Dream

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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

‘Dream’ may be defined as a series of thoughts, images, or other mental states, which are experienced during sleep. The words that are most frequently translated ‘dream’ in the Bible are חֲלוֹם are ὄναρ. In the OT dreams are described somewhat in detail, especially those of Jacob ( Genesis 28:10-22), of Joseph ( Genesis 37:5-10), of Nebuchadrezzar (Daniel 2, 4), and of Daniel (Daniel 7). In the NT, the only instances given are those of the appearance of the angel to Joseph ( Matthew 1:20-23;  Matthew 2:13;  Matthew 2:19-20), the dream of the Magi ( Matthew 2:12), and the notable dream of Pilate’s wife ( Matthew 27:19). In spite of the fact that certain dreams are set out with considerable fullness of detail, the instances recorded are not numerous, which seems to indicate that God’s revelations by this medium are to be regarded as exceptional and providential rather than as the usual means of communication of the Divine will. The Fathers were in the habit of warning the Christians against the tendency to consider dreams as omens in a superstitions sense.

The only references to dreams or dreaming in the apostolic writings are  Acts 2:17 ‘your old men shall dream dreams’ (quoted from  Joel 2:28), and  Judges 1:8 ‘these also (the false teachers of v. 4) in their dreamings defile the flesh’: the reference is understood by Bigg ( Second Pet. and Jude [ International Critical Commentary , 1901]), following von Soden and Spitta, to be to the attempt of the false teachers to support their doctrines by revelations.

The earliest theories present the dream-world as real but remote-a region where the second self wanders in company with other second selves. The next stage is that of symbolic pictures unfolded to the inner organs of perception by some supernatural being. the general depression of vital activities during sleep may produce complete unconsciousness, especially during the early part of the night, but portions of the brain may be in activity in dreaming, with the accompanying partial consciousness. It was asserted by the Cartesians and Leibniz, and as stoutly denied by Locke, that the soul is always thinking; but many modern writers consider that dreaming takes place only during the process of waking. It is generally admitted that, whilst for the most part the material of our dreams is drawn from our waking experiences, the stimuli, external or internal, acting upon the sense organs during sleep produce the exaggerated and fantastic impressions in the mind which are woven into the fabric of our dreams. On the other hand, F. W. H. Myers ( Human Personality ) regards dreams, with certain other mental states, as being ‘uprushes’ from the subliminal self, and sleep with all its phenomena as the refreshing of the soul by the influences of the world of spirit. This view, if correct, would afford scope for the revelation of God’s will as narrated in the biblical accounts, if not in exceptional experiences of the present time. At any rate, there is nothing in modern psychology to preclude the possibility of Divine manifestations in dreams. Many recent writers enjoin the cultivation of restfulness and repose of the soul in order that sleep may be beneficial and may not be disturbed by unpleasant dreams. George Macdonald sings in his Evening Hymn  :

‘Nor let me wander all in vain

Through dreams that mock and flee;

But even in visions of the brain

Go wandering toward Thee.’

Literature.-Article‘Dreams’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , ‘Dream’ In Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , and ‘Dreams and Sleep’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics  ; J. Sully, Illusions ( ISS [Note: SS International Science Series.], 1882); F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality , new ed., 1907; G. T. Ladd, Doctrine of Sacred Scripture , 1883, ii. 429-436; S Freud, Die Traumdeutung , 1900 (Eng. translation, The Interpretation of Dreams , 1913). A full bibliography will be found in Baldwin’s Dict . of Philosophy and psychology , vol. iii. Pt. ii. [1905] p. 1034.

