Many Christians believe that the Devil, Satan, and Lucifer are three names for the same figure. But who is Lucifer? According to many scholars, Lucifer isn't Satan at all – and one argument even claims that Lucifer in the Bible actually refers to Jesus. After all, our vision of the Devil as a horned creature holding a pitchfork doesn't come from the Bible. It's possible that our view of Lucifer as Satan also has no Biblical roots.
If Lucifer isn't Satan, what are Lucifer's origins? Was Lucifer another archangel, like Abbadon, the Angel of Death? Or is Lucifer even a person at all? And if Lucifer isn't Satan, why do millions of people believe that Lucifer is the Devil? To answer that question, we have to look back at Satan in the Bible and Lucifer in history to separate out the historical Devil from the historical Lucifer.
According to centuArticle Imageries of Christian writing, Lucifer is Satan. Take Dante, for example, who wrote of his journey through hell in The Inferno. When Dante reaches the lowest pits of Hell, he meets the Devil. In his writing, Dante uses four names for the massive, winged creature who rules hell: the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub, and Lucifer. By the early 14th century, when Dante wrote The Inferno, Lucifer clearly meant Satan.
Many Christians point to the Book of Isaiah as an explanation of the Devil's history: he was originally an angel named Lucifer. However, Lucifer broke from God's authority and was banished from Heaven and cast out. Isaiah 14:12 describes the fall: "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!"
After he lost his position in Heaven, Lucifer changed his name to Satan. For centuries, Christians have argued that Lucifer disguised himself as a serpent to tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Book of Revelation predicts that Lucifer will be tormented for a thousand years after Christ's return. From man's creation through the Apocalypse, Lucifer will torment mankind as the enemy of God.
There's just one problem: many Biblical scholars argue that Lucifer isn't Satan at all. And they bring persuasive evidence to show that Christians have mixed the two up for nearly two thousand years.
In Latin, Lucifer means bringer of light. It's a strange choice for the name of Satan, also called the Prince of Darkness. What's more, the Romans didn't use Lucifer as the word for Satan. Instead, Lucifer meant Venus, the planet. As one of the brightest stars in the sky, Venus was called the Morning Star, or light-bringer. How did the Roman word for Venus find its way into the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible?
The Old Testament, where Lucifer first appears, was originally written in Hebrew. The original text of Isaiah used the word לֵילֵה, or helel, to mean "shining one." Latin translators read the word as "morning star," using the Latin word Lucifer for the Hebrew helel. The choice must have confused some Roman readers, since Lucifer was a Roman god. In Roman mythologyArticle Image, Lucifer was called the lightbearer, the equivalent of the Greek god Phosphorus or Eosphoros. The Romans saw Lucifer as a male god carrying a torch, symbolizing Venus's brightness at dawn. Roman poets described Lucifer as the herald of dawn, and Lucifer was often depicted as a shining star.
The word "Lucifer" only appears one time in the Old Testament, in the Isaiah verse. By contrast, Satan appears multiple times, often described as the adversary or the opponent. In the New Testament, the Devil becomes an even more common figure, as Jesus warned his followers to beware the Devil's attempts to lure them from the chosen path.
Surprisingly, "Lucifer" does appear in the Latin version of the New Testament - as a description for Jesus. Professor Henry Kelly explains, "Jesus is called 'Lucifer' or 'the morning star' because he represents a new beginning." In short, the original text of the Bible never used Lucifer to mean Satan. In fact, the word "Lucifer" was more closely associated with Jesus than the Devil.
The Historical Development of Lucifer as Satan
If the Old Testament reference to Lucifer didn't mean Satan, and the New Testament references to Lucifer meant Jesus, how did Lucifer become Satan?
The first references to Lucifer as Satan date to the 3rd century, after the New Testament had been in circulation for nearly 200 years. Professor Henry Kelly explains how the Latin word for light-bearer was misinterpreted as Satan. The ancient Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah doesn't refer to Satan at all. According to Kelly, Isaiah refers to a Babylonian king, using the metaphor of Venus.
But in the 3rd century, the early Christian theologian Origen claimed the verse referred to Satan. "Origen says, 'Lucifer is said to have fallen from Heaven,'" Kelly relates. "'This can't refer to a human being, so it must refer to Satan.' Subsequent Church fathers found this reasoning persuasive, and so did everyone who followed them."
Origen's reasoning drew on Lucifer's classical connection to Venus. In one of his commentaries, Origen described Earth as, “that seat of war, on which Lucifer, star of the morning, fell from heaven, to be warred against and destroyed by Jesus.” The astronomical understanding gradually faded, even in Origen's writings. In De Principiis, Origen linked the falling star in Isaiah with Jesus's New Testament words, "Behold, I see Satan fallen from heaven like lightning." Origen reasons that Satan was Lucifer - once a being of light who fell from Heaven.
Origin wasn't the only 3rd century Christian to see Satan in Isaiah's verse. Tertullian claimed the line was about the Devil. Later writers echoed this interpretation. Gregory the Theologian (325-389 CE), Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 CE), and St. Gildas (6th c.) all link the Devil with Isaiah's description of Lucifer. Writing in the 4th century, for example, Gregory the Theologian declared, "The nature of the divine essence is then above all conception by human intelligence. It is, moreover, well that it is so. For... we should, perhaps, lose ourselves through pride, like Lucifer, if it were given us too soon."
These influential writers shaped centuries of Christian thinking. With their attention to light and darkness, plus a close reading of the Bible, many early Christian theologians saw Satan in Isaiah's description of a fallen light-bringer – even though the original Old Testament verse never intended that interpretation.
Hebrew schoArticle Imagelars claim that Isaiah 14:12, the only reference to Lucifer in the Old Testament, does not refer to Satan. The Jewish Encyclopedia says the line refers to a Babylonian king, and most Biblical scholars agree. Hebrew scholar Lee Fields explains that Isaiah 14:12 has nothing to do with Satan. But centuries of misreading changed the meaning of the passage. Fields points out, "The name Lucifer, then, meaning 'light-bearer,' is quite appropriate for Christians and their task of bringing the light of the gospel to the world," pointing to New Testament verses calling Jesus the "morning star." Fields continues, "Of course, given the historic identification of Lucifer as the name for Satan, this meaning would be completely lost today."
Christians have 1700 years of Biblical scholars, dating back to Origen, proclaiming that Lucifer is Satan. The line fits with other Biblical descriptions of Satan falling from Heaven. Plus, centuries of cultural references, at least dating back to Dante, use Lucifer as another name for the Devil. The evolution of Lucifer holds a valuable lesson: the meaning of words changes over time. Similarly, religions evolve. New interpretations breath new meaning into text. After all, no one today would use "Lucifer" as a title for Jesus, even if the New Testament calls Jesus the bringer of light.
Lucifer means something very different today than it did 2,000 years ago.