Some Light on Lucifer

By Ina Belderis
[Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotes are from the New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version).]

Is there any difference between Lucifer and Satan? Westerners generally would say they are one and the same. Especially those in fundamentalist Christian circles consider Lucifer an archangel who fell from grace and was thrown out of heaven because of "sinful pride." His "sin" was thinking he was equal to God and rebelling against Him. This rebellious angel is known as Satan, Lucifer, or the Devil, who tempts us to do evil. Supposedly, one of the most evil things Lucifer tempts us to do is to think that we are God. So those who believe in the essential divinity of all life are often accused of committing Satan's sin, and of being under the influence of Lucifer. Where do these ideas about Satan and Lucifer come from? Is there a biblical basis for them?

Lucifer means lightbringer, from the Latin lux "light" and ferre "to bear or bring." The word Lucifer is found in only one place in the Bible -- Isaiah 14:12 -- but only in the King James and related versions: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! . . ." The New Revised Standard Version translates the same passage as "How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, Son of Dawn!" In other translations we find: "O shining star of the dawn!" (Moffatt) or "O morning-star, son of the dawn!" (Hebrew Bible). The King James Version is based on the Vulgate, the Latin translation of Jerome. Jerome translated the Hebrew helel (bright or brilliant one) as "lucifer," which was a reasonable Latin equivalent. And yet it is this lucifer, the bright one or lightbearer, that came to be understood by so many as the name for Satan, Lord of Darkness.

In Isaiah 14 the prophet is taunting the king of Babylon: "In the figurative language of the Hebrews, . . . a star, signifies an illustrious king or prince . . . The monarch here referred to, having surpassed all other kings in royal splendour, is compared to the harbinger of day, whose brilliancy surpasses that of the surrounding stars" (A Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, John Kitto ed., 3rd ed., J. B. Lippincott and Co, Philadelphia, 1866, 2:857-8). There are those who claim that the real entity addressed in this passage is Satan, but there is no evidence for this. On the contrary, Isaiah (14:16) says: "Is this the man who made the earth tremble, . . . ?" and (14:18) "All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb; but you are cast out . . ." These seem clear references to a man, the king of a nation, not an archangel.

There is yet another reason why it makes no sense to read the Devil into Isaiah 14: the traditional role of Satan in the Old Testament. Satan comes from the Hebrew satan, which means "opponent" or "adversary." According to Strong's Concordance, this word appears in 1 Chronicles, Job, Psalms, and in Zechariah. In Psalms "satan" is used both in the plural (accusers) and in the indefinite sense (an accuser). In Chronicles and Zechariah its usage is ambiguous, while in Job "satan" as The Accuser appears only in the first two of its 42 chapters. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the texts of the Old Testament did not reach their "final" version until after the Babylonian exile. Before this exile there is no evidence in Hebrew scriptures of an Accuser as a force that opposes God, and even after the exile it is still doubtful. Though the story of Job is very old, its final version is dated after the exile, after the Hebrews came into contact with the dualist Zoroastrian religion with its god of good and its god of evil.

There is even division among Old Testament scholars as to whether evil should be associated with Satan at all. Some say that Satan was originally not considered evil but gradually became identified with his unpleasant functions. According to this approach, Satan is still God's servant. There is much in the Book of Job that tends to support this view. Satan appears only in the first two chapters and then disappears. Some believe the first two chapters were added much later, for in the last chapter we read: ". . . they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him" (42:11).

It appears that the Hebrews did not have a devil-like power opposed to God. Satan, or the Satan as he is often called, is an angel in the court of God with the function of an accuser (see Job 1:6). There are also indications that along with all that is "good," all that is "evil" comes from God, not Satan. In Isaiah 45:7 God says: "I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things." Valentine's Jewish Encyclopedia confirms the idea that there is a radical difference between how Satan is conceived in the Old Testament and how he is conceived in the New Testament, and that his new role did not develop from his original role: there are no references "to rebellious angels in any pre-Christian book. . . . The figure of Satan in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament respectively emphasizes the difference in conception. There is no development, but basic difference. . . . It is only in Christian literature that the Persian idea of two opposing empires, with Satan as God's enemy, has persisted" (Valentine's Jewish Encyclopedia, A. M. Hyamson & A. M. Silberman eds., Shapiro, Valentine & Co, London, 1938, p. 36).

There is actually very little in the Old Testament to support the idea of Satan as a rebellious angel and the power opposing God. He is generally depicted as a heavenly attorney general (accuser) functioning under God, and this only strengthens the argument for not reading Satan into the passage about Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12. Isaiah is one of the older books in the Bible and is definitely pre-exile.

If there is no sound biblical basis for associating Lucifer with Satan, where then does the story come from that he is a rebellious angel and fell because of pride? The Christian Church made the interpretation that Isaiah 14:12 is connected with Luke 10:18: "He said to them, I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning." This unfounded, non-biblical connection of Lucifer with Satan has led to the popular misunderstanding that Lucifer is another name for the Devil (cf. "Lucifer," Harper's Bible Dictionary, Paul Achtemeier, gen. ed., Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1985).

