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Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [1]

1: Φυλακτήριον (Strong'S #5440 — Noun Neuter — phulakterion — foo-lak-tay'-ree-on )

primarily "an outpost," or "fortification" (phulax, "a guard"), then, "any kind of safeguard," became used especially to denote "an amulet." In the NT it denotes a prayer fillet, "a phylactery," a small strip of parchment, with portions of the Law written on it; it was fastened by a leather strap either to the forehead or to the left arm over against the heart, to remind the wearer of the duty of keeping the commandments of God in the head and in the heart; cp.  Exodus 13:16;  Deuteronomy 6:8;  11:18 . It was supposed to have potency as a charm against evils and demons. The Pharisees broadened their "phylacteries" to render conspicuous their superior eagerness to be mindful of God's Law,  Matthew 23:5 .

People's Dictionary of the Bible [2]

Phylactery.  Matthew 23:5. A strip of parchment on which some verses of Scripture were written, E.G.,  Exodus 13:2-16;  Deuteronomy 6:4-9;  Deuteronomy 11:13-21. Such strips were enclosed in small leathern boxes, and during the time of prayer worn by men on the forehead between the eyebrows, or on the left arm near the region of the heart, being attached by leathern straps. They were supposed to be preservatives against the power of demons; hence the name phylacteries, I.E., safeguards. The practice was founded upon a literal interpretation of  Exodus 13:9;  Exodus 13:16;  Deuteronomy 6:8;  Deuteronomy 11:18, and is continued to the present day.

Webster's Dictionary [3]

(1): ( n.) Any charm or amulet worn as a preservative from danger or disease.

(2): ( n.) A small square box, made either of parchment or of black calfskin, containing slips of parchment or vellum on which are written the scriptural passages Exodus xiii. 2-10, and 11-17, Deut. vi. 4-9, 13-22. They are worn by Jews on the head and left arm, on week-day mornings, during the time of prayer.

(3): ( n.) Among the primitive Christians, a case in which the relics of the dead were inclosed.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [4]

In the general, was a name given by the ancients to all kinds of charms, spells, or characters, which they wore about them, as amulets, to preserve them from dangers or diseases. Phylactery particularly denoted a slip of parchment, wherein was written some text of holy Scripture, particularly of the decalogue, which the more devout people among the Jews wore at the forehead, the breast, or the neck, as a mark of their religion. The primitive christians also gave the name Phylacteries to the cases wherein they enclosed the relics of their dead. Phylacteries are often mentioned in the New Testament, and appear to have been very common among the Pharisees in our Lord's time.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [5]

Short portionsof the law written on strips of parchment, whichwere placed in a case made of calf skin, and wornupon the forehead and the left arm, supposed to be in obedience to  Deuteronomy 6:8;  Deuteronomy 11:18 . The Pharisees and scribes made them large to attract attention; it was their being made 'broad' that was condemned by the Lord.  Matthew 23:5 . In later times they were worn as a sort of charm. See Frontlet

Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Phylactery. See Frontlets .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [7]

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

Copyright StatementThese files are public domain. Bibliography InformationMcClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Phylactery'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

fi - lak´tẽr - i ( Φυλακτήριον , phulaktḗrion , "guard"):

1. Bible References:

This word is found only in  Matthew 23:5 in our Lord's denunciation of the Pharisees, who, in order that their works might "be seen of men," and in their zeal for the forms of religion, "make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments." The corresponding word in the Old Testament, טוטפת , ṭōṭāphōth (Kennedy in HDB suggests pointing as the segholate feminine singular, ṭōṭepheth ), is fonnd in three passages ( Exodus 13:16;  Deuteronomy 6:8;  Deuteronomy 11:18 ), where it is translated "frontlets." This rendering, however, is not at all certain, and may have been read into the text from its later interpretation. In  Exodus 13:9 the corresponding word to the ṭōṭāphōth of  Exodus 13:16 is zikkārōn , "memorial" or "reminder"; and in the parallel clauses of both verses the corresponding word is 'ōth , "a sign" upon the hand, also used for the "sign" which Yahweh appointed for Cain ( Genesis 4:15 ). It may be rendered then as a mark or ornament or jewel, and used figuratively of Yahweh's Law as an ornament or jewel to the forehead of the Israelite, a reference to the charm or amulet worn by the pagan. The word used in the Talmud for the phylactery is תּפלּה , tephillāh , "prayer," or "prayer-band" (plural tephillı̄n ), indicating its use theoretically as a reminder of the Law, although practically it might be esteemed as an automatic and ever-present charm against evil: an aid within toward the keeping of the Law, a guard without against the approach of evil; a degradation of an Old Testament figurative and idealistic phrase to the materialistic and superstitious practices of the pagans.

