Symbols of the Christian Faith

Symbols of the Christian Faith

by Alva William Steffler

ISBN: 9780802846761

Publisher Eerdmans

Published in Christian Books & Bibles/History, Christian Books & Bibles/Education, Arts & Photography/Religious, Religion & Spirituality

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

God the Father

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.


The primary physical representations of God the Father are a hand and an eye. In early Christian art, the hand of God the Father was shown appearing from a cloud, usually with the fingers gesturing a blessing. In Scripture, the hand is used as a symbol for God's power. The Hebrew word yad is used for both "hand" and "power" (Josh. 4:24; Job 12:10; Ps. 31:5; Isa. 14:26-27; 40:12; Jer. 18:6; Dan. 4:35). The hand is also used as a metaphor for support and security (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 4:6) as well as favor (Deut. 33:3; 1 Kings 18:46; Ezra 7:9; Neh. 2:8; Ps. 80:17; Acts 11:21). But it is also a symbol of judgment, vengeance, and punishment (Job 19:21; Isa. 5:25; Heb. 10:30-31). The hand of God creates and protects, but if it is thwarted, it also destroys. The right hand of God is the hand of blessing, and the left hand, the hand of cursing.


In Renaissance art, the eye was framed in a triangle to signify the Trinity. In Scripture the eye is used as a reference to God's omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence (2 Chron. 16:9; Pss. 11:4; 94:9; Jer. 16:17; Zech. 4:10; Heb. 4:13). The eye also symbolizes God's watchfulness and favor (1 Kings 8:29; 2 Chron. 6:20, 40; Pss. 33:18; 34:15; 121:3-5; Prov. 22:12).


In the Old Testament, fire represents the presence of God in his glory (Exod. 3:2; 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 19:18; Lev. 6:12-13; 1 Kings 18:38; Neh. 9:12; Ps. 104:4). In the New Testament, fire represents the presence of God in the Holy Spirit. (See the entry below for the Holy Spirit.) Fire is also used as a metaphor for cleansing (Isa. 6:6-7) and spiritual power (Ps. 104:4). In addition, it represents an instrument of testing and judgment (Exod. 9:23-24: Lev. 21:9; Deut. 4:24; 9:3; 32:22; Ps. 106:18; Isa. 33:14; Jer. 20:9; 29:22; Joel 2:3; Amos 1:4-14; 2:2; Mal. 3:2; Matt. 3:10-12; Luke 12:49; 1 Cor. 3:13; Rev. 3:18). Fire figures in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25), in the final destruction of the world, and ultimately in the description of hell itself as a lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).


Clouds represent the presence of God (Exod. 13:21; 19:9; 24:15-16; Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34-35). When God led the Israelites through the desert, he was present to them "in a pillar of cloud by day, ... and in a pillar of fire by night." Clouds are also associated with Christ's ascension (Acts 1:9) and his Second Coming (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7).


The crown symbolizes both earthly and divine sovereignty, honor, and victory (Esther 2:17; Rev. 4:4). Occasionally, as depicted in the illustration of the hand above, the hand of God extends out of a crown.


God the Father's protection and care for his children is sometimes expressed in maternal terms. In the New Testament, he is likened to a hen looking after her brood of chicks (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34).


The wheel as symbol is derived from Ezekiel's vision of the throne of God carried on flaming wheels (Ezek. 1:1-28) and Daniel's similar vision (Dan. 7:9). The wheel was used on early Christian gravestones as a symbol of God and eternity.


Excerpted from "Symbols of the Christian Faith" by Alva William Steffler. Copyright © 2002 by Alva William Steffler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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