Isaiah 14:12 and "Lucifer"

Comments © 1996, 2008 by T.L. Hubeart

Isaiah 14:12 (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!

Regarding "Lucifer," James White states the following:

" . . . The term 'Lucifer,' which came into the biblical tradition through the translation of Jerome's Vulgate, has become so entrenched (even though it does not come from the original authors of Scripture) that if one dares to translate the Hebrew by another term, such as 'star of the morning' or 'morning star' (both of which are perfectly acceptable translations of the Hebrew word), one will be accused of 'removing Lucifer' from the Bible!" (King James Only Controversy, p. 138.)

Regarding the derivation of the name "Lucifer" via Jerome, White is no doubt correct. The Oxford English Dictionary notes:

"The Scripture passage (Vulg[ate]. 'Quomodo cecidisti de caelo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris?' A.V. 'How art thou fallen from heauen, O Lucifer, sonne of the morning?') is part of a 'parable against the king of Babylon (Isa. xiv. 4); but the mention of a fall from heaven led Christian interpreters to suppose that 'king of Babylon' was to be interpreted spiritually, as a designation of the chief of 'the angels who kept not their first estate.' Hence the general patristic view that Lucifer was the name of Satan before his fall. The Latin word was adopted in all the Eng. versions down to 1611; the Revised version has daystar." ("Lucifer," sense 2, note.)

However, in his desire to devalue the accuracy of the KJV, White shows himself ignorant of the full meaning of the word given by the translators. For "Lucifer" can mean both "morning star"--his preferred translation--and "Satan"! This is validated both by the O.E.D.'s definition of "Lucifer," sense 1--

"The morning star; the planet Venus when she appears before sunrise . . . ."

--and by the Geneva Bible's note on this passage:

"Thou that thoughtest thy selfe most glorious, and as it were placed in the heaven: for the morning starre that goeth before the sunne is called Lucifer, to whom Nebuchad-nezzar is compared." (Geneva Bible, qtd. from 1599 ed. [1560 ed. differs only in spelling]).

In fact, it could be argued that "Lucifer," unlike the restrictive "morning star" of White's preferred (modern) translations, is the preferable rendering, as it can be taken in either sense!

The major interpretations of the passage are well summarized by the Life Application Bible:

"There are several interpretations of these verses. (1) Lucifer is another name for Satan, because the person here is too powerful to be any human king. (2) This could be Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar, kings with supreme power. Their people looked upon them as gods. These kings desired to rule the world. (3) This could refer to both Satan and a great human king, probably Nebuchadnezzar since Babylon is pictured as the seat of evil in Revelation 17, 18. Pride was Satan's sin as well as Babylon's. Common to all three viewpoints is the truth that pride is against God and will result in judgment. . . ."

However, Ryrie and Dake point out the correspondence between this passage and Luke 10:18, which was spoken by our Lord. Ryrie also remarks on "the inappropriateness of the expressions of Isa. 14:13-14 on the lips of any but Satan--cf. 1 Tim. 3:6." (He also gives Rev 20:3 as a cross reference with "weaken the nations" later in the verse.)

Scofield aptly comments that Satan, "as prince of this world-system . . . is the real unseen ruler of the successive world-powers. . . . Lucifer, 'day-star,' can be none other than Satan. This tremendous passage marks the beginning of sin in the universe. When Lucifer said, 'I will,' sin began."

And Dake makes several good points, such as that "Satan is the only person other than Christ and angels who is called a morning star (v. 12). Angels are so called in Job 38:7; and Christ is called the bright and morning star in Rev 22:1; so whoever Lucifer is[,] he could not be a mere man[,] but [must be] a heavenly being. . . . This whole passage has no literal meaning if interpreted in connection with a man, but in the light of other plain passages about the fall of Satan it clearly refers to him." (He gives the cross references Ezek 28:11-17; Matt 25:4; Luke 10:18; Eph 6:10-18; Rev 12:7-12.)

I think that Ryrie, Scofield, and Dake have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that Satan is addressed in this passage. And although White goes on to claim that "The person under discussion in Isaiah 14 is obviously not the Lord Jesus Christ," and that "the terms being used" here are "sarcastic in nature" (p. 139), I confess that I do not see the sarcasm spoken of by White, and it makes me uneasy to have a conflict in scripture with Rev. 22:16 of the kind found in the NIV ("How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! . . . ") and other versions, although I suppose that one could make a case for Satan trying to be a false "morning star," just as he counterfeits other features of Christ and the Godhead.

As a final observation, it is interesting that 19th century author Oscar Wilde, alluding to this passage, felt the need to qualify the term "morning star" so that it would be plain that Satan was intended:

"When that high spirit, that morning-star of evil, fell from heaven, it was as a rebel that he fell."
(--The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 16)

Oscar was too well acquainted with the Bible not to realize both that "Lucifer" could be rendered as "morning star," and that adding the words "of evil" were necessary to ensure that no one misunderstood him to be referring to Jesus (as per Rev. 22:16) instead of the Devil. Nor, of course, was he interested in making cheap shots based on insufficient research, which is patently what James White has done in this and in many other instances. 

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