He is known as a spiritual being who, upon revolting against his heavenly station, rose up against the sovereignty of Almighty God and was subsequently hurled down like lightening to the earth (Luke 10:18). This well-known viewpoint, heralded by the greatest of scholastic minds, presents us with the commonly known agent of darkness — Satan. But, ask yourself this question: what do we really know about Satan?
How well do the morphing facades of evil’s kingpin throughout the ages of art and literature compare to the Scriptures account? Consider, for example, the enigma of the devilish red figure with two protruding horns, barbed tail, and the mean instrument of agricultural utility – the pitchfork. Ask yourself; when did Satan get his horns? When, and how, did we come to the conclusion that Satan’s image personified the very face of decay, destruction, and malevolence? Does this imagery fit when backdropped against the vivid description of Satan’s transformation into “an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14)? No, it really does not.
This then begs us to further reexamine what we think we know about this evil, malevolent figure that has dominated the nightmares of men, women, and children throughout the ages. What exactly does the Bible reveal to us about Satan? For starters, we could go through the list of descriptive identifiers and adjectives commonly used to identify this evil creature.
- Devil (Rev. 20:2)
- Satan (
- Tempter (Matt. 4:3)
- Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24)
- Belial (II Cor. 6:15)
- Wicked One (Matt. 13:19)
- God of this world (II Cor. 4:4)
- Ruler of Demons (Matt. 12:24)
- Dragon (Rev. 12:9; 20:2)
- Serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2)
- Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph. 2:2)
In each instance of these words, we are presented with descriptive identifiers of the evil agency known as Satan. It is important to note, none of the above are actual names (remember this as we progress), but rather, they express descriptive ideas that encapsulate the motive, mission, and character of the figure we identify as Satan. For example, devil is the Greek expression diabolos,signifying a slanderer and/or an accuser. It is a word that articulates a specific role which, as often portrayed in scripture, is set against the children of God. Furthermore, the other word satan is a Hebrew word that, in the Greek (satanas), carries the same general meaning as its Hebrew counterpart which is, an adversary. Yet, how does this help us understand Satan?
Consider the first introduction in scripture to the character known as Satan. According to I Chronicles 21:1, Satan is said to have “stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” Again, this enigmatic figure is found in the Book of Job among the company of the “sons of God” (a curious group that had come to present themselves before the Lord) and Satan enters into the narrative (Job 1:6) Finally, regarding the fourth vision given to Zechariah, Satan is revealed as “standing at his [Joshua’s] right hand to resist him” (emphasis mine).
After reading through these three instances, what do we really know about Satan? Very little! This is brought to light even further by the fact that the Hebrew word Satan is more commonly used throughout the Old Testament to signify an adversary or opponent. For example, in the book of Numbers (22:22) we are introduced to the angel of the Lord that set himself in the path of Balaam as an adversary (Heb. satan). Again, when the Philistines reject David from joining into battle with them, they reason “lest in the battle he be an adversary (satan) to us…” (I Sam. 29:3). Throughout these instances, we find that the Hebrew word satan would seem to imply a functional purpose rather than a proper name. This is further borne out by the fact that the Hebrew word satan is typically accompanied by an article (i.e. the satan).
Does this mean that a literal figurehead of evil does not exist? To the contrary! Nothing diminishes the reality of such a figure that withstood, provoked, and tempted key figures throughout the Old Testament. In fact, the dramatic introduction to such a figure becomes a prominent theme when one transitions into the New Testament and unclean spirits, demonic strongholds, apocalyptic evils, and Jesus’ personal adversary, the devil, are thrust into the spotlight of the ongoing Biblical narrative. Indeed, though Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost take the kingpin of evil to new heights of literary imagination, we can come to the conclusion that there is a hierarchy within the spiritual realm of wickedness and scripture continually points toward the dramatic overthrow of a key adversarial figure. However, as stated prior, the usage of the words for Satan (both in Hebrew and Greek) seem to imply a function, not a proper name. Satan, devil, dragon, serpent…these are not names, but rather, they are descriptive identifiers that express character and/or function. So, does such a figurehead of evil have a name? I’ll submit that we are missing a key element implicit within scripture, which is, the kingpin of evil is nameless.
Lucifer: The Daystar
The first reaction to the claim that Satan is nameless would be met with the questioning challenge, “what about Lucifer?” Of course, anyone familiar with scripture has heard mention, and probably utilized, the wicked kingpin’s namesake of Lucifer. Originating from Isaiah 14:12, Lucifer is identified as the mysterious figure who weakened the nations and, in judgment, was fallen from heaven and cut down to the ground.
Isaiah 14:12-18 (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. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. 16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; 17 That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
Who is this mysterious figure named Lucifer? Most believe that this is none other than the kingpin of evil known throughout scripture as satan, the devil, the serpent, the dragon, and various other descriptive nouns. However, what many fail to understand is that Lucifer itself is not an actual name, but rather, a reflection of the difficulty that was found in the attempt to translate the Hebrew word הֵילֵ֣ל (Heilel).