As Lucifer is the morning star, daystar, or Venus, the absurdity of connecting him with the Devil is revealed in the three New Testament passages where morning star or daystar is mentioned:

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. -- 2 Peter 1:19
. . . from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. -- Revelation 2:28
It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. -- Revelation 2 2:16

All three references to the morning star point to Jesus or things Jesus says or gives. In the Vulgate the word "morning star" in 2 Peter is even translated as lucifer. In the other two references it is stella matutina.

It is puzzling that "lightning" should be used in relation to Satan in Luke 10:18, especially when one considers two other references to lightning in the New Testament: Matthew 24:27 and Luke 17:24. These two references connect lightning with the Son of Man or Jesus and his second coming, which is understandable when one studies ancient religious symbolism: "In Judeo-Christian thought lightning is a symbol of God's immediate presence . . . or of the last Judgment" ("Lightning," Dictionary of Symbolism, Hans Biedermann, Penguin Books, New York, 1992). Even when we put aside the question of what God's "opponent" should be called, the fact remains that the story of a rebellious angel who fell because of pride is not in the Bible at all. Some claim that the fallen Satan is present from the very beginning, even though his name does not appear in Genesis. Paul suggested that the serpent was Satan, the implication being that Satan tempted Adam. Yet most of the early Church Fathers believed that Satan fell after Adam. It took the Church over 200 years to establish that Satan's sin was pride, that he fell before the creation of man, and that he was the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve.

To find the story of the fall of Satan, we must go to sources other than the Bible. There was a great deal of literature produced roughly between 200 BC and 150 AD, including the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. Some of these are apocalyptic -- they prophesy cataclysmic events and the end of the world. In this literature one can see the development of the idea of an evil spirit, but even in the apocalyptic literature the Devil does not become entirely evil in his origin and essence. Many of the books from this period reflect the misery of the Jewish people under the oppression of Syria and Rome. Their writings deal with visions of the end of the world, the world being in the power of the Devil, and the Messiah conquering the Devil and bringing a new era of justice. The Book of Enoch is seen by many as one of the earliest and most important accounts of the mishaps of the Heavenly Court (of angels). It also describes the rebellion of the angel Satanail, and his being hurled from heaven (2 Enoch, ch. 29, long MSS only). Some scholars take this to mean that the amalgamation of Satan and Lucifer goes back to the first century. A redating of 2 Enoch, however, puts it later than the third century, perhaps even in the seventh. For this reason others suggest that Origen (Exhort. 18) was probably the inventor of the identification of Lucifer with Satan (Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, Jeffrey Burton Russell, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1991, p. 130 & fn). The Life of Adam and Eve (Vita), a Jewish scripture that scholars date between 200 BC and 200 AD, relates that Satan tells Adam and Eve that his fall from heaven is the result of his refusal to worship Adam, the image of God. A similar account is also found in the Koran (S 2:34). These legends reflect a theme close to the primordial "pride" that led to the so-called fall of Satan.

Since the Old Testament does not connect pride or the Fall with Satan, the Devil, or the Adversary, the only scriptural "support" for this notion is the misinterpretation of the fall of Lucifer (the king of Babylon), and certain passages in the New Testament. But the New Testament does not give any clear information on the fall of Satan through pride either. One place where Lucifer is connected with pride is in Milton's Paradise Lost. He "applied the name to the demon of sinful pride" ("Lucifer," A Dictionary of Angels, Gustav Davidson, The Free Press, New York, 1967).

It appears that the whole story of Lucifer as Satan, the fallen rebellious angel, is based entirely on non-canonical sources: the so-called Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. There are also many pre-Christian myths and allegories that include stories about Lucifer, which is the Latin name for the Greek Eosphoros. In his Theogony Hesiod speaks of two divine beings, the brothers Eosphoros (the morning star) and Hesperos (the evening star). They are the children of Astraios (the starry heaven) and Eos (the dawn). The morning star, like the Virgin of the Sea, is one of the titles given to Divine Mother goddesses such as the Roman Venus, the Phoenician Astarte, the Jewish Ashtoreth, and the later Christian Holy Virgin. In the oldest Zoroastrian allegories, Mithra is supposed to have conquered the planet Venus. In the Christian tradition, Michael defeats Lucifer.

The planet Venus is the lightbringer, the first radiant beam that does away with the darkness of night. It is a symbol of the development of the divine light in man, for the first awakening of self-consciousness, for independent thinking and the real application of free will. It means the bringing of the light of compassionate understanding to the human mind. In this broader view the connection of the morning star with Jesus makes good sense, because compassion is the essence of Jesus' teaching. This teaching shows the greatest consensus throughout the New Testament: it is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 John, James, and 1 Peter. The best known reference is in Matthew (22:37-40):

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
  • (From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press.)

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