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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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CAPTAIN.—1. This word is the Authorized Version rendering of two Greek terms in the Gospels:—(1) χιλίαρχος, properly ‘leader of a thousand’ (John 18:12, Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘chief captain,’ (Revised Version margin) ‘military tribune’; see also Mark 6:21, Acts 21:31-33; Acts 21:37; Acts 22:24; Acts 22:26-29; Acts 23:10; Acts 23:15; Acts 23:17-19; Acts 23:22; Acts 24:7; Acts 24:22-23, Revelation 6:15; Revelation 19:18). (2) στρατηγός, properly ‘leader of an army,’ ‘general’ (Luke 22:4; Luke 22:52; see also Acts 4:1; Acts 5:24; Acts 5:26).

1. χιλίαρχος is used (a) in a vague general sense of a superior military officer, and (b) technically as the Greek equivalent of the Roman prœfeetus or tribunus militum. The Roman garrison in the citadel at Jerusalem, consisting of a cohort (τάγμα = NT σπεῖρα, ‘band’ [καθῆστο γἁρ ἀεὶ ἐπʼ αὑτῆς τάγμα Ῥωμαίων, Josephus BJ v. v. 8]) of provincial troops, Syrian Greeks, and Samaritans, whose commandant would be a civis Romanus (Acts 22:28), while they would be presented with the Imperial franchise on their discharge, was reinforced during the Passover by additional troops which were stationed in one of the Temple buildings (Mommsen, Prov. Rom. [Note: Roman.] Emp., English translation ii. 186). The χιλίαρχος is also called φρούραρχος by Josephus (Ant. xv. xi. 4, xviii. iv. 3); see Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. ii. 55. The legion consisting normally of 6000 men, the six tribuni took command for two months in turn. Palestine, however, being a Roman province of the second rank, did not possess a full legionary garrison. Mommsen gives its strength, at a subsequent period, as consisting of a detachment (ala) of cavalry and five cohorts of infantry, or about 3000 men.

2. στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ, the commandant of the Temple Levites. Josephus mentions the ‘captain’ (στρατηγός) of the Levitical guard in the time of Claudius (Ant. xx. vi. 2), and in that of Trajan (BJ vi. v. 3). Possibly the officers (ὑπηρέται) who assisted in the arrest of Jesus (John 18:3; cf. John 7:32; cf. John 7:45) belonged to this body. This ‘captain’ of the Temple (2 Maccabees 3:4 ὁ προστάτης τοῦ ἰεροῦ) is mentioned in Jeremiah 20:1 LXX Septuagint as ἡγούμενος and in Nehemiah 11:11 as ἀπέναντι τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ ‘the ruler of the house of God’ (Vulgate prineeps domus Dei Dei = איש הר הבת Mishna, Middoth i. § 2). The duty of this ‘captain of the mount of the Temple’ was to keep order in the Temple, visit the stations of the guard during the night, and see that the sentries were duly posted and alert. He and his immediate subalterns are supposed to be intended by the ‘rulers’ (ἄρχοντες) mentioned in Ezra 9:2 and Neh. passim (στρατηγοί or ἄρχοντες). See Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 258. The chief constable of this priestly corps of Temple police was naturally himself a Levite.

Literature—Josephus, Ant. x viii. 5, xv xi. 4, xviii. iv. 3, xx vi. 2, BJ v. v. 8, vi. v. 3; Schurer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. ii. 55, ii. i. 258; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, article ‘Captain.’

P. Henderson Aitken.

II. Besides these two military or semi-military uses of ‘captain’ in the Gospels, we have to notice the employment of the term as a title for Christ in Hebrews 2:10 (Authorized Version and (Revised Version margin)) and Hebrews 12:2 ((Revised Version margin)). In both cases the corresponding word in the Greek text is ἀρχηγός, a word which otherwise is found in the NT only in Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31 (both times in Acts applied to Christ, and in each case rendered ‘Prince,’ with ‘Author’ as a marginal alternative in Acts 3:15).

In accordance with its derivation (ἀρχή and ἡγέομαι), ἁρχηγός originally meant a leader, and so naturally came to be applied to a prince or chief. From this the transition was easy to the further meaning of a first cause or author, which is not infrequent in the philosophical writers. For the ‘Captain’ of Authorized Version in Hebrews 2:10, Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 substitutes ‘author,’ giving ‘captain’ in the margin; and in Hebrews 12:2 both VSS [Note: SS Versions.] have ‘author,’ though Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 again gives ‘captain’ as a marginal rendering.

But when Jesus is called ἀρχηγὸς τῆς σωτηρίας (Hebrews 2:10), the meaning is not merely that He is the Author of our salvation. The context suggests that the idea of a leader going before his saved ones (cf. Hebrews 6:20) ought to be adhered to (see Davidson, Hebrews, ad loc.). Similarly when He is called τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγός (Hebrews 12:2), the idea is that of one who has led the way along the path of faith. In both cases the term ‘Captain’ may be unsuitable, since it is apt to suggest military images which had no place in the writer’s mind; but ‘leader,’ at all events, should be retained, since the idea of leadership and not of authorship seems best to express his purpose (see Bruce, Expositor, 3rd ser. viii. [1888] p. 451). For a full treatment of the subject in its apologetic and homiletic aspects, Bruce’s chapter on ‘The Captain of Salvation’ (op. cit. pp. 447–461) should be read in whole.

Literature.—The Lexicons of Grimm-Thayer and Cremer, s.v.; W. R. Smith in Expos. 2nd ser. [1881] ii. 422; D. Brown, ib. 5th ser. [1895] ii. 434 ff. See also C. J. Vaughan, P. Rendall, and B. F. Westcott on Hebrews 2:10; J. A. Selbie in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 102a; and P. H. Chase, Credibility of the Acts, 129 f.

J. C. Lambert.

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

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