It has been my privilege to witness two coronations in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in my lifetime, and to live in the reign of three monarchs.
I have seen the Crown Jewels normally kept in a vault in the Tower of London, and the Honours of Scotland, including a crown that predates the one used to crown King Charles III and his mother Elizabeth II before him. Interestingly it was last used to crown King Charles II in Scotland on 1st January 1651 before he was crowned in Westminster ten years later in 1661!
Many museums in other countries have on display crowns which were used to signify the right to rule, even though most countries now prefer republican or authoritarianism as their form of government.
Any student of history or sociology knows that almost every organization inevitably has, or chooses, a leader to set direction, policy and strategy guiding their group. Drawing from our own anatomy where we perceive that we “live” in our head, the chief or ruler is evidently the “head” of the clan or tribe.
It is interesting that even words in English like “boss” originally meant to be elevated or raised up, as in “embossed”, or the top decoration of a piece of furniture, architecture or artwork. Every culture seems to favor decorating the head as a symbol of royalty, leadership or achievement, although the form of the decoration can vary widely. In Western Europe the crown with which we are familiar predominates, but in Eastern cultures, such as Persia, it may have been a jewel-encrusted turban or head covering.
I think most Christians are aware that Greek has three words that are routinely translated as “love” in English — “phileos”, “eros”, and “agape”. What is less well known is that Greek has two words that are translated as “crown” and Hebrew has no less than five!
So in our scripture when we read the word “crown” it could possibly be referring to one of seven words depending on the original language. Each word has a slightly different meaning and emphasis, and understanding the difference adds to our understanding of the meaning of the passage.
In Hebrew “qodhqodh” means the “crown of the head” and can be found in Jacob’s prophecies concerning his sons,
“The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” Genesis 49:26 KJV
“Zer” in Hebrew means “a surrounding” or “moulding” and can here be translated as a decorative crown as in the instruction for making the Ark of the Covenant:
“And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.” Exodus 25:11 KJV
“Nezer” means something "set apart"; i.e. a dedication to the priesthood or the dedication of a Nazarite. You won’t be surprised that Nazarene and Nazareth are from the same root. The word comes from “nazar”, meaning "to hold aloof" from impurity, even from drink and food, more definitely, "to set apart" for sacred purposes, i.e. "to separate," "devote,” or "consecrate." Interestingly, the peculiar hairstyle of medieval monks with a bald patch on top of the head surrounded by a fringe of hair directly relates to this “crown”.
“And they made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote upon it a writing, like to the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.” Exodus 39:30 KJV
No king but a Hebrew could wear a nezer--a "Holy to Yahweh" crown.
ATarah” means a crown in the usual sense. It is derived from the verb “aTar”, meaning "to encircle," as in war for offense or defense; and also actually and figuratively "to crown."
“The crown of the wise is their riches: but the foolishness of fools is folly.” Proverbs 14:24 KJV is a typical use of “‘Atarah”
“Kether” means a "circlet" or "a diadem." From kathar, meaning "to enclose": as a friend, "to crown"; as an enemy, "to besiege."
“The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.” Proverbs 14:18 KJV
In ancient times, the leader of a victorious army would often wear a diadem - a simple headband of thread, silk or gold - to represent his victory over and enemy. A great leader could thus be “crowned with many crowns” in this sense.
The two Greek words of the New Testament translated crown are: (1) “stephanos”, from “stepho”, and (2) “diadema”, from “diadeo”, "to bind round."
The word for diadems only occurs three times in the New Testament and all in Revelation (Revelation 12:3, 13:1 and 19:12) and pick up on the ancient tradition of the victorious leader and in each case are symbolic of the power to rule.
By far the more common use of “crown” in the New Testament is the “stephanos” which is the crown awarded to the winner of a race in the Olympic Games. It was a woven wreath made of leaves or leaf-like gold, used for marriage and festive occasions, and expressing public recognition of victory in races, games and war; also figuratively as a reward for efficient Christian life and service. Those awarded for the winners of games were crowns woven from laurel leaves which naturally perish after a while, which is why you cannot “rest on your laurels”.
The caricature of a crown representing “royalty” or “winner” that Jesus wore was a “stephanos” woven from thorns!
If your parents named you “Steven” or “Stephanie” they must have thought you were a winner!
Paul was ready to receive his crown,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8 NLT
Charles Wesley had a vision of what it must be like when we all gather, changed and rewarded in Heaven:
Finish then, Thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be; let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee. Changed from glory into glory, till in heav'n we take our place, till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise. — SASB #262 v.3
So from the seven crowns in the scripture, I personally choose the “stephanos”, the crown of righteousness.
How about you?
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study