Revelation in HebrewPMT 2015-073 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Revelation is the most Old Testament oriented book in the New Testament. It exceeds both Matthew and Hebrews in its alluding to the Old Testament. But an intriguing question arises regarding this extremely OT-influenced work: What is John’s specific OT version? We know he did not use the King James Version, despite many KJV-Only enthusiasts.

J. B. Lightfoot states that John’s allusions “are so free that we cannot say whether they were taken from the Hebrew or the Greek.” R. H. Charles disagrees, expressing his position dogmatically: “John translated directly from the O.T. text. He did not quote from the Greek Version.” Steve Moyise surveys the following noted Hebrew-source advocates in addition to Charles A. Vanhoye, C. G. Ozanne, A. T. Hanson, J. Fekkes, F. D. Mazzaferri, J. P. M. Sweet, and L. P. Trudinger. I would also add S. Thompson and B. Witherington.

I will cite just two samples of the Hebrew text influence on John over against the LXX (the Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT). At 1:7 John alludes to Zec 12:10 and clearly reflects the Hebrew rendering which has the Hebrew daqarû (“pierced”) rather than the LXX’s katorchesanto (“crushed”). At 3:7 he alludes to Isa 22:22 choosing the Hebrew wording maptëh (“key” of David) over against the LXX doxan (“glory” of David).

Four Views on the Book of Revelation
(ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation.
Ken Gentry writes the chapter on the preterist approach to Revelation.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com

Not all agree, however. H. B. Swete challenges Charles’ claim that John works from the Hebrew; instead he argues that “the familiar phraseology of the LXX. meets us everywhere.” A. T. Robertson concurs, noting that in Rev we experience “the flavour of the LXX whose words are interwoven in the text at every turn.”

To support his position, Swete provides thirteen pages of references demonstrating from 257 Rev phrases (my count) that the LXX was John’s preferred OT source. We may see one clear example of LXX flavoring in Rev 20:9 which reads: katebe ek tou ouranou kai katephagen autous. This matches closely with 2Ki 1:10 which has: kateb pur ek tou ouranou kai katephagen auton. Furthermore, we see a number of instances of John’s adopting peculiar LXX readings over against the Hebrew. For example, in Rev 11:18 John alludes to Ps 99:1 [98:1] and prefers the LXX’s “angry”(orgizesthesan) rather than the Hebrew text’s “tremble” (yirìrgìzû). In Rev 2:27; 12:5; and 19:15 his allusions to Ps 2:9 prefer the LXX’s “rule” (poimaneis) over the Hebrew’s “crush” (raa ). A minority of scholars agree that John prefers the LXX, including Laughlin, Rowley, Schmidt, and Beale.

Moyise rejects any exclusive use of either the Hebrew or Greek versions of the OT: “Attempts by Swete (Greek) and Ozanne (Hebrew) to show an exclusive use of one or other require extensive special pleading and should be rejected. . . . On the available evidence, therefore, I conclude that John knew and used both Greek and Semitic sources and that the consensus view, that John preferred Semitic texts, remains unproven.” He points out that the problem facing a LXX position are offset by considering the similar problem when working on the assumption of the Hebrew perspective. He concludes that “the evidence suggests that John knew and used both Greek and Hebrew texts.” Paul Penley concurs.

Getting the Message
(by Daniel Doriani)
Presents solid principles and clear examples of biblical interpretation.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com

While arguing that John prefers the Hebrew text, D. Mathewson states that “although it appears that there are times when John drew on the LXX or an Aramaic version, there is general agreement that the Hebrew Bible constitutes the primary quarry from which John drew his material.” Even Beale, who sees the LXX as John’ preferred version, acknowledges that “John draws from both Semitic and Greek biblical sources and often modifies both.”

That John draws from both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the OT seems preferable in light of all the qualifications that must be made when preferring one version over the other.

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  1. garycummingsGary Cummings June 17, 2015 at 5:49 am

    There was no Masoretic text in John the Revelator’s day.That was about 700 years after John. JOhn had ties with Asia Minor, and probably he used a prophetic Midrash of the LXX.

  2. Kenneth Gentry June 17, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    You are correct, Gary. I made a mental slip in writing MT (Masoretic Text) rather than “Hebrew Text.” The Masoretes were rabbinic Jewish scholars who labored from the seventh century to about the tenth. The MT is the general basis for English versions of the OT. It has much agreement with the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Hebrew text (200 BC – AD 70), but it does not enjoy a wholesale agreement. The article has been corrected. Thanks!

  3. garycummings June 17, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Yep, John’s traditional association with Ephesus gives some indication that he may have well used the LXX, as it had been around a while. John’s is so good, that he would have no trouble reading the LXX. Ephesus was definitely a Greek speaking town. The difference in style of Greek between the Gospel and the Apocalypse can be jarring at first, but there are similarities of word patterns. The Apocalypse is prophecy disguised as apocalypse. Prophecy of near things or present events is presented as a series of future events. We have to remember that prophecy is more forthtelling than foretelling. The Revelation is written to confirm the faith of those under severe persecution.

  4. Richard Stals June 17, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    I thought he used the KJV!

  5. Kenneth Gentry June 18, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Actually it was the King Herod Version.

  6. garycummings June 18, 2015 at 7:47 am

    KRV, now that is very good. I thought it was the RSV: Revised Septuagint Version.

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