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Hebrew and You with Lee M. Fields — Would You Name Your Son Lucifer?

Categories Hebrew and You

I thank you for reading the blog and for the kind comments you have sent and your own thinking on the matters presented here. Let’s have a little fun.

Today no one would dream of naming their son Lucifer! However, ancient Christians did name their sons Lucifer, and there was a well-known Christian named Lucifer (died c. 370). Why would any Christian parent give their son the name of Satan?!?

I received a question from someone who was studying Isa 14:12. I suspect the person had studied Greek but not Hebrew and was using the best tools he could use and had available. He was trying to do research on the Greek word ἑωσφόρος, heōsphoros. He had attempted to look it up in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, but found that it was not there. So, he asked for help. The question involved the issue of what Isa 14:12 tells about Satan and why the KJV reads “Lucifer.” Here is an explanation.

Where did the words Heosphoros and Lucifer come from?

The word heōsphoros does not appear in Kittel, because it does not appear in the NT. This word is the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew הֵילֵל בֶּן־שָׁחַר (hêlēl ben šaḥar) in Isa 14:12. (Incidentally, the Qamets under the Shin in שָׁחַר is a pausal form used with a heavy accent; the contextual from is with Patach, שַׁחַר, and in both cases the word is accented on the first syllable.) To understand how the KJV reads “Lucifer,” we need to look at the Hebrew, the language in which most of the OT was composed, then the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, and the Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew OT.

First, the Hebrew. The phrase consists of three words. Hêlēlis found only here in the Hebrew OT, but is a word derived from a verb meaning “to shine.” The noun would presumably mean “shining one.” The second word, ben, means “son of.” aḥar is found 24 times in the Hebrew OT. It basically means “dawn” (cf. Gen 19.15). In some cultures “Dawn” was the name of a god. Isaiah was probably using the phrase הֵילֵל בֶּן־שָׁחַר, “shining one [=star], son of the Dawn,” as a poetic reference to the planet Venus. The Hebrews used the same word כּוֹכָב (kôkab) to refer to either a star or a planet. But the literal planet Venus was probably being used to refer to an astral deity. Isaiah used this deity to represent the king of Babylon as a (self-proclaimed?) divine figure. This has the effect of making the king’s fall greater and therefore more dramatic.

Second, the Greek. The three-word Hebrew phrase is rendered by ὁ ἑωσφόρος ὁ πρωὶ ἀνατέλλων (ho heōsphoros ho prōi anatellōn), “O Heosphoros, who rises early/who raises the morning.” The key word, heōsphoros,has two parts: heōs means “morning” and phoros means “bearer, one who brings.” Heōsphoros, “bringer of the morning/dawn,” is again a reference to the planet Venus. Thus, though heōsphoros is not a literal translation of hêlēl ben šaḥar, it is an accurate translation of a phrase referring to Venus, an exact equivalent of hêlēl ben šaḥar. The interpretation of the Bible text by the LXX translators is probably the same as that mentioned above.

Third, the Latin. The exact Latin equivalent of the Greek Heosphoros is Lucifer. Luci comes from lux meaning “light” and fer is the same as the Greek phoros, “bearer.” So, though it had other uses, Lucifer is a term for the planet Venus, just as the Greek and the Hebrew are.

When did “Lucifer” become a name equivalent to Satan?

Fields will answer that question on this blog on August 5, so subscribe today or bookmark to hear the answer!

UPDATE: Read Fields's facinating answer, here.


Lee_fieldsLee M. Fields writes about the biblical Hebrew language, exegesis, Hebrew translation, and related topics at Koinonia. A trained Hebrew scholar, his education includes a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College. He is the author of Hebrew for the Rest of Us (Zondervan, 2008) and An Anonymous Dialogue with a Jew (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012). He currently serves as Professor of Bible and Chairman of the Department of Biblical Studies at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, NC.

Learn more about Lee's innovative work in biblical languages and instruction.

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