J. G. James.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [2]

The revelation of God's will in dreams is characteristic of the early and less perfect patriarchal times ( Genesis 28:12;  Genesis 31:24;  Genesis 37:5-10); to Solomon,  1 Kings 3:5, in commencing his reign; the beginnings of the New Testament dispensation ( Matthew 1:20;  Matthew 2:13;  Matthew 2:19;  Matthew 2:22); and the communications from God to the rulers of the pagan world powers, Philistia, Egypt, Babylon ( Genesis 20:3;  Genesis 40:5;  Genesis 41:1); Elihu,  Job 33:15; Daniel 2;  Daniel 4:5, etc. The dream form of revelation is that most appropriate to those outside the kingdom of God. So the Midianite ( Judges 7:13), Pilate's wife ( Matthew 27:19). But it is the Israelites Joseph and Daniel who interpret; for pagandom is passive, Israel active, in divine things to the glory of the God of Israel. Dreams were a frequent means of imposture and idolatry  Deuteronomy 13:1-3;  Zechariah 10:2).

The dream form of revelation is placed below that of prophecy and even divination ( Numbers 12:6;  Joel 2:28;  1 Samuel 28:6). "Trances" and "visions" are mentioned in the Christian church, but not dreams. While God has acted and can act on the mind in a dream (wherein the reason and judgment are dormant, but the sensations and imaginations active and uncontrolled by the judgment), His higher mode of revelation is that wherein the understanding is active and conscious; consequently, the former mode appears more in imperfect stages of the development of God's scheme than in the advanced stages. "In the multitude of dreams are divers vanities" ( Ecclesiastes 5:7), i.e., God's service becomes by "dreams" (foolish fancies as to what God requires of worshippers); and random "words," positive vanity of manifold kinds; compare  Matthew 6:7, "they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

In everyday life, dreams are often related to matters that a person has been engaged in or been thinking about, and usually have no religious significance ( Ecclesiastes 5:3). But the Bible records exceptional cases, where dreams did have religious significance. In circumstances where people had no written Word of God to guide them, or where God had an urgent message to pass on, he sometimes spoke to people directly through dreams ( Genesis 20:3;  Genesis 31:24;  Genesis 46:2-4;  1 Kings 3:5;  Matthew 1:20-24;  Matthew 2:12). Dreams may have had meaning even when God did not speak directly, though these were rare ( Genesis 37:5-11).

Among people who did not know God, a dream with meaning usually required a person who knew God to interpret it ( Genesis 40:9-19;  Genesis 41:1-32;  Daniel 2:1-45;  Daniel 4:4-27). Among God’s people, a dream with meaning usually had a fairly obvious interpretation ( Genesis 37:5-10;  1 Kings 3:6-9;  Acts 16:9-10).

Moses warned people to be careful in believing those who claimed that God had spoken to them through dreams. Such people were often false prophets, who led others astray ( Deuteronomy 13:1-3;  Jeremiah 23:25;  Jeremiah 23:32). Moses was well aware that sometimes God may have spoken to the true prophets through dreams, but the Bible writers usually spoke of such experiences as visions rather than dreams ( Numbers 12:6; see Vision ).

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Dream. One mode of divine communication to the mind of man has been by dreams.  Numbers 12:6. While bodily organs were asleep and yet the perception active, God has sometimes spoken, sometimes in the way of direct message, occasionally by symbolic representation, for which afterwards an interpreter was needed. The prophetic dream must be distinguished from the prophetic vision. The latter might be in the night,  Acts 18:9;  Acts 23:11;  Acts 27:23; but the senses were not wrapped up in sleep. It was by means of dreams that God communicated with those who were not of his covenant people.  Genesis 20:3-7;  Genesis 31:24;  Genesis 40:5;  Genesis 41:1-8;  Judges 7:13;  Daniel 2:1;  Daniel 4:5;  Daniel 4:10-18;  Matthew 2:12;  Matthew 27:19. Often, indeed, it was by a dream that God spoke to his most favored servants.  Genesis 16:12-16;  Genesis 37:6-10;  Matthew 1:20-21. God communicated by a dream with Solomon, not only while he was young,  1 Kings 3:5-15, but also in his mature life.  1 Kings 9:2-9. We can only say that the Lord acts herein according to his good pleasure. The false dreaming of a dreamer of dreams, it may be added, was censured and to be punished.  Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words [5]

A. Noun.

Chălôm ( חֲלֹם , Strong'S #2472), “dream.” This noun appears about 65 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew.

