His Name’s Not Lucifer

I made an off-hand comment in a post that said, “If you want to know how to irritate me… say that satan’s name before he fell was Lucifer, but that’s the topic of another post for another time.”

That time has come!

Let’s be clear up-front. This is an incredibly non-essential point of theology. What we call the enemy, satan, is secondary to the fact that he is real and is against us.

The topic of this post is just a pet peeve of mine. However, this particular pet peeve stems from a deeper and more important point: Do you know why you know what you know?

To put it another way, do you question and test the things you are taught to see if they are true, or do you simply accept them? It all relates back to, “WHY do you believe what you believe?” While I’ll only be dealing with the minor question of, “Was satan’s name Lucifer before he fell?” the deeper question of, “How is and why is and just is what he says true?” should be looming at the back of your mind.

Do I give you good reasons, or don’t I? Do you agree with my reasons or not? WHY? These are the questions behind the answer to this non-essential point of doctrine.

On to the answer.

THE ORIGIN

Was satan’s name Lucifer before he fell? Answer: No.

Prove it! Why then does everyone think that? Where did the idea come from? I’m glad you asked.

There are two biblical passages that seem to speak of satan in his pre-fall state. They are Isaiah 14 (v.12-17) and Ezekiel 28 (v.12-19). They both follow a similar pattern.

In each passage, the prophet is receiving a word from God, and God tells him to prophecy against a particular nation’s king. Once the prophecy starts, however, it seems like God is talking to someone or something other than just the earthly king in question. It seems like he’s speaking to a demonic spirit or some other person in addition to the earthly king. Let me show you the passages so you can see what I mean.

I’m going to show you the full prophecies so you have the context, but if you just read the bolded and underlined portions, you’ll get the gist.

THE TEXTS

Isaiah 14

3 And it will be in the day when the Lord gives you rest from your pain and turmoil and harsh service in which you have been enslaved, 4 that you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon, and say,
“How the oppressor has ceased,
And how fury has ceased!
5 “The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
The scepter of rulers
6 Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes,
Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution.
7 “The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.
8 “Even the cypress trees rejoice over you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low, no tree cutter comes up against us.’
9 “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come;
It arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth;
It raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones.
10 “They will all respond and say to you,
‘Even you have been made weak as we,
You have become like us.
11 ‘Your pomp and the music of your harps
Have been brought down to Sheol;
Maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you
And worms are your covering.’
12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
13 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.
16 “Those who see you will gaze at you,
They will ponder over you, saying,
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
Who shook kingdoms,
17 Who made the world like a wilderness
And overthrew its cities,
Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
18 “All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Each in his own tomb.
19 “But you have been cast out of your tomb
Like a rejected branch,
Clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword,
Who go down to the stones of the pit
Like a trampled corpse.
20 “You will not be united with them in burial,
Because you have ruined your country,
You have slain your people.
May the offspring of evildoers not be mentioned forever.
21 “Prepare for his sons a place of slaughter
Because of the iniquity of their fathers.
They must not arise and take possession of the earth
And fill the face of the world with cities.”
That is the whole prophecy in Isaiah. As for Ezekiel?

Ezekiel 28

11 Again the word of the Lord came to me saying, 12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
“You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The ruby, the topaz and the diamond;
The beryl, the onyx and the jasper;
The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald;
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you.
On the day that you were created
They were prepared.
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 “By the abundance of your trade
You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;
Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I put you before kings,
That they may see you.
18 “By the multitude of your iniquities,
In the unrighteousness of your trade
You profaned your sanctuaries.
Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you;
It has consumed you,
And I have turned you to ashes on the earth
In the eyes of all who see you.
19 “All who know you among the peoples
Are appalled at you;
You have become terrified
And you will cease to be forever.”’”

THE INTERPRETATION

So, that’s it. Those are the passages that tell us about satan. Those are the passages from which we get the ideas that satan was an angel of worship, and he tried to take God’s throne, and God cast him down because of his sin.(Those, and Revelation 12. I encourage you to read it, but it’s not super important for this topic.) The question is, are we correct in making those assertions? You, as the Bible interpreter, must decide. Is it reasonable or right to say that these passages are speaking to a demonic force behind the earthly king?

Here’s my opinion.

Isaiah 14

I have to wonder how we bring satan into these passages. Where in the text are the words or phrases that justify saying, “The writer is speaking to more than just an earthly king.”? If someone hadn’t told us, “He’s talking about satan here,” what would tip us off that he’s talking about satan here? What if the writer is merely using figures of speech (metaphors, hyperbole, etc.) to vividly describe the extent of the earthly kings’ future, or past, failings?

I think this is the case with the Isaiah passage. I don’t see enough support to say that Isaiah 14 is talking about satan. I think he’s describing the king of Babylon and the motivations of his heart. The only thing that comes close to saying “let’s bring the personal demonic enemy of goodness into this passage” is the phrase, “How you have fallen from heaven, or star of morning, son of the dawn!” However, that’s a perfectly reasonable metaphor for someone who was a great conqueror and ruler of a great empire who was good but turned bad. This “shining star” (more on this later) might have fallen from metaphorical “heaven” (as in the highest place imaginable). It might just be that in his heart the king of Babylon considered himself to be God. We see this in the original sin of Eve in the garden, we see it in Herod in Acts 12, we see it here.Why does it have to be satan, not just the king of Babylon?

