Towards Understanding Revelation

12/3/22 REVELATION 1:1a, PART 1

I’ve been referring to this as the “verse by verse,” but truly it will be phrase by phrase. With each phrase I will start by posting the verse in a number of different translations so that you can start getting a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of each translation. The phrase we will be focusing on will be in italics so that you can see how it fits into the verse.

As crazy as it’s going to sound, we will start by looking at the first phrase of this verse, and in most of the translations it is: A Revelation of Jesus Christ. Here are the translations:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John (King James Version – KJV)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John,  (New King James Version – NKJV)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,  (New American Standard Bible – NASB)

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place, he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition – NRSVUE)

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  (New International Version – NIV)

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, (English Standard Version – ESV)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John;  (American Standard Version – ASV)

A revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him so that he could tell his servants what is now to take place very soon; he sent his angel to make it known to his servant John,  (New Jerusalem Bible – NJB)

Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to make open to his servants, which things it behooveth to be made soon. And he signified, sending by his angel to his servant John   (Wycliffe Bible – WYC)

So let’s start by looking at how the Early Church Fathers saw this phrase, and move on from there:

“From this we learn that this (book) is called an Apocalypse, that is, ‘revelation,’ which manifests those secrets which are hidden and unknown to the senses, and that unless (Christ) himself reveals them, he who perceives (the revelation) will not have the strength to understand what he sees.” [from TRACTATE ON THE APOCALYPSE by Apringius of Beja, 531-548; from ANCIENT CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY ON SCRIPTURE: REVELATION, multiple translators, edited by William C. Weinrich, General Editor: Thomas C. Oden]

I like this outlook. It covers both the word ‘Apocalypse’ or ‘Revelation,’ as well as the fact that it comes from Jesus Christ. We can and will only understand as much of this book as Christ will allow.

“A revelation is the manifestation of hidden mysteries, with the guide being enlightened either through divine dreams or through a divine illumination received while awake.” from COMMENTARY ON THE APOCALYPSE by Andrew of Caesarea, 531-548;  translated by William C. Weinrich in the book ANCIENT CHRISTIAN TEXTS: GREEK COMMENTARIES ON REVELATION, edited by Thomas C. Oden]

I don’t like this one as much: he leaves out Jesus Christ in his explanation. He does present the question of whether John was awake or asleep when receiving these visions. I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer to that.

“Apocalypse is Greek and is interpreted as Revelation because it was to be revealed in the forms in which it was shown.  Of Jesus Christ because the things which are written in it are about Christ and the church. Or, of Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ revealed it to John.”  [from REFERENCE BIBLE: ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN, by Unknown, 8th Century; translated by Thomas A. Croteau in the book EARLY LATIN COMMENTARIES ON THE APOCALYPSE, edited by Francis X. Gumerlock]

This quote is from an Irish reference Bible, and seems pretty thorough. I do wish to take exception to the inclusion of the ‘church’ as one of the topics. Christ asks for letters to be written to the 7 Churches of Asia, but, starting with chapter 4, the church is not mentioned again. 

“When the church had been established by the apostles, it was proper that it be revealed by what course the church was to be extended and was to be perfected at the end, so that the preachers of the faith might be strengthened against the adversaries of the world.” [from TRACTATE OF THE ELDER BEDE ON THE APOCALYPSE by The Venerable Bede, 710-716; translated by William C. Weinrich in the book ANCIENT CHRISTIAN TEXTS: GREEK COMMENTARIES ON REVELATION, edited by Thomas C. Oden]

I can’t agree with this one. Again, as the Church is not mentioned after Chapter 3, Revelation cannot seriously be about the Church, it’s  extension or perfection.

“…the things that the old prophecy foretold as needing to be revealed concerning Christ and the Church, this prophecy announces as already revealed. This is also why it is titled ‘Apocalypse,’ that is ‘Revelation.’”   [from COMMENTARY ON REVELATION by Alcuin of York, late 8th century; translated by Sarah Van Der Pas, in the Patristic Bible Commentary at ]

I think that if it’s ‘already revealed,’ then it’s not really a prophecy. So, the revelation is: it already happened!

