Beliefnet
For Bible Study Nerds

In warning about false prophets in Matthew 7:15, Jesus compares those people to “wolves” disguised in sheep’s clothing. The meaning here is clear: Christ’s followers are vulnerable sheep, and false prophets are the hungry predators who will harm them.

In biblical use, in both Old and New Testaments, the term “wolf” or “wolves” is almost always a symbolic image. Only rarely, such as in Isaiah (11:6, 65:25) and once in John’s gospel (10:12) does the term refer to a literal, physical animal—and even then the wolf is illustrative of a larger symbolic context (Isaiah) or a representative icon in a parable (John).

In most other uses (including Matthew 7:15), the wolf represents only the worst, and most dangerous, aspects of people and life. As such, the wolf is a depiction of callous, insatiable hunger (Genesis 49:27), of destruction (Jeremiah 5:6), and of vicious, deadly abuse of the innocent (Ezekiel 22:27, Habakkuk 1:8, Zephaniah 3:3, Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:3, Acts 20:29).

Interestingly, one Bible historian notes that in ancient Palestine, “Owing to the ease with which food is obtained, and the mildness of the winter, they [wolves] do not hunt in packs, as in the colder north, but prowl alone.” In that context, Jesus’ warning could apply to either a “lone wolf” or a group of “wolves” hidden among his followers. And the results of either of those situations is deadly.

 

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