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Light [N] [T] [E]

Light always involves the removal of darkness in the unfolding of biblical history and theology. The contrast of light and darkness is common to all of the words for "light" in both Old and New Testaments (esp. Heb. or [r/a]; Gk. phos [fw'"]). The literal contrast between metaphysical good and evil, God and evil forces, believers and unbelievers. The Bible entertains no thought that darkness is equal in power to God's light. God is the absolute Sovereign who rules over the darkness and the powers of evil.

Light Is Good. The importance of light and darkness is dramatically presented in the opening sentences of the biblical record. In response to the darkness that was over the surface of the deep ( Gen 1:2 ), God spoke and light came into being. Darkness and light are evocative words in Hebrew. Darkness evokes everything that is anti-God: the wicked ( Prov 2:13 ), judgment ( Exod 10:21 ), death ( Psalm 88:12 ). Light is the first of the Creator's works, manifesting the divine operation in a world that is darkness and chaos without it. While light is not itself divine, it is often used metaphorically for life ( Psalm 56:13 ), salvation ( Isa 9:2 ), the commandments ( Prov 6:23 ), and the divine presence of God ( Exod 10:23 ). In the first creative act, "God saw that the light was good" ( Gen 1:3 ).

God Is Light. If light represents goodness in antithesis to the evil associated with darkness, it is a natural step for the biblical authors to understand God, the ultimate good, as light. Light symbolizes the holy God. Light signifies God's presence and favor ( Psalm 27:1 ; Isa 9:2 ; 2 Cor 4:6 ) in contrast to God's judgment ( Amos 5:18 ). Throughout the Old Testament light is regularly associated with God and his word, with salvation, with goodness, with truth, with life. The New Testament resonates with these themes, so that the holiness of God is presented in such a way that it is said that God "lives in unapproachable light" ( 1 Tim 6:16 ). God is light ( 1 John 1:5 ) and the Father of lights ( James 1:17 ) who dispels darkness.

The Johannine writings gather up the Old Testament understanding of light and show its summation in Jesus Christ (thirty-three of the seventy-two occurrences of phos [fw'"] in the New Testament are found in the Johannine literature). Light is the revelation of God's love in Jesus Christ and the penetration of that love into lives darkened by sin ( 1 John 1:5-7 ). Jesus declares that he is "the light of the world" ( John 8:12 ; 9:5 ). Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, who has come as the light that enlightens all people ( John 1:4-14 ), so that those believing in him will no longer be in darkness ( 12:46 ).

Paul concurs as he harks back to the creation account: "For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, ' make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" ( 2 Cor 4:6 ). Through the Word of God light came into existence ( Gen 1:1-3 ), and through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ the Word brought light to humanity.

The Light of Salvation and Life for Believers Those responding to the light are ushered into the sphere of life in which darkness is dispelled. Salvation brings light to those in darkness ( Job 22:28 ; Psalm 27:1 ; Isa 9:2 ; Matt 4:15-16 ). Jesus Christ is life-giving light, in whom is life ( John 1:4 ), and those who follow him "will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" ( John 8:12 ). Believers are "sons of light" ( John 12:36 ; Eph 5:8 ; 1 Thess 5:5 ).

Light possesses powers essential to true life. Hence "to be in the light" means simply "to live" — both life eternal and life temporal. The one who has come into the light of Jesus Christ is brought into the ethical life characterized by light (cf. Luke 16:8 ; John 3:19-21 ; 12:36 ; 2 Cor 6:14 ; Col 1:12-14 ; 1 Thess 5:5 ; 1 Peter 2:9 ). The godly person enjoys the light of life in the present age ( 1 Jo 2:10 ). Paul intentionally contrasts the old life in darkness with new life in the light in Christ Jesus ( Eph 4:17-24 ). Although Satan can disguise himself as "an angel of light, " Christians live in the true light of salvation, laying aside the deeds of darkness and putting on the protective "armor of light" ( Rom 13:12 ). The revealed will of God provides light to the heart, soul, and mind of humanity, providing guidance in a dark world ( Psalm 19:7-10 ; Psalms 119:105 Psalms 119:130 ). A stark contrast will characterize the old life and the new: "For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true" ( Eph 5:8-9 ). The truly Christian life is a life of light.

A Light to the World. God is light, who dispels the darkness of this world. Jesus came as the light of the world, breaking through the darkness of sin by his work on the cross. It follows that believers are a light to the world as well. Jesus describes his disciples as light and light-bearers ( Matt 5:14-16 ). Paul indicates to believers in Asia Minor and Macedonia that their lives are a shining light of witness to the world around them ( Eph 5:8 ; Php 2:15 ). It is the task of all believers to pass on the divine light they have received. What they have received in the secret intimacy of the community of believers they are to proclaim fearlessly "in the light" of public ( Matt 10:27 ; Luke 12:3 ). All those who have entered into the light now bear responsibility as missionaries of Christ, shining out as "lights in a dark world" with the light of God himself ( Php 2:15 ).

