Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Where Did the Devil Get the Name 'Lucifer'?

"How art thou fallen... O Lucifer"
Image: Public Domain

The devil has a lot of names in the Bible. Where did he get the name 'Lucifer' especially since it doesn't appear anywhere in most modern Bible translations? A Quora question.

Q: Who was the true Lucifer and why he was related to the devil if he don’t even appear in the Bible?

A: What a great question! The answer is really in two-parts.

First, we need to recognize that there isn't really any origin story for the Devil in the Bible. There is no place where the scriptures plainly say, "This is the story of the Devil." He's just there -- even in the Garden of Eden if we equate "the serpent" with him.

So, humans being the way we are, people all the way back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE searched the Hebrew scriptures for clues to his origin. One place they found that sounded like what they assumed the devil's origin would sound like ("Glorious, supernatural being? Check! Not created evil but became evil through pride? Check!") was in the Old Testament prophetic Book of Isaiah chapter 14, verses 12-32.

This may not be apparent to us today but here is how the ancient church father Origen (185-254 CE) explained it:

It is most clearly proved by these words that he who formerly was Lucifer and who “arose in the morning” has fallen from heaven. For if, as some suppose, he was a being of darkness, why is he said to have formerly been Lucifer or lightbearer? Or how could he “rise in the morning” who had in him no light at all?… So he was light once … when “his glory was turned into dust.” (On First Principles 1.5)

(NOTE: Isaiah actually wrote this prophetic poem to make fun of the King of Babylon, not to explain where Satan came from).

The first line of this passage is the important one for answering your question. In Hebrew this line begins אֵ֛יךְ נָפַ֥לְתָּ מִשָּׁמַ֖יִם הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן־שָׁ֑חַר Ek Napalta misamayim helel ben sahar (sorry no diacritical marks), literally "How you are fallen from the sky helel, son of dawn." The Hebrew word helel means "shining one." Most scholars believe that this word helel refers to the morning star -- Venus.

The 2nd part of the answer is very brief. The early Christians didn't preach or (for the most part) write in Hebrew, but in Greek. In the Septuagint -- the popular Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures -- helel is translated by the word Eosphoros, meaning "Dawn-carrier." Somehow though that never caught on.

However when the church at Rome asked St. Jerome (347-420 CE) to revise the Old Latin translation, he translated helel as "Lucifer," which means pretty much the same thing as Eosphoros: "light-carrier."

Jerome's translation, the Vulgate, became the official translation of the church. So under the influence of the Vulgate and the widespread idea that Isaiah 14 told the story of where the devil came from, Lucifer became a name for Satan during the middle ages. And influenced by all that, when British translators set out to create an English version of the Bible (i.e., the King James Version) they took over the by now traditional name "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14.12: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!”

Most modern Bibles translate helel as “shining one,” “Day Star,” “star of the morning” or something else more accurate.