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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Thorns Thistles

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(ἄκανθα, τρίβολος, σκόλοψ)

Apart from the Gospels, thorns or thistles are alluded to only twice in the NT. In Hebrews 6:8 ἄκανθα, ‘thorn,’ and τρίβολος, ‘brier,’ occur together. The writer exhorts his readers to be steadfast in the faith, and reminds them of the spiritual blessings which they have received. Just as the earth ‘which drinketh in the rain that Cometh off upon it,’ and in spite of that ‘beareth thorns and briers, is rejected,’ so too will those who, endowed with all blessings and graces from above, fail to bring forth the fruits of righteousness. The term for ‘bearing’ in this passage is ἐκφέρουσα, and in contrast with the normal term τίκτουσα in Hebrews 6:7 indicates something which is unnatural. It is contrary to nature for a field which has been duly planted with good seed, and subsequently cared for and watered, to yield thorns and briers. It is equally unnatural for those in whom the spirit of truth has been planted, and who have received similar care and attention, to fall away and abandon the faith thus planted.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 the word used is σκόλοψ, ‘stake.’ St. Paul writes that he has been given a ‘stake for the flesh-the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.’ St. Paul elsewhere (Romans 6:6; Romans 8:13) recognizes the need for mortifying or crucifying the flesh, while in 1 Corinthians 5:5, as here, he alludes to Satan’s derived power for inflicting pain and suffering, a power which Satan, however, is impelled to use for the accomplishment of man’s ultimate salvation. Opinions differ as to the nature of the stake for the flesh here alluded to, but there can be no doubt that it was a bodily ailment (cf. Lightfoot, Galatians 5, p. 189f.). It may possibly have been a permanent affection of his eyesight (cf. Galatians 4:15), or it may have been malaria, which would perhaps explain St. Paul’s statement that he first visited Galatia on account of an infirmity in his flesh (Galatians 4:13), or it may have been a form of epilepsy.

Thorns and thistles of various kinds are found all over Palestine. They cover fallow ground, and must be burnt before the ground can be ploughed. Prickly plants are used as hedges, and they also form the regular food of camels and goats.

Literature.-The Speaker’s Commentary, iii. [London, 1881] 469 f.; B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, do., 1889, p. 152 f.; J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians 5, do., 1876, p. 186 ff.; Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , pp. 600, 688; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 753; Encyclopaedia Biblica ii. 1456, iii. 3620.

P. S. P. Handcock.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Thorns Thistles'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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