I have heard this accusation for the third time this week and I want the truth to be put out there clearly and concisely so that if people google this subject hopefully they don’t find all the misinformation out there but get the truth. Here is how this argument against the NIV usually goes. The claim is laid that the NIV is corrupt and deliberately misleads people into believing that the Savior is actually Satan. They attempt to work that out with two verses (Isaiah 14:12 and Revelation 22:16). Here are the verses:
“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
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” – Revelation 22:16
No appearance of a problem until you look at Isaiah 14:12 in the King James Version – “12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”
That is the basis of the charge…that the NIV deliberately replaced Lucifer with “morning star” the same word used for Jesus in Revelation 22. That appears to be problematic on the surface but let’s dig a little deeper.
The word translated Lucifer by the KJV and “Morning Star” by the NIV is the word הֵילֵל (heilel). That word literally means “shining one” as the verb form means “to shine.” It is not a word that means Satan or the devil in Hebrew as a proper name. So two questions arise:
- Why does the KJV use “Lucifer” and not “shining one”?
- Why does the NIV use “morning star” and not “shining one”?
1 – Why does the KJV use “Lucifer” and not “shining one”? Lucifer is how the Latin Vulgate translated this word, which the KJV adopted. Lucifer in Latin is a combination of two words Lux = light and ferous = “to bear” or “to carry” which would make Lucifer = bearer of light in Latin. That was a valid translation in the Vulgate. The problem is the KJV didn’t translate it into English. They kept the Latin Lucifer instead. The problem is 99.9% of people don’t know that any more and only think of it as a proper name referring to the Devil or Satan.
So the first point to make is that the verse is not about Lucifer but is about a “light bearer.” Who is that light bearer? Let’s have a look at Isaiah 14 in context…that is always a good idea right? When we do this, we see exactly who Isaiah 14:12 is referring to and it is not Jesus or the Devil. Look back at Isa 13:1 – “An oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw.” (NIV). Isaiah 13 speaks of the destruction of Babylon (see especially 13:19). Chapter 14 continues this message. 14:1-3 is about the return from exile back to Israel. Then notice 14:4 (just 8 verses before the verse in question) – “You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:” The taunt seems to go from 14:4b-8. Then 14:9 talks about the grave meeting them at their coming. Meeting who? The same people the taunt was against – Babylon. It is a curse referring back to the object of their taunt…not Jesus or Satan but the King of Babylon. Then 14:11-23 is more about Babylon – “your pomp has been brought down, maggots are spread out beneath you, worms cover you….how you have fallen from heaven shining one, son of the dawn.” Also, notice verse 16-17 – ”
Those who see you stare at you,
they ponder your fate:
“Is this the man who shook the earth
and made kingdoms tremble,
17 the man who made the world a desert,
who overthrew its cities
and would not let his captives go home?”
In context you see this is about a man and not Satan. It is about what the rest of the chapter is about – the king of Babylon.
2 – Why does the NIV use “morning star” instead of “shining one”?
This is best understood by the rest of the verse Isaiah calls him “son of the dawn.” It is a parallel to a star that rises high and bright in the sky at morning but then disappears quickly (like the planet Venus). There was an ancient myth in the Babylonian literature that Heylel the morning star Venus scaled to great heights to make himself like a king in the heavens but was quickly driven back down. That is what the king of Babylon will be like…one who rises to great heights and then is toppled from his high position. In other words, the NIV makes the connection that would have been made by Isaiah’s hearers and people in Babylon…those who knew the myth about now its new found application by God toward the king of Babylon. The NIV translators recognized this parallel and made us of it as in the Babylonian mind the “shining one” was the “morning star Venus.” Was that the best move? Probably not if you are going for a literal translation. But if you are trying to read and hear the Bible as they heard it, it is actually a pretty good take on this verse. It is a little too much interpretation in the text for me.
Bottom line, I wish the KJV had actually translated this rather than borrowed from the Latin. I wish the NIV had left interpretation for the footnotes and not taken so much liberty with the text. But at the end of the day it can hardly be said that the NIV was propogating a view that Jesus and Satan are the same based on this text. Instead, when you look at the evidence it appears to be more the case that the NIV was taking history, cultural context, linguistics and much else into consideration to give their best shot at this verse to end up with “morning star” and not some grand conspiracy by wicked and careless translators.
For more information on this as well as more details and a thoughtful analysis, see this link as well.