I’m inclined to think it is only a hyperbolic metaphor, and nothing more, because of verse 16. The result of all the pride and self-adulation is that the king will be cut down. Then regular people will react to it! “Those who see you will gaze at you, They will ponder over you, saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms, Who made the world like a wilderness, And overthrew its cities, Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’”

The people are going to talk about “the man” who did those things… but the pronoun “you” didn’t change. Why would the people be commenting this way on an angelic being who fell?

All together, that’s enough for me to say, “I don’t think satan is in this passage. I think it’s just an arrogant king of Babylon who’s going to get what’s coming to him.”

That’s just my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me. Most of Christendom does. I just want you to know what I think and why, and for you to figure out what you think and why.

Ezekiel 28

I do think there is justification in the Ezekiel passage to say he is talking to two entities. Yes, the prophecy starts off as, “to the king of Tyre” but pretty quickly, the prophet is saying things like, “You were in Eden, the garden of God,” and “you were the anointed Cherub,” and “You were on the Holy mountain of God.” Well, the king of Tyre definitely wasn’t in Eden, he wasn’t a Cherub, and I don’t know what the Holy mountain of God is, but I’m guessing the king of Tyre wouldn’t have been allowed there.

In particular, the reference to Eden is what gets me. There were only four persons in Eden. Adam, Eve, God, and satan. That’s enough to say, “Maybe satan is in this passage.” And there isn’t anything that demands the opposite (like the people commenting on “this man,” as in the Isaiah passage).

There’s enough in the Ezekiel passage that seems like he’s talking to more than just a man to say that he might be talking to satan, and the things he says fits with the other scriptures that give us facts about satan. (Gen 3, Rev 12, Rev 21)

Again, that’s just my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me, but this time most of Christendom doesn’t.

THE NAME LUCIFER

A question that hopefully has popped into your head by now is, “What does all this have to do with the name Lucifer?” Well, it was right there in Isaiah 14! Didn’t you catch it?

No… of course you didn’t, and that’s exactly the point. Let’s do some language/history work.

Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. In Hebrew, the phrase “Star of the morning” (from Is. 14:12)  is “heylel.” Heylel means “day star,” “shining one,” “morning star” something along those lines. We’re not exactly sure of the best translation. But, when the Bible was translated into Latin by St. Jerome, he used the word, “lucifer” for that descriptive phrase. (“Luc” means “light” or “glimmer” in Latin.) When the KJV translators came along, they didn’t know what heylel meant, but they figured Jerome knew what he was doing, so they just took the Latin word and plopped it down in the English text. From there, people in the church gradually took this adjective, “shinning one” or “morning star” (lucifer) to be a name… the name of the supposed demon in the passage.

That’s where “Lucifer” came from. It’s an English transliteration, of a Latin translation, of a descriptive Hebrew word meaning, “morning star” from a passage that may or may not even be talking about satan, the enemy. It’s not a name; it’s a description. Even assuming the passage is talking about satan, it’s still not the character’s name. It would be like saying that my name is “tall” or “annoying theology guy.”

The truth is, we don’t know satan’s name, pre or post fall. We only know descriptions of him. satan is actually a Hebrew word (and greek satanas, and latin satanas) that literally means enemy. It’s a description just like lucifer. The only named angels in the Bible are Michael and Gabriel… not Lucifer.

You can call him many things. There are many “names” by which he’s recognized: satan, devil, diablo, deceiver, adversary, liar, father of lies, prince of this world… but none of them are “names” in the way that my name is “Stephen.”

The problem isn’t that people call satan “Lucifer” it’s that most in the church don’t know why they call him Lucifer. I don’t call him Lucifer at all, because that name comes from a passage of scripture that I don’t think is about him. I don’t have a problem with people who call him Lucifer because they do think that passage is about him. I do have a problem with people who call him Lucifer because that’s what they learned his name was in Sunday School, but they never stopped to ask where it comes from.

I don’t mean to come off condescending here. Obviously, we use words, and names, and terms all the time and we don’t know their origin or their actual meaning. I’m sure there are points of theology I have simply accepted without thinking through where they came from or why I accept them. I just don’t know what those points are yet! I look forward to the days I realize I’ve been believing something without knowing why… then I get to go learn why!

That, however is beside the point. You know about this one now! You know that something you learned in church growing up might not be as “matter-of-fact” as you thought. Now that you know, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to continue on, complacent in your ignorance (or should I say “Ignore –ance”) of what the Bible actually says, or are you going to make a change and strive to know what the Bible actually says in all aspects of life, theology, thought, and doctrine? I pray for the second and against the first.

I don’t want you to think I’m saying “EVERYTHING THE CHURCH HAS TAUGHT YOU IS A LIE!” By no means is that the case. However, if it were the case, would you be aware of it? Ideally, if the church started teaching lies, then we all would catch on because we wouldn’t be sitting there passively accepting whatever they say. We would constantly be asking if what they claim is actually true.

I am not promoting doubt. I’m promoting questioning. The difference? “A questioner wants the truth, a doubter wants to be told there isn’t any such thing.” (Cormac McCarthy)

As C.S. Lewis said, “Thirst was made for water, inquiry for truth.”

I want a church of well-informed, thinking, and reasoning lovers of truth. I hope you do too.

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