Lucifer the light-bearer
By James M. West. Copyright © March 30, 2008. All Rights Reserved.
“I form the light, and create darkness…”
One of the favorite rumors that fundy Christians like to spread against the Gnostics is that they supposedly worship Lucifer the light-bearer. Supposedly Gnostics worship this secret fallen angel of light who also challenged Jehovah in the form of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Now it is true that Gnostics typically
don’t regard the Serpent in
Certainly I cannot speak for all Gnostics
in regard to the “Lucifer” issue. I can only speak for myself and for what I
know about the Gnostic tradition and the history of religious ideas. I know for
a fact that “Lucifer” originally was the name of a god in ancient Roman
mythology. Lucifer was the son of the dawn goddess named
The biblical origin of Lucifer begins in Isaiah 14:12, “How you are fallen from heaven O Lucifer, son of the morning!” This quote is from the King James, but the Hebrew text says “How you have fallen from heaven O morning star, son of the dawn!” Note that the Hebrew text does not contain the proper name of any god. I have been unable to determine if the ancient Israelites actually identified the morning star with any angel or god. Among Semitic cultures in general the morning star was identified with the god Azizos (Azazel?). It is in the Greek Old Testament that the morning star was first identified with the name of a god. Apparently the words “son of the dawn” reminded the Hellenistic Jewish translators of Eosphoros in Greek tradition. Eosphoros is the Greek equivalent of Lucifer, and this was the source from which “Lucifer” entered into both Latin and English translations of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments (see below).
Having set forth some basic historical facts (and theories) regarding this name, I want to talk about the role of Lucifer in ancient Gnostic theology and myth. The simple fact here is that the Gnostics never used the names “Lucifer” or “Eosphoros” (or Phosphoros) in the age in which they lived. More important is that in the Gnostic scheme of the cosmos, Lucifer, the planet “Venus”, was identified with the seven celestial archons that governed the cosmos. The Gnostics regarded these as little more than fallen angels or demons. This is a common pattern shared by all Gnostic systems. Various Gnostic treatises provide lists of the seven powers that govern the cosmos (e.g. Apocryphon of John, 10-11, On the Origin of the World, 101). These names are meant to imply that the godhead of the Old Testament is divided into seven powers that correspond (like the pagan gods) to the seven days of the week. In the varying Gnostic lists it appears that the sixth power is named after “Adonin” or “Oraios”, or also: Oreus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.30.11). The Anglican scholar Wigan Harvey identified the name Oreus as meaning “Light” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 355, fn. 1; cf. Origin of the World, 101). If this is correct then I believe it’s probable that the names Oreus/Oraios may be an obscure reference to the “light-bearer.” In the Apocryphon of John this may correspond to “Adonin” which is given as the name of the sixth power (ibid., 10-11).
The essential point I’m trying to make is that “Lucifer” is a name for one of the planets which the Gnostics identified with the celestial archons. The Gnostics did not identify these archons with the Godhead. In Gnostic myth these powers guarded the celestial spheres that the soul had to travel through in order to return to the Pleroma. These archons were considered to be the servants of the cosmic villain Yaldabaoth. Later, in the Middle Ages, the Gnostic Cathars identified the Rex Mundi (world ruler) as Lucifer. It is highly significant that the Cathars regarded Lucifer as the Enemy, and as the evil god behind the papal theocracy (Edward Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, pg. 133f. W. Barnstone, M. Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, pg. 733f.).
