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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


THORNS.—Palestine is unusually rich in acanthous plants. As many as 50 genera and 200 species occur in Palestine and Syria, ‘besides a multitude clothed with scabrous, strigose, or stinging hairs, and another multitude with prickly fruits’ (Post in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 753). In the OT references to thorns are numerous, and many different words are used to express them. But the vocabulary, though full, is very indefinite, many of the terms employed being as vague and general as our own English word ‘thorns.’ We have the reflex of this uncertain terminology in Authorized and Revised Versions , which renders almost indiscriminately by ‘thistle,’ ‘thorn,’ or ‘bramble,’ a single Hebrew word. In the NT three terms occur, viz. ἄκανθα, τρίβολος, and σκόλοψ. The last-named is found only in 2 Corinthians 12:7 ‘There was given to me a thorn (σκόλοψ) in the flesh,’ but in this instance the rendering should rather be ‘stake’ or ‘pale.’ The second (τρίβολος) has already been explained (see Thistles). It remains that we should consider ἄκανθα (Matthew 7:16; Matthew 13:7; Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:7; Mark 4:18, Luke 6:44; Luke 8:7; Luke 8:14, John 19:2, Hebrews 6:8), which is invariably translated ‘thorns.’ Strictly speaking, this term denotes Acanthus spinosus, a Showy perennial with deeply indented and spiny leaves, and bearing white flowers tinged with pink. In the NT, however, it is a quite general term for all thorny or prickly plants, and is applied to bushes and weeds alike. Among the most common are thorny Astragali, which abound in the higher mountainous regions, and many species of Acacia, Eryngium, Rhamnus, Rubus, Solanum, etc. Some of them, such as Poterium spinosum and Rhamnus punctata, are found in all parts of the country. In our Third Gospel mention is made of the bramble (βάτος, Luke 6:44). This may quite possibly be the common bramble (Rubus fruticosus), which is found in many parts of Palestine. It is noteworthy, however, that, except in this one passage, βάτος is always rendered ‘bush,’ and is used only of the ‘burning bush’ of Moses (Mark 12:26, Luke 20:37 etc.). The corresponding Heb. word (מְנֶה) is similarly restricted in its use. As the bramble is not found on Horeb (Sinai), it has been thought by some that the ‘bush’ was a kind of acacia. For the crown of thorns which was set in mockery on the head of Christ (John 19:2), see Crown of Thorns.

Much might easily be said regarding the symbolism of thorns in the Scriptures. But it may be sufficient merely to note that they were regarded as the direct consequence of human sin, and so became the natural symbols of sin and the sufferings in which it issues (Genesis 3:18, Numbers 33:55, Proverbs 22:5 etc.). In the light of this symbolism there is an apt pathos and beauty in the fact that Christ was crowned with thorns (see Cox, An Expositor’s Note Book, 349 ff.; and Earl Lytton, Fables in Song, i.).

Hugh Duncan.

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

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