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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Ear

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The finer shades of biblical statement are discerned only as we succeed in placing ourselves at the contemporary point of view. This is particularly the case with references to personality and its elements or manifestations, since primitive or ancient psychology differs so greatly from the psychology of the present time. For example, primitive psychology, in its ignorance of the nervous system, distributes psychical and ethical attributes to the various physical organs. There are tribes that give the cars of a dead enemy to their youths to be eaten, because they regard the physical ear as the seat of intelligence, which thus becomes an attribute of the consumer (J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough2, 1900, ii. 357f.). Though the Bible contains nothing so crude as this, yet the same idea of localized psychical function underlies its references to the ear. The high priest’s ear is consecrated by the application of ram’s blood, that he may the better hear God (Leviticus 8:23); the slave’s ear, on his renunciation of liberty, is pierced by his master, as a guarantee of his permanent obedience (Exodus 21:6, Deuteronomy 15:17). Such practices help to give the true line of approach to many biblical references to the ear, the full force of which might otherwise be missed. The ‘peripheral consciousness’ of the ear (cf. 1 Samuel 3:11, Job 12:11, Ecclesiastes 1:8, etc.) must be remembered in regard to phrases which have become to us simply conventional, such as the repeated refrain of the Apocalypse, ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear’ (Revelation 2:7, etc.; οὖς). This greater intensity of local meaning gives new point to the Pauline analogy between the human body and the Church. Since ‘the body is not one member, but many’ (1 Corinthians 12:14), in a psychical and moral, as well as in a physical, sense, it is more readily conceivable that the ear might resent its inferiority to the eye (1 Corinthians 12:16). Its actual co-operation with the eye is therefore a more effective rebuke to the envy springing from Corinthian individualism.

Moral or spiritual qualities are assigned to the ear in several passages, according to the frequent OT usage (Proverbs 15:31, Isaiah 59:1 etc.); one example is quoted from the OT and applied by St. Paul to the Jews of Rome; ‘their ears are dull of hearing’ (Acts 28:27; cf. Romans 11:8), The same charge is brought by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews against those to whom he writes (Romans 5:11; ἀκοαί, not οὖς). This attribution of quality to the organ does not, of course, imply naturalistic determinism; the ear is part of the responsible personality. If men ‘having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts,’ it is because ‘they will turn away their ears from the truth’ (2 Timothy 4:3 f.; ἀκοή). The OT reference to the ‘uncircumcised’ ear (Jeremiah 6:10) is several times repeated (Acts 7:51; Ep. Barn. ix. 4, x. 12).

The only significant act named in this literature in reference to the ear is that of those who hear Stephen declare his vision of Jesus at the right hand of God: they stop their ears, that the blasphemy may not enter (Acts 7:57). Ignatius writes to the Ephesians (ix. 1), with reference to false teachers, ‘ye stopped your ears, so that ye might not receive the seed sown by them.’ Irenaeus (ap. Eus. HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] v. 20) says of Polycarp that ‘if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing [as the Gnosticism of Florinus], he would have cried out, and stopped his ears.’ The baptismal practice of a later age protected the ear of the candidate by the Effeta (Ephphatha), a rite based on the miracle recorded in Mark 7:33. The priest touched the ear with his finger moistened with saliva (Duchesne, Origines du Culte Chrétien4, 1908, p. 311). The positive side of the baptismal anointing of the ear seems to be implied in the Odes of Solomon, ix. 1: ‘Open your ears, and I will speak to you’ (cf. J. H. Bernard, Texts and Studies viii. 3 [1912] ad loc.). For the apostles, therefore, the ear forms the correlate to ‘the word of faith which we preach’ (Romans 10:8-15), which is conceived with equal pregnancy of meaning as the vehicle of the Spirit (E. Sokolowski, Die Begriffe Geist und Leben bei Paulus, 1903, pp. 263-267). Through the response of the conscious ear to the spoken word, an experience is begun which eventually passes into the realm of those ‘things which ear heard not’ (1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians cf.1 Clem, xxxiv. 8, 2 Clem. xi. 7), and of those ‘unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter’ (2 Corinthians 12:4).

H. Wheeler Robinson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ear'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/e/ear.html. 1906-1918.

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