The word means “dream.” It is used of the ordinary dreams of sleep: “Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions …” (Job 7:14). The most significant use of this word, however, is with reference to prophetic “dreams” and/or “visions.” Both true and false prophets claimed to communicate with God by these dreams and visions. Perhaps the classical passage using the word in this sense is Deut. 13:1ff.: “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass.…” This sense, that a dream is a means of revelation, appears in the first biblical occurrence of chălôm (or chălôm ): “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night …” (Gen. 20:3).

B. Verb.

Ch ă lam( חָלַם , Strong'S #2492), “to become healthy or strong; to dream.” This verb, which appears 27 times in the Old Testament, has cognates in Ugaritic, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. The meaning, “to become healthy,” applies only to animals though “to dream” is used of human dreams. Gen. 28:12, the first occurrence, tells how Jacob “dreamed” that he beheld a ladder to heaven.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [6]

The orientals, and in particular the Jews, greatly regarded dreams, and applied for their interpretation to those who undertook to explain them. We see the antiquity of this custom in the history of Pharaoh's butler and baker,  Genesis 40:1-23; and Pharaoh himself and Nebuchadnezzar are also instances. God expressly forbade his people to observe dreams, and to consult explainers of them. He condemned to death all who pretended to have prophetic dreams, even though what they foretold came to pass, if they had any tendency to promote idolatry,  Deuteronomy 13:1-3 . But they were not forbidden, when they thought they had a significant dream, to address the prophets of the Lord, or the high priest in his ephod, to have it explained. The Lord frequently made known his will in dreams, and enabled persons to explain them,  Genesis 20:3-7   28:12-15   1 Samuel 28:6   Daniel 2:1-49   Joel 2:28   Matthew 1:20   Acts 27:22 . Supernatural dreams are distinguished from visions, in that the former occurred during sleep, and the latter when the person was awake. God spoke to Abimelech in a dream, but to Abraham by vision. In both cases he left on the mind an assurance of the certainty of whatever he revealed. Both are now superseded by the Bible, our sure and sufficient guide through earth to heaven.

King James Dictionary [7]

Dream n. G.

1. The thought or series of thoughts of a person in sleep. We apply dream, in the singular, to a series of thoughts, which occupy the mind of a sleeping person, in which he imagines he has a view of real things or transactions. A dream is a series of thoughts not under the command of reason, and hence wild and irregular. 2. In scripture, dreams were sometimes impressions on the minds of sleeping persons, made by divine agency. God came to Abimelech in a dream. Joseph was warned by God in a dream.  Genesis 20 .  Matthew 2 . 3. A vain fancy a wild conceit an unfounded suspicion.

DREAM, pret. dreamed or dreamt. G.

1. To have ideas or images in the mind, in the state of sleep with of before a noun as, to dream of a battle to dream of an absent friend. 2. To think to imagine as, he little dreamed of his approaching fate. 3. To think idly.

They dream on in a course of reading, without digesting.

4. To be sluggish to waste time in vain thoughts as, to dream away life.

DREAM, To see in a dream.

And dreamt the future fight.

It is followed by a noun of the like signification as, to dream a dream.

Webster's Dictionary [8]

(1): ( n.) The thoughts, or series of thoughts, or imaginary transactions, which occupy the mind during sleep; a sleeping vision.

(2): ( n.) To have ideas or images in the mind while in the state of sleep; to experience sleeping visions; - often with of; as, to dream of a battle, or of an absent friend.

(3): ( v. t.) To have a dream of; to see, or have a vision of, in sleep, or in idle fancy; - often followed by an objective clause.

