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The Big Lie – A Biblical word study on the Devil

Beelzebub and Lucifer – Not the Devil


Baalzebub Lucifer The King of Tyre
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2 Kings 1:1-18, Baalzebub - god of Ekron (6/21/13)

If everyone calls you by a name that’s not on your birth certificate, does that eventually become your name? We’re going to look at some names – and some words we only think are names – that do not refer to the Devil in the Bible. If you want to say, “Well, that’s a name for the Devil now,” I’m not going to argue about it, but I do ask you to remember that these were not names for the Devil in the time of Jesus.

The Hebrew baalzebub is the proper name of the god of the Philistine city of Ekron. It is used four times, all in the same passage, which we read today. Baal literally means master, owner, or husband. It’s used 81 times in the Old Testament, and all but about three times it is referring to some foreign god or idol. Zebub might have meant prince when the Philistines were talking about their god, but in Hebrew it means fly. Zebub is used independently twice in the OT, both times referring to the actual insect (Ecclesiastes 10:1 and Isaiah 7:18). The Septuagint has Baal muian in these verses of Ecclesiastes and Isaiah. Muian isn’t found in the NT, but it is Greek for of flies. So the OT writers called Baalzebub, god of Ekron, “the Lord of the Flies.”

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James and Contemporary English Versions:
Matthew 9:32-35, 12:22-29, Baalzebub - prince of demons (6/24/13)

The New Testament Greek word beelzeboul (given in some manuscripts and translations as Beelzebub, probably because of its Old Testament associations) is apparently a reference to Baalzebub. (By the way, beelzeboul is not used in the Greek Old Testament.) The meaning of zeboul is a little uncertain – according to Wikipedia, it may be a slurred pronunciation of zebub, or from zebel dung, or from zebul lofty. Apparently zebul isn’t used independently anywhere in the NT; however, Strong’s dictionary says Baalzebul means “dung god,” and I’ve read that in several commentaries as well. If that’s correct, Beelzebul is a scornful, mocking reference to Baalzebub, Lord of the Flies.

Now, two things interest me about the single occasion described in the first three passages that we read today. First, the people who are referring to Beelzebul are the scribes and Pharisees, who knew the scripture very well. One might think that if they said “Beelzebul,” they probably meant “Baalzebub,” who was the god of Ekron. (Note that scholars are divided about this, based on linguistics; I’m just giving you my opinion.)

Second, they call him the “prince of demons,” not “the Devil,” and the context of the discussion is demon-possession and casting out demons, not temptation or sin. As we have seen, demons appear to be mostly associated with sickness in the New Testament, and the passage in 2 Kings is also about sickness. The Devil, on the other hand, is associated with temptation or sin. My inclination is that Beelzebub and Beelzebul are not Biblical names for the Devil.

How did Beelzebub get connected to the Devil? The Devil became a popular topic in intertestamental times, and writers of popular literature decided that Baalzebub was one of the Devil’s assistants, or possibly the Devil himself. This was picked up by early non-Biblical Christian writers, and then cemented by Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. For a more-thorough review of the non-Biblical ideas about Baalzebub and Beelzebul, try here.

From the Bible in Basic English, with a few clarifications from me:
Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:14-26 (6/25/13)

Pay attention to Mark 3:23-26 and Luke 11:17-18. Baalzebub isn’t the Devil, but he is part of Satan’s kingdom. It’s interesting that Jesus’ famous saying, “He who is not with me is against me,” follows immediately after the discussion of Baalzebub and Satan. The demon prince Baalzebub is fighting against Jesus by trying to keep people ill and under the power of demons; he is on the side of Satan.

From the Bible in Basic English, with a few clarifications by me:
Isaiah 14:1-22, Lucifer - not the Devil (6/26/13)

“Lucifer” is not a biblical name for the Devil. Isaiah 14:12 is not talking about the Devil; it’s talking about the king of Babylon. We know this because that’s what Isaiah says, and he should know who he’s talking about! The king of Babylon thought he was pretty hot stuff, and God is about to bring him down: now who’s hot stuff, O King? Are we to believe that in the middle of a long, sarcastic taunt against the king of Babylon Isaiah talks about the Devil in one verse? I don’t think so!

The “name” Lucifer is found only once in the Bible, and then not in most translations. “Lucifer” is a Latin translation of the Hebrew word haylale, which also appears only this one time. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, haylale means shining one and comes from the verb to shine. The highly influential King James Version has Lucifer, as does An American Translation, 1935, by Powis Smith and Goodspeed. Those are the only two translations I found with “Lucifer.”

