Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

light, in most religions and cultures a symbol of God, godliness, or supernatural illumination. The Bible is no exception. God is described as covering himself with light as with a garment (Ps. 104:2). His countenance is light (Ps. 4:6), and even the darkness is not night to him (Ps. 139:12). In the beginning, God says, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3); there was light, and the creation narrative is underway. At the end of Revelation, the Lord God is said to be the light of his servants (Rev. 22:5).

Inasmuch as walking is used as a metaphor for life (Pss. 1:1; 15:2; 23:3-4; Prov. 4:11-14), God is fittingly implored to provide light (Ps. 43:3). ‘I will turn the darkness before them into light,’ says the Lord (Isa. 42:16). It follows that the law of God, his word, is described as ‘a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119:105). The longed-for ‘day of the Lord’ is expected to be light (Zech. 14:7); thus, the prophet Amos can astound his hearers by announcing it will instead be darkness (5:18, 20).

In the literature of postbiblical Judaism (after mid-second century b.c.), the imagery of light and darkness continues along the same lines. In the Qumran Scrolls, the opposition between them is quite sharp and fits a general pattern known as dualism. Such dualism appears in the antithesis between light and darkness in the nt, especially the Johannine literature (e.g., 1 John 1:5-7).

The nt use of ‘light’ is both literal (Matt. 17:2) and symbolic (Matt. 4:16, quoting Isa. 9:2), and against the ot and Jewish background becomes clearly intelligible. In view of the Christian message, the light imagery understandably centers about Jesus. Paul speaks of ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’(2 Cor. 4:4) and refers to the language of the Genesis creation narrative (4:6). Believers can be described as enlightened (Heb. 6:4; 10:32). Moreover, disciples are called ‘the light of the world’ (Matt. 5:14). Ultimately, the basis for such statements is the belief that Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12; cf. 1:4-5, 9), for he is the emissary of God, who is light (1 John 1:5) and who calls people ‘out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (1 Pet. 2:9).

The New Bible Dictionary

(Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1962)

LIGHT. The word is used in connection with joy, blessing and life in contrast to sorrow, adversity and death (cf. Gn. 1:3f.; Jb. 10:22; 18:5f.). At an early time it came to signify God’s presence and favour (cf. Ps. 27:1; Is. 9:2; 2 Cor. 4:6) in contrast to God’s judgment (Am. 5:18). From this and other sources arises an ethical dualism between light and darkness, i.e. good and evil, which is quite marked in the NT (cf. Lk. 16:8; Jn. 3:19ff.; 12:36; 2 Cor. 6:14; Col. 1:12f.; 1 Thes. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9). Some, e.g. C. H. Dodd, have regarded Hellenistic parallels to be significant in this regard, but the presence of this usage in Judaism, e.g. The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness in dss, makes such an inference unnecessary and provides a more pertinent commentary on the NT concepts.

God’s holiness is expressed in terms of light, e.g. in 1 Tim. 6:16, where he is said to dwell ‘in unapproachable light’; cf. 1 Jn. 1:5, where it is said that ‘God is light’, and other passages in that Epistle where the implications of this for the believer are worked out. The same thought is seen in the typically Heb. expression ‘children of light’ which is twice used by Paul (Eph. 5:8; cf. 1 Thes. 5:5; Jn. 12:36).

In John’s Gospel the term light refers not so much to God’s holiness as to the revelation of his love in Christ and the penetration of that love into lives darkened by sin. So Christ refers to himself as ‘the light of the world’ (Jn. 8:12; 9:5; cf. 12:46), and in the Sermon on the Mount applies this term to his disciples (Mt. 5:14-16). Similarly Paul can refer to ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’ and to God himself who ‘has shone in our hearts’ (2 Cor. 4:4-6).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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