Normal gathering. Normal Bible study. Normal lesson points. Then things took an abnormal turn. We were reviewing the temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness at the hands of his enemy (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). One of our participants commented on the belligerent deception of Lucifer. Since I rarely pass up the opportunity to correct common misconceptions, I quickly pointed out that the Gospel accounts of the wilderness temptation identify that enemy with several names/descriptions: devil, tempter and Satan. However, the word ‘Lucifer’ is not mentioned in these passages, nor in the rest of the Gospel. I went so far as to say that the literary character of ‘Lucifer’ is not a name that appears in the Bible. My pronouncement elicited a few gasps, some incredulous expressions, plus a handful of smiles from those who saw where I was headed.
Some in the room may have thought I had just denied the existence of the devil, which meant I was ready to deny the existence of hell, which subsequently questions the potentiality of heaven. Oh my! Several people starting thumbing through the abridged concordance in the back of their study Bibles. Finally, someone shouted out, “I found it in Isaiah 14:12!” Of course, I asked for them to read publicly: “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!” I love the reading of God’s Word in the corporate gathering. I do not love telling someone that the version they choose has chosen the wrong term for translation. But, I must.
Back in England, during the first decade of 1600, the religious leaders loyal to James King of Great Britain (James 6th of Scotland was also James 1st of England) were assembled as a team to translate a fresh version that the King could endorse officially. James was perturbed by the previous English translations: Tyndale, Coverdale and Geneva. He especially opposed the version that came to be known as ‘The Geneva Bible’, which had been published by English Protestants who fled the religious persecution during the reign of Queen Mary 1st. The Geneva Bible was overwhelmingly popular among the Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians and other English dissenters from the established Church of England (Anglican). King James felt the previous English versions were anti-monarchy, anti-aristocracy and anti-established church. He wanted the new version to be pro-monarchy, pro-aristocracy and pro-established church (religious structure established through royal decree and protection).
The team assembled was loyal to the established Church of England and to the Defender of the Faith King James. They were well studied, but not necessarily the best Hebrew scholars of the day. They were mostly steeped in Latin, with Hebrew and Greek to a lesser degree. History has now shown that when they compared ancient manuscripts of Scripture, this team preferred to trust and translate the Latin, rather than elevate the Hebrew as a primary and weightier choice. This tendency becomes especially evident in Isaiah 14:12, where the Hebrew passage reads:
heylel ben shachar = shining one son of the dawn
Jerome’s 5th century translation into Latin renders the phrase as:
lucifer qui mane oriebaris = light bearer son of the dawn
The translators commissioned by King James did not translate the inspired Hebrew text of Isaiah 14:12. Instead, they preferred the Latin Bible, but they did not even completely translate the Latin into English. They actually transliterated the Latin term without translation. The term ‘lucifer’ does not occur in the inspired Hebrew text of Scripture, not as a noun, adjective nor as a proper name. Neither the Hebrew Old Testament nor the Greek New Testament ever identifies the enemy of God as a character named Lucifer! Why would those Church of English translators turn a Latin word that means ‘light bearer’ into a proper name that is now associated with Satan? The answer to that question has puzzled Bible scholars for some time, with several plausible solutions. The most reasonable solution seems to flow out of Italian literature.
In 1320, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, completed his epic narrative poem Comedia (later known as Divine Comedy) in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio & Paradiso. Dante made use of allegory set to poetry, to illustrate both the spiritual journey we humans face as well as allegory to illustrate the political intrigues between Florence and Rome of Dante’s lifetime. In the journey through Inferno, the reader encounters corrupt religious leaders (popes, bishops and priests) as well as secular leaders (magistrates and mayors). Dante’s allegorical Hell is arranged in nine circles, therefore the poetic vision comes from Dante’s literary imagination, not from the Biblical data.
While fire is present in several of the circles, the center circle is frozen in ice. An enormous demon is embedded in the ice up to his chest. As this beast flaps his wings, the frigid air keeps the ice frozen, which in turn maintains a grip on the demon and the worst of the worst sinners. Dante identifies this demon both as Satan and Lucifer (using the names interchangeably). Dante’s version of Lucifer includes his back-story as a former angel of light who attempted to usurp God’s position, which resulted in his banishment from heaven. While frozen in the ice, exacerbated by his own wing flapping, his three mouths continually chew on the bodies of Cassius, Brutus and Judas! While Dante borrows freely from Biblical data, he also introduces factors in his poetry that derive from his own creative imagination. While the use of the Latin term “lucifer” predates the publication of The Divine Comedy, Dante’s use of the noun as a synonymous proper name for Satan brought the expression into wide spread acceptance.