The Light Yet to Come. While both the Old Testament and New Testament describe the future of the ungodly in terms of eschatological darkness, symbolizing perdition, they equally describe the future glory for believers in terms of light. In the New Jerusalem there will be no more night ( Rev 22:5 ), and the city will not need the sun, moon, or created light to shine on it, "for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light" ( Rev 21:23-24 ). The prophetic word of God is what brings hope of the light yet to come, and Peter provides an appropriate admonition: "You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in you hearts" ( 2 Peter 1:19 ). At the future appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ all darkness will be dispelled, and believers will walk in purity, peace, and joy in the light of the living God.

Michael J. Wilkins

Bibliography. E. R. Achtemeier, Int 17 (1963): 439-49; F. G. Carver, Wesleyan Theological Journal23 (1986): 7-32; H. Conzelmann, TDNT, 9:310-58; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology; H.-C. Hahn et al., NIDNTT, 2:484-96; G. Hawthorne, R. P. Martin, and D. G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Light'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Light [N] [T] [B]

the offspring of the divine command ( Genesis 1:3 ). "All the more joyous emotions of the mind, all the pleasing sensations of the frame, all the happy hours of domestic intercourse were habitually described among the Hebrews under imagery derived from light" ( 1 Kings 11:36 ; Isaiah 58:8 ; Esther 8:16 ; Psalms 97:11 ). Light came also naturally to typify true religion and the felicity it imparts ( Psalms 119:105 ; Isaiah 8:20 ; Matthew 4:16 , etc.), and the glorious inheritance of the redeemed ( Colossians 1:12 ; Revelation 21:23-25 ). God is said to dwell in light inaccessible ( 1 Timothy 6:16 ). It frequently signifies instruction ( Matthew 5:16 ; John 5:35 ). In its highest sense it is applied to Christ as the "Sun of righteousness" ( Malachi 4:2 ; Luke 2:32 ; John 1:7-9 ). God is styled "the Father of lights" ( James 1:17 ). It is used of angels ( 2 Corinthians 11:14 ), and of John the Baptist, who was a "burning and a shining light" ( John 5:35 ), and of all true disciples, who are styled "the light of the world" ( Matthew 5:14 ).

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Light". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .


lit ('or, ma'or; phos; many other words):

1. Origin of Light

2. A Comprehensive Term

(1) Natural Light

(2) Artificial Light

(3) Miraculous Light

(4) Mental, Moral, Spiritual Light

3. An Attribute of Holiness

(1) God

(2) Christ

(3) Christians

(4) The Church

4. Symbolism

5. Expressive Terms

1. Origin of Light:

The creation of light was the initial step in the creation of life. "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3) was the first word of God spoken after His creative Spirit "moved" upon the primary material out of which He created the heavens and the earth, and which lay, until the utterance of that word, in the chaos of darkness and desolation. Something akin, possibly, to the all-pervasive electro-magnetic activity of the aurora borealis penetrated the chaotic night of the world. The ultimate focusing of light (on the 4th day of creation, Genesis 1:14) in suns, stars, and solar systems brought the initial creative process to completion, as the essential condition of all organic life. The origin of light thus finds its explanation in the purpose and very nature of God whom John defines as not only the Author of light but, in an all-inclusive sense, as light itself:

"God is light" (1John 1:5).

2. A Comprehensive Term:

The word "light" is Divinely rich in its comprehensiveness and meaning. Its material splendor is used throughout the Scriptures as the symbol and synonym of all that is luminous and radiant in the mental, moral and spiritual life of men and angels; while the eternal God, because of His holiness and moral perfection, is pictured as "dwelling in light unapproachable" (1 Timothy 6:16). Every phase of the word, from the original light in the natural world to the spiritual glory of the celestial, is found in Holy Writ.

(1) Natural Light.

The light of day (Genesis 1:5); of sun, moon and stars; "lights in the firmament" (Genesis 1:14-18; Psalms 74:16; 136:7; 148:3; Ecclesiastes 12:2; Revelation 22:5). Its characteristics are beauty, radiance, utility. It "rejoiceth the heart" (Proverbs 15:30); "Truly the light is sweet" (Ecclesiastes 11:7); without it men stumble and are helpless (John 11:9,10); it is something for which they wait with inexpressible longing (Job 30:26; compare Psalms 130:6). Life, joy, activity and all blessings are dependent upon light.

