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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The term is employed in apostolic history to designate (1) a large body of water or collection of waters; (2) the Red Sea; (3) the Mediterranean Sea; (4) with γῆ and οὐρανός, the whole created universe; and (5) the ‘sea of glass’ before the throne of God.

1. A large body of water or collection of waters (Acts 27:30; Acts 27:38; Acts 27:40 (41), Acts 28:4, Romans 9:27, 2 Corinthians 11:26, Hebrews 11:12, James 1:6, Judges 1:13, Revelation 7:1-3; Revelation 8:8-9; Revelation 10:2; Revelation 10:5; Revelation 10:8; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 16:3; Revelation 18:17; Revelation 18:19; Revelation 18:21; Revelation 20:8; Revelation 20:13; Revelation 21:1; cf. Acts 27:5, πέλαγος; James 3:7, εὐάλιος).-In the first of these passages, the sailors with Paul on his memorable voyage to Rome, pretending that additional anchors from the prow of the vessel would help to steady the ship, and that they must go off in a boat to carry them out to cables’ length rather than drop them over the prow, ‘lowered the boat into the sea’ (Acts 27:30). But he saw through their scheme and warned the centurion. Later they cast the cargo of wheat into the sea (Acts 27:38); and again they loosened the cables of the anchors and let them fall off into the sea (Acts 27:40). Then, chancing on a sand bank between two seas, in the narrow channel leading into St. Paul’s Bay, between the little island of Salmonetta and the mainland of Melita, they ran the vessel aground (Acts 27:41); Going on shore, the barbarians, seeing a viper clinging to Paul’s hand, regarded him as a murderer, whom, though he had escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice would not suffer to live (Acts 28:4).

Paul was thrice shipwrecked. He also suffered other ‘perils in the sea’ (2 Corinthians 11:26); but he does not pause to specify them. In writing to the Romans he again alludes to the ‘sea.’ Quoting Isaiah 10:22, he says that though Israel be as numerous ‘as the sand of the sea,’ yet it is not the unbelieving many but the faithful few who are the object of God’s care. Only the remnant shall be saved (Romans 9:27). A similar reference is found in Hebrews 11:12, in which the writer emphasized how faith on Abraham’s part brought life out of death, giving him posterity ‘as the sand which is upon the sea shore innumerable.’ On the other hand, another writer describes the doubter as ‘like the surge of the sea’ (ἔοικεν κλύδωνι θαλάσσης, James 1:6), driven by the wind and tossed. The instability of a billow changing rapidly from moment to moment furnishes a wonderfully apt symbol of the mind that cannot steady itself in belief. Jude uses a similar figure when he describes the ungodly and libertines as ‘wild waves of the sea’ (κύματα ἄγρια θαλάσσης, James 1:13) foaming out their own lawlessness and shame (cf. Isaiah 57:20).

John likewise, in the Apocalypse, often uses the term in its natural sense. Thus, no hurt is to befall the earth or the sea until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads; no physical convulsions are to take place until the saints of God are secured (Revelation 7:1-3). On the other hand, judgment is imminent. Pausing in the process of unrolling judgment and consolation, the Seer beholds a strong angel standing like a colossus astride the earth and sea, holding in his hand an open book (Revelation 10:2; Revelation 10:5; Revelation 10:8). He hears woes pronounced upon the earth and sea (Revelation 12:12). A monster dragon comes up out of the sea, as the father of cruelty and blasphemy (Revelation 13:1; cf. Daniel 7:2 ff.). When the second angel sounds, one third of the creatures which are in the sea die (Revelation 8:8-9); when the same angel pours out his bowl into the sea, it becomes blood and every living thing dies (Revelation 16:3). At the fall of Babylon (i.e. Rome) mariners on every hand take up a lamentation because of her commercial loss to the world of trade (Revelation 18:17; Revelation 18:19; Revelation 18:21); while in the final issue of events, after the millennium and after Satan has been loosed to deceive the nations, ‘the number of whom is as the sand of the sea,’ and after he is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, and the dead are summoned to judgment, then, we read, ‘the sea gave up the dead which were in it’-in its great maw-to be judged every man according to his works (Revelation 20:8; Revelation 20:13). But, when heaven is described and the abode of the blessed is portrayed, and a new heaven and a new earth are created, the Seer is careful to say, ‘and the sea is no more’ (Revelation 21:1). This passage is a most instructive witness to the estimate of the sea among the ancient Hebrews. They had a universal horror of it. To them it was a synonym of turbulence, estrangement, hostility, fickleness, isolation, and separation. It was the home of storms and tempests and vague terrors. As a great monster enemy it devoured men; yea, the sea was the prolific mother of monsters. Naturally the sea, therefore, could have no place in an ideal universe. According to Plutarch, the ancient Egyptians regarded the sea as no part of nature, but an alien element full of destruction and disease. The priests of Isis are said to have shunned it as impure and unsocial for swallowing up the sacred Nile. One favourite tradition made the sea disappear in the final conflagration of the world. But John ignores this view, and regards the sea rather as no longer existent. God’s dread opponent, the dragon, he practically says, shall disappear from the abode of the redeemed; and the powers hostile to God, whether men or demons, shall be brought to naught.

