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Is "Lucifer" the Devil in Isaiah 14:12? - The KJV Argument against Modern Translations

The argument that modern translations deny the deity of Christ is based on connecting several dots. First, In Isaiah 14:12 in the KJV we read: “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!” Modern translations—except for the NKJV—have something like “day star” or “morning star” instead of “Lucifer” here. KJV advocates claim that Isa 14:12 must be a prophecy about the devil falling from heaven. There is some basis for this interpretation. In Luke 10:18 Jesus tells his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” In Rev 9:1 we read, “I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit” (ESV).1 These New Testament passages seem to be alluding to Isa 14:12, connecting the fall of the one mentioned there with the fall of Satan.

Second, in 2 Peter 1:19 the KJV has: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” For “day star” in the KJV, modern translations alternate between ‘day star’ and ‘morning star.’ Early Christian interpretation of this verse sees the ‘day star’/‘morning star’ as a reference to Jesus, based in part on an allusion to Num 24:17 (“A star shall rise out of Jacob”).

Third, KJV advocates argue that if the word in Isa 14:12 is translated ‘morning star’ then modern translations are viewing Jesus as Satan because, as they claim, the only ‘morning star’ in the Bible is Jesus. Thus, if ‘Lucifer’ is treated as ‘morning star’ in Isa 14:12, then this is a denial of the deity of Christ.

Fourth, they argue that God is not a God of confusion and therefore the modern translations, since they are confusing readers on the identification of the morning star, must be corrupt.

To be frank, this is a rather convoluted argument that is grasping at straws. An examination of the evidence and logic of this argument will demonstrate it to be very badly misinformed.

In Isa 14:12, The KJV translators did not actually translate the Hebrew word הילל as ‘Lucifer.’ This word occurs only here in the Hebrew Old Testament. Most likely, the KJV translators were not sure what to make of it, and simply duplicated the word used in the Latin Vulgate that translated הילל. In the Vulgate, Isa 14:12 reads as follows:

quomodo cecidisti de caelo lucifer qui mane oriebaris corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes.

Notice the fifth word of the text—lucifer. It is not a proper name but the Latin word for ‘morning star.’ The word lucifer occurs four times in the Vulgate: Isa 14:12, Job 11:17, Job 38:32, and 2 Peter 1:19. In Job 11:17, the KJV renders the Hebrew word בקר as ‘morning’:

et quasi meridianus fulgor consurget tibi ad vesperam et cum te consumptum putaveris orieris ut lucifer

In Job 38:32, the KJV renders the Hebrew word מזרות as Mazzaroth. This is another word that occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible. The KJV translators did not know what it meant, so they simply transliterated the Hebrew into English characters. Even though Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate, knew Hebrew better than the KJV translators did, he was not exactly sure what to make of it either. But he at least tried, rather than simply leave the word untranslated as the KJV translators did. He translated the word as lucifer—or ‘morning star,’ which is very close to the meaning of the Hebrew מזרות:

numquid producis luciferum in tempore suo et vesperum super filios terrae consurgere facis

The word means ‘constellations’ or ‘crowns’ (modern translators are not sure, though ‘constellations’ is usually preferred). The fact that Jerome recognized that at least the מזרות probably referred to stars is far better than the KJV translators did by leaving the word completely untranslated. There is of course no conspiracy on Jerome’s part here; he is simply being faithful to the Hebrew Bible and is translating as accurately as he can.

In 2 Peter 1:19, the KJV renders the Greek word φωσφόρος (phosphoros) as ‘day star.’ Again, the Latin Vulgate has lucifer here:

et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem cui bene facitis adtendentes quasi lucernae lucenti in caliginoso loco donec dies inlucescat et lucifer oriatur in cordibus vestris

In other words, lucifer is not a proper name, but is the Latin word for ‘morning star’ or ‘day star.’ The KJV simply reproduced the Latin in Isa 14:12 because they were not sure what הילל meant. The KJV translators knew Latin better than they knew Greek or Hebrew. In places where they were not sure what the Greek or Hebrew meant, they simply translated or reproduced verbatim the Latin text. This has happened scores, if not hundreds, of times.

Since that time, Lucifer has made its way into English Bible interpretation as another name for the devil. If there is a conspiracy to sabotage the deity of Christ by translating the Hebrew word הילל in Isa 14:12 as ‘morning star,’ the same as is done with φωσφόρος in 2 Peter 1:19, then this conspiracy goes back to Jerome at the beginning of the fifth century AD! In reality, he translated the Hebrew word faithfully and the Greek word faithfully. It is the KJV that did not translate the word at all, but rather retained the Latin rendering of Jerome in Isa 14:12 and worse, simply transliterated the Hebrew in Job 38:32.2 Jerome cannot be charged with not knowing Hebrew well. He moved to Bethlehem and lived there for 35 years while he worked on the translation. He wanted to learn Hebrew well; making his home for 35 years in the land of the Jews is sufficient proof of that.

But aren’t the references to the individuals in Isa 14:12 and 2 Peter 1:19 as the morning star in modern translations confusing? And thus don’t modern translations undermine the deity of Christ? The reality is that in Isa 14:12 the primary or initial reference of ‘morning star’ is not to the devil but to the Babylonian king. The footnote in the NET Bible here says, “What is the background for the imagery in vv. 12–15? This whole section (vv. 4b–21) is directed to the king of Babylon, who is clearly depicted as a human ruler. Other kings of the earth address him in vv. 9ff., he is called ‘the man’ in v. 16, and, according to vv. 19–20, he possesses a physical body.” At the same time, Isa 14:12–15 seems to go beyond a description of a mortal king. Further, if Jesus in Luke 10:18 and John in Rev 9:1 had this passage in mind, then it is evident that there is a secondary meaning that relates to the devil himself. A double-fulfillment prophecy is thus probably in view.