Over the next three centuries The Divine Comedy exerted significant influence over the Roman Catholic Church and European culture, as the poems were set to music and acted out in the theatre. In an era devoid of television, internet, movies, radio or any printed media (pre-print press), the common man deduced much of his worldview from songs sung in the market and local pub, as well as the plays performed in the local theatre. This narrative poem of over 14,000 lines in 100 cantos became a rich resource for composers and playwrights. Countless plays, tragedies and operas borrowed from the allegorical portrayal of theology and politics envisioned by Dante. Numerous plays and songs included a demonic character with the names of Lucifer and Satan used synonymously.
Three hundred years after Dante published his poem, in which Lucifer plays a primary role, almost one thousand miles away the team commissioned by King James tackled the text of Isaiah. The king prepared a set of rules for the 54 scholars to carefully observe, which includes rule #1 “The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.” The king was therefore instructing his team to keep the 1568 version previously authorized by the Church of England close by as they studied the older Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
Instead of translating the ancient Hebrew manuscripts, they relied heavily on the much later Latin version. They came across the Latin term that means “light bearer” which is spelled “lucifer”. They also closely followed the previous English translations, which preferred drawing from the Latin over the Hebrew:
A! Lucifer, that risedest early, how fellest thou down from heaven; thou that woundedest folks, felledest down (al)together into [the] earth.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning? and cut down to the ground, which didst cast lots upon the nations?
Bishops Bible [Anglican]
Howe art thou fallen from heauen O Lucifer, thou faire mornyng chylde? Howe hast thou gotten a fall euen to the grounde, which didst weaken the nations
Douay–Rheims [Roman Catholic]
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? how art thou fallen to the earth, that didst wound the nations?
King James Version 1611
How art thou fallen from heauen, O Lucifer, sonne of the morning? how art thou cut downe to the ground, which didst weaken the nations?
One might assume that if so many translations made the same choice, then they must be on the same right track. Regrettably, many of those translation teams followed the principle of trusting the previous translation more than they trusted the ancient Hebrew, so the task was to spend less time on the ancient language and more time on making the English more current and relevant. It is interesting to note the challenge that Martin Luther faced in the 1500s: he became passionate about translating the Bible into the language of the German people. As a Roman Catholic priest, he had been well trained in the Latin of the church. However, Luther was determined to produce a German translation that was faithful to the most ancient manuscripts that were available in his day, without being overly dependent upon the previous German versions or upon the Latin Vulgate. This is what Luther did with Isaiah 14:12 in 1545 -
14:12 Wie bist du vom Himmel gefallen, du schöner Morgenstern! Wie bist du zur Erde gefällt, der du die Heiden schwächtest!
The phrase “du schöner Morgenstern” would in English be expressed as “the beautiful morning star”, which is evidence that Luther actually translated the Hebrew text, rather than transliterating the Latin.
Since words only have meaning in context, let’s look more closely at the literary and historical context of Isaiah chapter fourteen. Isaiah was the LORD’s prophet who wrote during the chaotic period of Assyrian expansion through the region in the 700s BC. During Isaiah’s ministry, the Assyrians conquered and occupied Aram, Canaan and the northern Kingdom of Israel. The tyranny of Assyria would be defeated by and then virtually copied by the Babylonian Empire, when Babylon would conquer Judah and destroy the Solomonic Temple about a century after Isaiah’s death. The prophet was inspired by God to speak a word of warning and judgment against Babylon:
Is. 14:4 That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! [KJV]
Is. 14:4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended! [NIV]
The Hebrew term ‘mashal’ is rendered as proverb in KJV, and as taunt in NIV. This would be a type of prophetic utterance against a nation or leader of a nation that conveys Yahweh’s view toward unjust behavior and the divine consequence one can expect if the behavior continues (Balaam’s oracle in Numbers 23:7, also Ezek 12:23; 16:44; 17:2; Micah 2:4; Hab.2:6). Many Bible commentators, teachers and pastors have asserted that Isaiah’s taunting prophetic proverb is directed at Satan, the true king of the Empire of Babylon, as the evil spiritual force behind the wicked earthly ruler. But does the context support that conclusion?
Is. 14:16 Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, 17the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” [NIV]
The Hebrew term for man in this passage is ‘ish’, the same word used in the creation account of Genesis 2:23-24. This term is never used to describe or define Satan, devil or demons. The spectators in Isaiah’s taunt are not saying the king is acting like a man, or pretending to be a man, or taking on the appearance of a man. They call him “the man who made the world a desert.” This character is a human being. It was common for ancient human leaders to make grand claims, for megalomaniacs to pronounce their delusions of grandeur. The kings of Assyria did it. The pharaohs of Egypt did it. Sometimes the ruler himself did not make the claim, but his followers did, but the ruler did not correct them (as was the case with Octavius, when his supporters proclaimed him “The Most August Caesar” as the next step toward his deification and launched the Roman Imperial cult). Just because a claim of deity is recorded does not establish the fact of that claimant being divine. The Babylonians kings made such claims, but that does not make it true.
