The Devil, Satan, and Lucifer

This is a word study of these three terms used for the enemy of man and God.

Each of these words has uses and they are not all equivalent to the next.

The Devil

Since this is the first word or name or title we come to, let us take a historical glimpse into it from etymonline.com

“Old English deofol “a devil, a subordinate evil spirit afflicting humans;” also, in Christian theology, “the Devil, a powerful spirit of evil otherwise known as Satan,” from Late Latin diabolus (also the source of Italian diavolo, French diable, Spanish diablo; German Teufel is Old High German tiufal, from Latin via Gothic diabaulus).

The Late Latin word is from Ecclesiastical Greek diabolos, which in Jewish and Christian use was “the Devil, Satan,” and which in general use meant “accuser, slanderer” (thus it was a scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew satan; see Satan). It is an agent noun from Greek diaballein “to slander, attack,” literally “to throw across,” from dia “across, through” (see dia-) + ballein “to throw” (from PIE root *gwele- “to throw, reach”).

Jerome re-introduced Satan in Latin bibles, and English translators have used both words in different measures. In Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (see demon) were distinct, but they have merged in English and other Germanic languages.

Meaning “false god, heathen god” is from c. 1200. Sense of “diabolical person, person resembling a devil or demon in character” is from late 12c. Playful use for “clever rogue” is from c. 1600. As an expletive and in expletive phrases from c. 1200.

Meaning “sand spout, dust storm” is from 1835. In U.S. place names, the word often represents a native word such as Algonquian manito, more properly “spirit, god.” Phrase a devil way (c. 1300) was originally “Hell-ward, to Hell,” but by late 14c. it was a mere expression of irritation. Meaning “errand-boy in a printing office” is from 1680s, perhaps because they were often blackened by the ink (devils then being popularly supposed to be black).

Devil’s books “playing cards” is from 1729, but the cited quote says they’ve been called that “time out of mind” (the four of clubs is the devil’s bedposts); devil’s coach-horse is from 1840, the large rove-beetle, which is defiant when disturbed. Devil’s food cake (1895; three different recipes in the cookbook “compiled by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Friends’ Church, Wilmington, Ohio”), rich and chocolate, probably is in deliberate contrast to angel food cake. “Talk of the Devil, and he’s presently at your elbow” [1660s].”

retrieved 2.21.2021

This grants us plenty of material to start and even sets up discussion for later terms.

Devil has certainly had varied use but predominantly is associated to evil or trickery. It is also very English. It is a word with its roots in Hebrew and Greek terms but brought to Latin and then English based upon word meaning. Hebrew uses satan (שָׂטָן) but in Greek it is satanas or diabolos (διάβολος) which gets transliterated into Latin as diabolus. The English terms following: deoful > devel > devil.

He is the “adversary” or “accuser.” This meaning can be traced through each of the terms, including satan. Even so, devil would appear to be more of a derived term that carries the same meaning rather than original to the Scriptures. For the originals, we would want to focus on the Hebrew and Greek uses.

The Satan

Why do I say “The Satan”?

Much of the Old Testament (OT) Hebrew text uses satan with an article attached. There are anarthrous examples too but many have the article. As such, satan is not being treated as a name as proper names in Hebrew have no article. It would then be better to think of satan as a title or type.

Meaning

Satan, שָׂטָן, can often be translated as accuser or adversary. We saw this above in the term devil as well.

In Hebrew this is pronounced as sah-tahn or saw-tawn with the emphasis on the last syllable.

Greek diabolos (seen above under “The Devil”) is the word used in the original Koine Greek text. This is a translation of the Hebrew as in Greek diabolos means accuser or slanderer.

Uses

Satan occurs 27 times in the OT but only five appear as this term alone. The rest have an article, preposition, or conjunction attached. Only five are found without a prefix of some kind.

