Satan vs. Lucifer – What’s the Difference?

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Most religious traditions believe in the existence of an evil or rebellious being that can be identified as the devil. This being is perhaps most identifiable for the role he plays in Christianity. Throughout the centuries he has gone by many names, but the two most common are Satan and Lucifer. This is a brief look at the origins of these names.

Who is Satan?

The word satan is the English transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning accuser or adversary. It is derived from a verb meaning to oppose.

The word is often used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to human adversaries who oppose God’s people. For example, three times in 1 Kings chapter 11, the word adversary is used of someone who would oppose the king. In these instances, the Hebrew word for adversary is used without the definite article.

It is the use of the word with the definite article which refers to Satan, the supernatural adversary of God and accuser of God’s people, highlighting Satan’s role as the supreme adversary.

This occurs 17 times within the Hebrew Bible, the first of which is in the Book of Job. Here we are given insight into events happening beyond the earthly view of humans. The “sons of God” are presenting themselves before Yahweh, and Satan appears with them having come from roaming about the earth.

It seems that his role here is as an accuser of men before God in some capacity. God asks him to consider Job, a righteous man, and from there Satan seeks to prove Job as unworthy before God by tempting him in various ways. Satan also figures prominently as an accuser of the Jewish people in the third chapter of Zechariah.

We find this same adversary figuring prominently in the New Testament. He is responsible for the temptation of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

In the Greek of the New Testament, he is often referred to as ‘the devil’. This term was first used in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which predates the Christian New Testament. The English word ‘diabolical’ is also derived from the same Greek diabolos

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Who is Lucifer?

The name Lucifer was incorporated into Christianity from its origin in Roman mythology. It is associated with the planet Venus as a son of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn. It means “Light Bringer” and was sometimes viewed as a deity. 

The name came into Christianity because of a reference in Isaiah 14:12. The king of Babylon is metaphorically called “Day Star, Son of Dawn”. The Greek Septuagint translated the Hebrew into “bringer of dawn” or “morning star”.

The Biblical scholar Jerome’s Vulgate, written in the late 4th century, translates this into Lucifer. The Vulgate later became the official Latin text of the Roman Catholic Church.

Lucifer was also used in Wycliff’s early English translation of the Bible, as well as the King James Version. Most modern English translations have abandoned the use of ‘Lucifer’ in favor of “morning star” or “day star”.

Lucifer came to be a synonym of the devil and Satan from the interpretation of Jesus’ words in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”. Multiple early church Fathers, including Origen and Tertullian, placed this text alongside Isaiah 14 and the description of the great dragon in Revelation 3, to compose a description of the rebellion and fall of Satan. 

It would be much later that the name Lucifer was believed to be the name of Satan when he was an angel before his rebellion and fall. 

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In Brief

Satan, the devil, Lucifer. Each of these names refer to the same personification of evil in the Christian metanarrative.

Though he is not specifically named in Genesis 1, the serpent who appears in the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve is associated with the great dragon of Revelation 3.

This is commonly believed to be the fallen angel Lucifer, the adversary of God, and the accuser of God’s people.