12 April 2016

Lucifer: The myth the devil used to be a big deal.

Since the bible doesn’t include an origin story for the devil, Christians just made one up.

Where’d the devil come from? Bible doesn’t say.

No it doesn’t. I know; popular Christian culture insists the devil’s origins are totally spelled out in the bible. When I ask ’em to point me to chapter and verse, they gotta track it down—really, they gotta Google the word “Lucifer”—but that’s where they invariably point me. Here, they insist, is where the devil went wrong.

Isaiah 14.12-15 KJV
12 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!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell,
to the sides of the pit.

You gotta quote it in King James Version, because most other translations don’t bother to keep it “Lucifer.” They insist on translating it as other things: “Morning star” (NIV, The Voice), “bright morning star” (GNT), “Day Star” (ISV, ESV, NRSV, NJB, The Message), “star of the morning,” (NASB), “shining star” (NLT), “shining morning star” (HCSB), “shining one” (NET), and so forth.

Y’ever wonder why they insist on translating it other ways? Not, like the KJV-worshipers claim, because they’re trying to conceal the devil. ’Cause if that was the plan, it failed. People quote this passage at me in plenty of other translations, and still claim it’s about Satan. The reason other bibles render it differently is ’cause it’s not a proper name.

It looks like a proper name: Heylél ben Šakhár, “Heylel son of Sakhar.” But neither Heylel nor Sakhar are names found in the bible. It means “shining one, son of dawn.” It’s poetry—and it refers to the morning star, the planet Venus when it’s visible around sunrise. Heylél was what the ancient Hebrews called it.

In the Septuagint it’s translated eosfóros/“morning-bringer,” another word for fosfóros/“light-bringer,” the morning star. And in the Vulgate it’s translated lucifer/“light-bringer,” which is what Latin-speakers called it.

But like I said, it’s poetry. It’s not directly addressed to the morning star. It’s addressed to the guy Isaiah was calling the morning star in this prophecy, which he prefaced with the following statement:

Isaiah 14.3-4 KWL
3 On the day the LORD gives you rest from your pain, dread, the hard service you worked,
4A take up this saying to the king of Babylon.

This king didn’t exist yet. Isaiah’s instructions were for future generations of Hebrews, who were gonna grow up in Babylon after Nabú-kudúrri-usúr (or as the bible calls him, Nebuchadnezzar) dragged their ancestors there. But once the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians in 539BC, it’d be whichever king was still in charge. Possibly Nabú-naïd (Latin Nabonidus), but really this prophecy applies to the arrogance of just about all Babylon’s kings. Nebuchadnezzar as well.

So yeah, “lucifer” is meant to describe the king of Babylon. As some translations make it obvious:

Isaiah 14.12 GNT
King of Babylon, bright morning star, you have fallen from heaven! In the past you conquered nations, but now you have been thrown to the ground.

But good luck telling that to some Christians. They grew up with the myth that this verse is about Satan, and they’re not giving it up without a fight.

Evolving into the devil’s origin story.

As I began: The bible doesn’t say where the devil came from. Satan’s just there, showing up in Job to snipe at God’s favorite Edomite, Jb 1.6-12 showing up in Chronicles to get David to break God’s command and hold a census, 1Ch 21.1 showing up in Zechariah to accuse the head priest Joshua of whatever. Zc 3.1-2

Yeah, there’s the serpent which tempted Eve and Adam. Ge 3.1-15 We only know it’s the devil because John told us so. Rv 12.9 But even in Revelation, Satan’s just there, waiting to pounce on the baby Jesus, Rv 12.1-6 and starting the war in heaven—and getting kicked out—only after it wasn’t able to get him. Rv 12.7-9 (I know; the myths claim Satan got kicked out of heaven long before Jesus’s birth—and if that’s so, how’d Satan sneak back into heaven to stand before God in Job? Makes it look like God’s got worse security than a high school.)

We know Satan has angels working for it. Mt 25.41, Rv 12.9 We also know Satan pretends to be an angel of light. 2Co 11.14 From this, Christians assume perhaps Satan used to be an angel of light. But there’s nothing in the scriptures which says so, or that Satan was ever anything other than Satan… and okay, that serpent.

If humans don’t know how something works, we’ll pitch our best guesses. That’s how myths are composed. Some myths can be pretty astute guesses. Others are wildly inaccurate. And in the hands of certain early Christians who believed the Holy Spirit permitted them to play connect-the-dots with ancient prophecies… well, you know where this is going.

