SUN. The sun is mentioned frequently in the Bible as part of the imagery of creation and as a part of a number of common Sem. idiomatic expressions. The sun was worshiped under the titles of various deities by many peoples of the ancient world.

The sun in the OT.

Simple ideographs of the sun date from the Paleolithic era onward and every ancient language has a special term usually with metaphysical or supranatural connotation to describe the solar phenomenon. In Sumer, the sun was deified under the name dingir, utu, the sign for utu, which was used throughout the millennia when cuneiform was in vogue for the sun. In the elaborate Sumer. pantheon, utu was in charge of the moral order of things, boundaries, agreements, etc. He also was to judge the dead and determine their status in the netherworld. The Akkad. (E Sem.) equivalent is the deity S̆amaš frequently mentioned in the historical and religious texts.

In Sumer. and E Sem. pantheons the sun is a masculine deity; in Ugaritic the sun by the name S̆pš is a goddess as in various other W Sem. cultures. The cult of the sun goddess was widespread among the Sem.; but the sole feminine form given S̆amaš in Amarna Letter 232 is prob. a scribal error.

In Egypt the sun god ' was the high deity of the earliest pre-dynastic cosmology, that of Heliopolis. The deity of the Neolithic period seems to have been an ancient god Atum who later becomes syncretized with into Atum-Rē symbolized by the sacred post, ben-ben, which stood in the center of the sacred precinct at Heliopolis. The incident of the removal of the capitol to Amarna by the Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1377-1358 b.c.) marked a transition to the cult worship of Aten, the solar disc, and a loss of power and control by the former royal city of Thebes. After the death of Akhenaten and his successors Semenkhkara and Tutankhamon the Amarna age ended.

Throughout the OT, the sun is stated to be the creation of God, fashioned with the intent of providing light on the fourth day of creation (Gen 1:14-19). However, at the command of Jehovah it can be stayed (Josh 10:12, 13); and in the day of judgment at the fulfillment of the “last days” it will be extinguished (Isa 13:10, et al.).

The sun in the NT.

The Gr. term is ἥλιος, G2463, the root of Eng. “Helium (He.)” which appears some thirty times in the NT in two senses: as an indicator of time in which actions took place (Mark 1:32), and in the sense of some cosmic catastrophe to occur at the parousia (Matt 24:29; Rev 1:16, et al.). This last sense is derived from the OT prophetic usage. It is very rare in the epistles, appearing only in 1 Corinthians 15:41 and Ephesians 4:26. The occurrence in James 1:11 is a familiar Biblical motif. The sun in all cases is mentioned as the source of light and completely at the command of God. The darkening of the sun at the crucifixion is seen as a special effect of iniquity upon the cosmos.

The sun in post-Biblical literature.

So strong was the reverence for the sun among the ancient pagans that notions and ideas from this cultus were soon syncretized with the Gospel. This is prob. the chief reason why the sun is not mentioned in any fig. or symbolic sense in the epistolary tradition. The sun is a central feature in the Apoc., Pseudep. and Ap. Lit. (1 Enoch 41:3-9). Since the sun was worshiped in Mithraism and other cults of Persian-Zoroastrian origin, this element was frequent in the various heresies.

The sun in literature, art and folklore of the Graeco-Roman world.

Nearly all the deities of the ancient classical world were portrayed in some sense illuminated by the sun which became one of their divine attributes. In the earliest Christian art and lit. this also occurred so that Jesus is often shown on the sun-shield or clipeus and frequently in the solar chariot. The culmination of this movement was in the pantheistic hymnology of the high middle ages in which Christ was ascribed all the attributions of the ancient solar disc. The Reformation discredited this vestige of paganism.


W. T. Olcott, Sun-Lore of All Ages (1914); F. Boll, Die Sonne im Glauben und in der Weltanschauung der alten Völker (1922); O. Eissfeldt, “Die Flügelsonne als künstlerisches Motiv und als religiöses Symbol,” Forschungen und Fortschrifte, XVII (1942), 145-148; H. P. L’Orange, “Studies on the Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World,” Instituttet For Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, Series A: Forelesninger XXIII (1953); G. S. Hawkins, Beyond Stonehenge (1973).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Astronomy, sec. I, 2.

See Sun-worship.