Light and life are almost synonymous to the inhabitants of Palestine, and in the same way darkness and death. Theirs is the land of sunshine. When they go to other lands of clouded skies their only thought is to return to the brightness and sunshine of their native land. In Palestine there is hardly a day in the whole year when the sun does not shine for some part of it, while for five months of the year there is scarcely an interruption of the sunshine. Time is reckoned from sunset to sunset. The day's labor closes with the coming of darkness. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening" (Psalms 104:23).

The suddenness of the change from darkness to light with the rising sun and the disappearance of the sun in the evening is more striking than in more northern countries, and it is not strange that in the ancient days there should have arisen a worship of the sun as the giver of light and happiness, and that Job should mention the enticement of sun-worship when he "beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness" (Job 31:26). The severest plague in Egypt next to the slaying of the firstborn was the plague of darkness which fell upon the Egyptians (Exodus 10:23). This love of light finds expression in both Old Testament and New Testament in a very extensive use of the word to express those things which are most to be desired and most helpful to man, and in this connection we find some of the most beautiful figures in the Bible.

(2) Artificial Light.

When natural light fails, man by discovery or invention provides himself with some temporary substitute, however dim and inadequate. The ancient Hebrews had "oil for the light" (Exodus 25:6; 35:8; Leviticus 24:2) and lamps (Exodus 35:14; Matthew 5:15). "There were many lights. (lampas) in the upper chamber" at Troas, where Paul preached until midnight (Acts 20:8); so Jeremiah 25:10 the Revised Version (British and American), "light of the lamp;" the King James Version, "candle."

(3) Miraculous Light.

When the appalling plague of "thick darkness," for three days, enveloped the Egyptians, terrified and rendered them helpless, "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" (Exodus 10:23). Whether the darkness was due to a Divinely-ordered natural cause or the light was the natural light of day, the process that preserved the interspersed Israelites from the encompassing darkness was supernatural. Miraculous, also, even though through natural agency, was the "pillar of fire" that gave light to the Israelites escaping from Pharaoh (Exodus 13:21; 14:20; Psalms 78:14), "He led them .... all the night with a light of fire." Supernatural was the effulgence at Christ's transfiguration that made "his garments .... white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). Under the same category Paul classifies `the great light' that `suddenly shone round about him from heaven' on the way to Damascus (Acts 22:6; compare Acts 9:3). In these rare instances the supernatural light was not only symbolic of an inner spiritual light, but instrumental, in part at least, in revealing or preparing the way for it.

(4) Mental, Moral, Spiritual Light.

The phenomena of natural light have their counterpart in the inner life of man. Few words lend themselves with such beauty and appropriateness to the experiences, conditions, and radiance of the spiritual life. For this reason the Scriptures use "light" largely in the figurative sense. Borrowed from the natural world, it is, nevertheless, inherently suited to portray spiritual realities. In secular life a distinct line of demarcation is drawn between intellectual and spiritual knowledge and illumination. Education that enlightens the mind may leave the moral man untouched. This distinction rarely obtains in the Bible, which deals with man as a spiritual being and looks upon his faculties as interdependent in their action.

(a) A few passages, however, refer to the light that comes chiefly to the intellect or mind through Divine instruction, e.g. Psalms 119:130, "The opening of thy words giveth light"; so Proverbs 6:23, "The law is light." Even here the instruction includes moral as well as mental enlightenment.

(b) Moral:

Job 24:13,16 has to do exclusively with man's moral attitude to truth: "rebel against the light"; "know not the light." Isaiah 5:20 describes a moral confusion and blindness, which cannot distinguish light from darkness.

(c) For the most part, however, light and life go together. It is the product of salvation:

"Yahweh is my light and my salvation" (Psalms 27:1). "Light," figuratively used, has to do preeminently with spiritual life, including also the illumination that floods all the faculties of the soul: intellect, conscience, reason, will. In the moral realm the enlightenment of these faculties is dependent wholly on the renewal of the spirit. "In thy light .... we see light" (Psalms 36:9); "The life was the light of men" (John 1:4).

Light is an attribute of holiness, and thus a personal quality. It is the outshining of Deity.

3. An Attribute of Holiness:

(1) God.

"God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1John 1:5). Darkness is the universal symbol and condition of sin and death; light the symbol and expression of holiness. "The light of Israel will be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame" (Isaiah 10:17). God, by His presence and grace, is to us a "marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9). The glory of His holiness and presence is the "everlasting light" of the redeemed in heaven (Isaiah 60:19,20; Revelation 21:23,14; 22:5).

