Symbols of the Christian Faith

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Symbols of the Christian Faith is an illustrated guide to the major visual symbols used by the Christian church throughout history. These stylized illustrations, designed by artist Alva William Steffler, are intended to provide usable, up-to-date resources for contemporary church worship and Christian education.

Throughout church history symbols have been used to aid worship and to communicate difficult spiritual ideas. Steffler here collects these symbols, from early Christian catacomb art to the present, offering fresh graphic interpretations of old visual forms. The accompanying text notes the biblical sources for the various symbols and traces their use in church tradition and their links to Greco-Roman culture. Extensive glossaries and indexes round out the book.

Broadly inclusive and sensitive to the perspectives of every church tradition, this volume will be an invaluable resource for churches using Christian art as well as for general readers curious about the meaning of common Christian symbols.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802846761
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 545,415
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Symbols of the Christian Faith

By Alva William Steffler

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2002 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-4676-9

Chapter One

God the Father

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.


The primary physical representations of God the Father are a hand and an eye. In early Christian art, the hand of God the Father was shown appearing from a cloud, usually with the fingers gesturing a blessing. In Scripture, the hand is used as a symbol for God's power. The Hebrew word yad is used for both "hand" and "power" (Josh. 4:24; Job 12:10; Ps. 31:5; Isa. 14:26-27; 40:12; Jer. 18:6; Dan. 4:35). The hand is also used as a metaphor for support and security (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 4:6) as well as favor (Deut. 33:3; 1 Kings 18:46; Ezra 7:9; Neh. 2:8; Ps. 80:17; Acts 11:21). But it is also a symbol of judgment, vengeance, and punishment (Job 19:21; Isa. 5:25; Heb. 10:30-31). The hand of God creates and protects, but if it is thwarted, it also destroys. The right hand of God is the hand of blessing, and the left hand, the hand of cursing.


In Renaissance art, the eye was framed in a triangle to signify the Trinity. In Scripture the eye is used as a reference to God's omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence (2 Chron. 16:9; Pss. 11:4; 94:9; Jer.16:17; Zech. 4:10; Heb. 4:13). The eye also symbolizes God's watchfulness and favor (1 Kings 8:29; 2 Chron. 6:20, 40; Pss. 33:18; 34:15; 121:3-5; Prov. 22:12).


In the Old Testament, fire represents the presence of God in his glory (Exod. 3:2; 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 19:18; Lev. 6:12-13; 1 Kings 18:38; Neh. 9:12; Ps. 104:4). In the New Testament, fire represents the presence of God in the Holy Spirit. (See the entry below for the Holy Spirit.) Fire is also used as a metaphor for cleansing (Isa. 6:6-7) and spiritual power (Ps. 104:4). In addition, it represents an instrument of testing and judgment (Exod. 9:23-24: Lev. 21:9; Deut. 4:24; 9:3; 32:22; Ps. 106:18; Isa. 33:14; Jer. 20:9; 29:22; Joel 2:3; Amos 1:4-14; 2:2; Mal. 3:2; Matt. 3:10-12; Luke 12:49; 1 Cor. 3:13; Rev. 3:18). Fire figures in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25), in the final destruction of the world, and ultimately in the description of hell itself as a lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).


Clouds represent the presence of God (Exod. 13:21; 19:9; 24:15-16; Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34-35). When God led the Israelites through the desert, he was present to them "in a pillar of cloud by day, ... and in a pillar of fire by night." Clouds are also associated with Christ's ascension (Acts 1:9) and his Second Coming (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7).


The crown symbolizes both earthly and divine sovereignty, honor, and victory (Esther 2:17; Rev. 4:4). Occasionally, as depicted in the illustration of the hand above, the hand of God extends out of a crown.


God the Father's protection and care for his children is sometimes expressed in maternal terms. In the New Testament, he is likened to a hen looking after her brood of chicks (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34).


The wheel as symbol is derived from Ezekiel's vision of the throne of God carried on flaming wheels (Ezek. 1:1-28) and Daniel's similar vision (Dan. 7:9). The wheel was used on early Christian gravestones as a symbol of God and eternity.


Excerpted from Symbols of the Christian Faith by Alva William Steffler Copyright © 2002 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

I Symbols Associated with the Apostles' Creed 1
God the Father 3
Jesus Christ 8
The Incarnation 18
Mary, Mother of Christ 22
The Cross 26
The Resurrection 32
Christ Triumphant 38
The Holy Spirit 40
The Holy Catholic Church 44
The Communion of Saints 51
The Forgiveness of Sins 56
The Resurrection of the Body 57
The Life Everlasting 58
II Sacred Monograms and Shapes 63
Monograms 65
Shapes 74
III Symbols of the Evangelists, the Apostles, and the Saints 85
Symbols of the Four Evangelists 87
Symbols of the Twelve Apostles 89
Significant Symbols of the Saints 97
IV Glossary of Additional Symbols 103
V Glossary of Colors and Numbers 131
VI The Church Calendar 137
Selected Bibliography 141
Index of Subjects 145
Index of Scripture References 153
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