Notes on the Translation of Certain Passages

Notes on the Passage
The title: 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ', is taken from the first words of this book 'Αποκαλυψις Ιησου Χριστου', following the example of the first five books of the Bible which, in the original Hebrew, take their titles from their first word or words.

In the Greek text, the noun Αποκαλυψις, or its transliteration Apocalypse (Revelation), is found without the definite article. In general, the author omits the definite article before a noun if he does not expect the reader to be familiar with the person, thing or concept to which the noun refers. For the same reason, it is usually omitted before the first mention of a particular noun (cf. Aune, Revelation 1-5, Vol 52A in the Word Biblical commentary; Dallas: Word, 1997, pp. clxiii-clxvi). Therefore the omission of the article before the noun Αποκαλυψις, in its first and only occurrence, indicates that the author does not expect the readers to know about this work; it implies the work is new and unique. In English, however, the omission of the article does not have the same significance. On the contrary, it would wrongly suggest this revelation was only one particular example out of many from the same source. So the article is needed in English to convey the uniqueness of this work.

'Αποκαλυψις Ιησου Χριστου' (The Revelation of Jesus Christ)'.
The meaning of 'Revelation' in this context depends on the way we interpret its relation to 'Jesus Christ'. This genitive is ambiguous, and its two meanings can be expressed as follows:
  1. the revelation (or disclosure) of future events which was given to Jesus Christ by God (Jesus Christ as the subject of the genitive).
  2. the revelation (or disclosure) of Jesus Christ himself from a situation in which he is not fully known or perceived (Jesus Christ as the object of the genitive, cf. 1Cor 1,7; 1Pet 1,7.13).
Even though the first of these meanings (a) is implied by the present context (Ap 1,1-2), the second (b) is closely related: the Revelation of Jesus Christ (objective genitive) is, in effect, the end and purpose of the events disclosed in the Revelation of Jesus Christ (subjective genitive). What begins as a revelation of future events given to Jesus Christ, and communicated to his servants (a), ends with the Revelation of Jesus Christ himself at the final Judgement (b).
'...who witnesses (εμαρτυρησεν) the Word of God and the Witness of Jesus'
Although the main verb (εμαρτυρησεν) is in the aorist (past) tense, it is translated here in the present. Since John's witnessing of the Word of God and the Witness of Jesus Christ is a linear action which continues down to the present, we take this use of the aorist to refer to the start of the action. This example of an ingressive aorist is best translated by the present tense in English.
'the Witness of Jesus (η μαρτυρια Ιησου)'
This genitive is also ambiguous, and its two meanings can be expressed as follows:
  1. with Jesus as subject – 'the Witness of Jesus', given to St. John;
  2. with Jesus as object – 'the witness to Jesus', given by St. John (his witness to Jesus).
We have translated this expression by the 'Witness of Jesus' in all the places where it occurs in the text. In this way, the double meaning is preserved, and the interpretation is left to the reader. The interpretation of this expression is especially relevant in 1,9 :'I John...was on the island called Patmos because of the Word of God and the Witness of Jesus'. Each of the two meanings of the expression gives rise to a different interpretation of the reason for John being on the island of Patmos:
  1. St. John came to Patmos in order to receive 'the Word of God and the Witness of Jesus' (subjective genitive);
  2. for proclaiming the Word of God and giving his witness to Jesus (objective genitive), St. John received from the Romans the penalty of exile on Patmos.
Although (b) is strongly favoured by tradition, (a) is consistent with the use of the expression 'the Word of God and the Witness of Jesus' elsewhere in the text, to describe the nature of 'the Revelation of Jesus Christ' (Ap 1,1-2, see note on 1:2 above), namely, the revelation of God witnessed by Jesus and his angel (1,5; 3,14; 22,16.20) to others who are persecuted on that account (6,9; 12,17; 20,4). Furthermore, (a) also agrees well with the context of 1,9 because the passage which follows describes how the revelation began: 'I came to be in the Spirit on the Lord's Day...'.
'...and the seven lampstands are seven churches'.
In the text, there is no definite article before the 'seven churches' and its omission is noteworthy. It has already been noted that the author generally omits the article before a noun when he does not expect the reader to be familiar with the person or thing to which the noun refers, usually at its first occurrence in the text. However, the author has previously referred to the 'churches' using the definite article (Ap 1,11), implying that the churches should be known to the readers. The omission of the article in this case (Ap 1,20) is exceptional, and suggests that the churches are seven out of many, and therefore represent all churches. The representative purpose of these seven churches is confirmed by the universal character of the subsequent messages (Ap chs. 2-3).