The Jerusalem Bible has “Daystar.” Moffatt has “shining star of the dawn.” The New English Bible and Bible in Basic English have “bright morning star.” The Contemporary English Version and God’s Word have “morning star.” The Jewish Publication Society Bible, which is often word-for-word like the King James, has “day-star,” as does the KJV’s daughter, the Revised Version. The Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, and International Standard Version also have “day-star.”

It is truly ironic that much of what we thought we “know” about the Devil comes from this passage, when in reality Isaiah is talking about the king of Babylon. Tune in tomorrow for more evidence that “Lucifer” isn’t even a proper name in the Bible, much less a name for the Devil.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from several other translations:
Job 3:9, 11:17, 38:12, 41:18 (6/27/13)

So if the Hebrew word haylale shining one in Isaiah 14:12 isn’t talking about the Devil, where did “Lucifer” come from? The ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), has eosphoros in place of haylale in that verse. I don’t read Classical Greek, and eosphoros doesn’t occur in the NT. According to Wikipedia, however, it means “dawn-bringer,” i.e., the planet Venus.

The Greek word eosphoros is used seven times in the LXX, but only once to translate haylale. We read all seven today. As usual, bold italics give you first the Hebrew word and then the Greek word, which is eosphoros, right before the English word.

Look at how the King James Version translates the other six verses: All of these verses have to do with time of day, namely, the early morning, just as the Classical Greek word eosphoros does. Are we to believe that once, eosphoros refers to the Devil? I don’t think so!

The Devil became a popular figure in non-Biblical and non-Apocryphal literature during intertestamental times. Some writers decided that Isaiah 14:12 was talking about the Devil, and some Jews and early Christians picked up on this idea.

Later, when Jerome translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate) around the year 400, he just translated the Greek dawn-bringer into the Latin lucifer light-bringer in Isaiah 14:12. Therefore “Lucifer” became a name of the Devil in the popular Medieval mind. Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost apparently cemented the equivalence of Isaiah 14:12, Satan, and Lucifer in popular culture.

I also talked about the Isaiah passage here. For a review of the post-Biblical ideas about Lucifer and Isaiah 14:12, try Wikipedia's article here.

From the Bible in Basic English:
Ezekiel 28:1-19, King of Tyre - not the Devil (6/28/13)

For reasons that are completely obscure to me, a lot of people think that Ezekiel 28 is about Satan. Apparently this idea originated in intertestamental times among (of all people) rabbis. God says twice, however, that the prophecy he is giving to Ezekiel is about the king of Tyre (a coastal city often at odds with Israel). God says twice that Ezekiel is to say, “you are a man.” The only thing I can figure out is that people who think this is about Satan either (1) haven’t read it, (2) think they know better than God what God is talking about, or (3) think the Bible is some kind of coded message.

First, I encourage you always to read the text for yourself. Read the whole context. If you read something that “tells you what it’s really talking about” – specifically including my comments – check for yourself to see if that distorts what’s actually written in the Bible. Second, never, ever make the mistake that you know better than God about anything.

Finally, God isn’t into coded messages – God has had such a difficult time getting us to understand his message of love and salvation that there’s no way he’s going to put it into code! (Except occasionally in apocalyptic writing, as we have discussed earlier. This portion of Ezekiel is not apocalyptic.) Prophecy is poetic and full of imagery, though, and that’s why we get all the stuff in Ezekiel 28 about the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word man in vss. 2 and 9 is adam. God is saying to the king of Tyre, “You had everything, and just like Adam and Eve you threw it all away because of your sin.” All too often, God has to say the same thing to us.

From the Bible in Basic English:
More of The Big Lie
The Son of God and the Father of Lies
The OT satan is always an adversary, but not always the Devil.
The Hebrew satan is translated various ways.
In the New Testament, both satanas and diabolos normally refer to the Devil.
Sometimes satanas and diabolos are used figuratively to refer to someone acting like the Devil.
Poneros – Evil in the New Testament
Demons cause sickness, not sin.
Sometimes Satan and demons cooperate with each other.
Neither Baalzebub nor Lucifer is a Biblical name for the Devil.
Belial means "worthless," and once it's used as a nickname for the Devil.
Satan's job description: Temptation and Lies
Our job description: Resist him!

Copyright 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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