Origen Adamantius (c. 185–254) was an Egyptian scholar who’s not considered a saint ’cause he occasionally contradicted the New Testament apostles. Among his teachings is the idea Satan might eventually be saved, at the very end. In his theology book Perí Arhón/“On First Things” (Latin De principiis) Origin leapt to the conclusion the fall of Eosforos (translated “Lucifer,” below) wasn’t just similar to the fall of Satan; it was the fall of Satan.

Most evidently by these words [Isaiah 14.12, etc.] is he shown to have fallen from heaven, who formerly was Lucifer, and who used to arise in the morning. For if, as some think, he was a nature of darkness, how is Lucifer said to have existed before? Or how could he arise in the morning, who had in himself nothing of the light? Nay, even the Savior himself teaches us, saying of the devil, “Behold, I see Satan fallen from heaven like lightning.” Lk 10.18 For at one time he was light. Moreover our Lord, who is the truth, compared the power of his own glorious advent to lightning, in the words, “For as the lightning shineth from the height of heaven even to its height again, so will the coming of the Son of man be.” Lk 17.24 And notwithstanding he compares him to lightning, and says that he fell from heaven, that he might show by this that he had been at one time in heaven, and had had a place among the saints, and had enjoyed a share in that light in which all the saints participate, by which they are made angels of light, and by which the apostles are termed by the Lord the light of the world. Mt 5.14 In this manner, then, did that being once exist as light before he went astray, and fell to this place, and had his glory turned into dust, which is peculiarly the mark of the wicked, as the prophet also says; Na 1.3 whence, too, he was called the prince of this world, Jn 16.11 i.e., of an earthly habitation: for he exercised power over those who were obedient to his wickedness, since “the whole of this world”—for I term this place of earth, world—“lieth in the wicked one,” 1Jn 5.19 and in this apostate. That he is an apostate, i.e., a fugitive, even the Lord in the book of Job says, “Thou wilt take with a hook the apostate dragon,” Jb 41.1 i.e., a fugitive. Now it is certain that by the dragon is understood the devil himself.

Origen, On First Things 1.5.5.

Origin’s contemporary, Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus (“Tertullian,” c. 155– c. 240) also not considered a saint for the same reasons (plus what was with those Montanists he hung out with?) also figured Isaiah meant the devil:

A simpler answer I shall find ready to hand in interpreting “the god of this world” 2Co 4.4 of the devil, who once said, as the prophet describes him: “I will be like the Most High; I will exalt my throne in the clouds.” Is 14.14

Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.11

I’m not saying these guys originated the idea. They’re just the first historical references we have to it: Two early church fathers who aren’t called “saint” because of their iffy theology.

And thus developed the devil-myth: Satan used to be “Lucifer,” the brightest and shiniest of God’s angels. Sometimes the head angel; sometimes the angel who was specially put in charge of our planet (hence making the term “god of this world” 2Co 4.4 legit) to run it as sorta God’s viceroy. And other forms of exaltation. Considering what a liar Satan is, doesn’t any of this sound suspiciously like a whole lot of résumé-padding?

But at some point—figured to be before it played serpent in Eden—it rebelled. It somehow got the idea to try to overthrow God. Based on what we know of the Almighty, this is a monumentally stupid idea, which would make the devil a monumentally stupid being. Why, a being that dumb couldn’t possibly be any real threat to humanity—and now you see yet another reason the devil-myth works in Satan’s favor.

Now we cross over into stuff which is actually in the bible: Satan started a war in heaven, lost, and was thrown to earth, where it now makes war on us Christians. Rv 12 And because that part is biblical, Christians assume all the other parts are biblical. They’re not.

Well, unless you assume the Isaiah passage isn’t really about the king of Babylon, but Lucifer-turned-Satan.

The context.

Okay folks, do me a favor: When you read this passage, assume I’m right: Assume it’s about who it literally says it’s about, the king of Babylon. Not the devil. Read the bible literally, like you claim you always have. Tell me if it doesn’t sound like Isaiah’s talking about the judgment God calls down upon a man. Not an angel, and certainly not a lesser god.

