Monday, September 30, 2013

Oldest complete commentary on Revelation

Revelation 4:6-8 "and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”                                          

Yesterday we considered the theme of Heavenly worship in Revelation 4:6-11.  We noted that heavenly worship consists of testimony, thanksgiving and total awe of God.  Undoubtedly this text is Revelation is breath-taking, and in today's post I wanted to look at it again through a different set of eyes.  The earliest complete commentary on the Book of Revelation was composed by an early Christian commentator by the name of Victorinus in the late 3rd century (nearly 1800 years ago). The full text of his insights on Revelation 4:6-8 below will serve to give the reader an example of some of the rich, unique and at times imaginative insights that can be gleaned from reading older Christian writers. I hope you find Victorinus' commentary both edifying and interesting.a  I now present to you his comments on Revelation 4:6-8 in their entirety:

Victorinus' Commentary on the Apocalypse of John.

"The four animals are the four Gospels. He says The first is like a lion, the second is like a bull, the third is like a man, the fourth is like a flying eagle; having six wings around them, eyes both inside and outside, and, he says, never ceasing to say.....b Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.

Twenty-four elders sitting, having twenty-four judgment-seats: are the books of the Prophets and the Law, relating the witness of the Judge. For the twenty-four fathers are the twelve Apostles and the twelve Patriarchs. Therefore, the animals which are different faces, have them for this reason.

The animal like a lion is the Gospel according to John, which, while all the other Evangelists announced that Christ was made man, it was for him to announce that He was God before He descended and took on flesh,The Word was God, and because he proclaims like a roaring lion, his preaching bears the face of a lion. Like a man. Matthew made an effort to announce to us the family of Mary, through which Christ received flesh. Therefore, when he recounts from Abraham up to David, and from David up to Joseph, as though spoken of a man, thus his preaching receives the image of a man. Luke also, when he recounts from the priest Zacharias offering a sacrifice for the people and the angel appears to him, because of the priesthood and the sacrifice, this writing bore the image of the bull. Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote a record of those things which he generally taught, but not in order, and begins with the word of prophecy announced by Isaiah.

Therefore, they begin thus, saying: John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;c this is the face of a lion. And Matthew: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of God, son of David, son of Abraham;d this is the face of a man. And Luke thus: There was a priest of the name Zacharias, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron;e this is the image of a bull. Mark begins thus: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah;f it begins with the Spirit flying, therefore, it also has the image of a flying eagle.

And not only the prophetic Spirit, but also the Word of God the Father Almighty, Who is His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, bears the same images in the time of His appearance to us. For when, it was predicted like a lion, and like the cub of a liong because for the salvation of men, He was made man, conquering death and freeing all; because He offered Himself as a sacrifice to God the Father for us, He is called a bull; and because He conquered death, ascended to heaven, extending His wings and protecting His people, He is called a flying eagle. Therefore these announcements, which are four, are actually one announcement, which came out of one mouth, like the river in paradise, from one source dividing into four parts.

And these animals have eyes inside and outside, that is the preaching of the New Testament; it shows Spiritual providence, which both looks into the secrets of the heart, and also sees things yet to come, which areinside and outside. The wings are the witnesses of the books of the Old Testament, and therefore they are twenty-four, which is also the same number of elders on the judgment-seats.h As an animal is not able to fly without having wings, so neither does the preaching of the New Testament have faith without having the previously announced witnesses of the Old Testament, by which it takes off from earth and flies. For always, when what was said before is found to have happened later, this makes an undoubting faith. For again, if wings are not attached to animals, they have no way to prolong (?) life. For without those things previously announced by the prophets being accomplished in Christ, their preaching will have been made worthless."i

b The original had the Greek text translated "holy,holy,holy", namely "Αγιος, αγιος, αγιος" (hagios, hagios, hagios). 
c Jn 1.1 
d Mt 1.1 
e Lk 1.5 
f Mk 1.1-2 
g Gen 49.9 
The curious reader may wonder why Victorinus would mention only 24 books in the Old Testament, when in our English Bibles there are 39 books.  The answer lies in the fact that in the translation of the original Hebrew manuscripts and copies of the Old Testament, some of the Bible books were originally written as one volume.  So for example, the books of 1 Samuel were originally one book of Samuel, the books of Kings were originally one book and then the books of Chronicles were also originally one book.  The twelve books at the end of our English Old Testament called the minor prophets were originally included on one scroll.  Whenever the Jews translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek (a translation call the Septuagint), the bigger books or bigger sections of the Old Testament were turned into two books or separate books without altering the words.  Hence we still have the words as originally inspired by God, even though the arrangement of the volumes may be different.  Much like older and newer editions of books that come out today, an editor at a later time may choose to take bigger books and divide them into two or three volumes for ease of use, while still retaining the identical wording and intent of the author. 
i 1Cor 15.14

No comments:

Post a Comment