How The Devil Got His Name

Here’s a fairly common question someone asked me again recently:

I can’t seem to find the word “Lucifer” in my Bible anywhere. Isn’t that Satan’s real name? If it’s not, where did we get that name for him?

In common discussion, the terms Devil, Satan and Lucifer all refer to the same being. If you want to be technically correct, though, you should probably stop using the word “Lucifer” at all because its not a biblical term.

Let me explain:

In the King James Version of the Bible, Isaiah 14:12 says: 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 use of the word “Lucifer” here is a strange, because the original Hebrew term it translates is helel which means “morning star” in English. But for some reason the translators of the KJV chose not to use the English translation but to insert a Latin term instead; i.e. lucifer is the Latin word for “morning star.” It makes sense that the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible would use this term to translate the original Hebrew helel, as both words refer to the same thing, but the KJV translators’ decision is far less easy to understand. My best guess is that they either didn’t know for sure what the Hebrew helel meant (this is the only time it occurs in the Hebrew Bible) or that they didn’t feel they had a good English equivalent.

To be fair, the KJV was not the first English translation to use a Latin term here. John Wycliff’s translation, which dates back to the 1380’s, did the same thing, so the KJV translators had a precedent for their translation decision. However, if you look at any modern English version besides the New King James (which follows its parent translation here), you will not find the Latin word “lucifer” but rather the English phrase “morning star” or, in some cases “daystar”. And it should be noted that this is not only a modern preference. Some of the oldest English translations of the Bible use “morning star” instead of “lucifer”. Even the 1537 Matthew’s Bible (which predates the KJV by about 80 years), while still employing the term lucifer, explicitly indicates that this is not a proper translation but rather is a Latin substitution. (By the way, if you want to see a very cool online version of a very old English translation, check out the 1537 Matthew’s Bible)

So, while there are some KJV-Only believers out there who claim that modern English versions are watering down the Bible and cite the substitution of “morning star” for “Lucifer” as evidence, the fact is that this “morning star” translation goes back even further than the KJV in some cases.

In summary, the word lucifer is simply a Latin term meaning “morning star.” Its use to translate the Hebrew helel in Isa 14:12 and the interpretation of that passage as a reference to the fallen angel we know as Satan has created a popular conception that Lucifer is the Devil’s proper name. But it’s not. The Bible does not tell us anything about the Devil’s “real” name before he rebelled against God.