(2) Christ.

Christ, the eternal Word (logos, John 1:1), who said "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), is Himself the "effulgence of (God's) glory" (Hebrews 1:3), "the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world" (John 1:9) (compare the statements concerning Wisdom in The Wisdom of Solomon 7:25 f and concerning Christ in Hebrews 1:3; and see CREEDS; LOGOS; JOHANNINE THEOLOGY; WISDOM). As the predicted Messiah, He was to be "for alight of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). His birth was the fulfillment of this prophecy (Luke 2:32). Jesus called Himself "the light of the world" (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46); As light He was "God .... manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16 the King James Version). "The Word was God" (John 1:1). Jesus as logos is the eternal expression of God as a word is the expression of a thought. In the threefold essence of His being God is Life (zoe) (John 5:26; 6:57); God is Love (agape) (1John 4:8); God is Light (phos) (1John 1:5). Thus Christ, the logos, manifesting the three aspects of the Divine Nature, is Life, Love and Light, and these three are inseparable and constitute the glory. which the disciples beheld in Him, "glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (John 1:14). In revealing and giving life, Christ becomes "the light of men" (John 1:4). God gives "the light of the knowledge of (his) glory in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6), and this salvation is called "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4). Christ is thus the Teacher, Enlightener ("Christ shall give thee light," Ephesians 5:14 the King James Version), Guide, Saviour of men.

(3) Christians.

All who catch and reflect the light of God and of Christ are called "light," "lights."

(a) John the Baptist:

"a burning and a shining light" (John 5:35 the King James Version). It is significant that this pre-Christian prophet was termed luchnos, while the disciples of the new dispensation are called phos (Matthew 5:14): "Ye are the light of the world."

(b) Henceforth Christians and saints were called "children of light" (Luke 16:8; John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8), and were expected to be "seen as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15).

(c) The Jew who possessed the law mistakenly supposed he was "a light of them that are in darkness" (Romans 2:19).

(4) The Church.

Zion was to "shine" because her `light had come' (Isaiah 60:1). The Gentiles were to come to her light (Isaiah 60:3). Her mission as the enlightener of the world was symbolized in the ornamentations of her priesthood. The Urim of the high priest's breastplate signified light, and the name itself is but the plural form of the Hebrew 'or. It stood for revelation, and thummim for truth. The church of the Christian dispensation was to be even more radiant with the light of God and of Christ. The seven churches of Asia were revealed to John, by the Spirit, as seven golden candlesticks, and her ministers as seven stars, both luminous with the light of the Gospel revelation. In Ephesians, Christ, who is the Light of the world, is the Head of the church, the latter being His body through which His glory is to be manifested to the world, "to make all men see," etc. (Ephesians 3:9,10). "Unto him be the glory in the church" (Ephesians 3:21), the church bringing glory to God, by revealing His glory to men through its reproduction of the life and light of Christ.

4. Symbolism:

Light symbolizes:

(1) the eye, "The light of the body is the eye" (Matthew 6:22, the King James Version; Luke 11:34);

(2) watchfulhess, "Let your lights (the Revised Version (British and American) "lamps") be burning," the figure being taken from the parable of the Virgins;

(3) protection, "armor (Romans 13:12), the garment of a holy and Christ-like life;

(4) the sphere of the Christian's daily walk, "inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:12);

(5) heaven, for the inheritance just referred to includes the world above in which "the Lamb is the light thereof"

(6) prosperity, relief (Esther 8:16; Job 30:26), in contrast with the calamities of the wicked whose "light .... shall be put out" (Job 18:5);

(7) joy and gladness (Job 3:20; Psalms 97:11; 112:4);

(8) God's favor, the light of thy countenance" (Psalms 4:6; 44:3; 89:15), and a king's favor (Proverbs 16:15);

(9) life (Psalms 13:3; 49:19; John 1:4).

5. Expressive Terms:

Expressive terms are:

(1) "fruit of the light" (Ephesians 5:9), i.e. goodness, righteousness, truth;

(2) "light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8), indicating the source of light (compare Isaiah 2:5);

(3) "inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:12), a present experience issuing in heaven;

(4) "Father of lights" (James 1:17), signifying the Creator of the heavenly bodies;

(5) "marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9), the light of God's presence and fellowship;

(6) "Walk in the light" (1John 1:7), in the light of God's teaching and companionship;

(7) "abideth in the light" (1John 2:10), in love, Divine and fraternal;

(8) "Light of the glorious gospel of Christ "; "light of the knowledge of the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4,6 the King James Version).

Dwight M. Pratt

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'LIGHT'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.  

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