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Revelation 5:9

they sang
ᾳ῎δουσιν [adousin] , present tense: they are singing. A historical present which describes an event which has already transpired using the present tense for heightened vividness which transports the reader to the time of the action. In the OT, the tribe of Judah (meaning “praise,” Gen. Gen. 29:35) led the way into battle and so it is here (Jdg. Jdg. 20:18). These scenes of ecstatic heavenly worship are as lofty as the judgments which follow are severe. Both the living creatures and the elders sing this song. This has caused some to favor the variant reading of this verse which omits the “we” from the redeemed because the living creatures, being of an angelic order, are not among the redeemed.1 See below.

The Adoration of the Lamb

The Adoration of the Lamb 2

a new song
New is καινὴν [kainēn] , new in quality. The new aspect of the song may be worship motivated by the impending opening of the scroll which for so many years has remained untouched. The words of this song record the unique initiation by the Lamb of the events which rapidly lead to the climax of history and the establishment of His kingdom.

open its seals
See commentary on Revelation 5:5 . See Revelation Rev. 6:1+.

You were slain
See commentary on Revelation 5:6.

your redeemed us
ἠγόρασας [ēgorasas] : Mat. 13:1.44); figuratively, as being no longer controlled by sin set free; from the analogy of buying a slave’s freedom for a price paid by a benefactor redeem (1Cor. 1Cor. 6:20).”3 Redemption involves a purchase and those who are purchased are no longer their own (1Cor. 1Cor. 6:20; 1Cor. 7:23; 2Pe. 2Pe. 2:1). The purchased price for those redeemed was not made with corruptible things like silver and gold (1Pe. 1Pe. 1:18), but by the life of the Son of Man Who gave “His life a ransom for many” (Mtt. Mat. 20:28). The redemption in view is both soteriological (individual souls are reconciled to God) and eschatological (the original creation will be restored at last).

Redemption has its roots and foundations in the past, but its true realization lies in the future, and connects directly with the period and transactions to which our text relates. The Scriptures everywhere point forward to Christ’s Apocalypse, as the time when first the mystery shall be finished, and the long process reach its proper consummation.4

This is similar to Boaz’s redemption of land for Naomi (Ru. Ru. 4:1-11). Like Boaz, Jesus is the Goel. The term Goel describes the person who is next of kin and his respective duties as kinsman-redeemer : to buy back what his poor brother has sold and cannot himself regain (Lev. Lev. 25:25-26); to avenge any wrong done to a next of kin, particularly murder (Num. Num. 35:12-27); to purchase land belonging to one deceased who was next of kin and to marry his widow and to raise up children for the deceased (Ru. Ru. 2:20; Ru. 4:14). There are small variations in the manuscript evidence for verses 9 and 10 which impinge on a significant theological issue: the identity of the twenty-four elders. Are the elders included among the redeemed or not? The TR text for these two verses (reflected in the KJV and NKJV) is shown below. We have marked the places where other manuscripts differ.

. . . For you were slain and have redeemed usA to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made usB kings and priests to our God; and weC shall reign on the earth. (Rev. Rev. 5:9-10+, NKJV)

The manuscript evidence for “us” in verse 9 is overwhelming:

Tregelles retains “us,” remarking “in verse 9, eemas, ‘us,’ should certainly be read. There was an opinion, many years ago, that it rested on but slight authority. This arose through an error in a reprint of Griesbach’s text; so that he was supposed to have excluded it. On this misprint interpretations were based. Now of all collated manuscripts, the Codex Alexandrinus alone omits eemas (and this is thought to have some support from the Ethiopic version); and one manuscript has eemon instead. The consent of the ancient versions has much weight in a case of this kind. It is surprising that some later editors have omitted it only on the authority mentioned.” [S. P. Tregelles, The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, p. 69, 70 note].8

Some critics and expositors have rejected this ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] (us), for the reason that it is omitted in the Codex Alexandrinus, and in the Ethiopic version; though the latter is not much more than a loose paraphrase. The Codex Sinaiticus, however, which was discovered in 1860, and which is of equal antiquity and authority with the Codex Alexandrinus, contains it. The Codex Basilianus, in the Vatican, contains it. The Latin, Coptic or Memphitic, and Armenian, which are of great value, contain it. And so do all other manuscripts and versions. And to discredit it simply and only because it does not appear in that one single Codex of Alexandria, is most unreasonable and unjust to the weight of authority for its retention.9