Isaiah 14.3-23 KWL
3 On the day the LORD gives you rest from your pain, dread, the hard service you worked,
4 take up this saying to the king of Babylon.
Say, “How’d the oppressor stop? How’d the furious pace stop?
5 The LORD broke the wicked stick, the ruler’s scepter
6 which furiously beat ethnic groups with unending wounds,
which angrily ruled nations with nonstop persecution.
7 They rest. The land is quiet. They break forth in shouts of joy. 8 Fir trees rejoice at you.
Lebanese cedars likewise: ‘You laid down, so no one goes up to cut us down.’
9 The grave below trembles to meet you when you come.
Spirits of the dead are awakened as the ground is all prepared for you.
All the kings of nations rise from their thrones.
10 All tell you in reply, ‘You too are as weak as us! Just like us!’
11 Go down to the grave, your Majesty.
Instead of your harp music, spread worms under you, cover you in grubs.
12 “How’d you fall from heaven, shining one, son of the dawn?
You were cut to the ground, prostrate before nations.
13 In your heart you said, ‘I’ll go up to the heavens, above God’s stars.
I raise up my throne. I sit at the right time, in the right place.
14 I go up to the high places, the dark clouds, like the Highest God.’
15 But you go down to the grave, to the edge of the Abyss.
16 People see you, look at you, and know this about you: This man shook the earth.
Shook kingdoms. 17 Turned civilization into wilderness. Destroyed cities. Freed no prisoners.
18 Now every nation’s king, all of them, rest in glory in their own house,
19 and you were yanked out of your own burial plot like a hated weed.
Clothed with death, pierced by the sword,
gone down to the Abyss’s stones like a trampled corpse,
20 not joined with them in burial
because you ruined your land, destroyed your people.”
Don’t ever again call upon the descendants of evildoers.
21 Arrange the slaughter of his sons because of their ancestors’ evil.
They’ll never rise to inherit the land and fill the world with cities.
22 “I stand against them,” utters the LORD of War.
“I cut off from Babylon their name, remnant, offspring, and descendants,” utters the LORD.
23 “I make it a possession of hedgehogs and pools of water.
I sweep it with a broom and destroy it,” utters the LORD of War.

Notice all the reference to the death of this person. His burial. His grave. His descendants! How on earth can any of this describe the devil?

True, in apocalypses, nothing’s literal; everything’s metaphor; everything is like the actual thing, so don’t take it literally. But we find apocalypses in Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation, and the gospels—and it’s kinda obvious that’s how we’re meant to interpret those prophecies. Isaiah didn’t do apocalypse. This is an ordinary prophecy, and Isaiah’s listeners didn’t have to read anything into it. The Almighty wasn’t sending them any coded message.

But people, bound and determined to make this passage all about the devil, will treat it like an apocalypse. Or claim it’s sometimes an apocalypse. One of my theology professors tried that. He taught that yes, this passage is obviously about the king of Babylon. But if we read it on another level, if we read between the lines, it’s kinda like God was trying to slip us some information about the origins of the devil.

And it’s kinda like thinly sliced baloney. Which is still baloney.

Nope, Satan isn’t the morning star. Heck, if anyone deserves to be honored with that title, it’d be Christ Jesus. 2Pe 1.19, Rv 22.16 Seems to me the devil’s simply trying to swipe it.

God’s kingdom isn’t top-down.

I’ll make one last—but really big—point about the devil-myth: The kingdom it describes the devil trying to overthrow, isn’t the kingdom of God.

Think about it. Why would God need a viceroy? Why would he appoint some great and mighty angel, set atop all other angels, given so much power that it could become so easily and thoroughly corrupted by it? And since when has that ever been the way God’s kingdom functions? Jesus reigns. Nobody else does.

In God’s kingdom, the greatest is the servant of all. Not only did Jesus point this out, he demonstrated it personally: The Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve others. Mk 10.45 And if this is how God’s kingdom works, it’s likewise how God’s angels work. The archangels aren’t the masters of all other angels. They’re the servants of all other angels.

If you’re involved in ministry at all, and you truly have this mindset of “I’m here to help everyone,” I’m very hesitant to believe you’d start a rebellion anything like we see in the devil-myth. You’d be the first to fight such a rebellion. You know, like Michael. Rv 12.7

Again, I don’t know the devil’s origin, ’cause the scriptures don’t give it. I’m just spitballing. But it seems far more likely the devil, before it went wrong, had no such ministry, no such responsibility. Probably had nothing more to do than supervise itself. Like the sheltered academic who decides to start and direct a revolution, or the pampered noble who stages a coup. These people have never held real power, but they sure do covet it a lot. Not because they intend to help others with it—no matter what they claim—but solely to boost themselves. God help everyone when they seize it.

It’s just a theory, but that sounds far more like who Satan really is: A lower heavenly functionary, claiming it used to be a big deal so we’d respect it. A being who was never given heavenly power, lest it go as wrong as Satan since has; therefore a being who’s described heaven and power out of its ignorance and arrogance, instead of the way Jesus sees them.

The devil-myth takes God’s kingdom itself out of context. Is it any wonder we can’t trust the devil to quote scripture?