Gesture(s) | Free Online Biblical Library

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GESTURE(S). Any movement of head, hand, or other part of the body to convey meaning to an observer, as to secure his attention or to guide his action; to emphasize what is being said or is about to be said; or to express strong feeling. A variety of words and phrases convey the different actions of persons in the Bible. People of the ancient orient were much more given to what westerners of today would regard as extreme expressions of such emotions as grief, despair, joy and friendship.

Bowing was a common gesture of greeting and reverence. Abraham so greeted his visitors as he was encamped at Mamre (Gen 18:2); and so did Lot when they visited him at Sodom (Gen 19:1). Jacob bowed himself seven times as he approached Esau with whom he hoped for reconciliation (Gen 33:2). David fell on his face and bowed three times as he met with Jonathan to say farewell when he would have to flee to escape from Saul (1 Sam 20:41). The two men also kissed each other and wept, another common practice in Bible times, esp. when feelings were strong. Esau and Jacob embraced and wept when they met after their long estrangement (Gen 33:4). Joseph kissed his brothers and they wept when his identity was made plain in Egypt (Gen 45:15). Such wholesome gestures of love and friendship could be used hypocritically for base purposes, and Joab did this when he kissed Amasa while concealing the sword with which he murdered him (2 Sam 20:9). Judas also planted the false kiss of betrayal upon Jesus to deliver Him up to His enemies (Matt 26:49).

The Gospel writers take note of various gestures of Jesus during His ministry. He looked with love upon the good but unyielding rich young man (Mark 10:21). In dealing with a deaf man with impaired speech, Jesus put fingers in the ears, spat and touched the tongue, looked to heaven, sighed, and then gave the healing word (Mark 7:33-35). He sighed over men’s hardness of heart (Mark 8:12). He looked around with indignation in the synagogue when the leaders opposed His sabbath healing of an afflicted man (Mark 3:5). He picked up little children and laid hands on them to bless them (Mark 10:16). In the final hours in Gethsemane, Jesus knelt and fell on His face and prayed out of the deep agony of His heart (Matt 26:39; Luke 12:41).


G. M. Mackie, “Gestures,” HDB, II (1900), 162f., W. I. Walker, “Gesture,” ISBE, II (1925), 1220f., “Gesture,” HED (1952), 222f.