2. The Red Sea (Acts 7:36, 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Hebrews 11:29).-In some respects this is the most remarkable body of water on the globe. It is subject to extreme evaporation; and, though no rivers empty into it, it is never exhausted. It is 1350 miles long, and 205 miles broad at its widest part. There are three references to it in apostolic history: (a) Stephen in his memorable apology speaks of Moses thus: ‘This man led them forth, having wrought wonders and signs in Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years’ (Acts 7:36). His argument is that, as Moses’ Divine appointment was attested by signs and wonders, so signs and wonders formed part of the credentials of Christ. (b) Paul also, in writing to the Corinthians, says, ‘For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, how that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea’ (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The Apostle’s point is that ancient Israel started well; all were protected and guided by the cloud; all were safely brought through the sea; all were sealed as by a baptism into trustful allegiance to Moses as their deliverer; yet in the end all except two failed to enter Canaan. Those who sang victory at the crossing of the Red Sea never reached the promised land. (c) A different use is made of the same fact in Hebrews 11:29. The author here emphasizes how faith finds a path in life. ‘By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were swallowed up.’ What the writer means to teach is, that Israel’s passage through the Red Sea was due to the discovery of faith. It was not a path which anyone could find. Indeed, to the Egyptians who had no faith, it became a sea. Hence it is an example of the wonder-working power of faith.

3. The Mediterranean Sea (Acts 10:6; Acts 10:32; Acts 17:14).-The Mediterranean was to the Hebrews ‘the great sea’ (Numbers 34:6). It was probably the largest expanse of water with which they were familiar; it was like a mighty mirror flashing the glories of the sun. Two passages are in point here, though one refers more particularly to the aegean. (a) The first recounts how Cornelius sent to Joppa to fetch Peter, who lodged with one Simon, a tanner, ‘whose house is by the sea side’ (Acts 10:6; Acts 10:32). The sea here alluded to is obviously the Mediterranean. Simon’s house, which doubtless was a very humble abode, was by the sea because there he would have easy access to water; and it was outside the city, at least 50 cubits, because tanning was held to be an ‘unclean’ employment, bringing one constantly into contact with dead animals. (b) The other passage tells how the brethren of BerCEa sent forth Paul, whose safety was in jeopardy, ‘to go as far as to the sea’ (Acts 17:14). The main road from Macedonia to Thessaly bent about the base of Mt. Olympus close along the sea. Whether St. Paul, on arriving at the coast, changed his plan, and, instead of taking ship for Athens at Methone or Pydna, went on foot, it is impossible to say.

4 With γῆ and οὐρανός, the whole created universe (Acts 4:24; Acts 14:15, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 10:6; Revelation 14:7).-For example, in Acts 4:24 ff., after the healing of the lame man, Peter and John, who had been accused and brought before the elders, and charged and even threatened by them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, prayed, ‘O Lord, thou that didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that in them is … grant unto thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness’ (Acts 4:24; Acts 4:29). The opening words were probably not altogether unfamiliar to them, as they seem to have belonged to the earliest known psalm of thanksgiving in the Christian Church (cf. Isaiah 37:16; Isaiah 37:20). In similar language, Barnabas and Paul remonstrated with the men of Lystra, saying, ‘We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, that ye should turn from these vain things unto the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is’ (Acts 14:15). The Lystrans are thus introduced by the apostles to the true and living God. In Revelation 14:7 there is a striking parallel to their summons, the implication being that the God who creates has a right also to judge His creatures. In Revelation 5:13, also, by a sweep of prophetic imagination, even sea-monsters join with departed spirits in a doxology of praise to the Lamb; while in Revelation 10:6 the thought of God’s creatorship, of earth and heaven and sea, prepares the way for the announcement that the God of creation and providence is also a God of judgment.

5. The apocalyptic sea of glass before the throne of God (Revelation 4:6; Revelation 15:2).-The first passage (Revelation 4:6) reminds one of the ‘molten sea’ in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 7:23; 1 Kings 7:39). In fancy the Rabbis compared the shining floor of the Temple to crystal. To John heaven is a sort of glorified Temple, and the crystal pavement is a kind of sea. The figure greatly enhances the splendour of the picture. The Apostle was probably attempting to portray the other with all its clearness and calm, shimmering yet motionless. In the other and only remaining passage (Revelation 15:2) he beholds ‘a glassy sea mingled with fire.’ On its shores the redeemed stand, as the children of Israel did on the shores of the Red Sea, victorious, singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. See, further, next article.

George L. Robinson.

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

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Sea of Galilee