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DREAM (חֲלוֹם, H2706, ὄναρ, G3941, a dream.) A dream is a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep; any seeming of reality occurring to one sleeping; a more or less coherent “imagery” sequence occurring during sleep. Fromm defines “dream” as a meaningful and significant expression of any kind of mental activity under the condition of sleep.

Psychologial description. Dreams seem to be the reappearance of thoughts which have, in some form or other, been formed in our minds. They are portions of our former conceptions and impressions revived, and randomly reassembled. Bergson conceives of a dream as being the direct link between sensation and memory; being constructed around what we have seen, said, desired, or done, and their elaboration depends on memory images collected and preserved in the unconscious since earliest childhood. The same faculties function when we dream as when we are awake, but in one instance they are tense and in the other relaxed. The fullness of our mental life is available in our dreams, but with a minimum of tension, effort, or movement.

The importance of dreams. Doubtless the primary function of the “dream” is that of the “guardian of sleep.” Though a person be in a state of sleep, stimuli are still present and registering on the human nervous system. Various stimuli, simple and/or complex, single and/or mingled, may prompt certain memory images or perceptions which the mind associates with those stimuli. These stimuli the unconscious mind puts together, producing the “dream,” and thus allows the person to continue in a sleeping condition, and not awake to consciousness.

Dreams attest to the infinite bounds of the human mind. They are a forceful suggestion of the manifold and extensive possibilities within the mind and soul of man, waiting to be called forth. Of this arresting quality of dreams much has been written. “The slumber of the body seems to be but the waking of the soul....It is the litigation of sense, but the liberty of reason; and our waking conceptions do not match the fancies of our sleep” (Sir J. Browne). “Dreams, these whimsical pictures, inasmuch as they originate from us, may well have an analogy with our whole life and fate” (Goethe). “Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth....Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature. They seem to suggest to us an abundance and fluency of thought not familiar to the waking experience....A skillful man reads his dreams for his self-knowledge; yet not the details, but the quality” (Emerson). “We are not only less reasonable and less decent in our dreams but we are also more intelligent, wiser, and capable of better judgment when we are asleep than when we are awake” (Fromm).

Dream analysis is the fundamental technique of psychoanalysis. The free associations which occur within the unconscious as revealed in the dream are seen as guides to the person’s motivational schema and underlying dynamics. Ideas, images, and events occurring in the dream may be interpreted as symbols of repressed anxieties, fears, or wishes. Such is suggested not only by the analysts, but by playwrights such as Goethe,...“Inasmuch as they originate from us, may well have an analogy with our whole life and fate.”

Views held by ancient Eastern culture. Ancient Eastern peoples, esp. the Jews, held dreams in high regard; they noted them, and sought out those who professed or were known to explain and/or interpret them. Dream interpreters were highly esteemed; such is witnessed in the Egyptians of Joseph’s time (Gen 40; 41). Oppenheim observes that in the ancient Near E, dream experiences were noted on three clearly differentiated planes: dreams as revelations of deity which may or may not require interpretation; dreams which reflect, symptomatically, the state of mind, the spiritual and bodily “health” of the dreamer, which are only mentioned but never recorded; and thirdly, mantic dreams in which forthcoming events are prognosticated.

As used in the Old Testament. The Bible treats “dreams” as being of three origins and importances: (1) natural (Eccl 5:3), (2) divine (Gen 28:12), and (3) evil (Deut 13:1, 2; Jer 23:32).

The major use of the word “dream” in the OT is that of it being a medium of a message from God: “I the Lord...speak with him in a dream” (Num 12:6); “For God speaks in one way, and in two...in a dream...that he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the Pit, his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:14-18). In this manner, “God came to Abimelech,” and spake to him (Gen 20:3), “spoke through an angel of God” to Jacob (31:10, 11), “came and spake” to Laban (31:24), and “appeared” to Solomon (1 Kings 3:5).

Dreams were indicated too, as coming from natural causes, “For a dream comes with much business” (Eccl 5:3); also as a source of empty words, “For when dreams increase, empty words grow many” (5:7).

The word “dream” is employed also as a figure of speech, an expression to denote: that which is fleeting and/or transient, “fly away like a dream” (Job 20:8), “destroyed in a moment, swept away....like a dream when one awakes” (Ps 73:19, 20); the unbelievable, the overwhelming, and amazing, “like those who dream” (126:1); and as being descriptive of the vain hopes and utter ruin of the enemies of Ariel (Jerusalem), “And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel...shall be like a dream, a vision of the night. As when a hungry man dreams he is eating...as when a thirsty man dreams he is drinking” (Isa 29:7, 8).

See also Trance, Vision.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

drem, drem’-er (chalom, chelem; onar): In all time dreams and their interpretation have been the occasion of much curious and speculative inquiry. Because of the mystery by which they have been enshrouded, and growing out of a natural curiosity to know the future, much significance has been attached to them by people especially of the lower stages of culture. Even the cultured are not without a superstitious awe and dread of dreams, attaching to them different interpretations according to local color and custom.

Naturally enough, as with all other normal and natural phenomena for which men could assign no scientific and rational explanation, they would be looked upon with a certain degree of superstitious fear. "Dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy, Which is as thin of substance as the air And more inconstant than the wind." --Shakespeare.

