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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Healing, Gift ofHeart
Hear, Hearing

Most Old Testament words for hear(ing) come from the root sm [שֶׁמַע , שָׁמַע], "hear, " or zn [אָזַן], "(give) ear, " although qsb [קָשַׁב], "pay attention, " sometimes appears. The New Testament words are akouo [ἀκουστός , ἀκούω], "hear, " along with its several compounds and cognates, and ous [οὖς], "ear" with its diminutives otion [ὠτάριον , ὠτίον] and otarion.

Scripture often refers to the physical ear (Gen 35:4; Exod 29:20; Deut 15:17; Mark 7:33; Luke 22:50; 1 Cor 12:16) or the physical faculty of hearing (Deut 31:11; 1 Sam 15:14; Mark 7:35), but relies more heavily on the figurative meanings of the words. In Scripture God hears; he pays attention to his people. His people should, but do not always, listen to him. Hearing is the mode by which the Son of God and his followers receive God's word.

In the Old Testament God hears both his people's groaning in trouble (Gen 16:11; Exod 2:24; 3:7; 6:5; Psalm 69:33; 102:20) and their grumbling against him (Exod 16:7-9; Num 14:27). Throughout Scripture God hears his people's prayers (1 Kings 8:31-53; Psalm 34:15, ; quoted in 1 Peter 3:12; more than fifty times in the Psalms Isa 59:1; Matt 6:7-8; Luke 1:13; 1 John 5:14). In contrast, idols have physical ears but cannot hear their worshipers (Psalm 115:6; 135:17).

Since God hears his people, his people should also hear him. The prophets frequently call Israel to "hear the word of the Lord." Even pagans may hear about God's wonderful actions and be impressed (Joshua 2:10-11; 2 Chron 9:1-8). Often in Deuteronomy, Moses calls on Israel to hear, especially in the Shema (literally the 6:4-5; cf. 4:1; 5:1; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9).

Although Job refers to his indirect and partial understanding of God's character as hearing of God by the hearing of the ear (42:5), more often hearing refers to a deeper understanding. God's people are to "hear" (take heed of) the Prophet like Moses who will appear (Deut 18:15-20; cf. Acts 3:22). In the "third heaven" Paul hears "inexpressible things" (2 Cor 12:2-4), revealing matters that may not be passed on to others. The recovery of hearing by deaf people serves as a sign of the messianic kingdom (Isa 29:18; 35:5-6; cf. Matt 11:5; Mark 7:37). Hearing the voice of God's Son will cause the dead to rise (John 5:25-29).

Some among God's people have "ears to hear" his voice, while others do not. God accuses his people when they refuse to use their ears and listen to him (Isa 6:9-10, ; quoted in Matt 13:14-15; and parallels, also in Acts 28:26-27). Both before (Matt 11:15; 13:9, 43; and parallels ) and after (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) his resurrection, Jesus calls on those who have spiritual ears to use them.

The Old Testament image of an "inclined" ear suggests a person leaning over to listen closely. Those whose ears and hearts are inclined toward God (Isa 55:3; cf. Prov 5:1) want God's ears to be inclined toward them (Psalm 31:2; 71:2; Dan 9:18).

Because of his unique identity, the Son of God hears the Father's word and passes it on (John 3:32; 8:40; 15:15), and the Father in turn hears the Son's prayers (John 11:41-42; Heb 5:7). Jesus' immediate followers testify to what they have seen and heard both during his ministry and after his resurrection (Acts 4:20; 22:15; 1 John 1:3, 5).

As hearing is the mode by which the Son receives the Father's word, and the Son's immediate followers receive it from him, so hearing is the means by which each believer receives the word. "Faith, " says Paul, "comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17; cf. Acts 4:4, ; and often in Acts ). The Holy Spirit comes through the "hearing of faith" (Gal 3:2, 5; cf. Acts 2:37-41). Those who become believers should go on to maturity, not being "dull in hearing" (Heb 5:11) or remaining only hearers of the truth (James 1:22-25; cf. Rom 2:13; Matt 7:24-27; and parallel Matt 13:19; and parallels ). Believers should especially avoid turning from hearing the truth, listening to false teachers who will scratch their "itching ears" (lit. "itching hearing" 2 Tim 4:3-4).

In following Jesus, believers should "consider carefully how they listen" (Luke 8:18), making sure the truth they already have will not be "taken away." In their interpersonal relations, they should be "quick to listen" (James 1:19), always ready to hear what the other person has to say.

Carl B. Bridges, Jr.

See also Obedience

Bibliography. J. Horst, TDNT, 5:543-59; G. Kittel, TDNT, 1:216-25.


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Hear, Hearing'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<>. 1897.


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