Historically the Gnostics had no concept of the “morning star” in their symbolism. There is no “light-bearer” in ancient Gnostic tradition. If Gnostics today refer to Lucifer or the “light-bearer” then this is pure hyperbole. In modern Gnostic circles Lucifer is often equated with Prometheus. In Greek mythology Prometheus was a light-bearer who brought the knowledge of fire to humans in order to raise them from their impoverished condition. Zeus became jealous because the knowledge of fire-making, and other skills and arts, had been given to Humans. This is the common motif that is behind the concept of Lucifer today among Gnostics and atheists. Hence Lucifer-Prometheus is not an evil being. He is an enlightened rebel who opposes the jealousy and severity of Zeus/Jehovah. In this context Jesus, in the Gnostic tradition, can be compared to Lucifer-Prometheus. In like manner Jesus brings the Light/Knowledge of the Pleroma down to human kind. Now again, in comparing Jesus to Lucifer-Prometheus I’m describing a modern metaphor that I have heard used by other Gnostics. The ancient Gnostics never made this comparison in any extant text; nor do the Catholic Fathers ever accuse the Gnostics of revering Lucifer, or of identifying Jesus with Lucifer – either as a metaphor, or as literal doctrine.
Now some fundies may answer me by saying that the ancient Gnostics did not mention Lucifer because they kept it secret and that this was the Gnostic “arcanum arcanorum.” I have two answers to this: 1) The Gnostic contempt for Jehovah was a poorly kept secret; and I think that the case can be made that the Gnostics did a poor job of keeping any of their secrets. 2) My second answer is that the Gnostics would have no reason to keep anything secret that their “orthodox” Christian counterparts used openly anyway. And this is where we come to the real irony of the history of Lucifer. In contrast with the Gnostics, the “orthodox” Christians did have their own “morning star” and “light bearer.” And these symbols appear in sources that were not used in Gnostic tradition. If fundies want to use the name “Lucifer” as the name of Satan, and as a label for people like me, then it is only fair to point out that this label works both ways.
Incredibly, Lucifer the light-bearer does appear in “orthodox” Christian tradition, and in the canon. He appears in the Latin and Greek texts of 2 Peter 1:19. Here is the Latin text of the passage side by side with Isaiah 14:12 where the word “Lucifer”–the name of Satan–also occurs.
“Quomodo cecidisti de caelo LUCIFER qui mane oriebaris corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes.”
2 Peter 1:19b,
“… quasi lucernae lucenti in caliginoso loco donec dies inlucescat et LUCIFER oriatur in cordibus vestris.” (See below for English translation.)
These passages can be accessed online at this link http://www.drbo.org/lvb/
Now, in making sense of this issue I am raising questions about how Fundies read and translate the scriptures, and not the history behind what these scriptures say. Fundies call Gnostics “Luciferians” and that “Lucifer” is the name of Satan. Fundies will even cite Isaiah 14:12 which for them proves that “Lucifer” is the name of Satan. And yet here this same evil name is used in a positive way in the New Testament. The reason we find the name Lucifer in the Latin text of 2 Peter is because it was translated from the earlier Greek text which contains the name “Phosphoros.” Again, Phosphoros is the later form of Eosphoros in Hellenistic Greek. At this link the readers can see where Phosphoros is the name of a pagan god in Greek mythology. http://www.theoi.com/Titan/AsterEosphoros.html (In the sources cited note that Eosphoros and Phosphoros are used interchangeably.)
The fact that Greeks and Romans identified Lucifer and Phosphoros as the same god can be seen most dramatically in this passage from the famous Roman statesman and orator Cicero, from his treatise On the Nature of the Gods:
“The lowest of the five wandering stars, and the one nearest the earth, is the planet of Venus, which is called Φωσϕόρος (Phosphoros –jw) in Greek, and Lucifer in Latin, …it completes its course in a year, traversing the zodiac both latitudinally and longitudinally, as is also done by the planets above it, and on whichever side of the sun it is, it never departs more than two signs’ distance from it. (21) This constancy, then, among the stars, this marked agreement of times through the whole of eternity, though the movements are so various, I cannot understand as existing without mind and reason and forethought, and since we find that these qualities are possessed by the heavenly bodies, we cannot but assign to those bodies themselves their place among the number of divine beings.” (De Natura Deorum, 2:20-21)
This passage can be seen online text at the following link
“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 dawns, and the day star (Phosphoros) arise in your hearts. (20) Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. (21) For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
This passage warns against the method of reading private esoteric interpretations into scripture, as is done through the allegorical method. I believe this passage is aimed at Gnostics; and the verse which follows appears to be an attack on the Gnostics “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them…” (2 Peter 2:1; emphasis added.)