'...also I will kill her children with pestilence (εν θανατω)'
Apart from meaning 'death', θανατος has the secondary meaning of 'pestilence'. 'To eat idol-sacrifices and to fornicate' shows a connection between the teaching of Jezebel here (Ap 2,20) and the teaching of Balaam to Balak (Ap 2,14) in the previous letter. In the book of Numbers in the Old Testament (Num 25,3-9) we see that pestilence was the punishment which the Lord sent to those who followed this teaching. In view of the connection, 'pestilence' is chosen to translate θανατος in this context.
'I know your deeds (σου τα εργα)...Be awake and restore those that remain (τα λοιπα) and were about to die...'
'those that remain (τα λοιπα)' refers grammatically to the deeds (τα εργα) mentioned in the previous statement. This interpretation is further supported by what follows in the text: 'for I have not found your deeds perfect in the sight of my God'. The theme of dead works is not new (see Epistle to the Hebrews 6,1; 9,14).
Throughout the text we translate the Greek word 'ναος' as 'Sanctuary'. This agrees with the use of the word in the Septuagint to signify the central and most sacred part of the former Temple at Jerusalem, the building that contained the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The word 'Temple' should not be used in this context for the following reasons:
  1. in relation to the plan of the former 'Temple', the word 'Temple' is understood to refer to the whole complex of courts and buildings which surrounded, and included, the Sanctuary. It corresponds to the Greek word 'ιερον', and the distinction between 'Sanctuary' (ναος) and 'Temple' (ιερον) is carefully observed in all the books of the New Testament.
  2. There is a close correspondence between the Sanctuary of God in heaven as it is described in the Apocalypse and the Sanctuary of the former Temple at Jerusalem, which was derived from the sacred Tent built by Moses as a Dwelling for God (Ex 25,8-9). This correspondence is confused, or missed, if 'ναος' is translated by 'Temple' in the text of the Apocalypse.
'And in the midst of the thrones (του θρονου) and around the throne are four living creatures...'
Here the text reads 'in the midst of the throne (singular) and around the throne'. It is difficult to see how the four living creatures can be in both places at the same time. For clarity and consistency 'throne' has been translated in the plural; in 5:6 the Lamb is seen between the throne and the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders. Comparing both scenes we see that the throne is in the centre, then the Lamb, then the four living creatures around the throne, and all of these in the midst of the thrones (plural) of the elders.
'...the second living creature like an ox (ομοιον μοσχος)'
The Greek word translated here by 'ox' (μοσχος) usually means 'calf'. However, in the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 1:10 this word translates the Hebrew word for 'ox', when used to describe the corresponding creature (cherub). For this reason, we have translated μοσχος by 'ox' and not by 'calf'.
'And I looked and behold, a black horse, and the one sitting on it had a yoke (ζυγον) in his hand'.
The primary meaning of ζυγος is 'yoke'. Although, in this passage, it is usually translated by 'a pair of scales' or 'a balance', nowhere else in the New Testament does it have this meaning, which is derived from the fact that a human yoke can be hung up in such a way as to be useful for balancing weights. By its nature the yoke is symbolic of servitude, oppression, injustice and misery, and this symbolic meaning is reinforced by the black colour of the horse. With this in mind we translate the next verse in the following way:
'A litre of wheat for a day's wage, and three litres of barley for a day's wage, and with the oil (το ελαιον) and the wine (τον οινον) do not be unjust (μη αδικησης)'.
In this context το ελαιον and τον οινον are taken to be accusatives of respect, ie: 'with respect to the oil and the wine', and μη αδικησης can be translated legitimately by: 'do not be unjust'.
The 'litre' or 'choenix' is a dry measure of capacity for which scales are not required. Furthermore, the issue is not scarcity of food, but the unjustly high price at which it is sold (except the oil and the wine). What we see here is a situation of exploitation, oppression and injustice, signified – as we indicated before – by the yoke of the rider and the black colour of his horse.
'...until also their fellow-servants and their brothers had been made perfect (πληρωθωσιν), those about to be killed just as themselves'.
Most existing translations take this to mean: 'until the number of their fellow-servants...has been completed...'. However, 'number' is an addition that has caused confusion between this group 'about to be killed' and the '144,000 having been sealed' (Ap 7,4). As described in 7,9 this group 'about to be killed' can not be numbered and contrasts with the precise number of the 144,000.