  • 5 times as simply satan
  • 16 times as article + satan = the satan
  • 4 times as preposition + satan = to/as/for/etc. satan
  • 1 time as conjunction + satan = and satan
  • 1 time as conjunction + preposition + satan = and the satan

It is commonly translated as adversary but transliterated (converted to English characters) in books like Job to Satan. It is also transliterated into Greek as satanas.

It is from the Hebrew that we get our common English transliteration in the New Testament (NT) of Satan.

Greek diabolos (διάβολος) occurs 38 times in the Greek NT but also replaces many of the Hebrew satan instances in the OT translation in the LXX. It is an adjective but also used as a noun. Satanas is also used in the NT about 36 times. Greek uses often drop the prefix tendency in Hebrew and it is thought this reflects the shift in the use of the term as specifically referring to the chief fallen angel that opposes God rather than a title or type.

Overall

Whether it is satan, satanas, diabolos, etc., this is the most common reference to the “the evil one” that opposes God and His plan. He is the accuser, the slanderer, the adversary, the satan. Whether we view “the satan” as a title, type, or name, it is referring to one being or those like him in some form. Satan would seem to be a fitting and accurate go-to.

Lucifer

After discussing satan and devil, we now come to the “name” so commonly thought of as this being’s actual name. But is it really his name? Is this “high” angel truly named Lucifer?

To start, let’s investigate the following questions:

  • Where does Lucifer come from?
  • Is Lucifer truly a name?

Where does Lucifer come from?

We owe much of the use of Lucifer to the KJV (King James Version) translation of the Bible.

It all begins in the Hebrew text in Isaiah 14:12 where we find the word הֵילֵל‎. This word translates as “shining one” or “morning star” or “son of the dawn.” It certainly carries with it the idea of light or first light. You can also begin to see why DC comics would have a character named “Lucifer Morningstar” considering the meaning of this Hebrew word. (As a side note, the DC Lucifer is not the biblical Satan. Simply being clear.)

The KJV picked up lucifer from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. In the Vulgate, “morning star” was was connected to the Latin word lucifer which referred to Latin’s word for “light-bringer” or the planet Venus which is also called the “morning star.” As lucifer can become a proper name in English when using it as a name for Venus or a person, it ended up capitalized.

Is Lucifer truly a name?

So the name Lucifer is actually brought about because the Hebrew meaning is translated as a single word in Latin and then used in English but capitalized. At this point, can we truly call it a proper name for Satan? Or would it be better to consider Lucifer a title?

Considering that Lucifer is a one-word, capitalized translation of “morning star”, it certainly brings into question the entire idea of accurately using it as his name.

The Hebrew text surrounding Isaiah 14:12 makes it quite clear this “morning star” fell and is talking about the one we call Satan (or the satan). “Morning star,” or its derivatives, are not names but more like titles or types that could be applied to multiple beings or things (like Venus). In Isaiah 14, it is applied to the chief fallen angel.

Lucifer, therefore, is not a name for Satan but a Latin word (noun) that carries the same meaning as the Hebrew word.

Does this great “accuser” truly have a name ?

Its not perfectly clear.

There are certainly multiple “names” for him as far as humans are concerned; however, Scripture does not expressly give a name for this particular divine being.

The only word out of the three discussed here that makes the most sense to use as a name would be Satan. It does get used as a title but that trend seems to change when you get to the NT. While there are certainly many adversaries in the world, Satan is the chief among them all giving even more credit to idea of him being capitalized Satan. He is the king adversary.

Devil is an English translation of Satan and not original to the Hebrew and Greek texts whereas Lucifer is a mistake as it is best as “morning star,” and therefore a title, and not a proper name.

There are certainly other titles and potential names out there than can be addressed but they are less frequent and not the focus of this quick study.

In the end, it would appear that there is no proper name to be used (that we know of) but there is a title that has passed into use as a name and is grounded in the original texts–Satan. It would seem best to default to this rather than any other that could be used.


This article is part of the Dispelling Myths series of posts. Click the link to see more like this.

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