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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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CHAINS.—The usual NT word for ‘chain’ is ἅλυσις. πέδαι (Mark 5:4 Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 fetters) are for binding the feet. δεσμός is a more general term, meaning anything to tie or fasten. Authorized Version renders δεσμοί, ‘chains,’ in Judges 1:6, but Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 substitutes ‘bonds.’ For critical reasons ‘chains’ disappears from 2 Peter 2:4.

In NT chains invariably denote instruments for binding, or restraining the liberty of the person, e.g. the demoniac (Mark 5:3), St. Peter (Acts 12:8), the dragon (Revelation 20:1). Imbeciles appear always to have received consideration, if not even reverence, in the East; but demoniacs, and persons suffering from certain forms of delirium, have been treated with horrible cruelty. Often they are loaded with chains and bound to a staple firmly fixed in the ground. The tortures applied are ostensibly for the purpose of driving out the evil spirit that possesses them.

Under the Roman law, vincula, was a form of punishment, or of safe custody. The prisoner was chained to a soldier, who was responsible for his safe keeping. The chain was fastened round the right wrist of the prisoner and the left wrist of his guard. To this chain St. Paul refers (Acts 28:20, 2 Timothy 1:16). For greater safety two soldiers might be assigned as guards to one prisoner, a hand of each being chained to one of his. Thus St. Peter was confined in the stormy days of the persecution (Acts 12:6); and St. Paul, when Lysias thought him a dangerous person (Acts 21:33). The use of πέδαι in their modern form may be seen to-day at Acre, in the groups of Turkish prisoners chained together by the ankles.

W. Ewing.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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

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