In favour of translating πληρωθωσιν by 'had been made perfect', we have the explanation that one of the elders gave to St. John concerning this group 'about to be killed' when seen in heaven after going through the great tribulation (Ap 7,13-14) – how they washed their robes and bleached them in the blood of the Lamb, ie: they were made perfect. Furthermore, it is in this sense that the same verb is used in Ap 3,2.
Having said this, however, it is necessary to add that the use of this verb has a deeper meaning in the present context, which is difficult if not impossible, to translate. It relates to the use of the same verb (πληροω), or it's cognate forms (πιμπλημι, επιπιμπλημι), in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew expression for the 'consecration' or 'ordination' of the priests ( מלא יד Maleh Yad).
Without going into the details of the exegesis, suffice it to say that the use of this verb in this context indicates that those who are martyred in the great tribulation are as worthy to be called priests as the 144,000 who are sealed and perfect, and follow the Lamb wherever he may go (Ap 14,1-5).
'...and the day did not give a third of its brightness...'; literally: '...and the day might not shine (μη φανη) the third part of it...'.
Referring to the day-light, we translate the verb φαινω as: 'to give its brightness. This allows us to convey the meaning of the first part of the statement (so that a third part of them was darkened) in such a way that the celestial light has suffered a reduction in intensity and not in duration by one third. In this case το τριτον αυτης (referring to the daylight) is taken to be an accusative of respect and not an accusative of duration.
'And the objects like (τα ομοιωματα) locusts...'
It is important to emphasize here that we are not dealing with actual locusts, but with the likenesses of the locusts.
Both here (twice) and at 9,17 θωραξ is the word used to describe a form of body-armour. It is usually translated as 'breastplate', even though it refers to the protective clothing or corselet which covers all of the trunk of a man or horse, and not just that which surrounds the chest. Therefore on these occasions we have translated θωραξ simply by 'armour'.
'And like this I saw the horses in the vision, and those sitting on them – having armour the colour of fire, hyacinth and sulphur...'
As in the Greek text, we wish to express this passage so that it is possible and easy to see the colourful armour as belonging to the horses, and not necessarily to the riders. This is supported by the fact that the description which follows applies entirely to the horses, and does not mention the riders again. On this occasion it appears that the vision is not concerned with the riders themselves, but only with the fact that the horses have riders.
'...the wine of the passion (του θυμου) of her fornicating (της πορνειας)...'
It is important to translate this image consistently throughout the book. For clarity, when passion is mentioned (14,8 and 18,3) we adopt the verbal-noun (fornicating), and when it is not mentioned, as in 17,2 the noun itself is used: 'the wine of her fornication'.
'...the wine of the passion (του θυμου) of the cup of his anger (της οργης)...'
Here we have translated θυμος by 'passion' for the following reasons:
  1. to allow the vivid contrast of the expression with 'the wine of the passion of her fornicating' (14,10 and 18,3). 'Passion' equally well indicates the strong emotions of both anger and sexual desire in English, as does θυμος in Greek.
  2. because θυμος and οργης each describe different but complementary aspects of anger , coherently expressed in English in this way.
Consistency in the translation of this expression has been followed each time it is mentioned in full at 14,10; 16,19 and 19,15 or in part 15,1; 15,7 and 16,1.
'...for God has condemned her on your verdict (οτι εκρινεν ο θεος το κριμα υμων εξ αυτης)'.
This is translated in this way by taking into account the following idiomatic usage:
  1. εξ αυτης: the use of εξ here follows the Semitic use of this preposition in expressions where justice is sought from the offender. In this context it is best translated as the object of the verb κρινειν that is to say, 'has condemned her'.
  2. εκρινεν το κριμα υμων: in this example of a verb with its cognate noun in the accusative case, the noun is translated with the help of a preposition – 'on' in this case.
'And her wall is encrusted with jasper...'; literally: 'And the incrustation (η ενδοωμησης) of her wall is jasper...'
The translation of η ενδοωμησης is often given as the 'substance' or 'material' of the wall. Etymologically it means 'in-built'. Considering the context of the precious stones forming the surface of, but not fully composing, the City walls, 'incrustation' is used in this translation.
'...on both sides, are trees of life (ξυλον ζωης)'
We have taken ξυλον ζωης (tree of life) to be a collective expression; that is to say, it has a plural meaning (trees of life). This is well supported by its context, which refers to Ezekiel 47,12 and by the use of the word ξυλον in the Septuagint (eg: Gen 1,11 and 3,2).