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WHEEL (Heb. ’ôphan, galgal, gilgal, ’ovnayim, pa‘am, Gr. trochos). Probably at first just a disk of wood cut from a log, but quite early developed into something resembling the modern device. When the Egyptians with their chariots pursued the Israelites at the Red Sea (Exod.14.24-Exod.14.25), the Lord took off their chariot wheels. In 1Kgs.7.30-1Kgs.7.33 where the bases of the great “sea” of Solomon’s temple are described, reference is made to wheels with their axles, rings, spokes, and hubs, showing that by Solomon’s time (c. 1000 b.c.) the wheel was quite developed and was similar to modern wagon wheels. Cart wheels were used for threshing some kinds of grain, but not cummin (Isa.28.27). The word for “potter’s wheel” means literally “two stones” (Jer.18.3). In ancient times two circular stone disks were joined by a short shaft, and so spun. Today, the shaft is longer and the wheels are of wood.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) ’ophan, is the usual word (Ex 14:25, etc.). In Pr 20:26; Isa 28:27 the rollers of a threshing wagon are meant (see Agriculture).

(2) galgal, "rolling thing," generally in the sense of "wheel" (Isa 5:28, etc.), but the Revised Version (British and American) in Eze 10:2,6,13 has "whirling wheels," an advantageous change. The "wheel .... broken at the cistern" in Ec 12:6 is the windlass for drawing the water, and by the figure the breakdown of the old man’s breathing apparatus is probably meant. In Ps 83:13, the King James Version has "wheel," but this translation (that of the Septuagint) is quite impossible; the Revised Version (British and American) "whirling dust" (sucked up by a miniature whirlwind) is perhaps right, but the translations proposed are end-less.

(3) gilgal, Isa 28:28, the roller of a threshing wagon.

(4) ’obhnayim, Jer 18:3. See Potter.

(5) pa`am, Jud 5:28, literally, "step" (so the Revised Version margin), and the sound of horses’ hoofs is intended.

(6) trochos, Sirach 33:5; Jas 3:6 (the King James Version "course"). In the former passage, "The heart of a fool is as a cart-wheel," the changeableness of a light disposition is satirized. In James the figure is of a wheel in rotation, so that a flame starting at any point is quickly communicated to the whole. Just so an apparently insignificant sin of the tongue produces an incalculably destructive effect.

The phrase "wheel of nature" (trochos tes geneseos) is used here for "the world in progress." It is not a very natural figure and has given rise to much discussion. the King James Version accents trochos ("course") instead of trochos (" wheel"). but the language throughout is metaphorical and "course" is not a sufficiently metaphorical word. The translation "birth" for geneseos (so the Revised Version margin). i.e. "a wheel set in motion by birth." is out of the question. as the argument turns on results wider than any individual’s existence. "Wheel of nature" is certainly right. But a comparison of life to a wheel in some sense or other (chiefly that of "Fortune’s wheel") is common enough in Greek and Latin writers, and, indeed the exact combination trochos geneseos is found in at least one (Orphic) writer (full references in the commentaries of Mayor and W. Bauer). It would seem, then, that James had heard the phrase, and he used it as a striking figure, with entire indifference to any technical significance it might have. This supposition is preferable to that of an awkward translation from the Aramaic.

See Course.