1. Physiological and Psychological Ground:

While a fully satisfactory theory of dreams has not yet been established and while it is hardly possible that there will ever be a satisfactory explanation for each individual dream, yet through the rapid discoveries of physiological psychology in the recent decade or more, much new light is thrown on the subject. With the contribution modern psychology has made to our knowledge of the association of ideas through the connected relation of certain cortical centers and areas, it has come to be pretty well established that the excitation of certain bodily organs or surfaces will stimulate certain brain areas. Conversely the stimulation of certain cortical areas will produce a response in certain bodily regions over which these centers or areas preside.

Connecting thought processes are therefore dependent upon the proper correlation of ideas through what are known physiologically as the association centers. If then it comes to pass that, as occurs in dreams, only fragmentary ideas or loosely connected trains of thought occur, and if, as frequently happens, there is momentary connection, but little connection with normal waking experience, it will easily be seen that the excitation of certain centers will awaken certain trains of thought which are but poorly related to the balance of one’s thinking processes. Much is being said about the dissociation of ideas and the disturbance of personality of which dreams are one of several forms. Others are hallucinations, trances, visions, etc.

Dreams are abnormal and sometimes pathological. Sleep is a normal experience. Perfect and natural sleep should be without dreams of any conscious occurrence. Perhaps psychologically there can be no such thing as perfectly dreamless sleep. Such a condition would probably be death itself. Nature doubtless has her silent vigils, keeping watch in the chambers of the soul during the deepest sleep. The only difference is that they do not come to the threshold of consciousness. Thus, dreams are to the sleeping state what visions and hallucinations are to the waking state, and like them have their ground in a distorted image-making function. While the source of the materials and the excitant may not be the same in each case, yet functionally they are the same.

The stimuli of dreams may be of two kinds. First, they may be physical and objective, or they may be due to suggestions and the association of ideas. They may be due to some physical disorder, such as imperfect digestion or circulation, improper ventilation or heating, or an uncomfortable position. Since by the very nature of the case dreams do not occur in a conscious state, the real cause cannot easily be discoverable and then only after the subject is entirely awakened through the effects of it.

They may also be due to the association of ideas. Suggestion plays a large part. The vividness and recency of a conscious impression during the waking state may be thrown up from the subconscious region during the sleeping hours. The usual distorted aspect of dreams is doubtless due to the uncoupling of groups of ideas through the uncoupling of the cortical association areas, some of them being less susceptible than others to the existing stimulus.

The materials of dreams need not be recent; they may have been furnished by the conscious processes a long time before, but are brought to the threshold only by means of some train of ideas during a semi-conscious state. It is interesting to note that while time and space seem quite real in dreams, the amount covered in a single dream may occupy but a moment of time for the dreamer.

2. History of Belief in Dreams:

Dreams have always played an important part in the literature and religion of all peoples. They have furnished mythologies; they have been the sources of systems of necromancy; they have become both the source and the explanation of otherwise inexplicable acts of Providence. Growing out of them we have a theory of nightmares and demonology. They have become the working material of the prophet both Biblical and pagan. Medieval civilization is not without its lasting effects of dreams, and modern civilization still clings with something of reverence to the unsolved mystery of certain dreams. While we have almost emerged from anything like a slavish adherence to a superstitious belief in dreams, we must still admit the possibility of the profound significance of dreams in the impressions they make upon the subject.

3. Dreams in the Old Testament:

Another illustration of the psychological exposition preceding is the dream of Solomon (1Ki 3:5,11-15). In this narrative, after Solomon had done what pleased Yahweh and had offered a most humble prayer on an occasion which to him was a great crisis and at the same time a moment of great ecstasy in his life, he doubtless experiences a feeling of sweet peace in consequence of it. His sleep would naturally be somewhat disturbed by the excitement of the day. The dream was suggested by the associations and naturally enough was the approving voice of Yahweh.

Dreaming and the prophetic function seem to have been closely associated (De 13:1,3,1). Whether from a coldly mechanical and superstitious, a miraculous, or a perfectly natural point of view, this relation is consistent. The prophet must be a seer, a man of visions and ideals. As such he would be subject, as in his waking states, so in his sleeping states, to extraordinary experiences. The remarkable dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, who stands out as an exceptional example, afford an illustration of what may be styled a disturbed personality (Da 2:3-45; 4:5-19). The effort made by the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, according to the best skill of the Orientals, was unavailing. Daniel, whether by extraordinary intellectual insight or by Divine communication, was able by his interpretation and its moral to set before the king a powerful lesson.

Whether God communicates directly or indirectly by dreams is still unsettled. With our present knowledge of spirit communication it would not seem unreasonable to assume that He may reveal Himself directly; and yet on the other hand the safest and perhaps surest explanation for our own day and experience is that in dream states the mind is more impressionable and responsive to natural causes through which God speaks and operates. That dreams have been and are valuable means of shaping men’s thoughts and careers cannot be denied, and as such, have played an important part in the social and moral life of individuals and of society. A valuable modern illustration of this is the dream of Adoniram Judson Gordon (see How Christ Came to Church), through the influence of which his entire religious life and that of his church were completely transformed.


Judd, Psychology; Cutten, The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity; Ladd, Philosophy of Knowledge; Baldwin, Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology; Ellis, The World of Dreams (Houghton, Mifflin Co.).

Walter G. Clippinger