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DARKNESS (Heb. hōshekh, the dark, Gr. skotos, darkness). Used in the OT and NT both in a literal and in a figurative sense. Mankind has long associated it with evil, danger, crime; it has also been the metaphor that describes both mystery and the place of eternal punishment. Several uses of the term are found in the Scriptures:

1. To denote the absence of light (Gen.1.2-Gen.1.3; Job.34.22; Isa.45.7).

2. To depict the mysterious (Exod.20.21; 2Sam.22.10; 1Kgs.8.12; Ps.97.2; Isa.8.22; Matt.10.27).

3. As ignorance, especially about God (Job.37.19; Prov.2.13; Eccl.2.14; John.12.35; 1Thess.5.1-1Thess.5.8).

4. To describe the seat of evil (Prov.4.19; Matt.6.23; Luke.11.34; Luke.22.53; John.8.12; Rom.13.12; 1Cor.4.5; Eph.5.11).

5. Presenting supernatural events (Gen.15.12; Exod.10.21; Matt.27.45; Rev.8.12; Rev.16.10).

6. A sign of the Lord’s return (Isa.60.2; Joel.2.2; Amos.5.8; Matt.24.29).

7. An agency of eternal punishment (Matt.22.13; 2Pet.2.4, 2Pet.2.17; Jude.1.6-Jude.1.7; see also Job.2.1-Job.2.5; Job.20.20).

Evil spirits are the “powers of darkness,” against which believers must be armed (Eph 6:11, 12). The wicked will be cast into this “darkness outside” (Matt 8:12; 22:13). Believers must beware lest they walk in darkness and mar their fellowship with God (1 John 1:6).

The term עֲרָפֶל, H6906, “cloud, heavy cloud,” can describe the place where God dwells (Exod 20:18; 1 Kings 8:12). It is parallel to חֹ֫שֶׁכְ, H3125, (Isa 60:2), where the darkness of the nations will be dispelled by the glory of Jehovah (cf. Rev 21:23-25).

Some scholars would include צַלְמָ֫וֶת, H7516, among words meaning “darkness.” Thomas claims that it is the strongest word for darkness and does not really mean “shadow of death” (Ps 23:4). Relating the word to Akkad. ṩalāmu “to be dark,” he feels that it should be tr. “very deep shadow, thick darkness.” צַלְמָ֫וֶת, H7516, is parallel to חֹ֫שֶׁכְ, H3125, in Psalm 107:10 and several times in Job.


D. Winton Thomas “צַלְמָ֫וֶת, H7516, in the Old Testament,” JSS 7 (1962), 191-200; C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953), 201-212.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

dark, dark’-nes (choshekh; skotos):

1. Darkness and Light in Palestine:

The day and night, light and darkness, are notable antitheses in Palestine. There the day does not slowly fade away into the night after a period of twilight, but before sunset there is the brightness of day, and when the sun has disappeared everything has changed and night is at hand. From sunset until the darkness of night is less than an hour.

2. Symbolic Uses:

In the Bible the main use of darkness is in contrast to light. Light is the symbol of God’s purity, wisdom and glory. Darkness is the opposite. Miraculous occurrence of darkness in the land of Egypt for three days is recorded in Ex 10:21,22, and at the death of Christ (Mt 27:45). See Plague; Eclipse.

The figurative uses of darkness are many and various. It is used as a symbol

(a) of moral depravity and its punishment. The wicked walk and work in darkness (Ps 82:5; Pr 2:13; Joh 3:19; Ro 13:12), and their reward is to "sit in darkness" (Ps 107:10) or to be "cast forth into the outer darkness" (Mt 8:12);

(b) of things mysterious or inexplicable (1Ki 8:12; Ps 97:2);

(c) of trouble and affliction (2Sa 22:29; Job 5:14; Pr 20:20; Isa 9:2; compare Ge 15:12);

"A dark (the Revised Version, margin "squalid") place" (2Pe 1:19) refers especially to the state of things described in 2Pe 2.

Alfred H. Joy