Here’s the point: if the primary referent is to the Babylonian king (which the great majority of biblical scholars would affirm and as the evidence mentioned in the NET Bible footnote lists), then our understanding of the use of ‘morning star’ in 2 Peter 1:19 makes sense. The morning star literally referred to Venus, but in ancient times it was used metaphorically of earthly kings. The note in the NET Bible at 2 Peter 1:19 is helpful along these lines:

The reference to the morning star constitutes a double entendre. First, the term was normally used to refer to Venus. But the author of course has a metaphorical meaning in mind, as is obvious from the place where the morning star is to rise— “in your hearts.” Most commentators see an allusion to Num 24:17 (“a star shall rise out of Jacob”) in Peter’s words. Early Christian exegesis saw in that passage a prophecy about Christ’s coming. Hence, in this verse Peter tells his audience to heed the OT scriptures which predict the return of Christ, then alludes to one of the passages that does this very thing, all the while running the theme of light on a parallel track. In addition, it may be significant that Peter’s choice of terms here is not the same as is found in the LXX. He has used a Hellenistic word that was sometimes used of emperors and deities, perhaps as a further polemic against the paganism of his day.

In other words, ‘morning star’ or lucifer in the Latin Vulgate literally referred to Venus, but metaphorically would refer to earthly kings, emperors, and pagan deities. Peter thus may have chosen this word to show that the real morning star was Jesus, not Caesar. Isaiah 14:12 thus spoke of the Babylonian king as the morning star and thus predicted his fall. Jesus and John used this text to indicate that Satan would fall. It is only by turning lucifer into a proper name, as has been done by KJV advocates, that misunderstanding of the meaning of these texts could occur. The logic of the KJV position is as follows:

Lucifer is a proper name and refers exclusively to one who is inherently evil, the devil.

Thus, even if translated as ‘morning star’ in Isa 14.12, this still refers exclusively to the devil.

Consequently, for Jesus to be called ‘morning star’ in 2 Peter 1.19 is to call him the devil.

The logic breaks down on the first premise—viz., that the term in Isa 14:12 refers exclusively to one who is evil. Since this is false, the conclusion is also false. To call Jesus ‘morning star’ in 2 Peter 1:19 makes him no more evil than calling Satan ‘god’ (2 Cor 4:4) makes him good. And to argue that since God is not the God of confusion and therefore different words must be used in each verse is to continue to compound the false view of lucifer as a name for the devil.

It is an illegitimate hermeneutic to claim that because the term in one place refers to one person, therefore the same term in another place must be to the same person. There are scores of examples of a term used in the Bible as referring primarily to one thing/person, but having a different thing/person in view if the context demands it. As hinted above, ‘God’ is used primarily of the one true God of the Bible, but there are occasional references in which human beings (John 10:34–35) or Satan (2 Cor 4:4) are called ‘god’—even in the KJV.

Further, if pressed, the argument actually backfires on KJV Only advocates. For example, the name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. In the New Testament, there are three references to Joshua. On two of these occasions, the KJV translators translated the name as ‘Jesus.’ But in each instance this rendering is misleading, in the second case badly so.

Acts 7:45 in KJV: “Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David”

Acts 7:45 in the NET: “Our ancestors received possession of it and brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors, until the time of David.”

The context is clearly about Joshua and the Hebrews going into the promised land and conquering the nations there. Why the KJV has ‘Jesus’ here is a mystery to me. Perhaps they were trying to be literal here (by transliterating the Greek word Iesous as ‘Jesus’), but if so why did they not do this in Luke 3:29, where Jesus’ genealogy is enumerated (and Iesous, an ancestor of Jesus, is rendered ‘Jose’)?

Far more troublesome is Heb 4:8.

KJV: “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”

NET: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken afterward about another day.”

Again, the context is somewhat clear that Joshua is in view. But to the reader who is not paying careful attention to the context and who does not know that “Jesus” here is really Joshua, he could easily be misled into thinking that Jesus Christ was not able to give his people rest. As such, this could certainly undercut the deity of Christ—especially in light of Heb 4:3 which says, “As I swore in my anger, They will never enter my rest!” (NET). Further, since a proper name is used each time (unlike Isa 14:12 and 2 Peter 1:19), it would be much harder for the average reader to distinguish which Jesus is being talked about. The argument that God is not a God of confusion certainly applies much more to the KJV than to modern translations in this instance.

Does this mean that the KJV is wrong at this place? Technically, no. But in terms of clarity to the average reader, it can be very confusing. At bottom, those who argue that the KJV is the only holy Bible are using flimsy arguments that turn on themselves. And this reveals the real reason why they don’t care for modern translations: it is an issue of emotional attachment. When one examines the evidence with an open mind, many modern translations are seen to be clearer and closer to the original text than the KJV is. The KJV is still an important translation for English-speaking Christians to own and read. It is the single greatest literary monument to the English language ever produced by a committee. Its lyrical quality, cadence, memorable phrases that linger in the mind, and elegance make it a translation that has stood the test of time. Some modern translations rival it on these attributes (especially the ESV, REB, and NET), and they are far more accurate as well. These should be the primary Bibles that English-speaking Christians read, but neither they nor the King James have an exclusive claim to the throne.

1 The NET here has ‘sky’ for ‘heaven,’ with the following note: “Or ‘from heaven’ (the same Greek word means both ‘heaven’ and ‘sky’).”

2 It is important to note that the KJV translators did as good a job as could be expected in the early seventeenth century. Our criticism here is not of the KJV translation but of KJV advocates who have canonized the translation as though it were the only holy Bible.

Related Topics: Satanology, Demons

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