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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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TEARS.—The only two passages in Authorized and Revised Versions of the Gospels where tears are mentioned are Mark 9:24, where the father of the epileptic lad is said in Authorized Version to have cried out with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’ [Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , however, following decidedly the best Manuscripts , omits the words ‘with tears’]; and Luke 7:38-44, where, in Simon the Pharisee’s house, the penitent harlot washed with her tears the Saviour’s feet. If, however, we enlarge our article by references to weeping, we have several instances of sorrow calling forth those tears which are its frequent, but by no means invariable, expression. Mary of Magdala wept when on the third day after the crucifixion she found that the body of her beloved Lord was no longer in Joseph’s sepulchre (John 20:11-16). Peter wept tears of bitter shame when the sound of the cock-crowing brought home to him his sin in denying the Master on the night of betrayal (Mark 14:72 and parallels). In each of these cases it may be useful to notice that tears were turned into joy; for to the penitent woman Christ said, ‘Go in peace’; Mary’s grief was changed to adoring rapture when the risen Saviour pronounced her name; and to Peter, by a special revelation of grace, He granted the blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered. In no case was the lamentation vain remorse, like that of Esau, who found no place of repentance, though he sought the blessing of his father diligently with tears (Hebrews 12:17).

Most important of all are the passages where Jesus Himself is reported to have wept. They are three. (1) On the day when He rode into Jerusalem on the ass’s colt, while the multitudes were rejoicing with shouts of Hosanna, His heart was not in tune with their mirth. Luke 19:41 says that when He was come nigh, He saw the city, and wept over it. There was good reason for His wails. [The word ἔκλαυσεν does not actually express tears so much as loud cries]. The sins which that city had committed in killing the prophets and stoning them that were sent unto her—sins which were to culminate in a few days when He Himself was to be the victim of their malice—lay sore on the heart of Him who would gladly have gathered her children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and who saw His salvation rejected. The dishonour done to His Father and the degradation of His Father’s house filled Him with a grief which not only made rivers of waters run down His eyes, but drew words of indignation from His lips. The sorrows which were about to swamp Jerusalem in a flood of woe wrung from His heart the agonizing cry, ‘If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes’ (Luke 19:42). It was not for Himself that He lamented, nor for Himself that He would allow tears to be shed by others. Even while He was ready to faint under the load of the cross that was to be His anguish and shame, He said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me.’ If they had tears, let them prepare to shed them now for themselves and for their children, because of the fearful tragedies that were to be enacted in their city ere a few years had passed (Luke 23:27-31). The Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3) was in His characteristic attitude of agonizing for others when the load of their sins lay heavily upon Him that day, and He was like the prophet (Jeremiah 9:1) who wished that his head were waters and his eyes a fountain of tears, that he might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of his people.

(2) John 11:35 ‘Jesus wept.’ The word here is ἐδάκρυσεν, ‘shed tears.’ This was at the grave of Lazarus when He was about to raise him from the dead. There is something here to surprise us, though much that was very natural in the tears of the Saviour. To the widow of Nain who was following the bier of her only son He said, ‘Weep not’ (Luke 7:13), as He had said to those who lamented the daughter of Jairus, ‘Why make ye this ado, and weep?’ (Mark 5:38-39). He was about to dry their tears and silence their wails by restoring their dead to life. Yet here (John 11:33-35) it is recorded that He Himself groaned in spirit, and wept as He joined the company of those who were weeping with the bereaved sisters. The tears of Jesus on this occasion have been a source of much consolation to those who mourn their dead. One is reminded of the lines of Erasmus Darwin—

No radiant pearl which crested Fortune wears,

No gem that, twinkling, hangs from Beauty’s ears,

Not the bright stars which Night’s blue arch adorn,

Nor rising stars that gild the vernal morn,

Shine with such lustre as the tear that flows

Down Virtue’s manly cheek for others’ woes.’

They prove to us the perfect humanity of the Redeemer. He who with Divine authority was about to call the dead to life yet had the human weakness to shed tears. ‘The possession of a body enabled Him to weary; the possession of a soul enabled Him to weep’ (F. W. Robertson). They also show His thorough sympathy with those who have to endure grief, especially bereavement, how in all their afflictions He is afflicted. Perhaps they may also be evidence of the anguish He felt at the woe which was caused in the world by that sin in the train of which misery and death came into the world. Further, the tears may have been drawn forth as He thought of the anguish that would be caused to His mother and His friends when He Himself should be laid within such a sepulchre as that before His eyes. And no doubt while on this occasion in Bethany He was about to turn sorrow to joy and heaviness to mirth, yet He was aware that there were multitudes who would have to sorrow without hope, and bewailed that he who had the power of death must claim so many victims ere he was himself destroyed.

(3) Hebrews 5:7-8. In this interesting passage, which, while it does not occur in the Gospels, refers to Christ, we are reminded how, in the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers with strong crying and tears unto Him who was able to save Him from death. The allusion is chiefly to the agony of Gethsemane, though possibly to other occasions of Christ praying to the Father. It is hardly within the scope of this article to discuss the question of what it was for which our Lord then prayed. It can hardly have been merely such a prayer as that of Hezekiah when he turned his face to the wall and wept sore on being told that his sickness was mortal (2 Kings 20:1-3), or that of the Psalmist who, as he mingled his drink with weeping, said: ‘O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days’ (Psalms 102:9; Psalms 102:24). For a discussion of the subject see West cott, Hebrews; Schauffler in Sunday School Times, of America, 1895; Expository Times, vi. 1894–95, pp. 433, 522. It is evident that the writer’s thought is to a large extent linked with the mediatorial office of Christ in the perfect obedience of His humanity which was learned through suffering. Death to Him, as well as to all Christians, had an awful meaning; and however willing the spirit of Christ might be to meet it, yet the flesh was weak, and tears might well gush forth in prospect of its bitterness. Here, again, from the tears of the Saviour, we learn the thorough sympathy of Christ with men, even the identification of the Son of Man with those for whom He was to die.

Literature.—Lives of Christ and Commentaries on Gospels and on Hebrews; numerous published sermons, among which there stand out as noteworthy: Donne (vol. i.); Henry Melvill, ‘Fifty Sermons’; F. W. Robertson, ‘The Human Race.’

Arthur Pollok Sym.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tears'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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