“I have heard the devil referred to as ‘Lucifer.’ What does this mean and where did this idea come from?”
In the King James Version of the Bible, Isaiah 14:12 reads:
“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!”
The term “Lucifer” was taken by the King James Version translators from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (383-405 A.D.) edition of the Bible. The Hebrew word is Heylel’ which suggests the idea of “shining,” or “bearing light.” Jerome assumed the word was the name of the morning star, hence, he rendered it by the Latin title “Lucifer.”
As the idea developed that Isaiah 14 contained a description of Satan’s original fall, the term Lucifer came to be applied to the devil and the designation is commonly employed today.
The fact is, however, there is absolutely no evidence whatever that Isaiah 14 contains any reference to Satan.
Please note the following:
- It would be strange indeed that the Holy Spirit should designate the ruler of the realm of spiritual darkness (cf. Ephesians 6:12) as “lightbearer.”
- The context clearly identifies the narrative as a “parable against the king of Babylon” (14:4). The death of that oppressive character is vividly described. He descends into Sheol where the inmates of that realm taunt, saying, “Is this the man that made the earth to tremble?” (14:16).
This cannot be an allusion to the devil since:
- worms eat his body (v. 11), yet Satan has no body;
- the subject of the account is called a “man” (v. 16), but the Tempter is a spirit being;
- he is to be buried in shame (vv. 19, 20)—a circumstance which is not applicable to the devil (cf. Revelation 20:10).
In the Old Testament, the demise of corrupt national powers is frequently represented under the imagery of falling heavenly luminaries (cf. Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7), hence, quite appropriately in this context the Babylonian monarch is described as a fallen star (cf. ASV).
There is, therefore, no reference to Satan in this context.
As Adam Clarke noted:
[T]he text speaks nothing at all concerning Satan nor his fall, nor the occasion of that fall, which many divines have with great confidence deduced from this text. Oh how necessary it is to understand the literal meaning of Scripture, that preposterous comments may be prevented (n.d., 82).