(4): ( n.) To let the mind run on in idle revery or vagary; to anticipate vaguely as a coming and happy reality; to have a visionary notion or idea; to imagine.

(5): ( n.) A visionary scheme; a wild conceit; an idle fancy; a vagary; a revery; - in this sense, applied to an imaginary or anticipated state of happiness; as, a dream of bliss; the dream of his youth.

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [9]

 Job 20:8 (a) By this figure is described the evanescent and transient character of the wicked man who appears on earth for a little while, and then disappears. (See also  Isaiah 29:7).

 Psalm 73:20 (a) All the prosperity and activity of the wicked has no more value in GOD's sight than a dream has to any person after he awakens.

 Psalm 126:1 (a) The marvelous transformation of Israel, from being the tail of the nations to being the head, did not seem to be a reality. They could hardly believe it was true.

 Jeremiah 23:28 (a) The vagaries and mental wanderings of ungodly, religious leaders are called "dreams" and are contrasted with GOD's Word. Dreams are like the chaff, having no value whatever. GOD's Word is like the wheat, which contains life, and gives life.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [10]

 Genesis 28:12 31:10 Judges 7 1 Kings 3:5 Genesis 20:3-7 Judges 7:13 Daniel 2:1 4:10,18 Matthew 2:12

To Joseph "the Lord appeared in a dream," and gave him instructions regarding the infant Jesus ( Matthew 1:20;  2:12,13,19 ). In a vision of the night a "man of Macedonia" stood before Paul and said, "Come over into Macedonia and help us" ( Acts 16:9; see also 18:9; 27:23).

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [11]

( חֲלוֹם , Chalom' ; Sept. Ἐνύπνιον ; but Καθ᾿ Ὕπνον and Κατ᾿ Ὄναρ in Matthew are generally used for "in a dream"). Dreams have been the subject of much curious speculation in all ages. The ancients had various theories respecting them, the most notable of which for our present purpose is that of Homer (Iliad , 1:63), who declares that "they come from Jove." The most philosophic opinion of antiquity respecting dreams was that of Aristotle, who thought that every object of sense produces upon the human soul a certain impression, which remains for some time after the object that made it is removed; and which, being afterwards recognised by the perceptive faculty in sleep, gives rise to the varied images which present themselves. This view nearly approaches that of modern mental science, which teaches that dreams are ordinarily the re-embodiment of thoughts which have before, in some shape or other, occupied our minds (Elwin, Operations of the Mind in Sleep, Lond. 1843). They are broken fragments of our former conceptions revived, and heterogeneously brought together. If they break off from their connecting chain and become loosely associated, they exhibit oft-times absurd combinations, but the elements still subsist. If, for instance, any irritation, such as pain, fever, etc., should excite the perceptive organs while the reflective ones are under the influence of sleep, we have a consciousness of objects, colors, or sounds being presented to us, just as if the former organs were actually stimulated by having such impressions communicated to them by the external senses; whilst, in consequence of the repose of the reflecting power, we are unable to rectify the illusion, and conceive that the scenes passing before us, or the sounds that we hear, have a real existence. This want of mutual cooperation between the different faculties of the mind may account for the disjointed character of dreams. This is in accordance with the theory of dreams alluded to in  Ecclesiastes 5:7;  Isaiah 29:8.

