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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Lamb of God

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LAMB OF GOD . The Iamb was the most common victim in the Jewish sacrifices, and the most familiar type to a Jew of an offering to God. The title ‘the lamb of God’ ( i.e . the lamb given or provided by God; cf. Genesis 22:8 ) is applied by John the Baptist to Jesus in John 1:29 ; John 1:38 . The symbolism which the Baptist intended can be inferred from the symbolic allusions to the lamb in the OT. Thus in Jeremiah 11:19 the prophet compares himself to a lamb, as the type of guilelessness and innocence. Again, in Isaiah 53:7 (a passage which exercised great influence on the Messianic hope of the Jews, and is definitely referred to Christ in Acts 8:32 ) the lamb is used as the type of vicarious suffering. It seems beyond doubt that these two ideas must have been in the Baptist’s mind. It is also quite possible to see in the phrase a reference to the lamb which formed part of the daily sacrifice in the Temple; and also, perhaps, an allusion to the Paschal lamb which would soon be offered at the approaching Passover ( John 2:18 ), and which was the symbol of God’s deliverance. Certainly this is the idea underlying the expressions in John 19:36 and 1 Peter 1:19 . Thus all these strata of thought may be traced in the Baptist’s title, viz. innocence, vicarious suffering, sacrifice, redemption.

The lamb is used 27 times in the Apocalypse as the symbol of Christ, and on the first introduction of the term in Revelation 5:6 the writer speaks specifically of ‘a Iamb as though it had been slain.’ The term used in the Greek original is not the same as that found in the Baptist’s phrase, but the connexion is probably similar. It seems most likely that the sacrificial and redemptive significance of the lamb is that especially intended by the Apocalyptic author.

The specific title ‘the Iamb of God’ may be an invention of the Baptist’s own, which he used to point an aspect of the Messianic mission for his hearers’ benefit, or it may have been a well-known phrase currently employed to designate the Messiah; we have no trace of such an earlier use, but it may have existed (see Westcott on John 1:29 ).

A. W. F. Blunt.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lamb of God'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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