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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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‘Calf’ (Acts 7:41, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:19, Revelation 4:7) should be rendered ‘ox’ or ‘steer.’ 1. The expiatory virtue of sacrifices of blood formed part of the Semitic belief from earliest times. In Leviticus 17:11 the reason given is that the life or soul of the animal is in the blood (cf. Genesis 9:4, Deuteronomy 12:23), which gives piacular efficacy to the sacrifice (see article ‘Sacrifice’ in the Bible Dictionaries). 2. The second of the four living creatures in the Apocalypse had the likeness of an ox, presumably as the symbol of strength. It was certainly for this reason that the bull was chosen as the symbol of Jahweh by Aaron (Acts 7:41) and Jeroboam (B. Duhm, Theol. der Propheten, Bonn, 1875, p. 47; A. Dillmann, Exodus, Berlin, 1880, p. 337; J. Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, Edinburgh, 1892, pp. 215-220; similarly Kuenen and Vatke). The four living creatures remind us of certain of the signs of the zodiac (bull, angel, lion, eagle), and possibly they have some connexion with that source (so Moffatt and Gunkel), Irenaeus (iii. xi. 8) associate the living creatures with the four evangelists, and holds that the ‘calf,’ signifying the priestly and sacrificial character of Jesus, is the symbol of St. Luke. These traditions continued after his time, but there was considerable variety in the application of the symbols (see Zahn, Forschungen, Erlangen, 1881-1903, ii. 257ff.; Swete, Gospel according to St. Mark 2, London, 1902, p. xxxvi ff.).

F. W. Worsley.

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

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