2 Peter portrays “Phosphoros” as a symbolic adversary of the heretics (Gnostics) who secretly brought in heretical teachings. Here “Phosphoros” is the light bearer who symbolizes the true understanding of prophecy, and the proper use of the prophetic spirit (i.e. the “Holy Ghost”). It is incredible to me that this name “Phosphoros”, which is a name for Satan, can be used in a passage as a symbol of the truth of the Holy Spirit. What can the name of a pagan celestial deity possibly have in common with the Holy Spirit? The meaning is that if the Christian reads Bible prophecy in light of the Holy Ghost who inspired those scriptures, then “Phosphoros” will rise in the hearts of the readers. I don’t know of any Gnostic writings that blaspheme this bad! I’m a Gnostic, and this is offensive even to me!
Now in fairness to all Christians, including fundies, I do want to point out that 2 Peter was widely rejected among early “orthodox” Christians. This fact is reported by the Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (Church History, 3.3.1). Any intelligent reader can see that this text was not written by Peter, and is a poorly contrived forgery. The fraudulent nature of the text appears most obvious in chapter 3, where the author addresses a crisis which could have occurred only after all the Apostles had died – and Jesus had not yet returned before the end of the age as prophesied. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus repeatedly promises Peter and the other disciples that he will return before the end of their “generation” (e.g. Matthew 10:23, 16:8, 24:34); whereas in 2 Peter, “Peter” tells his readers that a “day with the Lord is as a thousand years” meaning obviously that the end is not coming at the end of Peter’s generation (2 Peter 3:8, cf. Mt. op. cit.). Certainly this is not what Jesus promised to Peter in Matthew. Our author “Peter” also refers to Paul’s letters as “scripture” (2 Peter -16) which is also highly dubious, and obviously refers to later Gnostics or Marcionites who had made a canon of Paul’s letters.
In Eusebius’s day many “orthodox” Christians believed that 2 Peter was a forgery that did not belong in the Canon. This text is not quoted in any Gnostic tradition at all. (On the historical record 2 Peter does not appear until the third century with Cyprian and Origen, and the latter mentions that the epistle was disputed; Eusebius, ibid., 6:25; Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 133 fn. 4, 273.)
There is yet another book in the New Testament that makes subtle references to Lucifer, and with stunning theological implications. I refer to the Revelation of John. This book has a significant theme regarding the “morning star.” Here “Jesus” says cryptically to his readers among the seven churches that He will give them the “morning star” (Rev. 2:28). And then, at the end, in Revelation , Jesus reveals himself to be the “root of David” and the “bright morning star.” This interpretation is confirmed in the following conservative Christian sources: The New Living Translation of the New Testament, published by Tyndale House (1996), quotes Jesus as saying “I am the bright morning star” (NLT). Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary says of this passage: “He is the fountain of all light, the bright and the morning star, and as such has given to his churches this morning light of prophecy, to assure them of the light of that perfect day which is approaching.” http://www.biblecommentor.com/revelation/22-16.htm (Numerous commentaries at this link agree that Jesus is identified with the morning star.) The liberal “history of religions” scholar Wilhelm Bousset also believed that Jesus was identified with the morning star “Lucifer” in Rev. 22:16 (Kyrios Christos, pg. 349, fn. 410). Helena Blavatsky, the modern occultist and founder of the Theosophical society, also believed that Jesus was identified with the morning star, i.e. “Lucifer”, in Rev. 22:16. http://www.blavatsky.net/blavatsky/arts/WhatsInAName.htm From these diverse sources, whether evangelical Christian, liberal scholarship, or modern occult, there is agreement that in Revelation Jesus proclaims to be the “bright morning star.” This is the last great lesson that is revealed to us in the “orthodox” canon: Jesus, the Son of God, is the bright morning star.
