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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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"Darkness" in both the Old Testament (Heb. hasak [ Proverbs 2:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-7 ), judgment (Exodus 10:21; Matthew 25:30 ), and death (Psalm 88:12 ). Salvation brings light to those in darkness (Isaiah 9:2 ). Although darkness is opaque to man, it is transparent to God (Psalm 139:12 ). Indeed, God can veil himself in darkness at moments of great revelation (Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:23; Psalm 18:11 ).

God Rules the Darkness . The biblical view of darkness and light offers a unique contrast. There is no thought that darkness is equal in power to God's light. The absolute, sovereign God rules over the darkness and the powers of evil. This is evident in several ways. First, God knows the darkness. He knows where it is (Job 34:22 ) and what it contains (Daniel 2:22 ). Second, God rules over the darkness because he created it (Isaiah 45:7; cf. Amos 4:13; 5:8 ). Third, God uses the darkness for his own purposes: to hide himself from the sight of men (Psalm 18:11; 1 Kings 8:12 ) and to bring his judgment on evildoers (Deuteronomy 28:28-29; Matthew 8:12; 22:13 ), evil nations (Ezekiel 30:18-19 ), and false prophets (Jeremiah 23:12; Micah 3:6; Revelation 16:10 ). Finally, God rules over the darkness eschatologically. The time of God's ultimate judgment, the day of the Lord, is portrayed in both the Old Testament and New Testament as a day of darkness (Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18,20; Zephaniah 1:15; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-17 ).

Darkness and Crucifixion . It is against this background that the emphasis on darkness in the crucifixion scene may be understood. Luke records, "it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (23:44-45; cf. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33 ). While darkness often accompanies the conception of death in Scripture (cf. Job 10:21-22 ), darkness at the crucifixion scene displays God's displeasure on humankind for crucifying his son. It also indicates God's judgment on evil. But the torn curtain exhibits the opening of salvation to all through the death of God's Son.

Final Darkness . The Old Testament and New Testament describe the future of the ungodly in terms of eschatological darkness, symbolizing perdition (1 Samuel 2:9; Matthew 22:13; Jude 12-13 ). "Hell" and "pits of darkness" describe the fate of angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6 ). But for believers darkness will be dispelled by the presence of the light of the glory of God (Revelation 21:23-24; 22:5 ). It is only through the light of God in Jesus Christ that darkness can be dispelled.

Michael J. Wilkins

See also Hell

Bibliography . E. R. Achtmeier, Int 17 (1963): 439-49; G. L. Borchert, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, sv. "Light and Darkness"; F. G. Carver, Wesleyan Theological Journal 23 (1986): 7-32; H. Conzelmann, TDNT, 7:423-45; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology: H.-C. Hahn, NIDNTT, 1:420-25; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; G. F. Shirbroun, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, s.v. "Light"; G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 .

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 'Darkness'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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