Lucifer or Day Star: Which is the right translation in Isaiah 14:12?

Understanding how the AV1611 was translated is incredibly important when determining whether modern versions are perversions of the Word of God or noble attempts to translate the Greek and Hebrew into modern English. Translating from one language to another is very difficult and at times nearly impossible. Perhaps you have seen what I am talking about. Have you ever heard someone speaking in Spanish and then interject in the middle of a sentence an English word? In these cases, the person speaking Spanish has run into a word that doesn’t have a Spanish equivalent, or at a minimum, they don’t know what the Spanish equivalent should be. Such a case occurs in Isaiah 14:12 in the KJV. In this verse, we find the word Lucifer. Did you know that the English word Lucifer is found only one time in the entire Bible? This is a bit odd because the Bible is full of references to the devil and Satan, so why isn’t Lucifer found more often? Were it not for our extra-biblical understanding of Lucifer being another name for Satan, we wouldn’t have any clue what this noun means from the word Lucifer alone.  The English transliteration of the Hebrew word translated Lucifer in this verse is heylel (Strong’s # H1966), and it is used only one time in the entire Hebrew Bible.

Modern translations like the ESV and NASB translate heylel as ‘Day Star’ and ‘O star of the morning.’ This obviously begs the question: which is right? Should we understand verse 12 to contain a direct reference to Satan or was the Hebrew writer referring to the ‘Day Star’ to which we may infer an indirect reference to Satan?

Since the Hebrew text provides little help in the absence of multiple uses of the word, our next place to look is the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), followed by the Vulgate (Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin).  In the Septuagint, the Greek word for heylel in Isaiah 14:12 (translated eosphorus, ‘dawn (light)-bearer’) is not used anywhere in the NT, thus providing us no help in determining the meaning of the word within the text. Next, we look to the Latin Vulgate in our search for where the word Lucifer originated from in Isaiah 14:12, and here is where we find the answer to the question. The text below is the Jerome’s Latin translation of the Isaiah 14:12.

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

Do you see it? The English word Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 is simply a transliteration of the Latin word lucifer. Evidently the translators did not know what to do with this unique Hebrew word found only one time in the Bible, so they took the expedient path and followed the Latin.  The KJV translators were not the first to do this, as the Geneva Bible also reads the same way. Evidently they too struggled with how to translate heylel.  So what does lucifer mean in the Latin? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary lucifer is a reference the morning star, ‘from lucifer light-bearing, from luc-, lux light + -fer –ferous.’  With this new information, we need to ask the question: was Jerome using the word lucifer as a direct reference to Satan or a ‘day or morning star’? The answer to this question is found by searching for any other uses of the word lucifer in the Vulgate.

Jerome used the word lucifer three times--in Job 11:17, Isaiah 14:12, and 2 Peter 1:19.  Job 11:17 reads ‘And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning [lucifer].’  Obviously, there isn’t a reference to Satan in this verse. Now, let’s look at 2 Peter 1:19. Peter writes: “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 [lucifer in the Latin] arise in your hearts.”  Obviously, when Jerome selected the Latin word lucifer, he had no idea it would later (around the 12th century) become an English name for the devil. For Jerome, the Latin word lucifer connoted a particular reference to a morning or day star and nothing more. Therefore, it could be used to describe a day star falling from heaven in Isaiah 14:12 or the day star arising in hearts in 2 Peter 1:19. At the time, lucifer was a fine translation—since his reader didn’t come to the Latin text with the presupposition that lucifer is another name for Satan.  Today, modern translations are accused of linking Christ to Satan in Isaiah 14:12 by translating heylel as ‘Day Star’ instead of ‘Lucifer.’  So, before we throw all modern translators under the bus, let’s compare the two verses in the ESV to see if we think the reader would get confused and establish a connection between the two verses that should not be made. First Isaiah 14:12 followed by 2 Peter 1:19.

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 

I think we can objectively say that it is very doubtful that a reader would make any connection between the ‘Day Star, son of Dawn!’ to the ‘morning star’ who rises in the hearts of a believer. What do you think?

Moreover, what is even more interesting is to examine an actual 1611 Authorized Version and discover that the KJV translators were well aware that the ESV rendering ‘O Day Star’ was another viable option in translating heylel.  The marginal note found for Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 looks like this: ‘O day-starre.’

Imagine what would have happened if the KJV translators went with ‘O day-starre’ in the text and put ‘Lucifer’ in the marginal note.  Would the KJV translators have been accused of perverting the deity of Christ and creating confusion in the word of God? Why is it when the ESV chooses ‘O Day Star’ it isn’t acceptable, but when the KJV translators put ‘O Day starre’ in the marginal notes it is acceptable? That my friend, seems like a double standard to me.  Perhaps the ESV isn’t a perversion of the Word of God after all.

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