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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(βύσσος, from בּרּץ, adj. βύσσινος, λίνον)

Linen was a characteristic product of Egypt, where the arts of spinning and weaving were carried to great perfection. Both in that land and in other lands to which it was imported it was the material used for priestly vestments. According to Herodotus (ii. 37), the Egyptian priests ‘wear linen garments, constantly fresh washed, and they pay particular attention to this.… The priests wear linen only.’ The Hebrew usage is indicated by the phrase ‘the linen garments, even the holy garments’ (Leviticus 16:32); and Vergil (aen. xii. 120) speaks of Roman priests as ‘Velati lino, et verbena tempora vincti.’ Linen-at least the best kind of it (βύσσος, or ‘fine linen’)-was too expensive for ordinary wear. It was the clothing of kings and their ministers (Genesis 41:42), of women of quality (Proverbs 31:22), of ideal Israel in her royal estate (Ezekiel 16:10; Ezekiel 16:13).

These facts explain the references to linen in the imagery of the Revelation. (1) The seven angelic messengers who come out of the heavenly temple are ‘arrayed in linen, pure and bright’ (Revelation 15:6). In spite of good manuscript authority (AC) and the dubious parallel in Ezekiel 28:13, the reading ‘arrayed with precious stones’ (Revised Version )-λίθον for λίνον-is extremely unlikely, and א has λίνους. It is true that λίνον was commonly applied to the flax-plant, but it was also used of linen cloth and garments (Il. ix. 661, aesch. Supp. 121, 132). (2) Fine linen was part of the merchandise of Imperial Rome (Revelation 18:12); the city was arrayed in it (Revelation 18:16), the old republican simplicity having given place to a wide-spread luxury. (3) It is befitting that the bride of the Lamb arrays herself in fine linen, bright and pure (Revelation 19:8). The added words, ‘for the fine linen is the righteous acts (δικαιώματα) of the saints’ is perhaps a gloss. It is a happy inspiration that makes ‘fine linen,’ the clothing of priests and princes, the uniform of the armies in heaven that follow Him who is the Faithful and True (Revelation 19:14).

James Strahan.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Linen'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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