tells us that pagan idolatry is, in fact, the worship of demons (Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:36-37; I Corinthians 10:20). The gods of the Romans were not new. They were simply the same ancient gods of earlier peoples – the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Canaanites, Persians and the Greeks. With the introduction into new cultures, these gods were renamed and new, culturally relevant, stories were attached to their mythology. In ancient times, the stars and planets were thought to be celestial beings to whom one must sacrifice to be blessed. The planet later known as Venus had been worshipped from very early times. She was always a "light-bringer" of some sort.

In the Sumerian religion, the most important goddess in the pantheon was Innana or Ninanna, the "mistress of heaven." "As an astral deity Inanna represents the planet Venus, the morning and evening star." Later, she becomes known as Ishtar, the goddess of the morning and evening star (ibid. p. 56). Says Ringgren, "Ishtar, identified with the Sumerian Ananna, is as an astral deity the planet Venus, the morning and evening star…Her name is etymologically identical with the West Semitic Astarte…and with the South Arabian male deity ‘Athtar or Astar, who in Arabia may perhaps be Venus, but in Ethiopia the god of heaven in general…It is possible that originally this was a bisexual deity"(ibid. p. 59).

This false deity crops up in "…several local forms, which to a certain extent at least may be regarded as having their own individuality, rather in the same way as do the local Madonna’s in Roman Catholicism. There was an Ishtar of Nineveh, an Ishtar of Arbela, and an Ishtar of Bit-kitmuri" (ibid. p. 59).

The bi-sexuality of the "god" may have to do with the morning and evening aspects of Venus. Says Ringgren, "…we are dealing with a differentiation of a deity who was originally bisexual or of indeterminate sex. (In Ugarit there are personal names which describe ‘Athtar both as ‘father’ and as ‘mother’.) Since Ishtar-Astarte was in any case very early connected with the planet Venus, it has been suggested that we are dealing with the role of the planet as morning and evening star" (ibid. p. 142).

Venus worship was prominent in neo-Babylon as much as it was in most other ancient cultures. "Stars" such as Venus were often looked upon as living entities – guardian angels or deities to whom worship was owed. Nebuchadnezzar had such an angel who was known as Kal. Says Dr. Blizzard; "It would appear that the prophet, in attributing to the king of Babylon boastful pride followed by a fall, borrowed from a popular legend connected with the morning star."

According to Scripture, behind the gods of the ancients were in unclean spirits of varying ranks who continued to influence pagan cultures down through history. A high-ranking demon known as "Lucifer" could have been behind Venus worship – or Apollo worship, or Pan worship. There could be many demons named "Lucifer." One demon can have many names, or many demons can have one name (i.e. "Legion").

We may conclude, then, that Isaiah 14 tells us nothing about the origin and fall of Satan, and that it does not identify Satan as "Lucifer." The subject of the chapter is the king of Babylon, whom God is about to punish. The king will join other deceased world leaders in Sheol, the place of the dead. Though in life he exalted himself to god-like status, in death all of his strength will disappear. People will look at this "corpse trampled underfoot" (Isaiah 14:19b) and ask each other, "Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble?"(v. 16).

All of the kings of Babylon were idolaters. They worshipped gods behind which were demonic spirits. In the face of divine wrath, none of these was able to help the king of Babylon. The mighty neo-Babylonian Empire itself disappeared into the sands of history when the city of Babylon reluctantly opened its gates to the conquering king of Persia in 539 B.C.E. It had lasted just 86 years (625-539 B.C.E.). Though Nebuchadnezzar was not the last king of Babylon, there is a tradition, preserved by Ibn Ezra, that he was dragged out of his grave and cast about just as Isaiah 14:19 suggests.

Under one of his successors, Nabonidus, and Nabonidus’s son, Belshazzar, the Babylonian Empire fell incrementally apart. Nabonidus had undertaken a religious reform to rededicate the nation to the worship of the moon god, Sin. His own mother became high priestess to the moon god in the city of Harran.

The last years of the Babylonian Empire were years of tragedy, palace intrigue and royal murders. Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Evil-Merodach (II Kings 25:27) was assassinated after reigning only two years. Neriglassar survived only one year longer on the throne of Babylon. Labashi-Marduk, who ascended the throne as a child was murdered within a year of his accession.

Nabonidus prayed to one god to preserve him from another. In an inscription found cut into a rock face at the side of and old road used by both Assyrian and Babylonian armies as they traveled to reach the Mediterranean north of Beirut, Nabonidus prays, "(O Moon god) preserve me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, from Sin. To give me the gift of long life, and as regards Belshazzar, my first born, my dear offspring, put in his heart reverence for thy high divinity."

This same king refers to Marduk as "the lord of the gods" and to Sin as the "lamp of heaven and earth"(ibid.).

The "lamp of heaven and earth" was of no help to the "shining ones" of Babylon. God had asserted His supremacy over the false deities of that great kingdom, and over the kings that worshiped them. Reverence for their "high divinity" accomplished nothing in the face of God’s wrath. The Lord broke the rod, or scepter, of the wicked kings of Babylon (Isaiah14: 5) and freed the children of Israel from Babylonian oppression.

Though ha Satan – the Adversary – stands behind all the ungodly rulers of this world’s system, there is no evidence in Isaiah 14 that the Bible calls him Lucifer, or that this chapter speaks of the origins of the devil. In reality, there is no competition between God and the devil. God can, and does, overrule him any time he wishes to do so. He elevates leaders to office, and removes them (Daniel 2:21, 4:32). Satan operates only with the express permission of God. He is enabled or empowered by human disobedience to God. He is defeated by those who submit themselves to God – in fact, he actually flees from those who resist him in this way (James 4:7). Our Lord defeated Satan and his hordes of demons and subsequently made an open show of them, parading them through cosmic streets like a Roman Centurion with a defeated enemy in tow (Colossians 2:15).

Today, ha Satan is living on borrowed time. When Messiah comes, Satan will exit the scene for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-2). Peace will break out when the true Light Bringer is on the scene.