The Hebrew word הֵילֵ֣ל was indeed considered to be a proper noun, yet, when the King James translators transliterated from Hebrew into English they decided to utilize St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of Lucifer rather than the Hebrew Heilel. Both words, Heilel and Lucifer, carried the same general meaning within the context of it’s language (Hebrew and Latin). However, the metaphoric meaning of the Hebrew word is lost when pressing the Latin word into an English translation.
When Jerome translated heilel he was translating a word whose meaning was “light-bearer” or “shining one.” This is reflected in the Latin combination of the suffix -ferre, meaning “bearer” and the root luc-/lux- meaning “light“. Within this context, Lucifer was used as a name for the planet Venus (i.e. the morning/day star), since Venus is the brightest luminary body in the sky outside of the sun and the moon and it was the last star viewed in the morning; thus, morning star. This is further reflected in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament:
Day Star, Son of the Morning reflects the likelihood that hēlēl ben-šāḥar refers to the planet Venus, which never reaches the zenith before the sun rises and apparently extinguishes it. hēlēl probably comes from the root meaning “bright” and thus logically applies to the brightest star.
-NICOT – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39.
Furthermore, Jerome applied this same translation to 2 Peter 1:19 but when the KJV translators were translating the Peter passage they saw that 2 Peter 1:19 was a clear reference to Jesus Christ, thus they translated the Greek word phosphorus as “daystar” rather than Jerome’s Lucifer.
So what am I getting at? I’m positing the provocative idea that, regardless of ones take on the archenemy of God (i.e. satan, devil, Lucifer, etc.), scripture never gives us a proper name! Why is this important? Consider this in lieu of a common tactic found in ancient antiquity. To the Romans, the tactic was called damnatio memoriae, translated as the “Condemnation of Memory”; a form of dishonor that sought to obliterate the memory of specific individuals. How was this accomplished? The name of the condemned would be scratched off of inscriptions, the faces and statues of the individual defaced and disfigured, and any paintings or writings of the individual would be destroyed or painted over. However, long before the Roman’s ever utilized damnatio memoriae, the Egyptians were seen to engage in the tactic of stripping the names of opposing figures from monuments, tombs, statues, cartouches, and literature.
Could it be, based upon what we know in scripture about the identifiable nouns that point toward the figure often called Satan, that the kingpin of evil received one of the greatest punishments of all; being stripped of a name? Consider with me how scripture clearly identifies two other key pivotal angels, Gabriel and Michael. We know in scripture that these are specific names, not the metaphoric idea of messengers or divine ministering flames. Look at the language captured in the conflict between heaven and the figure known as satan in the book of Revelation:
Revelation 12:7-9 (KJV)
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Notice the wording? “The dragon…that old serpent, called the devil and satan.” It seems as though scripture further reiterates the nameless concept of such a figure! The dragon and old serpent who is called, not named, the devil and satan stands in sharp contrast to the proper nouns of Gabriel and Michael. Going back to my initial premise, it would seem that scripture goes out of its way to never actually give us a specific name of this provocative adversary that accuses the brethren, appears as an angel of light, and seeks to kill, steal, and destroy.
Why is this important to you and I? Simple. A name equals authority. While this does not diminish the idea of power, there is a big difference between power and authority. Simply put, the kingpin of evil may operate with a degree of power, but it would seem that God obliterated his proper name from scriptural record. There is a very real possibility that God exacted a degree of divine damnatio memoriae upon the angel that had exalted himself above his station.
How frustrating would it be for the kingpin of evil to work his way through the history of man and never hear his name uttered upon the lips of wicked men? Instead, he is a plethora of false gods whose namesake typically represents vague cultural superstitions. He remains a “god among many gods” whereas Yahweh is singled out as the only True God. He’s merely the adversary of Christ, the accuser of the brethren, the devil that is likened to a roaring lion, and the dragon whose end shall come to the abysmal depths of a bottomless pit.
Look throughout the history of scripture and you quickly find the passion and pursuit of the enemy to make for themselves a name. Yet, parallel them is the progress of God establishing a people of THE name! How fitting is it, in light of such a thought, that Jesus Christ would be “given a name that is above every name?”
Philippians 2:9-11 (KJV)
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Scripture may express his name as Abandon, Accuser, Adversary, Angel of Light, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Apollyon, Beast, Beelzebub, Deceiver, Devil, Dragon, Enemy, Evil One, Father of Lies, King of Babylon, King of the Bottomless Pit, Lawless One, Leviathan, Liar, Little Horn, Man of Sin, Murderer, Power of Darkness, Prince of the Power of Air, Ruler of Demons, Ruler of this World, Serpent of Old, Son of Perdition, Star, Tempter, Thief, and Wicked One. However, remember this the next time you mention the authoritative name of Jesus Christ; our prime enemy is nameless and it must frustrate him to no end that no-one can utter his name beyond descriptions and common nouns.