Many people think that ‘lucifer’ is a name. Many people think that ‘Lucifer’ is the devil’s name. Many people are incorrect. Lucifer isn’t really a name, and definitely not a name for the devil. ‘Lucifer’ isn’t even a word originally from the Bible. So how did this understanding become so popular?
Where Does ‘Lucifer’ Come From?
The word ‘lucifer’ is a Latin word, meaning “light-bearer,” translated from the Hebrew word ‘hê·lēl’ (הֵילֵ֣ל) which means “shining one.” The Hebrew term is used in only one place in the Bible, as a poetic reference to the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:12).1 ‘Hê·lēl’ has nothing to do with Satan. It is noteworthy that while the King James Version translates ‘hê·lēl’ to the Latin word ‘lucifer,’ most other English Bible translations do not (Isaiah 14:12 KJV). The most common English translation of ‘hê·lēl’ is “morning star.”
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
Biblical scholarship, as well as just a plain reading of Isaiah 14, understand the “morning star” to be a reference to the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:3-4).2 Isaiah 14:12-15 speaks of how the king of Babylon says in his heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God… I will make myself like the Most High.” The text isn’t saying that the king did these things, merely that he wanted to. The Babylonian kings often considered themselves to be gods among men (Daniel 4:30). The prophet Isaiah is using well-worn mythological language to highlight the king’s arrogance and pride. Isaiah uses the term “morning star” as a reference to their hubris, to constitute an appropriate critique of Babylonian kings and conquerors, and to explain their inevitable downfall (Isaiah 14:15).
While the word ‘hê·lēl’ only appears once in the Hebrew Bible, the word has cognates in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Arabic. The Septuagint (Greek translation), Targum (Aramaic translation), and the Vulgate (Latin translation) all translate ‘hê·lēl’ as “morning star.”3 The Hebrew expression was never meant to be a name.4 Even the Vulgate text in Latin is printed with lower-case ‘lucifer’ (morning star), not upper-case ‘Lucifer’ (proper name).5
In summary, the Hebrew word ‘hê·lēl’ means “shining one” and was translated into Latin as ‘lucifer’ which means “light-bearer.” Both of these words didn’t reference Satan, but instead the planet Venus, otherwise known as the “morning star.” Tradition is the only reason the Latin word ‘lucifer’ still remains in some English translations.
Morning Star = Jesus
The Hebrew word ‘hê·lēl’ is translated as ‘lucifer’ in Latin and ‘phōsphóros’ (light-bringer) or ‘heōsphoros’ (dawn-bringer) in Greek, as can be seen in the Septuagint.6 ‘Lucifer’ was the Latin name for the planet Venus, the brightest “star” in the dawn of the morning. Likewise, the same is true of the Greek words, ‘phōsphóros’ or ‘heōsphoros,’ the names and terms for the planet Venus, meaning “morning star,” or “day star.”7 The morning star was a symbol of power and royalty in Greco-Roman times. The word ‘phōsphóros’ only appears once in the New Testament, surprisingly, in reference to Jesus.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star [phōsphóros] rises in your hearts.
2 Peter 1:19
While ‘phōsphóros’ only appears once, the word for ‘star’ is used many times as an epithet for the Messiah (Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 9:2).8 In Revelation, two times Jesus is referred to as the “morning star” (Revelation 2:28).
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.
Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46). All over the New Testament Jesus is described as a light shining in the darkness (Luke 2:32; John 1:4, 7-9, 3:19, 12:35; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 2:8; Revelation 21:23). With the birth of the Messiah, the morning star arose—the gospel light dawned (Isaiah 9:1, 2; Matthew 4:15, 16). As Jesus says, he is “the bright morning star.”
Lucifer Isn’t Satan
The word ‘lucifer’ doesn’t mean ‘Satan.’ So why does pop-culture think it does? Some point to something Jesus said to his disciples in the book of Luke.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”
When the seventy-two said that even the demons submit to his name, Jesus said that he saw Satan fall. In his famous commentary, Joel Green explains, “Some find in Jesus’ assertion a reference to a primordial event or an event in the life of Jesus himself, but neither of these options makes sense of the actual, ongoing exercise of satanic influence in the Lukan narrative. The decisive fall of Satan is anticipated in the future, but it is already becoming manifest through the mission of Jesus and, by extension, through the ministry of his envoys.”9 Jesus uses the apocalyptic imagery that recalls the downfall of the King of Babylon from Isaiah—imagery also applied immediately before to the city of Capernaum (Luke 10:15).10 Essentially, Jesus is conflating the King of Babylon (human government), pagan cities (pagan nations), and Satan (the god of the nations). Jesus isn’t saying that Isaiah was talking about Satan, or much less so that a later Latin translation was providing Satan’s true name as pop culture suggests.
The idea that Isaiah 14 could also be referring to Satan originated with the early Church father, Origen.11 Tertullian and Jerome followed suit, but that idea was never widespread at all until around the medieval 14th century. The popularity of ‘Lucifer’ as a name for Satan can be mainly attributed to its use in fiction such as John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.” These fictional works solidified the idea that the devil’s name was ‘Lucifer.’ Before that, the Latin word ‘lucifer,’ meaning “light-bringer,” was only applied in Roman folklore as a name to the planet Venus.
Many Christians today would associate the word ‘lucifer’ with Satan without even knowing what verse in the Bible that the myth comes from. Far fewer would be able to give a clear reason as to why they believe Isaiah 14 is about the devil. The confusion and misinformation around the Latin word ‘lucifer’ encapsulates the issue of pop-culture Christianity overriding Biblical scholarship. The lucifer myth highlights the problem of cherry-picking verses to support traditional beliefs. We find the same issue with topics such as the Mark of the Beast, the Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, tithing, and more. If you were wrong about the word lucifer, what else might you be wrong about?
“Morning star” is a phrase never used in reference to Satan, not even once. While the Old Testament uses the word to reference the King of Babylon, Jesus redeems it. Jesus has made claim to the imagery of the morning star, Venus, the light of the dawn. Jesus is the bringer of light into the world, ‘lucifer.’
- “Isaiah, then, is not speaking of Satan in 14:12 but of the proud, and soon to be humiliated, king of Babylon.” Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Lucifer,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1360.
- “shining one, epithet of king of Babylon” Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 237. “shining one, in ref. to king of Babylon” David J. A. Clines, ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press; Sheffield Phoenix Press, 1993–2011), 542.
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Lucifer,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1360.
- Chad Brand et al., eds., “Lucifer,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1056.
- Weber, Robert; Gryson, Roger, eds. (2007). “Liber Isaiae Prophetae”. Biblia sacra : iuxta Vulgatam versionem. Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Phillips Academy (5th ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. p. 1111.
- The Lexham English Septuagint, Second Edition. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), Is 14:12.
- “φωσφόρος, ον (cp. φῶς, φέρω; as adj. ‘bringing/giving light’ Eur. et al.; pap, Philo) in our lit. only once and as subst. ὁ φ. prob. the morning star, the planet Venus (Eur., Ion 1157; Ps.-Pla., Tim. Locr. 96e; 97a; Plut., Mor. 430a; 601a; 889a al.; Cicero, Nat. Deor. 2, 20; Vett. Val. 236, 6; SibOr 5, 516; PRyl 524, 17; Neugebauer-Hoesen, glossary p. 200) fig.” William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1073.
- Dale Ellenburg, “Morning Star,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 918.
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 418–419.
- James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2015), 311.
- Origen, “De Principiis,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 259.