Of special note is that the words “bright
morning star” run parallel to the terminology in the Hebrew text of Isaiah
14:12 where the word “Heylel” is used (הֵילֵל).
Heylel literally means bright morning star (Strong’s Exhaustive
Concordance, Hebrew/Chaldee Lex. #1966, cf. #1984). Among the Greek
speaking Christians in the Greek cities such as
So, in the Revelation (Apocalypse) of
John “Jesus” is revealing an important secret to this writer: He is essentially
saying to him that “I am Lucifer.” Again, in the time period and culture in
which the Revelation of John was written, it was common knowledge that the
morning star was named Lucifer or Phosphoros. The Revelation of John makes a
connection between Jesus and Lucifer. And the Greek wording for “bright morning
star” runs parallel with the Hebrew, as I have shown above. Compound this with
the fact that in the Latin Vulgate the translator Jerome has no scruple about
using the name “Lucifer”–the name of Satan–in both Isaiah 14:12 and 2 Peter
1:19. This leads me to raise the question of whether, perhaps, there was some
Luciferian cabal within early Christianity. On top of this is that there was an
“ultra-orthodox” Catholic priest named after Lucifer (i.e. Lucifer of
Why is early Christian “orthodoxy” so at ease with the name of Lucifer? Can all this simply be a coincidence? It seems to me that the name and legacy of Lucifer is branded on both the “orthodox” canon and the “tradition” that follows it. By comparison I search in vain for references to Lucifer in ancient Gnostic writings or traditions.
This whole predicament is created by the fact that Fundy Christians believe that there is an evil being named “Lucifer.” And this is compounded by the fact that Fundies place their faith and hopes on dubious books like 2 Peter and the Revelation of John. The Church historian Eusebius points out that the Revelation of John was also rejected by many early Catholics (Church History, 3.25, 28; 5.25). Scholar Bruce Metzger documents the fact that the Revelation of John was absent from many early canon lists in the Catholic Church (B. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, pg. 209f.). Anyone with common sense would of course reject and condemn the Revelation of John. The most obvious reason is that the Revelation of John contains prophecies which are obviously false. This problem appears right away in the opening sentence: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass...for the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:1-3. Emphasis added). Let us note also the words of “Jesus” in Rev. 22:12 and 20 “Behold, I come quickly” and also “Surely, I come quickly.” Yeah right!
I thank God that this book of dark prophecies is false. But that doesn’t make the threat go away. Fundies believe in this book, and with all their hearts they want the terrible events in this book to come to pass. They believe that this fulfillment will validate their beliefs and somehow add something to their empty lives. The Fundies will no more let go of this book, and the lies that are in it, then they will let go of the delusion that “Lucifer” is the name of the devil. The reality of course is that there was no wicked “Lucifer” in early Christianity. This is why Lucifer’s name appears in Christian tradition: because the gentile church assigned no significance to it – and neither did the Gnostics. Thus when fundies rant about “Lucifer” today, they are in fact casting a shadow on the “orthodox” Christians who came before them.
Now of course I am telling only one side of the story. It would seem simple enough for an intelligent person to admit that there is no evil being named Lucifer. Lucifer is just a name from ancient Roman mythology. Lucifer is not even one of the major gods; he is a minor god. This being said, there is another crowd of people out there, profoundly different from the fundies, but who also profess some belief or doctrine regarding Lucifer. Here is an example from the famous New Age pioneer and founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky:
“In this case it is but natural–even from the dead letter standpoint–to view Satan, the Serpent of Genesis, as the real creator and benefactor, the Father of Spiritual mankind. For it is he who was the “Harbinger of Light”, bright radiant Lucifer, who opened the eyes of the automaton created by Jehovah…” And also: “And now it stands proven that Satan, or the Red Fiery Dragon, the “Lord of Phosphorus” [2 Peter ]…and Lucifer, or “Light-Bearer”, is in us: it is our Mind – our tempter and Redeemer, our intelligent liberator from pure animalism.” (H. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vol. II, pp. 243, 513)
My personal opinion regarding this passage is as follows: I believe that the most dangerous lies are the ones that have some element of truth in them. Blavatsky’s statements above are a dangerous misrepresentation of something that is true.