It needed to be revealed by what development the Church founded by the apostles would be enlarged and how it would be made perfect in the end, so as to strengthen the preachers of the faith against the adversity of the world.” [from QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON REVELATION by Alcuin of York, late 8th century; translated by Sarah Van Der Pas, in the Patristic Bible Commentary at ]

Here we have Alcuin just copying from Bede. He reworded it, but the content is identical and without credit.

“Revelation means the making visible of hidden mysteries, either through divine vision or through divine revelation, which he says was granted to him by Christ, and this through the names of the dispensation. By Christ, he says, and not simply by God. But if through Jesus Christ God had this knowledge revealed, it is clear that (it was) through the Spirit, that is, because through Christ the grace of the activity of the Spirit descends to us.”  [from COMMENTARY ON THE REVELATION OF SAINT JOHN by Nerses of Lambron, 1179; translated from the Armenian by Robert W. Thomson]

I am unsure if Nerses of Lambron was writing an original work or if he was translating an earlier work into Armenian, or a combination of the two. I’m hoping it becomes more clear as time goes on. Whichever it was though, he has twice implied that we only have John’s word for whether Christ was involved in the receiving of Revelation, as if John’s word might not be enough. And the last sentence wraps it up: “But if through Jesus Christ God had this knowledge revealed, it is clear that (it was) through the Spirit, that is, because through Christ the grace of the activity of the Spirit descends to us.” Here he is decidedly impugning the idea that John had visions at all. He is saying that we all experience the Holy Spirit, who comes from Christ, as we read God’s word, so that is clearly what John experienced rather than actually seeing Christ or His angels. (Move along, nothing to see here…) As with the authorship, perhaps we will learn more about this writer’s point of view as we go on.

“Of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, this is the wonderful Revelation concerning the diverse and doubtful state of the christian church from the apostles’ time to the latter end of the world.” [from THE IMAGE OF BOTH CHURCHES by John Bale, ~1550]

The letters to the Churches in Asia are well described as in a ‘diverse and doubtful state,’ but again, all references to the church stop after Chapter 3. Oh, and it is a ‘wonderful Revelation.’

“The first verse of this prophecy, being as it were the title of the book, shows briefly the kind of doctrine that is treated of in it: and also by whole ministry the fruit of this doctrine is come unto the whole Church. As touching the first word, the old interpreter has in this place left the Greek world, the which notwithstanding he translated oftentimes afore. The word is Apocalypse, which the many of the old writers have thought to have been said by the threescore and twelve interpreters, to express the property of the Hebrew speech withal. For the Hebrews call it Nalah, when a thing is discovered that was hidden before. Like as when it is said in the Prophet, The Lord God does not any thing, but he reveals the secret thereof to his servants the prophets, Amos 3:6-7…

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealed his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:6-7; KJV)

“Forasmuch then as many mysteries which were hidden heretofore are disclosed and opened in this book: the author of this work following the manner of the Hebrews, has begun his book with the title of it. And this Revelation is a Prophetical seeing of things to come, yea and of things hidden, which are certainly known to God alone, and to whom it pleases him to reveal them.”  [from A CATHOLIC EXPOSITION UPON THE REVELATION by Augustine Marlorate, 1574]

If you had trouble following this one, you’re not alone. The previous quote by John Bale was pretty straightforward, but this one by Marlorate is beginning to get into the flowery, pseudo-intellectual language that was very common in the 17th and 18th centuries. So after reading it several times, he basically said: The title was the first line of the book, just like most Hebraic books, the word Apocalypse means the discovery of something previously hidden, and God reveals what He wants to, to whom He wants to. And the book is a prophecy. 