This reality is probably nowhere more clear than in Ezekiel 28. This prophecy comes in two parts: part one is directed at the human ruler of ancient Tyre, while part two is a lament directed against the wicked individual who operates in the spiritual realm as king of Tyre. Read the passages side-by-side to see how the first is clearly human while the second is clearly not human.
Ezekiel 28:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2“Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god. 3 Are you wiser than Daniel ? Is no secret hidden from you? 4 By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself and amassed gold and silver in your treasuries. 5 By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud. 6 “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘Because you think you are wise, as wise as a god, 7 I am going to bring foreigners against you, the most ruthless of nations; they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom and pierce your shining splendor. :8 They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas. 9 Will you then say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you? You will be but a man, not a god, in the hands of those who slay you. 10 You will die the death of the uncircumcised at the hands of foreigners. I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ ”
Ezekiel 28:11 The word of the LORD came to me: 12“Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.
Note: Ezek 28:1-10 is a lament against the ruler [nagid = prominent leader, high captain, ruler] of Tyre.
This guy is proud, but is a man, not a god, even if he thinks he is. He will die a violent death and his claims of deity will be futile in the face of his killers.
Note: Ezek 28:11-17 is a lament [hÎnyIq keynah] against the king [melek = sovereign, majestic chieftain].
This guy was at one time in the Garden of Eden, was a perfect model of wisdom and beauty, was anointed as a guardian cherub (a classification of protector angel, see Ezekiel 10), ordained such by Yahweh Himself, had been on the Holy Mount, walked among fiery stones. This is the guy who gave up his blameless status, choosing wickedness, violence and sin. Consequently God expelled this cherub/angel from the garden and threw him to the earthly region.
This chapter from Ezekiel serves as a great model for allowing the text of Scripture to speak for itself. If God wants to identify a character in the narrative as an angel or demon, then that truth will be obvious in the literary context. It will not be hidden in a secret cyber awaiting decryption in a subsequent language. The taunt against the king of Babylon more closely fits the pattern we see in the first part of the lament in Ezekiel 28; a human being with delusions of divine grandeur. No translation of the Bible that prefers the original languages (Hebrew & Greek) as primary source has used the Latin term ‘lucifer’ in their translation. This is not just true in English, but also Swahili, German, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, etc.
The Latin Vulgate by Jerome was not the inspired original text, but a translation into a receptor language. Martin Luther knew that and consequently, his German translation nowhere mentions Lucifer. The translation team who answered to King James followed the rules dictated by their king: follow the previous Church of England authorized version as closely as possible, which had preferred the Latin text over the Hebrew. The Bishops Bible of 1568 continued to perpetuate the perspective that Lucifer was another name for Satan, which shows more dependence on Dante’s Inferno than upon Biblical revelation.
Have we been deceived? During 1943, the German military was busy preparing for the inevitable invasion of the European mainland by the Allied forces. The Nazi intelligence high command were convinced that when that invasion came, the most likely general to lead the American forces would be General George Patton. The Nazis did not know that Patton still had rank, but had been stripped of his command duties after he became a public relations liability. British intelligence discovered the Nazi fear and respect of Patton, so Eisenhower approved a plan to keep the German spies busy with misinformation. The elaborate deception came to be known as ‘Patton’s Ghost Army’, officially First US Army Group: inflatable tanks, fake transport boats, phony camps and troop movements that would photograph well from spy planes at 30,000 feet in the air. The British radio and press followed General Patton all over eastern England, reporting troop inspections and photographing Patton as he rallied the troops. Every night, the fake props would be moved around to give the illusion of massive buildups and transfers. This deception kept the Germans so busy, that they really did not detect the actual buildup of transport ships, nor could they determine the exact location where the invasion would take place. The deception worked quite well, with German spies chasing Patton while General Omar Bradley quietly organized the American invasion forces.
For more historic details about ‘Patton’s Ghost Army’ see http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/pattons-ghost-army/
Yahweh has an enemy called Satan, who has positioned himself as the infernal adversary of the Most High God. I suggest that the “Lucifer” character has been an elaborate deception to keep us busy chasing down the wrong commander, putting more confidence in codes leaked from an old Italian poem rather than from reliable inspired reports on the identity and potential of the adversary of our God. When the devil tried to tempt Jesus to accept the gift of all the kingdoms of the world, all the tempter asked for was for Jesus to bow down and worship him. The response that Jesus gave was, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” Jesus did not address him as ‘Lucifer’, a name and character that does not appear in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the inspired Word. That’s what I mean when I say that Lucifer is not in the Bible, is not an alternative name for Satan, and is probably an elaborate deception. Know your enemy and do not be deceived.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. These Scriptures are copyrighted by the Biblica, Inc.™ and have been made available on the Internet for your personal use only. Any other use including, but not limited to, copying or reposting on the Internet is prohibited. These Scriptures may not be altered or modified in any form and must remain in their original context. These Scriptures may not be sold or otherwise offered for sale.