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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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With the possible exception of 1 Peter 5:8, the use of ‘lion’ in the NT from 2 Tim. onwards is dependent on the OT. An animal of great size and strength, of noble bearing as well as of extreme cruelty, he is a fitting symbol for moral and spiritual reference.

1. In 1 Peter 5:8, man’s adversary, the devil, is represented as always roaming about in search of prey, his very raging, which betrays his ravenous hunger, striking terror into the hearts of all.

2. In Hebrews 11:33, the reference is to the actual wild beast. Among the heroic deeds of the worthies of the OT recounted by the author of the Epistle is that they ‘stopped the mouths of lions’ (cf. Samson, Judges 14:5-6; David, 1 Samuel 17:34-36; Benaiah, 2 Samuel 23:20). More remotely the story of Daniel suggests this mighty achievement, yet here God and not Daniel is said to have shut the lions’ mouths (Daniel 6:22).

3. St. Paul declares that he had ‘escaped the mouth of the lion’ (2 Timothy 4:17; cf. Psalms 22:21, 1 Maccabees 2:60). The allusion of the Apostle is to the punishment of being thrown to the lions. Some have indeed permitted a literal interpretation of ‘lion’ (A. Neander, History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church, Eng. translation , i. [1880] 345). Since, however, he was a Roman citizen and could claim the right of being beheaded (see Beast), the more probable explanation is that the reference is not to an actual lion. Concerning this, various conjectures have been advanced. ‘Lion’ has been interpreted as Nero (Chrysostom); calamity, which would result from cowardice and humiliation (N. J. D. White, in Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘1 and 2 Timothy and Titus,’ 1910, p. 182; cf. Ps 21:22, 23 [Septuagint ]); ‘the immediate peril’ (Conybeare-Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, new ed., 1877, ii. 593), although the reference may be to St. Paul’s having established his right as a Roman citizen not to be exposed to the wild beasts. If, however, the reference is to the lion’s mouth, then Satan may be intended as a devouring adversary (cf. 1 Peter 5:8, above), from which St. Paul had escaped. The time, place, and occasion of this reference have been variously conceived, (a) 2 Timothy 4:9; 2 Timothy 4:11-18; 2 Timothy 4:20-21 is a fragment, written from Caesarea, inserted in the Epistle, alluding to his address before the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 22:30; Acts 23:11; B. W. Bacon, The Story of St. Paul, 1905, p. 198ff.). (b) Writing from Rome in his first imprisonment, he says that, although the result of the preliminary hearing was a suspension of judgment, yet he had expectation that he would escape a final condemnation, and that too in the immediate future (A. C. McGiffert, A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, 1897, p. 421). Writing from Rome in his second imprisonment, St. Paul says that at the close of his first imprisonment his pleading was so cogent and convincing that he was set at liberty (Eusebius, HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] ii. 22, 1 Clem. 5; cf. T. Zahn, Introd. to the NT, Eng. translation , 1909, i. 441, ii. 1ff.). (c) After his arrival in Rome the second time, the preliminary investigation had resulted in his remand; but the completion of the trial would not eventuate so favourably (Conybeare-Howson, op. cit. ch. xxvi.; N. J. D. White, op. cit. 181ff.).

4. In the Apocalypse (5:5) the Exalted Christ is presented under the guise of a lion, where the undoubted reference is to Genesis 49:9. He, who had overcome through death and the Resurrection, who had thus opened a way to God’s sovereignty over men, and is therefore alone able to loose the seals of the Divine judgment, i.e. to carry history forward to its consummation, is symbolized by a being of the highest prowess and strength. Yet no sooner has this suggestion of overmastering might become effective than it is withdrawn to give place to another-its exact opposite-that of a lamb as though slain, a symbol of sacrifice and humiliation (see Lamb).

5. The same intimation of majesty and strength occurs in Revelation 4:7, where the Seer is taken up into heaven, and beholds the four and twenty elders about the throne, with the four living creatures, having the likeness respectively of a lion, a calf, the face of a man, and a flying eagle (cf. Ezekiel 1:5 ff. [esp. Ezekiel 1:10] Ezekiel 10:14; also Isaiah 6:1 ff.).

6. The remaining references in the Apocalypse revert to the terrorizing aspect of this king of beasts (Revelation 9:8 [cf. Joel 1:6] Revelation 9:17, Revelation 10:3 [cf. Isaiah 5:29] Revelation 13:2 [cf. Daniel 7:4 ff.]).

C. A. Beckwith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lion'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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