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Dictionaries :: Sign

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


sin ('oth "a sign" "mark" mopheth, "wonder"‘ semeion, "a sign," "signal," "mark"): A mark by which persons or things are distinguished and made known. In Scripture used generally of an address to the senses to attest the existence of supersensible and therefore divine power. Thus the plagues of Egypt were "signs" of divine displeasure against the Egyptians (Ex 4:8 ff; Jos 24:17, and often); and the miracles of Jesus were "signs" to attest His unique relationship with God (Mt 12:38; Joh 2:18; Ac 2:22). Naturally, therefore, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, "signs" are assimilated to the miraculous, and prevailingly associated with immediate divine interference. The popular belief in this manner of communication between the visible and the invisible worlds has always been, and is now, widespread. So-called "natural" explanations, however ingenious or cogent, fail with the great majority of people to explain anything. Wesley and Spurgeon were as firm believers in the validity of such methods of intercourse between man and God as were Moses and Gideon, Peter and John.

The faith that walks by signs is not by any means to be lightly esteemed. It has been allied with the highest nobility of character and with the most signal achievement. Moses accepted the leadership of his people in response to a succession of signs: e.g. the burning bush, the rod which became a serpent, the leprous hand, etc. (Ex 3$; 4$); so, too, did Gideon, who was not above making proof of God in the sign of the fleece of wool (Jud 6:36-40). In the training of the Twelve, Jesus did not disdain the use of signs (Lu 5:1-11, and often); and the visions by which Peter and Paul were led to the evangelization of the Gentiles were interpreted by them as signs of the divine purpose (Ac 10$; 16$).

The sacramental use of the sign dates from the earliest period, and the character of the sign is as diverse as the occasion. The rainbow furnishes radiant suggestion of God's overarching love and assurance that the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy the earth (Ge 9:13; compare Ge 4:15); the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a reminder of God's care in bringing His people out of bondage (Ex 13:3); the Sabbath is an oft-recurring proclamation of God's gracious thought for the well-being of man (Ex 31:13; Eze 20:12); the brazen serpent, an early foreshadowing of the cross, perpetuates the imperishable promise of forgiveness and redemption (Nu 21:9); circumcision is made the seal of the special covenant under which Israel became a people set apart (Ge 17:11); baptism, the Christian equivalent of circumcision, becomes the sign and seal of the dedicated life and the mark of those avowedly seeking to share in the blessedness of the Kingdom of God (Lu 3:12-14; Ac 2:41, and often); bread and wine, a symbol of the spiritual manna by which soul and body are preserved unto everlasting life, is the hallowed memorial of the Lord's death until His coming again (Lu 22:14-20; 1Co 11:23-28). Most common of all were the local altars and mounds consecrated in simple and sincere fashion to a belief in God's ruling and overruling providence (Jos 4:1-10).

Signs were offered in proof of the divine commission of prophet (Isa 20:3) and apostle (2Co 12:12), and of the Messiah Himself (Joh 20:30; Ac 2:22); and they were submitted in demonstration of the divine character of their message (2Ki 20:9; Isa 38:1; Ac 3:1-16). By anticipation the child to be born of a young woman (Isa 7:10-16; compare Lu 2:12) is to certify the prophet's pledge of a deliverer for a captive people.


With increase of faith the necessity for signs will gradually decrease. Jesus hints at this (Joh 4:48), as does also Paul (1Co 1:22). Nevertheless "signs," in the sense of displays of miraculous powers, are to accompany the faith of believers (Mr 16:17 f), usher in and forthwith characterize the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and mark the consummation of the ages (Re 15:1).

See also MIRACLE.

For "sign" of a ship (parasemos, "ensign," Ac 28:11).


Written by Charles M. Stuart

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1 Strong's Number: g4592 Greek: semeion


"a sign, mark, indication, token," is used

(a) of that which distinguished a person or thing from others, e.g., Mat 26:48; Luk 2:12; Rom 4:11; 2Cr 12:12 (1st part); 2Th 3:17, "token," i.e., his autograph attesting the authenticity of his letters;

(b) of a "sign" as a warning or admonition, e.g., Mat 12:39, "the sign of (i.e., consisting of) the prophet Jonas;" Mat 16:4; Luk 2:34; 11:29, 30;

(c) of miraculous acts

(1) as tokens of Divine authority and power, e.g., Mat 12:38, 39 (1st part); Jhn 2:11, RV, "signs;" Jhn 3:2 (ditto); Jhn 4:54, "(the second) sign," RV; Jhn 10:41 (ditto); Jhn 20:30; in 1Cr 1:22, "the Jews ask for signs," RV, indicates that the Apostles were met with the same demand from Jews as Christ had been: "signs were vouchsafed in plenty, signs of God's power and love, but these were not the signs which they sought... They wanted signs of an outward Messianic Kingdom, of temporal triumph, of material greatness for the chosen people.... With such cravings the Gospel of a 'crucified Messiah' was to them a stumblingblock indeed" (Lightfoot); 1Cr 14:22;

(2) by demons, Rev 16:14;

(3) by false teachers or prophets, indications of assumed authority, e.g., Mat 24:24; Mar 13:22;

(4) by Satan through his special agents, 2Th 2:9; Rev 13:13, 14; 19:20;

(d) of tokens portending future events, e.g., Mat 24:3, where "the sign of the Son of Man" signifies, subjectively, that the Son of Man is Himself the "sign" of what He is about to do; Mar 13:4; Luk 21:7, 11, 25; Act 2:19; Rev 12:1, RV; Rev 12:3, RV; Rev 15:1.

"Signs" confirmatory of what God had accomplished in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, His resurrection and ascension, and of the sending of the Holy Spirit, were given to the Jews for their recognition, as at Pentecost, and supernatural acts by apostolic ministry, as well as by the supernatural operations in the churches, such as the gift of tongues and prophesyings; there is no record of the continuance of these latter after the circumstances recorded in Act 19:1-20.

2 Strong's Number: g3902 Greek: parasemos


an adjective meaning "marked at the side" (para, "beside," sema, "mark"), is used in Act 28:11 as a noun denoting the figurehead of a vessel.


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