Things That Show Up In Christianity-Inspired Fiction That Aren't In The Bible

This article addresses things that appear in fiction based on Biblical concepts (and that includes Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost), but what aren’t actually in or supported by the Bible. (Although, to be fair, some may be part of certain traditional beliefs, or part of apocryphal books and stories.)

I'm not saying there's necessarily anything wrong with these tropes, but... people should at least be aware that they aren't actually in the books, especially when they're trying to using them as shortcuts to make a work seem more deep or meaningful, or when they're looking to write something Biblically accurate per what's generally considered canon.

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Satan rules Hell and fallen angels and/or demons torture those who go there.

Let’s get one thing clear: the word “Hell” was applied way too liberally throughout the KJV, being used to name entirely different concepts that were given clear and distinct names in the various source materials. Here are some examples:

Sheol - the Hebrew word “Sheol” refers to a shadowy underworld where all of the dead reside no matter how they behaved in life. There is no indication that Sheol is ruled by Satan, fallen angels, or demons, anywhere.

Hades - a word that came from the Greek language, Hades was used by Greek-speakers to refer to the same concept as Sheol.

Gehenna/Valley of Hinnom - the Valley of Hinnom is the site where Judeans made child sacrifices to Molech via immolation. The place became associated with the concept of a fiery place of punishment and banishment after death (whether permanent or temporary depends upon who you ask). Like Sheol, there’s no indication that Gehenna is overseen by Satan, fallen angels, or demons.

That cleared up, let’s move onto the place of punishment mentioned in Revelation - the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is exactly what it sounds like, and all of the damned are tortured there, including Satan and his supporters. (See: Revelation 20:10.)

“Lucifer” is Satan’s proper name or one of his names.

In several versions of the Bible, such as the King James version and versions derived from it, Isaiah 14:12 refers to someone by the name of Lucifer. Many people understand “Lucifer” to be the name of, or at least an epithet for Satan. But this just ain’t so.

First, there is no such character as “Lucifer.” The term that became “Lucifer” In the Latin Vulgate (which the KJV is based on) was helel, which would be more accurately rendered as “day star” or “morning star.” This in turn was an epithet for the planet Venus - and this epithet is echoed in the phrase “son of the morning.”

What’s going down in Isaiah 14 is that the king of Babylon is being poetically likened to the planet Venus. This becomes clear if you read the whole chapter, particularly verse 4, where it literally says that this is directed to the king of Babylon.

Of course, people will go through all kinds of logical hoops to keep this passage about Satan, using tortured and convoluted logic that doesn’t stand up in light of the fact that the context makes it clear who it’s about. Sure, it talks about “Lucifer” falling from heaven, and sure, Jesus mentions something about Satan falling from heaven like a bolt of lightning. But to say that it must be so is to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

Why people insist this address to the king of Babylon must be about Satan is… baffling. Admitting it’s not about Satan doesn’t actually affect any of Christianity’s tenets, and many Christians see no reason that it has to be interpreted as being about Satan.

Angels have wings, fallen angels and/or demons have horns.

Today, people tend to imagine angels as humanoid creatures with big, feathery wings, and demons and fallen angels as humanoid creatures with features like horns, hooves, red/orange/yellow eyes, bat wings, and tails. In truth, these stereotypes have their origin in fanciful Catholic artwork; there’s little support for this in the Bible.

First, angels aren't really presented as winged humanoids, at least, not in the way most people imagine. Many times when angels do appear, they’re mistaken for humans at first - a mistake one would be hard-pressed to make with a big pair o’ floofy wingalings in plain view. Many times they aren’t really described at all - the narrative will say there’s an angel, and that’s that. And then we have the angels in Ezekiel, which are so weird that some people have speculated that they were actually alien spacecraft described from the perspective of a man living in ancient Judea. (Which probably isn't the case, as Ezekiel's angels, while strange to us now, are not inconsistent with how people of that time and place generally viewed angels.)

Isaiah's seraphs (Isaiah 6:1-8) do evoke the modern image somewhat, but they're still not your pretty Christmas tree toppers. They're described as having two wings covering their faces, two wings as covering their feet, and two wings to fly with. And now for a couple of curveballs: First the word "foot" was a euphemism for genitals at the time, so they may not have been covering human feet at all, but their private bits instead. Secondly, the word "seraph" could also refer to serpents, which might indicate that the seraphim had serpentine attributes. So whether Isaiah's seraphs were hexawingal humanoids or... something a little different is unclear.

None of the physical features people associate with demons and fallen angels today are ever given to them in the Bible. In fact, demons and fallen angels aren’t really described at all. The closest we ever get to that is when Paul of Tarsus writes that Satan can appear as an “angel of light” and when Satan takes the form of a dragon or serpent in Revelation... which doesn't really tell us anything except that he can take multiple forms.

And while we’re talking about appearances, angels are never said to have halos, either. Halos began as an artistic convention to denote or draw attention to holy or important figures - many non-angel characters, including Mary, Jesus, several of Jesus’ followers, saints, and even kings and emperors have been portrayed with halos.

Biblical demons wreak epic-level damage and drama.

Compared to what many people see demons as today, Biblical demons are pretty boring and don’t lend themselves well to the hugely dramatic scenarios people imagine for them (eg, The Exorcist, or anything where demons are practically interchangeable with evil fae). Biblical demons are presented as making people act in ways that aren't notably different from the symptoms of mental illness, or giving people sinful ideas.

Being spirits and therefore lacking bodies in the Judeo-Christian worldview (see: Luke 24:37-43), this means that half-demon babies, let alone half-demon babies with magical powers and angel/demon hybrid babies are not a thing.

(Human/angel hybrids may have been a thing, if the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 actually refer to angels. It’s never made precisely clear just what or who are being referred to by “the sons of God,” and there are some people and traditions that hold that the the term does not refer to angels, but to something else.)

Humans can become angels after they die (and other assorted myths).

Of all of the various post-death scenarios in the Bible (and there are several), a human actually becoming an angel is not one of them. Humans are never promoted or upgraded to anything after they die.

Also, angels are never shown to be clueless about humanity, nor innocent in any way. Nor are they shown to be particularly sweet or cuddly. They are shown to be commanding, awe-inspiring, and even terrifying at times.

Lilith does not appear in Genesis, let alone as a vampire. There are no vampires in the Bible, period. The closest you’ll find is Isaiah 34:14, where the term lilit (which can refer to a type of demon in Jewish folklore) has been translated into “screech owl.” Precisely what was originally meant by lilit is unclear - but the word appears along with a list of wild animals, suggesting that the writer may have had some kind of animal in mind. (For more information on Lilith, The Straight Dope has an excellent article on her.)

You might also be interested in:

Basic Tips For Writing Orthodox Jews
Why You Shouldn't Worry Too Much About Putting Symbolism & Meanings Into Your Fiction
Common Misconceptions About Old Mythologies & Religions
Why "Purity Is An Overrated Character Trait

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