Here we encounter an excellent example of the arbitrary and subjective nature of textual criticism underwriting the NU text which omits “us.” The motives are no doubt well-intentioned as is the logic—once applied. But the guidelines employed in the selection of the preferred text from among the variant readings are flawed. Proponents of the Critical Text attempt to pass off as scientific analysis that which is largely arbitrary. For it is impossible to accurately restore an original text when subjective guesswork, hundreds of years after-the-fact, guides the selection process. The approach relies heavily on heuristics: general guidelines which seem to make sense, but which cannot be known to actually reflect the facts. And therein lies the vulnerability of the method. In the case at hand, we have “us” in every significant manuscript known with the exception of one. But that doesn’t deter the “logic” of textual criticism which arrives at a conclusion rejecting the overwhelming evidence in favor of the one exceptional reading:10

Although the evidence for τῶι θεῶι [tō theō] is slight, . . . this reading best accounts for the origin of the others. Wishing to provide ἠγόρασας [ēgorasas] with a more exactly determined object than is found in the words ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς κ.τ.λ. [ek pasēs phylēs kṭl] , some scribes introduced ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] either before τῶι θεῶι [tō theō] (94 2344 al) or after τῶι θεῶι [tō theō] (א 046 1006 1611 2053 al), while others replaced τῶι θεῶι [tō theō] with ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] (1 2065* Cyprian al). Those who made the emendations, however, overlooked the unsuitability of ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] with αὐτούς [autous] in the following verse (where, indeed, the Textus Receptus reads ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] , but with quite inadequate authority).11

A number of internal factors militate against the inclusion of ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] as part of the text of the autograph. A most obvious one is the impossibility of reconciling the first person plural with the third person plurals what are clearly the correct readings in the next verse. . . . Such an abrupt switch from first person to third person renders the language of the song meaningless, so the reading must be judged as impossible.12

Here we see a bias of scholars of our age who frequently assume that those before us lacked the necessary care or intelligence to handle the text: they “overlooked the unsuitability . . . in the following verse.” They would have us believe that for hundreds of years, scribes preserved an “obvious” error which “renders . . . the song meaningless.” Centuries later, appealing to arbitrary and subjective guesswork, these critics reject the majority witness and elevate the single minority variant while claiming to “restore” the proper text. Such is the science of textual criticism. While we recognize the need for textual criticism, we regret that often arbitrary and unverifiable suppositions are given precedence over manuscript evidence leading to questionable conclusions as here. Part of the motivation for expunging “us” from this verse comes from a desire, possibly misplaced, to bring verse 9 into conformity with the majority of manuscripts which have “them” rather than “us” in verse 10: “Indeed, all the critical authorities are unanimous in substituting the 3rd person for the 1st in the next verse [verse 10]. But if so, then we must have the 3rd person here and not the 1st person.”13 There are two liabilities which attend such reasoning:
  1. There are other possible explanations for why both 1st person (“us”) and 3rd person (“them”) may appear within the same song. For one, both the living creatures and the elders sing the song. Perhaps the living creatures exclude themselves (“them”) while the elders include themselves (“us”) within the company of the redeemed. Rev. 5:9+ has content that is appropriate to humans (the elders), while verse Rev. 5:10+ is appropriate for angelic singers (the cherubs). John did not explain the arrangement of singers, but his words allow for an antiphonal arrangement.”14 Also, singing a song in both the 1st person and 3rd person is not without precedent (see below). “The Hebrew construction of the third person for the first, has a graphic relation to the redeemed, and also has a more modest sound than us, priests [Bengel].”15 More likely, “The use of them instead of ‘us’ indicates the vastness and comprehensiveness of redemption. The twenty-four elders move beyond themselves to sweep up all the saints of all the ages into their paean of praise and adoration.”16
  2. One of the tenets of textual criticism is to favor the more difficult rendering. We suggest that the very existence of a majority witness which contains “us” in verse 9 and “them” in verse 10 provides ample evidence of the more difficult rendering. For scribes lacking in reverence for every word of the text would have likely “rectified” this tension (as do the modern critics), yet they did not.17
Pentecost provides an explanation for the variations which does not require jettisoning the majority witness of “us” in verse 9:

Some have sought to dissociate the elders from the redemption of which they sing (Rev. Rev. 5:9+) by deleting the word “us” from the text, affirming on that basis that these could not be the representatives of the church. On this point several things are to be observed. First, there is good manuscript evidence to include the word in the text. The word need not be deleted on textual grounds. In the second place, even if it were to be deleted it does not mean that the elders were not singing of their own redemption. In Exodus Ex. 15:13, Ex. 15:17, where Moses and the people of Israel are praising God for His judgment, which they manifestly experienced themselves, they sing in the third person. Scripture gives precedent, therefore, for dealing with that which is subjective as an objective fact. And in the third place, if the word were omitted and it could be proved that they were singing about a redemption which they did not experience themselves, it need not prove that the elders are not the church, for as the elders are brought into a knowledge of the judgments of God being poured out on the earth they anticipate the victory of the saints who are on the earth through these experiences and they can praise God for the redemption of these from “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. Rev. 5:9+) who have experienced the tribulation, been saved in it, and who will be made “kings and priests, and shall reign on the earth,” (Rev. Rev. 5:10+; Rev. 20:6+).18

by your blood
A bloodless gospel is no gospel. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. The redeemed of this age are “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” [emphasis added] (Acts Acts 20:28). Redemption provides for the forgiveness of sin—that which separates man from God—and was made possible “through His blood” [emphasis added] (Col. Col. 1:14). This is the reason why Christ’s blood is said to be “precious” (1Pe. 1Pe. 1:19).19 See commentary on Revelation 1:5.

