Many religious traditions speak of an evil alternative to God, the Devil. In Judeo-Christian tradition, the name ‘Lucifer’ is commonly used to refer to the Devil (Satan), even though the name itself never appears in the Bible. For most Christians, ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Satan’ are just different names for the same being – but is this correct?
The name ‘Lucifer’ comes from the Latin meaning ‘Light Bearer’ or ‘Morning Star’. It was also the name given by the Romans to their god of light and to the planet Venus, the bright morning star. ‘Lucifer’ is the English equivalent of the Hebrew word ‘heilel’, which means ‘spreading brightness; or ‘shining one’.
The Renaissance saw the devil as persona feature far more regularly as the Church increasingly used his presence as a way to promote fear in its followers.
‘Lucifer’ probably came to be associated with the Devil because of a misinterpretation of Isaiah 14.12. In this passage, the prophet talks about the king of Babylon, who in his pomp and glory, set himself up among the gods. Isaiah’s words are translated in the King James Version of the Bible as:
How you have fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
You who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
… I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.
(Interestingly, the word ‘Lucifer’ only appears in the King James Version. It is replaced in modern versions of the Bible with ‘morning star’).
Based on this passage (and perhaps conveniently forgetting that it referred to the king of Babylon), that the early Church developed the myth that Lucifer was the bringer of light – one of God’s three archangels (along with Michael and Gabriel). According to the myth, Lucifer rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven. The Church support this interpretation by referring loosely to Ezekiel 28:16 ‘I expelled you, O guardian cherub’.
Lucifer then became Satan. According to St. Jerome, the early Christians applied the name Lucifer to Satan because that was his name before he fell from heaven and this name was used by the gospel writers. For example, in Luke 10:18 ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’.
Moreover, in the apocalyptic visions in the Book of Revelation, the notion of the fallen star was linked with the fall of Satan – Revelation 9:1, 12:9: ‘I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to earth… The great dragon was hurled down – the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him’.
But herein lies the mystery: is Lucifer, the bearer of light and the ‘morning star’, also Satan?
There is a strong argument to the contrary. In John 1:9, Jesus Christ is depicted as the bearer of light, and in 2 Peter 1:19, the writer identifies the morning start as one of Christ’s titles: ‘…as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hears’. Moreoever, the Bible identifies the morning Star as Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:16): ‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the Churches. I am the roof and the offspring of David, and the Bright Morning Star’.
Are we wrong to associate Lucifer, the morning star, with Satan? Is it possible that this is a title more befitting Jesus Christ, as the bringer of light? The evidence appears to be compelling.