agate in the Bible
The word “agate” is from the Greek name of a stone found in the Achates River in Sicily.
This word has been the translation of 3 different Hebrew words, and is used 3 times in the King James Bible and NRSV, and twice in the NKJV and NIV.
However, “agate” is not the original Hebrew word in any of these, although it may be an accurate translation of one of them.
Hebrew: שְׁבוּ —transliteration: shebo or shebuw (Exodus 28:19 KJV)
This sparkling stone was included in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:19; Exo. 39:12). It was the 2nd stone in the 3rd row.
This may be what we know as the agate today, a semi-transparent crystallized quartz, probably brought from the land of Sheba, hence its name (compare to the Hebrew word “shebo”).
Hebrew: כְּדַכֹּד —transliteration: kadkod or cadcod (Ezek 27:16 KJV)
Although in Isaiah 54:12 KJV and Ezek. 27:16 KJV, the word agate(s) is the translation of the Hebrew of kadod, which seems to mean “sparkling gem.” More recent translations, including the New King James Version, NASB and ESV say these stones are “rubies,” not “agates” (Ezek. 27:16 NKJV and Isaiah 54:12 NKJV).
Greek: χαλκηδών —transliteration: chalkedon (chalkédón)
The original Greek for Revelation 21:19 mentions chalkedon as a precious stone used in the 3rd foundation of the future New Jerusalem. This may be the stone chalcedony, not agate.
Here is how various modern translations interpret this verse and the city’s 3rd foundation:
- Rev. 21:19 NASB (chalcedony)
- Rev. 21:19 ESV (agate)
- Rev. 21:19 NIV (agate)