On the other hand, I don’t see anything in Blavatsky’s remarks that are any worse than what is said in 2 Peter 1:19. In 2 Peter “Phosphoros” is the morning star and light-bearer who rises in the hearts of “orthodox” Christians with the light of intelligence and understanding. This is similar to what Blavatsky says of Lucifer above: like 2 Peter 1:19 Blavatsky states that Lucifer is in us: Lucifer, the “Lord of Phosphorus”, is the light of intelligence within. And then in Revelations 22:16 “Jesus” claims to be the “bright morning star” and he claims that he will give the “morning star” to his disciples (Rev. 2:28). In 2 Peter the morning star is identified specifically with Phosphoros or Lucifer. Together, 2 Peter and Revelation confirm that the morning star is Phosphoros or Lucifer. Jesus likewise identifies himself with the “morning star” which 2 Peter calls “Phosphoros” or Lucifer.
The implications of these passages become
even more interesting when we look at them in light of the “orthodox” Apostolic
Tradition. According to Tradition Peter and John were fellow
Apostles, and Paul names them as the “pillars” of the
As I look over these facts, and how fundies want to interpret them, I must admit that Christian fundamentalism can be regarded as a species of Theosophy on par with the Theosophical Society. The Theosophists believe that Satan is really a good entity whose real name is Lucifer. In a similar way, fundy Christians refuse to accept the good Father of Jesus Christ and proclaim instead that the supreme God is Jehovah, who in turn admits himself to be the creator of evil: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil…” (Isaiah 45:7) Yet in the Apostles we read: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5); and Jesus himself proclaimed: “O righteous Father, the world hath not known you.” Both John the Apostle and John the Baptist agree that “No man has seen God at any time.” (Jn. , 1 Jn. )
When all of this information is put together what else can we do but conclude that fundy Christians themselves reject the truth of the Gospel and worship Lucifer? It is not my belief that Lucifer exists. This is what the fundies and the Theosophists agree on. Fundies also insist on believing in the false prophecies of Revelation and wishing for the most ugly things. Fundy Christians willfully believe in lies, and their Savior is Lucifer. I think there is room for criticism of the Theosophists as well. I find it incredible that Helena Blavatsky believes that she can do justice to the truth with names like “Satan” and “Lucifer” and the “Lord of Phosphorus.” It is ironic to see this thread of spiritual poverty that runs through the center of Blavatsky’s tremendous erudition.
The lesson to be learned in all this is that Lucifer is a false-god. Lucifer is a symbol of misguided dreams, false hopes, and intellectual vanity. –jw
Note on the Naassenes
1] There was one Gnostic sect which was
known for revering the “serpent.” This sect was known as the “Ophites” or the
Naassenes (NAAS is transliterated from the Hebrew word for “serpent” nachash:
הנחש). The Catholic
Father Hippolytus reported at length on the Naassenes in his treatise The
Refutation of All Heresies, 5:1-5. In this lengthy report Hippolytus could
provide no evidence that the Naassenes derived their doctrine of the Serpent
from Genesis. Hippolytus reports on another sect called the Peratea, which
based its doctrine of the serpent on John 3:14 where Jesus said “As Moses
lifted up the Serpent, so the Son of man must be lifted up; that whoever shall
believe in him shall have eternal life” (ibid., ). In
Irenaeus’s account of the Naassenes he reports that they believed that the
Gnostic systems in general there is no consensus that the serpent in the garden
is divine or good. This is a popular myth that is based on the scurrilous
accusations of the Catholic Fathers who compare Gnostic systems, and gnosis,
with the Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge in
E-mail Jim West: firstname.lastname@example.org