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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Bringing into bodily contact of one thing with another. The Hebrew naga [נָגַע ] and Greek hapto [ἅπτω ] (-omai) are the main biblical terms for "touch." In addition to the many ordinary uses, they embrace several important theological themes.

The Old Testament. God's Touch as All-Powerful. The Old Testament depicts God's supremacy through the image of touch in several ways. Although God created all things by his spoken word (Genesis 1 ), Genesis 2:7,21-22 pictures him as personally shaping man and woman from the dust of the earth. Expressions such as God touches "the earth and it melts" ( Amos 9:5 ) and "the mountains, and they smoke" (Psalm 104:32; 144:5 ) describe his supreme power over the created order. In contrast, idols are powerless. They are insensible, unable to touch: "they have hands, but cannot feel" (Psalm 115:7 ).

The biblical expression "to lay hands on" can mean to exact vengeance on. God is so pictured in judging Egypt (Exodus 7:4 ), Israel (Jeremiah 15:6 ), and the nations (Ezekiel 39:21 ). Trust in the wicked cannot ward off the touch of a divine scourge (Isaiah 28:15; Jeremiah 14:15 ). Conversely, whoever touches God's people "touches the apple of his eye" (Zechariah 2:8 ) and will themselves be punished.

Through his divine touch, God turns people to him (1 Samuel 10:26 ), purifies them from sin (Isaiah 6:7; Jeremiah 1:9 ), and imparts divine truth through them (Jeremiah 1:9; Daniel 10:16,18 ). Israel is also urged to lay hold of God by learning his ways (Proverbs 4:4; Isaiah 64:7 ).

Satan's Touch as Limited by God. God limits Satan's power and freedom to harm people. In Job's case, Satan was unable to touch him beyond what God had permitted (Job 1:12; 2:6 ).

Touching and Moral Cleanness. Old Testament laws governing ceremonial cleanness prohibit touching unclean things, mainly food (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:1-21 ), bodily discharges (Leviticus 15 ), and corpses (Numbers 19 ). They had hygienic and religious significance in preventing the spread of disease and in distinguishing Israel from her ancient contemporaries, who had no laws against many of these unclean practices. They ultimately reveal, however, something of God's holy and gracious character and the sinful condition of humanity. On the one hand, God's holiness was severe: upon the threat of immediate death, no one was to touch Mount Sinai while God's glory was upon it (Exodus 19:12 ) or the sacred furnishings of the tabernacle except Aaron and his sons (Numbers 4:15; cf. 2 Samuel 6:6-7 ). On the other hand, God graciously gave these prohibitions (cf. Leviticus 27:34 ) to provide a way for sinful people to approach him. The link to moral purity is evident in Leviticus 7:21 : "if anyone touches something unclean and then eats any of the meat of the fellowship offering , that person must be cut off from his people." These laws helped clarify the terms of purification by which one could come to God and, in turn, God's expectations for the continuing moral cleanness of his people.

The New Testament. The New Testament takes up these same themes of touching, but now expresses them mainly through Jesus Christ.

Jesus' Touch as All-Powerful. All four Gospels present Jesus' touch as all-powerful over nature, sickness, and death. Concerning the created order, Jesus walked on water (Mark 6:45-56; pars. ) and twice multiplied enough food with his hands from meager rations to feed thousands of people (Mark 6:30-44; pars. 8:1-3; par. ). Concerning physical healing, Jesus' touch cured people of various infirmities and restored life to the dead. Three Greek expressions are synonomously used: haptesthai, "to touch, " kratein tes cheiros, "to take by the hand, " and epitithenai ten cheira, "to lay the hand upon." Examples include a man with leprosy (Mark 1:41; pars. ), Simon's feverish mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15; pars. ), many sick people (Mark 6:5 ,; Luke 4:40 ), two dead children (Mark 5:41; pars. Luke 7:14 ), blind men (Matthew 9:29; Mark 9:22-25; John 9:6 ), a deaf/mute man (Mark 7:33 ), a boy with an evil spirit (Mark 9:27 ), a crippled woman (Luke 13:13 ), and a servant with a severed ear (Luke 22:51 ). Many were also healed by touching Jesus or his clothes (Mark 3:10; par. Mark 5:25-34; pars. Mark 6:56; par. ). Through Jesus' name the early church communicated similar miraculous healing powers over sickness and death through touch (Acts 2:43; 3:1-16; 9:17; 19:12 ).

Touching the Resurrected Jesus as First-Century Christian Apology. The doubt of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead and his subsequent appearances to them gave rise to early Christian apology concerning the historicity of Jesus' bodily resurrection. Crucial to this apology was the physical contact the disciples had with the resurrected Jesus: "They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him" (Matthew 28:9 ); "Touch me and see" (Luke 24:39 ); "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side" (John 20:27 ). It is this Jesus whom "our hands have touched" (1 John 1:1 ). Physical contact with the resurrected Jesus no doubt formed some of the "many convincing proofs" he had given them before ascending to heaven (Acts 1:3 ).

Jesus as Touched by Our Sin. In redeeming humanity from sin and spiritual death, Jesus bore in his body our sin, thus bringing its deadly consequences upon himself: "he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5,11; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5 ).

Satan's Touch as Limited by Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Satan's power to harm believers is also limited by deity; but in this instance, it is by "the one who was born of God, " Jesus Christ (1 John 5:18 ). Here Jesus' work uniquely parallels Yahweh's.

Touching and Moral Cleanness. The contrast in touch between the giving of the law and the gospel could not be greater. In the first, the obedient are to refrain on the pains of death from coming close to God's presence (Hebrews 12:18-21 ); but in the second, through Christ's blood they enter eternally into God's very presence (vv. 22-24). The appropriate charge to believers, therefore, is to live a holy life befitting this intimate relationship (vv. 14-17,25-19), which at present is spiritual but will become a physical reality at Jesus' return (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:5 ). Believers must avoid evil (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:22; 1 Peter 2:11; cf. Colossians 2:21; 1 Timothy 4:3 ) and lay hold of God and Christ through Christ-like living (cf. Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16 ).

H. Douglas Buckwalter

See also Anthropomorphism

Bibliography. R. Stevenson, Hasting's Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, 2: 736-37; N. Turner, IDB, 4: 675; R. Grob, NIDNTT, 3: 859-61.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Touch'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bed/​t/touch.html. 1996.
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