Christian Interpretation of Dreams

Christian Dream Symbols:
Old Testament

The Christian interpretation of dreams revived the belief that dreams were supernatural events.

The Old Testament of the Bible is full of dreams: the most famous is probably Jacob's dream of a ladder or staircase from Earth to Heaven.

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (who died in 562 BC), had an interesting dream reported in the Book of Daniel (Chapter IV). In the dream he saw a tall, strong tree standing at the center of the Earth, with beautiful foliage beneath which wild beasts took shelter, and in which birds nested. But then a messenger from Heaven ordered the tree to be felled, and the King to be chained to its stump to live like a beast feeding on grass.

The King summoned a dream interpreter, Daniel, who told him that the tree represented his power and glory, and that his abasement in the dream was to teach him that he should acknowledge a heavenly power as high above the beasts of the field. The dream was, however, seen as actually prophetic.

St. John Chrysostom preached that God revealed himself through dreams. He also made the remarkably modern statement that we are not responsible for our dreams, and should not therefore be ashamed of any images that appear in them. Both St. Augustine and St. Jerome claimed that the directions of their lives were affected by their dreams.

Christian Dream Interpretation:
New Testament

The belief that dreams could be divinely inspired persisted during the early centuries of Christendom, and in the 4th centery AD was part of the teach of Church fathers such as St John Chrysostom, St Augustine and St Jerome. However, Christian orthodoxy was moving away from dream interpretation and prophecy.

The dreams of the New Testament were seen as straightforward messages from God to the disciples and other founders of Christianity. Prediction also was redundant, because the future was belieed to be in God's hands. By the Middle Ages, the Church even discounted the possiblity of divine messages to the average believer, because God's revelation was only in an through the Church itself.

The Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas summed up the orthodox position of the thirteenth centery when he advised that dreams should all together be ignored altogether.

Martin Luther, who broke from the Roman Catholic Chuch to initiate the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, taught that dreams, at most, simply showed us our sins.

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Source and Recommended Reading:

Fontana, David. The Secret Language of Dreams: A Visual Key to Dreams and Their Meanings. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1994: 12.

Parker, Julia & Parker. Parker's Complete Book of Dreams: The Definitive Guide to the Meaning of Dreams. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc., 1995: 12.