While the name Mephistopheles is frequently used as an alternative form of Satan or the Devil, it evolved during the Renaissance; the name Mephistopheles makes no appearance in the Bible.
The name is associated with the story of Faust, a scholar who sold his soul to the demon Mephistopheles for knowledge. There have been a number of attempts to guess the source from which the name is derived.
- Some believe it is a play on "Me Fausto philos" and the Latin "Ne Fausto filius", which means either "Friend of Faust" or "No son of Faust".
- Some believe that the name means "He who shuns the light."
- Others trace it to the Latin word 'mefitis' (also spelt 'mephitis,' meaning pungent, sulphurous, stinking, and anoxious exhalation from the ground) and 'fel' (bile, poison), and orthographically dressed as a Greek name, as if transliterated from an imaginary Greek.
- Still others trace it to a rhyme with the name '(Aristotle), which connotes its opposite. They claim while the name 'Aristotelēs' means 'noblest purpose' in Greek, 'Mephistophelēs' means 'noxious bile,' in a semi-educated, or perhaps deliberately comic, mixture of Greek and Latin.
- Some trace it to the Hebrew word "Tophel" which means liar. Also, Bachtold-Stäubli has other Hebrew explanations yet for the name.
A look at how the name has changed elucidates the matter, although it does not elucidate why the name arose and changed. In the 16th century Faustbook, the first literary work about Faust, the name is Mephostophiles. In Greek, this literally means "Not a lover of light," and could mean, "He who shuns the light". Mephostophiles is also the name for the character in Christopher Marlowe's 1604 play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. In both, he is not Satan himself but a minion of Satan's.
That does not mean the name Mephistopheles did not start in the 16th Century. The Passauer Hollenzwang, which was contemporary with the Faustbook, mentions Mephistophiel and Mephistophiles. The first adds Hebrew to the Latin and Greek mix. In addition, Shakespeare mentions Mephistophilus, with its Latinate ending, in the "Merry Wives of Windsor (Act1, Sc1, line 64)." In the 1616 edition of the "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus", Mephostophiles became Mephistophilus. Did the name make the transition from being "He who shuns the light" to stinking and noxious, or was it a parallel development? We do not know.
Still, while the process was already begun in the 16th Century, it was not until the 19th century that Faust's demon was known as Mephistopheles. He appeared with that name in Faust (Part 1 (1808) and Part 2(1832)) by the influential German writer and humanist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Also, in both, Faust's demon became the Devil himself.
Several legends grew up about Mephistophiles. According to certain extra-biblical texts relating to Christian mysticism, and a number of related works written during the 17th century, Mephistophiles was the first to join with Lucifer during the rebellion against God at the beginning of time. When the rebel jinn were banished from Heaven, Mephistophiles was the second to fall, after Lucifer. In exchange for his loyalty, Lucifer granted him power in Jinnestan, appointing him his second-in-command.
Another belief was that Mephistophiles was a jinn that assisted God in the creation of the universe. He was known for the designing of orca whales, seals, and a few other ocean mammals typically working with a fellow jinn named Cerenus. Cerenus is known for creating dolphins in particular. Eventually, Mephistophiles joined Lucifer's banner due to his jealousy toward humans.