Phylacteries (Gr. Phulaktēria) means “to watch,” “to keep,” or “a safeguard.” The concept of wearing phylacteries was based on the Jews’ literal interpretation of the following verse, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8 also Exodus 13:9). The Jews wore phylacteries upon the head and the left arm. They called them tephillin, which means “prayers,” whereas the Greek designation was phulakterion (Matthew 23:5), from which the English word phylactery is derived.
These phylacteries consisted of little stacks made from the skin of clean animals, sewed to leather bands and fastened to the forehead and to the left arms of males starting at the age of 13. The four sections of the head phylactery each had a strip having one of the four following passages: Exodus 13:2–10; 13:11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21. The prayers consisted of 30 scriptural verses.
The arm phylactery had only one stack and had the same four passages. It was attached to the inside of the left arm above the elbow and close to the heart. This was done according to the verse, “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). Phylacteries were customarily worn by devout Jews during the daily morning prayer and by the most devout all day.
Jesus criticized those who pretended of being godly by widening their head bands: “They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matthew 23:5) for these actions were designed to call attention to the wearer as being holy. But God never intended that these words would be carried out literally on the forehead and the arm. He commanded that His words will be accepted in the mind and applied in the life of His believers.
To many, the phylactery was simply a protective charm against evil. The Jerusalem Talmud speaks of “shoulder-Pharisees who carry all their performance of commandments on their shoulders” (Berakoth 9, 14b, 40, cited in Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, vol. 1, p. 914). Also, it is known that Egyptians wore charms on their bodies in the form of small papyrus scrolls with magic words. After the Exodus, it seems that the Israelites copied these superstitious works. Bible student believe that this was kept literally during the time of the kings, the Maccabees to the time of Christ.
In His service,
Thank you for visiting BibleAsk – an online ministry dedicated to providing Bible based answers to your questions. If you enjoyed and agree with this answer, please like and share! If you don’t agree, please leave a comment below, and we’ll be sure to respond! If you have another question you would like to ask, please click here and someone from our team will personally answer it (don’t worry, your email address will never be shared). Check out our Bible Answers page to see just Bible verses answering thousands of questions. If you feel impressed to support this ministry, kindly visit our donate page to send a tax-deductible love gift to BibleAsk. Any donation size helps .