“Concerning the title of this book…there is no difference amongst Expositors. For all agree, that the Apocalypse in Greek, or Revelation in English is an opening of hidden things, such as all things to come are, and therefore though they be but darkly revealed, yet not so darkly, but that we may by diligent search understand them, else how is it a Revelation? …And whereas it is entitled, The Revelation of Jesus Christ…it is by all agreed, that this title is put upon it for the honor of the work, and because it was not John, but Jesus Christ that revealed these things by his Angel unto John, and it is said to be given unto him of God in respect of his humanity.”  [from A COMMENTARIE UPON THE NEW TESTAMENT by John Meyer, 1631]      

This quote is much more down to earth in language usage, which probably explains why John Bale and John Meyer are more well known today than Augustine Marlorate. 

I like the term: “darkly revealed.” It has a similar feel to “through a glass, darkly”:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; KJV)

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; NKJV)

We have a new concept introduced here too: “given unto him of God in respect of his humanity.” In respect of Jesus’ humanity; as if, by taking on human form, Jesus is being accorded special privileges. But of course, it’s not just His humanity that is being honored, but what He did with His humanity.

“The Revelation or manifestation of many divine mysteries by the Mediator (who came out of his Father’s bosom) to John, who had the mind of Christ, and that purposely for the behoof and benefit of the family of faith, who are all of his cabinet-council, John i . 18; 1 Cor. ii. 16; Gal. vi. 10; Psal. xxv. 14.”  [from THE REVELATION OF ST JOHN THE DIVINE by John Trapp, 1647]

No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18; KJV)

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.     (1 Corinthians 2:16; KJV)

As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10; KJV)

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.   (Psalms 25:14; KJV)

Now John Trapp was very well known for a long time. His language use is actually intellectual (he doesn’t have add a bunch of meaningless “as ofs” or “heretofores” to try to sound high-minded). And, it’s really interesting that most of his quote would be either misunderstood or just not understood without also reading the Bible verses he attached to it. I suspect that’s the sign of a true scholar!

“The Word Revelation or Apocalypse signifies the unfolding of a secret. Tis called a Revelation for two reasons. First, because we need the knowledge of it. Secondly it shows the divine authority of it; for the title answers the title of the ancient Prophets; as the vision of Isaiah, so the Revelation of John.”  [from EPITOME OF THE  MOST CHOICE COMMENTARIES UPON THE REVELATION OF SAINT JOHN by Hezikiah Holland, 1650

This is from the book put out by the fast-talking shyster we looked at in the 17th century. He gets pretty flowery at times, but this quote is pretty good and down to earth. It’s nothing terribly unique, but it’s serviceable.

“…the Inscription, The Revelation, that is, the making open and unfolding of some things, obscure: & though they be still obscure to us, yet not in themselves, not to us now, as they were before this. It’s of Jesus Christ: First, Because given out by Jesus Christ, to John, as from the Administrator and great Prophet of His Church: And secondly, Because much of this Revelation concerned the governing of His Church.”  [from A COMMENTARIE UPON THE BOOK OF THE REVELATION by M. James Durham, 1680]

A good, solid quote, from a man well-known in his time. I really like it until the last line. The letters to the Churches of Asia may, indeed, aid in the governing of the church, but not the rest of Revelation.

“This book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ; the whole Bible is so; for all revelation comes through Christ, and all relates to him. It’s principle subject is to discover the purposes of God concerning the affairs of the church, and of the nations as connected therewith, to the end of the world”  [from REVELATION by Matthew Henry, ~1715]

Matthew Henry is still well-known today. He offers us another new concept: “all revelation comes through Christ and all relates to him.” You may have read this in a more recent book, or heard someone say this, or even have thought it out for yourself — but this is the first time, chronologically, we’ve seen it written. 

I disagree with him about the principle subject of Revelation. As we go on, I am certain we will discover the principle subject of the book…and some will still think it’s about the church. But I think we will find it’s something else all together.

We’ll pick it up in the 18th century in the next post.

2 responses to “12/3/22 REVELATION 1:1a, PART 1”

    • Thanks Edna! It took almost 3 weeks to get the earlier sources organized enough to actually go through them one at a time. I’m still organizing as I go. Some only address a few chapters of the book; some are in narrative or sermon form rather than verse-by-verse, so I have to read and note what verses will be relevant. It’s a big job, but I’m certainly learning alot! Take care, I’m praying for you!


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