2. Description:

The phylactery was a leather box, cube-shaped, closed with an attached flap and bound to the person by a leather band. There were two kinds: (1) one to be bound to the inner side of the left arm, and near the elbow, so that with the bending of the arm it would rest over the heart, the knot fastening it to the arm being in the form of the Hebrew letter yōdh י , and the end of the string, or band, finally wound around the middle finger of the hand, "a sign upon thy hand" (  Deuteronomy 6:8 ). This box had one compartment containing one or all of the four passages given above. The writer in his youth found one of these in a comparatively remote locality, evidently lost by a Jewish peddler, which contained only the 2nd text ( Exodus 13:11-16 ) in unpointed Hebrew. (2) Another was to be bound in the center of the forehead, "between thine eyes" ( Deuteronomy 6:8 ), the knot of the band being in the form of the Hebrew letter dāleth ד , with the Hebrew letter shı̄n ש upon each end of the box, which was divided into four compartments with one of the four passages in each. These two Hebrew letters, with the yōdh י of the arm-phylactery (see (1) above), formed the divine name שׁדּי , shadday , "Almighty." Quite elaborate ceremonial accompanied the "laying" on of the phylacteries, that of the arm being bound on first, and that of the head next, quotations from Scripture or Talmud being repeated at each stage of the binding. They were to be worn by every male over 13 years old at the time of morning prayer, except on Sabbaths and festal days, such days being in themselves sufficient reminders of "the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances" of Yahweh ( Deuteronomy 6:1 ).

3. Interpretation of Old Testament Passages:

The passages on which the wearing of the phylacteries is based are as follows: "It (i.e. the feast of unleavened bread) shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of Yahweh may be in thy mouth" ( Exodus 13:9 ); "And it (i.e. sacrifice of the firstborn) shall be for a sign upon thy hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes" ( Exodus 13:16 ); "thou shalt bind them (i.e. the words of Yahweh) for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes" ( Deuteronomy 6:8 ); "therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes" ( Deuteronomy 11:18 ). It is evident that the words in Exodus are beyond all question used figuratively; a careful reading of the verses in Deuteronomy in close relation to their contexts, in which are other figures of speech not to be taken literally, is sufficient proof of their purely figurative intention also. Only the formalism of later ages could distort these figures into the gross and materialistic practice of the phylactery. Just when this practice began cannot accurately be determined. While the Talmud attempts to trace it back to the primitive, even Mosaic, times, it probably did not long antedate the birth of Christ. In conservative Jewish circles it has been maintained through the centuries, and at present is faithfully followed by orthodox Judaism. Every male, who at the age of 13 becomes a "son of the Law" ( bar micwāh ), must wear the phylactery and perform the accompanying ceremonial.

In the New Testament passage ( Matthew 23:5 ) our Lord rebukes the Pharisees, who make more pronounced the un-Scriptural formalism and the crude literalism of the phylacteries by making them obtrusively large, as they also seek notoriety for their religiosity by the enlarged fringes, or "borders." See Fringes; Frontlets; Pharisees .


The various commentaries. on Ex and Dt: tractate Tephillı̄n  ; the comprehensive article by A. R. S. Kennedy in Hdb  ; articles in Encyclopedia Biblica and Jewish Encyclopedia.