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.

Till the Land and Read a Proverb

The Proverbs are packed full of wisdom and every Christian should strive to read a chapter a day. Today, chapter 28 contains this nugget of truth. Proverbs 28:19 reads, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty” (ESV). The King James speaks specifically to the tilling of the land which to most in America is virtually meaningless. What does it mean to work or till the land? In the past anyone with a piece of land understood that the land had the potential to feed a family if it was worked. The ground could be tilled—that is broken up into soft dirt for seeds and plants. Potatoes, tomatoes and corn could be planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Then with the right storage techniques the garden could provide food for the winter.  Whoever works his land will have plenty of food. Today we don’t think of working the land to avoid starvation but in the past people understood if they didn’t work they didn’t eat. Today big government provides in such a way that the proverb from Solomon doesn’t have the weight it had in the past—that’s unfortunate. There is great God-glorifying satisfaction enjoyed by those who work with their hands—even if it something as simple as a small garden in the back yard. Christians should be the hardest workers on the planet.  Have you ever planted a rose bush or a tomato plant? It really isn’t hard. Dig a hole, loosen the soil around the place where you will plant, remove the plant from the container, add fertilizer around the plant and intermix it with the dirt you removed, add that dirt back into the hole, slightly pack the dirt down around the plant, water thoroughly and keep it watered for a few weeks. Then watch it grow with the satisfaction that roses will be enjoyed by all for years because you worked the land instead of following some other worthless pursuit. Or even better yet—the tomato you are eating was grown by yourself. Try working the land—it is not as hard as you think.

What About the Unicorns in the KJV?

Sunday night we talked about the inclusion of ‘unicorns’ in the KJV Bible. 

(Here is the link to the sermon referenced above.

The following is the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition for a ‘unicorn’:  “A mythical animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion, and a single horn in the middle of the forehead.” Since we know our Bible doesn’t reference mythical creatures, we may rightly ask—why did the KJV translators chose the word ‘unicorn’? We can’t say for sure why unicorn was selected because of the absence of a marginal note in these passages or a 1611 dictionary to reference. But we can surmise.  We know the Vulgate (the Latin Bible) that the translators certainly consulted employs the word ‘unicornes’ (having one horn, from uni- + cornu horn) in some of these OT passages (such as Isaiah 34:7), where a horned beast is referenced. Therefore, it seems very reasonable to assume that since the translators did not know exactly what kind of horned beast the Hebrew word rĕ'em (H7214) is making reference to, they simply maintained the one horn idea and transliterated the Latin word unicornis into the English unicorn.  If the reader thinks of this horned beast as being perhaps a wild ox, then they have a correct understanding of the text. If the reader pictures a mythical horse with a horn protruding from its forehead, then they are allowing the modern understanding of a unicorn to influence their understanding. Since most contemporary readers think of a unicorn as such, most modern translations have avoided using the word unicorn in these texts because the goal is always to provide an accurate understanding of the truth.

Why would anyone need to use another translation of the Bible besides the King James Bible?

Since the KJV Bible has stood the test of time for 400 years, someone might reasonably ask the question: Why would anyone need to use or read another translation of the Bible? The answer to that question is found in the type of Greek in which the New Testament was written in. God almighty chose to give us, through the Holy Spirit, the New Testament in Koine Greek. Merriam-Webster defines Koine as: “the Greek language commonly spoken and written in eastern Mediterranean countries in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.” The key word in that entire definition is ‘common.’ Common refers to the language that the common person speaks. For us this is everyday ordinary English. The fact is the KJV Bible is no longer ‘common’ English—it was when it was written, but the last revision was made in 1769, which is over 240 years ago.  Some would argue that 1769 was not a significant revision, and if that is the case, takes the significant revision back nearly 400 years to the 1620s. The English language has changed tremendously since 1611. We simply do not talk in the way the KJV Bible is written. To say such a thing is not a criticism of the Bible. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of the truth. The English in the KJV is beautiful, especially in the wisdom and poetry books, like Psalm 23. But that same beauty doesn’t always move so easily over to the law and prophets and to the gospels and epistles.  Here is just one example from Luke 6:38.

