The concept of the crown originates from a cap, turban, or more formal metallic crown that was decorated with jewels. Its placement on one's head indicated that one was set apart (nezer [r,zEn]) for a particular task or calling. Such crowns were used for the high priest ( Exod 29:6 ; 39:30 ; Lev 8:9 ) or for kings of Israel ( 2 Sam 1:10 ; 2 Kings 11:12 ; Psalm 89:39 ; 132:18 ). The crown indicated the consecrated role of its wearer, since it could be profaned ( Psalm 89:39 ). In the case of the king it also reflected his exalted position ( Psalm 89:19-20 ).
Besides the concept of consecration and exaltation, a second term for crown in the Old Testament (atara) indicated the presence of honor. In some cases it pictured the reception of honor because one entered into a special position. Wives were crowned with honor to show their new status, as is indicated in the metaphorical picture of Israel married to God ( Eze 16:12 ). To remove the crown was an indication of shame ( Eze 21:26 ). In other cases, the crown indicated the presence of honor as a cause for glory and joy. These are more metaphorical uses. So a good wife is a crown to her husband ( Prov 12:4 ). So also are grandchildren ( Prov 17:6 ), living to old age ( Prov 16:31 ), riches ( Prov 14:24 ), or a good harvest ( Psalm 65:11 ). God is also a crown in this sense. To experience the blessing of his character and activity on one's behalf is said to be a crown. So his lovingkindness and mercy can be a crown ( Psalm 103:4 ), as can mere relationship with him ( Isa 28:5 ).
In the New Testament the image changes, since the major term for crown is stephanos [stevfano"], which referred in secular contexts either to the victory garland at a race of the sovereign crown that the Roman conqueror wore. This term is used eighteen times in the New Testament.
The image of the crown in Paul's writings is developed in detail in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 with his image of the race and the perishable crown that the victor wins. In contrast to that crown stands the imperishable crown that goes to the Christian who completes the race. The crown is an honor received as a cause of joy. Its unfading character is highlighted in Peter's description of the "unfading crown of glory" ( 1 Pe 5:4 ). In cases where the crown bears a description, like "crown of righteousness, " the characteristics described represent what is acknowledged as present by God. In other words, God does not hand out literal crowns, but offers the acknowledged honor of the presence of this characteristic in the believer for eternity. So we have the crown that is life ( James 1:12 ; Rev 2:10 ). There is also the crown that is glory in 1pe 5:4, the crown that is righteousness in 2 Timothy 4:8, and the crown that is rejoicing in 1 Thessalonians 2:19. In these uses the image is much like the Old Testament examples from Psalm 103:4 and Isaiah 28:5.
A second New Testament use looks back at the crown as honoring rule or sovereignty. Negative images exist alongside positive ones in Revelation. So the locusts wear crowns ( Rev 9:7 ), as does the woman of Revelation 12:1 and the beast and the dragon ( 12:3 ; 13:1 ). Here is negative, destructive sovereignty. Other images indicate honor and sovereignty of those who stand on the side of God or judgment, such as the elders of 4:4, 10 and the white horse of judgment in 6:2. But in contrast to all these images, both negative and positive, stands the one who is crowned with many crowns, Jesus ( 19:12 ). His superior authority is indicated by the multiplicity of crowns he wears. The honor and consecration he has, as well as his authority are unique.
The many crowns image also contrasts poignantly with the one crown image in the Gospels, where Jesus wears a crown of thorns. This image is designed to mock Jesus' claims to kingship. The biblical reply to that mocking image of the Passion is the decisive image of Revelation 19 and what it represents.
Darrell L. Bock
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Crown'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".