This Advent, in the Year of the Great Pandemic 2020, it seems appropriate to look at The Apocalypse – that is, The Revelation of John. This is the first of twenty-six short reflections.
Let’s start with the name of the book.
Some people call it Revelations, others The Revelation to Saint John the Divine, and some simply Revelation. You will also hear people (often Catholics and Orthodox) refer to it as The Apocalypse.
Of course, the real title is there in the first two verses. In the Sinaiticus it is
αποκαλυψιϲ ιυ χυ ην εδωκεν αυτω ο θϲ δειξαι τοιϲ αγιοιϲ αυτου α δει γε>νεϲθαι εν ταχει και εϲημανεν αποϲτειλαϲ δια του αγγελου αυτου τω δουλω αυτου ϊωανει οϲ εμαρτυρη>ϲεν τον λογον του θυ και την μαρτυριαν ιυ χυ οϲα ϊδε
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, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
That’s is a little unweidy, so you can see why a shorter title is helpful. Above in the picture is the beginning of the book found in one of the great 4th century uncial manuscripts, the one known as Sinaiticus. There the title is Αποκαλυψις Ιωανου, Apocalipsis Ioanou. This is probably best translated at The Revelation to John, because Αποκαλυψις means “revelation” or “unveiling”.
As I have argued elsewhere in this blog, “Apocalyptic has negative connotations in English, but in Greek it is simply the ordinary word for revelation, or exposure. Think of the unveiling of a plaque or a statue – that is an apocalypse, a revelation.” Of course, part of the reason people have such a negative connotation is because of the contents of this book – readers read of death and destruction, judgement and punishment, and and the end of the world. This is terrifying to many people – perhaps they like the world as it is, or themselves as they are, and the changes that God will bring about on the Day of the Lord is perceived as a threat. As well, they see many innocent people being destroyed and punished through no fault of their own. We will deal with this in the days to come.
Revelation is a word derived from Latin through Anglo-Norman and Middle French, and seems not to have the negative connotations of Apocalypse, perhaps because the adjective “revelatory” is used differently from “apocalyptic”.
Other manuscripts expanded the title. Bruce Metzger in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament refers to a scholar named Hoskier who found sixty different variations on the title. Calling it Revelation or The Apocalypse will do for us.
But who is this John? I’ll deal with that tomorrow.