Are Lucifer and Satan the same? Is there a difference between them?

By Akam Mmasichukwu Talent   1 month ago   52

Are Lucifer and Satan the same? Is there a difference between them?

Most people believe that Lucifer is the true name for Satan. This notion has been reinforced by over a thousand years of western Christian tradition and by the constant appearances of Lucifer as a name for Satan in popular culture. In reality, however, the name Lucifer does not occur anywhere in any of the Hebrew or Aramaic texts that make up the Hebrew Bible, nor any of the Koine Greek texts that make up the Christian New Testament.


In fact, although the name does occur in many English translations of the Bible, it only occurs in one verse—the Book of Isaiah 14:12—which actually has nothing to do with Satan in any way. The only reason why anyone associates this passage in Isaiah with Satan at all is because some early Christians, including the church fathers Ioustinos Martys, Tertullianus of Carthage, and Origenes of Alexandria, spuriously interpreted it as an allegory for the fall of Satan.



A note concerning my knowledge of Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Latin


In the course of this article, I will be discussing a lot of Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Latin words, so I feel I should clarify how much knowledge I personally have of these languages. As of the time I am writing this article, I have taken nearly five full semesters (i.e., two and a half years) of university-level Ancient Greek and seven full semesters (i.e., three and a half years) of university-level Latin. I have also studied both languages on my own significantly. As a result of this, I have become quite proficient in both languages, at least insofar as my undergraduate classes are concerned.


By sharp contrast, I have, unfortunately, not taken any Hebrew language classes of any sort whatsoever. My knowledge of Biblical Hebrew is limited to basically the Hebrew alphabet and a very small, rudimental vocabulary. I have, however, consulted works written by scholars who do know Hebrew, as well as numerous dictionaries, so I’m hoping my discussion of Hebrew does not make me seem like a complete idiot.


The scholarly literature concerning Satan


Before we can talk about how Satan acquired the name Lucifer, we need to talk a little bit about the origin of Satan himself and how he is portrayed (or, to be more accurate, not portrayed) in the Hebrew Bible. Many scholars have written monographs on this subject, including ones that are accessible to the general public. I won’t try to give an exhaustive literature overview here, but I will briefly mention some of the major works.


The American historian and religious studies scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell published a classic five-volume history of the Devil, consisting of The Devil (published 1977), Satan (published 1981), Lucifer (published 1984), Mephistopheles (published 1986) and The Prince of Darkness (published 1988), with each volume covering a different historical period. Russell covers a lot of fascinating history, but he ends up assimilating figures from all sorts of different cultures around the world who are even vaguely associated with the concept of evil under the label “Devil” and consequently is less focused on the origins and history of the specific figure of Satan in the Abrahamic religions.


The New Testament scholar Elaine Pagels has written a book titled The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics, which was published in 1995 by Random House. Although it is an excellent, well-written, and interesting book, it does not entirely live up to its title, since it is primarily an exploration of how early Christians used the idea of Satan as a sociopolitical tool to demonize Jewish people and people whom they regarded as “pagans” and “heretics” and it doesn’t adequately cover the actual origins of Satan as a mythological, literary, and theological figure.


Finally, Henry Ansgar Kelly, an emeritus professor from UCLA who spent much of his career researching and writing about Satan, has written a book titled Satan: A Biography, which was published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press. Kelly’s folksy writing style is sometimes a bit jarring for a scholarly monograph. He also has a highly irritating habit of idiosyncratically capitalizing common nouns and even entire phrases that don’t need to be capitalized. For instance, he bizarrely, yet consistently, capitalizes seemingly random words like human, demon, spirit, and angel throughout the book without providing any explanation.


Nonetheless, Kelly’s book gives an overall excellent and thorough account of the origin of the Abrahamic Satan. In fact, it is the most focused and comprehensive account of the origins of the specific mythical, literary, and theological figure of Satan in the Abrahamic religions that I am currently aware of. Consequently, I will reference Kelly’s work quite a bit in the coming sections.


The YouTube channel “Religion for Breakfast” also has an excellent video titled “The Origins of Satan,” which I highly recommend for those of my readers who wish to learn more about this subject than I will be covering in this brief essay, but who don’t want to read a whole book about it.



ABOVE: Image of the front cover of Henry Ansgar Kelly’s book Satan: A Biography


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Adonovwe Festus
1 month ago

Satan was used when he was no longer in heaven, while Lucifer was used when he was amongst the Angels.

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