🔼The name Dike: Summary
- From the noun δικη (dike), justice.
🔼The name Dike in the Bible
It's not agreed on whether the name Dike (say Dee-kay) actually occurs in the Bible. But if it does (and here at Abarim Publications we like to think so) it does so in Acts 28:4, where the natives of Malta make a fire for Paul and his marooned shipmates.
When Paul throws some additional sticks on the fire, a viper emerges and bites him in his hand. The natives know this snake and know its bite is deadly. They conclude that Paul must be a murderer, and that "justice" condemned him to death even though the sea and the storm let him live. Since Paul was not in a courtroom and there was no executioner to fling vipers at him, the natives undoubtedly referred to the goddess of justice named Dike.
When Paul doesn't swell up or keel over, the natives conclude that he too must be a god (Acts 28:6), which is again evidence that the natives evoked Dike and not some kind of general justice.
Journalism didn't exist in the time of the Bible, and the author of Acts doesn't include the story of Paul's bout with the snake as an anecdote. It rather shows the core of Paul's theology and his method of conveyance. Paul would visit a culture and pitch the Gospel into this culture's very own "temple of the unknown God". The snake story in Acts 28 depicts a foreign theology which (1) revered law, (2) counted on causality, (3) was eager to see causality circumvented without destroying it (because that would have been illegal), and (4) was eager to identify human deity.
The story doesn't tell what happened next but the reader may readily assume that Paul swung the topic of that evening to Christ with minimum momentum. The key here is that both Paul and the author of Acts were both keenly aware of Greek mythology and showed their respect for alternative symbolic structures to incorporate it into their texts (and blotting these references out in translations is missing the point twice). If Paul had stated that Dike was a figment of imagination and he was the bearer of the one and only truth, the natives surely wouldn't have sheltered him for long, and he wouldn't have been Publius' honored guest, and he would certainly not have had much to talk about in the three months that he stayed on Malta.
Law, after all, was one of Paul's favorite topics, and he must have known that in the understanding of the Maltese, Dike wrote man's offences on the tablet of Zeus (Aeschylus, Fragment 282), and that she sat beside the throne of Zeus and oversaw all the works of men; that goddess from whom everyone that was chosen by lot derived his name of juror (Demosthenes, Against Aristogeiton; also see Ephesians 3:15).
🔼Etymology of the name Dike
The name Dike is identical to the noun δικη (dike), meaning justice:
The noun δικη (dike) means justice in a formal, judicial sense, and fairness in a common sense. Ultimately, it denotes a harmony with the rules of the universe, and can be easily recognized from stability and perpetuity in all sorts of circumstances. Injustice, in a cosmological sense, causes instability and ultimately demise. This word comes with a long list of compound derivatives.
Modern translations commonly shy away from mentioning "other gods" in the Bible, which is really quite silly (also see our article on the god Meni, which is mentioned in Isaiah 65:11, or click on the "other gods" list to the left for an extensive list of other gods mentioned in the Bible).
The New American Standard and the Young Translation translate the word δικη in Acts 28:4 simply with a lower-case "justice," and the King James Version has "vengeance". The American Standard Version and the New International Version print a capitalized Justice. And the Darby translation speaks of Nemesis — in Greek mythology a spirit of divine retribution, especially for arrogance — which seems to be even further off.
Dike was the well-established Greek god of justice, and virtually every member of the original audience of the Book of Acts would have known who she was. By the time of the New Testament, Dike didn't simply represent justice in general, but governed the whole available corpus of natural and manufactured law. She was, for that reason, a high-ranking deity; a daughter of Zeus and Themis (= "that which is put in place" or "divine order"), and one of the three Horae (= seasons), which were goddesses of general order and natural justice. The other two Horae were Eunomia (=order) and Eirene (=peace). Dike's daughter was called Hesychia (= peace of mind) and was known to "make cities great" (Pindar, Pithian Ode 8).
It may be that the ancient name Laodice (= laos + dike; hence Laodicea) represented a specialization or a lower order variant of the Dike deification.