When Jesus and Satan shared a name

Halloween is gone till next year.

Speaking of the devil, did you ever wonder why he’s named Lucifer? There are two competing theories about that:

Theory #1: Lucifer is not the name of the devil.
Isa­iah 14:12 describes the fall of a Baby­lon­ian king (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!) The original Hebrew word used for “morning star” there is הֵילֵל (helel). When, in 400 A.D., Jerome translated the Bible into his masterful Latin-language Vul­gate edition, he translated helel into lucifer, a Latin word meaning “the morning-star; the planet Venus.” Later, early Eng­lish trans­la­tions, such as the King James Version, kept the word lucifer right where Jerome had it—only this time they capitalized it, transforming it into a proper name. So then we got, How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! …

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the Vulgate, the word lucifer appears again. This time it’s in 2 Peter 1:19, where it is clearly denotes Jesus. Well, the KJV translators didn’t want to do there with that word what they had done with it back in Isaiah—they didn’t want to call Jesus Lucifer. So for they reverted back to the original translation of the word, and in 2 Peter 1:19 the world was given “… until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Today virtually all modern Bible translations reject the name “Lucifer” in Isa­iah 14:12, instead rightly translating it as as “morn­ing star.”

Theory #2: Lucifer is the name of the devil.
The King James-only crowd has always maintained that Lucifer is the proper name of the devil, and that remov­ing that word from Isa­iah 14:12 sows seeds of con­fu­sion and decep­tion by con­flat­ing the fig­ure in that verse with the fig­ure of Jesus—with the “morn­ing star” of 2 Peter 1:19. Though popular enough, this is not the world’s most logical theory, since it depends upon the devil having, all along, a uniquely Latin name that was divinely revealed to Jerome and virtually no one before him.

Despite that, though, there is a long his­tory of under­stand­ing the fig­ure in Isa­iah 14:12 as either directly or symbolically rep­re­sent­ing the devil. This tra­di­tion is found in the very ear­li­est Chris­t­ian inter­pre­ta­tions of that pas­sage, and runs through Chris­t­ian thought right up to the present day. (Very notably, in his endlessly influential medieval trilogy The Divine Comedy, Dante called the devil Lucifer—a tradition continued over three centuries later in John Milton’s monumental Paradise Lost. And this when the telling of such stories mattered—when their major points stuck. You know: before movies.)

Whom or to what exactly the “king” in Isaiah 14.12 refers is open to debate, of course. But what is not debat­able is that the tra­di­tion of an angel falling from the realm of the divine pre­dates the King James, pre­dates the Vul­gate, and even pre­dates Christianity. (See, for just one example, the Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish religious work traditionally ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah.)

And there is a truth about human nature that predates even written language, one as ancient as sitting around a fire telling stories. And that is the compelling need, in any really good story, for a villain so powerful and cunning that he could very well prove the undoing of the hero.

And what is a villain without a name?

  • 1captainhooker1

    i recommend Elaine Pagel’s “The Origin of Satan” for an even deeper look.

  • JenellYB

    I had noticed and wondered about this ‘confusion’ involving ‘the morning star’ being at different points used to refer to the fallen Babylonian king, ‘Lucifer/the Devil’ AND Jesus, actually when I was very young, and had learned when I asked anyone that might help me sort it out, that is in that category of “forbidden topics/questions” in proper Christian community.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I blogged about this not long ago after it came up in my Sunday school class: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/06/is-jesus-satan.html

  • Wayne Johnson

    Lucifer, the planet Venus, does appear to fall to Earth as it shows up closer and closer to the horizon each evening.

    • Sheila Warner

      Great comment!

  • Todd Reeder

    I was researching this online and there are lots of people who are saying the Lord God of Israel and Jesus are Satan. I certainly don’t believe that is true. Many bible teachers say when trying to understand a bible verse read 20 verses before and after it to get the context. Verses 1-11 are about the king of Babylon. Many bible translations have the caption the fall of Lucifer before verse 12. I think verses 1-23 are about the king of Babylon.

    • Sandra Cowdrick

      Those are modern ‘Satanists that say that. They say Satan is good, God/Jesus are evil. It’s a tactic called ‘reverse christianity’ used to convert teenagers.

  • Todd Reeder

    Many believe the Bible teaches that Satan rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven because of it. To answer if this is true or not you have to answer the question do angels have free will? They can’t rebel if they don’t have free will. I heard a Rabi say no where does the scripture teach that angels have free will. He said scripture teaches that angels are messengers of God. They do what only God tells them to do. What many teach is a lie if angels do not have free will to rebel.

  • Sheila Warner

    I like that image of wise old men sitting around the campfire and scaring the living daylights out of the kids. Kind of like an ancient Boy Scout campfire. It just proves that people are the same, no matter the time or place. Stories still make the best vehicles for explaining things.

  • Jimbo Slice

    The Book of Enoch may predate Christianity but it doesn’t predate the Bible. The book is falsely attributed to the pre-flood Enoch. It is Pseudepigrapha and was kept out of both the Jewish and Christian canons. Obviously being written in 300BC would preclude it being written by Enoch. The author here mentions traditions believing Enoch to be the real author. What he fails to mention is that scholars and believers alike all believe the Book of Enoch to be crap. The fact that one verse in Jude references a verse from the book simply means that Jude knew of its existence and believed it to be important. Other works are cited in the New Testament that don’t confer proof of the sacred to other works as well. Regardless, I consider it strange to make the claim about traditions believing in Enoch’s veracity. So what? There are traditions that believe in almost everything, and we all know that many of them are patently false.

    • Todd Reeder

      I heard that the book of Enoch tells of the giants of Nephilim from being from outer space or something. I don’t believe that.

  • jaysonwhelpley

    I’ve also heard a theory that the Son of the Morning/Lightbearer/Morning Star name was actually a title or position that Satan fell from and Jesus earned/obtained/inherited.


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