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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Vanity; Vanities

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van´i - ti , van´i - tiz ( הבל , hebhel , און , 'āwen , שׁוא , shāw' ; κενός , kenós ; ματαιότης , mataiótēs ): The words "vain," "vanity," "vanities" are frequent in the Bible. Their idea is almost exclusively that of "evanescence," "emptiness," including "idolatry" and "wickedness" as being not only evil but vain and empty things. They also signify falseness. The chief word translated "vanity," "vanities" is hebhel , a "breath of air, or of the mouth," often applied to idolatry ( Deuteronomy 32:21 ; 1 Kings 16:13 ; Psalm 31:6 ; Jeremiah 8:19 , etc.); to man's days and to man himself (Job 7:16 ; Psalm 39:5 , Psalm 39:11 , etc.); to man's thoughts (Psalm 94:11 ); to wealth and treasures (Proverbs 13:11 ; Proverbs 21:6 ); to everything, in Ecclesiastes, where the word occurs frequently in various applications: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2 ; Ecclesiastes 12:8 ). Hebhel is also the name of Adam's second son (Genesis 4:2 ). 'Āwen , meaning also "breath," is likewise translated "vanity" in similar connections, but it inclines more to "iniquity" (so often rendered); it is joined with mischief and iniquity (Isaiah 41:29 ; Isaiah 58:9 ; Zechariah 10:2 ); another frequent word is shāw' , having also the idea of "falsity,... wickedness" (Exodus 20:7 ; Deuteronomy 5:11 ; Psalm 31:6 , etc.).

"Vanity" does not often occur in the New Testament; but see VAIN , VAINGLORY . In Acts 14:15 we have mátaios , "empty," translated "vanities" (of idols); mataiotēs , "emptiness," "transitoriness" (Romans 8:20 , "The creation was subjected to vanity," frailty, transitoriness); "emptiness," "folly" (Ephesians 4:17 ; 2 Peter 2:18 ).

Among other changes for "vanity" the Revised Version (British and American) has "iniquity" (Job 15:35 ; Psalm 10:7 ); "falsehood" (Psalm 12:2 ; Psalm 41:6 ); "deceit" (Psalm 144:8 , Psalm 144:11 ); "vapor" (Proverbs 21:6 ); "calamity" (Proverbs 22:8 margin "vanity"); "a breath" ( Isaiah 57:13 ); "wickedly" (Isaiah 58:9 ). Conversely, for "Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?" (Psalm 89:47 ), "For what vanity hast thou created all the children of men!"; for "Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing" (Isaiah 41:29 ), "Behold, all of them, their works are vanity and nought," margin as the King James Version, with "nought" for "nothing."

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Vanity; Vanities'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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