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February 20, 2016

(NOTE: This is a little paper that I wrote after having a discussion with a friend about the Devil. I hope that you will find helpful.)

The Name of the Devil Is Not “Lucifer”

Most of the confusion about the Devil’s name has been fostered by translation and by failure to consider the verses in question in proper context. I will deal first with the translation difficulties, then with the rule of context. After that I will explain the two passages that are important to our understanding of this issue.

Our English translations are a great blessing in that we can read the Bible in our native language. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew; the New Testament in Greek. However, in all of the translations some mistakes have been made. As time has passed our knowledge of the original languages has increased, and some errors have been corrected, but no translation is perfect.

Translations were undertaken by the early church to increase evangelization. The Catholic church was instrumental in the translation of the Old and New testaments into Latin. These became important witnesses to the efforts to determine the proper text to be used as a base to render the translations into others languages properly. (Hebrew and Greek were the best witnesses because they were the original languages and older than Latin.)

As the starting point for our discussion let’s turn to the Book of Job. We will first of all discover the background of the Devil. In Job chapter one the writer begins with a scene in heaven. God is holding court with his angels. Satan also makes an appearance there. The Lord brags about his human servant Job, quizzing Satan about his opinion of him. Here is where we meet Satan exercising what seems to be his office in the assembly. God calls him “Satan” throughout this investigation. (Job 1:6 and following) But this appellation is actually about the Devil’s function. We may think of him as the “prosecuting attorney”. The word “satan” actually means “asccuser” or “adversary”. This becomes how he is known throughout the rest of the Bible. He stalks men, tempts them to disobey God, and incarcerates them in hell. Thus his function has furnished this name, howbeit mistakenly

Now to the term “context” and it’s use in relation to studying the Bible. Webster’s dictionary gives two definitions of context. 1) “the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.” 2)  “the situation in which something happens : the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens”.

That means that in any written document (like the Bible or any book) the reader must observe the surroundings which come before and after the word under scrutiny. This will include the sentence, paragraph, and entire document which is being read. What is the subject of these surrounding items? Examine them and never remove anything from its context. That destroys the real meaning, and fosters misconceptions. Read ALL of the chapter and determine the subject and how the author is presenting it. NEVER REMOVE ANYTHING FROM ITS SURROUNDINGS!  That leads to misunderstanding the Bible. Someone once said, “A text taken from its context becomes a pretext”.

My observation is that many people read the rest of Bible like they read the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs was written as a compilation of many wise sayings. These are mostly of single subjects often presented in a single verse, but mostly in just a few verses. I think that leads folk to treat each verse as if it were standing alone. NOT SO!  Read the entire surroundings to make proper sense of what you read. Look for the topic well beyond the limits of one word. Your efforts will be assisted if you also (perhaps beforehand) read other helps. Try to think for yourself, however.

Now that we have gotten the preliminaries out of the way we can proceed.

Let’s begin with Isaiah 14:12 in the King James Version.  (KJV) “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!”

This is the only appearance of the word “Lucifer” in the Bible. This is a Latin word which is a compound of two Latin words. The first word is lux which means “light” in English. The second word is fer which means “to bear, carry”. The translators of the KJV mistakenly chose to translate this as a proper name; and so they produced a controversy. So the meaning of this word in English is “light bearer”, or “the morning star”. They personalized and capitalized it and thus it became misunderstood by readers of the KJV. (The New King James [NKJV] has reproduced this mistranslation.)

Now let’s consider the larger context.

To begin, the Old Testament (OT) prophets often foretold the future of the nations around them. They included both blessings and curses that God would pronounce upon the nations. Our subject appears in such a context.

Isaiah begins his revelations of God’s intent for the nations in chapter thirteen. His subject was Babylon which at that time was the largest empire in the world and oppressed all the nations. Judea was under the thumb of the king of Babylon. Having used that world empire to discipline Israel, God now intends to bring down the oppressor. Isaiah describes this process using figurative language. Babylon is addressed as one person. This is a figure of speech called metonymy. Websters says: “a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated.”

Isaiah pictures Babylon as a cruel, ambitious, and voracious king whose  desire for future expansion is gigantic. However, God intends to destroy Babylon and its imperialism. You can confirm this by reading verse 13 of chapter 14. Babylon wants to be considered to be the king and tyrant over all the world. This is presented in chapter 14:1-22. (Read these verses to get the whole context.)  It was not Isaiah’s intent to picture here the fall of some angel, but the fall of ancient Babylon. So pictured, this would cheer Israel to know of its coming freedom from this oppression.

With this understanding we can see that there was no sense in promulgating a misunderstanding by translating these words as a proper name for the Devil. To do so is to misrepresent the intent of its inspired author. The name of the Devil is not “Lucifer”. However, there are a number of words used figuratively in the Biblical text that signify the Devil.

Let’s now turn our attention to consider our second text, this time from the New Testament (NT): Luke 10:18 ‘“And he said to them, “I saw Satan falling as lightning from heaven.’” (English Standard Version) (ESV)

Again, context is the determining factor in interpretation. The context actually begins in the very first verse of Luke chapter 10. Here Jesus assembles 72 men who will go forth in Judea to preach the gospel to prepare cities for his own evangelistic endeavors. The 72 are very successful and return joyfully to him with glowing reports.

Jesus’ goal was to establish his spiritual kingdom over the world. (Which he did by means of his own death and resurrection. The church is that kingdom. See Matthew 16:18) This event occurred near the first of Jesus’ ministry.

This successful early mission signals to the Son of God that his gospel is expanding and will accomplish his aims. Thus the Lord tells his followers that he can already see the defeat of Satan and the rule of God’s kingdom established on the earth. Satan’s power is waning and he will lose his efforts to conquer and rule in heaven himself.

Luke accomplishes this by recording this figure of speech by Jesus. This announcement must be taken as figurative in meaning and in the context in which it occurs. It was, and remains a declaration of the victory of Jesus over Satan.


Randy Mashburn







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