every tribe and tongue and people and nation
The global emphasis of this book is seen in this phrase and similar. The redeemed come out of “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Rev. Rev. 7:9+). John is told to prophesy about many “peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (Rev. Rev. 10:11+). The earth dwellers, who rejoice over the death of the two witnesses, represent the “peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” (Rev. Rev. 11:9+). The worldwide scope of the Antichrist’s power is seen in that he is granted authority over “every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Rev. Rev. 13:7+). The gospel is preached by an angel to “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. Rev. 14:6+). The waters upon which the harlot sits “are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev. Rev. 17:1+, Rev. 17:15+). The work of the Church is to reach these global peoples with the message of the gospel (Mark Mark 16:15) and results in a global harvest of incredible diversity. The four categories denote global extent. See Four: the Entire World, the Earth.

Behind phylēs (“tribe”) is the idea of the same descent. It is a group belonging to the same clan and united by family lineage (Lenski; Haily). People speaking the same language are intended in glōssēs (“tongue”) (cf. Acts Acts 2:4, Acts 2:6, Acts 2:8, Acts 2:11) (Lenski; Hailey). Laou (“people”) unites a people of the same race or stock (Hailey) or possibly of the same interests (Lenski). The group indicated by ethnous (“nation”) is one bound together by political unity (Lenski) or perhaps, more broadly, by habits, customs, and peculiarities [Cremer].20

These facts all stand against the preterist interpretation which would localize these passages to Jerusalem and the Mediterranean attending the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the subsequent fall of Rome.

Notes

1 [Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 110] raises the question as to whether the living creatures may participate in the song having a personal experience of redemption. We feel this view has little merit. For one, Scripture is entirely silent as to this possibility. For another, upon what basis would angelic redemption be based? For Christ came as the God-man, born of a woman to regain that which was lost by the first man Adam. How could fallen angels profit from human redemption? Our ignorance concerning the angelic realm is only surpassed by our tendency toward unprofitable speculation concerning that which we cannot know.

2 Albrecht Durer (1471 - 1528). Image courtesy of the Connecticut College Wetmore Print Collection.

3 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 33.

4 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 111.

5 Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament According To The Majority Text (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1985), Rev. 5:9.

6 Ibid., Rev. 5:10.

7 Ibid.

8 Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), Rev. 5:9.

9 Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 108*.

10 Regarding the identification of the twenty-four elders as angels, Thomas who holds such a view, observes: “If any one of the three readings including ἡμα῀ς [hēmas] is correct, it would mean that those singing this song are among the redeemed. This would necessitate a reconsideration of the conclusions reached above regarding the identities of the four living beings and twenty-four elders [as angels]. Unquestionable manuscript support for inclusion of the pronoun is impressive.”—Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 410.

11 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 666.

12 Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 410.

13 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), 242.

14 John Niemel?, The Twenty-Four Elders and the Rapture (Orange, CA: Chafer Theological Seminary, 2005), 5.

15 A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 5:9.

16 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 172.

17 This passage illustrates the elasticity of the tenets of textual criticism and how easily its practitioners abandon their own grammatical heuristics when it seems useful.

18 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 257.

19 Characteristics of Christ’s blood: Gen. Gen. 9:4; Ex. Ex. 12:23; Ex. 24:8; Lev. Lev. 17:11; Isa. Isa. 52:15; Zec. Zec. 9:11; Mtt. Mat. 26:28; Mat. 27:4; Luke Luke 22:20; John John 19:30; Acts Acts 20:28; Rom. Rom. 5:9; 1Cor. 1Cor. 10:16; Eph. Eph. 1:7; Eph. 2:13; Col Col. 1:14, Col. 1:20; Col. 2:14-15; Heb. Heb. 9:12, Heb. 9:14, Heb. 9:22; Heb. 10:19, Heb. 10:29; Heb. 11:28; Heb. 12:24; Heb. 13:12, Heb. 13:20; 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:18-19; 1Jn. 1Jn. 1:7; 1Jn. 5:8; Rev. Rev. 1:5+; Rev. 5:9+; Rev. 7:14+; Rev. 12:11+.

20 Thomas, Revelation 1-7, Revelation 5:9.

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