“Crown him with many crowns…” - Matthew Bridges SASB #358
“…Bring forth the royal diadem And crown Him Lord of all” - Edward Perronnet SASB #73
I am a word geek. Words, their meanings and origins fascinate me. I am especially intrigued by foreign words which have no equivalent single-word equivalent in English, or when a single word in English has multiple words to express different shades of meaning in another language. For example, you may have heard that Eskimos have seven different words for “snow.” Since I don’t speak Inuit I don’t know if that’s really true, but I can say with assurance that the Scots language (which I do speak) has a plethora of words for “rain” (if you lived in Scotland you would come to realize why that is so)!
This phenomenon presents a special challenge to translators who have to try to convey not only the equivalent word, but also the emotion and intent of the original. English is fraught with words and idioms which do not mean what their surface translation would imply. For example if an Englishman describes something as “not too bad” what he is really conveying is that he is much too polite to say how much he disliked it!
Bible translators have these problems by the bucketful! The published translations we have are all really quite good, but you will notice significant differences if you compare them side-by-side (I really recommend doing this in your Bible Study). When you notice a difference it’s not that the other translators got it wrong, it’s just that this translator felt led to emphasize one of the shades of meaning over the others. I understand if you don’t feel inclined to search a bunch of different translations, so let me recommend as a good resource the Amplified Bible which tries to incorporate as many of the meanings as it can in the translation. Here is an example of a familiar passage from Genesis 1 in the Amplified Bible :
“In the beginning God ([a]Elohim) [b]created [by forming from nothing] the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was [c]formless and void or a waste and emptiness, and darkness was upon the face of the deep [primeval ocean that covered the unformed earth]. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, [d]“Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good (pleasing, useful) and [e]He affirmed and sustained it; and God separated the light [distinguishing it] from the darkness. 5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was [f]evening and there was [g]morning, one day.”
Our Bible has been translated from three original languages: Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. I’d like to focus our attention on the English word “crown” and look at the underlying meanings in the source languages. The Old Testament Hebrew uses three different words which are translated as “crown” and I’ll leave looking up their meaning as an exercise for you, so that I can concentrate on the two Greek words - “diadem” and “stephanos.”
“Diadem” was the crown of the king or ruler. It is the crown of authority. I think you'll probably have an image in your mind of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II with her tall crown studded with priceless jewels, but that is a fairly recent invention (since the 1600’s at least). The best way to describe “diadem” is as a thin headband or ribbon. Sometimes it was made of thread or fabric and only occasionally from some kind of precious metal. This was the crown the ruler wore to identify him as the leader in battle. After a victory he might wear multiple diadems to signify all the territories of which he was now king. When we sing the hymn “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne” this is the image it should convey. Jesus is literally the conquering “King of Kings” and is worthy to wear many crowns.
If you know someone with the name “Stephanie,” “Stephen” or "Steve,” their name is derived from the other kind of crown - the “stephanos”. Today in the Olympic Games we award medals to the winners, but originally they were awarded crowns - the “stephanos” or “winner’s crown.” Interestingly these were usually woven from laurel leaves which would decay and perish over time, so the winner could never “rest on his laurels”! Of course some Roman Emperors decided to have their “stephanos” made out of gold to try and avoid that problem and the image of the “imperishable” or “incorruptible” crown shows up as a reward throughout the New Testament.
Ironically, the Romans thought they were making a great joke when they awarded Jesus a “stephanos” made of thorns on the cross, not realizing how victorious he really was at that very moment.
We find crowns in the New Testament given for two reasons: exaltation and reward.
Stephanos is the crown of exaltation bestowed upon Christ (Re 6:2; 14:14; Heb 2:9). The conquering Christ has "upon his head .... many diadems" (Re 19:12). Paul sees us as the persistent, faithful Christian at the end of the hard-won race wearing the symbolic stephanos of rejoicing (1Th 2:19 KJV), of righteousness (2Ti 4:8), of glory (1Pe 5:4), and of life (Jas 1:12; Re 2:10). Paul's fellow Christians were his joy and “stephanos” (Php 4:1), "of which Paul might justly make his boast.”
In the end, all these awards and rewards pale in comparison to the joy of just being in the physical presence of the conquering savior, and was probably in the mind of Charles Wesley when he wrote:
“Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.” SASB #262
We can look forward to a bright future “…away over Jordan, to wear a starry crown.”