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

The first verse you read was from the KJV, and the second verse was from the ESV. Now, be as objective as you can. Suppose you were reading that text for the very first time:  Which rendering, the KJV or ESV, provides you with the greater understanding or comprehension of the message from Christ with a single reading?  Here is another example:

For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: (1 Peter 4:19)

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

I think if you are willing to be objective, you will agree that the ESV rendering provides the reader the clearest understanding of the text. In the first example, the words ‘bosom, mete, withal’ create an awkwardness in the reading. This is not to say that they are incorrect words, but they are awkward, and awkward gets in the way of understanding the text.  In the second example, the modern English provides the reader a clearer understanding of the sins that Peter is describing. Since the avoidance of these sins is the point of the verse, I believe we want our students and new converts reading a translation that will give them the greatest understanding of the message of the text. While the KJV is a great translation, the words used in the verse are not used today, but the words in the ESV would be readily understood by a 17 year old or a 23 year old—which is the goal. Comprehension of the text is the goal.

To those who have been reading the KJV all of your lives, I fully understand that you can’t relate to the KJV English being hard to understand. Your individual familiarity with the KJV interferes with your ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is reading the Bible for the very first time.  Since understanding the message of the Bible is of utmost importance, we must recognize that being willing to allow others to read from another good literal ‘word for word’ translation in modern English could be the most important factor in growing as a disciple of Christ. Christ spoke in the language that the common man understood. Formal equivalencies like the NKJV, ESV, and the NASB put His words in modern English with the least amount of interpretative interjections into the text making them ideal choices for students and new Christians.

Finally, can you remember the last course you took in college or high school? Were the text books in modern English? Do you remember your history books? Were your history books written in Elizabethan English or modern English? They were written in modern English and the reason is the goal of the text book was to teach you history, not Elizabethan English.  The author wrote in the language of his intended reader, so he or she would have the greatest comprehension of the information in the textbook. The same is true for Paul. He wrote in Koine Greek, so his reader would have the greatest comprehension of his message. Paul is dead and he wrote in Greek. Today, we translate his words and others into English, and more specifically into modern English, so readers in the year 2014 can understand the words of Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul and others written thousands of years ago. Increasing comprehension is why we use other translations. Our loyalty should never be to a particular translation, but to the discipleship of as many souls God would give us. Discipleship always begins with personal application of the truth of the Word of God. And so I close by asking: How can a new disciple in Christ apply something from the Bible if they don’t understand what they are reading?

Freedom to Use More than One Translation

At BBA’s senior high ‘school’ retreat at Camp Anchorage, Pastors Bill, Joey, David, myself, and Mr. Farmer preached from the book of Colossians. Our preaching was focused on helping each student understand what Paul’s message was to the church at Colossae and its application to and for us today. Passages of Scripture were read and analyzed, and our ultimate goal was for the students to be able to comprehend the truths of God’s Word for themselves. We asked questions directly from the Bible text, and we wanted each individual student to be able to grasp the message of the text. This was certainly not an easy task, but we feel that the students are rapidly approaching adulthood, and they need to learn to read and understand the Bible for themselves. We know in Paul’s day these students would have been part of the house churches and small group assemblies where Paul’s letter was read aloud to the body of Christ. So, we did the same thing. We read the letter to the students, but our letter was different; it was a translation, but not just any translation; our translation was 400 years old.  It was translated in such a way that the people of the 17th and 18th century would have been able to understand the English well, but we are now in the 21st century, and our beloved English language has changed significantly. We don’t talk that way anymore; our vocabulary is decidedly different. We were preachers preaching with our hands tied behind our backs. There are newer, accurate translations we could have used, but the church constitution does not give us the freedom to utilize something different. And I have to ask: when it comes to our student ministries, how much longer will we continue to be handicapped in our ability to use an equally accurate and trustworthy translation without archaic renderings, obscure words, and difficult sentence structure? 

It is not necessary that everyone immediately stop using the KJV in favor of the ESV (English Standard Version). Last Sunday night, I showed a long list of very archaic words in the KJV from just the letter C; and unfortunately, the difficulty does not stop there. Numerous archaic words are employed throughout the KJV, and the only way one could insist that the KJV should be used exclusively is if there was acceptance of the theory that God led the KJV translators in a very specific way that was different than all other translation committees throughout history. Were they inspired of God to always pick the correct English words? In order to believe such a thing we would need to have Bible texts that prophesy of the coming of such an exclusive English translation. 

For 400 years, the KJV has undoubtedly stood the test of time. It is a very accurate translation, but as is the case with all translations, it is not perfect. All translations must be compared to the original manuscripts in the original languages, as well as against other translations, for the greatest clarity in understanding the meaning and intent of the text. Can we add a good word-for-word translation to the choices available for our teaching and preaching ministry? Can we have the freedom to use more than one translation?