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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Vision

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In modern English, ‘vision,’ from Lat. videre, ‘to see.’ is almost synonymous with ‘sight,’ but in the older use of the word the conception is that of images presented to the more or less abnormal states of consciousness, and generally produced by supernatural agency. The latter is the sense in which the Bible uses the term. It is the distinctive function of the seer (תֹוָה and רֹאָה) to see visions, and those isolated and exalted persons are well represented by Samuel, who is the only seer known to us by his proper name. In his childhood, we are told, the vision (חָווֹן) was not widely diffused (1 Samuel 3:1). The same word for ‘vision’ is found in Proverbs 29:18 in the statement ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish,’ or ‘cast off restraint.’ Words from the same roots are frequently employed in Daniel and Ezekiel. Jeremiah warns the people against the visions of false prophets which are elaborated out of the uninspired minds of those whom God had not sent (Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:16).

In the OT it is evident that visions, though often associated with dreams (Joel 2:28), are to be distinguished from them. Whilst dreams may be the medium for God’s revelations, by way of ‘special providences’ during sleep, visions may occur during waking moments and by the exaltation or perhaps the transcendence of the natural powers of sight. A vision is thus the ‘sight’ or perception of spiritual realities, communicated either by means of the illumination or exaltation of the natural senses or by immediate consciousness through the supersession of them. It may be said that the evolution of the prophet in the OT involves a change from the state of rapture or ecstasy to that of ethical interpretation. Some writers affirm that the imagery of the revelation is supplied, in the case of the later prophets, by their own illuminated thought, whilst the truths themselves in more abstract form were the material of the communication. Whether this be so or not it is difficult to determine, inasmuch as the cases of vision in the NT and in more recent times imply a direct presentation in a concrete or personal form, or as an image before the consciousness.

The usual words in the NT are ὄραμα and ὀπτασία, the latter probably having a less objective significance than the former. In the report given to our Lord by the two disciples on their way to Emmaus of the vision of angels seen by the women, the word ὀπτασία is used (Luke 24:23). When St. Paul referred before Agrippa to the heavenly vision he spoke of the ὀπτασία (Acts 26:19), but in the account of the actual occurrence given by St. Luke the word ὄραμα was used (Acts 9:10; Acts 9:12). That this word connotes a high degree of reality and objectivity is evidenced by the fact that it was used by our Lord when, referring to the Transfiguration, He warned His disciples to tell the vision (ὄραμα) to no man (Matthew 17:9). Peter’s vision, whilst it conveyed to him God’s revelation as to his treatment of the conscientious Gentile, was presented in a concrete form, the objectivity of which seems never to have been questioned (Acts 10). On the other hand, when he doubted the actuality of the presence of the angel (Acts 12:9), and the deliverance which had been wrought, he thought he had seen a vision (ὄραμα).

Probably no recital of visions engaged the minds of the Christians in the 1st (if the earlier date be accepted) or the 2nd cent. more than that of ‘The Shepherd of Hermas,’ in which, somewhat after the style of Dante’s Divina Commedia, teachings are presented for the instruction of the Church. The ‘Shepherd’ is the divine teacher, who imparts his lessons by means of precept and allegory, and the Church appears as an aged woman, whose features become increasingly youthful the oftener she is gazed upon.

Literature.-Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , articles ‘Vision’ and ‘Prophecy’; Shepherd of Hermas (Lightfoot [Apostolic Fathers, London, 1891] and other editions); F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, do., 1907.

J. G. James.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Vision'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/v/vision.html. 1906-1918.

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