"The main difference between our sleeping and waking thoughts appears to lie in this, that in the former case the perceptive faculties of the mind (the sensational powers [not their organs; see Butler, Analogy, part 1, c. 1], and the imagination which combines the impressions derived from them) are active, while the reflective powers (the reason or judgment by which we control those impressions, and distinguish between those which are imaginary or subjective and those which correspond to, and are produced by, objective realities) are generally asleep. Milton's account of dreams (in Par. Lost, 5:100-113) seems as accurate as it is striking. Thus it is that the impressions of dreams are in themselves vivid, natural, and picturesque, occasionally gifted with an intuition beyond our ordinary powers, but strangely incongruous and often grotesque; the emotion of surprise or incredulity, which arises from a sense of incongruity, or of unlikeness to the ordinary course of events, being in dreams a thing unknown. The mind seems to be surrendered to that power of association by which, even in its waking hours, if it be inactive and inclined to 'musing,' it is often carried through a series of thoughts connected together by some vague and accidental association, until the reason, when it starts again into activity, is scarcely able to trace back the slender line of connection. The difference is that, in this latter case, we are aware that the connection is of our own making, while in sleep it appears to be caused by an actual succession of events. Such is usually the case; yet there is a class of dreams, seldom noticed, and, in. deed, less common, but recognized by the experience of many, in which the reason is not wholly asleep. In these cases it seems to look on as it were from without, and so to have a double consciousness: on the one hand we enter into the events of the dream, as though real; on the other we have a sense that it is but a dream, and a fear lest we should awake and its pageant should pass away. In either case the ideas suggested are accepted by the mind in dreams at once and inevitably, instead of being weighed and tested, as in our waking hours.

But it is evident that the method of such suggestion is still undetermined, and, in fact, is no more capable of being accounted for by any single cause than the suggestion of waking thoughts. The material of these latter is supplied either by ourselves, through the senses, the memory, and the imagination, or by other men, generally through the medium of words, or, lastly, by the direct action of the Spirit of God, or of created spirits of orders superior to our own, or the spirit within us. So also it is in dreams. In the first place, although memory and imagination supply most of the material of dreams, yet physical sensations of cold and heat, of pain or of relief, even actual impressions of sound or of light will often mold or suggest dreams, and the physical organs of speech will occasionally be made use of to express the emotions of the dreamer. In the second place, instances have been known where a few words whispered into a sleeper's ear have produced a dream corresponding to their subject. On these two points experience gives undoubted testimony; as to the third, it can, from the nature of the case, speak but vaguely and uncertainly. The Scripture declares, not as any strange thing, but as a thing of course, that the influence of the Spirit of God upon the soul extends to its sleeping as well as its waking thoughts. It declares that God communicates with the spirit of man directly in dreams, and also that he permits created spirits to have a like communication with it. Its declaration is to be weighed, not as an isolated thing, but in connection with the general doctrine of spiritual influence, because any theory of dreams must be regarded as a part of the general theory of the origination of all thought."

Whatever may be the difficulties attending the subject, still we know that dreams have formed a channel through which Jehovah was pleased in former times to reveal his character and dispensations to his people. This method of divine communication is alluded to in  Job 33:14. The most remarkable instances recorded in the Old Testament are those of Abimelech with regard to Abraham ( Genesis 20:3), Jacob on his way to Padan-Aram ( Genesis 28:8), and again on returning thence ( Genesis 31:10), Laban in pursuing Jacob ( Genesis 31:24), Joseph respecting his future advancement ( Genesis 37:6-11), Gideon (Judges 7) and Solomon ( 1 Kings 3:5). In the New Testament (as was predicted,  Joel 2:28) we have the equally clear cases of Joseph respecting the infant Jesus ( Matthew 1:20;  Matthew 2:12-13;  Matthew 2:19), Paul ( Acts 16:9;  Acts 18:9;  Acts 27:23), and perhaps Pilate's wife ( Matthew 27:19).

