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Monday, June 06, 2011

Is Jesus Christ an Angel in Revelation 1:1?

Rev. 1:1 Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἣν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεὸς δεῖξαι τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει, καὶ ἐσήμανεν ἀποστείλας διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ τῷ δούλῳ αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννῃ

Rev. 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, RSV

Yesterday I was mulling over the chain of agency in Revelation 1:1. One way of reading it, adopted by many; God is the first agent, Jesus Christ the second, the Angel the third, and John the recipient who wrote it down, a fourth agent. In what follows, the Angel seems to drop out of sight. In the vision of the glorified Christ, the speaker is Christ not the Angel. So why was the Angel introduced as an agent if the Angel doesn’t participate in the vision at this point? Participants who, once they are introduced, do nothing and have no apparent  function in the narrative are an anomaly.

There is an alternative reading of this text which solves the problem. The agent (subject) of ἐσήμανεν “ [he] made it known” is ambiguous. It could be ὁ θεὸς God or Jesus Christ. If we follow Robert H. Gundry[1] and read ὁ θεὸς God as the agent of ἐσήμανεν, then the next agent in the chain is Jesus Christ referred to as τοῦ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ “his Angel”, i.e. The Angel of the Lord[2].

Not everyone is pleased with this reading. Some argue that ὁ θεὸς God is the subject of a relative clause, which puts ὁ θεὸς in the background of the narrative. However, that argument assumes a certain parsing of the Rev. 1:1, where Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ a genitive modifier of Ἀποκάλυψις becomes the agent of a verb several clauses later. That analysis assumes that καὶ ἐσήμανεν “and [he] made it known” which is introduced by καὶ, following two relative clauses, returns to the top level of the discourse. In other words, it is assumed that everything between Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ and καὶ ἐσήμανεν is backgrounded. This would make a certain amount of sense if we are reading historical narrative in a native Greek author. But John’s  language habits make it somewhat hazardous to be dogmatic about the difference between a clause introduced by καὶ and a relative clause. John in the Apocalypse appears to move back and forth between hypotaxis and parataxis in manner which leaves the exegete guessing about the discourse structure. I would suggest that the syntax arguments against R. Gundry’s reading are inconclusive.     

Perhaps a more compelling argument against Gundry’s reading could be advanced by considering similar language in

Rev 22:16 Εγω Ιησους επεμψα τον αγγελον μου μαρτυρησαι υμιν ταυτα επι ταις εκκλησιαις. — SBLGNT, M. Holmes ed.

Rev. 22:16   “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” ESV

C. A. Gieschen[3] considers this a refutation of Gundry’s reading. I am not totally convinced. Perhaps in the next post, we can take a look at this.

[1] Robert H. Gundry,   “Angelomorphic Christology in the Book of Revelation” Society of Biblical Literature 1994 Seminar Papers Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994. Pp. 672–673

[2] This connection with The Angel of the Lord, isn’t taken from Gundry, who I don’t have on hand.

[3] Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence,  Brill  1998.


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