Thursday, May 30, 2013

Isaiah 14:12 - The Problems of Translation

This week I will be teaching on Isaiah 14:12-14 to a wonderful group of women who are seeking to grow in their understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It will be a time of learning, sharing, and caring spiritually for each other. However, this particular section of Isaiah is really more about translation issues than anything else.

There is much controversy regarding Isaiah 14:12. Here is the verse in three different versions.

Isaiah 14:12 (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!

Isaiah 14:12 (NIV)
12 How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

Isaiah 14:12 (YLT)
12 How hast thou fallen from the heavens, O shining one, son of the dawn! Thou hast been cut down to earth, O weakener of nations.

The part of the verse that has caused concern is the phrase that occurs after the word, "O." Each of these versions translates it differently, as "Lucifer," "star of the morning," and "shining one." Of these three choices, "morning star" is by far the most commonly used (sometimes "day star" is used instead, but the meaning of "morning star" and "day star" are the same).

Which is correct?

The word that is translated in these three ways, is the Hebrew "helel," which is believed to probably  mean "shining one." The text does not say, "Lucifer," or "morning star." So how did these other translations occur?

To complicate matters a little more, "Lucifer" is not even an English word. It is a Latin word that was used in Isaiah 14:12 in the Latin Vulgate Bible, translated by Jerome by about 405 A.D. It was then directly borrowed from the Vulgate and inserted into all the English Bibles prior to and including the King James Version.

This is where most of the heated debate on the issue comes in. We have come to associate the name Lucifer to mean Satan. Therefore, the passage Isaiah 14:12-14 is forced, by the translators, into referring to Satan when the passage is actually about a lament or prophecy against the King of Babylon. Many say this is an irresponsible translation. However, in digging a little deeper, the word "Lucifer," during at least the time of Jerome, meant "morning star." It wasn't until later that Lucifer became associated with Satan. It is likely that the KJV translators recognized the passage as very likely a description of not only the King of Babylon, but Satan, too. They decided to leave "Lucifer" in their translation.

Was this inappropriate? Personally, I don't think so. I think the translators of the KJV and the people of the day understood the dual meaning of "Lucifer." The context of the passage is very appropriate for both understandings.

Isaiah 14:12-14 (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.

Also, there is a passage in Ezekiel where a similar situation occurs. The passage is about a lament regarding the King of Tyre, yet it also must be about Satan.

Ezekiel 28:12-15 (KJV)
12 Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.

Although "Lucifer" may be acceptable, is "morning star" the better translation?

"Helel" doesn't really mean "morning star." There are separate words in Hebrew for both "morning" and "star." Yet, we do know that "morning star" is a nickname for the planet Venus. Could Venus be the true meaning behind the word? I couldn't find anything for a long time.

Finally, I found that Venus was the representation of a Babyonian god. It seems he was the nephew of the god Baal. He was the son of Shahar, which in Hebrew happens to be "morning" or "dawn." If we go back to Isaiah 14:12 and rewrite it, it could look like this:

Isaiah 14:12 (mine)
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Helel, son of Shahar! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Based on what is said later in verse 13 (see above), this makes a fair amount of sense! The Babylonian gods were believed to live in a mountain to the north. Apparently, the King of Babylon thought that he was a god himself and would ascend to the highest reaches of the mountain where the rest of the gods lived.

Without understanding the connection between Venus and the Babylonian gods, the Isaiah passage doesn't make sense with "morning star" as the translation of "helel." But even once we know this, there can be confusion when we see the following in Revelation.

Revelation 22:16 (KJV)
16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

Yeshua is here called the "morning star." How can both the bad King of Babylon and Yeshua be called the "morning star?"

2 Peter 1:19 (KJV)
19 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 arise in your hearts:

Here again, Peter is referring to Yeshua rising in our hearts, like light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns. Is this about Venus? No, it is the sun that brings the dawn. The comparison of Yeshua is to the sun.

Some say that it doesn't matter that "morning star" is used for both Yeshua and Satan (or a Babylonian god), but others object vehemently. What could have been done?

My personal feeling is that "helel" should have been translated as "shining one," or left as "Helel." This would allow readers to make their own connections and would have avoided misunderstandings. While "morning star" may technically be accurate, it obscures the true meaning and potentially causes an equality between Yeshua and a false god.


  1. This has been most helpful to me & put my mind at rest.

    1. I'm glad that this has been helpful. Blessings, my friend!