Original Apocalypse Book of Revelation

The earliest most Hebraized Revelation scrolls must have set a tough task for the scribes copying them. Even the most fastidious scribe would be all too sensibly tempted to correct what looked like errors. His well-meaning pen might inject a letter of spelling here or add an ending of grammar there. Bit by bit, such miscorrections would have diluted the Hebrew flavor of the Revelation text and for ever deleted some of its coded meanings in its first decades.

Recently, Professor David Aune set out to reconstruct the original text of that very first Revelation scroll in his Word Biblical Commentary 52: Revelation. The length of his three-volume 1354–page work attests both to his exhaustively painstaking research and to the complexity of Revelation. The Word Biblical Commentary series assigns three volumes to only Revelation and the far longer Psalms and Luke. Like a royal Greek hound, Aune hunts down and worries the divine bones of every early Revelation text.[1] Then he analyzes, scrutinizes, sifts, and compares them. Next, for each word or verse he picks the most likely version, variant, or variation, and justifies his choices. His attention to detail is extreme, his Old Testament citations extensive, his academic honesty scrupulous.[2]C As only a true scholar can, Aune readily admits if he wavered or made a best guess. Nor does he let his standard preterist interpretive bias (that Revelation predicts early Christianity under Rome) spoil his sterling scholarship.

But even Aune, probably the top living authority on Revelation Greek, cannot reconstruct the likely AD 95 text from the available sources. The text that his Commentary translates and restores is a text that would have circulated around AD 150–250. This is the closest that he reckons that he or any other scholar can get. This text comes comfortingly close to the standard text of Nestle-Aland.[3]

Out of its 10,000–word total, Revelation has a vocabulary of a mere 916 words. Relative to modern English this small vocabulary echoes that of Koine Greek. As a result, fewer generic Greek words render as more specific English words. For example, the verb to be (einai) can render as also represent, manifest, exist, take place, pass, or live. Likewise, the generic noun bowl (phialē) renders as chalice in one Temple setting (vv. 5.8, 8.3, 5, etc) and pitcher in another (vv. 15.7, 16.1, etc).[4] Each precious Greek word calls for just the right English word for the context.

Revelation runs crisp and fast. Even for a prophet, John is very tight with words. He wastes not a single one, which he shows by

making biblion (short scroll) his main book-word as the diminutive of the standard Greek book-word biblos (that appears only twice, both in Book of Life). Biblion is the word that Revelation uses for itself

adding in the super-diminutive book-word biblaridion or tiny scroll to focus Revelation even more

opening and closing with what had to flash fast (en tachei, literally at speed)

echoing the main Angel’s repetitive I am coming soon (tachu)

switching tenses sharply to hop from time span to time span

using Old Testament concepts like cherem as shorthand.[5]


[1] Six 26th century papyrus fragments; 27th century Greek and Latin patristic quotations; eleven 410th century UNCIAL MANUSCRIPTS or CODICES; 412th century Latin, Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac versions; and 293 918th century miniscule manuscripts

[2] Aune, 52C 1267–87

[3] Aune, 52A clix–clx

[4] Out of 93 types of Temple vessel

[5] Making ‘biblion’, Rev. 3.5 & 20.15

Including the, Rev. 10.2, 9 and 10

Opening and closing, Rev. 1.1 & 22.6

Reporting the main, Rev. 2.16, 3.11, 11.14, 22.7, 12 & 20

Using Old Testament, Rev. 22.3