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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Lamb, Lamb of God

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Definitions . In the pastoral setting of the Bible, there were numerous words for a lamb or a sheep. The Hebrew words were kebes [ Exodus 29:38-39 ); keseb [ Leviticus 3:7 ); so'n [ 1 Samuel 25:2 ); ayil [ Genesis 15:9 ); kar [ Isaiah 16:1 ); seh [ Isaiah 43:23 ); taleh [ 1 Samuel 7:9 ). The Aramaic immerin refers to lambs as sacrificial victims ( Ezra 6:9 ).

The Greek words were amnos [ John 1:29,36 ; Acts 8:32 ); aren [ Luke 10:3 ); Iarnion [ Revelation 5:6 ; 6:1 ); probaton [ Matthew 12:11 ; 18:12 ; Mark 6:34 ; 14:27 ; John 2:14 ; 10:1-16,26 ; Romans 8:36 ).

The Old Testament . Pastoral Economy . Lambs graze Isaiah 5:17 ; Hosea 4:16 ), provide wool (Job 31:20 ; Proverbs 27:26 ) and meat (2 Samuel 12:1-4 ), and are offered as sacrifices (Leviticus 9:3 ). Within the culture, the metaphor of the Lord being the shepherd of his people was quite vivid (Psalm 23:1 ; Isaiah 40:11 ; Ezekiel 34:12-16 ); thus, people without leaders are like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17 ; 1 Kings 22:17 ; Ezekiel 34:5 ).

The Passover Lamb . The Passover Feast marked the crucial tenth plague, which resulted in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and slavery. Each family took a year-old male lamb without defect from their flock, and on the fourteenth day of the month it was slaughtered at twilight (Exodus 12:1-30 ). Some of the blood was put on the sides and top of the doorframe of the house. The lamb was then roasted and eaten. This became a very significant holy day in Jewish tradition and is prominent throughout the Old Testament.

The Sacrificial Lamb . Two-year-old lambs (kebes [ Exodus 29:38-41 ; Numbers 38:3-8 ). A lamb was offered as a sin offering (Leviticus 4:32-35 ), and as a burnt offering for the purification of the priests (Leviticus 9:3 ), a new mother (Leviticus 12:6-7 ), the temple and nation (2 Chronicles 29:21 ), and the returning exiles (Ezra 8:35 ). In addition to the central place of the sacrificial lamb at the Passover meal, seven to fourteen lambs were offered as burnt offerings during the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:2 ), the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:8 ), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Numbers 29:13 ).

The Suffering Servant/Lamb . The disfigured, suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is commonly interpreted as a messianic prophecy. The Servant would arise from humble origins, be despised and rejected, suffer physical wounds, and be treated like a leper, while taking upon himself our infirmities, diseases, transgressions, iniquities, and deserved punishment for sin. The climax of the Servant's vicarious suffering is analogous to a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and is silent ( Isaiah 53:7 ).

The New Testament . The Gospels . The Fourth Gospel seems to give a composite of the Old Testament typology. John the Baptist testifies and introduces his disciples to Jesus, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (1:29,36). To this title the Evangelist adds other titles: "Son of God" (1:34,49), "Messiah" (1:41), "King of Israel" (1:49), and "Son of Man" (1:51). Jesus, the Lamb of God, entered the temple courts at the time for the Passover (2:13,23), made a whip out of cords, drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the coins of the money changers, and announced, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (2:19). The temple of which he had spoken was his body (2:21), but this was not understood until after his resurrection (2:22). The Passover is a prominent motif in John (2:13,23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28,39; 19:14,31, 42), as are also the many references to the glorification of Jesus in his death upon the cross (3:14-15,16-17; 8:28; 12:23,32; 13:31; 17:1,5). The suffering Servant-Lamb collage of Isaiah 53:7 is completed in Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet (13:1-17). In both Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7 , the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus are associated with the customary sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

Acts and the Epistles . Luke provides the interpretation of Isaiah 53:7-8 in the early church, through the preaching of Philip to the Ethiopian official ( Acts 8:26-40 ). The "lamb led to the slaughter" was at the theological center of the good news about Jesus (v. 35). This metaphor seems to have less meaning to Paul's urban, Gentile listeners, as "Christ, our Passover lamb" is only mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:7 . Christ, the crucified Son of God, however, remains at the heart of Paul's gospel. Although the term "lamb" does not appear, Hebrews affirms that Jesus Christ was God's promised sacrifice, destined to die once, to take away sins (7:27; 9:26-28; 10:1-18). Those who believe are redeemed through "the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:19 ; cf. Mark 10:45 ).

Revelation . The christology of the Lamb of God rises to its zenith in the last canonical book, where arnion appears in the Greek text twenty-nine times. In the heavenly vision of chapter 4, the choir of twenty-four elders and four living creatures worship the "Lord God, " who sits on the throne, for he is worthy (v. 11). He holds a sealed scroll—Holy Scripture containing his will and testamentin his right hand. For the promised inheritance to become reality, the one who made the covenant must die. Through the ages people like John had been expecting a militant, divine warrior"the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (5:5)to appear in a magnificent display of power against evil. The triumph of God, however, came through his Son, a Son of David, who appeared like a Lamb (5:6). The Lamb, looking as if it had been slain (5:6,9, 12; 13:8), stood in the center of the throne. He alone was worthy to open the scroll. When he took the scroll, the prayers of the saints were fulfilled (5:8) and all heaven erupted in praise: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (5:12). Therefore, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is "Lord of lords and King of kings!" (17:14).

Melvin H. Shoemaker

See also Atonement ; Isaiah, Theology of ; Jesus Christ ; Offerings and Sacrifices

Bibliography . C. K. Barrett, NTS (1955): 210-18; G. R. Beasley-Murray, John ; R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John(1-12) ; G. L. Carey, Tyn Bul 32 (1981): 97-122; J. D. Charles, JETS 34/4 (1991): 461-73; G. Florovsky, SJT 4 (1951): 13-28; N. Hllyer, EvQ 39 (1967): 228-36; J. Jeremias, TDNT, 1:185-86,338-41; 5:896-904; I. H. Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 432-34; H. Preisker and S. Schulz, TDNT, 6:689-92; M. G. Reddish, JSNT 33 (1988): 85-95; D. B. Sandy, JETS 34/4 (1991): 447-60; W. C. van Unnik, Melanges Biblicques en Hommage, pp. 445-61; S. Virgulin, Scr 13 (1961): 74-80.


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Lamb, Lamb of God'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/l/lamb-lamb-of-god.html. 1996.

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