"It must be observed that, in accordance with the principle enunciated by Paul in  1 Corinthians 14:15, dreams, in which the understanding is asleep, are recognized indeed as a method of divine revelation, but placed below the visions of prophecy, in which the understanding plays its part. It is true that the book of Job, standing as it does on the basis of 'natural religion,' dwells on dreams and 'visions of deep sleep' as the chosen method of God's revelation of himself to man (see  Job 4:13;  Job 7:14;  Job 33:15). But in  Numbers 12:6;  Deuteronomy 13:1;  Deuteronomy 13:3;  Deuteronomy 13:5;  Jeremiah 27:9;  Joel 2:28, etc., dreamers of dreams, whether true or false, are placed below 'prophets,' and even below 'diviners;' and similarly in the climax of  1 Samuel 28:6, we read that,'the Lord answered Saul not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim [by symbol], nor by prophets.' Under the Christian dispensation, while we frequently read of trances ( Ἐκστάσεις ) and visions ( Ὀπτασίαι , Ὁράματα ), dreams are not referred to as regular vehicles of divine revelation. In exact accordance with this principle are the actual records of the dreams sent by God. The greater number of such dreams were granted, for prediction or for warning, to those who were aliens to the Jewish covenant. Thus we have the record of the dreams of Abimelech ( Genesis 20:3-7); Laban ( Genesis 31:24); of the chief butler and baker ( Genesis 40:5); of Pharaoh ( Genesis 41:1-8); of the Midianite ( Judges 7:13); of Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 2:1, etc.;  Daniel 4:10-18); of the magi ( Matthew 2:12), and of Pilate's wife ( Matthew 27:19). Many of these dreams, moreover, were symbolical and obscure, so as to require an interpreter. Again, where dreams are recorded as means of God's revelation to his chosen servants; they are almost always referred to the periods of their earliest and most imperfect knowledge of him. 'So it is in the case. of Abraham ( Genesis 15:12, and perhaps 1-9), of Jacob ( Genesis 28:12-15), of Joseph ( Genesis 37:5-10), of Solomon ( 1 Kings 3:5), and, in the N.T., a similar analogy prevails in the case of the otherwise uninspired Joseph ( Matthew 1:20;  Matthew 2:13;  Matthew 2:19;  Matthew 2:22). It is to be observed, moreover, that they belong especially to the earliest age, and become less frequent as the revelations of prophecy increase. The only exception to this (at least in the O.T.) is found in the dreams and 'visions of the night' given to Daniel (2:19; 7:1), apparently in order to put to shame the falsehoods of the Chaldaean belief in prophetic dreams and in the power of interpretation, and yet to bring out the truth latent therein (comp. Paul's miracles at Ephesus,  Acts 19:11-12, and their effect, 18-20).

"The general conclusion therefore is, first, that the Scripture claims the dream, as it does every other action of the human mind, as a medium through which God may speak to man either directly, that is, as we call it, 'providentially,' or indirectly in virtue of a general influence upon all his thoughts; and, secondly, that it lays far greater stress on that divine influence by which the understanding also is affected, and leads us to believe that as such influence extends more and more, revelation by dreams, unless in very peculiar circumstances, might be expected to pass away." (See the [Am.] Christ. Rev. October 1857.)

The Orientals, and in particular the Hebrews, greatly regarded dreams, and applied for their interpretation to those who undertook to explain them. Such diviners have been usually called oneirocritics, and the art itself oneiromancy. We see the antiquity of this custom in the history of Pharaoh's butler and baker ( Genesis 40:1-23); and Pharaoh himself, and Nebuchadnezzar, are also instances. (See Divination). It is quite clear from the inspired history that dreams were looked upon by the earliest nations of antiquity as premonitions from their idol gods of future events. One part of Jehovah's great plan in revealing, through this channel, his designs towards Egypt, Joseph individually, and his brethren generally, was to correct this notion. The same principle is apparent in the divine power bestowed upon Daniel to interpret dreams. Jehovah expressly forbade his people from observing dreams, and from consulting explainers of them. He condemned to death all who pretended to have prophetic dreams, and to foretell events, even though what they foretold came to pass, if they had any tendency to promote idolatry ( Deuteronomy 13:1-4). But they were not forbidden, when they thought they had a significant dream, to address the prophets of the Lord, or the high-priest in his ephod, to have it explained ( Numbers 12:6; compare the case of Saul,  1 Samuel 28:6-7). False and true dreams are expressly contrasted in  Jeremiah 23:25;  Jeremiah 23:28. (See Night-Vision).

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