BY ANGEL MANUEL RODRIGUEZ
he name Lucifer commonly refers to Satan, but I looked for it in my Bible
and I couldn't find it. What am I overlooking?
This is a case in which finding what you are searching for
depends on which Bible translation you use. The name "Lucifer" shows
up in the King James Version in Isaiah 14:12 ("Lucifer, son of the morning!"),
but is not usually found in more recent translations. Your question gives us
the opportunity to examine the role of ancient translations in the interpretation
of a biblical text. My answer may seem a bit technical, but follow the discussion
and you'll understand some of the complexities of the topic. Fortunately, we
know how the name Lucifer was introduced in the Bible, and thus we can establish
how accurate the translators of the King James Version were in employing it.
1. Origin of the Title "Lucifer": The term
Lucifer is the English rendering of the Hebrew term hêlel
("shining or brilliant one"). The meaning of the Hebrew noun was preserved
in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible through the Greek term heosphoros
("bright one," "morning star"). The English "Lucifer"
comes from Latin; it renders the Greek heosphoros into the Latin lucifer,
which simply means "light bearer, morning star." The early Church
Fathers employed the Latin lucifer as a proper name to refer to Satan. The translators
of the King James Version decided to retain the Latin term in their translation,
and it became "Lucifer," another name for Satan. The Hebrew term was
not a proper name, but an epithet.
2. The Hebrew Meaning: The Hebrew expression used in
Isaiah 14:12 could be translated, "shining one [hêlel], son
of dawn [ben-shachar]." Traditionally hêlel, used only here
in the Old Testament, has been understood as designating something that is shining
or brilliant, from the verb halal, "to shine." It has been
suggested that the Hebrew term refers to Venus, the "morning star,"
but there is no linguistic evidence to support that. The suggestion could be
supported by the use of the term heosphoros in Greek and lucifer
in Latin, both of which are sometimes employed to designate Venus.
Another argument that could be used is based on the meaning
of the phrase "son of dawn." In this case the term son expresses
the idea of "belonging to," that is to say his brilliance belongs
to or is the brilliance of the dawn. The Greek and Latin versions read "[the
morning star] which rises early," instead of "son of the dawn,"
strengthening the idea that the "morning star" refers to Venus. The
noun shachar is used in the Old Testament to designate the first light
or brightness of the morning, the dawn. The Hebrew could then be rendered, "the
shining one [star], the brightness of the morning," and could be referring
to Venus, as it appears in the morning sky. This interpretation is very likely,
but it is still far from certain and relies too much on ancient translations.
It is probably better to understand the title "shining
one, son of the dawn" as emphasizing the glory of this being, as well as
his leading position. He is being compared to the beauty of the brightness of
the dawn, to the first light of the morning that announces the beginning of
a new day. This glorious and leading position is metaphorically employed to
refer to this glorious, celestial leader. The name "Lucifer" came
to express the idea of a celestial being, and to that extent it expresses the
basic idea of the biblical text.
3. Theological Implications: The New Testament image
of the bright morning star, suggested by the Greek, applies to Jesus. Originally
"Lucifer" was not fully satisfied with his celestial position and
aimed to ascend to heaven, to enthrone himself on the heavenly mount of the
assembly (Isa. 14:13). This search for greatness resulted in his fall from heaven.
In contrast, Jesus did not seek greatness. He voluntarily descended from His
high position to serve others, and God "exalted him to the highest place
and gave him a name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9, NIV). Christ
is the only one who can now truly claim the title "bright and morning star"
(Rev. 22:16). We look forward to the moment when our morning star will appear
to bring us salvation (cf. 2 Peter 1:19).
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of
the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.