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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Crown of Thorns

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CROWN OF THORNS (στέφανος ἐξ ἀκανθῶν or ἀκάνθινος στέφανος, Matthew 27:29, Mark 15:17, John 19:2; John 19:5).—This was plaited by the soldiers and placed on Christ’s head in mockery of His claim to Kingship, after Pilate had condemned Him to be scourged. It was a garland hastily twisted from the twigs of some thorny plant, which it is difficult now to identify. Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 429) supposes it was the thorn-tree or nubk of the Arabs, which is very common in the warmer parts of Palestine. It abounds near Jerusalem, grows to a great size; its twigs are tough and pliant, and the spikes very sharp and numerous. Others incline to think it was the Zizyphus Spina-christi, a spiny plant covered with sharp prickles. The purpose of the soldiers was rather, perhaps, mockery of the Jews than cruelty to Christ. Pliny speaks (HN) of ‘the meanest of crowns, a thorny one.’

In the writings of St. Paul a crown is promised to faithful followers of Christ, and in many parts of the NT Christ Himself is spoken of as wearing a crown. Sometimes the word for a victor’s wreath is used (στέφανος), and sometimes that for a royal crown (διάδημα).* [Note: The distinction between στέφανος, the badge of merit, and διάδημα, the badge of royalty, is not consistently observed in Hellenistic Greek (see Encyc. Bibl. i. 963).] The emblematic significance, afterwards seen by the Church in the crown of thorns, is possibly hinted at in Hebrews 2:9 ‘crowned with glory and honour.’ As a sacrificial victim, in being led out to death, often wore a garland of flowers, so Jesus, in the eyes of God and His own disciples, even in suffering the deepest humiliation, wears a crown of glory. In the death of Christ His Church sees mankind crowned with life, because the law of sin and death was thereby abrogated, and the Kingdom of heaven opened to all believers. The thorns with which a hostile world pierced the Saviour’s brows are an emblem of the sin of man, the curse of thistles and thorns having been threatened after the Fall (see Dr. H. Macmillan’s Ministry of Nature, ch. v., where this idea is finely worked out). But these wounds become the world’s salvation. Through the sinful cruelty of man new life comes to a condemned world. God thus makes the wrath of man to praise Him. What was meant as derision is really a prediction of glory. See also art. Thorn.

David M. W. Laird.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Crown of Thorns'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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